The 27-year hunt for a mystery New Wave song: Solved!
March 1, 2015 2:10 PM   Subscribe

In 1986, a German teenager hit "record" on his cassette player to catch a New Wave song from the radio. But he missed the intro, and so had no idea what the song was called or who the artist was. Contacting music journalists in the 1990s proved unfruitful, so in 2002 he posted it online on his "Most Wanted" music page. For 11 years, the mystery song - known as Stay (The second time around) for its lyrics - was the source of intense speculation and detective work (including in AskMe), with dozens of potential matches eliminated. A YouTube post in 2007 broadened the search, but still yielded no answers. It wasn't until 2013, when a Swedish Radio host chanced upon a Reddit thread about the song and played it on air, that the mystery was finally solved by two listeners.

The song was identified as "On the Roof" by Swedish actor and artist Johan Lindell off his album Ghost Rider, released in 1985. In a longer interview with Swedish Radio (in Swedish), he says that the song Ghost Dancing off the same album was a club hit in Germany, and that is probably why On the Roof ended up on German radio. To the great delight of many internet fans, the album was released on Spotify/iTunes/Amazon in December of 2013. Other fans have made remastered and sped up versions to better match the slightly distorted sound of the original cassette recording.
posted by gemmy (41 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
Everyone should have a song that haunts them and the opportunity to hear it again.
posted by One Hand Slowclapping at 2:32 PM on March 1, 2015 [35 favorites]

That's not a bad tune. Very Simple Minds. Although I think I probably prefer the fuzzy compressed recorded-off-German-radio version to the "HD Original". I might have spent a decade trying to track it down as well.
posted by Jimbob at 2:45 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

AskMe would have solved it in five minutes if it had existed then.
posted by briank at 3:06 PM on March 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

For those of us devoted to music from this period, this is an exceptional find. Like a time capsule full of New Wave goodness. Great post, gemmy.
posted by Mike Mongo at 3:06 PM on March 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

AskMe would have solved it in five minutes if it had existed then.
posted by pravit at 3:09 PM on March 1, 2015 [23 favorites]

I love it. It kind of reminds me of kind of a combination of Shriekback and Russ Ballard. which means it truly deserves a Mann Montage shot.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:15 PM on March 1, 2015

Everyone should have a song that haunts them and the opportunity to hear it again.

I did.

It was 1986, I was 19, and in a year out before I went to university. I heard a song on the radio that struck me to the heart, gorgeous echoing guitars over a resigned, weary, melancholy lyric about coming back to your hometown that just captured England in the Eighties to a tee.

how's paul,
is he working?
no, who works these days?

Never heard it again, but the sound, that stayed in my head.

About 15 years later, I found it, although it was a struggle as by then I could barely remember the lyrics, just the sound, and when I tracked it down, I almost didn't listen in case the memory had become bigger than the reality.
posted by reynir at 3:17 PM on March 1, 2015 [14 favorites]

It's such a satisfying feeling to finally KNOW.

AskMe would have solved it in five minutes if it had existed then.

On the other hand, we (well, the blog I tweeted at) got this one!
posted by capricorn at 3:20 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

This song used to haunt me from mp3 captures of finnish 90's comedy radio show. It was used in several episodes and the main writer of the show was a well-known pop-aficionado. The answer was swedish New Wave from early 80's, of course.
posted by Free word order! at 3:42 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lindell was mostly singing in Swedish, afaik, so I would assume that even people who knew who he is had trouble identifying the "export" version of that song after a roundtrip via German radio and analogue tape (I mean, he barely remembered it himself). For the completionist, the original version of the album is Goda Grannar ("Good neighbours"), where the song is titled Lämna någonting kvar ("Leave something behind").

The stuff on that album is pretty standard Swedish new wave stuff around that time, with a big dose of pretentiousness and horribly mannered singing styles. Lustans Lakejer was the major name (using more of an "I'm an international playboy" than the art school angle that others used). It hasn't exactly aged well, and most of was pretty bad back at the time too, if you're asking me :-) (You can also draw a direct line from this stuff to things like Roxette, via the people involved, which makes it even worse :-D)


Well, Gemmy correctly associated it with continental new wave, and brought up Kaj Kindvall, a radio DJ who's been running Swedish top lists since 1970 (he retired just a couple of months ago), so not all bad.
posted by effbot at 3:58 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know the goddamn song, but tell me this, what is the fourth line that Chuck D says in the intro of Bring the Noise?

