MIXTAPE: GENDER BENDERS 0

The expression ‘gender bender’ was practically invented in the 1980s due to a plethora of pansexual pop idols featured in this mixtape. Like its musical predecessors glam rock and disco, new wave music – most notably the Bowie-influenced New Romantics – took all the outrageous elements of fashion, unusual stage names, ambiguous sexual identities, make-up on both genders and over-the-top hairstyles. The early 1980s also gave the rise to music videos and MTV which were the perfect visual outlets for music artists to reach an audience 24 hours a day instead of the often brief appearance on the occasional weekly pop music program. This ability to break away from sanitized on-air TV appearances allowed many performers to further accentuate their gender bending persona.  Chris Rooney picks his favorite boys who look like girls and girls who look like boys.

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David Bowie, “John, I’m Only Dancing” (1972)
T.Rex’s groovy flower child Marc Bolan was the first out of the gate with a fully-developed glam rock image, but it was David Bowie’s androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust that one-upped Bolan when he declared in a Melody Maker interview that he was bisexual. His highly suggestive “John, I’m Only Dancing” further enhanced his gender-bending mystique as the song has long been interpreted as a gay relationship. After dancing with a girl, the narrator reassures his male partner that he’s “only dancing” with her and is not romantically involved. Alternatively, it has been suggested that Bowie wrote the song in response to a derogatory comment made by John Lennon about Bowie’s cross-dressing. Bowie’s flamboyant Ziggy Stardust along with Roxy Music’s panache would be the blueprint for the New Romantic subculture in London that would emerge at the turn of the next decade at Covent Garden’s Blitz club nights.

The New York Dolls, “Jet Boy” (1973)
Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, The New York Dolls made their way into the world kicking and screaming in platform heels while sporting ratty long hair, gaudy makeup, leather and tight pants. This ungodly birth gave rise to the 1970s British punk aesthetic adopted by The Sex Pistols, Siouxsie Sioux and The Damned and later the heavy metal glam image that would resurface in the 1980s with American bands like Twisted Sister, Mötley Crüe, Poison and Cinderella.

David Sylvian of Japan, “Life In Tokyo” (1979) / Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, “Planet Earth” (1981)
What came first: the chicken or the egg? In this case, it was probably a fuzzy, well-coiffed blonde chick. In 1982 one-time glam band, Japan called it a day and New Romantic newbies, Duran Duran became certified superstars. But between the two bands, they shared something in common: Japan frontman David Sylvian’s and Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes’ “gay but straight” looks were almost inseparable. In their late teens, Sylvian and his brother Steve stole some eyeliner from Bowie’s dressing room, some new last names from the New York Dolls, and sounds from both to create Japan. Sylvian dialed back the outrageous, imposing “alien from Mars” image that Bowie created (while keeping the gorgeous visage) and repackaged it in a more suave, sophisticated suit and masculine vocals reminiscent of Roxy Music’s troubadour, Bryan Ferry. When the 1980s rolled around, Japan were often associated with the burgeoning New Romantic fashion movement, though they denied any such connection. After Japan’s breakup, Sylvian went solo in a minimalist direction. Meanwhile, Nick Rhodes’ keyboard work emulated Japan’s 16th note sequencers that electronic music producer Giorgio Moroder introduced in “Life In Tokyo” and today Rhodes remains the world’s longest running David Sylvian tribute act, years after Sylvian himself put away the make-up and hair dye.

Klaus Nomi, “Nomi Song” (1981)
German-born Klaus Sperber discovered his love for opera and pop music in his youth. After struggling in Europe to define himself as an opera singer with his stellar countertenor (a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of a female contralto or mezzo-soprano), he moved to New York City in the early 1970s to be a part of the art scene based in the East Village. Using the pseudonym Klaus Nomi, an allusion to the American sci-fi magazine Omni, his performances blended his opera background with pop music in elaborate stage shows reminiscent of visions of early science fiction: Kabuki-style white face painting, black lips, extravagant clothes and hairstyles inspired by early 20th century avant-garde. David Bowie discovered Nomi in 1978 and helped him with a record contract along with inviting him to sing backing vocals on Bowie’s 1979 musical appearance on Saturday Night Live. Nomi was so impressed with the plastic bowtie-shaped tuxedo suit that Bowie wore during “The Man Who Sold the World” that he commissioned one to be made for himself. It completed the otherworldly manifestation that Nomi is best remembered by now. Nomi’s musical career was cut short when he died at the age of 39 in 1983 from complications due to AIDS. In more recent years, Morrissey has championed Nomi by often using one of his songs as an introduction prior to taking the stage at his concerts.

