THE 1980’s – Big Hair, Boomboxes, Synths, and New Wave – Pseudo Echo

Listening (B Canham) and A Beat for You (B Canham/T Lugton) 1984 and Don’t Go (Canham/Leigh) 1985 and Funky Town (S Greenburg) – Pseudo Echo 1986

Pseudo Echo started out as two high school mates, Brian Canham (1962) and Pierre Gigliotti at Greenwood High School, Bundoora (Melb) far left above, who were inspired by the New Wave/New Romantic music of such UK groups as Ultravox, Spandeau Ballet, Human League, Japan, ABC and Duran Duran. Brian Canham (vocals, guitar, keyboard) and Pierre Gigliotti (synthesizer/bass/vocals) added Tony Lugton (keyboards, synthesizer/vocals) to become the original trio that was Pseudo Echo second from left above; named after a sound effect setting on their keyboards. The boys deployed a drum machine to deliver half of the band’s rhythm section, until Anthony Argiro was subsequently recruited on the skins, far right above. Below UK New Romantics, can you identify them, answer below.

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They were discovered by Ian Meldrum when he caught their performance at The Club Disco in Collingwood, he was surprised that they were not signed to a recording contract and made it his business to promote them by making them the first unrecorded band to appear on Countdown two weeks later, on June 26,1983. L-R – Tony Lugton, Pierre Gigliotti, Brian Canham, Anthony Argiro.

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Pseudo Echo were stylishly-dressed and perfectly coiffured, renowned for their large harem pants belted high on the hip, puffy sleeves, mascaraed eyes, asymmetrical, blow-waved hairstyles and keytars, they were riding the New Romantic wave of popularity and looked the part, Meldrum was the marketing behemoth behind them, and they became regulars on Countdown.

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They signed to EMI and their debut album Autumnal Park, was recorded at Studio 310 (Syd) with Brit producer John Punter (Japan, Roxy Music), they became accidental popstars, and although the album had pure pop songs like Listening and A Beat For You it was generally filled with moody electronic soundscapes heavily influenced by the likes of Japan (Brian Canham had the David Sylvian drone down pat), Roxy Music and Duran Duran. In fact they soon became Melbourne’s own Duran Duran, the popstars you could bump into if you went to the right clubs or shopped in the right places, and other New Romantic bands like Kids In The Kitchen, Real Life, and Modesty followed in their wake.

Pop perfect debut hit for PE

Listening was a national #4 hit, and while lyrically the song was simple, lacking clever metaphors or poetic imagery reflecting life’s experiences, it was really all about the sound, how the words complemented the beat, after all this was intended to be impactful dance music, destined for the clubs and DJs’ playlists. They followed up with A Beat for You, another competent example of 80’s synth-pop which charted #12 when lifted off Autumnal Park, which was also a hit and charted a creditable #11.

Digital drums, synth bass, Roland keyboards, must be the 80’s.

When the band recorded their second album Love An Adventure in 1985 with producer Mark Berry, the Leigh brothers, James and Vince had replaced keyboardist Tony Lugton and drummer Anthony Argiro respectively, and ten of the eleven tracks were original songs by the band, they were stylish, hook-laden, dancefloor bangers, with the notable tracks including – A Beat For You, Living In A Dream, Try, and Don’t Go.   

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Don’t Go, a Brian Canham /James Leigh composition, was another synthesizer-laden hit with an urgent and propulsive beat, it became the band’s next top 10 hit, when lifted from their second album Love an Adventure, it charted #4, and was quickly followed by the title track which hit #5 in early 1986. In a very short time, the previously unknown Pseudo Echo, had notched up three top five hits and two top 20 albums in just two years, the power and reach of Meldrum and the ABC’s show Countdown at this time was undeniable, as Pseudo Echo rode the crest of a new wave of success.  

Propulsive beat, the boys had all been to mullet central for styling.

But the best had yet to come for Pseudo Echo, their next hit, Funky Town, would soon deliver their first national #1 and a genuine international success, sell over a million copies and mark the band’s move back to rocking guitars and away from synthesizers. Below L-R 17 year-old Brian Canham playing with his group the Ozrolites at Greenwood High School, Pseudo Echo Mk 1, and Mk 2.

When Pseudo Echo entered the recording studio in 1986 they were one of the hottest live acts in the country, so it was surprising that they opted to cover a disco hit from 1980 written by Steven Greenburg, who with session vocalist Cynthia Johnson, were the founders of the US group Lipps Inc. The Lipps Inc. version of Funky Town featured disco guitar riffs, electro beats and catchy vocal hooks, it was recorded at the Sound 80 studios in Minneappolis (USA). The lyrics “Gotta move to a town that’s right for me “, reflected the frustration that Greenburg felt about living in MInneappolis, he was a big fan of Motown groups like the Temptations, and Earth Wind and Fire, but Minneapolis was a place where very little black music was played on the radio and life for him there was generally bland and uninspiring, for Greenburg, New York City was his “Funkytown”. Below Lipps Inc- Greenburg is far left with Cynthia Johnson, and others.

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Funky Town was a huge international hit for Lipps Inc, #1 in twenty-eight countries, which remained the record for multiple #1 locations internationally until 25 years later when Madonna released Hung Up which charted #1 in 41 countries, the original record sold over two million copies.

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The song proved to be a one-hit wonder for Lipps Inc who never charted again. Pseudo Echo were taking a chance on recording a song which was so recognizable and had already been a huge hit only six years before, but their cover version was quite different, the music was de-discoised, it rocked, synthesizers were eschewed for a gutsier rock sound, harem pants, and New Romantic haircuts were replaced by stone-washed jeans, high top sneakers, tee shirts, and shorter permed mullets, which all resonated with the fans.

A classic cover version that sold over one million copies and is still as fresh and engaging as it was in 1986.

The synth-infused disco sound had been replaced by driving guitars and percussion while the catchy vocal hooks remained, augmented by a ringing guitar solo by Brian Canham at the bridge, it sold over 1 million copies worldwide, and pushed sales of the album Love An Adventure to 350,000 copies and #14 in Aust, #21 Sweden and #57 in the US. Funky Town was an inspired cover version, charting #1 in Australia, NZ, Canada and was a top 10 hit in USA, UK, Sweden, South Africa and top 20 in four other European countries.

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But the band were now moving toward a heavier rock sound, more Van Halen than “hairdresser band”, and at the instigation of James and Vince Leigh, synths and sequencers were replaced by soft metal rock riffs and percussion on the band’s third album Race, which staggered to #18 and disappeared from the charts after 11 weeks. Canham would fall out with the Leigh brothers over musical choices and Funky Town would be the last major chart success for Pseudo Echo. Four years later they would disband but later reform in the new millennium to play the heritage rock circuit. Brian Canham has established his own commercial jingle company Mumbo Jumbo, and has produced hits for such local artists as Chocolate Starfish and Anthony Callea.  L-R Teenage Canham, Brian then and now, Canham 2019.

Answers to New Romantics Collage : Duran Duran, David Bowie, Brian Ferry, Visage, Spandeau Ballet, Culture Club (Boy George), and Howard Jones.

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