80’s Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/ Bands ~ Alphaville

Alphaville? Am I serious? Oh yeah. Here’s another band that had a couple of heavily rotated hits here in the U.S., making them seem like one-dimensional popsters. Many of us are more than familiar with “Big In Japan” and “Forever Young.” In fact, I heard both of those so many times over the years, I’d be fine with never hearing them again.

One of the benefits of working for a boss who is a musician is that I get to hear a different point of view about bands that I either only have limited knowledge of, or in some cases, no knowledge at all. The boss introduced me to an Alphaville song from the very same LP that produced the two aforementioned tracks. It’s called “To Germany With Love,” and let me tell you, it blew me away.

Just in case you are one of the two or three people who have never heard of Alphaville, here’s a brief history. The group formed in 1982 in Germany. The original members were Marian Gold, Bernhard Lloyd, and Frank Mertens, all stage names. The band’s first moniker was Forever Young – sound familiar? It was also the title of the first demo the trio created. In 1984, the band renamed to Alphaville and released “Big in Japan.” Shortly after, they released their debut LP, Forever Young. Frank Mertens left the trio, and was replaced by Ricky Echolette (yes, another pseudonym). The single “Big In Japan” was a huge worldwide success, followed by “Forever Young” which charted well in Europe and the US.

Subsequent releases of LPs and featured singles failed to produce any major chart hits in the US. It’s a shame. This is a group who, like other artists such as Modern English, A-Ha, and even Gary Numan, were improperly marketed, and unfairly remembered as “one-hit wonders” or having flash-in-the-pan popularity.

This is a band that is definitely worth exploring well beyond their most notorious hits. Their solid synth-pop foundation puts them in the same league as Ultravox. Add to that some very strong vocals, and the fact that the band currently continues to record, and this is an 80’s treasure that despite two very solid hits, was criminally underrated. 

“To Germany With Love” via YouTube user mikeszkoo:

“Jet Set” via YouTube user sathoru:

“Dance With Me” via YouTube user IsSiauliu2:

“To Germany With Love” (Demo) via YouTube user Abteilung33:

Official Alphaville website.

Purchase Alphaville music here.

Discography

1984: Forever Young
1986: Afternoons in Utopia
1989: The Breathtaking Blue
1994: Prostitute
1997: Salvation
1999: Dreamscapes
2000: Stark Naked and Absolutely Live
2001: Forever Pop
2003: CrazyShow
2010: Catching Rays on Giant

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7 thoughts on “80’s Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/ Bands ~ Alphaville

  1. I like your boss, Forever Young is a great album. My personal favourite from the album is Fallen Angel. BTW, the youtube links are not working for some reason.

    Keep up the great work

    Cheers

    Ed

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  2. Thanks, as always (((((((Ed)))))))). Sorry the links weren’t working – it must have been a glitch since everything seems to be in order now.

    xo

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  3. Hi, and thanks for your post. I’ve just been to Alphaville’s launch party for Catching Rays on Giant (review on my pad). They’ve also had a bit of a relaunch, with a new site address [alphaville.info]. I totally agree with you that they have been severely underrated over the years.

    From what I’ve read across the blogosphere, it is believed that synthpop began to fall out of fashion a little earlier in Germany, which stifled Alphaville from as early as their second album. Do you think that’s true? Hardcore Alphaville fans tend to prefer the more esoteric albums like Forever Young and Prostitute, so there is no easy way to tell.

    Their new album is upbeat pop that tries to hold that balance between their synthpop roots and sounding contemporary. Some tracks remind me of a-ha’s excellent album last year. The distinct problem is, of course, that a-ha are very well known in the UK, whereas Alphaville are but a drop in the memory at best. They have never yet performed in the UK, and Universal will only consider releasing their album outside of German territory if the sales warrant it. How Alphaville have the potential to be a-ha’s replacement when they retire. I hope it can happen.

    Great blog. Many thanks,

    Keith / KaM 🙂

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  4. Hello Keith and thank you for your fabulous post. I enjoy the information, as well as your observations and insight.

