Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #35

[All throughout the month of November, all NW4NW entries will be based on requests made by you, dear readers. Because of the amount of requests coming in, there will often be more than one entry per week during this month - I recommend signing up for email alerts on the left-hand side of the screen so that you don't miss any of the fun! If you wish to make a request, you may do so either in the comments section of this post, or on Twitter by tweeting your request to @berutt. Don't be shy - tell me what band you want to see featured!]

Our second entry for NW4NW All Request Month comes to us via Michael Esposito (@esposimi), who chimed in on a Twitter music discussion recently with a link to the song "Straight Lines" by the band New Musik.

The American music industry never really did quite figure out how to market all of the new artists and new sounds bubbling up from the underground in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Sure, some records found their way to the mainstream (Devo's "Whip It," Gary Numan's "Cars," The Vapors' "Turning Japanese," etc.), but despite their popularity, they were generally relegated to novelty one-hit status. In 1980, CBS Records came up with an innovative marketing campaign launched through their Epic label that, had it been better focused, might have been the perfect vehicle to liven up commercial tastes: a series of releases called NU-DISKS.

NU-DISKS were 10" records with fewer songs than an album, priced at $5.00 per record rather than the going price for full LPs at the time, which was in the $8.00 - $10.00 range. The theory was that people would be more likely to part with a fiver to try a band they hadn't yet heard on the radio than they would be to plunk down for a whole album. The odd size of the records, coupled with their futuristic neon graphics, would set them apart from the stale old formulaic albums stuffing the record racks. This would be CBS's outlet for their New Wave acts!

Unfortunately, CBS was not adept at defining "New Wave." Nina Hagen and Propaganda (the British power-pop band, not the more well-known German synth group) each released NU-DISKS - they certainly fit the bill. The best known of the NU-DISKS were The Clash's Black Market Clash and Cheap Trick's Found All The Parts. But then there were also NU-DISKS by glamster Gary Glitter and old British rockabilly fogie Shakin' Stevens - hardly "new" much less New Wave! After about a dozen releases, the NU-DISKS campaign collapsed.

One of the real gems of the NU-DISK series, though, was an unassuming four-song set from the South London band New Musik called Straight Lines. New Musik had recently released a full album, From A To B, and two singles from that album had made a small dent on the UK charts: "Straight Lines" and "Living By Numbers". Their NU-DISK combined those two singles with their respective b-sides into a handy little introduction to the band's sound.

That sound was rather indicative of frontman Tony Mansfield's day job as a record producer and sometime session musician. Fundamental pop song structures with odd little studio tweaks surfacing now and again to give a just slightly off-kilter feel was New Musik's approach, and while they may never have had huge success themselves, Mansfield would later take that formula into production work for other artists like Naked Eyes, Aztec Camera and After The Fire and see great chart success both here and abroad.

My favorite of the two singles New Musik released in 1980 is the second, "Living By Numbers." Thanks to Mike's request, it is the newest NW4NW entry! Enjoy:

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  1. Patience, Gayle. Wait your turn!

    I told you to be careful what you wished for...