Ultravox: A Young Person’s Guide To Ultravox 2xCD-R 
Disc 1 [Foxx]
- Satday Night In The City of The Dead
- Wide Boys
- My Sex
- Young Savage
- Fear In The Western World
- Distant Smile
- The Man Who Dies Every Day
- Hiroshima Mon Amour
- Slow Motion
- I Can’t Stay Long
- Some Of Them
- When You Walk Through Me
- Just For A Moment
Disc 2 [Post-Foxx]
- Passing Strangers
- Western Promise
- All Stood Still
- The Voice
- Rage In Eden
- I Remember [Death in The Afternoon]
- The Thin Wall
- Reap The Wild Wind
- The Song [We Go]
- White China
- One Small Day
- Systems of Love
I had completely forgotten about this, but it was the only CD I managed to make last year. I wanted to give a co-worker a sense of Ultravox so I set about making a CD-R and decided that it could be told best as a Foxx disc and a Post-Foxx disc. Since my disc printer was dead, these were plain vanilla CD-Rs in a gatefold cardboard sleeve. I just whipped this together quickly. The hard part was deciding what would go on the disc!
I had discussed the band with the recipient earlier, and had extolled the punishing use of feedback as being the most extreme that I’d ever heard. I had also mentioned the juxtaposition of banks of howling noise hard cut next to delicacy, so the “Fear In The Western World” and “Distant Smile” pairing had to be here. Picking the representative cream of album one was the biggest challenge. What to use beyond the clearly ahead-of-its-time “My Sex” was a bit of a head scratcher. I eventually picked three songs that I felt illustrated the wide breadth of the debut album.
“Young Savage” had to be in there as it was the outlier to the more aggressive “Ha! Ha! Ha!” We had two fiery tracks from side one of that album then moved to the icy tunes on side two that were once again, outliers to the way forward from the nerve shredding cul-de-sac that side one represented. Then, as “Systems Of Romance” was such an embarrassment of riches, I felt it cogent to use over half of that album to illustrate just how far ahead of the pack the band had been in 1978. Some might decry the absence of “Quiet Man” given how important a theme it was to Foxx going forward, but I felt that was a different story to what I wanted to tell.
The arrival of Ure as singer/guitarist was important to the band because he had been a huge fan of “Systems Of Romance,” and the work that the new lineup produced was clearly, in musical terms at least, a progression of what they had begun two years earlier. We can argue that the lyrics were less adroit, but the sweep of history showed that the band were no longer ahead of their time and by 1981, Ultravox reaped the benefit of having helped to define the musical zeitgeist that coalesced around them to take them to popular status.
“Vienna” and “Rage In Eden” were the second lineup’s pinnacle achievements, so half of each album factored here. Six of their best singles and three amazing deep cuts. My favorite song from “Vienna” had immediately been “Western Promise” and 39 years later, it’s come back to that with my ears. What I would pay to hear that one live… at least Midge Ure toured The States last year and gave his audiences “I Remember [Death In The Afternoon!].” One of their great singles that never was.
The last half of disc two rushed through “Quartet” and “Lament.” I included “Reap The Wild Wind” since it was their highest profile song in The States, even though the person I was giving the disc to had not been born yet when it attained that lofty status. Decades later it’s “The Song [We Go]” that cooks with the right intensity for me now. Midge Ure’s wistful acappella intro over the rhythmbox just slays me and when the song kicks into Krautrock overdrive it’s just amazing. I was always turning it up as loud as I could in the old days and I need to one day remix the track to have that intro loud enough to appreciate it even more.
Disc two was mostly Ure material, but I felt it was worth including some tracks from “Billy Currie’s Ultravox” to show how the embers of what Foxx had begun nearly 15 years earlier were still being kept aflame by even just one of the players on “Systems Of Romance.” I feel very comfortable at what this compilation achieved, even if I only ever made one copy. The story of Ultravox needed to be told in a cohesive way that I feel that this achieved. Now, is there anyone out there who could grind this down to a single CD? If so, let’s discuss below!
– 30 –
I woulda snuck “Europe After the Rain” in there and kept my mouth shut about its lineage.
Tim – Naaaah! If I were going to cheat it would have been with “Systems Of Romance,” also from “The Garden!”
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I have such a soft spot for “Man of Two Worlds” and “Heart of the Country” that I would have replaced “White China” with one of those. But that’s just me.
I like what you did with that artwork, BTW. I have to ask…did Midge sport the moustache for all or most of his time in Ultravox in the ’80s? Just wondering if that is truly representative of his look from that time. I’m thinking yes.
zoo – I think Midge with ‘stache is 1979-1982. He’s still got it in the “Quartet” videos that we shot in late ‘82. After that I think it went away. Let’s put it this way; once he shaved it off his mojo seemed to go with it! Thanks for the compliment. It was a very fast project done on the fly and the design was improvised in about 45 minutes. I was playing with the John Foxx halftone trope. Finding mug shots of Foxx and Ure was critical but it happened quickly.
