It was the year that the Taito Corporation in Tokyo released its ‘Space Invaders’ arcade game. It was the year that Douglas Adams’ ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’ was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4. And it was the year that the punk rock revolution opened the way for some of the most innovative and exciting music ever.
From post-punk to minimal electronica to mutant disco, the sounds of 1978 were often harsh and dark and warped. There was some silly stuff along the way, though. So while we can talk about the importance of the first records from the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, Joy Division, The Human League, PiL, Devo, The Normal and Tubeway Army, we mustn’t forget ‘I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper’. No, really, we mustn’t.
To mark the 40th anniversary of that incredible year, we’ve pulled together the 101 FLASHPOINTS OF 1978. It was a torrid time, that’s for sure. And just like every game of ‘Space Invaders’ you played, it was a blast. A big, loud, scary, exhilarating, blip-blip-blippy blast. Let’s get zapping…
The Sex Pistols implode following a gig at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, the closing date on their first American tour. A couple of days later, singer Johnny Rotten tells the New York Post that the band have split. “I am sick of working with the Sex Pistols,” he declares. The new year is barely two weeks old and punk rock is dead. Well, maybe not quite dead, but it’s certainly starting to smell a bit funny.
The Pistols’ original bassist Glen Matlock has spent the last few months gigging with his new outfit, The Rich Kids. The singer is Midge Ure, who was Malcolm McLaren’s first choice as the frontman of the Pistols, and the drummer is Rusty Egan. The band are signed to EMI Records, who release the powerpoppy ‘Rich Kids’ single on red vinyl and to much acclaim.
Another new-ish name is Magazine, fronted by former Buzzcock Howard Devoto and also featuring John McGeoch and Barry Adamson. They’re signed to Virgin and they make their debut with ’Shot By Both Sides’, a record that transforms punk into post-punk in four minutes flat. NME journalist Charles Shaar Murray describes it as “thunderous, melodramatic, richly textured, naggingly memorable, paranoiac, self-important, an adolescent fantasy captured and expressed with adult power”.
Brian Eno releases an overhauled version of ‘King’s Lead Hat’, a track on his ‘Before And After Science’ album, as a single. The title is an anagram of Talking Heads, who Eno had met when they supported The Ramones on a UK tour the previous year. The B-side of the single is ‘RAF’, a collaboration with Snatch, the New York art-punk duo of Patti Palladin and Judy Nylon.
Talking of Talking Heads, the American new wave band return to Europe for their first headlining dates on this side of the pond, playing almost 30 shows in the UK, France, Germany and the Low Countries. At the end of the month, they make their UK television debut, performing a storming version of ‘Psycho Killer’ from ‘Talking Heads: 77’ on ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’.
‘Paris Maquis’ by Métal Urbain is the very first release on Rough Trade, a label run by Geoff Travis from his record shop in west London. Métal Urbain popped into the shop one day to ask Travis to help them get a record out and this is the result. They’re the biggest name on the French punk scene, but their use of synths and a clattering drum machine alongside the distorted guitars and angry vocals sets them apart from most of their contemporaries.
Swindon avant popsters XTC release their debut album, ‘White Music’, on Virgin. It’s produced by John Leckie, best known for his work with Be-Bop Deluxe. The first single from the album, ‘Statue Of Liberty’, is banned by Radio 1 because of the line “And in my fantasy, I sail beneath your skirt”.
Warsaw are booked to play Pips nightclub in Manchester on a cold Wednesday night near the end of the month. It’s their first gig of 1978. But a few weeks before the Pips date, the Mancunian four-piece decide to change their name to Joy Division, a phrase used in the controversial 1955 novella ‘House Of Dolls’ to describe the brothels in Nazi concentration camps. The band have opted for the name switch to avoid confusion with the London punk outfit Warsaw Pakt.
The UK music papers are full of stories about The Moors Murderers, who have recorded a single called ‘Free Hindley’, a reference to serial killer Myra Hindley. The group revolves around Steve Strange, who plays in a band called The Photons, and also supposedly involves Chrissie Hynde, later of The Pretenders, and Topper Headon from The Clash. The single is never released and the band dissolves after Strange is attacked on Oxford Street following a piece in the Sunday Mirror.
‘Retro’, an EP featuring four live tracks from 1977, is the final release by the exclamation mark version of Ultravox!. From this point on, they’re just plain old Ultravox. The EP is also their last record with guitarist Stevie Shears. Together with John Foxx and Chris Cross, he’d been one of the three founders of Tiger Lily, the band that birthed Ultravox!. Shears is replaced by Robin Simon, formerly of Neo, best known for their appearance on the ‘Live At The Vortex’ compilation.
Several months after leaving Mean Street, who also featured on ‘Live At The Vortex’, Gary Webb has a new band. They’re called Tubeway Army and they make their recording debut with the punky ‘That’s Too Bad’ on Beggars Banquet. Webb, who adopts the stage name Valerian, gives up his job working in WHSmith as soon as the single is released, although he might not have been so hasty if he’d read what Bob Edmands had written about the record in his NME review. “A feeble Johnny Rotten imitator gabbles indistinctly over a ‘Day Tripper’ riff,” says Edmands.
