Build a nest in the sand dunes, lay our eggs and walk away
The band finally found success under the producer's hand of Martin Rushent (who worked with Buzzcocks, Altered Images, XTC, and many others) with the release of Dare (Dare! for the US release) and the subsequent EP Fascination! For their 1986 album Crash, they took a more Top 40-friendly approach and employed the producer duo of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. That duo (which produced several smash albums for Janet Jackson) even wrote the album's single, "Human" - a number one hit. On the Human League tribute album Reproductions, the 6ths (Merritt with singer Lloyd Cole) covered "Human" in a low-key style, and well-aware of the song's laughable earnestness, Merritt tackles the mid-song spoken word passage with just a hint of a British accent (and his falsetto delivery of "I am just a maaaan" is pure cheese.)
I also short-changed John Foxx, so here we go. Foxx (real name: Dennis Leigh) started out in art school, playing around with synthesizers, and eventually he formed the band Tiger Lily (inspired by the Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls) which evolved into Ultravox! (more! exclamation! points!). This outfit made three albums for Island Records, the first of which was co-produced by Brian Eno, and these records would be a big influence on Gary Numan. After Island dropped the band, Foxx left to start his solo career, and his replacement, Midge Ure, helped lead Ultravox (no "!" at this point) to fame and fortune with tracks like "Vienna" and "Reap the Wild Wind."
Foxx wasted no time and released his debut album, Metamatic, in January of 1980, full of icy synth sounds and modern urban imagery. Concerning Metamatic, Foxx commented, "At the time it felt dangerous, as if I'd thrown the baby out with the bathwater. I stripped things down to the point where I might have gone too far. In retrospect I did exactly the right thing." He enjoyed modest success - several of his singles charted, and he even created the score for Michelangelo Antonioni's film Identification of a Woman. However, in 1985, he put his music-making on hold, citing disinterest, and fell back on his art background, working in graphic design and photography. His return to music ten years later came in the form of a collaboration with Louis Gordon, yielding two albums, and the duo toured churches and botanical gardens across Europe. "Underpass" is originally from Metamatic, but here is the single version, available on the excellent career-spanning compilation Modern Art: The Best of John Foxx.
The 1965 entry on the list is "You Don't Know" by Ellie Greenwich, the Brill Building songwriting partner of Jeff Barry. Greenwich helped write some of the greatest pop songs ever, like "River Deep, Mountain High" for Ike and Tina Turner and two featured on Stephinsources, "Then He Kissed Me" (Crystals) and "Be My Baby" (Ronettes). She saved one of her best for herself, though - a soaring, heartbreaking song about the despair of unexpressed love. Her vocals are up for the task, and she just nails the line "I can't let her know" (near the one minute mark).
Growing up in Brooklyn, then Long Island, Greenwich had a mini-revelation when she heard "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" by the Shirelles, because the melody was similar to that of a song she had written. She established herself, along with boyfriend (later husband) Jeff Barry, with the Brill Building songwriting crowd via Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Also, Greenwich and Barry recorded song demos that impressed Leiber, Stoller, and Phil Spector so much that they were turned into an instant band, the Raindrops. I Can Hear Music: The Ellie Greenwich Collection has three charming tracks by the Raindrops (two were hits for other bands), and it includes the stunning "You Don't Know" - but it also includes the album Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung... from 1973. With soft rock versions of old and new songs, it was intended to be similar in style to Carole King's immensely popular Tapestry, but the arrangements are just dreadful to my ears. A better way to own "You Don't Know" is by getting the unbelievably great One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost & Found boxed set on Rhino, released late last year. Other Merritt favorites are on it, like Dolly Parton, Petula Clark, and Dusty Springfield, and it's totally worth the dough.
I'll end with Merritt's thoughts on race and music, from this interview for Barnes & Noble:
What I'd like to see in the year 2000 is the abandonment of music being categorized by the race of the artist, or the perceived race of the audience. It's disgusting, and I would like to be amazed that it's still happening. [Eliminating] racism and sexism would be major improvements, and it would make an enormous difference in the music industry. It would be really nifty if black people were allowed to make records that didn't have to constantly refer to very recent traditions of black radio. It's absurd, and at this point, it's as though the only thing the American public were allowed to hear were "coon songs" and ragtime. It's worse, I think, than it was in 1899.
And he goes into it more in this Flagpole interview:
Merritt: I think music is one of the most segregated industries in the U.S. I gather it's different in Britain.
Flagpole: It's kind of across the board in the entertainment business, though, not just in music.
Merritt: Well, if you go see an action movie, it's most likely going to have one black male star and one white male star and kind of randomly assigned races for the female romantic leads. Often you'll have multi-racial couples. That vanishes when you move to comedies, and it's incredibly rare when you move over into music.
Flagpole: Do you think your music serves in any way to rectify the situation?
Merritt: Only in as much as I don't make those distinctions. Smashing genre is a lot of what I'm about.
On that note, I leave you with a track by Public Enemy, a group that has more than a few things to say about race issues. With members Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, and Terminator X, the pioneering hip-hop group made a huge impact in the late 80s with its political and socially-relevant (and sometimes controversial) lyrics and adept turntable scratching. From Fear of a Black Planet (selected for preservation in the Library of Congress in 2005), here's "911 Is a Joke," which is Merritt's selection on the list for 1990.
Human League - "Human"
John Foxx - "Underpass"
Ellie Greenwich - "You Don't Know"
Public Enemy - "911 Is a Joke"
There was a request for the Alvin Lucier tracks. Ubu, which had been out of commission for a while, is now back up and running, and you can get the 15 minute version of "I am sitting in a room" on that site, here. Here's the 1980 version excerpt I had previously posted:
Well, folks, that's the last post. Many thanks to Chris Heschong, Robey Pointer, and Britton Ware for helping me obtain certain tracks, and special thanks to Chris for the bandwidth and server space. Thanks for reading, and if you have requests for re-posts, I can probably work something out - just email me. See you on Stephinsongs (and if you're not on Stephinsongs, join today!)