Ultravox was an English new wave band, first fronted by John Foxx on the 1977–78 Island releases Ultravox!, Ha!-Ha!-Ha!, and Systems of Romance. Their early music encompasses ambient vocal numbers (“My Sex”), post-psych chamber rock (“I Want to Be a Machine”), punk (“Young Savage”), and pioneering examples of electro-pop (“Quiet Men”).

Midge Ure headed the second incarnation of Ultravox, which released the 1980–82 albums Vienna, Rage in Eden, and Quartet and charted with “Passing Strangers,” “The Voice,” “Reap the Wild Wind,” and the theatrical ballad “Vienna.” Concurrently, Ure and keyboardist Billy Currie partook in the electro-dance project Visage with members of Magazine.

After the 1984 album Lament and its transatlantic hit “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes,” Ure co-wrote “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” with Bob Geldof, then focused on his solo career.

Members: Billy Currie (keyboards, synthesizer, piano, violin, viola, 1974-87, 1992-96, 2008-13), Chris Cross (bass, synthesizer, vocals, 1974-87, 2008-13), John Foxx (lead vocals, 1974-79), Stevie Shears (guitar, 1974-78), Warren Cann (drums, electronic percussion, vocals, 1974-86, 2008-13), Robin Simon (guitar, 1978-79), Midge Ure (vocals, guitar, synthesizer, 1979-87)


Ultravox mutated from the band Tiger Lily, formed in 1974 by Royal College of Art student Dennis Leigh (b. 1948). The singing lyricist enlisted guitarist Chris Allen (b. 1952), guitarist Stevie Shears (b. 1954/55), and Canadian-born drummer Warren Cann (b. 1950).

Leigh hailed from psych-rockers Woolly Fish, which issued the single “The Way You Like It” (b/w “The Sound of Thick”) on Plexium in 1970. More recently, he played select one-man guitar/mic dates opening for Mancunian blues-rockers Stack Waddy. Prior to joining Tiger Lily, Cann auditioned for the Island-era backing band of Sparks.

Tiger Lily assembled in Chorley, Lancashire, and made its London debut at the Marquee Club, opening for the Heavy Metal Kids. In late 1974, Lily added a fifth member, keyboardist/violinist Billy Currie (b. 1950). The band’s sole recording as Tiger Lily is the single “Ain’t Misbehavin'” (b/w “Monkey Jive”), issued in March 1975 on Gull and produced by John Marshall (Steeleye Span, Pentangle, Gryphon). The piano-driven a-side is a Fats Waller cover, rendered in a cabaret style akin to Brian Protheroe. The riff-laden b-side is a Leigh original.

Tiger Lily recorded “Ain’t Misbehavin'” for a namesake x-rated film and earned £300, which they spent on their first synthesizer. Leigh adopted the stage name John Foxx while Allen — billed as Chris St. John on the Gull release — became Chris Cross. For the next fifteen months, they played the London circuit under a series of names: The Zips, London Soundtrack, Fire of London. They almost settled on The Damned (before learning it had been taken by another new band).

In July 1976, they linked with soundman Steve Lillywhite on a demo that landed them a deal with Island Records. They settled on the name Ultravox, affixed with an exclamation mark like the German band Neu!, a key influence. Ultravox recorded their first album with Lillywhite and another key influence, Island artist Brian Eno, who recently worked with Neu! guitarist Michael Rother on an aborted third album by Harmonia, a super-project with Cluster.

The first track to appear from the Eno–Lillywhite sessions was “The Wild, the Beautiful and the Damned,” an epic that opens the October 1976 comp Rock & Reggae & Derek & Clive, an Island sampler with labelmates Bunny Wailer, Burning SpearEddie & the Hot Rods, Max Romeo, Robert Palmer, and Sandy Denny. The liner notes identify Ultravox as “A London new wave band formed as a revenge (sic) more against rear view mirrors and robot writers. Their only friends are The Shadows, Sodium Lights and Supermarkets.”

1977: First Two Albums

Ultravox played twenty-six shows between January 21 and April 16, 1977, on the English club and college circuit, including stops in Leeds (1/21/77: Leeds University), Manchester (3/26: Electric Circus), Liverpool (4/2: Eric’s), Sheffield (4/3: Top Rank), and Edinburgh, Scotland (4/4: Tiffany’s). On the date their debut album dropped, they played their first of thirteen shows at London’s Marquee club.

On April 19, Ultravox made their overseas debut at Club Gibus in Paris, France. In late May, they dropped a non-album punk single that ushered a change in their setlist, which now included faster numbers, some left unrecorded. They averaged eight shows per month between June and October, when their second album hit shelves. Its promotion included a three-night tour of Sweden, where Foxx fielded questions about punk, Eno, and his onstage personae during an interview on local television.


Ultravox released their self-titled debut album on February 25, 1977, on Island. John Foxx composed the album’s guitar-based numbers — “Saturday Night in the City of the Dead,” “Wide Boys,” “The Lonely Hunter” — and collaborated with Currie on the more complex pieces: “Slip Away,” “I Want to Be a Machine,” “My Sex,” and “The Wild, the Beautiful and the Damned,” the last two with input from Cross. “Dangerous Rhythm,” the album’s single, is a group-written number.

Stylistically, Ultravox! ranges from riff-based proto-punk to elaborate epics akin to Roxy Music, the Doctors of Madness, and Foxx’s avowed influence the Velvet Underground.

Saturday Night in the City of the Dead” (2:35, spelled “Satday” on select pressings) sports a slashing three-chord riff (A…C–G) over a peppy pogo beat, capped with a wailing harmonica over a revved-up drum roll (in E). The rapidfire verses are loaded with Foxx’s trademark urban metaphors, delivered in taut, crammed syllables:

Fat guy jets by, bony in a zodiac
Picking up trouble, maybe looking for a heart attack
All-night boys in the Piccadilly Arcade
Boozy losers cruising, maybe trawling for some rough trade

Musically, the track is punk in the ’60s sense, ala Count Five or Syndicate of Sound (as opposed to Ultravox’s ’77 London brethren).

Life at Rainbow’s End (For All the Tax Exiles on Main Street)” (3:44) is a lurching, mid-tempo number with whispered double-talk and an eerie sense of menace around the “Streets I knew were raining, changing… Addresses were rearranging.” The three-chord verse structure (A…C…G…, a bass-driven variation of “Satday”) cuts to pregnant pre-chorus pauses and dark, muted bridges with unexpected key changes (A). A smoldering, two-chord, feedback-laden coda consumes the final seventy seconds.

Slip Away” (4:19) fades in on a brisk, pensive half-step (E…Dm…) and lands in pretty B major-seven with an arching vocal melody rooted on the third (D). The lyrics — en-crouched in metaphor and suggestive double entendre — involve surrender to dark passion from a narrator who’s experienced it countless times. The arrangements are soft and grand with an emphasis on bass and rubbery, tribal drum fills. Midway, the song plunges into an ivory-laden bedrock where Foxx mutters “I’m falling slow-motion, dissolve.” The song then enters a second, instrumental half, forwarded by a plunging descent (Am…G-F….) amid rising thirds (guitar) and echoey piano. A new instrumental verse takes shape on a chordal stairway (C..Em..F..G..) that Shears and Currie each take turns exploring for harmonic nuance.