P-Funk legend and future Talking Heads collaborator Bernie Worrell creates the distinctively squelchy and fabulously showy bassline of Parliament’s ‘Flash Light’ by connecting up four Minimoogs and throwing a party. The track initially appeared on Parliament’s ‘Funkentelechy Vs The Placebo Syndrome’ album, but the single version gives George Clinton and Bootsy Collins their biggest commercical success to date.
Copies of Suicide’s eponymous debut album on Red Star, a US label run by former New York Dolls manager Marty Thau, are starting to filter through to the UK and the critics don’t know what to make of it. Jon Savage, for instance. “Savage discovers he’s more attuned to drone monotony than rhythm monotony… and admits to indecision about this album,” he writes in Sounds, although his description of it as “a match/mismatch of Donna Summer to Lou Reed’s ‘Berlin’” is a neat line.
From Akron, Ohio, fellow American oddballs Devo have secured a UK deal for three singles with Stiff Records. First up is a reissue of their US underground hit ‘Mongoloid’, which is backed by ‘Jocko Homo’. The initial pressing comes in a tri-panel fold-out sleeve. The group’s version of The Rolling Stones’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ is scheduled to follow soon after.
Derek Jarman’s ’Jubilee’ film gets its first public showing, at the Bloomsbury Square Odeon in London. With plenty of nudity and violence but not much in the way of plot, the cult flick draws heavily on the punk aesthetic and features a host of punk artists and scenesters, including Adam Ant, Toyah Willcox, Gene October, Jayne County and Jordan. The film’s soundtrack boasts two cuts from Brian Eno, ’Slow Water’ and ‘Dover Beach’.
Few bands can match the wild performances of theatrical synth rockers The Tubes. So the fact that their ‘What Do You Want From Live’ double album, recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in London at the end of 1977, successfully captures some of the madness is a remarkable achievement. A baby’s arm holding an apple? You’d better believe it.
Art rockers Be-Bop Deluxe have been around since 1972 and ‘Drastic Plastic’ is their fifth studio album. Led by Bill Nelson, one of the most inventive guitar players of his day, Be-Bop Deluxe have flirted with elements of glam and prog along the way, but ‘Drastic Plastic’ sees them stepping into synthy new wave territory with the likes of ‘Electrical Language’. It’s good stuff too.
David Bowie is in America for the start of a huge world tour following the success of ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ in 1977. After two weeks of rehearsals in Dallas, Texas, the first gig takes place at the Sports Arena in San Diego, California. Bowie will be in America until May, before heading to Europe, then Australia, and then Japan, playing 70 gigs in 12 countries to around a million people. The tour is set to end in Tokyo in December. There’s still time in the schedule to work on material for his next album, ‘Lodger’, though.
Brian Eno releases the first in his ‘Ambient’ series, ‘Ambient 1: Music For Airports’. His use of phased tape loops of piano and vocals to create the four tracks is quite extraordinary, with one piece built from a total of 22 loops of varying lengths, some of them in excess of 70 feet long. “I went into it thinking I just wanted to make something that would work in an airport, that would actually make you think that flying was a pleasant thing to do instead of an unbearably uncomfortable thing, as I think it generally is,” Eno tells Glenn O’Brien from Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine.
The pulsating ’Rumour Has It’ is the latest single from Donna Summer’s ‘Once Upon A Time’ double album and another UK Top 20 for the Queen of Disco. Recorded at Musicland Studios in Munich and produced by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, who have been working with Summer since ‘Love To Love You Baby’ in 1975, ‘Once Upon A Time’ is a significant indication of the changes that synthesisers and drum machines are bringing to the world of disco music, particularly the so-called ‘Electronic Suite’ that occupies a sizeable chunk of the album.
‘Sterntaler’ is the second solo outing from krautrock superstar Michael Rother, briefly a member of Kraftwerk but best known for his work with Neu! and Harmonia. Can man Jaki Liebezeit guests on drums, but all the other instruments – from synths to Hawaiian guitar – are played by Rother. ‘Sterntaler’ is produced by Conny Plank and released on Sky, the label founded by Günter Körber when he left Brain Records in 1975.
Fellow German kosmische giants Tangerine Dream offer ‘Cyclone’, their ninth studio set. It’s a controversial release among hardcore fans because it’s the band’s first album to feature vocals. British singer and musician Steve Jolliffe is the man responsible. Jolliffe also plays flute on ‘Cyclone’, which sees Tangerine Dream moving away from their electronic roots towards a more overtly proggy sound – a sound that has pretty much nothing to do with what anybody else is doing in 1978.
Throbbing Gristle perform live in the courtyard of the Architectural Association in London’s West End, the oldest independent school of architecture in the UK. The band play inside a scaffolding box and can only be seen by watching on television monitors or going up to the roof and looking down into the courtyard. Sections of the audience are not happy and the box is pelted with flying objects. “There was nothing comfortable about a TG gig for us or anyone else,” notes Cosey Fanni Tutti in her ‘Art Sex Music’ biography.
Two months after its Stateside release, Pere Ubu’s ‘The Modern Dance’ album is issued in the UK on Blank Records, an offshoot of Mercury. Led by David Thomas, a man whose voice was later described as “like James Stewart trapped in an oboe”, the band are from Cleveland, Ohio, making them close neighbours of Devo. Not that they sound anything like Devo. Pere Ubu don’t sound anything like anyone.
