Ultravox was an English new wave band, originally fronted by John Foxx on the 1977/78 Island releases Ultravox!, Ha!-Ha!-Ha!, and Systems of Romance. Their early stylistic range included ambient vocal numbers (“My Sex”), post-psych chamber rock (“I Want to Be a Machine”), punk (“Young Savage”), and proto synthpop (“Quiet Men”).
A second incarnation, led by Midge Ure, released the 1980–82 albums Vienna, Rage in Eden, and Quartet, scoring hits 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 Spear, Eddie & 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 questsions 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. 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.
“Saturday Night in the City of the Dead” 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)” 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…, same as “Satday” but more bass-driven) 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 70 seconds.
“Slip Away” 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”). Closer to home, “Machine” is reminiscent of 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” 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 this song would echo in the coming year on albums by Gary Numan (Tubeway Army) and Japan (Adolescent Sex, Obscure Alternatives).
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).
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.
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.”
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.
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 Soldier, Fruupp, 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.”
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 electro-modernist addition to the label whose roster 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.
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.
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. The single’s 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 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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 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
- Ultravox! (1977)
- Ha!-Ha!-Ha! (1977)
- Systems of Romance (1978)
- Vienna (1980)
- Rage in Eden (1981)
- Quartet (1982)
- Lament (1984)
- U-Vox (1986)
- Discogs: Ultravox
- English Albums: U
- 45worlds: Ultravox
- 45cat: Ultravox
- Concerts Wiki: Ultravox
- UK Rock Festivals: Reading 77
- Top of the Pops Episode Guide
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