The Associates (band)
MacKenzie (left) and Rankine in a Sire promotional image, c. 1981
|Years active||1979–1990, 1993 (reunion)|
|Associated acts||The Ascorbic Ones, Mental Torture|
|Past members||Billy MacKenzie|
Moritz Von Oswald
The Associates (or simply Associates) were a Scottish post-punk and new wave band, formed in Dundee in 1979 by singer Billy MacKenzie and guitarist Alan Rankine. The group first gained recognition after releasing an unauthorized cover of David Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging" as their debut single in 1979, which landed them a contract with Fiction Records. They followed with their debut album The Affectionate Punch in 1980 and the singles collection Fourth Drawer Down in 1981, both to critical praise.
They achieved commercial success in 1982 with the UK Top 10 album Sulk and UK Top 20 singles "Party Fears Two" and "Club Country", during which time they were associated with the New Pop movement. Rankine left the group that year, leaving MacKenzie to record under the Associates name until 1990. They briefly reunited in 1993. MacKenzie committed suicide in 1997.
1979–1982: Formation and success
Billy MacKenzie and guitarist Alan Rankine met in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1976 and formed the cabaret duo the Ascorbic Ones, although Rankine claimed that this was "a fantasy band that Bill and I dreamt up to give ourselves a past". In 1978, they recorded songs as Mental Torture before changing the name to the Associates.
Disappointed that their early recordings were not getting picked up, MacKenzie concocted the stunt of doing a cover of David Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging", without copyright permission, just six weeks after Bowie's version hit the UK Top 10. Released in June 1979, this debut Associates single reached No. 15 in Record Mirror's Scottish chart and gained them airplay on John Peel's Radio One show. MacKenzie later said that the band recorded the Bowie song "to prove the point. It was a strange way of proving it, but it worked. People said, 'That is awful. How dare they!'" The ensuing attention earned them a contract with Fiction Records, and their debut album, The Affectionate Punch, followed on 1 August 1980.
A string of 1981 non-album singles on the label Situation Two were compiled as Fourth Drawer Down, released that October. These releases saw the band develop an interest in experimenting with unorthodox instrumentation and recording techniques, including sounds being amplified through the tube of a vacuum cleaner on the track "Kitchen Person". Also in 1981, Rankine and MacKenzie released a version of "Kites" under the name 39 Lyon Street, with Christine Beveridge on lead vocals. The B-side, "A Girl Named Property" (a remake of "Mona Property Girl" from the "Boys Keep Swinging" single), was credited to the Associates.
The band's breakthrough came in 1982 with the release of the single "Party Fears Two". Buoyed along by the popularity of synthpop at the time, the song reached No. 9 on the UK Singles Chart. Two other hits followed, "Club Country" and "18 Carat Love Affair". On 14 May 1982, the band released their most commercially successful album, Sulk. Martha Ladly, of Martha and the Muffins, contributed backing vocals and keyboards to this album.
1983–1990: Commercial decline
Rankine left the band in 1982 just before the Sulk tour. This proved disastrous for the band's career; the band was being courted by Seymour Stein of Sire Records, but without MacKenzie's willingness to tour, Stein lost interest. MacKenzie continued to write and record music under the name Associates until 1990. The albums Perhaps, The Glamour Chase (which the record company refused to release, considering it not commercially viable; it was later released on a two-disc set with Perhaps) and Wild and Lonely were recorded during this period. However, recordings were sporadic and subsequent Associates records failed to reach the charts in the UK and sold far fewer than their early albums.
1991–present: Split and aftermath
The Associates name was eventually put to rest, and MacKenzie released an electronica-influenced solo album Outernational in 1992 with limited success.
In 1993, MacKenzie and Rankine began working on new material together. News of an Associates revival generated hype and speculation of a tour, and the demos recorded by the two were promising. However, MacKenzie was not fully committed to the reunion and especially touring with it, so Associates split for a final time. MacKenzie went back to his solo work, signing a deal with Nude Records and finding a new collaborative partner in Steve Aungle. Between 1987 and 1992, Billy worked with Swiss avant-garde outfit Yello. MacKenzie wrote the lyrics of the song "The Rhythm Divine" performed by Shirley Bassey on the album One Second, with MacKenzie singing backing vocals. MacKenzie contributed to three Yello albums: One Second (1987), Flag (1988) and Baby (1991). Some tracks for The Glamour Chase and Outernational were recorded with Boris Blank at Yello's recording studio.