There’s lots of exciting new music brewing in Sheffield and the first of the city’s post-punk bands to get something out on vinyl are 2.3, an outfit led by Paul Bower, editor of the Gunrubber fanzine. The record is called ’All Time Low’ and it’s the second release on Fast Product, a label run by Bob Last and Hilary Morrison from a bedroom in an Edinburgh flat.
Throbbing Gristle combine the tracks ‘United’ and ‘Zyklon B Zombie’ as a seven-inch on their own Industrial label. It’s the band’s second release following their ‘Second Annual Report’ debut album at the end of last year, but their first single. ‘United’ is a minimal synth track, a beautiful love song, and totally unlike anything else out there. It goes through numerous re-pressings over the next two or three years, the original version becoming one of TG’s most collectable items.
‘Adventure’ is Television’s second album, the follow-up to the marvellous ’Marquee Moon’. With a couple of exceptions, the tracks are less harsh, less urgent and less conspicuously dramatic than the material on their 1977 debut, which had been voted Album of the Year in Sounds. “It seems to be working toward the creation of atmospheric musical pictures which expand on [Tom] Verlaine’s lyrics the way a camera aids a film script,” writes Dave Schulps in Crawdaddy! magazine.
After a drunken launch event in Paris at which their dummies have their trouser flies opened for japes by journos, Kraftwerk release ‘The Man-Machine’, the follow-up to ‘Trans-Europe Express’. In a lengthy NME review that tackles the themes and the unsettling political undertow of the album, as well as David Bowie’s patronage of the band, Andy Gill concludes, “‘The Man-Machine’ stands as one of the pinnacles of 70s rock music and one which I doubt Kraftwerk will ever surpass”. He was half right.
The Normal aren’t a band. It’s one guy, Daniel Miller, and he’s started his own label to release The Normal’s debut single. The label is called Mute and the record brings together two minimal futuristic frugs, ‘TVOD’ and ‘Warm Leatherette’. The tracks are supposedly inspired by ‘Crash’, JG Ballard’s 1973 novel, and were recorded at Miller’s house using a second-hand Korg 700s and a couple of Revox tape machines. Is it any good? Sounds journalist Jane Suck thinks so. Not content with making it Single of the Week, she makes it “Single of the Century”.
John Lydon, the artist formerly known as Rotten, unveils his new band via the front cover of NME. They don’t even have a name yet, hence the headline “Introducing Johnny Rotten’s Lonely Hearts Club”. Guitarist Keith Levene was in the original line-up of The Clash and bassist Jah Wobble is an old mate of Lydon’s from school. Drummer Jim Walker joined just a few days ago after answering a Melody Maker advert. It’s another couple of months before they announce they’re called Public Image Ltd, but the buzz about them is already massive.
Tony Wilson launches The Factory at the Russell Club in Manchester, a venue that is mainly used as a community centre. The opening night features local acts The Durutti Column and Jilted John. Wilson, a Granada TV presenter best known as the host of the music show ‘So It Goes’, pays Peter Saville £20 to design a poster for the club and assigns it a catalogue number – FAC 1.
Dee D Jackson’s ‘Automatic Lover’ is one of the more surreal hits of the year. It’s accompanied by a soft focus video in which Jackson wears a silver and pink cloak as she sings “Your body’s cold, there’s not a hand to hold” to a robot. It’s all very ‘Blake’s 7’. The single is produced by Gary Unwin, a sometime associate of Giorgio Moroder on the Munich disco scene.
The Tubes have just started a European tour to promote their ‘What Do You Want From Live’ album. The record is selling well and the gigs are packed, but things go horribly wrong at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester when frontman Fee Waybill tumbles from the stage into the audience. He breaks a leg and is out of action for several months. It could have been much worse, though. He was waving a chainsaw around as he fell off the stage.
Later rather better known as the singer of Spandau Ballet, 18-year-old Tony Hadley plays the part of Gary in a photo love story called ‘Sister Blackmail’ for the recently launched My Guy, a weekly magazine aimed at teenage girls. George Michael, Tracey Ullman and Hugh Grant appear in other early My Guy photo strips.
‘Beaubourg’ is the latest album from Vangelis. Inspired by the architecture of the Georges Pompidou Centre In Paris and consisting of just two long tracks, the music is performed entirely on synthesisers, most notably the Yamaha C-60. Like ‘Heaven And Hell’ and ‘Albedo 0.39’, it was recorded at Vangelis’ own Nemo Studios near Marble Arch in London, where he’s been based since 1975.
The latest ‘BBC Sound Effects’ compilation – Volume 19, no less – is ‘Doctor Who Sound Effects’. It’s the first in the series to feature work created solely by The Radiophonic Workshop and brings together material recorded for ‘Doctor Who’ dating all the way back to 1963. The effects team was headed by first Brian Hodgson and then Dick Mills during the period that the record covers.
Recorded at Pennine Sound Studios in Oldham back when they were still called Warsaw, the four tracks on Joy Division’s ‘An Ideal For Living’ EP give just a hint of what is to come. The original seven-inch pressing on Enigma, the band’s own label, sells out quickly, so the EP is reissued as a 12-inch. Around this time, a Joy Division song also appears on ‘Short Circuit’, a 10-inch compilation of material captured during the final weekend of Manchester’s Electric Circus venue. The Buzzcocks and The Fall are among the other contributors.
