Armagideon Time

Do K-Tel #18: Modern Dance (1981)

September 26th, 2017

Because of the ominously impending Halloween Countdown, this will be the last installment of this feature until November. That’s kind of a lucky break for me, though, because it also happens spotlight the only K-Tel compilation in my stack that hasn’t yet been discussed.

I’m hoping to replenish the reserves during the break. If that doesn’t happen for whatever reason, at least we’ll be ending things on a spectacular note.

Modern Dance is a 1981 compilation spotlighting the post-punk “club music” scene that was taking the UK by synthesized storm. The album never got a US release, though import copies of it did find their way to this side of the Atlantic — thanks to savvy retailers who saw the sales potential of the MTV-driven buzz for all things Brit and bleep-bloop.

The album is one of K-Tel’s better regarded efforts, earning praise even from more high-minded audiophiles who tend to turn their noses up at the label’s dodgy recording quality and Procrustean approach to cross-fading. Even if the end product was slightly chopped and somewhat tinny, it provided a handy one-stop gateway into an exotically future-facing scene for kids seeking something a little more slick and stylish than Foreigner or REO Speedwagon.

The “scene” in question is often described as the “New Romantic” sound, though it doesn’t fully apply to Modern Dance’s timeframe or song selections. At best, the fashion-conscious pop sounds of the Nu-Ro crowd composed a single circle in the comp’s Venn diagram, overlapping with another one labeled “postpunk synth.” Both scenes eventually blended together to create the general “synthpop” template of the early eighties and beyond, and Modern Dance provides an excellent survey of its emergence.

A1 Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Joan Of Arc
A2 Japan – Quiet Life
A3 The Human League – Love Action
A4 Heaven 17 – Penthouse And Pavement
A5 Depeche Mode – New Life
A6 Simple Minds – Sweat In Bullet
A7 John Foxx – Europe After The Rain
A8 The Cure – Charlotte Sometimes
A9 Gary Numan – She’s Got Claws

B1 Visage – Fade To Grey
B2 Landscape – Einstein A Go-Go
B3 Fashion – Move On
B4 Japan – Visions Of China
B5 The News – A World Without Love
B6 Simple Minds – Love Song
B7 Heaven 17 – Play To Win
B8 Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Enola Gay
B9 The Human League – Open Your Heart

The tracklist reflects its evolution in progress. On one hand you have a past-prime effort by synthpop pioneer Gary Numan, and on the other there’s Depeche Mode fumbling their way toward the scene’s future.

Several artists are represented by multiple tracks. Two songs from the Human League’s Dare made the cut, yet neither was the band’s breakthrough hit (and I’m absolutely fine with that). I’ve never been particularly enthusiastic about Heaven 17, but their selections fit just fine within the contextual whole. The pair of Simple Minds track are mope-tastic reminders of just how great the band was before they embraced Big Pop stardom…and that goes double for OMD’s twin offerings.

For some reason, neither of the scene’s apex artists made it onto Modern Dance, but the album makes up for their absence by having John Foxx fill in for his former bandmates in Ultravox and Japan’s “Quite Life” more than sufficiently fill the Duran Duran-shaped hole.

The remaining slots are filled out with ancillary and other associated acts, including the baffling inclusion of “Charlotte Sometimes” by The Cure. Don’t get me wrong — I love the song, but it doesn’t fit the overall vibe Modern Dance tries to convey. That space probably would’ve been better occupied by Spandau Ballet’s “To Cut a Long Story Short.”

All in all, Modern Dance is a fascinating artifact of its time that also happens to be a pretty remarkable album which still holds up pretty well after all these years. It’s also a strong contender for the favorite K-Tel compilation in my library, depending on my prevailing mood. It was an absolute bargain for the twenty bucks (ten for the LP, ten for shipping) I paid some German mail order place to obtain it.

3 Responses to “Do K-Tel #18: Modern Dance (1981)”

  1. Ken Reid

    Einstein A-Go-Go? That’s a new one to me along with The News. Worth hunting down?

  2. bitterandrew

    I’d say so!

    Landscape also did “My Name Is Norman Bates” which had some cult novelty traction. The News were pretty by-the-numbers, but I’m a mark for this type of music.

  3. Joe S. Walker

    Actually “Love Action” was the Human League’s breakout single in the UK, their first to make the top ten. Nobody knew then that “Dare” was going to be so big.

    “Norman Bates” completely spoils the end of Psycho, a fact which Paramount weren’t too pleased about.

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