The Ron Kane Files

Writing About Music

Friday, October 19, 2007

Be-Bop Deluxe

10-19-07 Be-Bop Deluxe

The totality of my Be-Bop Deluxe collection from the time they were active is one 45, “Kiss of Light”. Catchy pop song, that was readily available as a 7” single. It’s not that I set out to be dismissive of them, but – let’s just say that in ’73 – ’76, my attention was focused elsewhere. Perhaps I read an article in NME / Sounds et al – saying that Bill Nelson was a new (70’s) “guitar hero”. After the “guitar heroes” I’d already gotten over (such as Jimi Hendrix), I wasn’t shopping around for another one…just yet.

In 2007, let’s just say that my interest in BBD stems from a general interest in British 70’s pop music (before punk). I recently found a collection CD “Postcards From The Future” that features both sides of their debut (rare and obscure) 45. Oh, boy! Maybe this is some more ‘faux glam rock’! Nice Bill Nelson liner notes, I might add.

There seems to be a lot of stuff on the cusp of British 70’s glam rock – regular rock bands that veer towards the glam – Roxy Music, Be-Bop Deluxe, Queen etc. Do these bands really belong being classed with Slade, The Sweet, Suzi Quatro, Gary Glitter et al? BBD would seem to be every bit as ‘guitar-heavy’ as The Sweet – but – subject matter? Performance? Something actually keeps BBD out of the British 70’s glam rock arena, for me anyway.

I eventually met Charlie Tumahai, the bassist of BBD. When I met him, it was many years after BBD, and he had returned to New Zealand and joined the Kiwi reggae group Herbs. Several of my good friends are very into BBD.

I think I found that I preferred thinking of Bill Nelson as a ‘new wave’ kind of guy – hence my fandom of the Bill Nelson’s Red Noise “Sound on Sound” album. In the 80’s, I got the first few Bill Nelson solo records – notably “Quit Dreaming & Get On The Beam” – I was also amused by his collaborations with members of Yellow Magic Orchestra. I always found it odd that Bill Nelson made so many (instrumental?) solo albums in the 80’s that all seemed to have nearly paragraph-long titles and covers that were nearly identical. How could you possibly keep track of all of them?

This ’04 collection BBD CD that I got will likely suffice for my digital BBD collection. I think I have one each of their original LP’s and a couple of singles. I’ll have to spend more time investigating the LP’s – so see if any of them hang together particularly well. I used to collect the Harvest label from England – so it’s a bit surprising that it’s taken me until now to ‘try’ BBD. I let the Harvest label guide me towards Wire – who it would’ve taken me a while to hear, otherwise.

So, fans – what are the Bill Nelson solo albums that I should go after? My favorite single is “Banal”.


Anonymous Jim Donato said...

Re: Bill Nelson

I've been a Bill Nelson "New Wave" fan too. I had never heard BBD in spite of seeing the LPs for years [Orlando radio never played 'em]. I can't remember what made me pick up Bill Nelson solo material in 80-81, probably an intriguing review.

One of the first things I got was a 7" box called Permanent Flame: The Beginners Guide to Bill Nelson - a 5x7" box of BN & BBD material - all pretty good sounding to me! I went off and started buying everything that I saw.

Of course the Red Noise album sounds not unlike Devo-informed synth punk - great prickly stuff, but a few smooth tracks are in the mix. This was followed by "Quit Dreaming & Get on The Beam" a few years later. Comparisons to Devo are natural since Nelson favors geeky, sci-fi lyrics and social commentary. "Quit Dreaming" is from whence "Banal" hails and was his response to Mercury asking for single material!

A classic album to me is his next LP, "The Love The Whirls - diary of a thinking heart" that originally came with a bonus instro LP of music he composed for a Yorkshire Theatre Company play of Cocteau's "Beauty & The Beast." Crystalline machines and beautiful melodies. A little guitar seeps into the mix but he was deliberately avoiding guitar at the time becasue that's what everybody expected from him.

I always really liked the final BBD album, "Drastic Plastic" too. I have the US LP and the early 90s UK CD - they each have some different tracks. By 1985, Nelson stopped recording anything but demos. 95% of everything since then has been quickly composed and recorded material; some with found vocals, no vocals or his vocals. 3-4 hours from start to finish. Or so he says.

Most of it sounds good but it can get overwhelming, since he is insanely prolific! As in multiple boxed sets per year prolific. I did prefer music he labored over for a longer time but in reality, there's not a vast difference in quality between the two approaches. I suppose he'd rather slam out an album in a week instead of taking a month or two.

One later album of demos that sound as "cooked" as his major label solo records of the early 80s is "Blue Moons & Laughing Guitars." It was material composed and recorded to function as demos for a never-happened Be Bop Deluxe reunion in 1992. This is highly recommended.

I have not picked up anything since that time [ie. the last 15 years!] Why? I can't afford it all! What - 34 discs since 1992?! Heck, a lot of this output is now OOP and when Bill Nelson goes OOP, fans have to pony up the bucks! My friend Tom gave up on getting a CD of "The Love That Whirls" and paid $180 online to get a copy only to have it finally re-issued the following month! OUCH!!

None of it totally wastes your time but the instro stuff does tend to blend together. Caveat Emptor.

1:43 PM  

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