Just in time for the concert tonight at The Roundhouse featuring Heaven 17 performing “Luxury Gap” and tomorrow night’s following B.E.F. concert debut, is the sorely needed boxed set of B.E.F. music. When Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware split from The Human League, Martyn actually signed to Virgin as a production company, which he named the British Electric Foundation. He liked the corporate, aspirational irony of it and Virgin’s lawyers revealed that “Foundation” was a legally safe word to use in such an endeavor. He couldn’t really use “Corporation” without drawing up actual articles of incorporation. His contract allowed for him to produce up to six [!] albums per year and the first recording he made with Glenn Gregory was a version of “Wichita Lineman” for the calling card “Music Of Quality + Distinction vol. 1” album which acted both as a manifesto and workshop to build up his CV.
Heaven 17 were to be just one of his irons in the fire, but of course, once they attracted attention, they quickly became the tail that wagged the dog, but for a year there in 1981, Ware and now departed partner Marsh were incredibly busy. They released a cassette only album called “Music For Stowaways.” The Sony Walkman® was originally called the Stowaway for several months in England before getting the rebranding that took it to the top. This cassette featured edgy synthesizer instrumentals not a million miles away from the early human league sound. The tape was limited to 10,000 copies and it was only pressed in vinyl for export, albeit with track and title changes. It was released in the US on CD only in 1997 in an edition by Virgin’s US Caroline subsidiary label and given the title “Music For Listening To.” It rounded up all of the tracks on both versions but was out of print for many years and selling for a premium.
Heaven 17 were born from “Groove Thang” on that tape, with added formidable lyrics and the vocals of Glenn Gregory, it became “[We Don’t Need This] Fascist Groove Thang,” the debut Heaven 17 single and template to which their brand of synth funk would be designed according to. Their “Penthouse + Pavement” album caught many ears in 1981, including mine. Though I loved the first two Human League Albums dearly, I was happy to have a popular Human League as well as a funkier Heaven 17 now making twice as many records for my ears to soak up.
B.E.F. also managed to make an album that year for the dance troupe Hot Gossip called “Geisha Boys + Temple Girls.” If you’re an American, this would be akin to them making an album with the Solid Gold Dancers, only with less clothing. This unique release was filled with the dancers singing [rather well] a selection of deeply weird Human League songs, with some Heaven 17 tracks and a few outside covers [Talking Heads “Houses In Motion,” Sting “Burn For You”] added to the running.
The most amazing track there was a redux of the early single by The Men called “I Don’t Depend On You.” The cut was made at the behest of Virgin records, who weren’t convinced that just synthesizers wold be commercial enough and asked the band to work with guitars and drums. Cannily, they complied, but under the assumed name of The Men. They wrote a great disco song that touches along the themes that “Don’t You Want Me” would do again years later, but when it failed to storm the charts, they knuckled down to make the Human League records we all know and love. The cover with Hot Gossip succeeds wildly because it isn’t a weird arty Human League track – it’s a disco number which fit the “band” like a glove. The vocals I actually like better than the Phil Oakey originals.
The jewel in the B.E.F. crown was “Music Of Quality + Distinction vol. 1.” It’s ten songs they loved given an electronic spin and featuring a host of intriguing guest vocalists. It was released on LP, boxed set of 7″ singles, and a decade later on CD. The record was the seed that revitalized Tina Turner’s music career as their cover of “Ball Of Confusion” became a UK hit and led to Turner’s huge comeback. When her next solo single got released, B.E.F. produced her wonderful cover of “Let’s Stay Together” and it stormed the charts the world over. I always especially loved the hoot of a cover with what looked like for all the world Bryan Ferry opening a Ferrari door for Debbie Harry!
That same year as “Music Of Quality + Distinction vol. 1” got a CD reissue, the second volume was released. Instead of a program of 60s classic gone electronic, Ware made pretty much a straight soul cover album using a mix of American and British singers. Turner and Billy MacKenzie appeared again and were joined by luminaries like Mavis Staples, Chaka Kahn, Billy Preston, and Green Gartside. By 1991, Ware had a pretty hot production career what with worldwide hits by Tina Turner and Terrence Trent D’Arby under his belt. This album set out to celebrate what the first Music Of Quality + Distinction album set out to instigate. Twenty years later, both CDs were high priced “collector’s items.” This has now been redressed.
Disc 1: Music of Quality + Distinction Volume 1
- Tina Turner: Ball Of Confusion
- Billy MacKenzie: The Secret Life Of Arabia
- Paul Jones: There’s A Ghost In My House
- Paula Yeats: These Boots Are Made For Walking
- Gary Glitter: Suspicious Minds
- Bernie Nolan: You Keep Me Hanging On
- Glenn Gregory: Wichita Lineman
- Sandie Shaw: Anyone Who had A Heart
- Glenn Gregory: Perfect Day
- Billy MacKenzie: It’s Over
- Ball Of Confusion [backing track]
- The Secret Life Of Arabia [backing track]
- There’s A Ghost In My House [backing track]
- These Boots Were Made For Walking [backing track]
- You Keep Me Hanging On [backing track]
- Anyone Who Had A Heart [backing track]
- It’s Over [orchestra mix]
Disc 2: Music of Quality + Distinction Volume 2
- Chaka Kahn: Someday We’ll All Be Free
- Lalah Hathaway: Family Affair
- Richard Darbyshire: Early In The Morning
- Billy MacKenzie: Free
- Terrence Trent D’arby: It’s All Right Me, I’m Only Bleeding
- Tashan: I Want You
- Mavis Staples: A Song For You
- Billy Preston: Try A Little Tenderness
- Green Gartside: I Don’t Know Why I Love You [extended]
- Tina Turner: A Change Is Gonna Come
- Ghida DePalma: Feel Like Making Love
- Billy Preston: In My Life
- In My Live [drums + vox]
- In My Life [a cappella]
- Family Affair [a cappella]
- I Want You [alternative introduction]
- It’s Alright [instrumental]
- I Don’t Know Why I Love You [original version]
Disc 3: Music For Stowaways to Dark
- The Optimum Chant
- Uptown Apocalypse
- Wipe The Board Clean
- Groove Thang
- Music To Kill Your Parents By
- The Old At Rest
- Rise Of The East
- Decline Of The West
- A Baby Called Billy
- Honeymoon In New York
- B.E.F. Ident
- Mavis Staples: Trade Winds [work in progress mix]
- Kelly Barnes: Co-Pilot To Pilot [work in progress mix]
- Billie Godfrey: Smalltown Boy [work in progress mix]
I just got the deluxe RM box for “Penthouse + Pavement” and in addition to a substantial booklet and the three discs in paper sleeves, there are single sleeve repro cards and what looks to be another large poster. You’ll buy this and marvel at what your CD buying dollar nets you these days. Buy this now and set aside your shekels for 2012, which will bring the third “Music Of Quality + Distinction” album… “Dark.” Scuttlebutt has it that anyone who appreciated the Human League’s brilliant cover of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” will be in for a treat!
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