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