The Buggles

The Buggles were a studio-based English new wave/art pop duo that scored a global hit in 1979 with “Video Killed the Radio Star,” of which the video became the first clip to air during MTV’s premier day of broadcast on August 1, 1981. The duo released two albums — between which they were briefly integrated into Yes — that are noted for the innovative production work of Trevor Horn, who would ultimately emerge as one of the industry’s foremost studio hands.

Members: Trevor Horn (bass, guitar, vocals), Geoffrey Downes (keyboards, percussion), Bruce Woolley (1977–78)

The Buggles formed in 1977 as a studio project between musicians Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes, and Bruce Woolley. All three played in the backing band of disco singer Tina Charles.

Horn (b. 1949) hailed from Hetton Le Hole, where he took up instruments as a child. He first played contrabass in emulation of his father, a one-time bassist in the Joe Clarke Big Band. At age 14, Horn played guitar in The Outer Limits, an R&B/beat band that specialized in Kinks covers. After getting sacked from a plastic bag factory, he got hired as a bassist for a nightly ballroom dance band.

In 1970, Horn moved to London and played in a Top 20 covers band for the BBC. He then did a one-year stint in Ray McVay’s big band and worked as a session musician on jingles. In 1973, he helped build a recording studio in Leicester, where he gained his first production credit on a Decca single by the Leicester City Football Club.

In 1976, Horn formed the jazz-rock band Tracks with future Shakatak drummer Roger Odell. That same year, he played bass in Northern Lights, a covers band that included keyboardist Geoff Downs and former 5000 Volts singer Tina Charles.

Downes (b. 1952), the son of an organist father and pianist mother, came from the unrecorded She’s French, where he played Fender Rhodes electric piano and Hammond organ alongside (future Fixx) drummer Jamie West-Oram.

When Charles launched her solo career, Horn and Downes joined her backing band, which also included musician Bruce Woolley. Her producer, Biddu, made use of backing tracks in a style that influenced Horn.

In 1977, Horn formed a studio band with Downes and Woolley, initially called The Bugs, inspired by the concept of studio bugs that emerge afterhours to chew on recording equipment. When someone quipped that The Bugs would never be as big as The Beatles, they altered the name to Buggles, a spoof on the Fab Four. Horn and Woolley believed that the concept pioneered by Kraftwerk, robot-made electronic music, would replace organic rock combos in the near future.

The trio wrote several songs, including “Clean, Clean,” “On TV,” and “Baby Blue,” the last of those recorded by Dusty Springfield for a 1979 non-album single. Also during 1977, Downes played on the album So Near – Yet So Far Away by MOR pop singer Keith Simon. A German one-off single by the disco duo Boogatti contains a song apiece by Woolley (“Come Back Marianne“) and Horn (“Boot Boot Woman”).

In early 1978, Woolley wrote a chorus that Horn and Downes expanded into a full song. Horn added lyrics, inspired by J.G. Ballard’s dystopian short story “The Sound Sweep,” about a future society with ultrasonic music. They demoed the finished piece, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” later that year with Charles on backing vocals.

By the time of that demo, Woolley had left The Buggles to form his own band, the Camera Club, with a young Thomas Dolby on keyboards. In early 1979, they issued a self-titled album on Epic that includes recordings of “Clean, Clean” and the first official version of “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

During 1978, Horn co-wrote the a-side “Heaven Above” for Paul Gee (aka Paul Gurvitz), also recorded that year by Scottish singer Allan Stewart. Horn also produced and arranged the single “Love You Tonight” (b/w “Can’t Explain It”) by French disco singer Nola Fontaine.

With the Buggles on the back burner, Horn formed Big A with Alex Everitt and ex-Black Widow vocalist Kip Trevor. They issued two space-disco singles on the Danish Sonet label: “Fly on UFO” (b/w “OFU No Ylf”) and “Caribbean Air Control” (b/w “Juke Joint Bop”). The project morphed into Chromium, featuring Horn, Downes, keyboardists Ann Dudley and Hans Zimmer, drummer Peter Robinson, and singers Linda Jardim and Vikki Spence. Under this name, the tracks “Fly on UFO” and “Juke Joint Bop” were paired on a 1978 Infinity single, issued stateside as Chrome.

In 1979, Chromium released the album Star to Star on Infinity. It features nine space-disco originals, including the two Big A a-sides. The title-track was issued as a single (b/w “Castaway”). Sporting slick bass lines, clipped guitar riffs, and breezy synth layers, the album resembles contemporary works by Dee D. Jackson and Hot Gossip.

Meanwhile, Horn and Downes shopped their Buggles demos to several labels to no avail, including Island. Horn started dating businesswoman Jill Sinclair, owner of Sarm East Studios, east of London, where the pair commenced Buggles sessions in early 1979. Downes, who was dating a secretary at Island, handed her a tape of “Video Killed the Radio Star” that she passed to label boss Chris Blackwell. Upon hearing the song, he decided to sign the band.



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