I Want to Be a Machine” (7:25) develops with long, convoluted verses comprised of acoustic guitar and voice, joined on the second verse by faint, slithery violin. At 2:37, the first note of crisp, trebly bass heralds the band, which forms around a lurching, rising chorus (E..E..E..E..F-E-F-E-G-B-G-A). A swelling violin solo overtakes the theme before another drop to near silence. The second full chorus (third overall) is where Foxx surrenders to the rising tide of the band. The ascending bassline, flanked with panned, clipped chordal accents, fades out at 5:45, where dark winds signal a frantic violin theme. The ascending bassline resumes in open-cadence form, swarmed with surround-sound tom rolls.

Stylistically, “Machine” is rooted in the John Cale-dominated early VU tracks “Heroin” and “Black Angels Death Song.” The song also conjures elements of Eddie Jobson-era Roxy Music (“Out of the Blue,” with its torrential violin) and select passages from Jobson’s earlier band Curved Air, including cuts from their first lineup with original violinist Darryl Way (“Vivaldi”). Of Ultravox’s contemporaries, “Machine” echoes the Doctor’s recent “Mainlines,” a lengthier violin epic with similar dynamics on their 1976 debut album Late Night Movies, All Night Brainstorms.

Wide Boys” (3:16) sports a circular, trebly guitar figure (in E). The lyrics, about subterranean late-night thrill-seeking, are delivered with processed vocals (fuzzed, enveloped) that accentuate the trebly vibe. Rumbling verses — marked by counterpoint between Foxx’s vocals and Shear’s melodic figure — break for the tight, unison, three-chord chorus. Despite its moderate pace and rhythmic variation, the trebly effects of “Wide Boys” make it the most punk song (in the contemporary ’77 London sense) on Ultravox! The sound and arrangement of “Wide Boys” presages 1978 work by Gary Numan (Tubeway Army) and Japan (Adolescent Sex, Obscure Alternatives).

Dangerous Rhythm” (4:16) Foxx, in a semi-lucid tone, sings of a “Dangerous rhythm in the air” between strangers “dressed for danger” — possibly a reference to underground attire (leather, PVC) at a nightclub where two people abandon inhibitions (“take off your halo for the all-night inferno”) and release sexual energy (“surging and merging, urgent and urging”).

The Lonely Hunter” (3:42) Foxx sings as a loner on the prowl with an unassuming demeanor (“a hungry ghost”); possibly a john (”When you call a passion you must pay the host”).

The Wild, The Beautiful and the Damned” (5:50) Foxx re-imagines “the stunted and the dreamless ones” of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 novel The Beautiful and Damned (about a lackadaisical New York heir and his hedonistic flapper wife) in the seedy underground of Weimar Berlin. The second verse alludes to sexual abandon (“We read the latest venereal journals; flicked through some catalogs of fear”); the third includes violent imagery (“Break my legs politely, I’ll spit my gold teeth out at you”) that one could interpret as a masochistic metaphor or a vignette of Nazi brown shirt brutality.

My Sex” (3:01) Foxx, in a trebly robo-tone, reveals a conflicted sexual nature (“a fragile acrobat”) that’s alternately blaze (“a Novocaine shot”) and willing (“an automat”) with functions that range from potent (“a golden glow”) to premature (“short circuits”) and habits characterized as impulsive (“savage, tender”) and ephemeral (“wears no future faces”); driven by arousal (“spark of electro flesh”) and opportunity (“leased from the tick of time”) with a willing partner (“geared for synchromesh”) on a sexual continuum made of memories (“image lost in faded films”) and future conquests (“a neon outline on a high-rise over spill”). He alludes to androgynous self-expression (“owns just random gender”) with an interest in fetish subcultures (“a wanting wardrobe”) and sexual variety (“all the bodies I knew and those I want to know”). In one line (“skyscraper shadows on a car crash overpass”) he invokes the Ballardian concept of crash fetishism.

Ultravox! was recorded in the autumn of 1976 at Island Studios, Hammersmith. This was Lillywhite’s second full-album production credit after the Vertigo jazz-rock album Somewhere In Between by John Stevens’ Away. The 21-year-old had engineered three 1974–75 albums by Nucleus and the recent Golden Earring title Contraband. Eno worked on Ultravox! upon his return from Germany, where he partook in the vaulted Harmonia 76 sessions and added piano, synthesizer, and guitar treatments to Low, an album David Bowie completed that October. Low hit shelves in mid-January 1977, six weeks ahead of Ultravox! Both albums initiated modernist electro-rock, which became commonplace within two years.

The assistant engineer on Ultravox!, Terry Barham, also worked on 1977 Island titles by Bob Marley & the Wailers, Eddie & the Hot Rods (Life on the Line), and the Jess Roden Band. In 1978, he engineered albums by Jade Warrior (Way of the Sun) and Wilding–Bonus (Pleasure Signals), a jazz-rock duo with Brand X ties.

Ultravox!, is housed in a gatefold sleeve designed by Bloomfield–Travis, the team behind 1975–77 visuals for Burning Spear (Marcus Garvey), Illusion, Klaus Schulze, Rebop Kwaku Baah, and the 1976 release Go, the super-project of Stomu Yamashta, Steve Winwood, and Michael Shrieve (Santana, Automatic Man) with appearances by Schulze and Al Di Meola.

Foxx (credited by his legal name) conceived the cover, which shows Ultravox standing side-to-side in black leather and vinyl against an alley wall under a red neon logo. The back cover shows Foxx down on his knees, staring intensely in a tattered suit with lighter-burn holes. Behind him are two color televisions and three monochrome mini-TVs transmitting the same close-up performance frame of Foxx (in Ray-Bans).

The inner-gates show mugshot-style photos of the other four members, each tacked with candid Polaroid images. The song titles appear across the bottom in hot pink with emphasized spelling (“Satday Night in The City of the DEAD,” “Dangerous XXXXX Rythmn,” “The WILD, the BEAUTIFUL and the Da DAm DAMN DAMNED,” “My Sex.+………..”).

The photographer, Gered Mankowitz, had visual credits on mid-sixties albums by The Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull. His photography also appears on 1976–77 albums by 10cc, Cliff Richard (Every Face Tells a Story), Dirty Tricks, Dr. Feelgood, Easy Street (Under the Glass), Gino Vannelli (The Gist of the Gemini), Glenn Hughes, Groundhogs, The Jam, Kiki Dee, Mott, Mr. Big, Pat Travers (Putting It Straight), Peter Doyle, Sad Café (Fax Ta Ra), Sherbet (Photoplay), Slade, and the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver (Slipstream).

