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THE ALTERED IMAGES SINGLES (10)

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File under a sad ending to a recording career.

Altered Images had signalled they were calling it a day but ensured that all touring dates would be honoured, including their first ever gigs in North America.  The record label decided it would be fitting to release one last song from Bite and so, in October 1983, this was released on 7″, 12″ and pic disc:-

mp3 : Altered Images – Change Of Heart

It was the third single from the Mike Chapman sessions to be released as a 45 which meant that only Another Lost Look from those sessions hadn’t seen light of day via that format, although you will recall that an alternative version of said song had been put on the b-side of single #9 Love To Stay.  But hang on, what’s this on the b-side of this latest single?

mp3 : Altered Images – Another Lost Look

There was absolutely no incentive to buy this single on 7″.  The two songs had been available for more than four months.  So what about the 12″?

Eh……there’s no extended or dance mix, the b-side is the same….and to rub salt into the wounds the label put the 7″ versions of Happy Birthday and I Could Be Happy onto it.

Absolutely pointless.  So it is no surprise that the single didn’t chart.

And that dear readers, concludes a look back at the ten singles released by Altered Images between March 1981 and October 1983. Collectively, they delivered three Top 10 placings, six Top 40 placings and a total of 60 weeks in the Top 75.

Next up in the singles series…………The Jam.

THE ALTERED IMAGES SINGLES (9)

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The album Bite had been released in June 1983. While Don’t Talk To Me About Love and Bring Me Closer had signposed the direction that the band were taking I still recall the total shock that greeted the sleeve of the parent LP.  The pixie queen of indie pop music had an amazing new image, one that was clearly based on Audrey Hepburn a la Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  It was an astonishing transformation that was matched by the music on the new record.

There were just eight songs on the album, four of which came from the Mike Chapman sessions dating back to October/December 1982 and four from the work with Toni Visconti in March 1983.  The songs were richly arranged and produced packed with synth strings and backing vocals from top-quality session singers.  It was a tremendously mature piece of work that was as far removed from days of Dead Pop Stars and Insects as could be possibly imagined.   The only thing was, to my ears, that the one obvious single had already been lifted (and been huge smash) and none of the others were likely to have daytime radio DJs falling over themselves to play them.

Bite had gone Top 20 on its release but it hadn’t proved to have any sort of longevity and the sales were far less than the previous two albums.  The label decided to do the traditional thing and go with a third single and so it came to pass that Love To Stay was released in mid July 1983, again on 7″, and 12″ (but this time instead of a pic disc the label went with a poster inside the sleeve:-

7″

mp3 : Altered Images – Love To Stay
mp3 : Altered Images – Another Lost Look (recorded live)

It is one of the band’s finest bits of music and thus one of their best singles but it is so completely out of kilter with many of the other 45s.

The b-side is an alternative version of another of the tracks on Bite and offered a band production on one of the tracks from the Chapman sessions.  From memory, the extended version is just the version found on the album….but I can’t confirm as I can’t find the 12″ version just now.  It’s been filed away in the wrong place and I can’t be arsed looking for it..

mp3 : Altered Images – Love To Stay (extended)

The single spent three weeks in the charts but got no higher than #45 and so brought an end to the run of the Altered Images 45s hitting at least the Top 40.

At the time, I thought that would be the last single lifted from Bite – after all four of the eight tracks had now featured as either an A or B side in a relatively short space of time and the impact of the third single in terms of album sales was negligible.  But I was wrong…..

Tune in next week for the final part of this particular series.

 

THE ALTERED IMAGES SINGLES (8)

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The next single was even more surprising than the last….

Bring Me Closer was released at the end of May 1983 just as Don’t Talk To Me About Love was easing its way out of the charts.  This was a sound even more unlike Altered Images than could ever have been imagined.  It was also interesting to see that having already worked with one of the giants of lush production in Mike Chapman the band had gone for the double whammy and roped in Tony Visconti for the latest 45.

I wasn’t sure if I liked this single much when I first heard it.  It felt too cluttered with so much going on including synth strings and prominent backing singers whose delivery was every bit on the edge as Clare’s normal singing style. To be honest, I’m still not sure if I like it all that much and I’d have no hesitation in ranking it as my second least favourite 45 by them.

The other thing that struck me was when I first causght sight of the single in the racks of the local record shop.  Up until this point the sleeves of the 45s had almost always featured unique and stylish artwork from David Band, an illustrator who came to prominence via Altered Images but had since gone on to see his work used by, among others Aztec Camera while in future years he would be commissioned by Spandau Ballet for the multi-million selling True. This time however, it was a photograph of a young lady with stylish black clothes and an exceedingly modern and fashionable haircut.  It was only at the second or third glance did you realise you were looking at a new-look Clare Grogan…

Which leads me to the bizarre story behind the writing of True as told by the songwriter Gary Kemp:-

“I wrote the song at my parents’ house, where I was still living at the time. As a working-class boy, I wouldn’t think of moving out till I got married. I was infatuated with Clare Grogan. I met her on Top of the Pops and, at one point, travelled up to Scotland to have tea with her and her mum and dad. Although my feelings were unrequited and the relationship was platonic, it was enough to trigger a song, True, which became the name of our 1983 album, too.

