Drama Week pt 2

I came to dig music under the tutelage of my older brother Jim; as often as he’d tolerate us, my pals and I would hang out in his basement bedroom and listen to his collection of LPs and 45s, and he would answer my questions about who had been in which bands, how bands were related, how to hook up a stereo. I have very distinct memories of all of this: of watching the Payolas’ single Romance spin; of wondering how Tommy Shaw could be a boy and be so dang pretty; and in close proximity, two crucial events: first, of learning what a “producer” was, and second, of learning what a “cover song” was.

The cover song was an unusual lesson because generally one learns about this by hearing two versions of a song; I learned it because my brother, while we were listening to David Bowie’s Heroes album, suggested that he’d like to hear Beauty and the Beast as a heavy rock song. It was a great conceptual leap for me, taken early in my formation, and separated the composition from the way it was performed in my mind.

The producer was another early “aha” moment – listening to ABC’s first and best record, The Lexicon of Love. I’ve written about that record before, but let me quickly restate that it is one of my favourite all-time records pretty much because of the lushness and clarity of the production. Jim was pointing the sound out to me, and I went ohhh – is that what this means? – pointing to Trevor Horn’s credit on the back.

I still love covers; I still listen for production as much as anything else. And both of these are relevant here! I mentioned in Drama Week pt 1 that the ethereally annoying Jon Anderson is missing from this album, along with the wanky Rick Wakeman, and that both were replaced by Buggles. Well, the Buggles were Geoff Downes and … Trevor Horn.

Apparently Horn had worked on the previous Yes record, Tormato, and was to produce Drama when the sessions fell apart and Anderson and Wakeman took their leave. He brought in fellow Buggle Geoff Downes, and they rounded out the lineup for just this one album. The Buggles , if you don’t know, were a pre-Pet Shop Boys British techno-duo famous for Video Killed The Radio Star as well as for being the first band played on MTV.

And for our purposes, they’re interesting for having covered their own song to great effect. On Drama, the tune is called Into The Lens; on the Buggles’ Adventures in Modern Recording, it is called I Am A Camera. On Drama, the songwriting credit is shared by all five members; I imagine this is because they all added so much in their individual parts, and think it’s fair. The difference between the two tracks is serious, and interesting. Check it out:

Into The Lens – Yes
I Am A Camera – The Buggles

After this Marvel Team Up finished, Geoff Downes would go off with Steve Howe to form Asia. Trevor Horn would stick around to produce and help write Yes’ 90125 (with their hittest single, Owner of a Lonely Heart). Oh, and then he became one of the hottest producers around.

Next on Drama Week, we’ll talk about Radiohead, concept records, art-rock and the Rheostatics.

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