I want to be Forever Young
September 6, 2010 1:49 PM   Subscribe

In April 1984, an unknown band's first single pushed Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax" off the top spot in the German music charts. Big In Japan marked the beginning of Alphaville's lengthy career.

When Marian Gold, Frank Mertens Google Translate page, and Bernhard Lloyd Google Translate page first performed (as Forever Young), they only had a small handful of songs, many of which they would later record as Alphaville. After forming an artist collective in Münster and working on music in their off-hours, they finally renamed themselves as Alphaville and began shopping around their demo tape. WEA quickly signed them, and released Big In Japan in January of 1984. After the success of that single, the band quickly got to work on a full album, to be released later that year.

Forever Young was a giant success, charting in most of Europe and making a minor splash in the US. The album's new wave synthpop was well received, and eventually yielded three more singles: Sounds Like A Melody, Forever Young (easily their most famous track), and The Jet Set (video has odd synch issues).
Forever Young: A Victory Of Love, Summer In Berlin, Big In Japan (album version), To Germany With Love, Fallen Angel, Forever Young (alternate video), In The Mood, Sounds Like A Melody, Lies, The Jet Set (album version).

Bonus Tracks: Forever Young (1984 Dance Version), Sounds Like A Melody (1984 Extended Mix), The Jet Set (1985 Extended Version).
Alphaville spent most of 1984 promoting Forever Young and its singles across Europe, and by the end of the year, Frank Mertens was burned out and left the group. He was replaced by Ricky Echolette, and the band began to build their own studio and quickly went to work on their second project. While the first album had been performed nearly entirely on a Roland TR 606, a Korg MS-20, and an ARP Odyssey, the band was determined to expand their sound. And also to expand their ambition -- while Forever Young was a collection of singles, the next work would be a cohesive work.

Afternoons In Utopia began life as a double concept album, but after the studio balked, it was whittled down and finally released in 1986 as a single album length. A curious mystic journey across space and time, involving some of Timothy Leary's and John Lilly's concepts (specifically Space Migration-Intelligence Increase-Life Extension [S.M.I2.L.E.] and dolphin communication), Afternoons In Utopia features nearly 30 guest musicians. It yielded five singles: Dance With Me, Universal Daddy, Jerusalem (television appearance - not official video), Sensations, and Red Rose.
Afternoons In Utopia: IAO (International Aquarian Opera), Fantastic Dream, Jerusalem (album version), Dance With Me, Afternoons In Utopia (version incorporates IAO's acapella intro with main song), Sensations (album version), 20th Century, The Voyager, Carol Masters, Universal Daddy, Lassie Come Home, Red Rose, Lady Bright.

Bonus Tracks: Dance With Me (1986 Extended Version), Dance With Me (Paul Van Dyk Long Run), Dance With Me (Sebastian Komor Remix 2009), Sensations (1986 Extended Mix), Universal Daddy (Aquarian Dance Mix).
The cast of characters and recurring themes in Afternoons In Utopia played into Alphaville's desire to create a multi-media musical based on the project. This ambition never was fulfilled, as the band seemed to have already moved on toward their newest project -- a music based motion picture.

To date, aside from a New Years Eve concert before their career had even begun, Alphaville had not actually played any concerts. They were hoping to bypass the need to tour by taking a tip from the Beatles' playbook -- create a media event for fans to watch instead, allowing them to explore ideas they'd had since their days as part of the Nelson Project art collective. While they began the new album, a collection of tracks from their first two albums was released in East Germany, selected specifically to avoid any of the social commentary which was prevalent on both albums.

