Continuing in the theme of resurrecting older posts that didn’t get many readers, today a few tracks from The Associates.
Stolen from wikipedia as I don’t really want to write too much about the subject and someone invariably already has gone into great detail. I was interested to read about Alan Rankine working at Stow College as I was there in 1987-1991 or thereabout as a day release engineering course. It wasn’t very interesting comparatively and involved too many old suit jacketed men talking about stress and strain and being very serious about it all.
MacKenzie and Rankine met in Dundee in 1976 and formed the cabaret duo The Ascorbic Ones, in 1979 they changed their name to The Associates and recorded their debut single a cover of David Bowie’s Boys Keep Swinging. Their version attracted a good deal of attention, not least from David Bowie, as it was released before Bowie’s version. A string of highly regarded singles were released and two albums The Affectionate Punch and Fourth Drawer Down.
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 made #9 on the UK singles chart. Two other hits soon followed, 18 Carat Love Affair, and Club Country. That year the band released what is widely regarded as their masterpiece Sulk, an album which exacted comparisons with Brian Wilson’s production style.
Alan Rankine left the band in 1982 just before the Sulk Tour. This proved disastrous in terms of the bands career, in particular as the band were being actively courted by Seymour Stein who thought they could become massive stars in the USA. Billy MacKenzie continued to write and record music under the Associates banner until 1990 and then under his own name (see Outernational in 1992). However without the guiding hand of Rankine, recordings were sporadic and arguably failed to reach the majesty or inventiveness of his earlier work. True to the original band’s name, he never stopped working and writing music with other “associates”, either for himself or guest-starring in other artists’ albums with always stunning lead or backing vocals.
Lead singer Billy MacKenzie, became renowned for his dramatic vocal style, and he achieved a cult following, eventually becoming involved with Swiss avant garde outfit Yello. During his tenure with Yello he wrote the lyrics of the song “The Rhythm Divine” performed by Shirley Bassey on the album One Second, with MacKenzie also doing backing vocals.
MacKenzie was also a close friend of Morrissey for several years, and is reported to be the subject of The Smiths’ song “William, It Was Really Nothing”. (Furthering the rumours, the Associates subsequently recorded a song entitled “Stephen, You Were Really Something”.)
Billy MacKenzie committed suicide in 1997 aged 39, after suffering from clinical depression. He was contemplating a comeback at the time with material co-written mostly with Scottish musician Steve Aungle. The albums Beyond the Sun (1997) and Eurocentric (2000) were released posthumously and re-constructed (and expanded with new unreleased songs) in 2004 into two albums: Auchtermatic and Transmission Impossible.
Alan Rankine is now a lecturer in music at Stow College in Glasgow, and worked with Belle & Sebastian on their debut album, Tigermilk in 1996. A book “The Glamour Chase” by Tom Doyle, documents the band’s career and MacKenzie’s subsequent life.
Billy Mackenzie had one of the most powerful voices I’ve ever heard. I came to his work kind of backwards as a Yello CD was one of the first CD Singles I purchased and I quickly made my way through their work, stumbling upon Billy’s voice through this.