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Ultravox (formerly Ultravox!) was a British new wave band who rose to prominence in the early 1980s. They were one of the primary exponents of the British electronic pop music movement of the early 1980s. The band was particularly associated with the New Romantic movement, although it both pre- and post-dated New Romantic by several years.
The band was formed in 1973 on the initiative of vocalist, songwriter and keyboardist John Foxx (born Dennis Leigh). Originally known as Tiger Lily, the first lineup included Foxx plus Chris Cross (bass guitar), Stevie Shears (guitar), Warren Cann (percussion) and Billy Currie (keyboards/violins), who joined later in 1974. The group released one single in 1974, a cover of "Ain't Misbehavin'", before changing their name to "Ultravox!". (The exclamation point was a reference to krautrock band Neu!, produced by Conny Plank, who later produced some Ultravox albums.) On the strength of their live act, they signed to Island Records in 1976, releasing their eponymous debut album in February 1977.
In common with many other bands which would go on to form Britain's punk and New Wave movements, Ultravox! drew inspiration from the art-school side of glam rock, from bands such as Roxy Music and The New York Dolls, plus David Bowie and Brian Eno's early pop albums. Their eponymous debut album was co-produced by Eno (whose next job after these sessions was working with Bowie on his Low album) and Steve Lillywhite. Sales were disappointing, and neither the album nor the associated single "Dangerous Rhythm" managed to enter the UK charts. Relations within the band were on an occasionally tenuous footing during this time as Foxx declared that he wished to live without emotions, a sentiment which was echoed on debut album track "I Want to Be a Machine". Relations were thought to be "difficult" during this time.
Ultravox returned later in 1977 with the punkier Ha!-Ha!-Ha!, although sales of both the album and its lead single, "ROckwrok" (which, despite a chorus featuring the lines "Come on, let's tangle in the dark / fuck like a dog, bite like a shark" was played on BBC Radio 1), were still unimpressive, again failing to chart. Stevie Shears left the band afterwards to form the new band Faith Global. Although Ha!-Ha!-Ha! was dominated by guitars and electric violin, the final track, "Hiroshima Mon Amour", was a prototypical synthpop song. Arguably one of the first singles by a British band to feature a drum machine, the song pointed the way to Ultravox's developing direction as the energy of punk started to fade and the genre's more creative exponents sought a new direction. It remains a critical and fan favourite of the group's early incarnation, and was performed by the group on the Old Grey Whistle Test. During 1978 the group quietly dropped the exclamation mark, becoming simply "Ultravox".
Their third album, 1978's Systems of Romance, was recorded with producer Conny Plank and engineer Dave Hutchins at Connys Studio in rural Germany and featured a new guitarist, Robin Simon. Musically, the album was markedly different from Ultravox's earlier work, bringing synthesisers to the forefront of the group's sound. Island released a compilation of highlights from the group's first three albums in 1979, Three into One, which was until the mid-1990s the most widespread of Ultravox's early releases. However, the album was also a commercial failure and as none of the albums had generated significant income, tensions within the band — particularly between Currie and Foxx — threatened the band's viability. Island dropped the band afterwards, which was the final nail in their coffin but Ultravox undertook a self-financed US tour in the winter of 1978–79. Splitting after their final gig in San Francisco, Foxx declared his intention to go solo, Simon chose to remain in the US and get married and the remaining members made their way back to a Britain in the midst of a "winter of discontent". Foxx subsequently signed to Virgin Records and released his most successful (and influential) album Metamatic in 1979. Billy Currie, all but broke, was then recruited by the rising star Gary Numan to play on his debut solo album, The Pleasure Principle, and its subsequent Touring Principle tour. Currie was a hero to Numan who had inwardly digested Ultravox's albums and had seen them play live several times.
