Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: Ultravox

“I’m feelin’ Radioactive, think I’m gonna meltdown tonight” — Scott Wilk + The Walls

In the mail today!

A flashback to those glorious, goofin’, pogo jumping, slam dancing early the 1980s.

I saw this band at the Southern Illinois University (SIU) Student Center at the beginning of the 1980 fall semester, (shortly after I saw David and the Happenings perform at an outdoor party in Lewis Park) and the band would be one of a half-dozen New Wave acts I would see that semester along with The Pretenders, The English Beat, Ultravox, and Polyrock.

I bought the album at Plaza Records in Carbondale but it was never reissued as a CD until recently through Wounded Bird Records.

Although a bit dated, it has held up quite well over the years. Although Wilk comes across as sort of a cross between Elvis Costello and Warren Zevon, the music takes one back to those early days of New Wave when a farfisa beat and saxophone ruled.

 It’s going to get a lot of playing time on my iPod.

Classic Ultravox

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TS4y9zLIl8w&feature=more_related]

A classic Ultravox song, “Passing Strangers” from their 1979 album Vienna.

I saw them in concert thirty years ago on Halloween night at SIU (Southern Illinois University).

iPod Fully Loaded

Remember the days before digitalized music, MP3 players and iPods–when making a compilation tape, whether for a road trip or a friend was an art?

It’s like what Rob (John Cusack) says in High Fidelity (2000), “The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.”

Back in the day you only had 90-120 minutes (is it just me or an urban legend but somewhere along the line I remember someone telling me that 90-minute tapes were better than 120-minute tapes) for your compilation tapes so you had to choose your songs carefully and wisely.

Of course, these days with lots and lots of gigabytes at your disposal, you can make up all sorts of play lists for whatever mood or situation. And if you want a bit of old school you can still make some killer play lists.

That’s kind of what I’ve done for my upcoming trip to Laos–I’ve created some killer play lists, not only for the journey but for some background music when I am with Aon and the boys. It’s time for me to introduce Jeremy Aaron and Bia to some of the music I have grown up with.


I’ve got my iPod fully-loaded and ready to rock out on the long journey ahead and to introduce Jeremy Aaron and Bia to 50+ years of rock and roll.

Ultravox to Reunite for Return to Eden Tour in 2009

One of my favorite bands from the late 70s and 80s Ultravox recently announced that they were getting back together in 2009 for a reunion tour. Whether this is a one-tour deal or the band is getting back together again for more tours or even a new album, I was happy to hear the news.

 

Unlike other acts that have gotten together or are thinking of getting back together with or without the original line up (like Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant) Ultravox will have the same line up of Billy Currie on keyboards, Chris Cross on bass guitar, Warren Cann on drums and frontman Midge Ure on guitar and keyboards. It will be the first time the band has been together since 1985’s Live Aid Concert at Wembley Stadium in London.

 

Musically, Ultravox would set a standard for the use of synthesizers and a unique style of music during the 70s and 80s. Although Brian Eno and Kraftwerk had been doing it for years, Ultravox made it more accessible with a catchy pop infusion and evocative lyrics. Originally fronted by John Foxx for three albums, the arrival of Midge Ure in 1979 guaranteed that the band would not become another post-punk casualty and enjoyed modest success thanks to such hits as “Vienna,” “The Voice,” “Reap the Wild Wind,” and “Dancing with Tears in my Eyes.”

 

I think it’s cool that some bands with the original members/line ups get back together again and have a decent tour like the Eagles or even Devo. It’s great that a new generation can enjoy some of the music that many of us Baby Boomers loved and grew up with—music that defined a generation and an era. On the other hand, if you are not going to have the original lineup or even close to it, it’s kind of a rip-off. That’s kind of how I felt when I heard the news of Led Zeppelin getting back together sans Robert Plant.

 

And do we really want to see some aging rockers still prancing (or trying to prance) around on the stage? Some acts can get away with it; others, maybe I just want to remember them the way they were. Tell that to The Rolling Stones, right?

