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 familyÁ¢€â„¢s late-Á¢€â„¢90s stint as Londoners, IÁ¢€â„¢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 Á¢€” and on the notion that if the show introduced me to an artist whose music hadnÁ¢€â„¢t been released yet in the States, I would have a bit of information that my friends didnÁ¢€â„¢t, and therefore (via the transitive property of hoarded knowledge) I would be Cool.
If youÁ¢€â„¢re a Popdose regular of a certain age (ouch!), youÁ¢€â„¢re probably enough of a radio geek that you remember Rock Over London, which debuted sometime during the early Á¢€â„¢80s and continued running into the Á¢€â„¢90s. It was hosted by Graham Dene, who was then Capital FMÁ¢€â„¢s morning DJ, and it began airing on Rock-105 in southwestern Virginia during that fall of Á¢€â„¢82 Á¢€” just as mainstream American pop and AOR radio (which was all we had in my hometown Á¢€” we didnÁ¢€â„¢t even have MTV yet) was beginning to realize that there were bands in the U.K. other than the Police.
Rock Over London didnÁ¢€â„¢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 didnÁ¢€â„¢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, whoÁ¢€â„¢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 didnÁ¢€â„¢t mind the intrusion.
Besides, Rock Over London quickly proved revelatory during that fall of Á¢€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. Á¢€Å“Tears for Fears? WhoÁ¢€â„¢s that?Á¢€ 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 hadnÁ¢€â„¢t yet heard of, and wouldnÁ¢€â„¢t for another eight months.)
My favorite Rock Over London “discovery,” however, was one I didnÁ¢€â„¢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, Á¢€Å“Cath,Á¢€ just before I left for college in mid-1983, and followed it with the even-better Á¢€Å“IÁ¢€â„¢m FallingÁ¢€ when I was home for spring break in Á¢€â„¢84. Both songs reached the U.K. Top 20, and the Bluebells did even better with Á¢€Å“Young at HeartÁ¢€ later that summerÁ¢€¦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 Á¢€” 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-Á¢€â„¢90s the Bluebells reunited briefly after Á¢€Å“Young at HeartÁ¢€ was used in a U.K. Volkswagon commercial.
And thatÁ¢€â„¢s really about it. As they sang in Á¢€Å“Cath,Á¢€ the Bluebells led us up the garden path Á¢€” and then left us hanging, waiting for new music that never came. Ah, wellÁ¢€¦ itÁ¢€â„¢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.