Last year, we made a post about the back-story around George Michael‘s timeless classic “Careless Whisper” to celebrate 30 years since the song went to #1 in the UK. It got us thinking about a lot of the music written and recorded in that era. Many of the defining songs of that era of music were united by a common thread. They all had a rich back-story – one that included serendipitous meetings, artistic synergies between seemingly dissimilar creative entities, desires to lay the groundwork for a decade-defining creative manifesto, “larger than life” aspirations from “small town” people, an unwavering commitment to the sacred art form of music, a love and regard for David Bowie, and being at the right place at the right time. There had to be more content out there like our post about George Michael’s “Careless Whisper“. I had forgotten that one of our listeners and friends had recommended “Mad World: An Oral History Of New Wave Artists and Songs that defined the 1980s” during the summer of 2014. The book resurfaced in my mind at the NYC screening of Spandau Ballets’s “Soul Boys Of The Western World” on November 15, 2014 when one of the book’s co-authors Lori Majewski moderated the Q&A session with Spandau Ballet after the screening of their documentary movie. We just got done reading it and we are convinced beyond doubt that this book is an absolute “must have” for a pop music aficionado.
In “Mad World” (named after the Tears for Fears hit single) co-authors Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein have curated back-stories around some of the defining pop/rock tracks from the late 70s to the mid-80s from bands such as Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, New Order, The Smiths, Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, and the Thompson Twins. A substantial portion of the book’’s narrative is from the band-members themselves. By capturing the band-members’ thoughts and reflections, Lori and Jonathan have allowed the stories to retain their authenticity and have not diluted those stories with their own interpretations. Each story in the book is named after the song that forms the focus of the story. Noteworthy songs highlighted in this book include “Original Sin” (INXS), “Love will tear us apart” (Joy Division), and “True” (Spandau Ballet).
Each story (named after the song it is about) opens with Lori and John’s reflections on the band and the role (if any) they played in their musical childhood and adolescence. The story is then told by the artists themselves. Towards the end of each story, is a section titled “That Was Then But This Is Now”. In these sections, the authors have given readers a quick summary as to what the bands and artists are doing today. This section is a personal favorite of ours since it is bound to ignite a path of musical discovery for the reader that thinks the artists in this book are relics from a bygone era. In reality, many of these artists are continuing to write and record fantastic material that is commercially viable. More importantly, a lot of the new material by these artists retains the ingredients that propelled them to the stardom. Noteworthy examples of such artists are Duran Duran and a-ha. One “more than noteworthy” omission in this section is Kim Wilde. While her rise to fame has been well documented in her song-based story “Kids in America”, the fact that she has pulled off one of the most stunning reinventions in recent pop music has been not been highlighted. This is probably our only criticism of the book. Kim Wilde has gone from being a pop starlet to a rock chick with a fiercely sexy sound on albums such as “Never say never”, “Come and out and play”, and “Snapshots”. Recent singles such as “Lights down low”, “It’s alright” (a cover of a song originally written and recorded by British boyband East 17), and “Perfect Girl” are good starting points for a Kim Wilde rediscovery.
Some of the book’s most memorable and surprising sections are:
- The real story behind the icy cold relationship between Peter Hook (New Order bass player) and Bernard Sumner (lead singer of New Order).
- The source of Simple Minds’ signature track “Don’t you forget about me”.
- The diametrically opposing takes by Limahl (original lead singer) and Nick Beggs (bass player) on the reasons for why the original incarnation of Kajagoogoo split (the first time and in 2011) – and their continuing acrimony despite coming together for a great 4-track EP that was released in 2011.
- Bass player Martin Kemp’s “role” in Spandau Ballet’s timeless classic “True”.
The book ends with the story behind Band Aid’s “Do they know it’s Christmas” (the better of the two superstar-led charity tracks for Ethiopia). It is a fitting end as the super-group Band Aid comprises of many of the artists featured in this book.
“Mad World” is a celebration of a group of artists and bands that created enduring pieces of sonic and visual art that have left an indelible stamp on pop culture. The stories fuel a sense of longing for this bygone era in which creativity was king and stardom was a byproduct of superior artistry (as opposed to being the focal point of an artist’s aspirations). It is bound to force a re-evaluation of a creative era that has often been maligned. If the “history of pop music” was a college-level course, “Mad World” would undoubtedly be one of the official textbooks for that class.
We are an American internet radio station that broadcasts worldwide. The station features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. Unlike most broadcast radio stations featuring pop/rock music, we regularly feature newer material by the artists and bands whose stories are chronicled in “Mad World” alongside music by newer artists thus giving the listener a broader view of the modern pop music landscape.
Give us a spin when you get a chance.
We just might become your alternative of choice!