 

I remember back in 1981 I attended this “Flashback to the Fabulous 50s Concert” that featured Bobby Lewis, The Drifters, and the Reagents in Matthiessen Auditorium at LaSalle-Peru Township High School. It was okay to hear Bobbi Lewis still belt out “Tossin’ and Turnin’” as well as The Drifters (sans one of the original founding members) still deliver a powerful rendition of “Under the Boardwalk” with some of the dance moves that made them famous, but the Reagents, dressed-up  in red leisure suits just seemed a bit off singing about “Barbara Anne.”

 

On the other hand when I saw James Brown in Seoul in 2006, he might have lost some of his moves and momentarily forgotten where he was (“It’s great to be in Shanghai,” he said at the beginning of his concert in Seoul), but he was still James Brown. The Godfather of Soul proved in Seoul that was still the hardest working man in rock and roll.

 

And I was happy back in 1986 when I could see The Moody Blues as well as The Monkees even though both bands were just a little beyond their prime. And yes, Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork did actually play their instruments, but the one real Monkee, the one with probably the most talent of the four, Michael Nesmith, had not joined the tour. So, I guess it really wasn’t The Monkees after all.

 

As for Ultravox, of all the concerts that I went to back in the 80s, I was fortunate to have seen Ultravox in concert two times—the first time on Halloween Night at Southern Illinois University in 1980 and the second time at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago on Good Friday in 1983. For that first concert the band was on their Vienna Tour and the second one was their Monument or Quartet Tour. If I had to come up with my Top Ten List of Favorite Concerts, those two concerts would most definitely make that list.

 

I hadn’t listened to much of their music before the first time I saw them in 1980, I had listened to “Vienna” and “Sleepwalk” a few times but when I saw them again in 1983, I had all their albums from Ha! Ha! Ha! to Quartet and had listened to them a lot. They will always be one of my favorite bands from those Post-punk New Wave years and many of their songs get a lot of play on my iPod.

 

I have no doubt in my mind that it will be a successful tour for the band (fans have been hoping for such a tour for years) and that they will entertain just as many new fans as they will diehard ones. Midge Ure has had a pretty successful solo career after leaving Ultravox and I am sure he will still be able to sing “Vienna,” “The Voice” and “Hymn” with just as much passion as he did over twenty years ago. I know that I’ll probably never have the chance to see them again—I’m just fortunate that I had the chance to see them not once, but twice the first time around.

Vienna – Ultravox

Jeffrey at 50 – Fifty albums that changed my life and rocked my world

 

 

“We walked in the cold air

Freezing breath on a window pane

Lying and waiting

A man in the dark in a picture frame

So mystic and soulful

A voice reaching out in a piercing cry

It stays with you until”

 

 

Prior to Ultravox’s concert at SIU on Halloween night 1980, I had not listened to the band very much. In fact, I had just bought their album Vienna a few days before.

 

On a week that started with seeing Kansas in concert, changing my hairstyle, getting my ear pierced, buying some vintage clothing, and buying a ticket to the Ultravox concert, I also had time to give Vienna a few spins around my turntable so I would at least know some of the music they would play come Halloween night.

 

And what I heard and listened to, I liked a lot.

 

A few people in Freeman Hall—the off-campus dorm I was living in at the time—who were hip to New Wave music like my very good friend Paul Collin had raved about just how good a band Ultravox was, at least raved about their earlier stuff when John Foxx was the lead singer. Now Midge Ure fronted the band and some people didn’t think Ultravox was going to be as good as it had been with Foxx.

 

There’s no question that many fans of Ultravox wondered what would happen to the fate of the band after John Foxx left. Vienna laid to rest any doubts that the band was another casualty of the post-punk era. Indeed, Ultravox would carry the torch for many New Wave era bands.

 

In many ways, when I listen to Vienna these days, it feels like a snapshot of the new wave scene in 1980—an amalgam of styles and audio experiments filtered through a definite pop sensibility. The songs on the album resist any form of labeling. From the opening ethereal and hypnotic instrumental piece “Astradyne” to rocking tracks like “Sleepwalk,” “Passing Strangers,” “All Stood Still,” the songs are just as eclectic in style as they are in substance. And if there were a Top 10 or Top 25 list of classic new wave tracks, “Vienna” would be at the top of that list.