The Breathtaking Blue was finally released in 1989, to very little fanfare. WEA refused to do much promotion for the album (beginning the band's long feud with their music label), and the distinct shift in style was a shock to Alphaville's fans. Producer Klaus Schulze (of Tangerine Dream) worked with the band on a collection of tracks which were much more jazz influenced than anything on either of their first two albums. Recorded leisurely at Luna Park, the studio the band had finally completed, it again boasted a huge roster of guest musicians, and used a lot more "real" instruments than ever before. It was also one of the first albums to be released in the short-lived CD+G format, with lyrics and panning images playing while listening to the album. The Breathtaking Blue featured three singles: Romeos, Summer Rain, and Mysteries Of Love. It was soon accompanied by the 1990 collection of short films, Songlines, with each track featuring a contribution from a different international director. (One of these films, Middle Of The Riddle, would win the Best Animated Short Oscar™ in 1989 with a different edit and soundtrack.) Songlines enjoyed a short cinema tour around Germany in early 1990, and was later released on VHS and Laserdisc.
The Breathtaking Blue: Summer Rain, Romeos (album version), She Fades Away (album version), The Mysteries Of Love, Ariana, Heaven Or Hell, For A Million (album version - edited video from Songlines), Middle Of The Riddle, Patricia's Park, Anyway.
Alphaville was beginning to feel the strain of lack of studio support and flagging sales, and the band began to pursue individual interests. In 1992, Marian Gold released his first solo album, So Long Celeste (And I Wonder, One Step Behind You, Sweet Needles Of Success), and the greatest hits album First Harvest 1984-92 was released, featuring original tracks and single mixes from the first three Alphaville albums.

After a five year break, Alphaville was back with 1994's Prostitute, the last album they would record at Luna Park Studio. Their most political and musically-diverse album, it received zero promotional support from WEA, which led to the band eventually breaking ties with the label. Prostitute both puzzled and thrilled fans, some of whom were alienated by the continuing departure from the band's synthpop roots, and others who delighted in the musical and lyrical breadth the album achieved. It featured two singles, Fools and The Impossible Dream.
Prostitute: The Paradigm Shift, Fools, Beethoven (not available), Ascension Day (fan video), The Impossible Dream (less-than-ideal sound quality), Parade (fan video), Ain't It Strange (not available), All In The Golden Afternoon (not available), Oh Patti / Ivory Tower, Faith, Iron John (fan video), The One Thing (fan video), Some People, Euphoria, Apollo.

Bonus Track: Fools (1994 Twelve Inch).
In 1995, well over a decade after Forever Young's New Year's Eve concert, Alphaville finally embarked on their first actual tour. Their live band at first only included Marian Gold from the studio line-up, although Bernhard did begin touring with the band shortly. Ricky didn't tour for personal reasons. The three-year long tour took the band all over Europe and parts of Asia and gave them a presence they had never had before, and they were soon performing new material intended for their next album.

Meanwhile, Marian released another solo album, United (Caroline (fan video); Feathers And Tar; Say It Ain't So, Joe (Murray Head cover); Five Years (David Bowie Cover), Cosmopolitician(fan video) ).

By 1997, Ricky Echolette had left the band to pursue private interests, and the remaining duo of Marian and Bernhard released their fifth album, Salvation in 1997 (1999 in the US). Released on the band's own NAVIGATOR label, the album was a return to Alphaville's synthpop roots, and coupled with their lengthy tour returned the band to popularity in many countries. Three singles were released from Salvation: Wishful Thinking, Flame (fan video), and Soul Messiah.
Salvation: Inside Out, Monkey In The Moon, Guardian Angel, Wishful Thinking, Flame (fan video), Point Of Know Return (not a Kansas cover), Control, Dangerous Places, Spirit Of The Age, Soul Messiah, New Horizons, Pandora's Lullaby.

Bonus Tracks: Life Is King, Wishful Thinking (Physical Mix).
In 1999, the band released Dreamscapes, an 8-CD collection of remixes, demos, b-sides, and unreleased tracks. An unprecedented box set, it pulled together tracks from across Alphaville's history, and contained a whopping 9.5 hours of material. [Ed. note -- much of this material can be found online, but I will not include it here.] It yielded one single (Elegy[fan video]) and fleshed out the band's development for fans and kicked off a 17-country tour and was documented in their live album and video, 2000's Stark Naked And Absolutely Live, recorded mostly in (of all places) Salt Lake City, UT. Soon followed a companion album to Dreamscapes (another 4 CDs in 2003 under the name of CrazyShow, and a remix album (2001's Forever Pop). Alphaville continued to tour relentlessly, mostly in Europe, feeding their continuing fan base that has been with them for over twenty years at this point.

