Here we go again. I had planned to review a new release today but I was blindsided by this instead. I have been mentally preparing for every musician I enjoy eventually meeting their fate as have been writing this blog since they are all as little as 3-5 years to 20+ years older than I am. And I’m not terribly young. But the covid-19 crisis is indiscriminate on who gets cut down. Yesterday it was The Strangler’s immensely talented keyboardist, Dave Greenfield who met his untimely end at only 71. The gent was apparently hospitalized for a heart ailment and fell victim to the virus. And here we all thought it would be drummer Jet Black [81 and effectively retired from playing for the last five years] who would probably be the first Strangler to go, but it was down to Greenfield this time.
I first heard The Stranglers at the courtesy of chasinvictoria, who was hoovering up New Wave compilations like they were going out of style in the heady years of ’78-’80. A+M Records had one called “No Wave” that he was exceptionally besotted with. Not long after buying a copy of that I think he ended up with albums by every one of the bands on it that A+M [the most progressive major label at the time who were actually licensing much of the New Wave acts exploding out of the UK] released. I recall hearing chasinvictoria bring in the “Black + White” album and play the first track on side one, “Tank,” on one of his radio shows at the high school station where we were DJs.
The the entrancing combination of punk belligerence coupled with a clear intelligence and miles of excellent musicianship made me an instant fan. Dave Greenfield was clearly one of the keyboardists of the time who could play for miles. Obviously gifted with heavy technique yet never boring. If “Tank” immediately made me a fan, then Greenfield’s atonal solo on the next track, “Nice + Sleazy” blew my young mind. It made Eno’s seminal work on “Roxy Music” sound staid in comparison. Hearing this was like licking an electric socket! I immediately fell in with The Stranglers and avidly followed their career for the entirety of their years with Hugh Cornwell as their lead singer.
The Stranglers career during my fandom fell into two distinct phases. The New Wave/Punk years on United Artists Records, when the band were never too far out of the UK top ten with many gold selling albums and hit singles that ran the gamut of styles and influences. Followed by their more commercial [yet ironically less successful] CBS records era. But if the band got more commercial, then at least they were going down that road with panache. Hugh Cornwell had said that he felt that the band’s CBS era had them following the lead of more sophisticated pop like Roxy Music [who had just stepped down in 1983] and Greenfield’s keyboard prowess went a long way towards making that not only possible, but even desirable.
The band had their biggest hit in 1981 with the elegant smack song “Golden Brown” selling big the world over [with the exception of the US, where “punk rock” like The Stranglers never stood a chance] and they used that huge success to transition to the larger CBS Records at the end of their UA contract. Greenfield’s harpsichord hook was utterly central to the song’s gravitational pull. Then the subsequent “Feline” album showed just how sophisticated and stylish these former thugs could be. Songs like “European Female” were close to what Ultravox were offering at the time in the smoothly synthetic sound they offered.
I remember being particularly smitten at the time when “Aural Sculpture” was released in 1983. The songs were simply fantastic and I had always felt that “Skin Deep” was the best song that Johnny Cash had never written. Actually, I would have paid top dollar had Rick Rubin picked that song for Cash to make his own during the American sessions, but it remained a lost opportunity.
Dave Greenfield didn’t stray far from The Strangler’s mothership. There are only a handful of side efforts that kept him busy in his off time. He played occasionally with J. J. Burnel on duo or the latter’s solo efforts. There was the retro cover band The Purple Helments that probably slotted in close to things like Naz Nomad + The Nightmares. In 1988 Greenfield and Burnel were all over the Mona Mur debut album and I may need to hear this. Then there was the 1993 Dani album “N Comme Never Again” which also had Jérôme Soligny involvement in addition to Greenfield and Burnel.
But The Stranglers without Cornwell never convinced me. I bought the first single, “Heaven + Hell,” and simply could no longer believe in this once vital band. I bought a few archival albums of Stranglers material post 1990, but that was the extent of any more Greenfield in my Record Cell. But what is in there counts for a lot. Condolences to his family and bandmates are certainly in order.
– 30 –
1977, those great early 7″ singles, Something better change, Grip, Go Buddy go and the all the rest. I still play them now, they still sound good, not really punk, they were far too good. Where does the time go.?
Ade.W – Listening to the still amazing “Black + White” as I work right now. Hard to believe 42 years of listening to it!