True is about how difficult it is to be honest when you’re trying to write a love song to someone. Hence: “Why do I find it hard to write the next line?” The lyrics are full of coded messages to Clare. I’m still berated for the line “Take your seaside arms” but it’s straight out of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, which she had given me as a present – although in the book, it’s “seaside limbs”. The line “With a thrill in my head and a pill on my tongue” is also a bastardisation of Nabokov. I don’t want to embarrass Clare. I was 22 and she was 18. True was really a song about me and my idea of love.”

This only emerged some three years ago and I’m guessing that the decision to use David Band’s terrific artwork on the sleeve of True was Gary Kemp sending a subliminal message to Clare who by this time had now met Stephen Lironi who she would go on to marry in 1994.

But back to the matter in hand….the feelgood factor from the previous single helped Bring Me Closer reach #29 two weeks after its release but unusually for an Altered Images 45 it immediately dropped down the following week but selling enough to hang around in the thirty-somethings for a short while before disappearing just as the parent album was released.

This 45 was released in 7″ and 12″ editions:-

7″

mp3 : Altered Images – Bring Me Closer
mp3 : Altered Images – Surprise Me

12″

mp3 : Altered Images – Bring Me Closer (extended version)

The 7″ and 12″ also came as picture discs.  The 12″ pic disc is one of just two pieces of plastic originally released by the band in the singles format that I don’t own.

Enjoy

 

THE ALTERED IMAGES SINGLES (7)

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What a comeback!!

Altered Images might have been battered and bruised from he criticism that came in the wake of the release of Pinky Blue but they bounced back in style with their seventh single.

The band had gone into the studio in the autumn of 1982 to work alongside producer Mike Chapman who had rightly received huge credit for his work on Parallel Lines by Blondie.  But it was a band with a different line-up; drummer Tich Anderson (who had been a co-founder of Altered Images) and guitarist Jim McKinven (who had joined after the first two singles had been recorded) had left the line-up and in their place came the multi-talented Stephen Lironi who would fill-in at the initial sessions on both drums and guitar. It was also a band with a different attitude no longer afraid to make music which harked backed to their new wave roots.

The first thing to emerge from the new collaboration was Don’t Talk To Me About Love, a song that I’m prepared to say is a timeless classic in the history of the pop single. It was incredibly unexpected both in terms of quality and sound.  If it wasn’t for the fact that Clare Grogan had such a distinctive vocal style I don’t think any of the fans of old would have guessed which band was behind the music.

It was released in March 1983 and sold well enough in its first week to enter the charts at #36.  The band continued to work really hard at promoting the single with appearances all sorts of TV shows and it was no surprise that the following week it had jumped twenty-four places before then going Top 10 on the back of what was a memorable Top of the Pops appearance with Clare looking sexier than ever in a leather skirt.

Incidentally, this was proving to be a particularly golden time for Scottish music as Eurythmics, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera and Big Country were all enjoying singles success for the first time in their careers.  As indeed were New Order as Blue Monday began its first rise up the charts.

This single was released in 7″ and 12″ editions:-

7″

mp3 : Altered Images – Don’t Talk To Me About Love
mp3 : Altered Images – Last Goodbye

12″

mp3 : Altered Images – Don’t Talk To Me About Love (extended version)

The 7″ also came as a picture disc.  Sad man that I am, I pinned said disc on my wall so that the lovely Clare gazed down on me…….

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The b-side is a bit disposable and forgettable, but its more than made up for by the fact that the extended version of the single works so well.

Enjoy

NB : About three hours after this post originally appeared, the full 12″ version was added as a link and not simply the abridged extended version as made available on certain CD compilations.  Please see comments section for detailed explanation!!

 

THE ALTERED IMAGES SINGLES (6)

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The oh dear moment and the realisation that the bubble was about to burst.

Altered Images had somehow pulled off the feat of maintaining a fair degree of street cred with the serious music critics while moving ever closer to being a pure pop band.  Things changed however, in May 1982 with the release of the sixth single and second album.

The patchy debut album had been given the benefit of the doubt thanks to the brilliance of its few high points but no such R-769793-1232058444.jpegslack was cut for Pinky Blue.  Eleven songs in all of which only the already released singles were up to the mark.

The album’s release was supported by the issuing of the title track as the band’s latest 45.  It did manage to spend six weeks in the charts but without really making an impact on the record buying public as it never got higher than #35. Once again, it was released in 7″ and 12″ editions:-

7″

mp3 : Altered Images – Pinky Blue
mp3 : Altered Images – Think That It Might (Dance Mix)

12″

mp3 : Altered Images – Pinky Blue (dance mix)
mp3 : Altered Images – Jump Jump / Think That It Might (Segued Dance Mix)

Not only was the quality of the A-side disappointing but the b-sides simply took tracks from the parent album and gave then the re-mix treatment…with the seven inch single featuring an instrumental version. It was, overall, a release with very little imagination applied and all-in-all a bitter disappointment.

