Seminal Single: Heaven 17 – [We Don’t Need This] Fascist Groove Thang

Virgin ‎| UK | 12″ | 1981 | VS 400-12

Heaven 17/B.E.F. – [We Don’t Need this] Fascist Groove Thang UK 12″ [1981]

  1. Heaven 17: [We Don’t Need this] Fascist Groove Thang + B.E.F. Ident
  2. B.E.F.: Decline Of The West

This single hit with all the force of the multi-megaton bombs were were all expecting to drop at any time in the early 80s. It began with a clattering, amphetamine glamrock stomp at high BPMs and and a synth lead that leapt up octaves until it was at the requisite frantic energy level to start the rhythmic chant that let us know we were in for something big.

The hard slamming beat underscored a hard slamming lyric that left nothing to the imagination. For once, a band was being completely blunt and telling it like it was.

This single sounded like truth being dispensed to exactly the sort of beat that suggested that, this time, if you freed your ass, your mind would follow.

Not only that, but the naming of Ronald Reagan as the “fascist god in motion” was without precedent. Two years earlier, it was considered “edgy” for The Dead Kenendys to have released “California Uber Alles” [ironically, released in the UK on Heaven 17 manager Bob Last’s Fast Product label] but middle class punks whining about Jerry Brown was an extreme case of missing the big picture.

Heaven 17 minced no words here. They set up the target and hit a bullseye. For their efforts, the BBC banned the single but it got as high as 45 in the UK charts, in spite of that.

The game changing aspect of it that cannot be dismissed was not only in its overtly political content. The fact that there was non-electronic instrumentation used on the single for only the second time on a single that Martyn Ware helmed [The Men’s “I Don’t Depend On You” was the first in 1979] indicated that Heaven 17 were thinking far outside of the Human League box this time.

The band thought that the song’s middle eight should feature a funky bass solo – just for ironic effect. After their gales of laughter died down, Glenn Gregory went back to the theater he was working at and asked the tech crew if anyone knew how to play a bass guitar.

John Wilson raised his hand, so they fetched his bass guitar and went to the studio to put something down. He played a solo and after they scraped their jaws off of the floor, he apologized because he was really more of a guitar player, you see.

Wilson also played funky rhythm guitar on the single and his playing became a foundation of the “Pavement” side of the album they would make. Even Ian Craig Marsh got caught up in the fever and played a little saxophone on the track!

The 12″ version of the single was identical to the 7″ except for the “hidden track” added on the 12″ single of the “B.E.F. Ident;” a brief [~35 second] electro-classical interlude that came off as being completely influenced by Wendy Carlos’ soundtrack for “A Clockwork Orange;” the film/book where the band had taken their name.

The single’s A-side was a shot across the bow that the rest of Heaven 17’s career has tried [and failed] to surpass in impact; though they have come close on occasion. As much as I love this band, there’s nothing else in their oeuvre quite like “[We Don’t Need This] Fascist Groove Thang!”

The B-side of the single was a long, 7+ minute instrumental [full length on the 7″ single, too] called “The Decline Of The West.” I have to imagine that the band had been influenced by Oswald Spengler’s provocative hypothesis on the flow of civilizations in history, published during the height of World War I.

It was a brooding instrumental electronic waltz pregnant with decay an almost plaintive despair. Beginning with the drip of water that rose into a crescendo of rain before the distant drumbeats converged into waltz time. Then a metallic shriek rent the sound before dying out. The death scream of a civilization.

The slow, plodding pace with flute like tones taking the topline melody  with the occasional groan of a synth undercutting the soundbed before the countermelody manifested sounded so resolutely melancholy.

The vibe there seemed to posit this track as the dark flipside to a song like OMD’s “Sealand;” [out at the same time] that song itself was already reasonably remorseful and downcast. This one from Heaven 17 took it further.

This one has really gained in poignancy in the intervening 37 years as we’ve seen abject signs that indicate that perhaps the song’s title was more prophetic than we realized at the time. It felt as if a line had certainly been crossed in the new millennium.

As the song faded with a return of the thunderclouds that heralded its start, the white noise rain receded until all that was left was the electronic ping of perhaps the heart/lung machine that was propping this civilization up on its deathbed. The end was unavoidable now.

