Record Review: EBN-OZN – “AEIOU [Sometimes Y]” US 12″

By early 1983, MTV was a vector of infection for lots of “New Music” as it was being called in the media. There was a lot of synthetic, Dance Music being bandied about with bands getting a leg up on MTV for their video to get into light-medium rotation. It was still the “wild west” period for MTV but that would end by the next year. The gatekeepers were not yet calcified into place.

I think I was watching MTV in the afternoon when I caught the video for Ebn-Ozn’s “AEIOU [Sometimes Y].” The random wave synth and the programmed bass line immediately caught my attention in the intro so this was something new on MTV …which at that point was almost nothing but new things. This EBN-OZN seemed to be a rare US-based synth duo. Which was typically a UK phenomenon. There was the suit-wearing member [Ned Liben] and the lead vocalist, who seemed every inch the mashup between David Lee Roth and Nick Beggs, of Kajagoogoo!

As the song progressed, it turned out the be something different. A dance track that was not really sung, but spoken by the vocal member [Robert Rosen] outlining an initially thwarted but ultimately successful linkup with “an incredible looking Swedish girl” on the teeming streets of NYC. It was by turns, funny, witty, and charming as it presented this slightly scoundrelly guy on the make who couldn’t help but win you over by the end of his spiel.

It was the era when my friends and I would go out on a Friday night and shop for records. On rare occasions, we went to the mall, and Orlando had the “Factory Outlet Mall” which had a record store in it [I think it was Record Bar…] and while I rarely shopped there, when I did they had a 12″ single deal that was pretty good. You could always get three US 12″ singles [$4.98 list] for $12.99. Hey…two bucks is two bucks!

I can vividly remember each of the three US 12″ers I bought on this spring evening 39 years ago. Simple Minds “Promised You A Miracle,” Spandau Ballet’s “Lifeline,” and Ebn-Ozn’s “AEIOU [Sometimes Y].” As it would turn out, nearly 40 years later, I have many dozens of Simple Minds and Spandau Ballet releases in my Record Cell, but only three from Ebn-Ozn. That’s because that’s all there ever were to buy.

ebn-ozn AEIOU[sometimes Y] cover art
Elektra | US | 12″ | 1983 | 0-67915

Ebn-Ozn: AEIOU [Sometimes Y] – US – 12″ [1983]

  1. AEIOU [Sometimes Y] [long ver.] 7:38
  2. AEIOU [Sometimes Y] [dub ver.] 7:30

The 12″ version of this cut was almost twice as long as the 3:58 7″ video version. The mix was by John Luongo so it came by its club floor proclivities honestly. It proffered a beefy, substantial sound with heavy emphasis on the Fairlight sampling keyboard. In looking up the provenance of Ned Liben, I’m shocked/not shocked to see that in 1981 he was guitarist and engineer for the AOR band Riff Raff who made less than a splash at the time with their past-its-sell-by-date bluster that wasn’t even as cool as Loverboy! Listening to the music on “AEIOU [Sometimes Y],” Liben obviously knew how to craft muscular music, that was not the typical airy Synthpop that often seemed to be insubstantially wispy. [see: Kajagoogoo]

This record had oomph. I liked the “vocal characterizations” that Ozn added to the mix. He seemed to be acting the song instead of singing it. And the busy arrangement had plenty of time for interesting nooks and crannies to get lost in. Boredom was not an option. I especially liked his apparent impersonation of Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes explaining the role of vowels in language. At least I’d swear he had Nick in mind when he stepped up to the mic that day.

The record followed the format of the 7″ version up until the “Latin Metal” drum machine solo before the middle eight commenced and the rest of the song got much stranger. With various non sequitur interjections, climaxing in the multi-varispeed instances of “I dare you to play this record” before the mix wrapped up to take us back to the more structured portion for the fade, with Ozn laying out the ground rules for his new partner.

