1982 The year of Max Factor pancake pop: the year of synthetic sex, gold lame air-brushed Sudden Tanned flesh, blond skin, blond hair - the year when blond music rules the airwaves. Please Sir, I want some MOR. Plasticized pop reigns supreme! Witness the return of bright eyes, white cuban heels, white knickers and white tongues. Farrah Fawcett has reared her blow-waved head again in the tasteless, classless, soulless guise of Bucks Fizz, Dollar, Tight Fit and Bardo.
F is for fake tan, fake orgasm, fast food, false promises, foul play. Pop the cork, push the button and fill the vacuum with meretricious emptyness. Bucks Fizz promote shorthand secretary chic whilst on the shop floor Andy Hill and Pete Sinfield manufacture meticulously monetarist Pitman pop. Lyric writer Sinfield dips his nib in Domestos before settling down to script screaming monogamous sentiments and continually fatuous storylines.
Following in Bucks Fizz's flat footsteps, the shamelessly blatant Bardo fly the flag and the flack, fitting perfectly into the standard Eurovision Song Contest requirements of tits and vapid tat. Even after inflicting an obscenely bad dance routine that caused the cosmopolitan millions to cringe but probably inspired Flick Colby; even when the white legs and white knickers of the fearless Sally failed to titillate the judges and Britain won a barely respectable seventh place, the Great British Public - patting Sally on her puritanical backside for putting up such a jolly good show - forgave the hapless duo and continued to buy "One Step Further", sending it up to No. 2.
Meanwhile, Abba abdicate gracefully and Tight Fit glide smoothly into place, flexing their muscles and shooting up steroids, they plan their strategies: hard-sell, soft-porn, sexist propaganda. They take up their positions and hustle their way into the top end of the charts. Apparently the Tight Fit manifesto, short on morals, scruples and talent, works. It seems that no matter which stable the vinyl horseshit flies out of, Joe Public will love it and buy it.
From the dayglo effluence of Bucks Fizz to the fleshy chauvinism of Tight Fit to the tawdry tautology of Bardo, none of these epitaphs to mediocrity have matched the spectacular success of Dollar. Summed up beautifully in the words of a John Cooper Clarke song, Dollar are . . . "like syrup, tacky but sweet". Visually gauche - Top Shop couture and brother/sister profiles that hint at incest and narcissism - listen to the radio and watch your pound drop to the Dollar. Therese and David - two tarts with hearts of gold who were Born Blonde and Immac-ed into submission - everything about them is golden, from their teeth, their voices, right down to the spoons in their mouths. Dollar embody the art of slick tack and epitomise production-line music for the nouveau riche.
Chief manipulator of the palomino puppets and master craftsman of sophistication and market-research is producer Trevor Horn, like Durex and Brillo rapidly becoming a household name. The modern-day Midas of the recording studio, everything he touches turns to gold, from Martin Fry's suit to the "Video Killed The Radio Star" disc on his office wall - how soon before it all turns to platinum?
Meeting Trevor Horn quickly brought me down to earth and proceeded to put me in the picture. Sarm Studios is situated in one of the seamiest parts of the East End, in an area which seems to be a fairly accurate representation of inner-city life in Bangla Desh in a temperate zone. The happy hunting ground of the Kray Twins and Gilbert & George, this is the twilight land of Pakistani export "fashion" warehouses and is solely populated by war-veteran-turned-winos and professional beggars.
Trevor commutes into London from Elstree in his Mercedes 450 SLC and like a mole disappears into the pea-green, air-conditioned tomb, squashed underground in a converted basement of the Trendfever clothes depot, for up to 14 hours at a time. Nine times out of ten he surfaces with a sparkling gem of perfect production-point of fact: since Trevor started producing again, six out of eight singles have been hits. The studio is small and fully fitted throughout with carpets which have SARM in very Seventies script woven into them, a very expensive and ostentatious procedure normally only seen in five-star hotels; but then Trevor is a five-star producer and charges five-star prices.