The single was a classic statement of intent that was unbeatable as a first glimpse of Heaven 17. They would never again hone their vision with such keenness. As we stumble towards the abattoir of history, we can perhaps take solace in the fact that we still have the means for self-salvation.

Today is voting day in America. Any US citizens reading this may have already voted, but if not, then by all means click the Shepard Fairey image below to find out where your local polling location is and please, cast your vote today. We have no room for cynicism. If it was all just a sham, why would they be doing their best to disenfranchise so many voters?

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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38 Responses to Seminal Single: Heaven 17 – [We Don’t Need This] Fascist Groove Thang

  1. dhrichards says:

    know you are not a “streamer” and so may have missed this (serviceable) cover released last week: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUtsnXt-H80

    Like

  2. Taffy says:

    Monk gets political…i love it! Amazing song and message. Change a name and the relevance remains. Vote baby vote!!

    Like

  3. Tim says:

    Throw the bums out! I’m hoping we toss out our Governor here in Wisconsin and when I hear the words Scott Walker I only think of the singer.
    It’s sad when the crony days of our old corrupt gov’ner Tommy Thompson look like the ”good old days” in comparison.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – Don’t get me started on the whole “Scott Walker” business!! It’s like when I lived in Florida and wanted to discuss Bill Nelson – only MUCH WORSE.

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      • Tim says:

        FRANKIE SAY VOTE!
        My song for the election cycle is TV PARTY
        ’cause too many people are dedicated to their favorite shows. They got all the time to post clips from the Daily Show and SNL but they can’t be arsed to get off of their butt and do the one thing that can force a change…..VOTE (and then hold your elected representatives accountable – it doesn’t end with voting.).

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    • Well good news for Tim — the EVIL Scott Walker is out, so we can go back to enjoying the GOOD Scott Walker without any mental blocks!

      Like

  4. SimonH says:

    A great song, what a shame it’s still so relevant.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Andy B says:

    We have our share of idiots in the UK but it is quite shocking to see the standard of politicians in the US. In some places it seems that you have to be as right wing as possible, very religious, be pro-gun and rubbish science. Scary!!

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    • Tim says:

      A big part of the problem is that the right has had a very concentrated effort for four decades now to control everything and (as I mentioned in my post upstream) the center and the left here can’t be bothered to vote. We’ve abdicated our civic responsibility and let them take over. On top of that each election cycle they are moving both the candidates that they offer and the national conversation (which like it or not they control) further to the right. Each new wave is a person who is like, well, that last guy isn’t conservative enough, elect me and I’ll show them. This is literally the end result of decades of electing bigger and bigger assholes (sorry no other word really fits) who have zero interest in any conversation that isn’t my way or nothing else.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Andy B – Well, we are seeing the culmination of a backlash against the progressive movements of the 1960s that got certain white men very concerned at the time of the Kennedy administration. I’ve grown up watching the noose getting tighter and tighter as the right wing have embarked upon a multi-generational long term plan that shows that the USA actually can compete on that level with the Chinese for far-sighted strategizing as long as the goal is something that they are truly passionate about. Billions have been invested in the hyper concentration of income into corporations and ultimately now, families, which now overpower the power and reach of The State. It would all collapse with the game-changer of publicly funded elections run on a European model. The fact that we have a two-year election cycle [made explicit by the sitting president’s campaign rallies AFTER gaining the seat – a first but not for the last time, I fear] with hundreds of millions of dollars being shuffled around to ostensibly buy this or that candidate in order to sustain the obscene amounts of money deemed necessary to play in the election game is the problem. If the election cycle were brief and publicly funded with a re-institution of the Fairness Doctrine, that would cause the whole house of cards to collapse. Until election reform becomes a hot-button issues, we will continue to see the status quo. But frankly, climate change mitigation should be the #1 goal of humanity right now. There’s no time for such small potatoes. It’s the ultimate threat of the Capitalistic virus which is eating humanity and our very planet hollow.

      Liked by 1 person

        • postpunkmonk says:

          Stephen – Your encouragement still doesn’t stop my head from hurting when I ponder the direction life in America has turned during my aging process. When I was a teenager, I could smell the hint of fascism in the air but I naively thought that the market would prevent that. Half a lifetime ago, I began to see through that veil.