 

Musically, Ultravox would set a standard for the use of synthesizers and a unique style of music in this New Wave era. Although Eno and Kraftwerk had been doing it for years, Ultravox made it more accessible with their pop infusion and sensibility.

 

Before this style of music turned on itself in electro-pop overkill, Vienna reminds one of a time when bands were still experimenting and pushing the parameters—and perhaps that is why today it has become a classic. There’s no denying its place in rock and roll history, not to mention at the zenith of those songs from that early New Wave era. A lot of great stuff was coming out around this time. When musicologists and fans look back on the years 1979-1980, Ultravox will always be one of the more important and influential bands.

 

Of all their albums in the post-Foxx Ultravox, Vienna rates better than the others.

 

Twenty-nine years later, it’s just as hypnotic and powerful as it was back then. It is an alluring innovative album that holds up well. Just today I listened to “Vienna” on my iPod and I was transported back to the autumn of 1980, going to SIU, hanging out with friends like Paul Collin, and getting into all kinds of music. It was a very special time when music from that era was redefining my life.

 

 

Vienna

 

We walked in the cold air
Freezing breath on a window plane
Lying and waiting
A man in the dark in a picture frame
So mystic and soulful
A voice reaching out in a piercing cry
It stays with you until


The feeling has gone only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna


The music is weaving
Haunting notes, pizzicato strings
The rhythm is calling
Alone in the night as the daylight brings
A cool empty silence
The warmth of your hand and a cold grey sky
It fades to the distance


The image has gone only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna
This means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna

The Soundtrack of my Life — Tracks 1-5

One song that is in heavy rotation on my iPod Nano these days is “Echo Beach” by Martha and the Muffins. Every time I hear this song-a classic from 1980-I am reminded of the time that I almost saw them. They were playing at Tuts in Chicago just right after New Year’s Day in 1981.

I had gone to Chicago with my best friend Chris Vasquez and two other friends Colleen and Dawn to see them. Colleen, a mutual friend of ours said that she could get us in free. Sadly, we spent too much time at another friend’s apartment before the concert-by the time we got to Tuts, we couldn’t get in. Colleen pleaded with the bouncer (whom she knew), but to no avail.

To this day, I swear that when we were standing out there on the sidewalk I could hear Martha and the Muffins playing inside. There was another band playing later-David and the Happenings, a band from SIU-so we decided to wait in this small blues bar just down the street until they came on.

Now, whenever I hear “Echo Beach” I think about the time that I was so close to seeing the band at Tuts that cold, January night.

And this got me thinking about a lot of the music I have grown fond of over the years. What is the story behind some of my favorite music? What was going on in my life when I first heard or listened to a particular song over and over? We all have our favorite songs that remind us of something in our lives, whether it was someone we once dated, hanging out with friends, or some other significant event.

I like making lists, especially ones about music and how it has impacted me most over the years. It’s kind of what like the character played by John Cusack did in one of my favorite movies High Fidelity. More than just a “top 10” list, this list is my own personal soundtrack for my life.

There is no particular order for these songs. This is just a list of some of my favorite music and the memories associated with them.
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – Devo

If I had to come up with just one Devo song that had some connection to my life I might be hard pressed because there have been so many of their songs which have a lot of memories attached.

Devo was the kind of band that you either really liked or really hated. I have been a big fan of theirs ever since I first heard about them in October 1978 when I was stationed at George Air Force Base in the High Desert outside of Victorville, California. When I saw them performing their song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” on Saturday Night Live and wearing those yellow radioactive suits, this was one band that I was definitely going to listen to more.

The following weekend, I was at a Tower Records’ store in West Covina picking up a copy of Devo’s first album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo. Once I slapped it on my turntable, I couldn’t get enough of it. This was some zany, cool stuff. It was like nothing else I was listening to at the time. Little did I know at the time but my musi-cal tastes were beginning to change. I was really into music at the time listening to practically everything and in many ways, that album was the beginning of a musical transformation of sorts in terms of what I would be listening to for the next couple of years.

