Heaven 17/B.E.F. – [We Don’t Need this] Fascist Groove Thang UK 12″ 
- Heaven 17: [We Don’t Need this] Fascist Groove Thang + B.E.F. Ident
- 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.
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.
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?