“Young Savage”

On May 28, 1977, Ultravox released “Young Savage,” a punk song backed with a live version of “Slip Away,” recorded at the Rainbow.

“Young Savage” (2:56) Foxx delivers rapidfire couplets about an intense, volatile affair with a punk dominatrix whose “vicious style of love” is fueled by the anonymity of her trade (“anything goes where no-one knows your name”). Consequently, she’s “condemned to be a stranger; subway dweller, dead-end danger” with “practiced gestures of disdain.” The second verse contains vivid flashes of B&D culture:

The mirror love of vixens
Gets over the mask of victims
Money rents you insulation
Tenderness, asphyxiation
Someone else’s flesh to borrow
Sling it from your bed tomorrow

In the final couplet, Foxx assails punk’s nihilist ethos: “The outlaw stance is so pedantic, hate the world, it’s so romantic” (iow: romanticized anti-heroism is a contrived pose).

The mid-’77 Ultravox setlist featured several unrecorded numbers, including “TV Orphans,” “I Came Back Here to Meet You,” and “I Won’t Play Your Game.”

On August 27, Ultravox played the 1977 Reading Festival, a three-day event with sets by the Hot Rods, 5 Hand Reel, The Enid, Hawkwind, Lone Star, Uriah Heep, and Woody Woodmansey’s U-Boat. Ultravox appeared on day 2 (Saturday) between sets by George Hatcher and the Little River Band. Other Saturday acts included John Miles, Krazy Kat, Thin Lizzy, and Graham Parker & the Rumour. The opening band that day, Gloria Mundi, befriended Ultravox on the London live circuit.


Ultravox released their second album, Ha!-Ha!-Ha!, on October 14, 1977, on Island. This is their second of two albums with guitarist Stevie Shears and the last with an exclamation mark after their name. Musically, Ha!-Ha!-Ha! intermixes the stridency of “Young Savage” with the luminous minimalism of “My Sex.”

Side One contains four brisk punk songs with themes of hedonism (“ROckWrok”) and emotional nihilism (“The Frozen Ones”). “Fear in the Western World” is a dystopian rocker that cuts to a soft piano etude, followed with guitar drone that ushers “Distant Smile,” a romantic melodrama.

ROckWrok” (3:34) Foxx sings of random, cathartic sexual encounters; both outdoors (“nimble mambo in the park”) and in public places (“aircraft, destroyers and cinema foyers”) between people of assorted leanings (“an anal sailor.. a lovely sucker… a willing waltzer”).

The Frozen Ones” (4:07) Foxx has a clandestine affair and erases all traces of himself after each encounter (“clean the ashes of my face at the bottom of your suitcase”). He separates the act from daily life (“we don’t care who led us here; no-one will care when we’re gone”) and has a kill-switch for emotions that linger (“the only way to stop the flood whenever feelings get too real is to cut the information”).

Fear in the Western World” (4:00) Foxx indicates that complacent First World partygoes are just inches away from the perils and bloodshed of wartorn nations (“Ireland screams, Africa burns, suburbia stumbles, the tides are turned”).

Distant Smile” (5:21) Foxx recalls a summer affair that started with “glances behind cigarette smoke” and preceded with drawn curtains and laughter as “the room sailed away” in a city that glistens “like diamonds in heat.”

Side Two uses life and death metaphors for reckless living (“Artificial Life”) and the road-wear of rock musicians (“While I’m Still Alive”). Ultravox bridge London’s new wave and the Berlin School on “The Man Who Dies Every Day” (a Teutonic dance-rocker) and “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (an electro noire ballad).

The Man Who Dies Every Day” (4:10) Foxx sings of an apparition who “never showed on photographs” and “never grew much older.”

Artificial Life” (4:59) Foxx examines the darkside of bohemia: the “refugees from suburbia” who don trendy clothes (“utility drag”) and “vibrate on sulphate” each night. He singles out Mary, a rambling drunk who “ran through divine light, chemicals, Warhol, scientology, her own sex” before her disappearance from the scene. Foxx resolves to be a stranger and admits that he “should have left here years ago” but “this whirlpool’s got such seductive furniture.”

While I’m Still Alive” (3:16) Foxx alludes to the daily uncertainties of road life (“just jiving to survive”) on the tumultuous punk scene (“the fighting’s exciting, the age is dramatic, I’m crackling with static”). He mentions side-road strolls as the highlight of each tour stop, despite the danger (“a shock in the dark can be good for your heart”).

Hiroshima Mon Amour” (5:13) Foxx sings of a romantic bond between two people who “communicate like distant stars” across vast distances and reunite on the Eurorail for a ride to “echo beach,” which holds “a million memories in the trees and sands.” Their bond is timeless (“walk through Polaroids of the past”), unbreakable (“futures fused like shattered glass”), and eternal (“silhouettes to gold”). The lyrics draw partial inspiration from the 1959 French New Wave film Hiroshima mon amour, a romantic drama about a man and a woman from distant backgrounds whose clandestine meetups are interlaced with flashbacks.

Sessions took place in May–June 1977 at Phonogram Studios, where Lillywhite co-produced and engineered Ha!-Ha!-Ha! in succession with Life on the Line and upcoming titles by Johnny Thunders, Snips, and Steel Pulse.

Foxx conceived the Ha!-Ha!-Ha! sleeve design, which shows five uniform rows of xeroxed, 3D side-to-side member pics. The image (same front and back) appears within black margins where the name and title are displayed in slanted hot pink. The black inner-sleeve contains the same member pics with the titles and logo in stark white.

Island issued “ROckwrok” as a single, backed with a rockier take on “Hiroshima Mon Amour” with shrieking violin and punctual rhythmic elements. In Germany, Island lifted “Frozen Ones” as a single (b/w “Man Who Dies Every Day”).

The first 10,000 UK copies of Ha!-Ha!-Ha! came with a free bonus single: “Quirks” b/w “Modern Love.”

Modern Love” (2.31) Foxx derides “modern lovers” of television and movies who “shine suspended while tricking time.” He characterizes them as “modern beauties [who] broadcast endlessly” and “vampire gangsters with… reams of dreams.” He mockingly says that he’ll “take a video stroll through the life exchange” and reassemble himself to look like them.

1978: Third Album, New Guitarist

Ultravox played their first show of 1978 on January 20 at the Mayfair Ballroom in Newcastle. They notched fifteen shows between through February 11, when Stevie Shears left Ultravox during a three-night engagement at the Marquee. Island capped this phase with the maxi-single Live Retro, which features one number each from shows at the Rainbow (“The Man Who Dies Every Day”), the Huddersfield Polytechnic (“Young Savage”), the Huddersfield Polytechnic (“The Wild, the Beautiful, and the Damned”), and the Marquee (“My Sex”).

Shears formed a short-lived project with ex-Gloria Mundi bassist Roland Oxland (aka Ice). He then formed New Men with musician Jason Guy. In 1980, Shears replaced guitarist Marco Pirroni in Cowboys International. After their 1981 breakup, he played on the debut solo album by Cowboys’ frontman Ken Lockie. In 1982, Shears re-teamed with Guy in Faith Global, which cut the EP Earth Report and the 1983 album The Same Mistakes.