Sheffield trio Cabaret Voltaire have been experimenting with loops and effects since way back in 1973, but they are becoming increasingly focused since setting up their own Western Works studio. They’re playing more gigs too, including sets at The Factory in Manchester and at Sheffield University. NME man Andy Gill catches the Sheffield show and is full of admiration. “I firmly believe that Cabaret Voltaire could well turn out to be one of the most important new bands to achieve wider recognition this year,” he says.
Another exciting Sheffield outfit are The Human League. The core members started using synthesisers when they were in a band called The Future and they’ve been working with vocalist Phil Oakey for around nine months. ‘Being Boiled’ is their first single, which Bob Last has released on Fast Product after he’d been sent a tape by Paul Bower from 2.3. “The League would like to positively affect the future by close attention to the present, allying technology with humanity and humour,” declares the press release sent out to journalists with the record.
Klaus Dinger, Michael Rother’s former partner in Neu!, has been working with his brother Thomas in LA Düsseldorf for the last couple of years. ‘Viva’ is the group’s second album and their most successful by some measure. The anthemic instrumental ‘Rheinita’ is released as a single and gets to Number Three in the German charts.
Riding high after the success of ‘The Idiot’ and ‘Lust For Life’, his two 1977 albums produced by David Bowie, IGGY POP ends a five-week European tour with three dates at The Music Machine in Camden, north London. His backing band is led by Fred “Sonic” Smith from the MC5, one of the few bands able to match The Stooges for raw power. As a mark of how good the gigs are, Ian Penman comes over all unnecessary in NME. “I was starstuck,” he writes. “I didn’t applaud. I gaped.”
After contributing ‘Talk Talk Talk Talk’ to Beggars Banquet’s ‘Streets’ compilation, The Reaction sign to Island and issue a single called ‘I Can’t Resist’. But the band splits up soon afterwards, leaving frontman Mark Hollis to ponder his future. Three years on, he puts together Talk Talk with the help of his brother, producer Ed Hollis, and a reworked version of The Reaction’s ‘Streets’ track becomes an early hit for his new group.
‘Peter Gabriel’ is Peter Gabriel’s second solo album and his second solo album called ‘Peter Gabriel’. The former Genesis frontman is continuing to push into new areas of sonic experimentation, helped in no small part here by Robert Fripp, fresh from working on David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ and keen to try more of his “Frippertronics” tape looping, and synth boffin Larry Fast, who has recorded two entirely electronic albums under the name Synergy. To distinguish it from the first ‘Peter Gabriel’, the record is dubbed ‘Scratch’ because of the claw marks on the photo of Gabriel on the cover.
From Boston, Massachusetts, The Cars are at the pop end of the American new wave spectrum. Their eponymous album includes their recent UK and US hit, ‘Just What I Needed’, which features some lovely synth work from keyboardist Greg Hawkes, as well as the band’s next single, ‘Best Friend’s Girl’. Both singles are issued as picture discs featuring a graphic of a vintage car.
Siouxsie & The Banshees sign to Polydor Records. Nobody can believe it’s taken so long for them to land a deal. They’ve been on the scene from the start, making their live debut at the 100 Club’s Punk Special in 1976 with Sid Vicious on drums, and have recorded two superb John Peel sessions. Maybe it’s because their cold and dark and tribal sound sets them apart from their contemporaries. But with punk evolving into post-punk, that could be to their advantage.
Talking Heads follow their ‘77’ debut with ‘More Songs About Buildings And Food’, which marks the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with Brian Eno as the band’s producer. Eno’s influence is massive, particularly on the rhythm section of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. The album yields just one single, a dramatic version of Al Green’s ‘Take Me To The River’, which gives Talking Heads their first US Top 30 hit.
Just three months after the release of their second album, Television split up. Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd both launch solo careers, while drummer Billy Ficca later joins Akron outfit The Waitresses. Alan Betrock pens a florid obituary of the group for the New York Rocker: “There were off nights. Granted. There were weak spots. Granted. There were tactical errors, production deficiencies, and hurt egos. All granted. But there was brilliance. There were times when the roof would fly away and we sailed upwards like UFOs on the Bowery. Perhaps there was just too much to be contained in one unit.”
Tubeway Army issue their second single, ‘Bombers’, a much cleaner, smoother and straighter rock track than their debut. Too clean, too smooth and too straight for Robin Smith at Record Mirror. “Please give up gracefully,” writes Smith. “Look here, old chums, the market for this sort of heavyweight monotony has died. Never mind, you can sit and tell your grandchildren how you nearly made it.”
Haruomi Hosono, a Japanese musician and producer with a career going back to the late 1960s, comes up with an idea for a one-off album of purely electronic disco music which he hopes will be successful way beyond the borders of Japan. He recruits electronics whiz Ryuichi Sakamoto, who has been experimenting with synthesisers since entering Tokyo’s National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1970, and former Sadistic Mika Band drummer Yukihiro Takahashi. The result is Yellow Magic Orchestra, the pioneers of technopop.