MacKenzie committed suicide in 1997 at age 39, shortly after the death of his mother. He had been suffering from clinical depression. He was contemplating a comeback at the time with material co-written with Aungle. The albums Beyond the Sun (1997) and Eurocentric (2000) were released posthumously and, in 2004, reconstructed and expanded with new unreleased songs into the two albums Auchtermatic and Transmission Impossible.
Before MacKenzie's death, almost all Associates records had been deleted. Former band member Michael Dempsey and the MacKenzie estate began a reissue programme to make sure the band's legacy continued, reissuing almost every Associates album, including a 25th anniversary edition of The Affectionate Punch in 2005. In addition to the original albums, two compilation albums were released: Double Hipness (2000), a collection of early tracks with the 1993 reunion demos; and Singles (2004), an extended version of Popera – The Singles Collection which caught up with post-1990 material and included the cover of Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging". In 2002, The Glamour Chase (recorded in the years 1985–87) was finally released as a set titled The Glamour Chase & Perhaps. Finally, Wild & Lonely and MacKenzie's solo album Outernational were repackaged with bonus tracks in 2006.
The Tom Doyle book The Glamour Chase: The Maverick Life of Billy MacKenzie, first published in 1997 and reissued in 2011, documented the band's career and MacKenzie's subsequent life.
Legacy and influence
The Associates drew stylistically on a variety of genres, including art rock, disco, glam, minimalism, balladry and cabaret. Their music has been described as post-punk, synthpop, new wave and experimental pop. The group was hailed by the likes of Björk and U2 singer Bono. Björk stated that her "love affair with the Associates started when I was fifteen [...], it was Sulk I really got into". "I really admired the way Billy used and manipulated his voice on that record". Bono said about the Associates: "We ripped them off. Billy was a great singer: I couldn't rip him off". Artists who have covered "Party Fears Two", include the Divine Comedy, Dan Bryk, King Creosote and Heaven 17. Journalist Simon Reynolds, called the group "great should-have-beens of British pop". Chris Tighe wrote that the band have "been belated acknowledged as one of the '80s' most inspired pop groups".
Ian Rankin took the title of his 2015 Rebus novel, Even Dogs in the Wild, from a track on The Affectionate Punch, and the song itself has a role in the story.
- Billy MacKenzie – vocals, guitar (1979–1990, 1993)
- Alan Rankine – guitars, keyboards (1979–1982, 1993)
- John Sweeney – drums (1979–1980)
- John Murphy – drums (1980–1981)
- Michael Dempsey – bass guitar (1980–1982)
- Steve Goulding – drums (1982–1983)
- Martha Ladly – keyboards, vocals (1982-1986)
- Miffy Smith - Keyboards, Sax (1983-1984)
- Martin Lowe – live guitar (1982)
- Ian McIntosh – live and radio session guitar (1982–1985)
- Steve Reid – guitar (1982–1984)
- Roberto Soave – bass guitar (1983–1985)
- Jim Russell – drums (1984)
- Howard Hughes – live keyboards (1984–1990)
- Moritz Von Oswald – drums, percussion (1985–1990)
- The Affectionate Punch (1980), Fiction Records
- Sulk (1982), Associates/Beggars Banquet Records - UK No. 10
- Perhaps (1985), WEA - UK No. 23, NL No. 29 
- Wild and Lonely (1990), Circa - UK No. 71
- Fourth Drawer Down (1981), Situation Two
- Popera (1990), EastWest Records
- The Radio 1 Sessions (1994), Nighttracks
- Double Hipness (2000), V2 Records
- The Glamour Chase & Perhaps (2002), Warner Strategic Marketing
- The Radio One Sessions Volume One 1981-1983 (2003), Strange Fruit Records
- The Radio One Sessions Vol. 2 1984-1985 (2003), Strange Fruit Records
