Abducted by the 80s
by Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 6. 2012.
From The Urban Dictionary: “wang chung Going out and having fun, in a vague, undefined kind of way (since no one ever knew what Everybody Wang Chung Tonight meant, exactly).”
There you have it. Plenty of pop bands have written their names into the pop charts, and a lucky few have found their names reaching the highest strata of rock stardom. But how many, really, have become a widely recognized slang term?
It all came from the band’s biggest hit (but don’t call them one-hit wonders, please). “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” topped the American charts in 1986, when the ad-libbed use of the band’s name as a verb had everybody Wang Chunging and inadvertently immortalized the band for posterity.
While that was their biggest hit, many people forget that Wang Chung actually had a run of several Top 40 smashes in the 80s. These included the arty-synth-pop of “Dance Hall Days” and “Don’t Let Go,” the pure pop of “Hypnotize Me” and “Let’s Go” and the soundtrack hits “Fire in the Twilight” (from The Breakfast Club) and the moody title track to the film To Live and Die In LA.
The two constant members of Wang Chung — lead singer Jack Hues and bassist Nick Feldman — have played together on and off over the decades, even though they have not released an album of new material since 1989’s The Warmer Side of Cool. However in 2010 the band reunited in earnest and they have just come up with a new studio recording called Tazer Up! And to show that Wang Chung has totally embraced the new millennium, the album is only available via digital download.
Lead singer Jack Hues recently gave me a call from his British home to discuss his career, his band and his newest album.
The band had been together several years and released an album and some singles before “Dance Hall Days” became a huge hit. How surreal was the experience of hearing yourself all over the radio and MTV?
It was. As you say, we had put out an album on Arista Records in the UK. That was around 1981. We had a couple of singles from that. It kind of did okay, but it wasn’t as successful as they had hoped, I don’t think. They were happy to do a second album with us. We got a new manager around that time and he really advised us to sign directly to Geffen Records in Los Angeles, because they could have us being based out of the States, which was really unusual at that time. It still is unusual, to a degree. Geffen at that time was a small company, there were great people working for them. They put a lot of time into us. Got us on the radio, got us on MTV as you say, which was a very new thing at the time. It was amazing. Really amazing.
Over the years since then, “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” has become a bit of a standard. When you wrote it, did you have any idea it would last as long as it has?
No, certainly not that it would last as long as this. We were quite intent on having a number one record, but you can’t design that sort of thing. The album before was To Live and Die in LA, the movie soundtrack, and that had not been a commercial success. I think it was an artistic success. Of all of our albums, it’s probably the one that sounds best now. We’d really hit a bit of a crossroads. We can go on making these arty records and we’ll get dropped, or we can take seriously the idea that you have to have a number one record. So, we wanted that for “Everybody Have Fun Tonight.” Of course wanting it and getting it are two completely different things. And as you say, it still shows up on movies and adverts and people still seem to want to hear it, or at least know it.
The song also made the group sort of a pop culture catch phrase to this day because you decided to turn the band’s name into a verb. Looking back did you have any idea that line would generate so much lasting response?
No. It was very much a sort of throw-away ad lib that I did on the demo. The original demo was quite slow. I’ve always loved the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and the long fade out. Practically every song I wrote at that time at some point has a long fade out in it. “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” was like that. “Everybody Wang Chung tonight” came in on that. Then we offered it to Peter Wolf, the producer, of “Everybody Have Fun Tonight.” He said, “Oh, that’s a great line! You’ve got to use that in the chorus.” (laughs) It worked out well.
As much as I loved those songs, I’ve always been a little disappointed that some of your other singles that I thought were even better – like “Hypnotize Me,” “To Live and Die in LA,” “Let’s Go” and “Fire in the Twilight” are not as well remembered. When you are performing live, do you find that people had forgotten how many of your songs they like, beyond just “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” and to a lesser extent “Dance Hall Days?”
