Oh for the good old days of the West Coast techno-rock New Wave scene! By 1981 two bands arose that would be countlessly compared and whose relative merits would be much debated and discussed. Since each band was fronted by a female singer, this led to a lot of column inches with a generous proportion given over to photo coverage. That one of them was frequently semi-nude [whatever that means] only warmed the hearts of editors everywhere.
Of course I’m talking about the twin-pronged attack that some called “Bimbo Rock,” but the rest of us knew as Missing Persons and Berlin. I’ve written about my first encounter with Berlin here. I also first encountered Missing Persons in 1981 when I saw their indie 12″ EP stuck in the import bins out of possible confusion on the part of the Record Mart personnel. Within a few months, this would be picked up by Capitol and widely distributed, but I would not hear it yet at this time.
Missing Persons: Missing Persons US EP
- Destination Unknown
- I Like Boys
- Walking In L.A.
One look at that cover and it seemed to reek of desperation. I definitely didn’t bite. Meanwhile, 1981 rolled into 1982 and after their initial “Metro” single proved to be impossible to find, I noted that Berlin had released a 7 track EP on Enigma Records called “Pleasure Victim.” Ads in Trouser Press at the time by the label compared it to Moroder’s work with Blondie. I was already sold on the group from exposure to version 1 of “Tell Me Why” so I didn’t need any convincing. Before I could find the Enigma release, the band were picked up by Geffen and that puppy was everywhere by late 1982.
Berlin: Pleasure Victim US EP
- Tell Me Why
- Pleasure Victim
- Sex [I’m A…]
- The Metro
- World Of Smiles
I bought this and was crestfallen to discover that the version of “Tell Me Why” on this EP was a different take to what I’d already heard. But the EP did deliver New Wave synth rock of the type that I enjoyed. By this time the allegedly controversial “Sex [I’m A…]” single had made some waves. Too bad it was the band at their worst! Therein was encapsulated all of the band’s fatal flaws, namely an immature and puerile attitude regarding sex that managed to make them a less than wholly embraceable phenomenon in spite of their prowess at playing the Eurosynth game well enough.
On the other hand, by the same time as Berlin’s commercial uptick, the inescapable video for “Words” by Missing Persons had been turning up all over the tube [I recall seeing it months before MTV was added to our cable system] and having heard this band fronted by an exhibitionistic ditz who sounded like she took hits of helium in between takes, no matter what the instrumental dexterity of the ex-Zappa players who actually played the instruments, I just couldn’t go there!
So here were two L.A. bands, hitting the charts at the same time. Each were fronted by women who flirted with bimbodom; Dale Bozzio with her casual display of skin and Terri Nunn of Berlin, who was forced to mouth the callow sexual attitudes inherent in John Crawford’s songs. They both used high-tech instrumentation of the day. Missing Persons players had hot session chops and were consummate musicians by reputation. Berlin players, in comparison, were more pedestrian. They both had hits, but only one of these admittedly flawed groups has any representation in my collection.
For what it’s worth it comes down to two things, the singers and the songs. I simply cannot tolerate Dale Bozzio’s helium yelp! I suppose it can be said to sound similar to Lene Lovich’s delivery, but to me, aesthetically, there’s an enormous artistic gulf between the two that shames me even to bring it up! There’s a huge contrast with Terri Nunn’s powerful and confident vocals. I could listen to her sing all day long, even when hobbled by some of John Crawford’s obnoxious lyrics, which is saying a lot. Though no one has paid top dollar to have members of Berlin play on their albums, the style of Eurosynth “autobahn musik” favored by Berlin [they even got to work with Giorgio Moroder on their considerably better – and more popular – second album*] is miles nearer and dearer to my heart than the anonymous New Wave approach favored by Missing Persons. It may come down to the fact that Berlin were trying their honest [but limited] best to make music they had a deep, abiding interest in [they’re all big Ultravox fans] whereas Missing Persons always seemed to be playing beneath their levels to sell out. Well, I never bought it.
– 30 –
* I couldn’t help but notice that both “Pleasure Victim” and “Love Life” have exactly the same cover: John Crawford desiring siren Terri Nunn! It’s true! Only the delivery of the concept differs in execution [and obviously, budget].