“Black and White” is incredible. Some love for that album: https://thatrecordgotmehigh.com/?s=black+and+white
This one’s a real bummer. I’ve been listening to The Stranglers a ton lately…basically the albums up to “La Folie” are about as far as I go. But what a run that was! “Black and White” and “The Raven” are the best they had to offer, IMO, and Greenfield really came into his own on those albums, incorporating more synths and even taking some lead vocals (“Do You Wanna,” “Genetix”). What a player!
Anyway, speaking of “The Raven,” I highly recommend this podcast to anyone who likes The Stranglers, but especially that album: https://thatrecordgotmehigh.com/2020/01/18/s2e96-the-stranglers-the-raven-w-adam-franklin-of-swervedriver/
Zoo – Then you and I cherish the very same Stranglers albums! Have you read “No Mercy,” the official bio from the 90s? Well done. I might have to check out that podcast since I can now work and listen to music for a change. Currently listening to “The Gospel According To The Meninblack.” The CBS era was solid through “Dreamtime” and still a winner for me though the UA years will always hold sway.
I have not read it! But thanks for the recommendation. I’m pretty addicted to that podcast. They’ve covered a number of great albums.
Sad to hear news like this, but it will go on.
Hopefully, he will be at peace.
Not to hijack the thread, but Florian Schnieder of Kraftwerk
also has passed away due to a rare cancer.
negative1ne – Yeah, I just saw that during lunch after hearing unsubstantiated word this morning. At least Mr. Schneider managed a substantial retirement prior to his demise. It’s heartbreaking when musicians retire and quickly pass or worse, plan to retire and die first.
My musical memories with The Stranglers started way back in 1977 and continue with my school friend whose older brother brought home the newly released Black and White, after wearing out both Rattus Norvegicus and No More Heroes. By then, their music had already firmly leached into my soul.
The band themselves have a history that falls into specific eras. The first 16 years saw 10 albums; their rise to fame via punk but never being punk, with the first 5 being excellent and then a slow decline into mediocrity. As much as die-fans lamented the departure of Hugh in 1990, he was instrumental in their blandness.
Paul Rogers joined them for the next 16 years and that yielded just 5 studio albums, 4 which were just not that interesting. It was the release of Norfolk Coast that saw a seismic shift and a return to true form. That coincided with the parting of Paul and the promotion of Baz to lead vocals and chief snarling. Suddenly The Stranglers were The Stranglers again.
Two more head-held-high studio albums followed with annual UK touring where they perfected their sound, their show and their ability to thrill the audience.
My school friend and I would also have annual meet-ups when the band played Glasgow; it was a tradition. So much so that the pre-Covid announcement of their last ever UK tour scheduled for later this year meant the Glasgow gig sold out in a flash. I had grabbed a ticket for my pal and when the band announced a second date, I grabbed tickets for us for that one too. I texted him telling him about the new date and the tickets. He simply replied “You know me so well”.
The really sad news of Dave’s death is the catalyst that surely signals the end of The Stranglers as we know them. Their signature sound was a fantastic combination of growling bass and swirling keyboards. Without one, I feel they are no more and the very heart and soul has been ripped out of the band.
I texted my friend to tell him the news. His short reply said it all. “Shite. They were my go-to band”.
The last time I saw them play live was at the 80s Rewind Festival in Scone, Perth, Scotland in 2019. They played a blistering break-neck 50 minute show with unrelenting hits, one after the other. I had never seen them play so fast, so well and so enthusiastically. That is the prefect memory of a great band.
Duncan Watson – As poor as the “10” album was, [only the cover was great] I liked the three prior studio albums on CBS. Very sophisticated, and radically different,, but as would not consider them “bland.” “10?” Yes, very bland! When Hugh went solo [I enjoy his solo albums and have almost all of them] I was all set to enjoy the spectacle of JJ becoming full lead vocalist for the band as he sang on at least half of my favorite Stranglers tunes. When they got Paul Rogers I bought the single “ Heaven + Hell” and found it far worse than “10” was. I thought that the band were being lazy by recruiting a singer and guitarist and coasting on their efforts. With the Purple Helments side project showing the core possible content to coast without expending any effort, I decided to get off The Stranglers bus right then and there. Had they simply let JJ be the sole frontman I would have been more than content to keep going. So when Paul was out I still had not bothered. Maybe I should sample the later studio albums with Baz singing and report back with my findings. I certainly agree that if they had already put out the notion of a final tour before losing Dave, that to carry on without him would be pointless. No Jet. No Dave. No real point as the band were the sound of Dave and JJ.
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