That’s very much the feeling. We did three years of touring [with other New Wave bands such as ABC, Berlin, Cutting Crew and Missing Persons in] the States. It was detectable, because the audience was not necessarily a Wang Chung audience as it were. Quite a lot of people would come up to us afterwards and say “We weren’t particularly coming here to see you guys, but we couldn’t believe how many powerful songs you had done.” “Hypnotize [Me],” “Let’s Go,” practically all the songs were MTV hits. Even “To Live and Die in LA,” even though it wasn’t in the top 40. [It peaked at 41 in 1985.] It did well on AOR radio. So, yeah, I think we were very lucky to be around in the 80s. There was a lot of radio and MTV was new and fresh. Geffen was great and really worked us hard. But we’re in the consciousness, now.
Looking back, were you ready for the attention?
The interesting thing was [band co-leader] Nick [Feldman] both continued to live in the UK, although we spent a lot of time in the States. In fact, we lived in LA for about 18 months when we were making the last album [The Warmer Side of Cool, which came out in 1989]. But I guess it was quite a good situation in that we could go to the States to do the tours and then when our promotional duties were done come back to the UK. In the UK these records weren’t hits at all. Geffen didn’t promote them in the UK. We didn’t have a specialist UK label. So we were pretty anonymous here. We sort of got the best of both worlds.
Early on you were almost constantly working, you released five albums in like seven years. Did you hit a point where you just felt you needed to slow down?
I guess with “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” that crossroads was a difficult one in some ways, because I think after that Nick was happy to carry on with the pop, party-type thing. I was more interested in making an arty record again. The result of that was The Warmer Side of Cool, which I think is probably our least effective album, although it’s got some interesting tracks on it. After that album, we reached an [impasse]. That was the time that we had to stop a bit.
After The Warmer Side of Cool you moved into some different musical avenues – soundtrack work, the one off group with Tony Banks [of Genesis], and your jazz project The Quartet. I believe you also did a solo album that never came out. Was it fun to explore other musical avenues?
Of course, yeah, yeah. When I left high school, I went to university and I did a music degree. That was in the late Seventies. I did and still study classical music. You could do a jazz course that was not particular to the UK at the time. I think my tastes in music have always been pretty eclectic. When I was doing that first Huang Chung [the band name’s original spelling, which lasted only one LP] album, there were all sort of little tributes and all sorts of things, that part of my conscious. To be able to be involved in all kind of different genres was important. Working with someone like Tony Banks was pretty amazing and demanding, in terms of a technical level, but that was always very interesting to me. Overall, I’m glad that my life has been completely in music. I’ve been very lucky. Everybody I know has to worry about paying the bills. (laughs) I’ve been able to amuse myself with all these different explorations.
Well, speaking of your inspirations, what was the first record you ever bought?
That was Please Please Me by The Beatles.
What was the first concert you ever saw?
I think it was Yes.
What was the first band that you saw and thought: wow, I’d love to do that?
It was watching The Beatles at the Royal Variety performance on the TV in the UK.
What music do you put on when you are in a bad mood to cheer you up?
It would be Mozart.
What song can automatically make you cry when you hear it?
Probably “She’s Leaving Home” [by The Beatles]. A more current one, there is a track from the Radiohead album In Rainbows called “Nude.” I find that a very emotional track.
What do you listen to when you are in the mood for romance?
I don’t know. That’s a hard one. Maybe Debussy.
What record would you say you have listened to more than any other in your life?
I would say probably Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Do you have any records you are ashamed to have in your collection and yet you kind of love?
(laughs) No, actually I’m pretty proud of all of them.
What song do you most wish that you wrote?
Probably, I’d say “Long Distance Love” by Lowell George and Little Feat. On second thought, that’s a great song, but I think the song I really wish I’d written was “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” [by Bob Dylan].
When did you decide it was time to get back to Wang Chung? It seems you toured periodically in the last decade, but 2010 seems to be the official reunion date.