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  6. Andy B says:

    Interesting Tim. Why do you think the centre and the left can’t be bothered to vote? And what will motivate them to vote? By the way, [We Don’t Need This] Fascist Groove Thang is a cracking track!

    Like

    • They turned out in pretty strong numbers this time around, but to answer your question directly, I think there’s four factors:

      1. Bad news discourages good people. Too many tend to tune out entirely.

      2. There’s a massive and targeted voter-suppression effort specifically aimed at disenfranchising youth, minorities, and other lean-left groups. Cheating, in short.

      3. To be quite frank, there’s a large and growing portion of the US that favours authoritarianism over any form of democracy.

      4. Again, sorry to be blunt, but this crowd knows this is true — somewhere along the line, US public schools stopped teaching people civics, logic, reason, critical analysis and other general thinking skills, preferring to create (essentially) worker bots who are only just barely smart enough to avoid losing an arm in the machinery. DEVO knew the score back in the 1970s, and just as they predicted, it’s making life for smart people a living hell.

      To drag this forcibly back onto the musical side of the topic, in a just world the b-side of this single should have been “The Height of the Fighting,” which is their other pinnacle in terms of musical politics.

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      • Echorich says:

        Chas you are spot on in you description of The Height Of The Fighting. It’s short sharp, shock of a song, that gets right to the heart of a future we are now living in.
        Your Four Factors are also the heart of what’s wrong with this nation’s political heart. We don’t inspire youth to think and create anymore. We teach them to “do.” In 2018, for leaders to want to expand the idea of apprenticeship and learning a trade, when our world is desperately in need of innovation and scientific resolutions to the problems of being humans, for me, is simply proof that somewhere along the way, the Luddites gained control.
        Here in Florida, we have a voting population that completely feeds into the politics of misdirection. We now have a racist Governor and a people hating, corporation loving junior Senator.
        Let me finish with some lines from Heaven 17’s 2015 Pray :
        Voice on the radio, pictures on the news
        Drawn to distraction, flame to light the fuse
        We can burn and memorize, everybody chant
        Everyone’s invited, but nobody wants to dance.
        I know that you can hear me, I can see it in your eyes
        Teachers and believers, they stumble as they rise
        Nobody’s jurisdiction, unashamed and no restraint
        Money changes everything, such a dangerous complaint…

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – Sadly, Florida is out of the frying pan and into the fire! At least Heaven 17 is delivering what we all need. Where’s that album already, gents? Don’t let LCD Soundsystem hog all of the glory!

          Liked by 1 person

      • postpunkmonk says:

        chasinvictoria – Public education in America has been under right wing attack for over 50 years. You and I were lucky to have gotten out of the system before Reagan! There exists a quote [which I have saved on my work computer] by a member of Nixon’s cabinet arguing against public education as delivering an undesirable “informed proletariat.” His words! When I get to work I will get the exact quote. The gerrymandering has also been pedal to the metal for the last 20 years. Not forgetting the elephant in the room; Fox News, the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. Also traceable back to the second Nixon administration, like so many of our current woes.

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  7. Andy B says:

    Thanks for everyone’s response to my questions. Very interesting and very depressing too.
    Things aren’t perfect in the UK. Political parties receive private donations towards elections. The vast majority of business support the Conservative Party and so financially they always have an advantage over other parties. The Labour Party sold it’s soul during the ’90s to gain support from the business community in order to gain power. Although some decent policies were implemented much was pro-business and to the detriment of the party’s traditional supporters. The party now has very radical leadership with more traditional policies. However the majority of the UK press is pro-Conservative and continue to attack the Labour Party continuously. Unfortunately, outside of the big cities, the UK doesn’t like anything radical. Even though the Conservatives are tearing themselves apart over Brexit the Labour Party doesn’t seem able to take advantage.

    Echorich, I think The Height Of The Fighting is an excellent track. I prefer the album version to the single version with the added brass. Shame it wasn’t a hit at the time.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Andy B – Your synopsis of the UK sounds much like America, sadly. I think we’re all in this together. Neoliberalism was a borderless cancer that infected politics worldwide in the so called liberal democracies. It allowed for the center of politics and society to rot out to be replaced with a shell of base populism wrapped around a core of rapacious capitalism. The 21st century has been a horrorshow to watch unfold.