Ultravox hired guitarist Robin Simon (b. 1956), who briefly played in the punk band Neo, a London-based spinoff of Milk ‘n’ Cookies, a New York pop band associated with Sparks. Ultravox embarked on an eight-city February–March tour of Germany, where they cut their third album in Cologne with veteran producer Conny Plank, a soundman on early albums by Ash Ra Temple, Kraftwerk, Cluster, Neu!, and Brain–Metronome titles by Creative Rock, Guru Guru, Grobschnitt, Jane, Kollektiv, Lava, Release Music Orchestra, and Thirsty Moon.

On Friday, August 25, Ultravox played the opening day of Reading Rock 78, which also featured sets by After the Fire, Foreigner, Ian Gillan Band, Lindisfarne, The Motors, Nutz, Pacific Eardrum, Spirit, Squeeze, and Status Quo. Ultravox were the penultimate act in Friday’s lineup, which also featured the New Hearts, Penetration, and The Jam.

Their Reading appearance coincided with a new single, a taster from their third album, which they promoted with a fifty-date autumn tour of England, Scotland, and Germany.

Systems of Romance

Ultravox released their third album, Systems of Romance, on September 8, 1978, on Island. “Quiet Men” makes pioneering use of electronic dance beats in a rock song. This is their third and final album with singer and lyricist John Foxx, who further mined Systems‘ innovations on his subsequent solo albums.

Slow Motion” (3:29) Foxx describes the detached, impersonal nature of his current interactions and the imagery that consumes his mind (“pictures, I’ve got pictures, and I run them in my head when I can’t sleep at night”). He calls out to a lost love with reminders of what they shared:

When we held each other close in the night
While we wheeled away in our own light
Stepping sideways into our own time

He replays the mental pictures in slow motion to keep the memories alive.

I Can’t Stay Long” (4:16) Foxx observes that nothing is permanent (“let the sky roll on, just a glance and the glance is gone”) and how you cease to exist in one place when you appear elsewhere (“in summer time, I dissolve to a beach”). People disappear (“a man with a hat and a girl with a map synchronize with the track”) and all life ends (“when the right time comes I’ll dissolve”).

Someone Else’s Clothes” (4:25) Foxx embarks on “another country and another life” and assumes a new identity with an as-yet unfamiliar background (“check out some memories I don’t recognize”). He’s relieved to blend in and escape his former life (“transfer me into a Saturday crowd, or merge me back into a factory town”).

Blue Light” (3:09) Foxx alludes to an accident in at a drug-fueled party where “the details swam” and “the door got jammed” with a crowd of people “swanning” (moving irresponsibly) in the “sticky summer.” He “couldn’t quite put [his] finger on” what occurred but refers to the event as a “blue light” (emergency) scenario.

Some of Them” (2:29) Foxx observes his association with different people: some who come and go (“flicker then they fade”), some he wish he’d never met (“just dead regrets”), some he hasn’t seen in years (“gone so long they’re hard to recognize”), some he may never see again (“live in photographs”), and some who remain close (“friends just as they were”). The number of people he’s known is a “long parade” that he watches “pass from scene to scene through all these yesterdays.”

Quiet Men” (4:08) Foxx sings of unassuming everyday men: those who account for highway congestion (“as the traffic moved through all our hearts and our heads”) and occupy buildings (“shifting through the walls and halls”); the random passerby (“through the window panes, down all the English lanes”) who’s always there as a quiet observer (“as the season changed and all the reasons changed”), though “no-one ever noticed them.”

Dislocation” (2:55) Foxx shares hazy memories of a hot season when (possibly due to opioids or hypnotics) he was “just a swimmer growing dimmer in the glimmer of a summer.”

Maximum Acceleration” (3:53) Foxx examines “a face that goes slowly; a signal close by me.”

When You Walk Through Me” (4:15) Foxx describes a state where nothing moves (but “the room dives like a submarine”) and time stands still when a striking female leaves him breathless (hence the “walk through me” metaphor).

Just for a Moment” (3:10) Foxx appreciates the serenity of dimming outdoor lights and the faint sounds of night. The tranquility makes “the floor change into an ocean.”

Ultravox co-produced Systems of Romance at Conny’s Studio with Plank and engineer Dave Hutchins, a soundman on 1977–78 albums by Bullfrog and onetime Exmagma guitarist–bassist Andy Goldner. Hutchins worked beforehand as a London based engineer on titles by Aswad, Camel (Rain Dances), Caravan (Blind Dog at St. Dunstans), Dog SoldierFruupp, Genesis (The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway), Gong, Gonzalez, Heavy Metal Kids, and the recent Eno title Before and After Science, another key merger of art pop and ambient music. Eno recently booked Conny’s for another new wave act, Devo, whose debut album Q. Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! hit shelves one week prior to SoR.

Systems of Romance sports a Bloomfield–Travis cover with imagery by NME staff photographer Adrian Boot, who also has visual credits on 1977–78 albums by Bethnal, The Boomtown Rats, Duncan Browne (The Wild Places), and Magazine (Real Life).

A month before the album’s release, Island issued “Slow Motion” as the first single, backed with “Dislocation.” Ultravox performed “Slow Motion” and a revised “Hiroshima Mon Amour” on the December 5, 1978, broadcast of the BBC music program The Old Grey Whistle Test.

In November, Ultravox lifted “Quiet Men,” backed with the non-album “Crossfade.”

Crossfade” (2:53) Foxx re-imagines life with film edits in which “we re-invent the view.” He’s “occupying places just as they get removed” and “bypassing some places as they’re editing the time.”

1979: John Foxx Leaves, Side Projects

On February 23, 1979, Ultravox made their North American debut at the Hot Club in Philadelphia. Their tour hit Toronto, Canada, and fourteen cities in the United States, including Washington DC (2/25/79: Atlantis Club), Boston (3/2–3: Paradise Rock Club), Detroit (3/8: Bookies 870 Club), and Chicago (3/9: Gaspar’s). In Manhattan, they did a three-night engagement (Feb. 27–March 1) at Hurrah’s, the famed new wave haunt where Bowie shot the video to “Fashion.”

The tour headed west with six dates in California, including a well-received March 15–17 engagement at the Whisky-A-Go-Go in West Hollywood. On March 20, they wrapped the tour at Fleetwood Club in Redondo Beach. This would be their last show with John Foxx, who left Ultravox that spring to launch a solo career. Simon stayed in the US for a brief stint with NYC punks The Futants.

Foxx resurfaced in January 1980 with Metamatic, an album in the mold of Systems’ more lucid, glacial numbers. It spawned the UK Top 40 hits “Underpass” and “No-One Driving.” Foxx’s second solo effort, The Garden, features “Systems of Romance,” a song conceived during sessions for the namesake Ultravox album.