‘Out Of Reach’ is Can’s 10th studio album. It’s also arguably their worst. It comes at what is a strange and difficult period for the band. Holger Czukay is effectively out of the group and the remaining core members – Michael Karoli, Irmin Schmidt and Jaki Liebezeit – are joined by Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah, both formerly of Traffic, the British psychedelic rock outfit. By the time their next album comes out, Can will have gone their separate ways.
Back in Sheffield, meanwhile, Clock DVA are interviewed by Chris Westwood of ZigZag. Clock DVA are led by Adi Newton, who used to be in The Future with a couple of the Human League guys. “W-E-I-R-D, no two ways about it,” writes Westwood. “They smack of winkle-pickers, dope, ‘Clockwork Orange’ logos and waaay out there theories about the mating of punk aggression and precision electronics. There are distinct sex/perversion/gore fixations and Newton confesses to personal Iggy, Bowie, Warhol and Ballard fascinations.”
If you think Devo’s cover of ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ is a bit potty, wait until you hear The Residents’ version of the song. The San Francisco band, who wear giant eyeball masks and top hats when they play live, first released the track in 1976 as a limited edition single of just 200 copies. This time round, it’s on transparent yellow vinyl.
Future Eurythmics Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart are in the early stages of their music career. They’re the main players in The Tourists and their gig at The Marquee in London is watched by Mark Ellen from NME. “They’re one of the most refreshing and entertaining bands I’ve seen in a long time,” he writes. “If I was an A&R man, I’d be camping on their doorstep and stuffing banknotes through the letterbox.”
After their three singles on Stiff, Devo have signed to Virgin in the UK for their debut album, ‘Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!’. David Bowie had expressed interest in producing the record, declaring “This is the band of the future” after seeing Devo play in New York, but Brian Eno gets the gig and takes the band to Conny Plank’s studio in Cologne. Here’s Tom Carson reviewing the album in Rolling Stone: “A brittle, small masterpiece of 70s pop irony, but its shrivelling, ice-cold absurdism might not define the 70s as much as jump the gun on the 80s.”
The Human League play their first London gig, a support slot with The Rezillos at The Music Machine. NME journo Charles Shaar Murray describes them as “one man with a tie and a microphone standing between two men with keyboard operated implements”. He goes on to say that they “whack the shit out of NY’s over-rated Suicide by dint of intellectual rigour, superior imagination and a far more inspired use of stage non-presentation”.
Almost a year old and initially scheduled to appear on the Manchester-based New Hormones label, The Fall’s ‘Bingo-Masters Break-Out!’ EP is released on Step Forward, the London imprint run by Alternative TV’s Mark Perry. The Fall have gone through some personnel changes in recent months – Mark E Smith starting as he means to go on – so the three tracks are the only existing recordings by the original line-up of the band.
Siouxsie & The Banshees finally get themselves onto vinyl too. Named after a Chinese takeaway in Chislehurst, south-east London, ‘Hong Kong Garden’ is a big favourite with the fans, having already been recorded for a John Peel session at the beginning of the year. It’s Single of the Week in NME, Sounds, Melody Maker and Record Mirror, so nobody is surprised when it leaps into the UK Top 10.
French drummer and producer Marc Cerrone, better known simply as Cerrone, rocks the discotheques with the heavily synthesised ‘Supernature’. It’s a hit in the UK after the Hot Gossip dance troupe come up with a particularly raunchy routine for the track on ‘The Kenny Everett Video Show’. All in the best possible taste, of course.
‘Chairs Missing’ is the second album from Wire, the London band’s follow-up to last year’s widely praised ‘Pink Flag’. They’re less punky and more arty now, with longer tracks and increasingly complex arrangements. They’ve got some additional weapons in their armoury too, including synthesisers, sequencers and lots more guitar effects. The synth parts on the album are played by producer Mike Thorne.
The always idiosyncratic Big In Japan split up after a final gig at Eric’s, the seminal club in their home city of Liverpool. Most of the members still have interesting careers ahead of them, though. Singer Jayne Casey forms Pink Military Stand Alone and later co-founds Cream, the world-famous superclub. Guitarists Bill Drummond and Ian Broudie go on to The KLF and The Lightning Seeds respectively. Bassist Holly Johnson subsequently fronts Frankie Goes To Hollywood, while drummer Budgie joins first The Slits and then Siouxsie & The Banshees.
Snakefinger is British multi-instrumentalist Philip Lithman. He’s lived in San Francisco for the last few years and is an associate of The Residents, playing on several of their records. His first single is ‘The Spot’, a semi-acoustic punk song overlaid with electronic squeaks and squonks released by Ralph Records on blue vinyl. The flip, ’Smelly Tongues’, is stranger still, not least because of the unnervingly hissed vocals.
The Rich Kids release what turns out to be their only album, ‘Ghosts Of Princes In Towers’. It’s produced by David Bowie’s old sparring partner Mick Ronson. Sandy Robertson interviews frontman Midge Ure for Sounds and describes him as “singing like an insane Frank Sinatra” on the opening track.