Bernhard has left the band and the name Alphaville continues with Marian Gold. The story of Alphaville continues with the October 2010 release of their new album Catching Rays On Giant. The first single has been making the rounds in Germany already. Here, finally, is the current single I Die For You Today (radio recording).

Bonus Reading: Cosmic Meadows - The Alphaville Encyclopedia (featuring lyrics for songs, all personnel and groups associated with Alphaville, etc), Those Were The Days - 20 Jahre Alphaville (extensive German .pdf history of the band), Moonbase (Official Alphaville website -- very flash intensive)
posted by hippybear (40 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Will there be a test on this?
posted by run"monty at 1:54 PM on September 6, 2010 [11 favorites]

I think hippybear gets an A+
posted by The Whelk at 1:57 PM on September 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Wow, and I thought I was the only one to remember (and like) them...leave it to Metafilter!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:57 PM on September 6, 2010

Thank you, this is awesome.
posted by keli at 2:04 PM on September 6, 2010

Vielen Dank! Erstaunlich detailliert.
posted by vkxmai at 2:04 PM on September 6, 2010

Fabulous post. I'm looking forward to exploring the links.
posted by immlass at 2:06 PM on September 6, 2010

I wasn't a huge Alphaville fan, but liked them well enough. Either way, this is a fantastic write-up! Could you do a similarly comprehensive one for Erasure and/or OMD =)
posted by Davenhill at 2:14 PM on September 6, 2010

Who the hell is "Mr. Hudson" then?
posted by pashdown at 2:18 PM on September 6, 2010

I never liked the band much, but this post should be the standard for single artist-related posts. Good job!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:21 PM on September 6, 2010

"Forever Young" was my senior prom's theme song. So ... thanks for the memories!
posted by chavenet at 2:27 PM on September 6, 2010

I always thought "Forever Young" was good, poignant pop, and "Big in Japan" was a solid effort, too. Thanks for the comprehensive post!
posted by maxwelton at 2:29 PM on September 6, 2010

Should it ever become necessary to have a defining example of "More Inside," I nominate this post.

I always liked Alphaville, though less for Forever Young and Big in Japan than the long-playing version of Dance With Me. I cannot count the number of times I'd lie in bed, earphones on to protect my parents' hearing, playing the song over and over again to the various invented adventures I'd created for myself. This was in the days before compact discs, or even that nifty feature of cassette players that sensed pauses in music, so I became very adept at timing the rewind to place myself at the very beginning of the song.

Thanks for the memory.
posted by Mooski at 2:56 PM on September 6, 2010

there should be more encyclopedic entries like this on metafilter

not necessarily about synthpop, though. i'm thinking more like everything about Whit Stillman online or something. someone smart think about it for a bit.

great stuff here hippybear
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:02 PM on September 6, 2010

"Forever Young" was my senior prom's theme song. So ... thanks for the memories!

Mine, too. I think it was the definitive senior prom theme song in the late 80s.
posted by davejay at 3:13 PM on September 6, 2010

To get our diplomas, or our last slow dance with our high school sweetheart, we had Forever Young. Ten years later kids had Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). What do the kids have now?

Great post, hippybear. I'll take this over the Blue being overrun with SLYT any day. Thanks.
posted by makabampow at 3:16 PM on September 6, 2010

Question for all popmusic-knowledgable people: what is the origin of the slightly uplifting yet melancholy (bittersweet) vibe that songs like Big In Japan emenate? I believe it's more than just the key/phrasing....it's something peculiar to certain synthpop tracks. It's certainly not the lyrics (somewhat nonsensical)........someone should make a post (hmmm).
posted by lalochezia at 3:30 PM on September 6, 2010

My rhetorical question: how many different songs titled "Forever Young" have been recorded? Alphaville, Jay-Z, Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan all did different songs with the same title. I'm sure there has to be something in Early Rock & Roll, Pre-WWII Folk, Nashville Country (though probably album filler), Jazz or Blues that also used that title. Now THAT would be crazy FPP.