Meanwhile, Ultravox paused as Currie served as a backing player for Gary Numan, an avowed Ultravox fan. Currie plays violin on two tracks (“Tracks,” “Conversation”) on The Pleasure Principle, Numan’s third album. He also appears in the video to its hit “Cars” and performed with Numan’s Tubeway Army on the May 22, 1979, broadcast of TOGWT.

Currie also partook in Visage, a studio project formed by club impresario Steve Strange and two members of the recently splintered Rich Kids: drummer Rusty Egan and guitarist–singer Midge Ure, the onetime frontman of Slik. Since late 1978, Strange and Egan ran “Bowie Night,” first at Billy’s in Soho and (starting in 1979) the Blitz club in Convent Garden. The club attracted a range of cutting edge stylists drawn to Egan’s DJ sets, which featured turntable favorites by Bowie, Roxy Music, Japan, The Human League, Kraftwerk, Eno, Numan, and Ultravox. Strange, the high-styling Blitz doorman, headed Visage, which also featured three-fifths of Magazine: guitarist John McGeoch, keyboardist Dave Formula, and bassist Barry Adamson.

Visage debuted with the single “Tar” (b/w “Frequency 7”), a taut piece of electro–dance pop released in September 1979 on Radar Records. The project acquainted Currie with Ure, a huge Ultravox fan who knew the Systems tracks by heart. He agreed to join Ultravox as their new guitarist and singer. In the meantime, Ure fulfilled pre-booked tour dates as the temporary second guitarist in Thin Lizzy. With Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott, Ure co-wrote “Yellow Pearl,” a song on Lynott’s debut solo album Solo on Soho

Ultravox debuted their Mark II lineup — Ure, Currie, Cross, Cann — on November 1, 1979, at the Cascade club in Shrewsbury, England. On Nov. 9, they returned to the Philly Hot Club to start their second American tour, which included dates with Dark Day (11/14: Hurrah, NYC), The Motels (11/16–17: Paradise Theater, Boston), and the Buzzcocks (12/5: Lawrence Opera House, Kansas City). They closed out the decade with a four-night Whisky-A-Go-Go engagement with LA post-punk trio The Alley Cats.

1980: New Lineup, Visage

On February 1, 1980, Ultravox played a showcase at London’s Electric Ballroom. The new lineup signed with Chrysalis, an upstart label of the psychedelic era that rose to prominence with its signature act, Jethro Tull. Ultravox was the label’s electro-modernist addition to a roster that now encompassed new wave (Blondie), punk (Generation X), ska (The Specials, The Selecter), folk (Steeleye Span), symphonic rock (Steve Hackett), blues-rock (Rory Gallagher), and jazz-rock (Auracle).

Ultravox’s former label Island issued Three Into One, a single-LP compilation with “Young Savage” and three tracks each from Ultravox! (“Dangerous Rhythm,” “The Wild, the Beautiful, and the Damned,” “My Sex”), Ha! Ha! Ha! (“ROckwrok,” “The Man Who Dies Everyday,” “Hiroshima Mon Amour”), and Systems of Romance (“Quiet Men,” “Slow Motion,” “Just for a Moment”). The cover shows a luminous, motion-delay image of a green-lit woman in wraparounds walking to a standstill. The concept (three steps into one position) is depicted in a diagram on the lower left and back.

Ultravox completed their first Ure-headed album in the late winter of 1980 and toured it throughout the second half of the year. Ure also produced Concrete Scheme, the singular album by Scotland’s Modern Man, a Skids-like new wave rock act. He also produced one side (“Treasure On the Wasteland”) by Irish rockers The Atrix and two sides (“9 O’Clock,” “Mr. Dillinger”) by Snips — aka Steve Parsons, a onetime member of Sharks and Baker Gurvitz Army.

Meanwhile, Ure and Currie continued their involvement with Visage, which issued its self-titled album in November 1980 on Polydor. It spawned the UK–European hits “Fade to Grey” (co-written by Ure, Currie, and Numan keyboardist Chris Payne) and “Mind of a Toy.” Visage topped the German albums chart and went Top 20 in multiple territories.


Ultravox released their fourth album, Vienna, on July 11, 1980, on Chrysalis. It opens with the instrumental “Astradyne” and contains eight vocal tracks that fuse the modernist synth-rock of Systems of Romance with the theatrical melancholy of select numbers in the Bowie canon (“1984,” “Heroes”).

Vienna is the first Ultravox album with singer–guitarist Midge Ure, whose melodramatic delivery fuels songs about foreign relations (“New Europeans”), police states (“Private Lives”), and doomsday scenarios (“All Stood Still”). They filmed neo-noir videos for “Passing Strangers” and “Vienna,” a neo-classical ballad that topped multiple charts. Drummer Warren Cann sings “Mr. X,” a sparse, glacial number in the vein of Metamatic.

Astradyne” (7:07)

New Europeans” (4:01) Ure presents three character studies of the modern European. The first is an aging bachelor who reclines in a chrome-furnished room with an unused radio. The second involves a married ex-covergirl whose college-bound son becomes a TV zombie. The third concerns a beach-going thrill-seeker immersed in synth-rock — “a European legacy, a culture for today.”

Private Lives” (4:06) Ure sings of a public event infested with uniformed men (“the boys are wearing blue tonight”), possibly in advance of a martial law decree. Regardless, the revelers “dance ’til dawn as they (the blue) beat the drums.” As the shadow tails him, Midge tells his partner “close your eyes and use the melody; who cares who stares under the light.”

Passing Strangers” (3:48) Ure laments a brief encounter between two vainglorious youth, who meet in a nighttime crowd and continue elsewhere (“dance in the dark, sing in the rain”). Despite the brevity, they shared something intense (“clutching emotions, holding too tight”) that ended too soon (“hold turns to dust, shattered by light”).

Sleepwalk” (3:10) Ure sings Cann’s lyrics, which depict a somnimbalist’s psychosis (“rolling and falling… choking and calling… naked and bleeding… helplessly breaking…”).

Mr. X” (6:33) Cann examines a 1940s photo of a mystery man who “could be a killer or a blind man with a cane.” He possibly “died in a car crash, years ago.” Warren mentions a false sighting (“standing, whistling on a bridge”) and a possible sighting (“in an airport, while he was sitting on a wing”). The purpose of this investigation remains a secret.

Western Promise” (5:18) Ure portrays a Western diplomat who secures aid for the redevelopment of the “torn and scared” mystical East: the land of “temples’ gardens” and “old world charm” that “lost its way.” Once the “Western world gives out her hand,” the East becomes a cesspool of taxi-cabs, Pepsi cans, “Buddha Zen and Christian man” — “all ultra-neon, sign of the times.”

Vienna” (4:53) Ure laments a Viennese love affair with a woman named Vienna as the two part ways. He illustrates the bleakness (“we walked in the cold air, freezing breath on a window pane”) and acknowledges the sadness (“a voice reaching out in a piercing cry, it stays with you until”). However, “as the daylight brings a cool empty silence” and “the warmth of [her] hand and a cold grey sky… fades to the distance,” he realizes it all means nothing to him.