> did Midge sport the moustache for all or most of his time in Ultravox in the ’80s?
It’s funny – the artwork for “Sleepwalk” and “Vienna” (June and July 1980, though clearly from the same photo session) has him clean-faced. By the time they first appeared on Top of the Pops (August) he’s with moustache, though the sideburns are yet to come (or at least not as big). Only by the time of “Vienna” the single (January) they’re of their classic size.
Thet stayed on until “We Came to Dance” (May 1983) – the video has Midge with them, but on Top of the Pops (June) he’s clean-faced. Apparently caused a bit of an uproar with the female fans and he grew them up again for “After a Fashion” campaign. After that – designer stubble then clean-faced.
Overall just three years of his life – but defined his look to the public forever.
Vlad – Thank you for that mustache analysis! I only had a vague sense of it and no materials to consult in any case as I was at work when the question arose.
I was writing about Modern Man recently and came across Midge’s quote in his biog about how he was returning from Scotland after producing MM and decided to have a bit of fun with razorblade. And that led me to determine at least a rough chronology :)
Vlad – I need that Modern Man material… still! So when did he produce that LP? Was it early 1980, after “Visage” but before “Vienna?” Too bad his book was of no help in piecing together a timeline!
I had Modern Man on CD-R for years in 2000s – but listened to it only once and hated it! Only recently I had a listen to it again – and changed my mind, not completely but substantially. It’s a very energetic “New Wave”/Pop Punk record. What hit me on one of the recent listens is that this LP can be seen as Midge’s attempt to repeat Bill Nelson’s experiment with The Skids! Powerful punk/wave songs with futuristic overlay. Of course MM were not as inclined to Prog and imaginative imagery, they more of a second-tier band, nothing remotely world-changing – but simplicity and uptempo-ness of their songs are quite charming. I’d recommend them – though I can fully understand how tough it is to find them.
As for chronology, I too was extremely disappointed at the lack of dates in Midge’s book. You’d expect at least something like “this was done in August of 1981” – but no, nothing whatsoever. Pity, I had high hopes for it to draw the timeline. Anyway, from what I gather they finished Visage by/in May 1980 and in June-July he worked with MM and The Atrix, after which it was time for promotional duties – mainly tours in the UK and USA until the end of the year. As for Vienna, I still don’t have the solid knowledge, but judging by activity it must’ve been April-May, maybe early June. Don’t really know where to look for this info, though, can only guess…
Vlad – MU references early 1980 for the “Vienna” sessions in his book.
Well, writing sessions were from Summer 1979 to February 1980. But recording ones clearly took place in late Spring, maybe early Summer. Vienna was done in three weeks and it couldn’t’ve been anything else than mid April-May, probably very early June, as Sleepwalk was released on 16 June :)
Oh and by the way, I don’t know if you’re using Twitter but here’s a great recent find: https://twitter.com/MemberD/status/1019972093138669568
Vlad – Thanks for the info, but I don’t use Twitter or other social media. Who is it, anyway?
Well, you can simply try this link then: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DieqxoMXcAAv6HU.jpg A very interesting early interview with Ultravox :)
Vlad – Thanks for that! Very illuminating. I love the early Ultravox interviews when Midge joined. So full of enthusiasm and everyone chipping in. I have some in the US small press that I should scan and post up. The local New Wave paper [“Dogfood”] in my city interviewed them for a cover story! Interesting take on Island Records and Chris Blackwell, in particular.
I’m with you there zoo! I just will never understand White China…it feels like a Phil Collins song that slipped into the mixing desk somehow. A Friend Called Desire is miles better than po-mo Celtic/Bonoisms of One Small Day as well.
I love side 2 of Lament. Very emotional and complex songs. I really liked where they were heading, but it stopped there as we all know.
zoo – Can’t go there buddy. I feel that side two of “Lament” was a Midge Ure solo album not waiting to happen. Only Billy’s solo and Warren’s drums on “A Friend I Called Desire” was a callback to the “Ultravox sound.”
I’m with you here. They really had something going and I’m sure another album is this vein would’ve been an ideal transition into the late 1980s for them. In fact I feel they found a perfect formula to develop: make an album with one-third frenetic synth-dance tracks, another third more flashy guitar stuff and finally a couple of moody mystical compositions. Voila! They could’ve go like this for at least as many albums as before. But then again, Midge for years boasted that he doesn’t want to do the same thing when he’s 40 – and his wish was granted (to everyone’s detriment).
