Up until a few minutes ago, I was unsure as to what today’s “song of the day” would be, but, with the help of my dear and sensationally-talented friend, Hope, she suggested I find out what was No. 1 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 30 years ago today (8.23), and it was Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach.” Then, I looked further down the chart, and noticed one of my favorite acts was climbing the chart at No. 80 – “Paranoimia” by The Art Of Noise with Max Headroom. And we both decided it was the right choice. Thank you Hope!
The Art Of Noise, London’s premier Avant-Garde / Synthpop masters, had already scored their first Hot 100 hit a month earlier, in July 1986, with their brilliant (and Grammy-winning) cover of “Peter Gunn” (No. 50, with Duane Eddy).
Both “Peter Gunn” and “Paranoimia” were from the band’s second album, IN VISIBLE SILENCE. And, while the ol’ memory is a bit foggy, I believe “Paranoimia” also introduced me to Max Headroom, a witty, computer-generated, sharply-dressed, Wayfarer-sporting character voiced by American-Canadian actor Matt Frewer (who chose the MARY TYLER MOORE character of Ted Baxter – the shallow, annoying, funny, trying to be serious but really not, goofy news anchorman; played so well by the late Ted Knight – as the inspiration for Max Headroom’s demeanor).
In five short weeks, the sweet quirkiness of “Paranoimia” had already surpassed the peak of “Peter Gunn,” and the following week, it became the band’s first U.S. Top 40 hit. For “Paranoimia,” The Art Of Noise not only recorded an extended mix of “Paranoimia” (as most acts in the 80s were doing in 1986), but each version had a different recorded vocal track with Max Headroom.
The 12” mix features Max Headroom as a master of ceremonies, talking mainly about the music and his band, which he claimed included Peter O’Toole (trumpets), the Pope (drums), Martina Navratilova (bass), and on mic, “the lovely Cher!”
The 7” mix featured Max Headroom’s monologue about being scared and unable to sleep (“paranoimia” – or, the merging of “paranoia” and “insomnia”). The 7” mix spent a week at No. 34 in early October 1986 and spent nearly three months on the Hot 100, while the 12” mix reached No. 14 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart.
Around the globe, “Paranoimia” was a Top 10 hit in Holland and New Zealand, a Top 20 hit in the U.K., Belgium and Ireland, and reached the Top 40 in Canada and Germany.
The Art Of Noise would reach the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 one more time, with their excellent 1988 cover of Prince’s “Kiss” (with Tom Jones). It peaked at No. 31.
After the success of “Paranoimia,” the character of Max Headroom would become the spokesperson for New Coke (not that disastrous 1985 replacement attempt, but “New Coke” AFTER the return of Coca-Cola Classic) – remember the “Ca-ca-ca-ca-ca-catch the wave!” ad campaign? He was also the namesake of a dramatic sci-fi TV show for two seasons (14 episodes) from 1987-1988 – MAX HEADROOM, which starred Matt Frewer (in two roles), and also starred gifted award-winning actor Jeffrey Tambor and the lovely British actress Amanda Pays (who reprised her role from the 1986 British version of the show for the American version).
For the most part, both The Art Of Noise and Max Headroom have been away from the spotlight for many years, but for about a quarter of 1986, they teamed up and invaded radios and record stores and dance clubs with one of the quirkiest singles ever and one of the best one-time collaborations ever. And, for that, I’m forever grateful. You know, maybe if I have trouble sleeping again tonight, I can put this on for inspiration. Nah, if I do that, I’ll prolly just stay up dancing all night…