The B-side dub mix began with the main synth riff isolated against the drumbeats that sounded exactly like the intro to Erasure’s “A Little Respect!” I’d swear that Vince Clarke had heard this sound and it stuck in his head five years later. Then the hi-hat came in as the track built up to the fully dense sound of the song, bar, by bar. After a minute we were in familiar territory. Backing vocals and voice interjections were sparingly dubbed into the track but eventually it was about three minutes of familiar turf. Then the last two minutes and a half minutes were a dubbed breakdown of more isolated riffs until the final fade.

ebn-ozn - feeling cavalier cover art
Elektra | US | LP | 1984 | 60319-1

I later went on to buy the other 12″ single [promo only] of “Bag Lady” and the “Feeling Cavalier” album but as much fun as “AEIOU [Sometimes Y]” was, I’ve yet to spin the LP in the 30 or so years I’ve had one. There was a Wounded Bird CD in the early noughts that I didn’t bite on it since it lacked in any bonus mixes from 12″ singles. Sure, sure. The LP mix of “AEIOU [Sometimes Y]” was only a minute shorter than the 12″ version, but it was the principle of the thing. Now the CD is OOP. Maybe I’ll do a REVO edition with everything on it? [looks] Whoops. The “AEIOU [Sometimes Y]” US 7″ had a 4:45 instrumental mix on it that looks unique. [mental note to self]

The single came out many months before the LP but I’ll bet that taming the wild Fairlight meant that crafting this album took a lot of midnight oil on EBN’s part. The LP was released the next year in 1984 and probably missed its peak window for the most impact. The band split up by 1985 and EBN went onto be the Fairlight programmer on Scritti Politti’s “Cupid + Psyche ’85” so there’s some immortality there. He was a session player on numerous other [less interesting] records. He died suddenly in 1998 of a heart attack.

Robert Rosen had come from a Broadway acting background [as if we couldn’t tell] and had tumbled into this gig following a tour with “Pirates of Penzance.” Afterward, he went on to do scriptwork and producing for film and TV. He eventually changed his last name to OZN; producing House Music under the DaDa NaDa name. He also became a bisexual activist; eventually serving as a chairperson on the Los Angeles Bi Task Force.

All fascinating, but at the end of the day, give me the near-novelty value of this single as the thing to remember them by. It was a sampling synth goof that came at exactly the right time to make an impact and move along in that exciting time when MTV was goosing the lives of many a one-hit wonder. And as the saying goes, it’s better than being a no-hit wonder.


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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22 Responses to Record Review: EBN-OZN – “AEIOU [Sometimes Y]” US 12″

  1. TIm says:

    I watched the video you embedded, to be honest I think this was the first time I ever saw it!
    And, like you, haven’t listened to this much in ages,
    Some fun could be had if someone had the stems to say, this, Mexican Radio, She Blinded Me With Science and My Name is Norman Bates.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Big Mark says:

    “… wasn’t even as cool as Loverboy…”…my, what a frightening thought…


    • postpunkmonk says:

      schwenko – That’s the LP version. I’ve looked at the compilations out there and all of them that I can tell have either the 7″ mix or the LP mix. The 12″ version is not on any CD I can find.


  3. Steve Shafer says:

    The hair was cringy back then and even more so now (rattails were never cool). Have loved this song since I first heard it on WLIR back in ’83. Never knew about EBN’s work on “Cupid + Psyche ’85,” which is one of my top 10 favorite albums (synth-pop perfection!). Thanks for making that connection!


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Steve Shafer – Tracking down OZN now reveals no such tonsorial faux pas. Interestingly he produced a song inspired by the Orlando Pulse massacre that got him some notice, 30 years after leaving music for film.


  4. Echorich says:

    Ned was a bit of a NYC Downtown Denizen back in those early/mid 80s. I encountered him around town a bit, especially at the Limelight. I believe he was responsible for bringing Green and David Gamson to Limelight a few times when they were mixing down Cupid + Psyche ’85. All I really remember of Green in the Limelight VIP room was that he seemed to have the glow of an aura about him. EBN was a man with talent for sure, working with Richard James Burgess, Luongo, and artists from Scritti Politti to Michael Bolton(!)


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – So interesting that he managed to shed his AOR skin from Riff Raff so successfully. I didn’t know anything about them until yesterday and was sort of appalled at the lameness of the music [see Loverboy remark above]. I believe that I had read that he was somehow involved in the Fairlight sales machine as a rep somewhere along the way, but I could not find that tidbit again for verification.