I Wanna Be Sedated – The Ramones

One memorable weekend in October 1980 I was home from Southern Illinois Univer-sity (SIU) when I saw The Jerks at Fridays for the first time and also ran into Chris who I hadn’t seen in over four years.

That same weekend I bought The Ramones’ Road to Ruin and Split Enz’s True Colors. Now, whenever I hear this song (or any song from the album) I think about that weekend and how my life would change when I got back to SIU.

You know what it’s like when you slap a new record on a turntable and as soon as you hear that first song you want to run out and tell all your friends about it? That’s kind of how I felt when I heard “I Wanna Be Sedated.” This was just a rocking song. And I am thinking, “damn, why haven’t I been listening to the Ramones already?”

I suppose that a lot of the songs that I heard that weekend would be worth noting, but it’s this song by The Ramones that has really stayed with me the most.

Vienna – Ultravox

If I were to come up with my Top Ten list of my all-time favorite New Wave songs not to mention one of my favorite all-time videos, one of them would be Ultravox’s Vienna.

It was October 31, 1980-Halloween in Carbondale-and I was sitting in the balcony of Shyrock Auditorium on the SIU campus waiting for Ultravox to take the stage. John Candy was in town, the host of a short-lived NBC show about college life and was sort of the emcee for the concert, keeping the audience entertained while every-one waited to find out if the opening act Steel Pulse would make it to the concert (they never did).

I had only heard about Ultravox just a few weeks before and had not bought my ticket until a few days before the concert. It has remained one of the best concerts I have ever been to-right up there with Devo in 1982, Ultravox again in 1983, and The Stray Cats in 1981.

In that last week of the month before that night, I had gone back home and seen The Jerks, ran into my old friend Chris, cut off my hair, got an earring, and seen Kansas in concert.

Whenever I hear Vienna now I always think back to when I was going to SIU and how music was redefining and shaping my life.

At the same time, the song also reminds me of cold, autumn or winter days-

“We walked in the cold air
Freezing breath on a windowpane lying and waiting
The warmth of your hand and a cold gray sky
It fades to the distance.”

The Wait – Pretenders

It’s the spring of 1980 and I am stationed at George Air Force Base just outside of Victorville, California in the Mojave Desert. For the past couple of months I had been getting into all kinds of new music-Tom Petty, Madness, The B-52’s, Talking Heads, Pat Benatar, and Gary Numan. One day I’ve got the radio tuned into some FM station out of LA and I hear the Pretenders for the first time. As soon as I hear their song “The Wait” I go out and buy their debut album the first chance I get.

Five months later, on September 10 I am sitting in Shyrock Auditorium at SIU wait-ing for the Pretenders to take the stage.

Whenever I hear the song I think about that spring of 1980 when I was preparing to get out of the Air Force and how my life would change forever a few months later when I started going to school at SIU. The die had been cast, a defining moment of my life was underway.

Their debut album still rocks. It’s raw, visceral, and powerful.

Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding – Elton John

When I was a high school student in the mid seventies, you couldn’t listen to the ra-dio without hearing at least one or two Elton John songs like “Bennie and the Jets” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” or his version of the Who classic “Pinball Wizard” being played heavy in rotation.

In a decade that started with Kent State and ended with the hostage crisis in Iran, the music of the decade might have lacked some of the cultural relish that the music of the 60s gave us, but it did offer a medley of styles and expressions which saw the birth of arena rock, disco and punk rock. It was also the beginning and the ending: The Beatles and The Doors were no more while the Rolling Stones, The Who, and Led Zeppelin would keep on rocking through the decade and turning out some of the best stuff. For other bands it was the beginning like The Eagles with their own distinct sound were ready to dominate the airwaves, while Queen, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, and Pink Floyd continued to redefine rock and push the music envelop.

In New York, the Ramones would strip down rock to its raw basics and energize crowds at a venue called CBGB’s. By the end of the decade, music would undergo a major reawakening thanks to those four lads from the UK who went by the name of the Sex Pistols and shook things up a bit.

It was a strange decade for music that gave us hits like C. W. McCall’s “Convoy” and Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” along with soon to be classics like “Bohemian Rhapsody” “Hotel California” and “Born to Run.”

