Iconic pop tune gets re-imagined for the 21st Century…
When it comes to pop tunes, there’s a select few that manage to be immediately recognisable regardless of whatever decade they were recorded in. So the iconic opening bars of The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ have been so impressed on popular culture that it’s difficult to imagine that there’s anyone unfamiliar with the tune anywhere on the planet.
Now the song is being re-imagined for the 21st Century care of one of the tune’s original composers in collaboration with dark pop chanteuse Polly Scattergood. Bruce Wooley had been part of the original proto-Buggles lineup alongside Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, but left before the outfit released ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ back in 1979 (although Wooley did release his own take on the song care of The Camera Club the same year).
There’s a timeless quality to the song that established Trevor Horn’s production chops – and it’s no surprise that he later hung up his hat as a performing musician to focus on production full time. The song is a very busy composition that’s packed with hooks, a driving percussion and a clean production style that rapidly propelled it to the top of the charts not just in the UK, but worldwide.
The video for the song was also notable for its evocative visual imagery. Shot by Russell Mulcahy (who also did videos for bands such as The Human League and OMD and later went on to direct cult classic film Highlander in 1986) the video also features a young Hans Zimmer on keyboards. But it’s the silver-jumpsuited ‘Spirit Of The Radio’, the band’s metallic lamé suits and Trevor Horn’s ridiculously oversized glasses that made the video so memorable. ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ also had the honour of effectively heralding the advent of MTV when the video for the song became the first to be screened when MTV launched in 1981.
The new version (which carries the subtitle of ‘Dark Star’) opts for a radical deconstructed adaptation of the song in conjunction with the Radio Science Orchestra (a project established by Bruce Wooley). As a result, Polly Scattergood’s laconic vocals in tandem with the orchestral arrangement lend the song an intriguingly evocative sound that still manages to lose none of the original composition’s power.
“Polly is often described as ethereal, dark, intense and experimental” suggests Wooley, “while her musical style has been described as “early 21st century electro-dance-pop of London proper”. We simply couldn’t think of anyone better to breathe fresh life into this classic song.”
“I remember listening to ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ as a teenager” recalls Scattergood, “It was always playing in my school canteen and it was one of those iconic tracks everyone instantly knew and loved, so when Bruce asked me to collaborate with him and the Radio Science Orchestra on this re-working of it, I was naturally very excited. We both share a love of synths, so enjoyed spending time together in the studio experimenting with building a new soundscape for the track, layer by layer”.
The new video for the reworked version also features cameo appearances from synth pioneer Thomas Dolby and The Retronaut’s Wolfgang Wild, as well as animations by renowned Video Artist Louise Bellairs (The Art of Scared Geometry). A Roland CompuRhythm also makes an appearance 😉
It’s odd to think that the song at the time of its original release played around with themes of emerging technology and the advent of video. It’s the era that saw the rise of synthpop and (for the time) a radical approach to creating music that also dealt with themes of new technology. With the rise of the internet, downloading and streaming, music has already gone through yet another gear change which perhaps makes the core message of the song all the more apt.
A remix by Steve Dub (The Chemical Brothers’ engineer in residence) is also currently in the works and that release will follow in March.
Video Killed The Radio Star is released 24th February on Gramophone Records.
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.