Kraftwerk’s ‘Neon Lights’ 12-inch is the first record to be pressed on luminous vinyl. It’s only available as a single in the UK, though. In Germany and elsewhere, ‘Neon Lights’ is the B-side of ‘The Model’, another track from ‘The Man-Machine’. It’s another three years before ‘The Model’ is released as a single in the UK, when it goes all the way to the top of the charts, giving Kraftwerk their one and only Number One single anywhere in the world.
As a mark of how far ahead of their peers they are, ‘Systems Of Romance’ is Ultravox’s third album. It’s also their first with Conny Plank and their last with John Foxx. More overtly electronic than anything they’ve done before, the seamless blend of rock music and machine music has a major impact on lots of artists, including Midge Ure, who replaces Foxx in the band the following year. ‘Systems Of Romance’ gets very mixed reviews, however, and is not a commercial success.
Another band releasing their third album are Blondie. ‘Parallel Lines’ is an gigantic leap forward from the group’s first two albums, with electronics brought into the mix for the groovy ‘Heart Of Glass’ and the moody ‘Fade Away And Radiate’. No less than six tracks from the album are issued as singles, with the disco treatment given to ‘Heart Of Glass’ resulting in a Number One record all over the world, including America, Britain, Germany, Canada and Australia.
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark play their first gig at Eric’s in Liverpool. Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys have known each other since primary school and previously played together in The Id. McCluskey has also had a brief spell with Dalek I Love You. The pair are joined by Winston, a reel-to-reel tape machine that plays pre-recorded synth riffs and drum parts.
George Clinton and Bootsy Collins return with another synth-fuelled dance monster, this time under their Funkadelic guise. ‘One Nation Under A Groove’ sees Walter “Junie” Morrison from the Ohio Players joining Bernie Worrell on the synthezoidees, as the P-Funk crew call them, and gives Funkadelic their first million selling disc. Do you promise to funk the whole funk and nothing but the funk?
Going one step weirder than even the P-Funkateers is a young lady called Cristina, whose ‘Disco Clone’ is a warped delight from start to finish. Whoever calls it mutant disco is spot on. It’s produced by ex-Velvet Undergrounder John Cale and it’s the first release on ZE Records, the New York imprint that is subsequently home to the likes of Was (Not Was), Kid Creole & The Coconuts, The Waitresses and Material. John Peel says he’s a huge fan of ZE, calling it “the best independent record label in the world” in 1980.
Godley & Creme release their second album since splitting from 10cc. ‘L’ features Roxy Music sax man Andy Mackay on a couple of tracks and, like their ‘Consequences’ triple set, is a collection of very complex avant-pop songs resulting from some equally complex recording practices. “I suppose it’s just that we keep trying to find different ways to screw ourselves up,” they tell Melody Maker journalist Harry Doherty.
Simple Minds have crawled from the ashes of Johnny & The Self Abusers, who split up the day their ‘Saints And Sinners’ single came out on Chiswick Records. The Glasgow group have a Sunday night residency at the Mars Bar and NME reviewer Ian Cranna is impressed: “You know that band everybody’s been waiting for, the one that will achieve that magic fusion of the verbal visions of the Bowie/Harley/Verlaine twilight academy with the fertile firepower of the new wave, that early Roxy Music with a rock ‘n’ roll heart? Well, here they are.”
Thomas Leer and Robert Rental, two friends originally from the Scottish town of Port Glasgow, both have singles out. Just 650 copies of each record have been pressed because that’s all they can afford. Leer’s ‘Private Plane’ and Rental’s ‘Paralysis’ were recorded in their respective living rooms using the former’s Teac four-track tape machine. Leer’s vocals are a bit whispery on his single because his girlfriend was asleep in the bedroom next door at the time of the recording and he didn’t want to wake her.
Public Image Ltd make their vinyl debut with ‘Public Image’, a three-minute statement of musical intent that shows John Lydon is moving in a very different direction to his former colleagues in the Sex Pistols. “It’s a slagging of the group I used to be in,” Lydon explains to Melody Maker journo Chris Brazier. “The rest of the band and Malcolm [McLaren] never bothered to find out if I could sing, they just took me as an image. It was as basic as that. They really were as dull as that.”
Producer Patrick Cowley takes the credit for transforming Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ from a fairly ordinary gospel song into a hi-NRG stomper, making both men gay disco icons along the way. Cowley had started out as a member of Sylvester’s live backing band, but his extensive knowledge of synthesisers impresses the San Francisco singer and secures him a key role when they get into the studio.
Brian Eno seems to be involved in pretty much everything in 1978, although his ‘Music For Films’ album was actually originally issued a couple of years earlier in a limited edition of 500 as a sort of sonic showreel that was sent out to filmmakers. This expanded commercial version features 18 short tracks, half of them under two minutes long, and a wide range of guest musicians, including Robert Fripp and John Cale. Paul Rudolph, formerly of the Pink Fairies and Hawkwind, is on here too. He’s been playing with Eno since 1973.
Giorgio Moroder’s soundtrack to ‘Midnight Express’ is released the same day as Alan Parker’s movie. Parker has asked Moroder to come up with something along the lines of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ for the central theme tune and the result is ‘Chase’, which features Harold Faltermeyer on keyboards. The full 13-minute version of the instrumental track is issued as a one-sided 12-inch.