All Stood Still” (4:21) Ure sends distress messages in a future doomsday scenario where artificial intelligence controls everything (turbines, buildings, system grids, aircrafts). The AI fails and freezes all communication and midair plane functions (second verse) and sets off nuclear annihilation (third verse). For posterity, Midge begs whoever hears him to “mention me, in tapes you might leave behind.”

Sessions took place in February 1980 at RAK Studios in London with Plank, who co-produced and engineered Vienna in succession with albums by Clannad, Falckenstein, Kraan, and Miguel Rios.

Graphic artist Glenn Travis designed the Vienna cover: a b&w scheme with a monochrome group photo (front) and member pics (back), each rendered with selective shades and highlights. The photographer, Brian Griffin, also captured images for Joe Jackson (Look Sharp!), Lene Lovich (Flex), Peter Hammill (The Future Now), and current titles by Dire Straits, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, and Random Hold (Etceteraville). Travis also designed sleeves for The Buggles and MX-80 Sound.

“Sleepwalk” appeared in June as a preview of the upcoming album, backed with the exclusive “Waiting.” This became their first UK Top 30 hit. Ultravox mimed “Sleepwalk” on the August 14, 1980, broadcast of the BBC music program Top of the Pops.

Waiting” (3:51) concerns the trepidation of a soldier on his return from a lengthy absence. He’s made contact (“strange words from the other line”) and feels strong as he “syncopate[s] with the marching song.” As he heads home, however, he’s unsure if his friends and loved ones will still be there.

In October, Ultravox lifted “Passing Strangers” as the album’s second single, backed two live numbers: the unrecorded original “Face to Face” and the Eno cover “Kings Lead Hat.” Australian filmmaker Russell Mulcahy directed the video.

Ultravox lifted the Vienna title-song in January 1981, accompanied by a Mulcahy video filmed in Convent Garden, London, with random footage shot in the Austrian capitol. Ultravox cut the b-side, “Passionate Reply,” in August (after the album’s release) in Miami during their US tour.

Passionate Reply” (4:17) Ure drops hints of road-weariness after a long tour. The endless promotions (“painting scenes from magazines”), press confrences (“we find ourselves talking for a long time; our voices are low”), and concert events (“standing tall against the crowd we sigh”) lead to homesickness (“taking turns on telephones, living lives in other homes, listening for the passionate replies”).

The “Vienna” sleeve sports a mint-framed image of the Zentralfriedhof gravesite of Carl Schweighofer (1839–1905) of the Austrian Schweighofer piano brand. The single also appeared on 12″ with a third track, “Herr X,” a German version of the Cann-sung “Mr. X.”

“Vienna” hit No. 1 in Benelux and Ireland and spent four weeks at No. 2 in the UK. It also reached No. 2 in New Zealand and No. 8 in Austria and South Africa.

Vienna reached No. 2 in the Netherlands and New Zealand and No. 3 on the UK Album Charts. It also reached No. 4 in Australia and No. 6 in Sweden and went Top 20 in Norway. Most of the album’s sales occurred in 1981, fueled by the title-song’s popularity. North American Chrysalis copies arrange the Side One songs (“Astradyne” through “Sleepwalk”) in reverse order.

Ten month’s after Vienna hit shelves, Chrysalis lifted “All Stood Still” as a fourth single, backed with two non-album instrumentals: “Alles Klar” and the cassette-recorded rehearsal jam “Keep Torque-ing” (alternating identified as “Keep Talking”). “Alles Klar” — a phrase made popular in Falco‘s 1982 European hit “Der Kommizar (and covered that year in English by After the Fire) — is German for “Everything is clear.” ITV studio musicians covered “All Stood Still” for the New Year’s Eve 1980 episode of The Kenny Everett Video, which features the song in a dance routine by resident troupe Hot Gossip.

1981: Fifth Album, Ure Productions

Ultravox spent three months in the studio recording a followup to Vienna. Meanwhile Ure produced singles by Fatal Charm (“Christine” b/w “Paris”), Swedish new wavers Strasse (“Crash Slowly” b/w “Yearning”), and former Metro mastermind Peter Godwin (“Torch Songs for the Heroine”). With Egan, Ure co-produced the Polydor single “If You Want Me to Stay,” a synthpop cover of Sly & the Family Stone by French singer Ronny.

Ultravox appeared on ten TotP broadcasts between January 15 and Christmas; five times with “Vienna” and once with “All Stood Still” (6/11/81), plus twice each with their two subsequent singles.

On November 2, Ultravox launched an eleven-date continental tour at the Palasport in Rimini, Italy.

Rage in Eden

Ultravox released their fifth album, Rage in Eden, on September 11, 1981, on Chrysalis. The title song features the back-masked chorus of the following track, “I Remember (Death in the Afternoon).” The last three tracks on Side Two (“Accent on Youth,” “The Ascent,” “Your Name (Has Slipped My Mind Again)”) run together as a suite. Both side-openers, “The Voice” and “The Thin Wall,” became singles with corresponding videos. They use the William S. Burroughs method of cut-up text for lyric writing; a method employed by Bowie circa Hunky Dory.

Rage in Eden is the third Ultravox album produced by Conny Plank and the second (after Systems of Romance) recorded in Cologne.

The Voice” (6:01) Ure braces himself for propaganda (“native these words seem to me”) and manipulative spiel (“stranger emotions in mind”), which preys on him (“shape and the power of the voice in strong low tones”) and recurrently targets those it missed (“forceful and twisting again, wasting the perfect remains”).

We Stand Alone” (5:39) Ure and a like-minded dissident resist state propaganda.

Rage in Eden” (4:12) Ure beholds statues (“lifeless forms, stark and petrified”) and sings of “the new gods” whose “heavy perfume on the night sucked them down in red tide.”

I Remember (Death in the Afternoon)” (4:57) A roomful of a people see the news about a tragedy that claimed the life of a mutual friend.

The Thin Wall” (5:39) Ure alludes to disquieting books and screenplays (“they shuffle with a bovine grace and glide in syncopation, just living lines from books we’ve read”) and the wisdom of old soldiers (“grey men who speak of victory, shed light upon their stolen life”) and concludes that those who sneer and laugh will “fade and die… surely fall” but “those who know will always feel their backs against the thin wall” — an apparent metaphor for the none-too-confining hard place of those on the right side of history.

Stranger Within” (7:26) Ure reckons that the most frightening stranger is the one within yourself; the unfamiliar side you never face.

Watch every shape that escapes
Scared to make the final mistake
Speak to hear the sound of your voice
Don’t fear the stranger within

Accent on Youth” (5:57) Ure voices the awkwardness youth (“What is this phase that I am going through”) and the insecurities of adolescence (“young depressive tears”); the phase where people want adventure (“we stumble blindly chasing something new and something sinful”) and often get penalized for misadventures (“what have I done to rate this penalty”).

