Awhile ago, my wife said that she never envisioned a time when kids were not watching music videos on MTV. Sure, that thought stands when going through the daily grind of living, but within the context of human history, it makes sense that the music video being played on a television channel would go by the wayside as technology grew to replace it. Now, the user can simply go to YouTube or some other streaming site to watch the video or video in which that one person wants to watch, be it musical, comedy, zit-popping or some other theme. Back in our day, the radio played the music that particular station wanted to play. Now, each individual can control the specifically the songs to which he or she will listen while streaming or listening to, another dying technology, their iPod or iPhone.
But, back in those glorious early days of MTV, music was transitioning from those butt ugly, long haired virtuosos to photogenic new wave artists from England and New York City. Suddenly, no one really wanted to see the not-so attractive lead singer of Foreigner, who had one of rock’s finest voices, to the young girls all swooning over the guys from Duran Duran. Seemingly, overnight, the choice of music shifted from AOR to a Second British Invasion in the likes of A Flock of Seagulls, Culture Club and Tears for Fears. And, the big plus to many my age was the nice sounds that were rooted in the punk rock of Ramones and Sex Pistols and the synthesizers of Kraftwerk and other Krautrockers. To quote Bob Dylan, “The times they were a-changing.”
One band that I fell for in the early days of MTV was the English new wave band called The Psychedelic Furs. Certainly, the names of those bands were parodies of the names of bands from the garage rock era in the Sixties, but that was the attitude that swept through all art scenes during those heady days. Unfortunately, I never got to see the band live, but the reason I fell for them was simple enough. First, I had read that their 1982 album had been produced by a guy who was quickly becoming a hero to me, the one and only Todd Rundgren. Then, their first single, “Love My Way” had a decent video, but the song was killer and the band was using a xylophone. Like I said, everything was up for grabs back then.
A couple of things I noticed immediately when I put the album on the old turntable, that The Psychedelic Furs were either part of or, at least, influenced by the New Romantic scene of London in 1980 and 1981. This small niche of musicians and their fans were heavily influence both artistically and fashion-wise by David Bowie during his Young Americans/Station to Station Thin White Duke period of the mid-Seventies along with glam rock stalwarts Roxy Music. While the economy stunk at the time, these young people were dressing up, being very chic and “uptown”, while the musicians sang songs that lyrically vacillated between post-apocalyptic visions and positive escapism. And, although the music reminded many of Joy Division, the lyrics were never downers.
Overall, The Furs were a vastly underrated band. I mean, Todd Rundgren doesn’t produce posers. Mainly, he only works with talented artists of the underground. Forever Now, kicks off with “President’s Gas” is a typical attempt to attack the cult of personality of politics. The music is great, but The Furs downfall has always been their lyrics over the course of an album. Next up is the single, “Love My Way”. This song is a perfect example of a great song that is a bit too left field for the general public here in the States. It is a driving, intense dance/rock song that reminds one of Roxy while lead singer Richard Butler’s vocals are reminiscent of Bowie on Scary Monsters.
The rest of the album is great underground rock with many music touches of Roxy, Bowie and Joy Division. At the time, I remember thinking I was hearing the sound of the future and I wasn’t too far off if you ever listened to Depeche Mode in the late-Eighties or in the Nineties. The Psychedelic Furs were really just about five years too early for this album to be a bigger hit than it was at the time.
As I listen to the album right now, the songs are good, not great. But, they all contain a pinch of the sound that groups like Love and Rockets or Pixies will make more popular at the end of the decade. Side Two of the album is basically short on pop hooks and long on dissonance and feedback that will become the bread and butter of bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine.
In retrospect, I can finally understand why Rundgren took on this production work. He wanted to help this band begin to define the sound of the future, not have big hit songs now. And while The Psychedelic Furs next two albums will tone down the crying guitars, they will never hit the big time that many thought they deserved. Personally, I like a world in which a band like The Psychedelic Furs have never been worshiped by the masses. Rock music needs cult bands, whose sounds will influence nearly everyone who ever listened to them to form a band in an attempt to emulate them. Think of the Velvet Underground or Big Star. Those bands never were popular during their time, but many people have started bands in an effort to sound like one or both of them. And, rock music is always the better for that.