Monday, May 5, 2008

The Thompson Twins -- "The Gap" (1984)

One of the more commercially successful artists of the New Wave era, the Thompson Twins were at the right place and the right time: off-kilter band name (named after characters in the Tintin cartoon), bi-racial personnel, funky feathered hair, a push to the dance floor, and a tremendous knack for writing great pop songs.

At the time, which Sirius Satellite Radio now likes to call "the first wave of alternative music," if you could combine commercial instincts with an eccentric twist and a dance beat, you had a damn good chance to succeed.

The Thompson Twins' sound was based on two strong elements: analog synths, and lots and lots of percussion -- not just drums, but hand percussion of all kinds, which added an international flavor. They worked with producer Alex Sadkin down at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, home to other beat-heavy artists like Duran Duran, Grace Jones, and Robert Palmer.

While Arista Records had momentary success with their other New Wave act, Haircut 100, the Thompson Twins had several worldwide hits, spawning all kinds of 12" singles, and a few greatest hits albums. The threesome came right from central casting: a good looking white guy with a droning voice (Tom Bailey), a curly blonde woman who often dressed in downtown fashion and a big cap (Allanah Currie) banging away on electronic drums, and a black bass player/percussionist who, for some reason, didn't seem to say much at all (Joe Leeway). Not surprisingly, Leeway left the band not long after they peaked with this Into The Gap album.

While "The Gap" was not as monsterous a hit as either "Doctor! Doctor!" or "Hold Me Now," but it held special meaning in the summer of 1986 when I was helping run a house in Fire Island. Rampant socializing and togetherness in a house dubbed "Obsession" across from Flynn's dockside bar and restaurant in the Ocean Bay Park section, the residents took this song as a kind of theme song. Every weekend night, you could find them on top of couches, tables and ledges, often with weird hats and cheesy fake plastic guitars, turning "Into The Gap" in a ritualistic dance, much like the way everybody knows how to do the Hokey Pokey, Electric Slide and Chicken Dance (not that I endorse those last obnoxious two).

With an Egyptian synth motif, syncopated hand claps, a convenient slave ship "uhhh," a gated vocoder riff opening on the beat ("I-I-I-I!"), jingles, jangles, bongos, tambourine shakes, and middle Eastern exotica, I can vividly picture this sunburned group of boyfriend and girlfriend hunter singing along:

East is east (four claps), west is west (four claps),
Two diff'rent colors on the map.
We say break the line (four claps), chew the fat (four claps),
Keep moving out into the gap!

Other than those fond memories, that's pretty much all the Thompson Twins are also these days, unfortunately.

Below, the Thompson Twins open a 1985 San Diego concert with "Into The Gap." As you can see, the guys were huge and had a really fun stage show. Makes you wish you could have been there.

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