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Thursday, 22 March 2007

Propaganda - Duel



ZTT Records co-founder Trevor Horn was the man behind Buggles, giving us the immortal “Video Killed the Radio Star”, but is perhaps best known for producing Frankie Goes to Hollywood and their notorious number one hit single “Relax”. His output is nothing if not diverse having worked with artists such as Roy Orbison, Tom Jones and, famously, with the session musician collective known as (The) Art of Noise. This ensemble included classically-trained Anne Dudley, later to compose the terrifically jolly theme tune of “Jeeves and Wooster”! As is usually the case when making choices, I prefer some of Trevor’s lesser known output. In particular, Propaganda’s “A Secret Wish” is one of my three favourite non-Roxy Music pop/rock albums of all-time (the others being Siouxsie and the Banshee’s “The Scream” and Magazine’s “Real Life”).

“A Secret Wish” spawned the hit single “Duel”, one of the finest pop songs of the Eighties and this post’s featured clip, and, before that, the equally excellent “Dr. Mabuse” which unforgettably asks, “Why does it hurt when my heart misses the beat?”. Trevor Horn also produced a single by a little known Parisian chanteuse called Anne Pigalle, “He! Stranger”, which is also well worth a listen. And, bringing us into the 21st Century, he has applied his skill to making Russian pop duo t.A.T.u. accessible to a British audience, initially with the single “All the Things She Said”. If you don’t know the song “Duel”, or even if you do, give it a listen but try and divorce your mind from the theatrics of the video, fun though they are, as I’d be interested in knowing what you all think of the track. I’d also be interested in knowing what are your all-time favourite albums?

13 comments:

Steve said...

Totally with you. Dr Mabuse is a phenomenal track and I still play The Murder Of Love regularly. Lush, rich sounds and that incredible voice (and nose). Sadly their second album was very disappointing... so much so I can't even recall it's name.

Steve said...

All time favourite albums? Difficult to pin them down - Kate Bush "This Woman's Work", Killing Joke "Brighter Than A Thousand Suns" are two that spring immediately to mind but there are loads more.

TimeWarden said...

Propaganda’s second album, the name of which escapes me too, was made by an entirely different group of individuals, though. I don’t think I ever heard it but original lead singer Claudia Brücken went on to form Act with Thomas Leer.

“This Woman’s Work” is a good choice. I used to own three copies… down to two now! I think I might have a recording, somewhere, of Kate performing the title track on chat show “Wogan”.

Steve said...

Yes, I think I have three versions too! Another fave album would be XTC's Skylarking and possibly English Settlement too. I have a soft spot for both these albums.

TimeWarden said...

I think my favourite XTC album would have to be “Drums and Wires” although I’m very fond of “English Settlement” too. Stand out track for me, on the latter, is “Melt the Guns”.

I’m lucky enough to have seen XTC live twice, considering they eventually became a studio-bound band after Andy Partridge collapsed. The first time was with the original line-up at the Cheltenham Town Hall, the second was on the “Drums” tour, on the University campus at Nottingham.

Old Cheeser said...

Yes, great track! I remember buying "A Secret Wish" on cassette when it came out (Summer of 1985? I seem to recall playing it on my Granddad's stereo and him proclaiming it was "Ok...if you like that kind of thing"!! I have the album on CD now.

I agree with Steve, "A Secret Wish" has a really lush, classy, dramatic sound to it. I have to say though it does suffer from a slight pretentious in the lyrics department that was a bit of a hallmark of all those ZTT acts. And those waffly pretentious words all over the album cover!! (Frankie's albums were the same). At the time though we all thought it was wonderfully deep and meaningful.

The video for "Duel" is so typically 80s too - lots of "meaningful" images and things happening that aren't very meaningful atall! The song speaks for itself though - a great pop track with a great hook - and some sinister lyrics - "The first cut won't hurt atall..."

As for all time favourite albums, I've actually started compiling a post on that for my blog...forthcoming!! But as a taster, some of all time-fave albums would be Hounds of Love - Kate Bush; Discovery - Daft Punk; Rooty - Basement Jaxx and Bad Girls - Donna Summer. A bit eclectic then...

TimeWarden said...

Funnily enough, I bought “A Secret Wish” on cassette too, rather than record. I don’t remember why but that was also the case with Ferry’s “Boys and Girls”, around the same time. I wonder what “kind of thing” your Granddad thought it was?!! He probably hated it but was being polite! Similar experience for me but the single was “John, I’m Only Dancing” by David Bowie.