For the record, I'd rather be Big in Japan than Forever Young.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:13 PM on September 6, 2010

Well, Jay-Z's song is actually a cover of Alphaville's song. Rod Stewart's song is so nearly Bob Dylan's that he ended up getting sued and agreeing to share royalties with Mr. Zimmerman. Apparently there's also a song by Madness of the same name.
posted by hippybear at 4:19 PM on September 6, 2010

Well, Jay-Z's song is actually a cover of Alphaville's song.

I am aware of that. I was just wondering where this "Mr. Hudson" hoser gets off being the singer for the cover rather than just a sample of the original. When I first saw it, I thought he was an Alphaville member. Thanks to your post, I see he isn't. I know Jay-Z can't sing the Alphaville track, so where did they dig up this guy?
posted by pashdown at 4:41 PM on September 6, 2010

pashdown: *heh* I was actually responding to oneswellfoop with my comment.

As to your question, Dr. Google says....
posted by hippybear at 4:49 PM on September 6, 2010

Epic post, hippybear. "Dance With Me" was one the first 12"s I ever bought, and αv have yet to disappoint me in all the years since. Even Forever Pop is unusually strong for an after-the-fact remix album.

Fun Fact: Holly Johnson of FGTH, whose debut single "Relax" was dislodged from the #1 spot by "Big in Japan", got his start playing bass in the band (wait for it)...Big In Japan.
posted by Lazlo at 4:59 PM on September 6, 2010

Thank you for this crazily encyclopaedic post which reminds me when I took myself and synthesisers far too seriously. But the there are a couple of links to add. First a whole page devoted to the concept of being "big in Japan" in the wold of popular music. And secondly a link to the seminal Liverpool pop group Big In Japan from where, I believe, Alphaville got their song title. This group was a gestation ground for The KLF, OMD, Echo and the Bunneymen and also Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
posted by rongorongo at 5:06 PM on September 6, 2010

Oh wow, rongorongo. Part of the "big in Japan" Wikipedia entry kind of explains something I'd previously observed about Jpop, namely that a lot of it sounds just a step away from freestyle. I guess the step in between would be Eurobeat.
posted by limeonaire at 5:31 PM on September 6, 2010

I never realized how much this this theme was covered: There's the Bob Dylan take on retaining youth (and the Rod Stewart rip off), and the Patti Labelle cover for Oprah. Then the 80's came and Alphaville did their take, which was used in a shitload of movies/tv, and quickly followed by a Laura Branigan cover, then the dance hits, and then Hova. But I guess it pays to seek youth, or at least look it.
posted by smfullman at 5:36 PM on September 6, 2010

But the there are a couple of links to add....

Oh there are a lot more than a couple. But I had to somehow keep the whole thing focussed SOMEHOW, and it seemed the Alphaville studio albums would be the best thing to work around. But there's all the ancillary groups various members were part of (Lonely Boys, Chinchilla Green, and more), not to mention the legion of big names that recorded at Luna Park during its heyday...

Heck, there's an entire Alphaville concert from 2004 on YouTube that I didn't link to at all. I'm sure any interested parties can find it, one track at a time...

But at some point, you just kind of have to call a halt. Otherwise, you end up rewriting entire sections of Wikipedia as a single giant FPP.

posted by hippybear at 5:41 PM on September 6, 2010

I always think of Lemmy Caution when I hear about Alphaville.
posted by stevil at 5:52 PM on September 6, 2010

"Forever Young" was my senior prom's theme song.

I lobbied for this and instead the senior class committee went with the Rod Stewart version. You were wrong, senior class committee! You were wrong!
posted by escabeche at 6:10 PM on September 6, 2010

"Forever Young" totally ripped off "The Ballad of Steven Slater."
posted by Beardman at 6:49 PM on September 6, 2010

Who the hell is "Mr. Hudson" then?

As far as I can tell, Mr. Hudson is what you get when you combine Sting and Lil John.
posted by schmod at 6:52 PM on September 6, 2010

To Germany with Love was always the one that stuck with me. Sort of a gut-punch at the end of a synth-pop album.

Let us build a nightmare-nation
Learn and work as never yet
That this cold new generation
Faith in its own fears beget

Makes sense that they changed their name to Alphaville.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:27 PM on September 6, 2010

"Forever Young" was my senior prom's theme song. So ... thanks for the memories!

