Having spent the last two columns riffing on the careers of Robbie Williams and Texas, two acts that sped my acclimation to the U.K. during my familyâ€™s late-â€™90s stint as Londoners, Iâ€™ve spent the last week exploring the roots of my musical Anglophilia. I eventually traced it to fall of 1982, and the local debut of a syndicated radio show called Rock Over London that got me hooked on British music â€“ and on the notion that if the show introduced me to an artist whose music hadnâ€™t been released yet in the States, I would have a bit of information that my friends didnâ€™t, and therefore (via the transitive property of hoarded knowledge) I would be Cool.
If youâ€™re a Popdose regular of a certain age (ouch!), youâ€™re probably enough of a radio geek that you remember Rock Over London, which debuted sometime during the early â€™80s and continued running into the â€™90s. It was hosted by Graham Dene, who was then Capital FMâ€™s morning DJ, and it began airing on Rock-105 in southwestern Virginia during that fall of â€™82 â€“ just as mainstream American pop and AOR radio (which was all we had in my hometown â€“ we didnâ€™t even have MTV yet) was beginning to realize that there were bands in the U.K. other than the Police.
Rock Over London didnâ€™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 didnâ€™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, whoâ€™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 didnâ€™t mind the intrusion.
Besides, Rock Over London quickly proved revelatory during that fall of â€™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. â€œTears for Fears? Whoâ€™s that?â€ 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 hadnâ€™t yet heard of, and wouldnâ€™t for another eight months.)
My favorite Rock Over London “discovery,” however, was one I didnâ€™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, â€œCath,â€ just before I left for college in mid-1983, and followed it with the even-better â€œIâ€™m Fallingâ€ when I was home for spring break in â€™84. Both songs reached the U.K. Top 20, and the Bluebells did even better with â€œYoung at Heartâ€ later that summerâ€¦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 â€“ 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-â€™90s the Bluebells reunited briefly after â€œYoung at Heartâ€ was used in a U.K. Volkswagon commercial.
And thatâ€™s really about it. As they sang in â€œCath,â€ the Bluebells led us up the garden path â€“ and then left us hanging, waiting for new music that never came. Ah, wellâ€¦ itâ€™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.