Famed U.K. producer Trevor Horn has done so much in his lengthy career, but his next step looks to be a revisiting of one of his most discreetly influential projects: The Buggles.
Horn announced on his Web site that The Buggles – a synth-pop duo consisting of Horn and Geoff Downes – are returning in some capacity on September 28. The announcement may have been best time on August 1, a date which they will be forever identified with; on the beginning of that day in 1981, a music video they’d recorded, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” became the first clip ever played on MTV.
That prescient contribution to pop culture has made Horn and Downes permanent fixtures in the ’80s canon (and that doesn’t even count their respective work with The Art of Noise or Asia). But what about the music they crafted as The Buggles? Join Back Tracks for a look at those only two LPs the duo ever made – and one they did with another band nobody ever expected them to pair up with.
The Plastic Age (Island, 1979 – reissued 2000/2010)
The Buggles first and best LP was a concept album that ably predicted the influx of technology that would sweep over culture in the ’80s – and openly speculated how much of it was going to be any good. “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the chart-topping single in the U.K., but minor hits like “Living in the Plastic Age” and “Clean Clean” also got the point across succinctly. The LP was reissued in 2000 with three non-LP B-sides, and was given a flashy Japanese SHM reissue this year with all those B-sides and several single mixes and edits (ten bonus tracks in all!).
Yes, Drama (Atlantic, 1980 – reissued Rhino, 2004)
The Buggles on a Yes album? It’s strange even to those who know that Horn produced the band’s smash “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” but it’s also true. After lead singer Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman left the band in 1979, the remaining members (Steve Howe, Alan White, Chris Squire) entered their own sessions and found Horn and Downes working in a studio nearby. It turns out that The Buggles were huge Yes fans, and ultimately the duo filled in the gaps of Yes for this one album, a much more edgy affair that blended Yes’ traditional prog attitudes to The Buggles’ shiny New Wave to unsettling effect. The album stiffed in America but performed respectably in the U.K., just missing the No. 1 spot. Rhino’s 2004 reissue added several single-only mixes (including “Into the Lens,” which would be reworked on the next Buggles LP), and several demos and session takes, some of which actually predate any Buggle involvement. (Fans of this period will also want to check out the three live tracks from this line-up on the Yes live box set The Word is Live (Rhino, 2005). Although Yes disbanded briefly after that tour ended, the original lineup would convene with Horn as a producer on the hit LPs 90125 and Big Generator in 1983 and 1987; Horn released some of his Yes demos and session work in 2003 under the title 90124.)
Adventures in Modern Recording (Carrere, 1982 – reissued Flavor of Sound, 1997 and ZTT/Salvo, 2010)
Though it’s less poppy than its predecessor, The Buggles’ second LP carries the same cohesive theme of technology and its implications. It’s odd that there should be anything cohesive about it, though; Downes left the band midway through production, and Horn completed the rest of the album with some assistance from “Radio Star” co-writer Bruce Woolley. It’s perhaps best known for the song “I Am a Camera,” originally recorded as “Into the Lens” for Yes. Reissued on a Japanese label with two B-sides and the single mix of “I Am a Camera” in 1997 (Japan was in fact the only place to find CD copies of the album for years), this year saw ZTT, the label Horn co-created, reissue the album with all the B-sides and remixes plus several unreleased demos, including “We Can Fly from Here,” another song intended for Yes but only performed by the band in concert.