I’m pretty certain the “lush, classy, dramatic sound”, to which you refer, is down to producer Trevor Horn. Most of his stuff has that punchy feel to it which makes many other producers’ work sound lame in comparison. The twelve inch version of “Dr. Mabuse” is a good case in point, a record with balls which really delivers! But, Horn is a perfectionist and thus costly.

I think the lyrics and words on the sleeve were an attempt to introduce metaphysics into pop culture! It was fashionable in classical music, around the same time, in works such as Ligeti’s opera “Le Grand Macabre” (whose lead characters are called Spermando and Clitoria, and features lesbian lovemaking in the back of a hearse)! Poe’s influence looms large, as well, with the line, “Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?”, which I’ve seen used at the start of at least two horror films!

The video does tell a story but, looking like something Visage would’ve made, detracts from the quality of the song. It makes the package as a whole feel dated but, when listening to the track in isolation, “Duel” sounds more innovative than anything around at the moment.

I look forward to your albums post, Simon. I started work on a singles one, making a list of twenty or so, which is why I asked about favourite albums (if that makes any sense?!!) but, as Steve said, these things are hard to pin down. Roxy Music figure highly on my albums list but not so much on my singles. It’s difficult to say you actually prefer one record over another, though!

Paul said...

Hi Tim, I too am a big fan of Art of Noise, Propaganda etc. Tedious links time: Paul Morley, one of the founder members of AoN married Claudia Brucken from Propaganda. No longer together though... After Propaganda, she formed the band Act (also on ZTT) with one album, Laughter Tears and Rage (amazing cover version of Heaven Knows I'm Misrable Now on it). After that she produced one solo album (Love and a Million Other Things for Island Records. Recent whereabouts unknown.

The second Propaganda album was recorded in 1989 and released by Virgin in 1990, called 1234. It featured a new line-up with original founder member Michael Mertens leading the band. Other members were American ex-pat vocalist Betsi Miller, Derek Forbes and Brian McGee (both ex-Simple Minds). Suzanne Freytag, one of the original band, provided guest vocals on Vicious Circle and Ministry of Fear, while Dave Gilmour provided some extra guitar work, Howard Jones co-wrote Your Wildlife, Gary Langan (AoN) mixed the album, William Orbit did some post-production and PSB favourite Tessa Niles did a lot of backing vocals.

Its actually a pretty good record. The original spark of Propaganda is still there, even if the whole thing doesn't quite come off.

TimeWarden said...

Nice to hear from you again, Paul. I remember seeing Paul Morley, alongside Verity Lambert, both advocating the virtues of “Twin Peaks”, back in the early 90s. I’ve always liked him for having a radical frame of mind. He once suggested replacing “Neighbours” with 25-minute chunks of Shakespeare, for example, to make them more accessible to those who wouldn’t otherwise be interested. Some find him opinionated. Maybe he is but those are often the more interesting of people!

I have an original pressing of “Laughter, Tears and Rage” which, unfortunately, doesn’t include The Smiths cover. I’ll have to get hold of a copy on CD which, I notice, includes three other songs also not on the original album as well as missing a couple of track titles. I believe the Simple Minds’ guys also toured with the original Propaganda. I remember seeing their second album, when it came out, but being disappointed by the absence of Claudia Brücken from the line-up.

Steve said...

I'm very jealous of the fact you managed to see XTC live!

I wonder what they're up to now... I've heard nothing from them since Wasp Star.

TimeWarden said...

I don’t know what XTC are up to at present, Steve. Regarding their live performances, the first was the most memorable possibly because it was more animated and the Cheltenham Town Hall more suited to staging gigs. I was up in the balcony for that one directly looking down on the stage at Barry Andrews’ keyboards!

When Barry left XTC, I considered auditioning for the band but they were looking for a guitarist, rather than a replacement keyboard player, and I also didn’t think it a wise idea to quit my degree for a life on the road! I crossed paths with Mr Andrews again, in the University refectory, when he was touring with League of Gentlemen!!

Michael G Clark said...

The propaganda track Duel also appears in some cuts of Luc Besson's Subway, while young Christof Lambert is crashing about in a wee car.

Always liked that song.

TimeWarden said...

It's a while since I've seen "Subway" but, if I remember correctly, "Duel" appears on the soundtrack near the beginning when, as you say, Christoph Lambert ends up driving his vehicle down some steps to the underground entrance.