| ||TV Review published by City Monthly Magazine Feb 2004 |
VH1 Bands Reunited
Has anyone else been watching these VH1 "Bands Reunited" shows? I was prime time in the eighties, all streaked hair and mousse and eyeliner and pants that were way too small. And the bands in the ads were some of my favorites, along with Depeche Mode and Duran Duran, who have recently broken up and gotten back together, respectively. What a flashback!
Frankie Goes to Hollywood? "Two Tribes" is one of the best produced songs ever, I use the nine minute extended mixes to test my sound systems, and are so amazing in the car, turned up window-shakingly loud. But they fell apart (the band, not my windows) in 1987 after only two albums. Holly Johnson, the lead singer, tried a solo career - his first solo album (a flop) appeared in 1989 he has only worked in music sporadically since, now just a legendary queer figure in the shadows of London, more painter than performer. And Paul Rutherford, after the breakup did a solo album with Chic (also a flop) and then disappeared. Where on earth would they find him? How could they EVER get Frankie back together?
I was intrigued.
KajaGooGoo? A classic one hit wonder if ever there was one; an amazing first single, produced by Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran (while at Duran's peak in 1983), they the fired their lead singer Limahl for being "too gay" (how could be such a thing?) and never again hit the charts. Although they did squeeze out one great single "Turn Your Back on Me" (also a flop) before they gave up. Limahl's in his mid-forties by now, and aside from "The Neverending Story", another one hit wonder produced with Giorgio Moroder in 1984, hasn't made a ripple in the music scene since. How could they ever even FIND the members of KajaGooGoo?!!
I was hooked. Lined. And sinkered.
The first show I caught was Berlin. Now there is the definition of an 80's synth pop band. I loved them. The first time I heard "Sex (I'm a)" was on the dance floor of a shady club in Vancouver (Canada), it was the summer of 1983 and I was immediately a fan. "I'm a goddess, I'm a virgin, I'm a blue movie, I'm a bitch, I'm a geisha, I'm a little girl, and we make love together" with all that panting and groaning over percoalting and shameless disco pop. It was an eight minute sex epic that would make even Donna Summer blush with envy. And I was in heaven.
Apparently it all went wrong when Terri Nunn (lead singer) recorded a song with Giorgio Moroder (why does that name keep popping up?) for a little summer movie called Top Gun and, released as Berlin, gave the band their one and only Number One hit, won an Academy Award, and was the first nail in the coffin. The problem was, it wasn't the band's song, but they had to put in on their album and play it in concert. Terri's tumultuous relationship with keyboard player and songwriter John Crawford fell apart and the last time the two spoke, seven years ago, was, in Terri's words, "rough".
But VH1, armed with a new VJ personality, Aamer Haleem, an aggressive camera crew and seemingly endless expense account, tracked them all down, and coaxed them into getting together in a room ("but no pressure") to see if they could put the past behind them and play a one night only reunion show. "We just happen to have full band equipment set up on stage, just in case you feel like jamming." Subtle.
Interviewed in the limo, on the way to the initial reunion meeting, Terri Nunn was in tears, "I don’t know what to expect from John, this is really big for me." My heart was in my throat. Cut to John Crawford, also in tears, "I'm afraid I'll look like a slightly overweight middle aged father from Orange County". It was a long lost family reunion, only better. These are people I actually LIKED. As Dave Diamond says, "a cross between old family and old lovers". Terri was crying, John was crying, I was crying. But could they pull themselves together to perform with a band that hasn't played a show in almost twenty years? As Terri says, "Can we still do it? Can we still play together?"
Then came KajaGooGoo. The investigation team was on full alert and they tracked the members down, one by one, in their homes, in their offices, in restaurants. They were merciless, it was uncomfortable, it was just like watching Hard Copy. Interesting to see the reactions from people who are living fully in 2004, most of them not even in the music business any more, blindsided and bombarded, on camera, into making a decision to see ex band members who they maybe haven't even thought about in a decade. Some reactions are defensive, some are inquisitive, and some practically jump on board. "Just tell me where and when." It's easy to see from which members the initial turmoil may have sprung.
But they often say, "yes, it would be good to see everyone again, there was so much left unsaid, it would be good for closure, we really need that, it was a great time in our lives," and sometimes, "we've tried to get together but there's always something getting in the way." The question is, will the Limahl of 2004 forgive the 'boys' for kicking him out of the band at the height of their greatest success? And does he remember the words to "Too Shy"?
Next up was Frankie Goes to Hollywood. As great as Frankie was, there were always rumors that the band never even played on the album, that it was all a studio creation from the mastermind of the amazing Trevor Horn and ZTT Records. (Horn went on to produce Seal's albums, as well as ABC, Grace Jones, the Pet Shop Boys and more.) They were almost more a marketing concept than actual musicians. Of course, that didn't matter back then. (And doesn't matter now). Holly was the voice and Paul was the dancer (you had to be there) and the 'boys' were the background. But now here they are, looking not a day more than twenty years later, as VH1 tracked them down and assaulted them with an on-the spot reunion offer. They looked only slightly uncomfortable holding guitars and drum sticks... so who knows.
I'm not going to spoil anything, I'm not going to reveal if the reunion attempts were successful (but I will tell you that some aren't). But they did track them all down and the 'now and then' split screen shots are affecting. Will Holly Johnson's diva personality and overactive ego allow him to stand on stage on front of the straight boys he once feared violence from 15 years ago? Stay tuned.
Also in the series: Flock of Seagulls, Squeeze, the Alarm, Romeo Void, Klymaxx, Extreme and more. Info and photos at www.vh1.com/shows/, where you can also vote for which other 80's bands you'd like to see reunite: The Thompson Twins? Nu Shooz? T'Pau? Til Tuesday? Vixen? How about the Police? ABC? Spandau Ballet? Jellyfish? Japan?
- Rod Reynolds Los Angeles February 2004 ©2004 The Art Dept LA
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