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  8. Tim says:

    There’s also a lot of people here in the States who feel that no matter who they vote for the people elected won’t do things that actually help them or the country. There’s all sorts of nuances to it, I delayed responding because I could write a LOT about it and I keep trying to edit it in my head. I know one person who is a fundamentalist Christian and they like to say about everything, well, only god can fix things so there’s no use in trying. How do you think a person with a mindset like this votes? And I don’t live in an area with a high demographic population of fundies, if this is representative I can only imagine what places like Oklahoma must be like.

    Young people don’t vote, they just don’t and that’s a huge bloc of people there. The media likes to get all revved up about this one but the delivering of a large bloc of youth vote rarely materializes. I couldn’t vote in 1980 but boy was I ever chomping to lose one for the Gipper in ’84. I don’t get that one, especially with this generation. if there was ever a group with skin in the game, let’s say climate change, it’s these people and they sit it out in huge numbers.

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    • SimonH says:

      Very interested to read everyone’s comments.
      I think the common thread is the fact that people are increasingly viewed as workers and little more. If you are not productive you are worth nothing. The education system has gradually aligned to this right through to university level.
      Sadly here in the UK the main opposition can do nothing because they are weak and poorly lead. Sorry!
      Devo really did get it right but sadly they admit it turned out worse. The writer Tim Somner is worth reading on that subject over at Realclearlife.com

      Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – I was a non voter as a youth. But I was also a Randroid, so it was socially productive that I never voted! My family never voted so I’m sure that had almost everything to do with that. But by the time I was in my early 30s I had come to view Libertarianism with a jaded eye. To put it mildly. If one actually watched the moves in the three card monte game of US politics, the difference between propaganda and reality was vast, and the American public were obviously being put in the meat grinder. What actually got me out of my smug torpor to register? The notion of Jeb Bush as Governor of Florida! By then I was so opposed to dynastic power of any kind that I was livid that this was being set up, so I not only began voting in every election, I also found myself volunteering for candidates I liked.

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  9. Andy B says:

    SimonH, I guess it’s a matter of opinion about the Labour Party. Personally I like Jeremy Corbyn. I agree that sometimes he fails to get his message across clearly. I still don’t know what his real opinions are on Brexit, for example. I do like many of his policies. At least they are on the side of working people. Something I don’t believe the Conservatives are. Unfortunately the UK is quite conservative outside of the big cities. So unless the party shifts to the centre they will struggle to get enough support to win an election. Coupled with a press that it is predominantly pro-Conservative and seeks to bash the Labour Party at every opportunity.
    I certainly agree with your point about the education system. It’s more important to produce skilled and obedient workers than well-rounded and educated people.

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  10. Zach says:

    Fascist Groove Thang achieves a near impossible feat – a protest song that not only is well written but actually allows the music to remain on equal footing with the message. As someone who listens to music for, well, the music, I loathe the kind of protest songs where the music takes a subservient position to the message (often badly written and heavily sanctimonious, usually without any solutions in sight). Thankfully, Fascist Groove Thang doesn’t shortchange on the musical realm, what with its infectious bassline, that evocative synthesizer coda (at least on the 12″ mix), and the blaring saxophone, among other aural treats. Dated Reagan reference aside (I wasn’t even alive when the single came out, and I was born at the tail-end of the 80s, so it means little to me), the song still packs a wallop. Compare that to a tired Baby Boomer favorite like Imagine, whose lyrics read like a Hallmark card, and musical accompaniment is rather dull (I love to spit on rock’s sacred cows, especially those uncritically slobbered upon by rags like Rolling Stone).

    As for the current political situation we face, I become too overwhelmed with anxiety just thinking about this mess (It’s doubly worse for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, already trying to find a place in this chaotic world). I loathed both candidates in the 2016 election, and could not vote for either in good conscience. My political beliefs are too complex to be tied to a specific “-ism” (That’s another pet peeve of me, people who subscribe to isms instead of ideas). Let’s just say I draw upon a mixture of socialist, libertarian, nihilist, anarcho-primitivist, pagan, and general anarchist ideas and leave it at that, because I’m here for the music. Oh, and I did vote this past Tuesday.

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