Annie Lennox of Eurythmics, “Who’s That Girl?” (1983)
After Lennox and Dave Stewart left their previous band, The Tourists, she reinvented herself in their breakthrough video, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” with a fiery red buzz cut hairstyle and an authoritative tailored suit like she was a modern-day Marlene Dietrich. (Sorry Madonna, Annie beat you to it.) Lennox played up the image even further in their video for “Who’s That Girl?” with dual roles as a 60s-era blonde nightclub singer performing the song and a Elvis Presley-like male member of the audience with his eye on her. At the end of the video, the female Lennox locks lips with the male Lennox. Blink and you might miss appearances in the video by all four members of Bananarama, Kate Garner of Haysi Fantayzee and fellow gender bender, Marilyn.

Philip Oakey of Human League, “Sound Of The Crowd” (1981)
With his lipstick, eyeliner and asymmetric hair hanging long and down one side of his face, Oakey’s androgynous appearance and chilly baritone helped to define the look and sound of British new wave in the early ‘80s. Lyrics like “The shades from a pencil peer / Pass around / A fold in an eyelid brushed with fear / The lines on a compact guide / Pass around / A hat with alignment worn inside” was the same musical inspiration that a desperate Oakey probably used to get ready before heading to the Crazy Daisy Nightclub in his hometown of Sheffield a year earlier. There, to his amazing luck, he plucked Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall out of obscurity to be his tour dancers and backing vocalists when he set out to create a more pop-driven Human League.

Boy George of Culture Club, “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” (1982)
America fell hook, line and sinker for the former Blitz Kid because of his witty personality and infectious retro soul pop sound so much so that Culture Club racked up five Top Five hits in the US within two years. His multicultural-printed baggy tops, ribbon-filled braided hair and accentuated facial features spawned such merchandise as a Barbie-sized doll by the American toymaker LJN that proclaimed on the box, “Boy George: The Original Outrageous Boy of Rock!” and the publication Boy George Fashion and Make-Up Book that featured instructions on how to create your own flamboyant hats and hairstyles and expert tips on make-up.

Pete Burns of Dead Or Alive “Brand New Lover” (1986)
If Boy George was the cute and cuddly androgynous performer that America could embrace, Pete Burns was Boy’s evil twin who brought a fiery sexuality to his songs and look. Burns has never shied away from flaunting his individual style and since his initial halcyon days with Dead Or Alive, he has gone through numerous cosmetic surgery operations to transform his face. While others of this era have moved on from their androgynous 80s style, Burns has constantly pushed his gender bending look even further.

Grace Jones “Slave To The Rhythm” (1985)
Long before Lady Gaga broke out of the gender box and Caribbean pop divas Rihanna and Nicki Minaj were even born, Jamaica-born Grace Jones was glamorizing a fiercely androgynous look with masculine, angular fashions and an imposing flattop haircut that could stop you dead in your tracks. Her commanding, yet exotic-sounding vocal delivery didn’t hurt either. Jones later appeared as the sexy assassin in the James Bond film, A View To A Kill for which Duran Duran provided the theme song.

Marilyn, “Calling Your Name” (1983)
Liberating the name that schoolyard bullies once taunted him with, Peter Robinson rechristened himself ‘Marilyn’ while wearing vintage dresses and bleach blonde hair when he became a regular at The Blitz along with his frenemy Boy George. After a small appearance in Eurythmics’ music video, “Who’s That Girl?” and Boy George’s success with Culture Club, Marilyn launched a singing career with limited success. Marilyn’s 15 minutes of fame stretched a little further when he took part in the Band Aid charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas” along with various other pop stars of the era. His notoriety soon waned after cutting his long blonde mane and ditching the makeup. At one time he was an item with the future Mr. Gwen Stefani, Gavin Rossdale before Rossdale’s days as the frontman of the band Bush.

Divine, “You Think You’re A Man” (1984)
Cult film director and close friend John Waters first bestowed the stage name “Divine” upon the drag persona of Glenn Milstead and introduced the actor and performer as “The most beautiful woman in the world, almost”. After several movies under Waters’ direction, Divine branched out as a singer by cutting several Hi-NRG disco singles in the 80s that were club hits in several countries. Just as mainstream recognition was around the corner, Divine died in 1988.

