Today, English singer / songwriter / guitarist Pete Shelley turns 61 – Happy Birthday! Pete is prolly best known for his five-year stint with the Greater Manchester, England Punk Rock band, Buzzcocks, which he co-formed with Howard Devoto in 1976 (Howard would leave the band a year later). Buzzcocks released three studio albums in 1978 and 1979, and the SINGLES GOING STEADY compilation album (released in 1979 on I.R.S. Records) was the first album by the band released in North America.
From the amazing SINGLES GOING STEADY collection and their second studio album, LOVE BITES, was THE song Pete and Buzzzcocks will be forever known for – “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve).” The 1978 gem was a No. 12 hit on the U.K. singles chart and a No. 14 hit in Ireland, and has been immortalized for nearly 40 years on college and community radio, through numerous appearances in films and in TV shows like SCRUBS, and because of an even bigger 1986 / 1987 cover version by Fine Young Cannibals.
Pete Shelley is also prolly best-known for his first solo hit, 1981’s controversial “Homosapien,” a No. 4 hit in Australia and a No. 14 hit on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart. The BBC banned the song for its “explicit reference to gay sex” from the lyrics “homo superior / in my interior.” Regardless of being banned by the BBC, “Homosapien” still found its way to dance clubs around the globe.
I’m sure at some point, I’ll highlight both of those memorable gems on the blog, but the song by the birthday boy on my mind today was “Telephone Operator” (from his 1983 solo studio album, XL1), co-produced by Pete Shelley and the late Martin Rushent, who also produced albums for Buzzcocks, Human League, Altered Images, The Go-Go’s, The Stranglers among many others.
Pete Shelley met Howard Devoto in 1975 at the then-Bolton Institute of Technology (now the University of Bolton), and, in a groundbreaking and unusual move prolly not unrelated to his time spent at BIT, the original release of Pete’s XL1 album included a computer program for the ZX Spectrum computer, and featured graphics and lyrics that displayed in time with the music, which is commonplace with media players today, but in 1982 was pretty rare.
“Telephone Operator” was the first of two singles released from XL1, and it ended up being Pete’s biggest U.K. hit, reaching a should’ve-been-higher No. 66 peak. It fared better on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart, where it reached No. 22.
After releasing his last studio album, HEAVEN AND THE SEA, in 1986, Pete Shelley re-formed Buzzcocks, and since 1989, the band has released six studio albums (including 2014’s THE WAY), four live albums, and 10 compilations (including my favorite, the brilliant 25-track 1991 comp, OPERATORS MANUAL: BUZZCOCKS BEST).
In 2016, Pete and Buzzcocks celebrated their 40 years together with a tour called Buzzcocks 40. On May 29, 2017, they will play at the 18th Annual Punk Rock and Bowling Music Festival in Las Vegas, and headline a show in Denver on June 2nd. Wish I could be there.
I think another reason I wanted to share the awesome “Telephone Operator” today is because it tends to get overshadowed by the also awesome “Homosapien” and “Ever Fallen In Love.” For me, though, “Telephone Operator” is three minutes and 15 seconds of pure, edgy New Wave / Dance perfection. Go ahead, put the phone down and prove me wrong. I double dog dare ya.
“Telephone Operator / You’re my aural stimulator…”