Bass! How low can you go? Death row, what a brother know.
Once again back it's the incredible, rhyme animal, the [Insert Word Here]

I've been trying to solve this one since the late '80s.

Lyric sites suggest "incredible" again, or "untenable". In the song it sounds like he says "uncannable" but that isn't a word, and "un-cannibal" is only funny to me for some reason. I've watched live videos, I've listened to covers, I've hunted and hunted, but there is no clear answer. It has become my white whale.

Damn it, now I have to listen to it again.
posted by quin at 4:10 PM on March 1, 2015

It's like that old Married With Children episode where the Dad goes nuts trying to find the name of the song that goes, "mmmmhmmmm him"
posted by Renoroc at 4:10 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

quin: it's "the uncannable" (though I know it's sort of not really a word), it fits both sonically and topically.
posted by chimaera at 4:14 PM on March 1, 2015

Uncannable, possibly as in "canned music", possibly as in "put in the can".

For personal reference, my own haunted song is a version of 42nd Street that I _think_ was playing on the CBC about 30 years ago, done by some sort of middle-eastern klezmer/swing band I've never been able to track down.
posted by mhoye at 4:15 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Per Rap Genius, it's "uncannable."
posted by Renoroc at 4:19 PM on March 1, 2015

Deja vu for me, I posted my own "lost song, tape-recorded in the 1980s" to AskMe last month. I haven't done nearly as much leg work as this fellow. Very happy for him that he found it at last! He deserves to, considering his efforts.
posted by Italian Radio at 4:20 PM on March 1, 2015

Mine is a band called Suck, who made an album of poppy late 90s indie rock the name of which I can't remember. I downloaded this album way back when, and the only place I had it was an MP3 CD that got stolen out of my car; I happened to have a copy of one song on my computer.

As you might guess, this band would likely be impossible to Google even if they weren't a totally small time act from 15+ years ago.
posted by aaronetc at 4:26 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

mhoye : Uncannable, possibly as in "canned music", possibly as in "put in the can".

In the absence of a way to confirm it one way or another, this is plausible enough to satisfy me. But if I ever meet him, I'm going to ask Chuck D, because damn it, it's a twenty five year old burr under my saddle.
posted by quin at 4:26 PM on March 1, 2015

Or you can ask him on Twitter.
posted by chimaera at 4:34 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Done. Now we'll have to see if he replies. (Sorry for the derail.)
posted by quin at 4:59 PM on March 1, 2015

Chuck D ‏@MrChuckD 5 minutes ago
@iconomicon The UN-Canable.... meaning can't limit me to being mere packaged 'product'.
7:55 PM

Well, there you go. White whale caught.
posted by quin at 6:02 PM on March 1, 2015 [31 favorites]

The internet. Amazing, eh?

First the OP, and then direct from the ChuckD's mouth...
posted by symbioid at 6:12 PM on March 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

I definitely have a song I've been wondering about, but I can't remember any of the lyrics. The vocals sounded like The Ramones while the bass lead reminded me of New Order. Have never heard it before and haven't heard it since.
posted by gucci mane at 6:44 PM on March 1, 2015

Doesn't everyone have a white whale? Mine is an early piece of electronica from the mid 70's that my father had on vinyl. He said it was written in celebration of Voyagers I and II and their endless rolling journey into the great emptiness. But knowing him, that might have been just his own personal interpretation. I can still hear the arpeggios in my mind's ear, but I haven't actually heard it for about... 35 years? Every now again I spend an afternoon searching for it, but I don't have enough concrete information to go by -- though I'd recognize it instantly if I found it.
posted by brambleboy at 7:21 PM on March 1, 2015

Here's mine. Though I haven't put nearly the effort the featured story guy did.
posted by Mitheral at 7:54 PM on March 1, 2015

when i was a teenager in 1986 i also hit record on a song off the radio that i've been trying to track down ever since. while i do have the advantage of at least knowing that the singer is Lata Mangeshkar, she in turn might be one of the most prolific recording artists of any era and her career spans at least 60 years. i can still sing it phonetically to this day. i have stacks of cassettes purchased from Indian markets over the years, and while each and every one is an absolute treasure, they don't bring me any closer to finding a legit version or MY song.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 7:56 PM on March 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I found my lost song several years ago on YouTube. I heard it once on a country station in 1982, and never forgot the tune, although I never heard the song again. I remembered only one line, the title of the song, but that was enough to locate it on YouTube. It was Karla Bonoff's Please Be The One. I was lucky enough to see her perform a couple of years ago, and yes, she played the song.
posted by jenh526 at 8:29 PM on March 1, 2015

My whitewahle was "(Keep Feeling) Fascination." I'd heard it on a road trip in my early teens and it wasn't until well into my twenties that I managed to sort it out.