John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ hits the screens just a couple of weeks after ‘Midnight Express’. Much is made of the film’s chilling piano and synth soundtrack, which is composed and performed by Carpenter himself. It took him three days to complete the entire score, which is two days longer than it took him to score ‘Assault On Precinct 13’, his previous film.
The Rum Runner in Birmingham has been a nightclub for around 15 years, but the place undergoes a radical refurbishment after the owners visit Studio 54 in New York. The staff at the new-look venue include bouncer John Taylor and occasional DJ Nick Rhodes. Taylor and Rhodes also have a band with their friend Stephen Duffy. They’re called Duran Duran and they play their first live shows at the Rum Runner after the club’s owners become their managers.
The record company release schedules are getting fatter and fatter. This month’s albums including XTC’s ‘Go 2’ and JAPAN’s ‘Obscure Alternatives’. ‘Go 2’ is the the last recording XTC make with Barry Andrews, their original keyboardist, who goes on to play with Robert Fripp in The League Of Gentlemen before forming Shriekback. ‘Obscure Alternatives’, less interestingly, has Japan still largely stuck in glam rock mode.
It’s not just albums. The seven-inch racks are increasingly packed to the brim too. Three of the most interesting on offer right now are Spizzoil’s wonderfully deranged ’6000 Crazy’ on Rough Trade, GANG OF FOUR’s angular and alt-funky ‘Damaged Goods’ on Fast Product, and The Flying Lizards’ peculiarly irresistible version of Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’. Paul Morley describes the latter as “the missing link between The Smurfs and Devo” in an NME interview with Flying Lizards main man David Cunningham.
Cabaret Voltaire make their vinyl debut with ‘Extended Play’ on Rough Trade. The four-track EP, which is Rough Trade’s third release, includes the early favourite ‘Do The Mussolini (Headkick)’ and a largely unrecognisable version of The Velvet Underground’s ‘Here She Comes Now’. The music is hissy and fuzzy and squelchy, with Stephen Mallinder’s vocals pumped so full of effects that he sounds positively alien, and the picture sleeve has a black and white shot of the band playing live. What on earth does “Heart Addicts In Make-Up” on the back cover mean, though?
Tubeway Army have issued their first album as a limited edition of 5,000 copies on blue vinyl in a blue gatefold sleeve emblazoned with the band’s name. It’s not so obviously rocky as the two singles they’ve put out so far and main man Gary Webb has ditched his Valerian pseudonym. He’s credited as Gary Numan instead. He decided on the new moniker after coming across a company called Neumann Kitchen Appliances in his local Yellow Pages. He liked “Neumann” but thought the spelling was a bit too German, so he’s dropped the E and one of the Ns.
Space disco doesn’t get any better than this. Sarah Brightman & Hot Gossip’s ‘I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper’ incorporates samples from ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’, as well as a bit of Richard Strauss’ ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. It has some pretty naughty lyrics too. And to think that Brightman has only just turned 18.
Liverpool seems to be turning out a new band every week. Most of them get their first break playing at Eric’s. On a foggy Wednesday evening in the middle of the month, two groups making their live debuts in an Eric’s double-header are Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes. Bunnymen singer Ian McCulloch and Teardrop Explodes frontman Julian Cope played together in a band called The Crucial Three in 1977, the third member being Pete Wylie, later of Wah!.
After an 18-month hiatus, Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay and Paul Thompson begin work on a new ROXY MUSIC album at Basing Street Studios in London. ‘Manifesto’ appears the following year, the track ‘Dance Away’ giving the band their biggest hit single since ‘Love Is The Drug’ in 1975.
It’s that man Eno again. ‘After The Heat’ is credited to Eno, Moebius, Roedelius and is the result of Brian Eno’s frictionless assimilation into Cluster which started in 1976 with his recordings with Harmonia and continued with the ‘Cluster & Eno’ album the following year. It’s released on Sky, produced by Conny Plank, and features Holger Czukay from Can. Eno soon moves on, though, with New York becoming his new focus and base.
Those record company schedules are getting fatter still. This month’s other releases include Siouxsie & The Banshees’ ‘The Scream’ and Pere Ubu’s ‘Dub Housing’ albums, plus Big In Japan’s posthumous ’From Y To Z And Never Again’ four-tracker on Zoo Records, Scritti Politti’s ’Skank Bloc Bologna’ on the band’s own St Pancras label, and Fàshiön’s ’Steady Eddie Steady’ on their Fàshiön Music imprint.
And then there’s Yellow Magic Orchestra’s eponymous debut album. It’s initially only available in Japan, but it proves to be one of the most popular import records of the year. It’s heavily influenced by the ‘Space Invaders’ and ‘Circus’ arcade games and the music is performed on a huge array of electronic equipment, including Rolands, Korgs, Yamahas, ARPs, Oberheims and Moogs. The track ‘Firecracker’ is released as a single in the UK and the US in 1979 under the title ‘Computer Game’.
‘DOA: The Third And Final Report’ is Throbbing Gristle’s second studio album. The standout is the frankly terrifying ‘Hamburger Lady’ and there’s also a speeded up version of their ‘United’ single that lasts 16 seconds. Here’s Jon Savage reviewing the album for Sounds: “TG’s vision is mostly bleak. Their eyes are all too clearly open. Occasionally humorous, but with a specific point: we all too easily allow what we call ‘reality’ to be assumed and manufactured for us by others: the deformation of the soul, 1978 AD.”