Jimmy Somerville of Bronski Beat, “Why” (1984)
With a skyscraping falsetto that could make Barry Gibbs sound like Barry White, Jimmy Somerville fronted the openly gay synthpop group that explored overtly political commentary on gay-related issues coupled with a hard-edged dance-pop sound. Thirty years ago, it was almost unheard of to be an out-of-the-closet pop singer, yet with his autobiographical ‘Smalltown Boy’ and this song, he and his bandmates gained mainstream acceptance. Somerville left Bronski Beat after one album and had continued success in the 1980s with his similar-sounding synthpop duo, The Communards and as a solo artist.

Laurie Anderson, “Language Is A Virus” (1986)
Experimental performance artist, composer and musician, Anderson never quite fit the definition of “new wave” but embraced its sound in many of her compositions and its ambiguous style with her spiky hair and skinny tie masculine suits. A recurring motif in Anderson’s work has been the use of a voice filter which deepens her voice into a masculine register, a technique which Anderson has referred to as “audio drag”. For much of Anderson’s career, her masculine character was nameless or called the Voice of Authority, although more recently, he was dubbed Fenway Bergamot at her late husband Lou Reed’s suggestion.

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Live From New York: It’s New Wave on Saturday Night Live! 0

Our friend Chris Rooney remembers SNL as a new wave-friendly playground…

If you weren’t lucky enough to have cable television in the early 1980s — or a cable provider that offered MTV showing round-the-clock music videos or TBS SuperStation, which had Nighttracks that did so to a lesser degree — then your chances to see your favorite new wave acts on the Big Three Networks (NBC, ABC and CBS) were pretty slim.

NBC aired The Midnight Special from 1972 to 1981. The 90-minute concert program followed the Friday night edition of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, but the show was pretty thin when it came to introducing upcoming post-punk or new wave acts. The time slot was later replaced with Friday Night Videos (1983-2000), NBC’s answer to the by-then-popular MTV.

ABC’s Saturday Night Live sketch comedy knockoff show, Fridays was shortlived (1980-1982), but it did showcase acts like The Boomtown Rats, The Cars, Devo, The Jam, The Pretenders, The Plasmatics, Split Endz and The Tubes. Meanwhile, Solid Gold, that weekly music countdown was a syndicated show usually found on minor or independent TV channels. However, performers on the show had to lip synch their songs.

The stalwart through this whole era leading up to the present is Saturday Night Live. Created in 1975, each week between various live comedy sketches, a music guest, either a solo act or a band, performed one or two songs live. Due to the shows edgy humor and younger demographic, big named acts rolled through the doors of Studio 8H at 30 Rockefeller Center to perform to a nationwide audience. Unlike NBC’s other big late night franchise, The Tonight ShowSNL stayed up with the times and featured many hot acts.

For many American teens, SNL was — and is — a way to see their favorite artists play live on stage. The rising popularity of the home VCR allowed one to record the show to watch later since the musical guest usually didn’t go on until well past midnight. Being a live television show for the last 40 years, SNL has always courted controversy and not just from its Not-Ready-For-Primetime cast. Whether it was Elvis Costello intentionally changing his choice of song 30 seconds into his performance, or Sinéad O’Connor ripping up a photo of the pope, or a really drunk Replacements mouthing obscenities while playing, the studio heads always have had to keep one finger on the five-second delay button.

NBC Universal’s tight rein on the broadcasts make it hard (read: impossible) to post and find online many of the musical guest performances during the late 1970s and early 80s — acts like Devo, Duran Duran, the Go-Go’s, Sparks, Men At Work, Joe Jackson, Squeeze, Denys Midnight Runners, The Motels — the list goes on and on.. But I *was* able to find one postable performance. Enjoy:
David Bowie, “The Man Who Sold the World, December 15, 1979 (Season 5, Episode 7) 

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THE ULTIMATE VALENTINE’S DAY NEW WAVE MIXTAPE Part DEUX! 5

For those who look forward to Feb. 14 and those who abhor it: Our second-annual playlist, and this one’s half dedicated to space-aged love songs, the other half a soundtrack of gut-wrenching weepies. (To listen via Spotify, click here.)

 

Side A: Anti-love songs:

JB PICKS:

“Love Song,” Simple Minds 

Not sure how much of a love song this actually is. Simple Minds were in their determinedly impenetrable phase, so who knows? Classic 80s freaking-out-the-squares video.

