Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ultravox! Ha!-Ha!-Ha!

Am I the only person in the world who loves the first three Ultravox albums? Well, no, I know that I am not. My two older brothers are the ones who initially introduced them to me and I then went on to share them with other friends. Both Jims liked the albums and so did Herb. In fact one of the Jims made me a painting called "The Frozen Juans" which was based on the Ultravox song "The Frozen Ones". The painting was of a refrigerator full of sombrero wearing little guys.

But, I haven't really come across anyone else that seems to know the records. My favorite is "Ha!-Ha!-Ha!" (1977) which is one of those albums that I became so familiar with that I can start singing the next song at the exact time that it starts. You know what I mean?

It's a crazy combination of early synth glam electronic rock and punk. The album has a great sense of fun in it. When you listen you can feel how much the band must have been enjoying themselves in the studio, its experimental and loose and feels off-the-cuff while it maintains really solid arrangement and songs. It's definitely not for everyone, but come on! it's gotta be for some one! I mean, I like it, why doesn't everybody else?

This is the Ultravox! that existed before Midge Ure joined them and took them into the charts with singles like Vienna and Dancing With Tears In My Eyes. This Ultravox! yes, it had an exclamation point at the time, was led by John Foxx. I don't know much about these guys. I'm not one to delve too deeply into the history of the musicians I listen to. I wish I was, but instead I'll focus on the way the music has been with me for so many years.

The record makes me think of winter. Come to think of it, a lot of music makes me think of winter. I don't know if I listen to more music in the wintertime or if it somehow resonates with me more during those cold months, but much of my album collection makes me think of icy sidewalks in freezing winter nights. Ha!-Ha!-Ha! makes me think of Jim's big old car cruising up and down the sleepy streets of my home town. It brings back images of busted up old factories surrounded by the bony fingers of leafless brambles and trees. It's screaming and swooping guitars and its spacey analog synthesizers make me remember a late-night Boston-bound train careening through a snowstorm.

Have you ever heard the music that I am talking about?

1. ROckWrok (Foxx) – 3:34
2. The Frozen Ones (Foxx) – 4:07
3. Fear in the Western World (Foxx/Currie/Cross/Cann/Shears) – 4:00
4. Distant Smile (Foxx/Currie) – 5:21
5. The Man Who Dies Every Day (Foxx/Currie/Cross/Cann/Shears) – 4:10
6. Artificial Life (Foxx/Currie) – 4:59
7. While I'm Still Alive (Foxx) – 3:16
8. Hiroshima Mon Amour (Foxx/Currie/Cann) – 5:13

I had the album on a good old Maxell cassette. On the reverse side was their third record, "Systems of Romance", which I listened to far less. It was still great but it didn't have the chaos and immediacy that Ha!-Ha!-Ha! had for me. Why was it that this obscure British music from 1977 appealed so much to me in 1987 Massachusetts? I'm not sure. Who knows why any music or art actually works for anybody in particular? It felt real to me. It seemed like it was made by real people. In the late eighties, there wasn't much around that felt that way to me. Anyway at that time, I was mostly listening to music from the past decades. I had my contemporary favorites like R.E.M., Robyn Hitchcock, The Police but the records that really became mine were things like Pink Floyd's "Atom Heart Mother" and Yes' "The Yes Album". I was listening with all my concentration to Roger Waters and Suzanne Vega, Dire Straits and Kate Bush, Jane Siberry and Syd Barrett. And, strangely, Ultravox!

They somehow fit in with my love of psychedelic music. Their piercing reverbed guitar lines reminded me of albums like "Saucer Full Of Secrets". I got that same feeling in my gut as I got from those early Floyd albums or Jefferson Airplane or King Crimson or Moody Blues. It doesn't really make much sense musically I guess, but there was something in the ingredients of those early Ultravox! albums that left the same taste as those late sixties albums.

Also, it felt like a discovery, like it was our little secret. I'm pretty sure that Jim, Jim, and I were the only ones in my high school who regularly listened to these albums. It was like a little club. Once again, it was thanks to my brothers that I even ever heard the stuff.

For a while, there was no way to get a hold of these first three albums. In 2006 they were released on CD with bonus tracks. I haven't heard any of those. I'm not even sure I'm interested in hearing the outtakes and live versions etc. But Wikipedia tells me that they were on The Old Grey Whistle Test and I'll have to search for that. Also in 1999, The Church covered the song Hiroshima Mon Amour. My band in high school covered that in 1986 thank you very much. By the way, I also was really into the Church and I still am but I'll save that for another day.

In the meantime, you can find Ha!-Ha!-Ha! on Itunes right here: Oops, no I guess you can't. They don't seem to be on Itunes.

Well, they are on Rhapsody and you can go there and get 25 Free Listens if you want. UPDATE: Turns out those albums are NOT on Rhapsody.

I'm sure you can find them some other way. Like maybe on SeeQPod.

Here are the albums on Amazon:

I hope you like it.


Henning said...

I just discovered that I had already written about this album here:

debl said...

Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom is like that for me -- I could sing the entire album without prompts and get all the songs in order, even now.

norbo said...

Rhapsody only has the later Midge Ure stuff - unless I'm missing something. I have checked many times for ha! ha! ha!.

Some of the songs from the first two albums covered by John Foxx solo are on Rhapsody under John Foxx.

I've always wondered what i would have been like to see "Fear in the Western World" performed live.

Henning said...

Norbo, you are right. Its not on Rhapsody. I don't know what I was thinking. I'll update my entry. Thanks.

norbo said...

I had just checked last week. I was actually hoping you'd found something I hadn't.

Now that you've brought this topic up again - I'm going to finally buy those extended CDs. Some of the mp3 copies I have seem to have been ripped from a crackling record.

Anonymous said...

RapidShare via my favorite music blog, the Post Punk Progressive Pop Party:

norbo said...

So I finally have the first 3 albums on CD. The liner notes contain much more info than I expected and the bonus tracks are better than I expected too. On thing I hadn't realized was that Ha!Ha!Ha! was the first album that Steve Lillywhite produced - he later produced XTC's Drums and Wires and Black Sea - and U2 among others.