A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘new wave

[MUSIC] Martha and the Muffins, “Echo Beach”

I first blogged about the Martha and the Muffins 1980 hit “Echo Beach” back in May 2005, noting how the song resonated with me. The narrator, dreaming of an escape to an idyll beyond in the mid of a boring conventional job, speaks to me.

On a silent summer evening
The sky’s alive with lights
A building in the distance
Surrealistic sight
On Echo Beach
Waves make the only sound
On Echo Beach
There’s not a soul around

I was also amused to learn in 2011 that the song was going to give its name to a new performance space down at Ontario Place.

I heard the song again, sitting on my lunch break at patio of the Church and Wellesley Second Cup coffee shop when the song came on the speakers. Again, it resonated deeply: Who would not prefer a summer rather different from this one?

As I noted back in 2005, the song is a classic. It lasts; it not merely endures the decades, it thrives.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2020 at 12:00 am

[MUSIC] On the import of the Kirsten Dunst cover of “Turning Japanese”

Dangerous Minds’ Martin Schneider posted a remarkable music video, Kirsten Dunst’s cover of the Vapors’ “Turning Japanese”.

At the “Pop Life: Art in a Material World” exhibition that ran at London’s Tate Modern in 2009, there appeared an unusual video in which a major movie star vamped and pouted in the middle of a busy Tokyo thoroughfare while singing the Vapors’ surprise 1980 hit “Turning Japanese.” (You have probably heard the song on the radio countless times if you don’t also recall its use in comedy classics like Sixteen Candles and Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion.)

The video showcased Kirsten Dunst, a multi-million-dollar Hollywood star best known for her appearances in the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man franchise. It was directed by McG (Charlie’s Angels, Terminator 4: Salvation) and produced by prolific Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami, whose signature “superflat” style involves heavy use of turbo-sexualized images of women dressed up as little girls and women with exaggerated cleavage. Basically, Murakami’s work is like an overdose on the saccharine and cartoonish side of Japanese sexuality.

True to form, in the video Dunst is wearing a neon blue wig, pink high heels, and revealing blue tights and is toting a parasol worthy of Penelope Pitstop herself. The video was shot in the hectic boulevards of Akihabara, a crowded and pulsating shopping neighborhood in Tokyo where electronics and video games are available.

I actually quite like this, video and song and Murakami’s effort all.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 18, 2016 at 8:59 pm

[MUSIC] Pukka Orchestra, “Listen to the Radio”

I heard Pukka Orchestra‘s cover of the Tom Robinson song “Listen to the Radio” on a compilation CD, a tie-in to Alan Cross’ ongoing radio series The Ongoing History of New Music.

Happily, this song was a radio hit in Canada, ranking in the Top 40. Unhappily, a promising beginning for the band was undone by by bad, as the band’s biography at Canadian Bands makes clear.

Formed in Toronto in 1980 by Scottish-born singer Graeme Williamson, and guitarists Neil Chapman and Tony Duggan-Smith, The Pukka Orchestra took their name from a Hindu term meaning “first rate” or “genuine,” after Duggan-Smith’s mother complained he wasn’t pursuing a ‘real’ musical career.

For the next year and a half they made themselves a permanent fixture on the Queen Street West club scene, for which they often borrowed from a revolving door of backup musicians on an as-needed basis. Occasionally, the stage could be packed with a dozen members or more while they mixed new wave with pop and a touch of punk.

In the fall of ’81, they released an independent single, the tongue-in-cheek “Rubber Girl” b/w “Do The Slither” on their own Rubber Records. It quickly got decent airplay around the Toronto area and college radio stations. Another year of so and they eventually got the attention of reps at Solid Gold Records (Toronto, Chilliwack, Headpins).

The label shipped them off to four studios around Toronto over the next few months with producer Eugene Martynec (Bruce Cockburn, Rough Trade), and their self-titled debut was released in the spring of 1984. Compared to the likes of Doug & The Slugs, the record was full of wit, as well as tight hooks and slick production with a funky big band feel, spurred on by over 25 musicians and backing vocalists.

The lead single, “Listen To The Radio” was a cover of the Tom Robinson/ Peter Gabriel song that Robinson recorded while with The Atmospherics. Pukka’s version shot up the charts and peaked at #20, helped in part by a cleverly amusing video. It was followed soon after by “Cherry Beach Express,” about the alleged brutal practices of a Toronto police detachment, and then “Might As Well Be On Mars” (later covered by English folk rock legends Strawbs). Also on the album was a reworked version of the single that gave their career its kick start, “Rubber Girl.”

More often than not, the number of people in the supporting cast made any string of shows impracticle, but they assembled a backing band and finished out the year on the road that included opening gigs for Cyndi Lauper, Thomas Dolby, and Marianne Faithful, and in front of 30,000 people at a Halifax festival. But what for all intents and purposes looked like a bright future was cut short when Williamson developed kidney problems while visiting family in Scotland. A benefit concert was organized in Toronto to help aid his family that raised $5,000. He ended up staying in a Glasgow hospital for several months while receiving daily dialysis treatments. While the band’s future was left in hiatus, Solid Gold turned out to be pyrite. The label closed its doors and the royalties owed to the struggling band were tied up in complicated bankruptcy proceedings.

Graeme Williamson, happily, has survived and is now an author of some note in Scotland, while this 2009 post at Rave and Roll goes into greater detail about the other bandmates. The band itself, though, is defunct.

I love the New Wave music, but what I particularly love is Tom Robinson‘s strong lyrics, with their powerful narrative drive. YouTube comments suggest Robinson was drawing from his years in Germany, in Hamburg in particular. (Onkel Po was a gay club in that city.) I’m a sucker for narrative, and when it’s told well, well!