  5. Fred says:

    Oh dear, know the names of band and song for a long time now but never listened to it because I assumed it was a cover of I.O.U. by UK funksters / synthpoppers Freeez ft (John Rocca) LOL


  6. JT says:

    All creatives know that the best way to learn a new tool is to just dive in and make something. *Professional* creatives know to do this BEFORE using that tool for important client work. It is super-duper clear to me that this record is the result of Liben acquiring access to a Fairlight, needing to get up to speed with it, and coming up with this track as part of his learning process. If I were going to speculate (and I am), he came up with something better than he expected, so he roped in his buddy Rosen to throw down some vocals, and they released it. I’d be shocked if Rosen were involved for any longer than an afternoon.

    …until it became a small hit, and someone waved money at them to throw an album together. Although AEIOU is a fun song (I had a white-label copy of that 12″), the album pretty much sucks, a lot. These guys had to come up with a bunch of other tunes, fast, and the results clearly demonstrate their haste.

    It has been said (by the bands) that New Order’s “Blue Monday” and Tears For Fears’ “The Way You Are” were also studio experiments that turned out well enough to release; interestingly, both bands have subsequently been disparaging about these tracks. But whether they like it or not, New Order have nothing to complain about where Blue Monday is concerned. It made their career.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      JT – I feel that your theory is 100% spot on. That’s how I learn new software, and yeah… you never do that when the meter is running or you go into the red! Your theory also perfectly explains the year-long gap between the single and the LP. It would also possibly tie in with my vague memory of reading that Liben was a rep for Fairlight so how can you rep a system without knowing it? If he was looking to learn the intricacies of Page R, then “AEIOU [Sometimes Y]” would have stood as a test passed with flying colors. Likewise for New Order putting their new DMX drum machine through its paces. I was a New Order fan before “Blue Monday” but that single really upped their game and defined the “explosive growth” phase of their career.


  7. So, implying that Loverboy had at least *some* cool factor aside…
    Alright, so there *IS* a debate to be made…
    The early/mid-80s had a plethora of acts of this ilk, one or two hit wonders that broke up before they could get any traction, or perhaps suffered the whims of the industry or even lost interest themselves and moved on, but this was an act that I always thought would have been more interesting if they stuck around. I agree, a fully fleshed out reissue is overdue. I wonder if Rubellan would be interested.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      postpostmoderndad – Not quite. I consider Loverboy the kings of douche rock. Riff Raff were even worse, somehow. Too faceless to even spur the sort of revulsion that came as second nature to Loverboy! And Riff Raff had a bad Hipgnosis cover!

      It’s hard to guess where Rubellan Remasters would fall on the wheel of EBN-OZN. We have a lot of overlap but not complete congruence. I’m guessing too niche for the label. I’m not even sure I would buy a new CD issue. The old one was not a priority, obviously.


  8. Taffy says:

    Oh wow, I have that Wounded Bird reissue of Feeling Cavalier, and probably haven’t played it in a decade (or two!). But I kinda love AEIOU Sometimes Y for the kooky catchy tune it is. I even have a favorite part…the verse about how “this isn’t high school or anything,” ending with that sneery “huh, do I wanna go out?” I don’t know that I’d consider this novelty music, but it’s pretty hilarious. Never knew the fates of EBN or OZN. Thx for this post, what a great delve to the obscure past.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – I think you hit the nail on the head there for the appeal to me as well. “AEIOU [Sometimes Y]” must be a “secret weapon” in your DJ sets, yes?


      • Taffy says:

        i honestly don’t think I’ve ever played it out before (the more obscure the 80s song, the more the floor clears, along with increase in the puzzled looks amongst everyone under the age of 40!). But it’s so utterly dull dragging out the usual Don’t You Want Me/Tainted Love/Don’t You Forget About Me/Come On Eileen stuff, maybe I’ll give it a spin.


  9. Toph says:

    I probably heard it first on the local college radio station: Album 88 in Georgia. I bought the single and listened to it hundreds of times — I loved the complexity. Those sounds are still in my mind. Vapor Trail by Crystal Method comes to mind (2:50 into it). Another song so complex that can be enjoyed at a slower rate of speed.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Toph – Welcome to the comments! Album 88, eh? I remember chasinvictoria sending me airchecks of that station when he lived in Mableton at the dawn of the 80s.I just had this one replaying in my head for several hours of leaf raking a few weekends ago.


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