Record Review: Department S – Going Left Right

Stiff Records ‎| UK | 7″ | 1981 | BUY 118

Department S: Going Left Right UK 7″ [1981]

  1. Going Left Right
  2. She’s Expecting You

Here’s a fantastic record from the summer of 1981. Discogs claims that it was released on June 19th, 1981 – making it 38 years and a day old as I decided to write about this one today instead of yesterday. I seem to recall that I had heard this one being played on WPRK-FM during the holy year of 1981 when I finally had the all-important college radio station to hear new music from. I had heard WUCF-FM and WPRK-FM in earlier years, but the “college rock” phenomenon had not yer manifested in America, so the music played was classical or prog rock in the late 70s. By 1981, the world of college radio had changed. Dramatically.

It didn’t take me too long before I hit the import 7″ bins at Record City to buy this little gem. At that time the import 7″ singles were in a small box in the import LP section. Maybe 150-200 records at any given time for $3.00 each. This was the first [and last] thing I had heard from Department S. It was their second of only three singles. “Is Vic There?” had been their successful debut single. Given how strong a track “Going Left Right” was it floors me that it failed to become the massive hit it sounded like.

It began with an energetic synth loop that sounded like a police siren as the thunderous drum roll announced the relentless drumbeats that kept this one moving at breakneck speed. Every bar or two there would be a backbeat to hint at krautrock energy as the bass interlocked with the drums to keep the energy unflagging here. The guitars slashed in like razors while the synths added hints of portentous and threatening minor key chords.

The drums advanced the velocity of the song with fills added at just the right pressure points. It could have been an instrumental and it still would have been a disc to make one stand up and take notice, but it was in the lyrics and delivery of vocalist Vaughan Toulouse that the already impossibly urgent song became something even more startling. The lyrics were an excoriation of someone who was as regimented in the disco as they were outside of it… in the army. The whole song began at maximum velocity and never flagged in speed until the song’s abrupt end just three minutes in with the last “left/right” of the chorus slamming into the sonic brick wall. Hearing this one was like riding a luge track. the sense of speed is unmatched.

The B-side was the furthest thing from the A-side. A minimal spy-fi bassline and synth strings over a loping drumbeat stayed downwind as the focus of “She’s Expecting You” was the spoken word travelogue that interjected every few bars, directing the listener from Watford into the heart of London for a rendezvous with a woman on the third floor of a Hilton hotel who has “expecting you.”

This single was the third thing I’d heard that David Tickle had been involved with. He had engineered the almighty “Eat To The Beat” and he had recently cut his production teeth the year before with his stunning debut production; the “Ttrue Colours” album by Split Enz. This was the clincher for me. I really would buy anything that Dave would deign to work on from here on out. This single marked him as a huge production talent, and the band were not chopped liver either! This was a thrilling single, but it struggled to even get into the UK top 60. Perhaps the brand of rock disco proffered here was out of step with the tumultuous UK 1981 singles market that saw ska, new pop, and new romantic sounds fighting it out for chart dominance.

Stiff Records ‎| UK | 12″ | 1981 | BUY IT 118

DEPARTMENT S: Going Left right UK 12″ [1981]

  1. Going Left Right [Extended Version]
  2. She’s Expecting You
  3. Is Vic There? [French Version]

Amazingly, there was a 12″ single complete with an all-important extended version of this never long enough track, but sadly, I’ve never seen a copy. It could be that I’ll need to source one mail order when I have more money than sense. There was only a solitary single left to Department S [“I Want”] before Stiff Records stupidly pulled the plug and spiked their completed album, “Sub-Stance.” Leaving it as one of the very best orphaned albums. Albeit one that eventually got a release in 1993 as the first dozen tracks on the compilation “Is Vic There?” along with a scattered selection of B-sides and rarities. Then, nine years later, the “Sub-Stance” CD was released, that had all of “Is Vic There?” as well as five more cuts.

In the 21st century, it looks like Department S have reformed despite the death of Vaughan Toulouse in 1991. Former keyboardist Eddie Roxy was the singer on that blast of material and the band have had a revolving door of membership as old and new players have circulated through the band; resulting in two new albums of material I’ve yet to hear. I’m guessing that the sound of 1981 as captured by the original band with David Tickle were the main thing that I needed to hear from this band.

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About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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16 Responses to Record Review: Department S – Going Left Right

  1. Mr. Ware says:

    Yes!! The late great Ron Kane made sure Dept. S was a priority for my listening pleasure early on. David Tickle’s production is so brilliant. I have the “Is Vic There” collection and it gets pretty frequent rotation in the Ware-mobile.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tom Sarris says:

    Great post, Monk! Department S is definitely one of the overlooked “could-have/should-have-beens” of the post punk era. Sort of related is a similar sounding band from that time frame (1981) called New Apartment. Demon Records issued a one-off single with “Catch 22” on the A side, and “Them and Us” on the B side (you can find both songs on Spotify). Catch 22 has a bit more Teardrop Explodes influence, but is not too dissimilar to Department S’ early sound. Department S certainly had a bit more output, but both bands would seem to be, like many, victims of timing and circumstance that never allowed them to realize their true potential. Keep up the great posts!

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  3. Echorich says:

    Purchased the day it came into Metro Records in Little Neck, Queens, NYC. It was on WNYU every afternoon on Evan Funk Davies (btw he performed occasionally with Bush Tetras) show and I was mesmerized by the martial/synth beat.
    It was one of my songs of 1981 and a song that still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up every time I hear it.
    A year earlier, Is Vic There? had a very similar impact on me – it still does. But in those fast moving, ever changing days of my youth and New Wave/Post Punk, without a album, Department S got left behind. I wouldn’t hear I Want until it was already 2 or 3 years after its release.
    I agree with you, in forced retropsect, that Sub-Stance is a very accomplished, immediate, intense and simply fun album. That it took 20 years to come out – and posthumously for Vaughn Toulouse, is one of those Post Punk missed opportunities that we can all point to.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I never saw or heard “I Want” until I got “Is Vic There” in the mid 90s. I had no idea that “Going Left Right” wasn’t their inexplicable swan song. Damn! I really need that 12” version!

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  4. Mel Creighton says:

    I bought “Is Vic There” in 1981 and that was the only thing I had ever heard by them in the 80’s.
    I always thought that Blue Oyster Cult should cover the song. It sounds so much like BOC! It would have been a hit for them.

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  5. SimonH says:

    Bought Vic when it first came out and then quite a bit later that 12″ of Going Left Right, have never bought either of the reissue CDs, must do so. I think many thought of Vic as a bit of a novelty record so they may have suffered for that here in the UK.
    I did see the current version of Department S last year supporting the Godfathers I think, all I would say is proceed with caution re the new stuff.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      SimonH – I recommend either of the CDs, the LTM version has 5 more cuts than the Mau-Mau version, so caveat emptor. Yeah, the current version of Department S has one member from the past in it. Though the team up with the Godfathers seemed like a sensible thing on the face of it.

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  6. I’ve liked everything I’ve ever heard from Department S but now I know why I never had any of their albums — there weren’t any!

    As for David Tickle, he did a lot of work here in Canada with some bands I don’t care for (like Red Ryder), but looking across his career he (mostly) had some pretty good taste and skills, and produced many things that I either love or at least can admire from a production/sonic standpoint. Allegedly he’s prepping a project to come out this year.

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