The “Warm Leatherette” Event Horizon!

Restless Records | US | CD3 | 1988 | 7 71400-3

The Normal: Warm Leatherette US CD3 [1988]

  1. Warm Leatherette
  2. T.V.O.D.

The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette” is a seminal synthpop single. If you’ve heard it, and I sincerely hope that you have, I think you’ll agree that it is the most brutally reductive music possible that is still recognizable as music. I happened to hear this song the year that is was released in the strangest of all possible locations; on the Doctor Demento radio show! Dr. D set this one up as being for “devotées of the New Wave” as he put it. Quite frankly, I’d never heard anything quite like it.

At the tender age of 15, I was not yet cognizant of J.G. Ballard, whose influential novel “Crash” formed the basis for the song. The interrelation between eros and thanatos in the form of a car crash was shocking to me. But not as much as the music itself was. If you’re familiar with the track, it’s nothing but a constant, unvarying beat with three different sawtooth wave chords played at varying times throughout the track. The Normal was a nom du disque of Daniel Miller; the gent who formed the independent label Mute Records in that year with his sole single under that name. The Normal didn’t need another release. It was something like the debut Velvet Underground record in that it was like a shot heard round the world. Not many people may have bought it, but it influenced many others to explore similar turf.

By the time that I bought John Foxx’s “Metamatic” in 1981, I had then read about Ballard and “Crash” enough to perceive the impact that it had on Foxx’s art. But even by that time, there had already been a cover of the track the previous year by an unlikely source; Grace Jones. In 1981 I was exposed to Jones via her amazing “Nightclubbing” album of that year. It would remain until many years later than I finally found her “Warm Leatherette” album on CD in the early 90s. Her cover version runs the song into her Compass Point All Stars filter but her stern delivery is not worlds away from Daniel Miller’s original deadpan monotone.

A fascinating picture forms when investigating the many covers of this song over the years since its release. This list below is garnered from the song’s page on Wikipedia.

  1. Daniel Miller releases his original recording of “Warm Leatherette” in 1978 on Mute Records
  2. Grace Jones famously covered “Warm Leatherette” and is the title track on her 1980 album of the same name
  3. Sleep Chamber covered this song on a 1985 7″
  4. Pankow covered this song on their 1989 LP “Freedom for the Slaves”
  5. Prayer Tower covered this song in a 1990 12″ single, “Warm Leatherette”
  6. Blok 57 covered this song on their eponymous album in 1992
  7. Club 69 recorded multiple covers of this song, first on a 1995 release (the “Love Leatherette”, “Wild Club Mix”, “Spicy Dub”, and “Wild Beats” mixes), then on another 1995 release (the “Quick Mix”), on a 1999 album, “Re-Styled”, (the “Danny Tenaglia Mix”), then on a 2007 electronic compilation album, Naughty Holiday Collection, (the “Piliavin & Zimbardo Remix”), then on a 2007 Star 69 Trax promo disc (the “Saeed Younan Remix”)
  8. Chicks on Speed/Hell covered this song on a split 7″ in 1998 with different versions of the song. Chicks on Speed later re-released their cover on a 2000 CD, “The Re-Releases Of The Un-Releases” with an additional intro
  9. Girls on Top (aka Richard X) mashed up this song with Missy Elliott’s “She’s a Bitch” to produce “Warm Bitch” in 2000
  10. Velocity Star recorded a cover of this song for the 2000 compilation album “The Final Solstice II”
  11. Dive recorded a cover of this song, released in June 2000 on the electronic compilation CD “Heaven & Hell”
  12. Die Tödliche Doris recorded a cover of this song in December 1980, later released on their 2000 CD, “Kinderringellreihen Für Wahren Toren Des Grals”
  13. Analogue Brain covered this song, released on an industrial compilation CD, “Septic III”, in October, 2002
  14. The Former Yugoslavia, in 2003, released a “dictionaraoke” cover of the song, leaving the underlying music as originally written, but replacing the sung words with Merriam-Webster’s recordings of each word in the lyrics
  15. Takkyu Ishino covered this song on his March 2004 single “The Rising Suns”
  16. Signal Electrique covered this song on their October 2004 album, “Acid Library”
  17. Vitalic performed a live version of “Warm Leatherette” on BBC Radio 1. A recording of the performance was included on Vitalic’s 2005 single “My Friend Dario” and a collector’s edition of his 2006 album OK Cowboy
  18. Destruction Unit covered this song on their 2006 album “Death To The Old Flesh”
  19. Erik Friedlander and Teho Teardo covered this song in their 2006 album “Giorni Rubati”
  20. Zombie-Zombie covered this song in their 2006 EP, “Zombie-Zombie”
  21. BlizzFrizz covered this song live at Veilchen in Graz, Austria as early as 2006
  22. Trent Reznor, Peter Murphy, Jeordie White, and Atticus Ross covered this song live on the radio in Boston on 6-23-06 during the Nine Inch Nails tour that year
  23. Duran Duran performed the song at their run of ten concerts in New York City in November 2007, and as part of an electro medley portion of their set list on the subsequent 2008 Red Carpet Massacre tour
  24. HIV+ (aka Pedro Peñas y Robles) recorded a cover of this song (“Normotone Remix”) on the 2008 album “Babylone Chaos”, followed by the “Club Amour Rmx” on the February 2009 compilation album “Electronic Manifesto: French Tribute To Mute Records”, followed by the “LAAG Remix” on the March 2009 compilation album “STUMM + BONG: An Independent Tribute To Mute Records”, followed by the “Cruise [ctrl] Rmx Feat. Cosyma” on the May 2009 compilation album “Elegy Sampler 59”, followed by the “AQL Rmx” on the 2010 compilation album “Club Respekt 2010”
  25. Rubin Steiner covered this song on his 2008 album Weird Hits, Two Covers & A Love Song
  26. Absolute Body Control covered this song on a 7″ released in July, 2008
  27. J.G. Thirlwell covered this song on the September 2008 compilation album “Recovery”
  28. Genevieve Pasquier covered this song in her October 2009 album “Le Cabaret Moi”
  29. Tarsus covered this song on their May 2010 MP3 release (with To-Bo) “Split Wars 054”
  30. Giddle Partridge and Boyd Rice covered this song on an August 2010 single titled “Warm Leatherette”
  31. Naith Vault covered this song in an October 2010 single
  32. Laibach performed a cover of the song at the end of their set at the Mute Records Short Circuit Festival at the Roundhouse, London, on May 14, 2011. They have also performed it as part of their 30th Anniversary tour.
  33. NON aka Boyd Rice covered the song again for the Short Circuit edition of the Mute compilation “Vorwärts”
When the cumulative number of versions is plotted over the 34 year span a fascinating picture forms as seen below.

The curve going forward from Year Zero [1978] has a gentle slope of 1:2 but in 1999 a dramatic change occurs. The slow, stately spread of the song goes from an arithmetic to a geometric function! The curve’s slope approximates 2.5:1. At the rate it’s going we can mathematically extrapolate that by the year 2067 all songs will be “Warm Leatherette!” [a joke].

It may be that it took a full generation for the shocking concept to be assimilated into our culture to the point where other artists could then consider the song “normal” enough to be treated as a work of art to re-interpret and not a transgression against society itself.

How many covers of it have you heard?

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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1 Response to The “Warm Leatherette” Event Horizon!

  1. Echorich says:

    The original is groundbreaking.
    Grace’s verison is evil/sexy/demanding and most importantly essential!


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