But, until inspired by this thread to give it a listen, I'd never seen the music video. So, that's cool.
posted by oddman at 8:41 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

My white whale only has one recalled line:
"When they pulled him from the wreckage, he still had on his shades."

(might be her/she/her)
posted by notsnot at 8:44 PM on March 1, 2015

It seems like it'd be too easy, but is that Burma Shave by Tom Waits, notsnot? That line (w/ a she/her) always stuck in my head, too.
posted by hap_hazard at 9:16 PM on March 1, 2015

I have a good memory for music and only listen to really mainstream, repetitive radio stations.

I am forever destined to be the Ishmael of radio songs.
posted by GuyZero at 10:25 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a country song that I heard in the 80s that, due to the whim of childhood memory, has stuck with me all these years in a completely intangible fashion, as it played during some childhood road trip. All I remember is one section, with lyrics set up like a court case, talked rather than sung, and it was a metaphor for love or the relationship or something.
posted by Palindromedary at 10:33 PM on March 1, 2015

I had a song (or rather a tune) haunt me for about as long as the one in the post…

In the mid-to-late ’80s I happened to hear a chiming 14-note melody on my TV - only the TV wasn’t tuned to a proper channel at the time, but rather somehow picking up some audio from a (shortwave?) radio station. There was no voice, or announcement, just the same melody repeated several times. I never had the presence of mind to record it.

When, much later, I heard about shortwave numbers stations, I thought maybe it was related to those, but I found nothing to match it on The Conet Project CDs, or elsewhere.

Then, last November, listening to the Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone show on BBC 6 Music, he played some tracks from OMD’s Dazzle Ships album. One of these, Swiss Radio International, was the melody I remembered, a recording of the eponymous radio station’s ‘interval signal’: mystery (finally) solved!
posted by misteraitch at 3:49 AM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have a couple of these, a lot of them are electronic tracks from the pre-smartphone era when i'd just let low bitrate shoutcast streams play on my crappy little speakers hooked up to a tiny radio shack amp for hours and hours a day.

The one that sticks out in my mind though, is a really really awesome 90s shoegaze/grunge version of Across the Universe by the beatles.

It was like, alternate cut of pipe at the gates of dawn hilariously long and jammy. The best way i can describe it is if you got early deerhoof, added over the top huge sound production like the transition between the first two nirvana albums, and added a slightly raspier but still pretty high pitched vocalist.

See, i used to live in the house of a guy who did sound for a bunch of big clubs and venues in seattle in the late 80s up until the mid 90s. Any band, big or small, crappy or good, he had done sound for them. He had a really fancy custom wheeled PA rig he brought with him everywhere he had designed to perfectly fit like a lego piece in to the back of his van so he could unload or load it all in one shot. Almost always mixed on his own console, and almost always recorded the shows. Apparently quite a few places even just rented a lot of the PA gear from him and his friends. He also pretty much invented a lot of cool live video stuff you see bands like NIN doing with light walls and stuff, but with shitty 80s projectors, amigas, and all kinds of hacked together custom crap he could go on for hours and hours about that was so fucking cool to young nerdy me.

But anyways, i'm getting far afield here. The main point is that he had a fucking gigantic assload of super rare and interesting live recordings. They had gone from DAT to really early CD-R, and some had been re-burned to newer, hardier CD-Rs over the years. They were, for the most part, amazing quality. On par with most professionally mastered "live albums" i've heard and better than quite a few. A lot of them had cryptic labels, only saying the band or even being named after a track. Some of them just had a date and a venue. He could almost always tell you what they were by looking at the disc or playing a track or two, but some of them were just "i don't fucking remember, track 6 is kick ass though!". There's stuff like this i found because of that.

And to compound the confusion, I started surreptitiously doing nice rips of some of them with EAC when no one was paying attention... and cryptically labelling them because i didn't know what the hell to put down. I'd know the band, but no track names. or worse.