With the band seemingly over, Ultravox was then revitalised by the addition of Midge Ure to the line-up. An accomplished musician, he had already achieved minor success with semi-glam outfit Slik and Glen Matlock's more punk-inspired The Rich Kids, although in 1979 he was temporarily playing with hard rock band Thin Lizzy. Ure and Billy Currie had met whilst collaborating on the Visage project, a studio-based band fronted by New Romantic and nightclub impressario Steve Strange. Ure then replaced John Foxx for Ultravox's next album, Vienna, which would become their most successful to date, far surpassing any of the previous Ultravox (or Foxx's) albums. As with Systems of Romance, it was produced in Germany by Conny Plank. Ure knew of Ultravox's past, being a fan of Systems to the point where the new four-piece outfit (Ultravox mark three, often called "the classic line-up") played songs from the album on tours with Ure singing Foxx's lyrics. Released on Chrysalis Records in mid 1980, the Vienna album produced the band's first UK top 40 hit with Sleepwalk, whilst the album itself peaked at #14. Some months later, however, the band achieved a substantial hit with the title track (inspired by Carol Reed's The Third Man). Accompanied by a highly distinctive video, the single peaked at #2 in early 1981 (infamously kept off the top spot by Joe Dolce's novelty hit "Shaddap You Face"). On the strength of the single, the album then re-entered the chart and reached #3 in early 1981.
This was soon followed by Rage in Eden (1981), with the band returning to Conny Plank's studio for what turned out to be a difficult recording session. The band had the difficult task of following the huge success of Vienna with something of equal stature. Whereas Vienna had been gigged a great deal prior to a three-week recording process, Rage in Eden took over three months and confounded people once more. Along with its singles "The Thin Wall" and "The Voice", the album featured a long track in three parts on the second side, leading some critics to decry the band as "the new Genesis", something which was well wide of the mark.
Ultravox teamed up with legendary producer George Martin for 1982's Quartet, which became their most successful album in the U.S. and undertook a major world tour known as the Monument Tour. The tour was recorded and released as a live LP in 1983 and once again hit the UK top ten. Ure had quit from Visage by this time in order to concentrate solely on Ultravox (Currie remained with Visage for a while longer, but he too had left them by 1984).
1984's successful Lament continued the band's run of top ten albums and produced three top 40 hit singles, including the international hit "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes". However, this album was the last to feature the "classic" line-up of the band. Towards the end of 1984, a "greatest hits" compilation spanning the band's 1980s output was released entitled "The Collection". It was preceded by a new single, Love's Great Adventure, which was accompanied by a popular Indiana Jones-style spoof video. The Collection went triple Platinum and reached #2 in the UK album chart, the band's highest ever peak.
At this time, Ure also co-wrote and helped produce the 1984 Band Aid single "Do They Know It's Christmas?". The group also appeared at Live Aid the following year and played four of their hit singles (Vienna, Reap the Wild Wind, Dancing with Tears in My Eyes and One Small Day). Later in 1985, Ure scored a #1 solo hit with "If I Was" and his solo album "The Gift" reached #2 in the UK.
Ultravox reconvened in 1986, but Warren Cann was fired from the band at the beginning of sessions for their U-Vox album. Cann emigrated to the US and retired from music to become an actor. The U-Vox album is widely regarded as the band's creative low point with even Currie (and later Ure) describing it as "unfocused". Although it continued their string of top ten albums in the UK, the relatively mediocre and declining performance of its singles prompted both Ure and Cross to leave the band. Ure subsequently concentrated on his solo career with varying levels of success, and Cross retired from music altogether and returned to his former career as a psychotherapist. Billy Currie and Robin Simon reunited in 1989 as the short-lived Humania, performing live shows but never making a release until 2006, when Currie released a Humania-recorded album, Sinews of the Soul. Currie reformed Ultravox again in 1992 with Tony Fenelle to record Revelation, and later Sam Blue replaced Fenelle in a new five-piece Ultravox line-up, lending his voice to their final release, Ingenuity (1996).
An anthology of unreleased Ultravox material is currently in development.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Official Homepage: www.ultravox.org.uk
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