Virgin Records: Methods Of Dance CD 
- B.E.F. – Groove Thang
- DEVO – G0ing Under
- D.A.F. – Der Mussolini
- Fingerprintz – The Beat Escape
- Heaven 17 – Soul Warfare
- Simple Minds – Love Song 7
- Magazine – The Great Man’s Secrets
- Japan – The Art Of Parties 12
- The Human League – Do Or Die Dub [Special Edit]
- John Foxx – Dancing Like A Gun
- Snakefinger – The Model
- Can – I Want More
- Cowboys International – Thrash
- Richard Strange – International Language
- Japan – Methods Of Dance
Against all odds, I have returned to my Record Cell, fired up the audio interface, cracked open a new bottle of D4 fluid, made some room on my beleaguered hard drive, and actually made a CD that The Man won’t sell me! Sure, sure, EMI released a “Methods Of Dance” CD 2008. It was a kind gestured sop to fanatics like myself who had been pining for both volumes of this series on CD, but rights issues for some of the material [particularly Can and D.A.F. who had absconded to Mute Records in the years since] meant that the end product; a mashup of both LP and cassette volumes, was bound to disappoint, even though of course I bought a copy! Even compromised, the series was gold.
But the nagging thought tugged at my mind in the years since buying that disc. Not insignificantly, a friend’s birthday was coming up quickly. I had already bought him the sterling Heaven 17 @ Metropolis set as a gift, but how much effort went into that? He deserved more. But what would he be suitably moved by a REVO disc of? Then it struck me; he had been trying for years to buy both volumes of “Methods Of Dance” on LP every time that we were in a record shop together. Surely, a CD of each would be appreciated? So I went into high gear to make this happen within a two week period.
I had many of the source tracks for volume one on CD, so technically, I could have done what EMI had done several years ago and just throw the tunes on a CD, but what makes the first album so interesting to listen to now was that the tunes were segued together on side one for a continuous mixed flow. Why they didn’t do that on side two was slightly puzzling. The songs were still spliced together without any dead air, but the actual segues that were mixed on side one were absent. So I knew what I had to do; digitize side one from vinyl, even though I only lacked the D.A.F. and Fingerprintz cuts on CD! Fortunately, I bought my copy of “Methods Of Dance” as a still-new budget import LP in 1984 for the princely sum of $3.99 as the receipt was still in the cover! The remastering required almost no manual pop removal since the disc was perhaps played only 2-3 times in the intervening years to make a cassette, back in the day.
I then obtained the two cassette bonus tracks that I lacked to make this a canonical CD with every cut on both the LP and cassette versions. The cassette tracks were placed after the LP flow in the order in which they appeared on the tape version, with the exception of the Japan title track. On the cassette, it was the first song and “The Art Of Parties” was missing from the format. Had I done so here, there would have been only the Human League cut between two Japan tracks; bad form.
Mastering the audio was quick, but the artwork was the bigger chunk of work this go-round. After two nights of scanning, editing in Photoshop and layout, the artwork was done. The insert would be the mini-poster style that featured an almost full size scan of the back cover to better read Paul Morley’s delightfully pretentious liner notes. I also placed the inner sleeve artwork at the bottom of the poster where each LP [near and dear to both my heart and that of the recipient’s] that featured the songs herein were touted. It got into the mail and arrived only a day after the actual birthday, but against all odds, I had done it. I had actually achieved a creative goal for the first time in far too long a time spent doing anything but one of my primary passions. So much for the backstory. What of the music?
1981 was the ultimate year of Virgin Records, in my estimation.
It represented a peak year in which all of the label’s efforts to transition from their prog roots to a contemporary New Wave feel paid off in spades. This had happened with the signings that Simon Draper had made for the label with his watchful eye skirting the fine line between commerciality and art. Investments made in bands on this compilation like Simple Minds were about to pay off in large ways as the groups here all had critical buzz, if not sales. Two albums by The Human League were more admired than purchased. Still, when David Bowie declared that band “the sound of 1980,” a certain level of expectation inevitably began to build. In 1981 the pressure on the band came to a head and they split into two factions, both represented here. The first was B.E.F., a post-modern “production company” ala Public Image Limited.
Their “Groove Thang” was an instrumental version of the inflammatory debut Heaven 17 single, “[We Don’t Need This] Fascist Groove Thang.” It was taken from the then-novel cassette only release, “Music For Stowaways.” The fast b.p.m. coupled with the funk bass of John Wilson made it a memorable debut single. The LP next segued into a track from DEVO’s under rated “New Traditionalists” album. “Going Under” explored the same territory as The Jam’s “Going Underground” from the year prior, albeit in a dramatically different fashion. All of the synths that The Jam didn’t use [and more] were utilized on this methodical, metronomic cut.