The Ascent” (1:10)

Your Name (Has Slipped My Mind Again)” (4:29) Ure falls into a “misty haze” for unknown reasons. He grows feverish and lacks sensation. He can’t hear words or remember the name of the person before him.

Ultravox recorded Rage in Eden at Conny’s Studio, where Plank produced and engineered the album in succession with In the Garden, the debut album by Eurythmics.

Rage in Eden features modernist Roman-inspired art by Peter Saville, who also did 1980–81 covers for A Certain Ratio, Fingerprintz, Joy Division (Closer), The Monochrome Set, Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark (self-titled, Organisation), Original Mirrors, Pauline Murray & the Invisible Girls, and (most recently) the red-backed knotted symbol on Discipline, the comeback album by King Crimson. The RiE scheme is navy–gold (front) and maroon–gold (back, labels). The logo for this album depicts a triple-equine inside a U-cupped V. It appears on the cover (front and back), the labels, the inner-sleeve (both sides), and the blue–purple poster that came with early UK copies.

“The Thin Wall” appeared in August as the lead-off single, backed with the non-album b-side “I Never Wanted to Begin.” It reached No. 14 on the UK Singles Chart. Ultravox mimed “The Thin Wall” on the August 27 broadcast of TotP, which aired it between hits by Electric Light Orchestra and Genesis (“Abacab”). A fortnight later, it re-aired as the closing song after “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell.

I Never Wanted to Begin” (3:31) Ure alludes to deception (“shadows cut across as stolen promises were broke”), unfaithfulness (“dim and distant kisses chill before I catch my death, etch every name upon the door”), greed (“shattered captains climbing gates to hold new lamps of fame for mad kings rowing over lakes”), and concealment (“evidence is stripped and torn and hidden in the minds”) with the challenge “name that sin.”

“The Voice” appeared in October, backed with the exclusive “Paths and Angles.” A 12″ maxi-version pairs both on one side, backed with live renditions of “Private Lives” and “All Stood Still.” Both are housed in a Saville sleeve that shows geometric shapes blanced along vanishing lines. This image appears on the cover of a 1982 UK–European Rage in Eden reissue. (Later CD issues of the album show the equine logo on a split navy–maroon backdrop). Ultravox mimed “The Voice” on the November 12 and 26 TotP broadcasts.

Paths and Angles” (4:19) Cann investigates the “sunken valleys and decades of crime” where victims (“some living, some loving, some dying”) fell prey to unknown, unseen, unheard “characters lying in wait… figures of fate with memories and faces as long as their hate.”

Rage in Eden hit No. 4 in the UK, No. 5 in Sweden, and went Top 20 in Australia and Norway.

1982: Sixth Album, Midge Ure Solo

On January 29, 1982, Ultravox made their first antipodean appearance at the Sweetwaters Music Festival, a four-day event at Festival Farm in Pukekawa, New Zealand, with sets by The Angels, Men at Work, Mental as Anything, and Mondo Rock. They followed with three February shows in Australia and five in Japan, including three nights in Tokyo.

Ure made his solo debut with the single “No Regrets,” a cover of the 1968 song by American folkie Tom Rush. Midge’s version, which reached No. 9 on the UK Singles Chart, was based on a 1975 cover by the Walker Brothers, who reached No. 7 with their version. The b-side, “Mood Music,” is an Ure original.

Ure continued his production activities with singles by Corect Spelling (aka Cold Fish: “Love Me Today”), the Modern Man offshoot Messengers (I Turn In (To You)”), a momentarily reactivated Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel (“I Can’t Even Touch You”), and a cover of “Passionate Reply” by London-based Kiwi singer Zaine Griff. Ure also produced and played on “Together,” a track on Lynott’s sophomore solo effort The Philip Lynott Album, which contains a synth-laden remake of “Yellow Pearl” that TotP used as its chart rundown theme for three seasons.

Meanwhile, Ure and Currie contributed to the second Visage album The Anvil, which spawned the hits “Night Train” and “The Damned Don’t Cry.” Ure left after this album to concentrate on Ultravox but Currie stayed for the late-1982 standalone single “Pleasure Boys.”

On July 7, Ure appeared at the Princes Trust Rock Gala in a supergroup with Pete Townshend, Phil Collins, and Japan bassist Mick Karn. They performed “No Regrets” and Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door” from his 1980 solo album Empty Glass.

For their sixth album, Ultravox linked with Beatles producer George Martin, whose interest in the project was piqued by his daughter, an Ultravox fan. Martin’s post-Beatles credits included albums by the Mahavishnu Orchestra (Apocalypse), Jeff Beck (Blow by Blow, Wired), Paul Winter’s Consort (Icarus), and Stackridge (Man In the Bowler Hat). Most recently, he worked with America and UFO.


Ultravox released their sixth album, Quartet, on October 15, 1982, on Chrysalis. It spawned four singles with corresponding videos, including the neo-noir ballad “Visions in Blue” and the post-apocalyptic love song “Reap the Wild Wind,” a transatlantic hit. Socio-political themes course through “Hymn” (about enlightened believers) and “When the Scream Subsides,” which invokes a failed duopoly.

Quartet is their singular album with Beatles producer George Martin, who called Ultravox “the most musical group I have come across in recent years.”

Reap the Wild Wind” (3:49) Ure portrays a WWII pilot who who reunites with his woman amid the ruins and carnage of war-torn Europe (“take all you want and leave all the rest to die”). By the second verse, it’s all a memory (“a footprint haunts an empty floor; a fading coat that I once wore”).

Serenade” (5:05)

Mine for Life” (4:44) Ure examines the predicaments of four characters — a lonely voyeur, a depressed businessman, an unknown poet, an angry youth — with the question “There must be more to life than this?”

Hymn” (5:46) Ure notes the impermanence of deities (“in our time, all that’s good will fall from grace; even saints would turn their face”) and how altered language reflects shifts in value (“different words said in different ways have other meanings from he who says”). Knowing this, he makes the salutation (for the power and the glory) only for “this day” until he enters the next world (“’til my kingdom comes”).

Visions in Blue” (4:38) Ure pauses to “sip from the wine of youth again” and reread “the letters still remain” — the “ashes of memories still aglow.” His vision in blue is an image (portrait, picture, memory) of a lost love.

When the Scream Subsides” (4:17) Ure likens a dalliance to failed relations between rival parties: “We played the parts ’til the words came to an end, but the tongues were tied in the passion and the pride.”

We Came to Dance” (4:14)

Cut and Run” (4:18) Ure profiles a hitman who sips “courage from a crystal cup” as he carries out “something savage and pure.”  

The Song (We Go)” (3:56) Ure invites the listener to “hear the words of the syncopated rhythms” and “feel the strength of a hundred thousand heartbeat.”

