The year 1982 is given the spotlight in the third edition of an ongoing series from Cherry Red Records, Musik Music Musique 3.0: 1982 — Synth Pop on the Air. Like most collections, listeners will find some songs they’re familiar with and many they’ve never heard before. Taken together, this 3-disc set provides an aural mural of what was happening in the UK synth-pop scene that year. It was a fascinating and pivotal time for music which the US mainstream was only beginning to grasp.
Performers who became beloved to music fans, including Thomas Dolby, Tears for Fears, and Orchestral Manouevers in the Dark released seminal singles in 1982. Some of those are prime selections on Musik Music Musique 3.0: 1982 — Synth Pop on the Air. Dolby’s “Radio Silence,” from his debut album The Golden Age of Wireless, spotlights both the whimsy and drama Dolby would become known for. “Radio Silence” has a chamber-pop completeness, a humanity that fortifies music that could have been cold and austere.
“Let Me Go!” by Heaven 17 is one of the more memorable songs of 1982, daring to expand the boundaries of the genre. The wobbly main keyboard riff is complemented by barely audible jazz guitar and some ethereal background vocals. In the middle of the song, “Let Me Go!” breaks down into a bombastic yet accessible singalong. It’s an unexpected move, providing a clever hook for the tune.
Leaning heavily into sexual politics and, for its time, graphic lyrics, Berlin’s “Sex (I’m A…)” remains an essential track, driving and hypnotic. An essentially raunchy guitar part combines with the orgasmic squealing of Terri Nunn and John Crawford to create a song you may still feel uncomfortable playing around your parents.
Other songs on Musik Music Musique 3.0: 1982 — Synth Pop on the Air from lesser-known artists yield their own digital delights. “Robots, Machines and Silicon Dreams” by Omega Theatre, describes a purely electronic society with all of its advantages and pitfalls with unpredictable music that becomes more joyous and ludicrous as it goes on. 100% Manmade Fibre presents a straightforward synth-pop presentation on “Green for Go.” Sparse and minimal, the song’s vaguely threatening groove can still cause uncontrollable toe-tapping.
I found one of the best surprises on Musik Music Musique 3.0: 1982 — Synth Pop on the Air to be Kevin Coyne’s “Tell the Truth.” With sardonic spoken lyrics about Robin Hood, Jesus, and Josef K. becoming more frenzied over the repetitive keyboard riffs, “Tell the Truth” is tremendously creative and great fun to listen to.
Oh, and if you have never heard “Sex Dwarf” by Soft Cell, it’s right here on Musik Music Musique 3.0: 1982 — Synth Pop on the Air in all of its campy glory.
In 1982, the USA was running woefully behind the UK in embracing synth-pop, a genre that was confidently striding into its own. While tunes from Soft Cell and Human League did wind up in Billboard’s year-end Top 100 songs, they were surrounded by soft rock hits and a burgeoning sense of Americana. Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” came in at number six for the year, followed by two songs from John Cougar, before he reclaimed the Mellencamp part of his name. It was a strange dichotomy, for which I blame the Reagan Administration. I blame a lot of things on the Reagan Administration.
People of a certain age (like me) who remember the early days of MTV will get a special thrill from Musik Music Musique 3.0: 1982 — Synth Pop on the Air. Not only does it include some of the songs you’ll remember hearing on that network, but Musik Music Musique 3.0: 1982 — Synth Pop on the Air serves as a reminder that synth-pop held more than robotic beats and performers wearing scarves and heavy theatrical make-up. There’s some great stuff on Musik Music Musique 3.0: 1982 — Synth Pop on the Air, music that still holds up today.
With extensive and informative liner notes written by Electronic Sound Magazine’s Mat Smith, Musik Music Musique 3.0: 1982 — Synth Pop on the Air is a danceable hunk of music history. Even if you don’t have a vested interest in that era, Musik Music Musique 3.0: 1982 — Synth Pop on the Air provides hours of great tunes. It’s definitely worth adding to your collection.
Musik Music Musique 3.0: 1982 — Synth Pop on the Air is available from Cherry Red, Amazon, and wherever fine music is sold.