Monday, November 23, 2020

Song of the Day: 'Party Fears Two' by the Associates


I must confess, this is a blind spot in my '80s music viewpoint. The name Billy Mackenzie has come up before -- he sounded tragic and exhausting so I (rightly) assumed he was gay -- but for the first time I'm playing some of his/their music thanks to my pal Paul Hallasy, who writes:

Today's Obscure Bands of the '80s lesson is The Associates, another homoerotic duo (this one British, as opposed to German DAF). Lead singer Billy Mackenzie had an operatic voice that was the male equivalent of Annie Lennox (with whom he once did a duet). I have four of their albums (Sulk, The Affectionate Punch, Fourth Drawer Down, Perhaps) and was lucky enough to see them at Danceteria in their only U.S. appearance. Mackenzie was allegedly the subject of The Smiths' song, "William, It Was Really Nothing." (He and Morrissey were supposedly lovers.) He raised whippets and committed suicide after the death of his mother.

Billy Mackenzie and Alan Rankine formed the Associates in Dundee, Scotland, in 1976. They released an unauthorized (and self-funded) 7" cover of "Boys Keep Swinging" mere weeks after David Bowie had released his original. The publicity stunt got them a deal with Bowie's publishers and a record deal. Wikipedia notes that the Associates drew stylistically on a variety of genres, including art rock, disco, glam, minimalism, balladry and cabaret. Their music has been described as post-punk, synth-pop, new wave and experimental pop. The group was hailed by the likes of Björk and U2 singer Bono. Björk stated that her "love affair with the Associates started when I was fifteen [...], it was Sulk I really got into". "I really admired the way Billy used and manipulated his voice on that record." Bono said about the Associates: "We ripped them off. Billy was a great singer: I couldn't rip him off."

Just listened to a few songs and while I can see why he wasn't for everyone, Billy was certainly an original. Fans should feel free to point me in the right direction ...

The Associates' biggest song

"The Best of You": Annie Lennox and Billy Mackenzie


Jack said...

That's a cool voice! What a tragic end for him.

Unknown said...

Worth also checking out The Associates cover of Heart of Glass.

thegaycurmudgeon said...

Thanks for the share. I first came across The Associates when I purchased a copy of the zine "Non-LP B Side" at East Side Books on St. Marks Place. It came with a cassette and "Party Fears Two" was on the cassette.