Archive for the ‘Philip Glass’ Category

A Word From Our Hidden Sponsors – 1980s Radio Interviews

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

I’m a journalist (at least I try to be), so allow me to drop a journalism term on you: Advetorial content.

An advertorial is a paid advertisement that tries to come off like editorial content. You’ll sometimes see them in magazines, they’re the multi-page ads that look like articles but have the word “advertisement” in tiny print a the bottom of the page. Advetorials are deceptive by design, and if you ask me, more than a little bit evil. They’re not made to be intriguing or thought-provoking content designed, they serve no other purpose than to drum up fake news coverage for a product.

In the 70s and 80s (and probably into the 90s and even today) record labels released their own form of advetorial content known as “radio specials.” These were glorified PR kits that were given to radio stations in the hopes that they would play them on the air, passing them off as a special presentation when it was really little more than a 30 to 45-minute ad for a band that the label poured a lot of money in. I don’t know how successful these radio specials ever were at drumming up interest in artists, I don’t remember ever hearing them when I was a kid, but either the radio stations or the labels loved them, because I always see a ton of them in used record bins today.

I imagine that if I stumbled upon something like this on the radio today I would be outraged at the deceptive advertising practices that were being used. But whenever I come across an old one like the ones I’m sharing tonight, I find them oddly charming, and in the case of the one with The Mekons, incredibly entertaining.  I hope you enjoy them as well.

The Dream Academy Talk About Their Debut Album
Lloyd Cole Talks About His Album
These are from a 1985 promotional LP titled “The Warner Bros. Music Show” (Bugs Bunny is even on the label). As you can probably guess, The Dream Academy program starts (and ends) with the band talking about their mega-hit “Life In A Northern Town.” Advetorial content or not, the guys responsible for this record knew not to bury their lead.

Also within seconds, the lead singer name checks the producer of the record, who was Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. I can’t really blame him though, if I just finished working on something with David Gilmour I would mention it as much as possible as well. Although when he says “when I talked to Paul Simon, who I’ve known for years…” that’s a bit forced.

But at least the people in The Dream Academy are interesting and seem to enjoy talking about their music, which is more than I can say for Lloyd Cole. To be honest, I don’t know much about Lloyd Cole or his band The Commotions, but his interview really didn’t do much to alleviate that problem either! All I picked up from his conversation is that his goal as a popular musician was to make it on The Top of the Pops, and since he had he really had no idea what to do next. Not really enthralling stuff to be honest.

Pete Shelley Interviews the Mekons
On most of these interview specials you don’t even hear the inteviewer ask their questions. All you get are plugged in responses by the artists in question. They don’t sound like proper interviews or conversations, instead they sound like what they really are, which is PR designed to sell records. But this interview is hands and feet above the others, because not only do you get to hear a real, organic conversation between the artist and the interviewer, but the interviewer in question is Pete Shelly of The Buzzcocks.

Pete Shelley is awesome. That’s a proven fact. So hearing him just sit down and shoot the shit with one of the better post-punk bands of the era is really fascinating. The Mekons (John Langford and Tom Greenhalgh) are obviously well-acquainted with Pete, and don’t have any kind of pretense or sense of self-importance around him. If anything, they are overly self-deprecating in their views of themselves, their music, and most entertainingly, the state of music in the mid-80s. It’s a great listen (and hysterical, their riffs on Casey Kasem, Simple Minds and pretty much all of America are great), and it’s made even greater if you do what I do, and imagine Pete Shelley conducting the interview while wearing the white suit from the Homosapien video, sitting with his legs crossed and his hands on his knee.

1981 Radio Special Side 1
1981 Radio Special Side 2
1982 Radio Special Side 1
1982 Radio Special Side 1
Polyrock was perhaps the greatest band of the early new wave era that didn’t “make it,” and the fact that they never broke through to at least some cult level of success int he early 80s has always been a mystery to me. Not only did they sound absolutely incredible, a perfect combination of dance-friendly new wave and dissonant, minimal no wave, but they had a hell of a hook when it came time to promote their albums, Philip Glass (who was super hot shit at the time) served as a producer on the first record, and even played with the band on the second album. But alas, the band never clicked with any kind of audience, and after their two albums, RCA dumped them, leading them to breakup sometime after.

But to RCA’s credit, they sure as hell tried their best to promote Polyrock, I have several magazines from the era that feature Polyrock ads in them, and the label went out of their way to record not one, but two separate radio specials for the group. Oddly enough, no one from the band appears on the first radio special. Instead, Philip Glass and his co-producer Ken Munkacsi serve as the focus of attention. What they say is very interesting though, and doesn’t just sound like PR bullshit. They obviously like Polyrock, and they have unique perspectives on what qualifies as rock music, dance music and the recording process. It’s a fascinating interview.

For the 1982 special,the focus is shifted to Billy Robertson, the vocalist and guitar player for the group. He talks a lot about what exactly “new wave” means, instrumentation vs. lyrics and a lot of other geeky music stuff.

Both these interview specials feature a lot more of the band’s music than the Lloyd Cole and Dream Academy programs, and even include some complete songs. So if you’ve never heard of Polyrock there’s still something here for you to check out if you love new wave, because Polyrock was one hell of a new wave act.