If you’re a Popdose regular of a certain age (ouch!), you’re probably enough of a radio geek that you remember Rock Over London, which debuted sometime during the early ’80s and continued running into the ’90s. It was hosted by Graham Dene, who was then Capital FM’s morning DJ, and it began airing on Rock-105 in southwestern Virginia during that fall of ’82 – just as mainstream American pop and AOR radio (which was all we had in my hometown – we didn’t even have MTV yet) was beginning to realize that there were bands in the U.K. other than the Police.
Rock Over London didn’t offer up the Human League, Soft Cell and Flock of Seagulls hits that had already assaulted the U.S. charts that year; it played new hits by acts you knew, plus it introduced American audiences to artists who had launched in England, but who didn’t yet have contracts to release their music over here. Of course, those acts sometimes included one-hit wonders or Brit novelties like Hayzee Fantayzee, Marilyn or Toyah Willcox (little-known fact: Toyah, who’s also Mrs. Robert Fripp, provided voices for the Teletubbies); however, as bizarre one-offs from England are almost always more interesting than their equivalents from the U.S., I didn’t mind the intrusion.
Besides, Rock Over London quickly proved revelatory during that fall of ’82 when it introduced Americans to Tears for Fears. The hip cachet in going to the local Record Exchange to order an import copy of The Hurting should not be underestimated. “Tears for Fears? Who’s that?” came the response from the college kid behind the counter, and I was triumphant. (Of course, I was retroactively deflated a bit when it was later revealed to me that a truly cool kid at that time needed to own an E.P. called Chronic Town by some Georgia band that I hadn’t yet heard of, and wouldn’t for another eight months.)
My favorite Rock Over London “discovery,” however, was one I didn’t hear until about a year later, and one that never really made a splash in the States: the Bluebells. The show debuted their first single, “Cath,” just before I left for college in mid-1983, and followed it with the even-better “I’m Falling” when I was home for spring break in ’84. Both songs reached the U.K. Top 20, and the Bluebells did even better with “Young at Heart” later that summer…but then they broke up before they could even finish recording a proper album.
Their introductory self-titled EP and their one LP release, Sisters, were both mostly compilations of singles and B-sides – but Sisters is a classic, full of folky anthems and perfect pop songs that stood out among the post-punks, power-poppers, New Romantics and ABBA wannabes that populated the British charts at that time. Outtakes from their later recording sessions later surfaced as a Japanese album called Second, and during the mid-’90s the Bluebells reunited briefly after “Young at Heart” was used in a U.K. Volkswagon commercial.
And that’s really about it. As they sang in “Cath,” the Bluebells led us up the garden path – and then left us hanging, waiting for new music that never came. Ah, well… it’s a very common tale, one that (like Rock Over London) sent me traipsing down plenty more garden paths over the next two decades, in a never-ending search for the next Brit thing.