The very name alone could strike scorn in the hearts of the staunchest rock critic. They were cotton candy boys with cotton candy hair, and cotton candy tunes. They first appeared as an appendage to the media monster that was Duran Duran in their imperial period, ca. 1983. I remember that my Duran Duran obsessed friend was telling me about this new band that Nick Rhodes of Double Duran had produced with Colin Thurston; Duran’s regular producer. In advance of the mothership recording “Seven + The Ragged Tiger,” Rhodes had somehow found time to nurture this fledgeling New-Ro band called Kajagoogoo. Their singer went by the mononym Limahl. Of course he did!
The band’s debut single was inescapable. “Too Shy” would be known to anyone reading these words 35 years later. It was a megasmash piece of swooning pop fluff from the oh-so-appropriately titled album “White Feathers.” It reached number one in the UK in advance of the Duran mothership. It charted high around the world and even made number five in America; then falling hard for the “New Music” of the “Second British Invasion.”
I never heard more than this single at the time. I was pretty resistant to its charms, apart from that admittedly killer bass line courtesy of Nick Beggs. After hearing it about 600 times as it was in heavy rotation all over MTV from day one, I began to just groove on the bass line and could let the rest of the insubstantial song evaporate out of the speakers. Which it did without much effort.
The next year brought big changes as the band [in America, at least] were now named Kaja, and Limahl was ousted in a coup; leaving bass player Nick Beggs the lead singer. As I did back in the day, I made “middle of the night” MTV tapes whenever I had fresh tape and would then tape around anything good enough to save. All of the “Low Rotation” interesting stuff, could be seen this way, if you had patience. And luck. Imagine my surprise when on one such tape the Kaja video for “Turn Your Back On Me” manifested to my utter shock and awe. As seen below.
Yow! That’s some hot stuff! The gimmicky US version of the music video was fun, too. Run that one right after M+M’s “Black Stations, White Stations” for maximum op art effect. Against all odds, the band had gotten about 500% more ambitious for their phase two period. Beggs was a capable vocalist but his talent for bass exploded with his adoption of the Chapman Stick, the coolest rhythm instrument in that it can also play melody for a neither fish nor fowl sound that has always entranced me. I now badly wanted this album that the MTV video touted, called “Extra Play.” Apparently, it was five cuts from the second UK Kajagoogoo album, “Islands” with a pair of US remixes on the flip side for seven total tracks. Long for an EP but this was the 80s – a time where nothing succeeded like excess!
Except that I never found a copy. I was attending record shows [remember those?] in the mid-90s and I finally came upon the full “Islands” album, where it has sat in my Record Cell ever since. It was not too much longer when I also came across the Kajagoogoo 8″ US laserdisc of the three clips from “White Feathers.” On principle, since I bought any even marginal 8″ music video on laserdisc [there weren’t many].
The three clips on there were typical of their time period, and are a fizzy time capsule of early-mid 80s style influences now. Which is more than I can say for the songs. I mean, what can one say about a song that has the audacity to name itself “Ooh To Be Ah?” I just gave this a spin while brushing my teeth this morning and I can’t say it made much of a musical impression. But the later material with Beggs in the driver’s seat was much more interesting indeed! Far more interesting was this record that I finally saw and bought on my last trip to Atlanta earlier this year!
Kaja: Turn Your Back On Me US 12″ 
- Turn Your Back On Me [flipped disc mix]
- Turn Your Back On Me [dub mix]
These US mixes were by Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero and represent a much more interesting 12″ mix than what the UK got. The band created a lurching, almost sinister dance-funk here with Beggs doubling on popping funk bass as well as the grinding funk grooves proffered by his Stick. The synths were PPG Wave as favored by Dolby at the time. The sampled percussion breakdowns were fairly innovative here, while the sample flute highlights were the only featherlight thing about this darker, much more muscular sound. This song sounded like the cream of Level 42 [think “Hot Water”] touched with King Crimson at their dancefloor best [think “Sleepless”]. I had been waiting way too long to have this luxuriant 7:00 mix of this dynamic song. The B-side dub mix was a fair to middling attempt at an honest dub of the track. Better than some but you won’t be forgetting Adrian Sherwood.
Nick Beggs has gone on to be something of a favored son for the Stick community. They released some of his solo albums and he’s currently the featured artist for 2018 on the Chapman Stick site. Like anyone who makes the Stick their environment, he’s much more Prog now than his bygone pop era would have suggested. Playing with Steven Wilson, Steve Hackett, and John Paul Jones show that his bleached roots were ignored. Only the power that he brought to the table mattered, and as his leadership turn with Kaja/googoo showed, he was capable of making dark, rich, powerful dance material not terribly removed from where Shriekback were venturing at the same time.
p.s.: Im my haste I forgot to mention that I had planned to write about this last Friday then Pete Shelley suddenly died, so that went out the window. A day or two later, djjedredy @ My Vinyl Dreams coincidentally blogged about this exact same record! And djjedredy posts rips, so if you want to hear this exact mix and B-side, click here.
– 30 –