Record Review: Low Noise – Jungle Line

Happy Birthday | UK | 12″ | 1981 | UR 5

Low Noise: Jungle Line UK 12″ [1981]

  1. Jungle Line
  2. Urban Tribal
  3. Jungle Line [inst.]

In anticipation of the Thomas Dolby show imminent at Moogfest 2012 in two days, thoughts have turned to this little gem nestled in the deeper folds of the Thomas Dolby discography. Having issued his first indie single “Urges” on the Armageddon label in 1981, he was signed to EMI who also released his classic “Europa and the Pirate Twins” later that year. I don’t have release dates on any of these records, but there was a third single by Dolby that year which slithered out on the Happy Birthday label, home to Dolby subsidiary group The Fallout Club [home of singer Trevor Herion – late of yesterday’s Peter Saville slideshow] as well as the fabbo New Wave combo Girls At Our Best.

Released under the crafty nom-du-disque of Low Noise [low noise = noise reduction = dolby, geddit?] it was a 1981 state-of-the-art cover version of Joni Mitchell’s “Jungle Line” as crafted by Dolby with his longtime cohorts Matthew Seligman [synths] and Kevin Armstrong [guitar] with John Johnson of Gardening By Moonlight on drums/percussion. This version is thick with programmed Burundi beats which were dé riguer in the heady 1981 zeitgeist [just ask Malcolm McLaren]. It’s a powerful cover version that hits like a ton of bricks. Though Mitchell was years ahead of the curve by including Burundi drummers on her 1975 original, the treatment here on drum machines has an impact that sounds like it may have influenced Peter Gabriel’s “Rhythm Of The Heat” the following year. Dolby’s lead vocal takes the song more than a half-step away from the jazz space where Mitchell was living in the mid seventies.

I remember first hearing this song on the “Live Wireless” concert film that was shown on MTV back in ‘1983 and at the time, I didn’t have a clue as to where it came from. That concert also featured the B-side to this single, “Urban Tribal,” a wistful number that seemed to presage the better moments of Dolby’s spotty sophomore album. The DLX RM of “The Golden Age Of Wireless” features this track, but not the A-side to this single. Presumably, EMI balked at paying royalties to Mitchell’s publisher. The 12″ single of this title differs from the 7″ only in that it includes an instrumental version of the A-side. There is no 12″ mix. But the split second juxtaposition of the instrumental version of “Jungle Line” as the last notes of “Urban Tribal” is fading out” with no dead air between the cuts is fantastic sequencing.

It’s a bit of a shame that the tasty A-side remains secreted on this hard to find record and not more widely known. I have suspicions that the single may have been a lo-profile one-off that Dolby may have released while in negotiations with EMI or possibly already under contract, hence the “Low Noise” moniker. Maybe it was his last ditch attempt to see if he could make it at the indie level or possibly it was a bit of guerilla warfare from within the EMI trenches.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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9 Responses to Record Review: Low Noise – Jungle Line

  1. jsd says:

    As you noted, “Jungle Line” is on the “Live Wireless” concert, and the concert is included with the Golden Age deluxe package from a few years ago, so paying the royalties should not have been an issue. It is indeed a head scratcher.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      jsd – Welcome to the comments section! Perhaps it was a case of not having the master available, but if “Urban Tribal” was…why not “Jungle Line?” They were recorded for the same label at the same time.

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      • jsd says:

        Hi there! Been following your blog for a while. Big Dolby fan, he was my first concert in 1984 at age 15… Sure way to draw me out of the woodwork is to discuss his more obscure 80’s output :) ANYWAY… I have no inside info but as I’m sure you’re aware it is often the case that songs, even those destined for the same release, are recorded on separate tapes. Maybe the master was lost/damaged? Thomas did mention at some point about having to bake the tapes for these remasters in order to make them usable again.

        You should probably also mention that the version of Urban Tribal on the Wireless collector’s edition is slightly altered from the original single version – his daughter sings some backing vocals on it.

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  2. Tim says:

    Urban Tribal is my all time favorite TMDR track ever. Hands down.
    And listening to this made me find Joni Mitchell’s album The Hissing of Summer Lawns, as well as several other of her LPs. THOSL is my favorite though not for the presence of the Jungle Line. I read in Rolling Stone decades ago that Prince is a big fan of that one, too.
    My Re-Made Re-Modeled TGAOW includes an extended mix of Jungle Line that I crafted from this 12″. A great album and the items that he made contemporary to it just suck me in. Wreck of the Fairchild, Cloudburst on Shingle Street….these songs would get into my head for days and I’d create scenarios to go with the songs, little backstories. Such an engaging album.

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  3. Echorich says:

    Dolby of the first two albums is sheer brilliance.
    Quick fanboy story…Dolby was staying at the Parker Meridian hotel around the time of Science and was in town to do a spot on MTV. Some friends and I were outside the hotel on a summer afternoon waiting for him and some other band to come out – the Parker Meridian was rock star central for a few years of the record company was putting you up for promo tours – and when Dolby came out I was the only one who recognized him. I walked over to him and he had some t-shirts over one arm. I said my hello and did my “love the record” bit and he pulled off one of the t-shirts and handed to me. It said Limelight on it and had a sort of mad professor drawing on it. I looked at as I thanked him and another voice said – that’s my company – it was Steve Barron – video/filmmaker and the lensman for Science. I gushed more and started talking with him as we walked down towards 6th avenue. By then the rest of my crowd had caught up with Dolby and I was talking videos with Steve Barron.

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    • jsd says:

      great story! my fanboy story is: in 1992 i was working at a software company in palo alto that made a computer music app that Dolby used. everybody knew i was a big Dolby geek/fan. he called the director of engineering one day and left a voicemail. the receptionist forwarded the voicemail to me just because she knew i was a Dolby nut. (it was a pretty boring voicemail but i still thought it was cool!)

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  4. JT says:

    Could well be that the live video rights were negotiated into perpetuity back in the day, so including the track in the live video is kosher, while new negotiations for the DLX RM audio CD are a separate contract. Speculating, but very possible.

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  5. tim says:

    I would love more polished versions of some of the stuff from Live Wireless. Sampson & Delilah. New Toy (Dolby vox and not Lene’s)…I’d love everything and anything that has to do with the evolution of Urban Tribal. There was floating on the webs a while back a mash that someone did of Whodini’s Magic Wand and Puppet Theatre that really illustrated how one was a blueprint for the other. I may have that buried on a hard drive somewhere.

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