Sessions took place in June–July 1982 at AIR Studios, followed with August sessions in Montserrat in the Lesser Antilles. Martin produced this album back-to-back with Tug of War, the post-Wings comeback album by Paul McCartney. Quartet was engineered by Geoff Emerick, a fellow Beatles soundman who worked on mid-seventies albums by Gino Vannelli (The Gist of the Gemini), Nektar (Recycled), Split Enz (Dizrythmia), and recent titles by Elvis Costello, Nazareth, and Robin Trower.

Quartet features cover art by Ken Kennedy of Peter Saville Associates. It depicts a structure with black granite twin columns and cross beams atop marble arch beams. The album’s symbol depicts three columns between a U and V, as seen on the front, back, and inner-sleeve (both sides). Painter Bill Philpot is credited with the beige and faint blue color scheme.

“Reap the Wild Wind” appeared a month before Quartet, backed with the exclusive “Hosanna (In Excelsis Deo).” It reached No. 10 in Ireland and No. 12 on the UK Singles Chart. “Reap the Wild Wind” became their biggest hit in the US, where it mid-peaked on the Cash Box Top 100.

“Hymn” appeared in November as the second single, backed with the non-album “Monument.” It reached No. 11 in the UK and went Top 10 in Germany and Switzerland.

Quartet reached No. 6 in the UK and peaked in the upper-third of the US Billboard 200. The album spawned two further singles in the spring of 1983: “Visions in Blue” (b/w “Break Your Back”) and “We Came to Dance” (b/w “Overlook”). The two singles reached respective peaks of No. 15 and No. 18 on the UK Singles Chart.

Ultravox promoted Quartet with a 28-date UK tour that culminated with four nights (December 2–5, 1982) at London’s Hammersmith Odeon.

1983: Live Album, Ure and Mick Karn

Ure and Karn collaborated on the one-off single “After a Fashion,”a slice of ethno-pop inspired by Karn’s recent solo album Titles. They shot a video for the song near the Egyptian pyramids with dancing, flute-playing locals. The b-side, “Textures,” is a spacious, echoey ambient instrumental. Karn, who played on Bill Nelson‘s 1983 EP Chimera, subsequently teamed with Bauhaus singer Peter Murphy in Dalis Car for the 1984 album The Waking Hour.

Elsewhere, Ure and Cross recorded “Rivets,” a 51-second theme for a 1983 Levi’s commercial. It starts in an ambient–industrial style, then assumes an upbeat synthpop vibe. The commercial shows flash footage of the production and distribution of Levi’s rivets. They also revealed The Bloodied Sword, a long-gestating side-project with poet Maxwell Langdown. Chrysalis released the album, comprised of spoken word and dark instrumental passages recorded over a four-year period.

In October 1983, Ultravox released Monument, a mini-LP with the title-sake song and five numbers from the December 1982 Hammersmith shows: “Reap the Wild Wind,” “The Voice,” “Vienna,” “Mine For Life,” and “Hymn.” It accompanied a live video from the concerts with two additional numbers: “Visions In Blue” and “Passing Strangers.” Monument reached No. 9 on the UK Albums Chart.

1984: Seventh Album, Band Aid

Ure completed his own recording studio, Musicfest, in Chiswick, West London. Currie, likewise, constructed Hot Food Studio, located in the basement of his Notting Hill Gate property.

Ultravox greeted 1984 with the January single “One Small Day,” a preview of their upcoming album, backed with the exclusive “Easterly.”

In December 1984, Ure teamed with Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof to write and assemble an all-star charitable record for Ethiopian famine relief. Ure composed the music and Geldof penned the word to “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” To record the song, they assembled Band Aid, comprised of the biggest singers in UK pop and rock, including Paul Young, Boy George (Culture Club), George Michael (Wham), Simon LeBon (Duran Duran), Bono (U2), Sting, Paul Weller (Style Council), Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet), and Bananarama. The record topped the UK Singles Chart for five weeks during the 1984–85 holiday season and raised £8 million for famine relief. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” has since become a yuletide evergreen.


Ultravox released their seventh album, Lament, on April 6, 1984, on Chrysalis. It contains a mix of hi-tech rock (“White China”) and melodramatic numbers (“A Friend I Call Desire”). Select tracks (“One Small Day,” “Heart of the Country”) take an anthemic guitar-based approach akin to U2 and Big Country. They charted in multiple territories with “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes,” a doomsday love song with a cinematic video.

White China” (3:50) Ure warns about the European spread of communism (“when pale turns to pink with a soft unnerving ease”) and the specter of state ownership (“we stand or fall when your life is not your own”). He fears the Anglosphere might align with Red China:

When white turns to red
In the not too distant days
Will force and misery
Be the life you have to lead

He sees a future even more extreme “when crimson takes a hold.”

One Small Day” (4:30)

Dancing with Tears in My Eyes” (4:39)

Lament” (4:40)

Man of Two Worlds” (4.27)

Heart of the Country” (5:05)

When the Time Comes” (4:56)

A Friend I Call Desire” (5:09)

Ultravox self-produced Lament during the 1983–84 winter season at Musicfest. The album was mixed at Mayfair Studios by veteran staffer John Hudson, a soundman on seventies classics by Leaf Hound, Pete Brown & Piblokto! (Thousands On a Raft), and (more recently) titles by Judie Tzuke, Freur, and the 1981 electronic art-pop opus From the Tea-rooms of Mars… to the Hell-holes of Uranus by Landscape.

“A Friend I Call Desire” features backing vocals by Shirley Roden and Debi Doss, who both sang on albums by Adrian Snell, The Kinks, and Pink Floyd frontman David Gilmour. Roden featured in Gordon Giltrap’s backing band and Doss was one of the two “Oh-a, oh-a” girls on “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. The female voice on “Man of Two Worlds” is Scottish singer Mae McKenna (ex-Contraband), who sings a Gaelic stanza that translates as “Hand in Hand, taste the past, as I drink in this gift to me. Hand in Hand, taste the past, as I drink from it all.” McKenna was also one of three backing vocalists on Songs to Remember, the debut proper album by Scritti Politti.

“Heart of the Country” features a string quartet composed of Amanda Woods, violist Jacky Woods, violinist Margaret Roseberry, and cellist Robert Woollard. Roseberry played next for modern classical conposer Andrew Poppy on The Beating of Wings, a 1985 release on ex-Buggle Trevor Horn’s ZTT label.

Lament is housed in a semi-glossy Saville Associates cover with black dots on a near-black background. The photo shows the Callanish Stones on the Scottish Isle of Lewis, as seen in the “One Small Day” video. The inner-sleeve and labels are white with black and orange text.

“Dancing with Tears in My Eyes” appeared in May as the second single, backed with the non-album “Building.” It reached No. 2 in Belgium, No. 3 in the UK, No. 6 in the Netherlands and Poland, No. 7 in Germany, No. 8 in Ireland, and No. 16 in Switzerland.

“Lament” was lifted as the third single that summer, backed with an instrumental version of “Heart of the Country.”

Lament reached No. 8 in the UK, Sweden, and Iceland. It peaked at No. 7 in New Zealand and also reached the Dutch and German Top 30.



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