Last year , Anton Corbijn released the film “A Most Wanted Man.” In it, characters go into a seedy Berliner disco where the aggressive crowd were throbbing to D.A.F.’s “Der Mussolini,” which still functioned as effective shorthand for an unbridled threatening atmosphere all of 34 years after the fact! Their reductive, homoerotic sound might possibly never go out of style. It is amazing to think that this song of less than four minutes was released on a 12” single in 1981. Even one year later, it would have been mixed to five minutes, at least. But we were innocent then.
Following D.A.F. was a single that was no less intense but far more playful from the almost forgotten Scot band Fingerprintz. I had bought their final album in 1981, the dance monster that was “Beat Noir.” The lead off single “The Beat Escape,” was a dazzling funk hall of mirrors with sax and fuzz bass syncopating impressively with the beat as Jimme O’Neill sang falsetto throughout. I have all three of Fingerprintz’s albums, which may be down to me to remaster. Once I buy the singles for bonus tracks, it will be in my sights to begin, but until then, this track remains an impressive reminder why this must eventually be undertaken. I’ve emailed Cherry Red years ago on this issue to no avail, so I can see where that’s going.
The tracks that immediately followed this were all core collection band material. Simple Minds, Heaven 17, Magazine, and “The Human League were all primary reasons why I maintain that 1981 was a year of years, and that year, Virgin was the label. Almost every significant album that built the foundations for my world hailed from the adventurous label. Back in 1981, the huge bait to purchase this sampler was the appearance of a Human League dub mix that never appeared elsewhere. In 1981 they exploded into superstardom and even managed to have a transatlantic number one with their synthpop classic “Don’t You Want Me,” but this dub mix was an extended take of material that appeared on much more brief form on The League Unlimited Orchestra “Love And Dancing” remix album the next year.
The first nine tracks on this CD replicate the original LP right down to the segues [there was no “dead air” on this LP] and mastering details. It was not until the advent of resources like Discogs.com that I could discover that the cassette version of this album had been substantially different. “Methods Of Dance” on the cassette had a further five songs added to the different running order as well as a substitution. One of the most significant Virgin albums for me that year had been John Foxx’s second solo album, “The Garden.” “Dancing Like A Gun” was the second and final single from it, but truth be told, I found it the weakest track on the album. Still, it was right and proper to have some John Foxx on this album, finally.
The Snakefinger cover of Kraftwerk’s “The Model,” which had topped the UK charts that year, was a Virgin licensing of a Ralph Record. It hailed from “Chewing Hides The Sound,” the Snakefinger debut album. The layers of treated guitar were a nice change of pace for this now much-covered song. Kraftwerk were not the only Germans re-releasing ahead of the pack catalogue material years afterward. Kraftrock masters Can released Virgin single VS-153 in 1976, only to see the label re-issue it as a 12” single [VS-422-12] five years later! The rare moment of Can getting down the funk in the studio was the almost unthinkable intersection between disco and krautrock. Luke Kraftwerk’s “The Model,” it’s another German pop song that has been covered, most notably by Scotland’s Fini Tribe.
Cowboys International were a band that I was aware of but did not have the pleasure to hear until decades later, much to my chagrin. Ken Lockie was a great frontman who assembled a Post-Punk supergroup in Cowboys International that were second to none. Marco [Banshees, Adam Ant] Pirroni and Keith [P.I.L.] Levene in addition to Terry [Clash] Chimes and Paul [Neo] Simon and Stevie [Ultravox!] Shears might have collapsed without the often brilliant songs and vision that Lockie brought to the table. “Thrash” [VS 293] was a fantastic 1979 single that deserved a wider airing two years later.
Richard Strange was one of the prescient Post-Glam, Proto-New Wave players like Bill Nelson. His band Doctors of Madness fissured just as their heirs apparent, Simple Minds were breaking out of Glasgow. His 1981 solo album, “The Rise Of Richard Strange,” from which the single “International Language” [VS 419] hailed from remains criminally unavailable.
Finally, the Japan track that started off the whole concept comes home to roost at the disc’s end. It had been a cassette substitution for “The Art Of Parties” from the LP version of “Methods Of Dance” but the aim here has been to make the most complete edition yet of this fantastic compilation. The eclectic cream of Britain’s finest label dating from music’s finest hour deserves nothing less.
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