Blue Plate Special: Underworld
For this week’s musical adventure, I thought I’d share some backstory on a popular, somewhat mainstream band: Underworld. Most people are familiar with the band from 1991 going forward, originally consisting of founders Karl Hyde and Rick Smith combined with Darren Emerson, who departed the band in 2001. But their history actually goes back to the late 1970’s, originally named The Screen Gemz, and then renamed Freur with the release of Doot-Doot, their first of two albums.
I owe much of my music tastes to a small group of friends that were a couple of years older and hard-core music consumers. I first heard Freur in 1984 and loved what I heard, and by the release of their second album in 1986, I owned a couple of singles. This was no small feat, as British new wave and underground music was hard to find in the US at that point in time. I credit eBay and Napster for opening things up for collectors.
In 1987, Freur renamed themselves Underworld, after writing the score for the movie of the same name, and produced two albums of pop-rock following the same pattern as the previous albums. And honestly, at the time I thought the first album was OK, but I absolutely hated the second album. And then the band went dark, with Karl and Eric diving into art projects, but reforming once again as an electronic ensemble with the release of Dubbnobasswithmyheadman in 1994, and the rest is history.
For this week’s Blue Plate Special, here is a collection of some of my favorites from both Underworld and Fruer:
Bruce Lee – from the album Beaucoup Fish (1999)
From their 3rd release under the new techno dance incarnation, this was the album that really pushed the band into the mainstream following success with the single Born Slippy (1996) being included in the Trainspotting soundtrack. The album’s singles Push Upstairs, Jumbo, and Moaner (which was included in the film Batman & Robin) were huge club hits, but the song that always stood out to me on this album was Bruce Lee. Overall, this remains my favorite Underworld album.
Doot-Doot – from the Freur album Doot-Doot (1983)
I was introduced to this single by a friend who was DJ’ing a church youth dance in 1984. The song stood out to me, but it wasn’t until 86 that I was able to get my hands on a copy. Most 80’s music fans remember the song, but can’t name the band — nor are they aware that it was an early incarnation of Underworld.
Hey Ho Away We Go – B-side from the Freur single Look in the Back for Answers (1986)
I credit David Haddock for bringing this one to my attention. I was aware of Freur’s second album, Get Us out of Here (1986), but the B-side for the second single, Look in the Back for Answers, included what has become one of my all-time favorite 80’s songs, Hey Ho Away We Go.
Two Months Off – from the album A Hundred Days Off (2002)
If you’re new to Underworld, this song and video are an excellent primer.
Underneath the Radar – from the album Underneath the Radar (1988)
This song got major airplay in the US and on MTV (back when they used to play videos), and in the highlights IMO of the first Underworld album. It seems evident that the band was struggling at this point with trying to figure out their brand, but it is an excellent song, although the spinning video gives me a slight headache.
Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You – from the album Dubnobasswithmyheadman (1994)
Released with widespread acclaim, established the Underworld sound. I can listen to this album end to end, over and over again. But for me, the standout single was Skyscraper. Sooo good.
The Devil and Darkness – from the Freur album Get Us Out Of Here (1986)
Wrapping up this list with the first single off the second Freur album. It was actually released as a single in 1984, then added to the second album…which had a delayed released due to the record label. My favorite from the album (not including B-sides) and a great way to end this list.