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With her candyfloss hair, plastic bra and squealing, Betty Boop vocal histrionics, Dale Bozzio was New Wave personified, but such a figure overshadowed the songwriting and musical chops of the rest of Missing Persons, formed by Frank Zappa sidemen Terry Bozzio and Warren Cuccurullo. You love “Destination Unknown,” but why should you like the rest of Missing Persons? The evidence, please:
New Wave’s Best Musicians: Drummer Terry and guitarist Warren honed their craft under Zappa for years, and there probably wasn’t a more demanding taskmaster. That’s why Missing Persons were the tightest band in New Wave, able to stop and turn on a dime. When keyboardist Chuck Wild added evocative sequences and space-age synth flourishes, the result was ferocious, especially live. In fact, the band chose not to lipsynch in their video for “Words,” and instead performed live, not only matching the studio version in precision, but surpassing it:
The group’s live shows were nearly legendary, and the near punk-rock velocity of “Mental Hopscotch (Live 1981)” (download) shows a band at its peak, giving critics notice that this wasn’t just another bunch of New Romantic posers (although there was plenty of that, too!).
New Wave’s Best Rhythm Section: With the later addition of bassist Patrick O’Hearn, Missing Persons could then boast the best rhythm section in New Wave, just edging out Duran’s Taylors. Nowhere was this more showcased than on the band’s second full-length LP, Rhyme & Reason, and especially on that album’s single, “Give (Extended Version),” (download) where O’Hearn pops and thumps against Bozzio’s combo of programmed and live drums, creating a completely separate melody in the process.
The band’s third LP, Color In Your Life, took these Chic-isms to the next level with none other than Bernard Edwards producing. Edwards toned down Dale’s yelping, forcing her to control herself in a lower register which showcased more of the songwriting and musicianship. “I Can’t Think About Dancin’” (download) is a stellar example of the “mature” Missing Persons, but amidst all this maturity something was … Missing.
For all the critical stick Dale took for her look and vocal acrobatics, those coos and yelps were an essential part of Missing Persons. Color suffered by sanding all her edges off, but there were still some gems such as the title track, “Color In Your Life” (download) where Dale got to cut loose a bit and show that she was just as important as the big-name musos backing her up
Their Crowning Moment: The lead track on their first album, Spring Session M, “Noticeable One,” (download) is the quintessential Missing Persons track, an ode to celebrity with a vicious performance from the band. It’s the hit that should have been.
Shockingly, all three Missing Persons albums are out of print on CD, while Spring Session M is still available on iTunes. Used copies of Rhyme & Reason fetch $200 on Amazon, if you can believe it. An ignoble fate for a band that deserves much better.
For Fans Of: No Doubt, Lene Lovich, Berlin
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