Sarm has been going for over ten years and is owned by Trevor's wife and her brother, John Sinclair, who produced the first Foreigner album. Assorted pop notables have trod the Sarm floorboards including Queen who recorded and mixed "Bohemian Rhapsody" there with Roy Thomas Baker.
Amidst vast publicity following the meteoric rises of the careers of ABC and Dollar, Trevor Horn has now overtaken Martin Rushent in the "hippest producer of the year" stakes. Success comes in large doses; in the week that I met Trevor there were three Horn- produced singles in the Top 20. Success and Horn have an intermittent relationship: after forming Buggles with Bruce Wooley in 1979 and consequently scoring a massive hit with "Video Killed The Radio Star" (a No. 1 in 16 different countries and the biggest record in Australia for 27 years) he spent the next couple of years singing and writing for the dubiously revamped Yes.
Currently deluged with requests from top bands to produce their singles and albums, Trevor has been dividing his time between picking up the pieces of Spandau Ballet's career, producing professional eccentric Malcolm McLaren's first album "Folk Dances Of The World", finishing work on ABC's debut "Lexicon Of Love" album, writing and producing Dollar's singles, and being a father for the first time. He has also just finished a single with James Warren of The Korgis and plans are being made to produce the next Linx single. Meanwhile, the Buggles second album limped out about four months ago but so far has failed to make any great impact. In fact, his Buggles projects are fast turning into a rather self-indulgent and expensive hobby.
TREVOR HORN ON BUGGLES
Eventually I got so fed up doing things that weren't successful I decided that if I couldn't find a good artist and a good song then I'd write it myself and become the artist, so I wrote this song called "Video Killed The Radio Star" with Bruce Wooley. I know the name's awful, but at the time it was the era of the great Punk thing. I'd got fed up of producing people who were generally idiots but called themselves all sorts of clever names like The Unwanted, The Unwashed, The Unheard . . . when it came to choosing our name I thought I'd pick the most disgusting name possible. In retrospect I have frequently regretted calling myself Buggles, but in those days I never really thought much about packaging or selling myself, all that really concerned me was the record.
TREVOR HORN ON SPANDAU
"lnstinction" was in bad shape. I think Hadley had sung the vocals feeling really miserable, just like he'd sung the previous two, because people had been saying nasty things about him and he'd had a bad time in the studio. It definitely showed through on the record. I would have liked "Instinction" to have been a little more economical but unfortunately I didn't record it, I just re-mixed it and overdubbed it. I felt that it needed bringing to life but in the process I had to busy it up too, I think I achieved that if you compare it to the other version.
TREVOR HORN ON ABC
When you make a record you can live out fantasies. I invented a whole fantasy world - I built it and arranged it. I don't pay any attention to who Dollar really are as people. Dollar are a special case because they wanted me to write the songs and do the whole thing, whereas ABC records are about what's in ABC's heads, not what's in my head, the core of an ABC record comes from Mark and Stephen. You know, they've done a lot of things that have cost a lot more money than they needed have, they spend a lot of money making good B-sides. A lot of people couldn't give a toss about the B-side, if it takes more than two hours they start getting shirty about it.
That's what it comes down to in the end, most people aren't prepared to spend the money. They want the product to be done as cheaply and economically as possible. I'm expensive but I put everything into it, I take a lot of care, but I don't know how long I'll be able to do that, I'm bound to get to the point in a couple of years time where I just won't have the emotional stamina to be like that anymore.
TREVOR HORN ON DOLLAR
I don't think I achieved that so much with "Hand Held In Black And White" (the first one I wrote for Dollar); I thought it was good but a little bit out of focus, so I thought I'm going to make certain with the next one which was "Mirror Mirror" and I tried to make it almost like a computer had written it and produced it.
