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Be-Bop Deluxe: Original Album Series

All five studio albums from Bill Nelson and chums.

One of the few bands to straddle glam, art pop and prog while also managing to survive the onslaught of punk, Be-Bop Deluxe were a curious mix of period piece and anomaly, with an impressive ability to respond quickly to contemporary developments.

Debut album Axe Victim (1974) found mainman Bill Nelson channelling Dylan via Steve Harley, while musically it was heavily in hock to Bowie: there is even a track called Jet Silver And The Dolls Of Venus with a melody redolent of Mott’s All The Young Dudes. Futurama (1975) was produced by Roy Thomas Baker, and as a consequence offers a hybrid of Bowie at his most tart and Queen-style massed guitars and vocals. ‘It’s just a question of style’, sings Nelson on hit single Maid In Heaven with Roxy Music-ish élan.

Sunburst Finish (1976), recorded at Abbey Road with John Leckie, contains their best-known song, Ships In The Night, featuring the declaration ‘Like a square peg in a round hole’. Nelson’s guitar heroics were probably too concise for prog fans, the song structures too complex to chart, but they did have peers of sorts in Sparks and 10cc, if not the latter’s pop sensibility.

Dressed in suits and ties for the sleeve, and bearing the title Modern Music (1976), Be-Bop seemed au courant besides Wire and XTC. And the vague sense of modern-world disillusion chimed with punk, although the best track, Dance Of The Uncle Sam Humanoids, was more of a prog-funk technoid fusion. Drastic Plastic (1978) was totally in keeping with the synth-inflected new wave, with nods to Bowie in Berlin. Nelson’s staccato vocal delivery was as nervy as Costello’s, the rhythms set to herky-jerky and the titles (New Precision, Electrical Language, Superenigmatix) totally chimed with the times. File under underrated.

Paul Lester
Paul Lester

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.