Berlin ‘The Metro’

Berlin’s Terri Nunn talks us through the making of 1981’s underground marker in the sand, ‘The Metro’ 

“I wanted to make music more than anything in life. I wanted it so much that it scared me, so I went into doing something else that came easier for me at that time, which was acting. 

“I was doing some television, and I auditioned for the part of Princess Leia in ‘Star Wars’. And then ‘Dallas’ came along, and someone talked the producers into giving me the role of Lucy Ewing. It was a seven-year contract, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make music if I signed it. So I turned it down, and my manager and agent both dropped me immediately. They were like, ‘What the fuck are you doing? Are you out of your fucking mind?’. 

“I never look back on what might have happened if I’d chosen ‘Dallas’ or got the part in ‘Star Wars’. They were wonderful opportunities, but not for me. After that, there was nothing to lose. I gave myself a year to find somebody who I might be able to do something with, and it literally took me a year. 

“I met John Crawford through an ad looking for a singer, which said, ‘We are unique’. I really like unique, so I called him, and he sent me a cassette tape of this electronic music. That sort of thing wasn’t really going on at all in America at that time. John was listening to all the imports by bands like Ultravox and Kraftwerk. He was writing songs using the one synthesiser that he could afford, and try to create a sound that would be a jumping-off point for his band, which he called Berlin. 

“He was trying to capture this feeling of being an oppressed teenager in a world of machines and parents who didn’t let you do what you wanted to do, and he felt that was all there in the name Berlin. I thought it was amazing. I’m a really, really emotional person, and I liked the idea of putting that, through my singing, against the coldness of John’s electronics. It felt like it needed it. The band didn’t have a lot of equipment, and there wasn’t a lot we could do with it. It sounded very remote, and the warm female vocals gave it a fluidity and sensitivity. I had no experience at all, but I lied through my teeth and said that I could do it to get an audition… and I got the job.

“In 1981, we started working on what would become ‘Pleasure Victim’, in a studio called The Casbah, in Orange County, which was all we could afford. I was in Los Angeles at the time, and so I would drive for two hours to record with them. We were doing demos to help us get a record deal. We had no idea that these demos would become the album, or that we were making the tracks that would be released. The entire ‘Pleasure Victim’ album cost $3,000 including the artwork, but it went platinum!

“One of the songs we recorded was ‘The Metro’, which was John writing about a girlfriend who was going to Europe to have a vacation. He was terrified she was going to meet some hot Italian guy, who would sweep her off her feet, and that he was going to lose her. 

“I sat with John, our drummer Daniel Van Patten, our guitarist Chris Ruiz-Valesco and our bassist David Diamond, while they were making these weird electronic sounds, and programming the 808 drum machine they had. I was so excited to be there. I’m not a tech head at all. I’m not into any of the gear and stuff. Even now, studios are just man caves to me, but at that time it was all new and I loved it. I hung out and listened to everything.

“‘The Metro’ was a pivotal song for us. We’d struggled to find our voice as a group. We kept writing and writing, trying different sounds and different feelings, and when we recorded ‘The Metro’, there it was. That was our identity. It was everything we wanted to be. Now we had our cornerstone, and we could judge what we were writing by that song.

“It wasn’t a hit, but it was played enough on underground radio, which was almost bigger than the Top 40 at that point. Teenagers were buying the underground stuff more than pretty much anything else. It just took over, and that was lucky for us, because we were really underground.

“Of course, the record we’re best known for is ‘Take My Breath Away’, from ‘Top Gun’ in 1986. Giorgio Moroder wrote and produced that track. He’d previously worked on our song ‘No More Words’. He’s said in interviews that he is the most proud of his work on ‘Take My Breath Away’. The most proud! The guy has two fucking Oscars for ‘Midnight Express’ and ‘Flashdance’, and worked with Blondie and Bowie and fucking everybody, and our song is the one he’s most proud of!

“That song is the gift that keeps on giving. It is bigger than life. It’s like our kids – we love them, we want the best for them, we give them our guidance, but we have no idea what they’re going to do out in the world, and it’s not our call. It’s the same with songs. We give them everything we’ve got, all of our heart and soul, because that’s the only thing that translates in the world of music. We put them out there, and they do whatever they’re going to do. For some reason, ‘Take My Breath Away’ is the one that just keeps going and going and going, and people don’t get tired of it. I’m amazed by it.”

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