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] – US – 12″ 
- AEIOU [Sometimes Y] [long ver.] 7:38
- 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.
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.