Leave the bureau in the snow
Catch a tram to Onkel Po
Early evening ring around the moon;
Slip in by the concierge
By the bikes and up the stairs
Snap the latch and creep into the room
You throw off your coat, pick up the post
And put a coffee on
Lie down on the bed, lay back your head
And smoke a cigarette…

And listen to the radio
Listen to the radio

This song speaks to me. Perhaps it’s because my own music-listening patterns tend to be marked by solitude of one kind or another, or at least were marked by said. Long hours lying back in bed, listening to whatever was playing on my CD player, were long hours well spent indeed.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 10, 2016 at 9:59 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Echo Beach to become Toronto’s newest concert venue”

blogTO’s Derek Flack notes that Toronto’s Ontario Place entertainment complex, a bit shabby and currently being revitalized, is going to host a new concert venue.

Ontario Place is getting another outdoor concert venue. Named Echo Beach — presumably after the song by Martha and the Muffins — its first action will be when Robyn comes to town on June 3rd.

Although the details are pretty scarce right now, EYE Weekly’s reports that the venue is the work of Live Nation and will have a capacity of about 4,000. Given the layout near the Molson Amphitheatre, it’s likely to be built in the area to the immediate southeast of the current venue. Wherever it ends up, though, it probably won’t be a part of the renovation plans for Ontario Place, which is due for a full-scale redesign in the near future. The two month construction time screams of something that’ll be mostly temporary.

The song Flack refers to is, yes, the classic 1980 Martha & The Muffins song “Echo Beach”.

I still like the song’s New Wave freshness as much now as I did in the distant time of April 2005. It’s such a Toronto song.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 26, 2011 at 11:59 pm

[MUSIC] Tom Tom Club, “Genius of Love”

When I first heard Mariah Carey’s 1995 song “Fantasy”, I remember thinking that, wow, that funky rhythm was something really original that made the dreary song worth listening to as background! That juxtaposition was unsettling. Thus, you can imagine my relief when I found out that “Fantasy” was built around a sample from the Tom Tom Club‘s much superior 1981 “Genius of Love”.

“Genius of Love” sounds preternaturally cheerful, with the funky rhythms (prodyuct of the song’s narrator, perhaps, who sings “I’m in heaven/With the maven of funk mutation”) and the cheerful animated music video (shown above) and the call-and-response stylings. It is: It is so cheerful that phrases like “With my boyfriend, my laughing boyfriend/There’s no beginning and there is no end/Time isn’t present in that dimention” can coexist alongside “I surely miss him/The way he’d hold me in his warm arms/We went insane when we took cocaine.” Let’s not forget how the entire song is set up by the question “What you gonna do when you get out of jail?”

“Genius of Love”: Faintly sleazy, but still wonderful.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 29, 2008 at 3:21 pm

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[MUSIC] The Spoons, “Romantic Traffic”

I appreciate The Spoons’ 1984 Canadian hit “Romantic Traffic” on three levels.

1. The Spoons (official site, Wikipedia) were one of the biggest Canadian band of the early 1980s. Arguably aided by the Canadian content policies instituted in 1981 in the face of growing American domination of Canadian popular culture. The Spoons sprung up in 1979, a New Wave band in the distant GTA city of Burlington. “Romantic Traffic” was apparently uncharacteristic of their output–1982’s “Nova Heart is apparently more characteristic of their output–but “Romantic Traffic” is the track that they’re remembered for. After a relatively high profile that allowed them (according to Wikipedia) “to become the opening act for bands such as Culture Club, Simple Minds, and The Police,” they dropped out of sight, but not before they left us this sweet and hummable pop song.

2. “Romantic Traffic” has a certain resonance among Torontonians. The writer of this June 2006 post at Torontoist, linking to the video for this song, tells readers to watch out for the random riders’ singing of the “do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do” chorus at the 3 minute mark, while Matthew Blackett at Spacing has a similar post with commenters debating the technical minutiae of the TTC in 1984. A lot of the scenes in the video are still things I see: The Bloor-Yonge station is quite recognizable, though the refurbished Sheppard station is not, and I swear that at one point the lead singer passes by a landscape that includes the Humber Valley. Others, like the red subway trains, or the Toronto Dominion advertisement for its Green Machine ATM, announcing the novelty of a machine that can let people withdraw money from their account at a remarkable rate–$40 in 32 seconds!–are not. And then, as always, there is the hair.

3. I remembered the song from very early on thanks to the radio, and liked it from very early on, but I only saw the music video in the mid-1990s on Muchmusic. the sheer mobility and diversity that I saw there, and saw in it something that I wanted so badly. Almost desperately, increasingly so as time passed, I wanted to leave the Island and get there, to Toronto or to any place like it that had that kind of easy fluidity. I would have done anything to escape.

And I did.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 19, 2008 at 11:59 pm

[MUSIC] M, “Pop Musik”

What needs to be said about the sheer joy of M‘s 1979 international hit “Pop Musik” that Wikipedians haven’t already written?

Apart from New York • London • Paris • Munich, of course.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 10, 2008 at 2:46 pm

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[MUSIC] Public Image Ltd., “Rise”

“Rise” is the only song I’ve ever heard off of Public Image Ltd.‘s 1986 Album/Compact Disc/Cassette, but despite this sad gap in my musical repertoire, I still feel secure is saying that “Rise” has to be one of the most impressively post-punk and grandiose songs out there.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 29, 2007 at 4:26 pm