The one small mercy is that the 12″ version of Pinky Blue comes in at less than five minutes and so the torture ends quickly enough.  Oh and I suppose a second small mercy is that the cover version of Song Song Blue (originally written and released by Neil Diamond) wasn’t issued in the UK as a 45….that was left to the poor people of Holland and Germany who received no comfort or joy from the b-side being See You Later, another sub-standard track from the LP.

Drastic action was needed if Altered Images were to maintain their place at the higher echelon of the pop hierarchy.

 

THE ALTERED IMAGES SINGLES (5)

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Any doubts at all that Altered Images were now one the UK’s most fully fledged and successful pop bands were surely dispelled with the release of See Those Eyes in March 1982.  Just twelve months earlier they had been associated with the post-punk movement, championed by the Banshees and John Peel.  There was no question now that they were making every effort to offer a much wider appeal to the masses.

I had no issues with this whatsoever.  The band was still very much true to their Glasgow roots – the fame offered by hit singles and TV appearances hadn’t changed things. Clare Grogan and the boys were still very happy to go to their regular haunts around the city even to the extent where the lead singer could spend her Saturdays dancing night away in student unions knowing fine well that this is where she would hear her favourite music.  The downside to that of course was that drunk students would pester her, and in extreme cases have some fun dancing with her for two or three records in a row only to spoil it all by proclaiming their undying love for her and asking for her hand in marriage. I should know….as I was that drunk student.  The venue was Level 8 at Strathclyde University and the proposal was turned down with a very firm, but admittedly fair, ‘Fuck off creep!’

See Those Eyes is a cracking piece of disposable pop music and deserved to match the Top 10 success of the previous two singles.  As it was, it peaked at #11 during what was just a seven week stay in the charts, so it was clear that this 45 had sold far fewer copies than the singles of late 1981.

It was released in 7″ and 12″ editions:-

7″

mp3 : Altered Images – See Those Eyes
mp3 : Altered Images – How About That (I’ve Missed My Train)

12″

mp3 : Altered Images – See Those Eyes (extended)

The 12″ in effect was the 7″ single with a remix tagged on as a sort of overture. The child’s contribution at the start is courtesy of Big Jimmy Rushent who I’m assuming was the toddler son of the producer.

The b side was also something rather strange.  It was a self-produced number that took the tune of the A Day’s Wait, the flop second single from just under a year earlier, and changed the lyrics to provide us with song about turning up at the station just too late to hop on board the choo-choo.  Bizarre to say the least and also a tad worrying as it meant the two most recent Rushent-produced  singles had seen the band revisit old material for the b-sides.  They were either short of songs or wanted to send subliminal messages to fans of old that they were still in touch with their roots. Subsequent events with the sophomore LP would prove it was more of the former….

Enjoy

THE ALTERED IMAGES SINGLES (4)

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i_could_be_happy The huge success of Happy Birthday was more than maintained with the fourth single from Altered Images. I Could Be Happy, a brand new song, was almost like a nursery rhyme in its structure as Clare reels off three unrelated things that make her feel good about life – climbing a tall tree, heading over the sea to Skye or going for a lengthy dip in the River Nile.

But it turns out that she doesn’t want to do any of these things just for any sheer unadulterated joy; nope, these are all on her radar to let her bring a relationship to an end. It was, tune wise, also just about the simplest thing they had written and recorded so far and, thanks to a very crisp and clear production from Martin Rushent, it was unashamedly pop in its approach and style with the aim of getting regular radio play.

It was a record that had the feel and sound of a summer record and yet it was released in the depths of winter at the beginning of December 1981 at a time when the big hit single was still riding high in the charts. None of this mattered as I Could Be Happy proved to be every bit as enduring, spending twelve weeks in the charts including nine successive weeks in the Top 30, helped no doubt by some Top of the Pops appearances in which viewers could not have done anything other than be enchanted by Claire.  The single was released in 7″ and 12″ form.

7″

mp3 : Altered Images – I Could Be Happy

mp3 : Altered Images – Insects

As I mentioned the other week in the Saturday series, I’m a huge fan of Insects which is one of their most enduring songs; and depsite being one of their most ‘Banshees by numbers’ efforts it was Rushent and not Severin who was in the producer’s chair.

12″

mp3 : Altered Images – I Could Be Happy (extended)

mp3 : Altered Images – Disco Pop Stars

The use of 12″ vinyl to offer extended and remixed versions of the three minute pop single was becoming increasingly popular around this time. More often than not the extended versions didn’t work all that well and seemed to take aWay from the radio friendly versions – the likes of Soft Cell were very much an exception as they managed somehow to turn the 12″ single into an art form. Altered Images weren’t the worst offenders though and the 12″ of I Could Be Happy is bearable.

The bonus track on the 12″ made me laugh out loud at the time and still does. It’s a band re-production of the sinister flop debut single but in a way that makes it instantly disposable. And it’s not been down in any shape or form that would see it put on the turntables of any discotheque that I can think of.

Oh and I’d like to dedicate today’s post to Carlo Zanotti. Many thanks for your kind words of encouragement and appreciation the other night at the Belle & Sebastian post-gig bash at The Admiral.

Enjoy

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