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Propaganda was a group formed in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1982 by Ralf Dörper (a member of the German industrial band Die Krupps), part-time DJ Andreas Thein and Susanne Freytag. As a trio, they made demo recordings for future release. With the inclusion of classically trained musician and composer Michael Mertens and 19-year old vocalist Claudia Brücken, now a five-member band, journalist Paul Morley signed the band to Trevor Horn's newly-formed ZTT Records label.
The group relocated to the United Kingdom and released the single "Dr. Mabuse", named after the fictional character created by filmmaker Fritz Lang. A dark slab of rhythmic synthpop, the release reached No.27 in the Official UK Top 40 in April 1984 (the song reached #7 in Germany). The group appeared on various TV shows in the UK, including Channel 4's groundbreaking "The Tube". Here, as well as performing "Dr. Mabuse", they also gave one of their few performances of a cover version of Throbbing Gristle's song "Disziplin". The band had included in their original demo and it was intended to be their debut single, but Throbbing Gristle blocked this. As Paul Morley marketed the band as a twisted, hellish version of Abba, for this reason Michael Mertens remained in the background as an invisible fifth member - although this was not to last long.
Before the year was out Andreas Thein had left the band, and with Michael Mertens now filling the gap left by his departure, the band forged ahead with recording their follow-up single and debut album. However both of these were to be delayed as a result of the unexpectedly huge success of ZTT's most famous signing, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. As the label was still in its infancy, ZTT were forced to spend all their limited resources on promoting and marketing the Liverpudlian five-piece. This also meant that Trevor Horn was unable to produce Propaganda's album; Stephen Lipson, one of Horn's established studio engineers, took his place. As a result Propaganda's second single, the more pop-oriented "Duel", didn't surface until April 1985. Perhaps the band's most recognisable release, it was also their most successful single in the UK, reaching no. 21, and led to the band making their one and only appearance on the flagship BBC music programme, "Top of the Pops", in June of that year (this song reached #30 in Germany).
With Frankie Goes to Hollywood tax exiles in Eire, the band effectively headlined "The Value of Entertainment", a series of showcase gigs of ZTT signings, held at the Ambassadors Theatre in London in May 1985. The shows also featured Art of Noise (Paul Morley addressing the audience after three dancers had performed to AON tracks), Anne Pigalle, Andrew Poppy and Instinct. Propaganda, minus Ralf Dörper (who, as the band's lyricist and conceptualist, did not play any instruments as such) were joined on stage by former Simple Minds bassist Derek Forbes and ex-Japan drummer Steve Jansen.
The first week of July finally saw the release of A Secret Wish, the band's debut album. Receiving considerable critical acclaim and some commercial success, it rose to no. 16 in the album charts, and was followed by another single, "P-Machinery", in August 1985, which only reached no.50 (but this song was a big hit in France, reaching #10, in The Netherlands #12, in Germany where it charted at #26 and in Switzerland #29). The 12-inch version of this release caused controversy (even within the group) as Paul Morley thought it was a good idea to have the sleeve feature a quote by writer J. G. Ballard praising the activities of the German terrorist group Red Army Faction. Ariola, who distributed ZTT's releases in Germany, refused to carry the 12" as a result, so the quote was changed on the German release to another by Ballard on the aesthetic perfection of German suburbs.
The group (again, minus Ralf Dörper) spent the rest of the year on their "Outside World" tour, taking in Europe and America. They were joined once again by Derek Forbes on bass, his fellow ex-Simple Minds cohort Brian McGee on drums, and Kevin Armstrong on guitar, with backing tapes used for most of the keyboard parts. In the meantime a remix album, Wishful Thinking, was compiled by Paul Morley and Bob Kraushaar, and released in November 1985. Originally intended for the American club market, the album was also released in Europe, but against the wishes of the group themselves; its UK album chart placing was telling, reaching only no. 82. A remixed version of "P-Machinery" was also re-released as a single, only four months after its original release; in the UK, it too failed to make an impact, charting at an even lowlier no.87 (but it was a big success in France, reaching #24 and in Germany where it reached #16).
After making a second appearance on "The Tube" in January 1986 things went quiet for Propaganda. In late 1985 their management introduced them to the London based music lawyer Brian Carr of Compton Carr, who studied both contracts Propaganda have been given to by ZTT Records and Perfect Songs, contracts which had been signed by the band members without legal advice. The lawyer explained to the group that under these contracts, the members of the group could go on making records for the rest of their lives and never make any money from them.
This was the point where everything ended between Propaganda and ZTT Records/Perfect Songs Ltd. Claudia Brücken left Propaganda to pursue a solo career. She stayed with ZTT, having married the label's publicist Paul Morley. She joined Thomas Leer to form Act, who in 1988 released their only album Laughter, Tears and Rage. In 1991 she released a solo album (Love: And a Million Other Things) for Island Records.
In 1990, the band signed to Virgin Records and Mertens returned with a new Propaganda lineup which included vocalist Betsi Miller, and two former Simple Minds members, bassist Derek Forbes and drummer Brian McGee. The result was a new album called 1234, produced by Ian Stanley and Chris Hughes (of Tears for Fears fame), on which Freytag and Dörper made guest appearances. Despite a radio-friendly first single "Heaven Give Me Words", co-written by 1980s "synthpop king" Howard Jones, and an album of intelligent material, the new Propaganda were not a huge success, perhaps in part due to MTV dropping the video for "Heaven Give Me Words" after only very few plays. Times were changing; melodic synthpop quickly became out of fashion as house became all the rage.
In 1998, Mertens, Brücken and Freytag reunited, signed an options deal with East West Records, and began working on new material. Several tracks were completed, including one produced by Tim Simenon and featuring Martin Gore on guitar. A video for one song, "No Return", was produced in Morocco and directed by "Keyser Soze" (likely a pseudonym) in December 1998. Two minute clips of it, along with photos of the shoot, were released via the band's official website in early 2000. However, no album materialized, and in January 2002, Brücken announced, "The reunion was worth a try, but did not work out." Later that year, an untitled nine-track CD was leaked via file-sharing networks on the Internet. Track titles were "Ignorance", "Who's The Fool", "Beast Within", "No Return", "To The Future", "Turn To The Sun", "Dream Within A Dream", "Cloud 9", and "Anonymous". The latter two were later recorded by Brücken for the Onetwo album Instead.
In early 2005, Propaganda, now Susanne Freytag and Michael Mertens,
started to release new material on the German independent label
In November 2005, the original Propaganda lineup with Brücken and Dörper but without Thein performed at the Wembley Arena showcase of Trevor Horn's lifetime celebration. The band played Dr. Mabuse.
In August 2007 Sophie Ellis-Bextor recorded and released a cover of "Duel" as a B-side to her single "Today the Sun's on Us". In October 2007 the Propaganda lineup of Brücken, Freytag, Dörper and Mertens appeared on RTL Germany "The Ultimate Chart Show" and performed an edited version of "Dr. Mabuse"
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Unofficial Fanpage: www.p-fan.de
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