heard on the wire

Get away, run away, far away

While writing a recent post for this blog, it struck me that it’s now 30 years since the first remixes began to appear in European record shops, on the new 12-inch single format.

I was just too young to have witnessed punk first hand—and neither did I live in London or Manchester—so remixing is the first music revolution I remember.

It began in Jamaica and the US in the 1970s but didn’t reach the UK until the following decade when Martin Rushent, a bearded recording engineer from Middlesex, bought some synthesisers and a drum machine.

Deliberately turning his back on 10 years of recording guitar bands, Rushent’s Genetic studio’s first release was ex-Buzzcock Peter Shelley’s synth-driven Homosapien, who’s biggest impact in the UK was a BBC ban for “explicit reference to gay sex” and subsequent failure to chart. As if to mock Shelley, a similar ban three years later for Fdankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax catapulted the single to number one. He must have been amused.

It worked out rather better for Rushent. After hearing Homosapien, Simon Draper of Virgin Records asked him to produce obscure¹ electronic pioneers The Human League.

Rushent set to work recording the group’s 1981 album, Dare, where his new-found antipathy towards all-things string meant that the only time a guitar was put to work in the studio was to trigger a synthesiser. But he clearly had a feeling for the zeitgeist. Dare was a worldwide hit and the closing track, Don’t You Want Me, remains one of the UK’s biggest-selling singles of all-time². Rushent can’t claim all the credit; its success was in no small part due to its outstanding video; the same can’t be said of this earlier, and much better, single which peaked at number six in the UK.

The Human League :: Open Your Heart

That was one of four singles from the LP, which presented Rushent with a problem, as he later explained.

…we didn’t have time to do b-sides. We’d send Virgin Records a track and they’d want to rush-release it. I’d been listening to Grandmaster Flash and played it to Phil [Oakey, the Human League’s singer]. He liked it so I suggested doing a remix of Love Action by chopping it up and adding effects, then we could get Virgin off our backs.

The result was a handful of remixes that, given free rein by the band, Rushent expanded into an eight-track LP. Love and Dancing by The League Unlimited Orchestra reached number three in the UK album chart upon its release in 1982. The remix album had arrived.

The League Unlimited Orchestra :: Don’t You Want Me [Love and Dancing remix]

Audio MP3

Which brings us to that aforementioned blog post—And then I shot myself, so drink, drink, drink—and Rushent’s remix of the Altered Images’ Happy Birthday.

Ironically, given his recent eschewal of guitar music, Altered Images were a pure guitar band who had orginally worked with Siouxise and the Banshees’ Steve Severin. But Rushent’s treatment of Happy Birthday gave them their first hit and so he was retained for the second LP, Pinky Blue, and this remix.

Altered Images :: I Could Be Happy

Audio MP3

The b-side of the 12-inch single included a second remix, this one a reworking of the band’s debut 7-inch, Dead Pop Stars.

Altered Images :: Disco Pop Stars

Audio MP3

Rushent also provided the whistling accompaniment on the LP’s final track, a cover of Song Sung Blue, alongside John Peel, a long-time champion of the band. He died in 2011 while working on a thirtieth-anniversary remix of the Human League album that had made his name.

¹ They were most famous for a passing reference in The Undertones’ hit, My Perfect Cousin.
² Which it wouldn’t have been, had Virgin listened to Rushent, who didn’t want it to be released.

Photo: remix 25 by Cyberslayer; some rights reserved

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