    I haven’t come to grips with synthpop falling out of favor anywhere. I am so totally in love with/absorbed in the sound, that when I hear someone who does it justice, I am instantly enthralled. I was fortunate to see/meet Gary Numan last month in Orlando, FL, and got to experience what a synth-master can do first-hand. From the moment the first notes were struck in sound check to the show itself, I simply could not get enough of that lush, room-and-soul-filling sound. Numan has, of course, migrated away from synthpop and into the more moody, heavy, industrial genre, but hearing tunes from 30 years ago that still sound vibrant and rich was such a priceless treat.

    Alphaville had (and still has from the sound of your review) the “magic touch” that blends voice and machine into a perfect listening experience. I’ll be anxious to check out their latest release. From what you’ve shared, they’ve regrettably moved away from their purely synthpop roots, but I can understand playing to what the audience will support. It makes me angry to hear that “Universal will only consider releasing their album outside of German territory if the sales warrant it.” Bah! Stuffed suits with no vision are exactly why we starve for worthy music, and so many deserving artists are “criminally underrated.”

    Again, thanks so much for the information and your valued opinion.

    Cheers,
    MissP
    xo

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  5. Hi MissP, and thank you for your equally fabulous reply! [I’m at royalarbor.wordpress.com if it didn’t identify me. Sorry!]

    It must have been amazing to see Gary Numan live. I discovered Alphaville through Erasure, and the videos of Vince Clarke’s hideaway synth cabin are absolutely remarkable. Perhaps part of the problem for synthpop in the 80s was that for every band producing great songs, there were enough producing poor tracks.

    Synth has returned to vogue in the UK in the past 2 or 3 years. The Pet Shop Boys continue to fashion themselves as current and relevant, and a-ha are always a favourite. But I was the only Brit at the Alphaville release party, and we had one American. Although it was organised very late, it is fair to say that Alphaville are so far behind their contemporaries in cultural consciousness, it is untrue.

    I think the “magic touch” for the “perfect listening experience” is exactly what Alphaville are looking for – beautifully put. I actually think they have taken a step back towards their synthpop roots in places. One of the new songs, Phantoms, has a distinct Numan-esque opening, and the album is quite heavily produced (to great effect). It has taken the regulars some time to get used to it, but they have done. We know that Alphaville have done their decade of releasing precious and ornate box sets without a record label (I could cry at how underrated Crazyshow is), and now they have to show that commercial edge to their music to have another go at taking it up another level. There may never be a better chance.

    I hope you manage to have a listen! I highly recommend it. There are some scattered YouTube vids at the moment, which will no doubt increase as the album slowly distributes out of German territory. But there’s a cool promotional video on their homepage, which offers a taster (includes some English interview snippets with current band members).

    I hope you will not mind if I subscribe along. This is a fabulous blog, and I will recommend it where I can! All the best!

    Keith

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  6. Hello again Keith!

    Just a quick response since I am currently at work. I wasn’t aware that you had a blog, checked it out, and I am definitely going to visit more when I have the time. I am a technical writer – a bit of a different “animal” than you – but I share a lot of your writing concerns. Fifty thousand words by Nov. 30? I seriously doubt there will be any quality, so I wouldn’t worry. I believe in taking time, and I can say without doubt, that your careful and considerate approach to writing will get you further than someone pumping out prose at an alarming rate!

    I love Erasure…and A-Ha for that matter. Why three groups on the same par would find success at such varying rates is beyond my limited understanding. Hence, my blog, which is a feeble attempt to call attention to deserving 80s artists that were overlooked, mis-marketed, or plainly ignored.

    Take Modern English, for example. They are another group whose heavily-promoted song “Melt With You” really did nothing more than catapult them into the “one-hit wonder” category. Yet, their albums are chock full of post-punk gems, cutting-edge performance pieces, and artistic offerings that were passed over in favor of the more mainstream, “poppy”-sounding tune.

    I went through the 80s not realizing what a treasure trove of music was out there in the great big world, because radio here in south Florida was such a miserable hodge-podge of unlistenable garbage. It wasn’t until a few years ago, with the urging of an 80s-dedicated friend, that I began to go back and explore what I missed. Along the way, I met David Marsden, a Canadian DJ who has championed the under-exposed artists throughout his entire 50-year career. Then Ed-FM, a maven of obscure 80s, and so many other enlightened folk, and suddenly, my music world has grown exponentially.

    Thank you for adding your point of view to my ever-growing mental database. 🙂 All the best to you, and please keep in touch. I’ll send you my email address via the address you logged.

    Cheers, MissP xo

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