Yeah. It’s partly a business thing, particularly the publishing contracts and stuff. Nick and I make a good deal more. But I think even before that, we met and talked about doing an album, because I worked in the time and Nick’s worked in them too, you know, on different projects. We thought, yeah, it’s a good idea to try and see what would a Wang Chung album be like in 2010 or whatever. We started thinking about it.
It has been over 20 years since the band released an album. How does it feel to get Tazer Up! out now?
It’s brilliant, it really is. We’re doing the album as a digital release. I still, being old-fashioned, crave holding something in my hand. On the other hand, I get that the way things are these days, it really is different to get stuff out. I think back in the Eighties, whenever we wrote a new song or did something, there was always this thing like you’ve got to hold it back. Not let them hear it until it actually comes out. Now, I think you can just put everything out there, especially recorded stuff. You can get into it and see who comes knocking on the door wanting to know if we want to do some music. Even that is a springboard for our live work. Back in the Eighties, the live work, I didn’t used to enjoy it too much. I found it a strain, I found it stressful. But now I love it. I love the fact that I can do the jazz parts and I’ve really gotten into playing the guitar. It really has renewed my interest in all of that. So, it feels good to get new music out.
Musically, you did some interesting things – like for example, “City of Lights” had a bit harder guitar sound that you are known for or “Overwhelming Feeling” is a more traditional piano ballad and “Justify Your Tone” has a psychedelic vibe and yet “Driving You” feels like classic Wang Chung. Did you enjoy playing with perceptions?
Yes, very much so. We did that back in the Eighties, which was part of the reason why people found it hard to get a handle on what this band Wang Chung was. (chuckles) Each album was quite different and every other track that was on the albums were often quite, very original. But I guess I grew up to think of Beatles records. A Beatles record like Revolver has a lot of sides to it. It’s one of the best albums ever made. When you think of the range of styles it covered, from “Taxman” to “Eleanor Rigby” to “I’m Only Sleeping” to George’s Indian track. Even Sgt. Pepper, “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Lucy in the Sky,” that eclecticism was very much how I thought an album should be. I never thought an album should quite be seamless, which is how the record labels always seem to want it. (laughs) As an artist, I always though I just wanted to explore many different styles and ways to express myself.
I believe “Abducted By the 80s” is the first single released from the new album, and while I think it’s a terrific song, radio airplay is so hard to gauge anymore. Do you still think in terms of hit singles?
I must say I’ve always been pretty bad at thinking that way. (laughs) I know there is all sorts of talk about albums and I think of albums from an artists’ point of view. That’s the perfect way to get the work, because you have the possibility to show what type of an artist you can be. But a single, I don’t know what that means, you know? I think a lot of the tracks on this current record could get radio play. The single that we’re going with is going to be an edited version of “Stargazing,” which is the long closing cut on the album. We’re old-fashioned enough to put a really good track like that as the last track to an album. That’s the track we’re going to try to get out there.
You included a remix of “Dance Hall Days” on the new album. Why did you decide to revisit that song?
I was an advocate of just putting out an album entirely of things like that. But, we sort of took it back, but essentially we quite liked this remix. It was done by some guys who live quite locally to me. I live in Canterbury. They’ve become friends and that was kind of nice. But I think having been away for so long, we thought “Well, let’s put ‘Dance Hall Days’ on the album for people who are kind of like: ‘Wang Chung, well what is this?'” That would contextualize it a bit more for them. Kick off with a bit they already knew of.
How interesting was it making the album faithful to the traditional Wang Chung sound and yet make sure it feels current?
That was very much what we wanted to do. We didn’t want to just make that sort of an Eighties record in the sense that it had just drum machines, synths and guitars. And sort of not really used drumbeats and stuff. But I think with Wang Chung, we do have an identifiable sound, whatever we do, actually. It’s partly to do with my voice, partly to do with the way Nick and I write and some of the influences that we have. So I’m happy that when a lot of people hear this, they go, “Wow, that’s a proper Wang Chung record.”