Steel Cage Match: Berlin vs Missing Persons

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.

Capitol | US | EP | 1982 | DLP15001

Missing Persons: Missing Persons US EP

  1. Words
  2. Destination Unknown
  3. I Like Boys
  4. 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.

Geffen | US | EP | 1982 | GHS 2036

Berlin: Pleasure Victim US EP

  1. Tell Me Why
  2. Pleasure Victim
  3. Sex [I’m A…]
  4. Masquerade
  5. The Metro
  6. World Of Smiles
  7. Torture

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].

 

The image of John Crawford casts a gaze of desire on unattainable object.

 

 

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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9 Responses to Steel Cage Match: Berlin vs Missing Persons

  1. chas_m says:

    Gadzooks I could have written this myself, I’m that much in harmony with what’s been written here!

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  2. Taffy says:

    I’ll throw in my 2 cents, since I always seem to have change in my pocket…
    I agree basically with everything written; well done, Monk. I will say that I own Missing Person’s debut, and find several of their songs enjoyable, no matter how derivative their quirkiness may seem. Dale Bozzio is definitely a lesser Lene Lovich, but I give her some credit – these days everytime I see a picture of Lady Gaga I kind of see Dale staring back at me.

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  3. Echorich says:

    Forget rap and hip hop, the first East Coast/West Coast musical rivalry for me was over Punk and New Wave! Having been nursed and spoon fed Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Television, Voidoids, even The Cars, Urban Verbs and Bush Tetras, my friends and I were very suspicious and dismissive of most West Coast Punk and New Wave. X and Dead Kennedys made an impact on us, but West Coast New Wave just basically sucked in our opinions. But I kept, from most of my friends, an interest in both Missing Persons and Berlin secret to avoid being ostracized. Terri Nunn’s delivery on Sex…, and The Metro made any adult in the room quickly uncomfortable and this held great weight with me. Dale Bozzio was actually the only thing I liked about Missing Persons. The Zappa connection for the Bozzios and future Durannie/internet porn star Warrren Cuccurullo worked against them in my book. But the songs were a guilty pleasure and kinda self depricating. In the end Berlin, pre overexposure from Take My Breath Away were pretty damn brilliant, Missing Persons still remain a guilty pleasure. One last note. the early 90’s wet dream teaming of Terri Nunn and Andrew Eldritch on Sisters of Mercy’s Under The Gun is a work of over the top Goth bravado that I just adore!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – You are hitting a topic I intended to follow on from this one. Namely, the East Coast VS West Coast music rivalry. Suffice to say, I would list the truly great West Coast bands using the fingers on one hand! For me there’s no comparison as to which coast makes better music, and I say that as someone who was born in Los Angeles. I tread lightly because my compadre, ronkanefiles [who lives on the West Coast] dislikes East Coast bands with a symmetrical fervor while reserving his highest praise for the likes of Frank Zappa, whose music literally makes me feel ill when I hear it. For me, there’s only a single truly great band that originates on the West Coast, Sparks! All bow down to the Brothers Mael! They are as significant to me as the Velvet Underground were.

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      • Echorich says:

        Well now Monk, you have whetted my appetite for more on the EAST COAST v. west coast topic. I do agree as well regarding Sparks. They are a sort of foundation band for a lot of the music I like. Others include early Roxy Music, Bill Nelson/Bebop Deluxe (another RT Baker reference and a topic regarding The Cars I could expound further on) and Krautrocker’s Can. I can only give credit to Zappa for giving Captain Beefheart a vinyl outlet, otherwise, please take his music off the turntable!

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  4. No one ever denigrates Marylin Monroe for being a bimbo. In the same way, Bozzio and Nunn used their sex appeal to promote and empower their brands. As did Madonna while getting accolades for being a shrewd “businesswoman”. Smart women have beed using T & A to their advantage for ages and they are to be applauded for it!

    MP’s “Mental Hopscotch” reveals a flat out Rock band trying to escape their New Wave categorization. While Berlin’s sometimes cringe worthy lyrics almost make me want to deny I like them, songs like “Pleasure Victim” always pull me back in. And if I ever get tired of the music from either band I can always look at the album covers!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      OCDJ – I am right there with you on the vacillation on Berlin. So much of the band is attractive to me, but the stunted emotional tone of Crawford’s worldview loses me. But from where I’m sitting, Marilyn Monroe was a sad creature. I have never understood why anyone would give that female, female impersonator the time of day. The less said [or even thought] about M*d*nn*, the better, as I see it.

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