Who here remembers the ‘80s?
After the Gipper made it into the White House and the Republicans turned on the faux-toughness (which means sending millions of dollars to defense contractors and hundreds of soldiers to their deaths—oh yeah and invading Grenada! That was some itty-bitty peter bullshit), a lot of good people were worried about the possible advent of fascism. That was not pressing at the time, but the combination of militarism and escalating nuclear threats was more than unnerving.
And back in 1981 Heaven 17 released their first album, Penthouse and Pavement, featuring the single “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.” This didn’t make it on the radio in England back then, the BBC banned it for, presumably, insulting the Tories, but I sure danced to it many evenings in and around New York City in the early ‘80s.
Now that fascism is a real thing again, we can relive those days—or experience them for the first time, exciting!—and more, with a Heaven 17 box set, Play to Win: The Virgin Years. The subtitle hints at the band’s longevity—they are still around and touring—but the Virgin recordings are by far their best, and still unique. Musically, the band made bouncy, funky synth-pop, very much of their era, while lyrically they were unabashedly political. Along with the aforementioned anti-fascist dance number, there’s “Let’s All Make a Bomb,” “Crushed by the Wheels of Industry,” and the debut album’s title track, which is about corporate power and income inequality. And the great “Let Me Go,” one of the pop songs in my personal pantheon.
10 CDs of fuck-the-man, shit-is-fucked-up-and-bullshit goodness. 10 CDs of a band that was unimaginably ahead of their time. 10 CDs of music to beat back the fascists with, because be assured those motherfuckers can’t dance. Get your Antifa groove thang on.
Play to Win: The Virgin Years will be released April 5, pre-order from Amazon.
“Anyone who can write with insight and authority about Alas No Axis, Sonic Youth, Elvis Costello…Missy Mazzoli and William Britelle, and…Mahler…is okay in my book.”
“George Grella understood exactly.”
I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.