The Forgotten Arm: Buggles

Just like most people don’t quite know what to make of the Buggles, I didn’t know how to categorize this very post about them.  Certainly they’ve been largely forgotten by the sands of musical history, but they were never really properly understood to begin with, and they’re a relentlessly fascinating group.  Though you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard their biggest (and lone) hit, much of the Buggles’ story and creativity has been ignored in the over 30 years since their formation.

Founders Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn each brought their own musical virtuosity and humor to the project.  In 1979, they recorded their debut single, the smash “Video Killed The Radio Star.”  The song was co-written with Bruce Woolley, who left the group just before the single’s release.  Island Records signed the duo after hearing a demo of “Video Killed The Radio Star,” even though the band didn’t yet have any other songs.  Downes and Horn wrote the material for their 1980 debut, The Age Of Plastic, while traveling to promote their hit single.  Since so much of the Buggles’ sound was based on studio wizardry, the group never toured and rarely performed live.

The Age Of Plastic, like the duo’s best-known song, is a striking combination of technology-centric themes and nostalgia for a simpler, pre-modern time.  Songs like “Kid Dynamo” and “Clean Clean” feature rushing, almost chaotic arrangements while “Elstree” and “I Love You (Miss Robot)” are equally heartfelt (or heart simulation program-felt).  Of course, “Video Killed The Radio Star” was included on the album.  A few great songs weren’t, though, but the reggae-y “Island” and a remixed version of “Johnny On The Monorail” (which foreshadows Horn’s later work with ABC) have since been included on CD releases of the album.

Later on in 1980, Downes and Horn joined Yes, and an unfinished Buggles song, “I Am A Camera,” became “Into The Lens” and found its way onto Drama, the only Yes album to feature Downes and Horn.  The duo left Yes to finish the Buggles’ second album, Adventures In Modern Recording, which was released in 1981.  Downes left the group to join Asia during the album’s recording session, and Bruce Woolley returned to help Horn finish the record.  Though the album wasn’t a hit (and I personally don’t find it nearly as essential as The Age Of Plastic), it has a strong enough cult following to warrant its remastered and expanded reissue that came out earlier this year.

After the dissolution of the Buggles, Trevor Horn became one of the busiest and most sought-after producers in England.  Aside from his own work with the Art Of Noise, his inimitable, sample-heavy production style can be heard on albums from Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Pet Shop Boys and Godley & Creme.  In 2004, as part of a Prince’s Trust charity concert, the Buggles reunited to perform a few of their hits.  The Buggles themselves may have been short-lived, but their pioneering of new wave and electronica makes them a quirky and indispensable part of  music history.

Watch: Buggles – “Living In The Plastic Age” from The Age Of Plastic (1980), live at Wembley Arena in 2004

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~ by E. on April 7, 2010.

One Response to “The Forgotten Arm: Buggles”

  1. If it weren’t for The Buggles, Pat Benatar would have made history.

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