"Hand Held" was about a frame of mind, you know when you take a very quick snapshot . . . well, I saw a photo of Dollar that was taken with a handheld camera in black and white and I thought it was a nice attitude. "Mirror Mirror" was supposed to be about someone looking in a mirror telling themselves how much they loved themselves but Dollar took it at its face value and sang it to each other which was quite fun.
The third record that I did for Dollar, which has just been released, is "Videotheque" - it's taken me about six months to persuade them to put it out. They said they wanted a ballad which got up my nose a bit so I said "right, if you want a ballad I'll get you the sloppiest ballad I can find" so I found them "Give Me Back My Heart" which was written by a kid called Simon Darlow and I wrote the end bit. I also thought "Heart" would be quite good for them to do because they'd just split up and it touched on a few nerve ends. I think it was a bit traumatic for them because they identified with the song. It's quite sad really.
TREVOR HORN ON POP
There will always be a space for good pop records. I think at the moment we're experiencing a bit of a backlash, I think music generally got a bit self-indulgent for about three or four years, very atonal with people not giving a shit about the audience. They presupposed that because they wanted to do it therefore it must be good. People now are trying to write tunes again; just look at groups like Simple Minds, I thought that "Promised You A Miracle" was lovely, it's one of my favourite records at the moment . . .
The English music press seems to be going through a phase of encouraging a high turnover of artists in order for it to have new people to write about. I keep on reading about some great pop revival, all the writers have started interviewing people like Kim Wilde and putting her through the Spanish Inquisition as if she's got something significant to say about the world. Surely anybody who knows anything about anything must realize that she's just a voice on a record? I read a review of some singles by Kim Wilde the other day and she reviewed the Buggles single "On TV" and she said "You know, I don't like this very much but I really like all the things that Trevor Horn's done with Bucks Fizz like 'I Am a Camera". I thought, well, that just about sums it all up, it's cloud-cuckoo land.
I don't really think pop's any different from pop music of the past 15 years: I think the Dollar records are a bit different because their basic core lies somewhere else, whereas I think the basic idea behind a Bucks Fizz record is the same idea that's been there for 15 to 20 years.
But I've been doing this for years and I'm mistrustful when one minute pop records are really hip whereas a few years ago when the Buggles had such a big hit with "Video Killed The Radio Star" it was totally unfashionable - the music press really sharpened their teeth.
TREVOR HORN ON MALCOLM McLAREN
I'd never met McLaren before and I was prepared to hate him because there were certain things in the Punk era that I just loathed and I really felt that he was responsible for a lot of it, a lot of the bad things. Y'see, being a record producer, well, I just couldn't swallow the whole thing. The whole Punk way was so anti-record production it wasn't true. I got so fed up with talking to snotty kids giving me second-hand philosophy. After meeting him I understand where it started from and what it was about and probably working with younger people has helped me to understand it a lot more.
Don't forget that when the Punk thing happened I'd been in the music business for maybe over ten years as a musician and I was a bit of a hack, you know, and to be suddenly confronted by Punk Rock was a real shock. Let's face it - a lot of it was a load of shit, but I think in the end it did the English music scene a lot of good. I don't think English music will ever be the same again; that's the problem with America, they never had it.
TREVOR HORN ON AMERICA
I'm a racialist really - I don't like Americans, but that's because of the way I was brought up to believe they were sort of gods, like always winning the war and having the best police in world, when I went over there I realized what a load of old hooey that all is. It's really just a bunch of displaced Europeans building from memory in some kind of desert over there.
TREVOR HORN ON J G BALLARD
TREVOR HORN ON BEF's "MUSIC OF QUALITY & DISTINCTION"
TREVOR HORN ON THOMAS DOLBY
The point is to make good records that the people out there are going to like and buy. I believe that every single pop record should have some kind of basic message behind it, a record or a single is a form of communication: you're putting across an idea, a statement, but you've got to be prepared to slog it out and not accept second best.