Blue Plate Special: Ultravox
Early in my music listening history, I became aware of the singles from the UK band Ultravox, but it wasn’t until I attended university in 1986 that I heard the full-length albums…and quickly consumed them all. During the fall of 1986 while a freshman at BYU. I had a couple of good friends who were hardcore fans who provided me with cassettes and CD’s and 7″ singles of their entire catalog, cementing my passion for them.
When you talk about 80’s synth music, people often think of various one-hit wonders like Tainted Love (Soft Cell), Take On Me (A-ha), and Always Something There To Remind Me (Naked Eyes). While I am a fan of each of these bands, and yes, I know that they had some lesser hits and some really great albums, they were, for the most part, one-hit-wonders. But Ultravox had multiple hits and much deeper influence, especially within the UK and across Europe.
After 3 albums in the post-punk and burgeoning techno music scene, Ultravox! (originally with an exclamation) under the leadership of singer John Foxx, the band had a minor shakeup in 1979 with singer and guitarist Midge Ure (formerly with Slik, Thin Lizzy, Rich Kids, Visage) who co-authorized “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and co-organized Band Aid and Live Aid with Bob Geldof. I won’t go into all of the history of Midge Ure side projects, but since most of these side projects included other members of Ultravox, I’m including some of my favorite singles and deep cuts from some of these side projects. Enjoy!
Lament – from Lament (1984)
The title single from their 7th studio album, this hauntingly beautiful song depicts the band members visiting their lovers on a remote Scottish island, and was filmed in Elgol, Kilmarie, and Broadford Hall, Scotland.
New Europeans – from Vienna (1980)
Probably my favorite Ultravox track, and in my Top 20 favorite songs of all-time. It is much more guitar-driven than their singles, and is a great transitional song from the post-punk Foxx era to the more synth-laden Midge era.
We Came to Dance – from Quartet (1982)
The final single from Quartet, and the last of 7 consecutive top-20 singles for the band, this is another of their songs which I remember from youth dances in the mid-80s.
After a Fashion – single with Mick Karn (1983)
I am a fan of just about all-things Mick Karn (formerly of the band Japan), and learned of this side project single with Midge Ure a couple years after its release. Very distinctive Karn bass lines.
Dancing with Tears in My Eyes – from Lament (1984)
The second single from this album, it quickly became one of their biggest hits, and performed well on US college radio, although it didn’t perform well with US audiences overall. Such a shame.
Your Name (Has Slipped My Mind Again) – from Rage in Eden (1981)
Not a single, but one of my absolute favorites from this amazing album.
Fade to Grey – from the Visage album, Visage (1980)
The debut album from new romantic synthpop band Visage included this single, fronted by vocalist Steve Strange with members of Ultravox backing, which reached #8 in the UK, and #1 in Germany and Switzerland. I remember hearing it in the early 80’s, once again thanks to some really good college radio programs out of San Francisco and Berkeley every Friday and Saturday night. Throughout the 80’s it remained a popular club mainstay.