The first release on Factory Records is ‘A Factory Sample’, a double seven-inch featuring nine tracks from four artists – Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, The Durutti Column and John Dowie. Joy Division contribute ‘Digital’ and ‘Glass’, while Cabaret Voltaire offer ‘Baader Meinhof’ and ‘Sex In Secret’. The black and metallic silver gatefold sleeve is designed by Peter Saville and the package comes with a free sheet of stickers.
Another interesting showcase release is the ‘No New York’ album, which brings together some of the biggest names on NYC’s experimental no wave scene. Compiled and produced by Brian Eno, the artists appearing on the album are The Contortions, DNA, Mars and Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, the latter led by the one and only Lydia Lunch.
Jean-Michel Jarre fans are finally rewarded with the ‘Équinoxe’ album, the slightly disappointing follow-up to 1976’s smash hit ‘Oxygène’. Jarre has spent most of the year finessing it in the studio. “What I do is not gimmicky, it is not mechanical, it is not cold, it is emotion,” he tells Record Mirror’s Tim Lott. As a sign of the times perhaps, Lott devotes the opening paragraph of his article to jokes about frogs.
They’ve been signed to Fiction Records since September, but the Polydor subsidiary don’t want to put anything out until next year. Which is how come The Cure’s ‘Killing An Arab’, the band’s first single, is a one-off release on the independent Small Wonder label. It’s a little eerie and a little exotic and the title is controversial, but frontman Robert Smith says the lyrics are inspired by a passage in ‘L’Étranger’, the Albert Camus novel.
The Slits are on the road as the main support on The Clash’s ‘Sort It Out’ UK tour. Like Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Slits have been around since the start of punk, but their dubbed-up sound represents a different sort of new wave and they have struggled to get a record deal. The fact that they’re proving to be a match for The Clash, especially wild singer Ari Up, her swaying dreadlocks dripping with spit most nights, is finally making the music industry pay attention.
With The Moors Murderers saga behind him, Steve Strange has hooked up with Rich Kids drummer Rusty Egan and the pair are hosting David Bowie club nights at Billy’s, a dingy basement under a brothel in London’s Soho. Despite the grim surroundings, the nights attract a glamorous and rapidly growing crowd. Strange and Egan are preparing to move their club to another venue, but in the meantime they also start putting together a band with Rich Kids singer Midge Ure. The band are VISAGE and the new venue for their club nights is The Blitz Club in Covent Garden.
‘Public Image – First Issue’ is Public Image Ltd’s much anticipated debut album. “Rotten/Lydon is still nothing less than his own man – venomous and frightening,” concludes Nick Kent’s NME review. Equally much anticipated are the band’s first live shows. After a couple of warm-up gigs in Brussels and Paris, PiL play two nights at The Rainbow in London on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The year might be over, but for PiL, like so many of the artists documented here, the story is only just beginning.
Five months in the making and costing three times the budget allocated by Warner Brothers, Prince releases his debut album. Every instrument on ‘For You’ is played by Prince and it’s a synth heavy set, with Moogs, Oberheims and ARPs taking key roles. The record fails to make the US Top 100 on its release, peaking at Number 163, but it goes on to accumulate sales of over two million copies worldwide.
The 100 Club on Oxford Street has been one of the most important punk venues in London since it hosted its Punk Special in September 1976, a two-night event that brought together The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned and many more first generation acts. The owners are tired of the continued violence at the club, though, and ban punk bands from playing there. Alternative TV, led by one-time Sniffin’ Glue editor Mark Perry, are the last to tread the boards.
The promotional posters for Japan’s ‘Adolescent Sex’ album that are pasted around London are causing a stir. The posters feature the words “Get Into Japan” and close-up photos of a man’s crotch with a woman’s hand inserted into the open trouser fly. Despite the promo campaign, the album itself, a glam rock fest at odds with the group’s later material, is largely ignored in the UK. “Bowie influenced tripe” is the verdict of one reviewer. It fares better in Japan, though, where it dents the Top 20.
Matt Johnson is a tea boy at the De Wolfe Studios in central London and the driving force behind The Marble Index. Influenced by The Velvet Underground and named after the Nico album, the group grab some downtime at De Wolfe to record a few demo tracks, including ‘Spaceship In My Garden’ and ‘Insect Children’, the titles taken from old American sci-fi comics.
The Moroder-ish rhythm is terrific, so much so you can forgive the incessant mechanical handclapping and the daft whooop-whoooping. Well, almost. But whatever you think of it, The Michael Zager Band’s ‘Let’s All Chant’ is a great early example of cheesy electronic dance music and it gives American producer Zager a massive hit single all over the world, including in the UK, where it reaches the Top 10.
Stiff and Chiswick, the big pub/punk rock independent labels, are hosting alternative talent shows around the UK under the banner The Stiff/Chiswick Challenge. There are more than a dozen artists on the bill for the gig at Rafters in Manchester, including 2.3, V2 and Jilted John. Last up, at two in the morning, are Joy Division. “Mock heroics all around from Iggy imitators acting out their sons-of-World-War-Two histrionics I can do without,” is Mick Wall’s summation of the latter in his Sounds review.