Department S: Going Left Right UK 7″ 
- Going Left Right
- 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.
DEPARTMENT S: Going Left right UK 12″ 
- Going Left Right [Extended Version]
- She’s Expecting You
- 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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