- Singles (2004), Warner Strategic Marketing
- The Very Best Of (2016), Union Square Music/Metro Select
- Poperetta (1991), EastWest Records
- "Boys Keep Swinging" (August 1979), Double Hip; October 1979, MCA Records
- "The Affectionate Punch" (August 1980), Fiction Records
- "Tell Me Easter's on Friday" (April 1981), Situation Two
- "Kites" (as 38 Lyon Street) (May 1981), RSO Records
- "Q Quarters" (June 1981), Situation Two
- "Kitchen Person" (August 1981), Situation Two
- "A" Fiction (September 1981), Fiction Records
- "Message Oblique Speech" (October 1981), Situation Two
- "White Car in Germany" (November 1981), Situation Two
- "Even Dogs in the Wild" (January 1982), Flexipop
- "Party Fears Two" (February 1982), Associates - UK No. 9
- "Club Country" (May 1982), Associates - UK No. 13
- "18 Carat Love Affair" (July 1982), Associates - UK No. 21
- "Matter of Gender" (November 1982), Fiction Records
- "Those First Impressions" (May 1984), WEA - UK No. 43
- "Waiting for the Love Boat" (August 1984), WEA - UK No. 53
- "Breakfast" (January 1985), WEA - UK No. 49, NL No. 36
- "Take Me to the Girl" (August 1985), WEA
- "Heart of Glass" (August 1988), WEA - UK No. 56
- "Country Boy'" (December 1988), WEA – withdrawn
- "Fever" (April 1990), Circa
- "Fire to Ice" (August 1990), Circa
- "Just Can't Say Goodbye" (January 1991), Circa
Selected compilation appearances
- "Aggressive and Ninety Pounds" (as 'The Associates featuring Billy MacKenzie') on Mad Mix II cassette (1983), NME
- Ankeny, Jason. "Associates – Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
- Harvell, Jess. "Now That's What I Call New Pop!". Pitchfork. Retrieved 28 April 2017.
- Strong, Martin C. (1998). The Great Rock Discography. Times Books. ISBN 0812931114.
- Doyle, Tom (2011). The Glamour Chase: The Maverick Life of Billy MacKenzie. Edinburgh: Polygon.
- Morley, Paul (27 September 1980). "Boys Keep Scoring". NME.
- Kellman, Andy. "Fourth Drawer Down – The Associates | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
- Dingwall, John (6 May 2016). "The Associates in talks to stage anniversary concerts". Dailyrecord.co.uk.
- "The Vinyl Villain – SATURDAY'S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Part 11)// // BTRread". Btrtoday.com.
- "Billy Mackenzie: Transmission Impossible". PopMatters.
- "The Glamour Chase by Tom Doyle - The Skinny". Theskinny.co.uk.
- Hawking, Rom. "10 Bewilderingly Underrated Post-Punk Bands You Need to Hear". Flavorwire. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
- Armond White (22 February 2016). "Remembering the Captain of Gay Pop and His Loveboat". Yahoo.com. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
- Spitz, Marc (27 October 2009). Bowie: A Biography. Crown/Archetype. p. 296 – via Internet Archive.
The Associates new wave band.
- Kellman, Andy. "White Car in Germany – The Associates: Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 18 July 2016.
- Doyle, Tom (2011). The Glamour Chase: The Maverick Life of Billy MacKenzie. Polygon. ISBN 978-1846972096.
- Divine Comedy recorded a version of "Party Fears Two" on their album Victory For The Comic Muse in 2006, Parlophone – 00946 365372 2 1
- Reynolds, Simon. Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984. Faber and Faber. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
- Buckley, Peter, ed. (2003). "The Associates". The Rough Guide to Rock. Rough Guides. p. 44. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
- "ASSOCIATES | full Official Chart History | Official Charts Company". Officialcharts.com.
- "The Associates". Discogs. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
- "NME 008 – Mad Mix II (1983) | NME Cassettes Redux". Nmecassettes.wordpress.com. Retrieved 20 July 2017.