Yazoo is one of the most unique and powerful acts of early synthpop, and have been a big source of inspiration for me. Vince Clarke’s crisp, melodic synth and Alison Moyet’s powerful voice are a perfect match. Check out their music video for Don’t Go, a nice window into the early 80s, a time when talent mattered more in pop music than fitting into some narrow ideal of physical beauty. If you want to hear more of this style of music, there is a great BBC documentary called Synth Britannia which chronicles the rise of synthpop in the UK, where Vince Clarke and Yazoo are also extensively featured. Last time I checked it was available for free on Youtube.
After briefly straying into the domain of protests and revolution, it’s time to get back on track with some funky R&B from the height of the carnivalistic madness of the 1980s. Behind this great track are the Bar Kays, a resilient band with a stormy history. They started out in 1966 as a backing band for Stax Records, and were chosen to support Otis Redding in 1967. Tragically, four of the founding members died in the same plane crash that also ended Otis Redding’s career much too early. The two surviving members of the Bar Kays however managed to re-establish the band – an admirable accomplishment. They went on to become a successful funk band in the seventies, and kept up the success with a more commercial sound as they entered the eighties.
Yellow Magic Orchestra are less known than their German contemporaries Kraftwerk, but they were no less important in shaping the synthpop of the eighties and in turn electronic music as we know it today. Rydeen is one of the highlights from their second album, Solid State Survivor, mixing disco with eastern musical elements. It’s an energetic and uptempo tune, which also showcases their pioneering use of synthesizers, sequencers and drum machines. Although the music video may look simple to our modern eyes, it must have been pretty advanced for it’s time.