I second the compliments on the art—very nice.
JonJ – Welcome to the comments! Thanks! Making the GIF version of the front/back cover was interesting because you can really see the vast differences in the shape of their faces.
A nice selection of tracks Monk.
Ultravox will always hold a special place in my heart. They were the first group that I called my own. I only discovered them in early ’81 with the release of the Vienna single. It led me to discovering the earlier incarnation and then John Foxx’s solo career. I have bought most of John’s releases throughout the decades.
Of course Midge’s Ultravox went increasingly off the boil as the ’80s progressed but I will always have a soft spot for them. For me ‘Systems Of Romance’, ‘Vienna’ and ‘Rage In Eden’ are the essential albums. After that there were good moments but nothing as consistent.
PostPunkMonk: What is your feeling about “Love’s Great Adventure?”
MathManDan – It would have been a great note for the band to have bowed out on. It was a shame about the racist video, but I liked the song. Over the top but rousing in any case. Midge wrote about it in his book that when they saw the results of a marketing survey done about Ultravox that they felt hemmed in by their dour image that the survey pointed to, and the song/video was their attempt to address that – specifically. The Masai staking them in the desert was bad enough but the gold toothed black villain was laying it on with a trowel. It sat poorly with me then and has only festered with time.
A real case of video killed the video star.
The arc from the gorgeous surrealness of “The Thin Wall” to……this…..supports what I have said in previous comments on the site about the 80’s bands losing it when they went from outsider status to mainstream.
They’re going for Raiders of the Lost Ark and even that hasn’t aged well when it comes to racial tropes.
I am happy to say that I have never seen the video. And I’m certainly going to make sure I avoid it now!
I quite like the song, except for the chicken-like squawking, and asked because I noticed its omission from your track listing.
Ultravox have always been my number one band. They were the first band I ever saw live and I loved everything they did (well, apart from The Pink Album but that goes without saying).
However, Ultravox did have three distinct phases, 1 – with John Foxx, 2 – with Midge Ure. 3 – Billy’s alone incarnations. So, to distil this rather superb 2 CD set down to the one disc is neither necessary nor a good move.
My praise continues. For disc 1, hats off to you for –
a. not just replicating Three-Into-One
b. putting in a sneaky b-side (Dislocation is a mind-blowing track)
c. closing it off with Just For A Moment. Perfect.
and a couple of questions
1. is the Hiroshima Mon Amour the LP version or the punk re-recording?
2. did you consider any of the live versions to showcase their on-stage energy? My preference is the live recording of Slip Away
Onto disc 2. Thank you for –
a. missing out The Pink Album tracks
b. including over 50% of the Vienna album
c. not just replicating The Collection
d. squeezing 17 great tracks onto one disc
Overall, a really nice compilation. The artwork is spot on.
Duncan Watson – Good question, re: “Hiroshima.” It’s the album version, of course, but curse me for the novice for not specifying. It’s more cogent to their development as they were already moving on from “music to peel paint by.” I didn’t think for a moment that there should be anything but studio recordings on this set.
And while “Dislocation” was the B-side to “Slow Motion,” it was also on the “Systems Of Romance” album, so the only non-LP track here was “Young Savage.” Arrrgh! I just now realized that I failed to put “Paths + Angles” on disc two! I’d lose “Reap The Wild Wind” for that one any day!
I love the track ‘Paths + Angles’ too.
When it comes to ‘The Thin Wall’ and ‘The Voice’ I assume we’re talking about the full album versions rather than the 7” edits.
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AndyB – Absolutely! No edits allowed. In fact, it never occurred to me.
Glad to hear it Monk. I love the fact that Ultravox often had long play outs to some of their tracks. ‘The Thin Wall’ and ‘The Voice’ are two good examples.
I have maintained for years that “Young Savage” is/was one of the greatest punk songs ever written. It continues to utterly thrill me each and every time I hear it. While of course I agree with the overall praise for your extremely well-chosen selection, O Monk, you are right to chastise yourself for not replacing “Reap” (which is a good but very commercial song) with “Paths + Angles!”
chasinvictoria – Warren Cann agrees with you. There’s something in Foxx’s ice cold delivery that is just so vicious. The meter of his attack fits the music so perfectly.
Coming to Record Store Day 2020 : Ultravox – Sleepwalk 12 inch.
It was previously only a 7 inch.
This will also include a new stereo mix by Steve Wilson.
Part of the ongoing Vienna 40th anniversary boxset.
negative1ne – 40th Anniversary “Vienna Boxed Set?” Okay. You got my attention. Looked on SDE, Steve Wilson, RSD.UK. Where is this info hiding right now?