Mine, too. I think it was the definitive senior prom theme song in the late 80s.

And early '90s. It was mine too - Class of '91.
posted by SisterHavana at 7:30 PM on September 6, 2010

Well done, hippiefurry.

Ack! Not a furry (although at least two people are trying their damndest to recruit me). Bear. :P

And thanks. I'm glad the post is appreciated. I never knew I wanted to know that much about Alphaville until I started the research.

posted by hippybear at 7:52 PM on September 6, 2010

For those who, like me, ran off to google it (earworm!): Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax."

Thanks, hippybear--"Forever Young" ended up on my Pandora recently and it's nice to get a little background on a song that I enjoyed quite a bit.
posted by librarylis at 8:43 PM on September 6, 2010

Ah, I thought it was going to be this Big in Japan, largely because Holly Johnston was a member before joining Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:46 PM on September 6, 2010

And I see rongorongo already beat me to it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:48 PM on September 6, 2010

They have great music. A friend turned me on to all their stuff besides Forever Young. I'll never forget how dreamy and full of wonder their songs are. Alphaville suffers from that syndrome where bazillions of people only know their one song. When all the rest of their stuff is just as good, usually better.

I also found out the band is great to fans. My friend sent his dollars-turned deutschmarks to Germany to join the fan club and get some merchandise. It took forever. When he finally got it there was a note saying "so sorry this took so long" Signed: Marion Gold!
What a class act!
posted by hot_monster at 9:15 PM on September 6, 2010

One mustn't forget this neat trick (probably not forgotten in at least one of the links above, though):
                             A VICTORY OF LOVE
                SUMMER IN BERLIN
                    BIG IN JAPAN
               TO GERMANY WITH LOVE
                      FALLEN ANGEL
                         FOREVER YOUNG
                             IN THE MOOD
                      SOUNDS LIKE A MELODY
                         THE JET SET
At least I thought it was very neat back in 1984.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 12:48 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nooo! Failure! I'm sorry, Mr. Gold!
posted by soundofsuburbia at 12:49 AM on September 7, 2010

Oh, look, my first comment. Hi there.

I was quite the Alphaville fanatic back in the day, and still count The Breathtaking Blue as one of my favorite albums. Hopefully you don't mind this little addendum and some random notes (heh) on how the musical ventures of Marian & co. have intersected with my life.

Back when ShoutCast was new and shiny, I ran an all-Alphavile (plus covers and spinoffs) station for a couple years, called Ivory Tower (which has since evolved into a broader 80s new wave/90s alternative type station). Definitely a niche audience, but it was a fun little tight-knit community whose first major meetup was at the 1999 concert in Salt Lake City, UT. A few years later, Bernhard Lloyd even recorded a station ID for me that I still use.

As far as I know the SLC concert and an acoustic followup in 2001 (when the band was in town to finalize work on a DVD of the previous show, entitled "Little America") are to date the band's only US concerts. The first was played in the horticulture building on the state fairgrounds (how's that for auspicious?) as a two-night festival with half a dozen other independent synthpop bands, all on the A Different Drum label (who became the sole US distributors of the Dreamscapes and CrazyShow box sets). Due to one of those quirks of the universe, three days after each of those two concerts my wife and I had a new child join our family. Such is the influence of Alphaville in our household.

Bernhard Lloyd's new project after leaving the band was called Atlantic Popes and featured Max Holler on vocals. They released a self-titled CD in 2001 and also did a cover of "Transmission" for a New Order tribute album called True Faith. Bernhard mostly does work as a producer now, working on a couple of CDs with South African DJ MacAngel and German pop band The Apples. Supposedly a second Atlantic Popes album is in the works.

Anywho, that's quite enough useless information out of me. Great post. Thanks for giving me an excuse to sign up and ramble.
posted by slothdog at 9:23 AM on September 7, 2010

The part about Afternoons In Utopia and the Leary influence reminds me of something I once read which claimed that Alphaville had been influenced by the Illuminatus! trilogy (which apparently was disproportionately big in Germany). I have only a vague recollection of it, though; has anybody else seen it?
posted by acb at 4:46 AM on September 8, 2010

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