The Forgotten Arm: Roman Holliday

Sometime in high school, I got my first mp3 player.  It was a clunky old thing, the Iomega HipZip.  Since it came from the people who made the pioneering mass storage Zip and Jaz Disks, the HipZip was undoubtedly the way of the future.  The player took the specially-desgined Clik disks, which couldn’t have held more than a few dozen songs at a time.  For the most part, I vaguely remember what songs I had to carry around those days.  Probably “I Never Loved Eva Braun” by The Boomtown Rats and the movie recording of “Springtime For Hitler.”  Forgettable (and regrettable) choices aside, one song I distinctly remember having on that earliest of portable digital devices was Roman Holliday‘s “Motor Mania.”

Like so many bands of the new wave era, Roman Holliday needed something that would make them stand out from the countless similarly stylish groups around at the time.  Instead of loading up on synthesizers and singing about how alienated they felt, Roman Holliday embraced a hybrid kind of rockabilly/swing/doo-wop style that made them one of the 1980s’ most unique bands.  Incorporating big brass and string sections into songs like “Stand By” and “I.O.U.,” the band became rather popular thanks to their fun-loving image and comedy-infused videos on MTV.  Despite this popularity, the band couldn’t help but be seen as a novelty.  Their influences were worn so overtly that, despite all their original material, their youthful peers couldn’t have known what to make of them after the initial shock.  Roman Holliday only released two albums in its short tenure, but the LPs were mostly collections of singles.  Roman Holliday disbanded in 1985, after five years together.

It’s my belief that, along with Joe Jackson‘s way-ahead-of-its-time Jumpin’ Jive, Roman Holliday helped spark what would become the swing revival of the 1990s.  At the same time they were around, the Stray Cats were becoming massively popular in England, and those few who truly ‘got’ what Roman Holliday were doing went on to form their own swinging bands.  Many of those revivalist bands have come and gone, but the music of Roman Holliday remains just far enough out of mainstream reach to be compromised by changing tastes.

Watch: Roman Holliday – “Stand By” from Cookin’ On The Roof (1983)


~ by E. on March 15, 2010.

One Response to “The Forgotten Arm: Roman Holliday”

  1. I have a Roman Holliday album on vinyl, before vinyl was cool again.

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