Sunday, October 19, 2014

"New Toy" by Lene Lovich

Influential new wave artist Lene Lovich teamed up with synthpop pioneer Thomas Dolby for this percolating, high-energy track. It’s the title song from Lovich’s 1981 EP. The song satirizes our consumer culture and how people often equate love with material possessions: “I don't want, I don't want your affection/But I’ve got to have the car/I need it for the weekend/I’ve got the have the stereo/And a couple of deletions.” The urgent groove has a haywire, controlled-chaos type of flow. It was written by Dolby, who also played keyboards on the track as well as sang background vocals.  He penned the song as a "thank you" to Lovich for hiring him to be part of her touring band. This was a year before Dolby struck gold with his new wave/funk smash “She Blinded Me With Science” in 1982.

“New Toy” is a brilliant marriage of two singular talents. Lovich’s quirky singing style and eccentric persona was a great fit for Dolby’s unique and kinetic synthpop sound. It’s a shame that the two didn’t collaborate on more songs—or better yet have Dolby write and produce an entire album for her. “New Toy” peaked at #29 on the Australian singles chart and climbed to #53 on the UK charts. It also saw some chart action in the U.S., peaking at #19 on the U.S. Dance Chart, and it remained on the chart for six months.

Lovich’s look and sound had a significant impact on the post-punk scene of the late 1970s and early '80s. And her outrageous attire, outré persona and idiosyncratic vocal style influenced a slew of female artists who succeeded her, including Cyndi Lauper, Dale Bozzio (Missing Persons) and Annabella Lwin (Bow Wow Wow); and she has indirectly influenced more recent artists such as Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga, among several others.  However, Lovich rarely gets the credit she deserves for being a genuine trailblazer.

As a teen growing up in Hull, England, Lovich developed an interest in art and music. She met guitarist/songwriter Les Chappell in Hull when both were still in their teens. The two shared similar interests and developed a lifelong romantic and professional relationship. The two moved to London together to attend art school. Once in London, they attended several art schools, including the Central School of Art. Lovich eventually became dissatisfied with the art scene and focused all her energies toward launching a career in music. She was involved in a plethora of different entertainment-related projects to help get her career off the ground, including a street busker; a go-go dancer with the Radio 1 Roadshow; a singer in a mass choir in a show called Quintessence; toured Italy with a West Indian soul band; played saxophone for Bob Flag’s Balloon and Banana Band and for the all-girl cabaret trio, the Sensations.

In 1975, Lovich, Chappell and some other local musicians formed the funk/disco band the Diversions. Lovich played sax in the band, while Chappell contributed his guitar skills. The band recorded some original tracks as well as a few cover songs, including Carl Malcolm’s “Fattie Bum-Bum.” The band failed to create much buzz or interest and broke up the following year. And in 1977, Lovich wrote lyrics to some of French disco star Cerrone’s songs, including his dance smash “Supernature.”

Lovich caught her big break when she contacted disc jockey/writer Charlie Gillett, who had her record a demo of the Tommy James’ 1967 pop hit “I Think We’re Alone Now.” Gillett was so impressed with the recording that he brought it to the attention of Dave Robinson, who was the president of independent label Stiff Records in London. Robinson liked the cover and signed Lovich to his label. She brought in Chapell, and they formed a band in her name.

In 1978, Stiff released the re-recorded version of Lovich's cover of  “I Think We’re Alone Now,” with the Lovich/Chappell-penned track “Lucky Number” as the B-side. A more polished version of “Lucky Number” was later released as an A-side. The track blew up, peaking at #3 on the UK charts and launched Lovich into pop stardom. The song is now considered a classic, as it’s one of the tracks that helped define the sound of early new wave music in the late ‘70s. It remains Lovich’s biggest hit and her most popular song.

In October of ’78, Lovich released her debut album, Stateless, on Stiff Records. Lovich and Chappell co-wrote seven of the album’s eleven tracks. The collection included “Lucky Number” and “I Think We’re Alone Now.” The UK version of the album contained their second hit “Say When,” which peaked at #19 on the UK charts. The band lineup for Stateless was Lovich (vocals, saxophone), Chappell (guitar, synthesizer, percussion, vocals), Ron François (bass, percussion, vocals), Nick Plytus (Hammond organ, piano), Bobby Irwin (drums, percussion, vocals) and Jeff Smith (synthesizer).

Following the release of Stateless, Lovich was soon headlining package tours and became one of the biggest names on Stiff Records’ roster. Some of Lovich’s other hits include “Bird Song” and “What Will I Do Without You.” Lovich definitely made her mark on new wave and alternative music, particularly in the late ‘70s and throughout the first half of the ‘80s. She has released five studio albums and one EP. Her last album, Shadows and Dust, was released in 2005.

Lovich is still a very active artist. She has some tour dates lined up for December in Italy, as well as some upcoming European dates scheduled in 2015.

New Toy at Amazon

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