The decade also saw the rise of rock superstars and business-type rock and rollers playing enormous venues. It was also a time for Pop and Rock icons like Elton John.

I first started listening to Elton John in the summer of 1975 when it seemed that every time you turned on the radio another one of his songs was playing. He had al-ready scored big on AM with “Bennie and the Jets” and in the summer of 1975 he was shooting up the charts with his version of “Pinball Wizard” for the upcoming the-atrical release of Tommy as well as “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” I liked Bennie and the Jets a lot it was featured in a little known movie from that summer Aloha Bobby and Rose (starring Paul LeMat from American Graffiti fame). I had just a couple 45’s and as well as his first Greatest Hits collection. I didn’t listen to Elton John too much after that summer. I preferred more of his earlier stuff like “Your Song” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Rocket Man” than the stuff he came out with toward the end of the decade.

A year later I had raised the bar for the music that rocked my world and I pretty much stopped listening to Elton John until 1980.

When I started attending SIU in the summer of 1980 I started getting into all kinds of music and catching up on a lot of the music I might have missed which meant adding a lot of albums to my collection including Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

There was at least one or two concerts every month on campus and a lot of up and coming bands were playing some of the local bars and clubs.

Elton John was one of the performers/bands who had a concert on campus that se-mester. As soon as it was announced that he was coming to SIU, my roommate and I decided to go. Elton John had recently reformed his old band and returned to per-forming the way he had when he first started. It was definitely going to be classic Elton John in concert.

My roommate asked his girlfriend to get us tickets and she got us some pretty good seats. Actually, she bought six tickets: one for herself, my roommate and myself and three for her friends. Somehow when she gave my roommate and me our tickets she got them mixed up with the other tickets. My roommate and I ended up with seats in the fifth row while his girlfriend and her friends ended up with seats in the twentieth row. Then, to complicate matters even more, my roommate had just broken up with his girlfriend. We had already given her the money for the tickets (she and I got along okay, too) so she had to give us our tickets. She just gave us the wrong ones though.

Elton John started off that concert with “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” The lights had gone down and you heard the song’s opening notes on a keyboard that sounded eerily like some funeral dirge. Then white lights bathed the stage with thick fog rolling across it; and it was then that you saw this small baby white grand piano on the left side of the stage illuminated by a few more white lights. When some of the fog cleared, you could see (and from where my roommate and I were sitting see very well) members of his band already on stage and then Elton walked out on the stage and took a seat at that baby grand. As that funeral dirge-like procession reached a climax Elton and his band launched into the song and literally brought the house down.

It was a memorable beginning to one of the better concerts I have been to and that song will forever remind me of when I was a student at SIU. I was just listening to it on my iPod today and you better believe I was transported back in time to that cool October night in 1980.

That’s one of the things that music is supposed to do. Take you back in time.

Ultravox in concert — SIU’s Shryock Auditorium, Halloween Night, 1980

Although I haven’t been to a lot of rock concerts over the years, the ones I have gone to were pretty memorable and special.

At the same time, some of the concerts I went to were during some important periods of my life (like some of the concerts I went to when I was at SIU or the ones I went to in Chicago with my best friend Chris Vasquez) and sort of underscored those life-defining moments.

I have to confess, a week before the Ultravox concert at SIU I didn’t know much about the band and their music. My suite mate at Freeman Hall, Miles, who turned me on to a lot of New Wave music (The Buggles, Madness) told me a little about the band but that was all I had to go on.

And I might not have gone to concert had it not been for the weekend before when I went back home and saw The Jerks at Friday’s for the first time as well as running into Chris, which was the first time we had seen each other since high school, four-and-a-half years earlier. It was that weekend when my musical transformation was made complete.

Ultravox. The name sounded so New Wave.

There were plenty of tickets available for the concert and although I wasn’t on the main floor, I had a good seat in the balcony. Of course, at Shryock Auditorium, the acoustics were unbelievable which made going to a concert there all the more memorable. I bought a copy of Vienna at Plaza Records and slapped it on my turntable. “Sleepwalk” and “Passing Strangers” were two of the songs that quickly grabbed my attention.

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