So fast forward, a few years have gone by. I'm just at the beginning of college, it's a perfect freaking summer day for seattle. Maybe 80 degrees. We're up in the attic of that house and it's like a toaster oven. Fans blasting, sun shining in the huge windows and lighting up the sky blue slanted ceiling. The room is about the size of a cramped 1 car garage, and there's a huge mackie PA system set up on top of a couple dressers at one end of it. I don't remember who got up and put it on, but someone put on that cover of Across the Universe. And i was laying there, on the purple satin sheets of a ridiculous california king bed that filled almost the whole room. Just staring out the window through the tree at the clouds. I was baked out of my fucking gourd, the music was about as loud as you can possibly imagine, and it was perfect.

And at least so far, it seems like i'll never hear that damn song again. The house burned down, and all the CDs were in it. Whatever digital copy of it i have has long since vanished with sloppy file transfers and flaky backups.

All i can really hope for is that some day, someone will post an askme or something about one of the demo tapes or something i do still have, and i'll be able to go "oh crap! i know what that is! it's by these guys, and this is the story behind that one..."
posted by emptythought at 4:49 AM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

@brambleboy. Mid 70s arpeggiated space music? It's obvious, but Vangelis maybe?
posted by Italian Radio at 10:00 AM on March 2, 2015

I'm sure there's an 80s song called something generic like 'Go Crazy' that features a catchy (bari?) sax line and contains the deep lyrics (I think?) - 'hey! I want to talk to you / Ain't sayin' nothings new / … '. I'm kinda sure the album cover was mostly black and red. And jagged.

posted by mazola at 10:08 AM on March 2, 2015

Mine was a song I heard a few times on the radio back when I was at IU in the early 90s. I never caught the artist or the title, but the singer sounded like Juliana Hatfield. For so many years, the lyric "I'd rather be without you than be anything like her" stayed with me, but that was all I had.

And then, through the magic of Google, I found it! "For Sure" by Tiger Trap was the mystery song.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:50 AM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I had two, one of which I eventually solved.

The first was an Italian pop song. I had an Italian pen pal in the mid 1980s who sent me a mix tape of his favorite songs. None were labeled. Most were good, but one was exceptional. Absolutely loved it. As I recall, it started with strong driving flute (think it was real, may have been synthesized) melody and a deep driving beat. Male singer.

I lost touch with the pen pal and the tape itself was lost after loaning it to a careless acquaintance.

The lyrics were all in Italian, so what little I remember is too garbled to produce results in a search engine. I even tried searching for it when I was in Italy, but I didn't have much useful information nor can I carry a tune.

The mystery continues.

The second. While driving with a friend in high school (mid 80s - I can still recall the exact location), I caught part of a really catchy electronic pop song on the radio. But the station didn't name the song or band (shakes fist). I listened intently over the next few weeks in the hope it was in the rotation, but they didn't play it again.

I figured it out some 20 years later. I forget exactly how, whether by accident or while actively looking for it (which I did from time to time). As I recall, I found out the name of the band before finding the actual song. I even purchased the only album I could find by the band, but the song wasn't on the CD. (Note: the band isn't well know but probably don't qualify as obscure; however, this used to be a lot harder before everything was online :).

The song: The Sparks, Music that You Can Dance To.
posted by Davenhill at 11:49 AM on March 2, 2015

Soundsearch / Soundhound can identify a lot of music now.. I've used them to ID unknown songs on old tapes.

You could use Youtube for this too, it's probably the only case in which a copyright notice is actually sought.
posted by unmake at 1:16 PM on March 2, 2015

Kinda almost similar to this: I grew up watching The Dukes Of Hazzard, and for my entire life I never understood part of the lyrics and just assumed it was country mushmouth gibberish:
Just'a good ol' boys
Never meanin' no harm.
Beats all you never saw
Been in trouble with the law
Since the day they was born

Derp a der derp
Ferp a der derp
Someday the mountain's gonna get 'em
But the law never will
One day Mrs. Starscream and I were being goofy, as we often are, and somehow burst into this song. And she sang words that after 35 years I had never known and just assumed didn't exist!
Staightnin' the curves
Flatnin' them hills
Reason 1,003,744 why she's a keeper.
posted by starscream at 3:55 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm so glad this song will get play (the second time around).
posted by umbú at 8:15 PM on March 3, 2015

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