 

“Love Song,” The Damned

Not sure how much of a love song this actually is either. The Damned, in their second incarnation, with their first proper hit, unveiling their hidden secret: Captain Sensible was a really good pop songwriter.

 

“Love Part 1 (Poem),” Dexys Midnight Runners

This definitely isn’t a love song. “Love Part 1 (Poem)”, from Dexys’ classic first album, is a sour, spoken-word refutation of the very existence of love. When I interviewed Kevin Rowland for Mad World: The Book, he claimed to have no memory of the song’s existence.

 

“When Love Breaks Down,” Prefab Sprout

Possibly something of a theme emerging here? Prefab Sprout’s most straight-forward song is tasteful slice of heartache.

 

LM’S PICKS:

“The Other End of the Telescope,” Til Tuesday

I’m a big fan of Til Tuesday’s Everything’s Different Now album. Though it starts with the optimistic ode-to-new-love title track, it’s filled with some of my favorite sad love songs, like “J For Jules,” Mann’s breakup ballad for ex-boyfriend Jules Shear, and the single “(Believed You Were) Lucky.” But the one that’s really stood the test of time is this bittersweet duet with Elvis Costello.

 

“Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me,” The Smiths

How many nights did I soak my pillow while listening to this on my Sony Walkman in my teenage bedroom? How many teens are doing that very thing right this minute? How many ADULTS? “The story is old, I know, but it goes on…”

 

“Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Joy Division (Thank you to @Tammy Hiller for this suggestion.)

Though the jangly guitars and singsongy melody sound upbeat and happy, this Joy Division classic — Ian Curtis’ swan song to his marriage — is the penultimate it’s-over track. I dare you to read the lyrics and not get a lump in your throat.

 

“A Promise,” Echo and the Bunnymen (Thank you to @Tammy Hiller for this suggestion.)

For every person who’s tried to change their partner (that would be every single human being ever): Don’t.

 

“Never Say Never,” Romeo Void (Thank you to @Davido222 for this suggestion.)

“Old couple walks by/as ugly as sin/But he’s got her/And she’s got him.” Yep, that sums about half the world’s feelings on Valentine’s Day.

Side B: Mushy New Wave Love Songs

LM’S PICKS:

“Stripped,” Depeche Mode

I’ve never read 50 Shades of Grey, and I have no interest in seeing the movie. But, for my money, this is what sexy sounds like.

 

“Home and Dry,” Pet Shop Boys

This latter-day PSB track is the ultimate long-distance dedication: “Oh tonight I miss you/Oh tonight I wish you could be here with me/But I won’t see you til vou’ve made it back and again/home and dry.”

 

“Wishing (If I had A Photograph of You),” A Flock Of Seagulls

New wave men were so romantic — just listen to the soaring synthesized melody! The wistful lyrics! I would totally have dated Mike Score back in the day, hairdo and all. Hairdo especially.”

 

“Wonderful,” Adam Ant

I remember how shocked I was when Mr. Goddard released this romantic ballad. Equally shocking: it managed to be romantic even with the lyric “…when I nearly hit the face I love.” Thankfully Heather Graham got out before the going got rough.

 

“Save A Prayer,” Duran Duran

It’s everybody’s favorite new wave slow-dance jam. Somehow Simon Le Bon managed to convince Duran’s teenage fan base think the climactic love-‘em-and-leave-‘em couplet comparing one-night stands to paradise was something to sigh over.

JB’S PICKS

“Just Like Gold,” Aztec Camera

Sixteen-year-old Roddy Frame ablaze with poetic fervor pouring his heart out on his first single.

 

“Lets Get Together Again,” Human League

Hard to imagine the Human League haven’t tried to forget they once covered Rock N Roll Part 2 by the evil predator, Gary Glitter. But the band’s Glitter connection goes deeper. On their patchy 1990 Romantic? album, they took a shot at the Glitter Band’s awesome glam hit “Lets Get Together Again” which is safe to post until wizened members of the Glitter Band start getting arrested.

“I’m In Love With A German Film Star,” The Passions

Which one? Gert Frobe? Horst Bucholz? Curt Jurgens? Thomas Gottschalk? We may never know?

 

“Goodbye Joe,” Tracey Thorn

Sultry cover of the already sultry Monochrome Set song

 

“(I Love You) When You Sleep”, Tracie

Paul Weller’s teenage prodigy sings an Elvis Costello song about how love can be at its strongest when the object of affection is unconscious.

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