Released today in 1980: Elstree

Island WIP6624

Island WIP6624

The law of diminishing returns applied to this fourth single from The Buggles, and confirmed the problem of having a huge hit with a debut single: Video Killed The Radio Star was a #1 in the autumn of 1979 and the public, apparently, wanted more of the same. But as group member Geoffrey Downes said in the sleeve notes to a reissue of The Buggles’ 1980 album The Age Of Plastic: “The album did not live up to the massive sales and expectations of the record company. Already there were rumours that there was not another ‘Video’ on the album.” Subsequent singles The Plastic Age and Clean Clean peaked at #16 and #38 respectively, before Elstree crawled to a very modest #55. The story in the song is told from the point of view of a faded B-movie actor who once appeared in films shot at Elstree studios and who has now fallen into obscurity: “Elstree – now look at me/ Now I work for the BBC/ Life is not what it used to be,” he laments. The Buggles’ own story seemed to be coming to an end too, as this was their last hit; they were also about to join progressive rockers Yes for their next album and tour so any more recordings under their own name were on hold.

The Buggles were formed in 1977 by Downes, Trevor Horn and Bruce Woolley, who wrote and recorded demos of songs including Video Killed The Radio Star in the box room at Downes’ Wimbledon flat. The following year they arranged to use better facilities in a professional recording studio in North London and took the tapes of their new recordings to as many major record companies as they could, only to be rejected by all of them. However, Island records in the UK sent a copy of the demo to company founder Chris Blackwell in America, who liked what he heard and authorized the London office to sign them up with recording and publishing deals, with an advance to record an album. Woolley was not part of the deal, as he had signed with CBS, so Horn and Downes began the work of re-recording the demos themselves. The song they wanted to complete first was Video Killed The Radio Star; released in September 1979, it was Island’s first #1 single in the UK.

The pressure was then on for an album, and although Downes and Horn only had a handful of songs between them, Island wanted it finished by Christmas. With the single taking off across Europe, they were required to undertake and extensive programme of promotion in a number of countries that autumn, and so had to record when and where they could in order to meet the deadline. (Woolley, meanwhile, got an album into the shops before them. His Bruce Woolley And The Camera Club released English Garden on 26 October 1979, which included his versions of Video Killed The Radio Star and future The Buggles single Clean Clean.) Released at the beginning of the new decade, unfortunately The Buggles’ The Age Of Plastic album was only a modest hit. Nevertheless, Downes said that “in those crazy, hazy months between 1979 and 1980, we not only achieved a place in pop history, but recorded an album that reflected much of our joint experiences over the years … It is a recording that contains the passion and perfection of two young men collectively seeking success, glory, originality and mastery of their art. It turned out to be a milestone for us, and launched both of us on to successful careers, which have since taken us in different directions.”

Read more about those differing directions on 2 October

NEW SINGLES on sale from Sep. 29
The BUGGLES Elstree (Island WIP6624)
Nik KERSHAW Nobody Knows (MCA NIK10)
David SYLVIAN Silver Moon (Virgin VS895)


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