Thursday, January 16, 2020

SPAZ reviews the ULTIMATE DOLLAR box set!

(Cherry Pop/Cherry Red Records)

Available NOW!

Whether you are aware of it or not, British Pop duo Dollar changed the course of ‘80s Pop music.

Yeah, that’s a pretty bold statement, but just hear me out…

David Van Day and Thereza Bazar formed Dollar when they left Pop sextet Guys ‘n’ Dolls in 1977. Two years later, the duo released a few hit singles and a sparkling debut album, SHOOTING STARS, which was the beginning of a short but fruitful career as bona-fide Pop stars. Their second album, THE PARIS COLLECTION, was released in 1980, which showed them heading in a shimmering Synthpop direction. THE DOLLAR ALBUM, released in 1982, was their biggest, boldest album yet. However, just as their career peaked, the duo split. Four years later, they reunited and released a series of singles but drifted apart again by 1988. The duo has reunited for various occasions but have not recorded new materiel in 30+ years.

Often compared to vaguely similar Synth and Pop artists like Bucks Fizz, ABBA, Toto Coello, etc., Dollar was a Pop lover’s dream. David’s smooth vocals and teen idol looks won the girls over while Thereza’s stunning beauty and angelic, breathy voice made the boys swoon. Generally overlooked when people talk about the ‘80s music scene, Dollar recorded some absolutely wonderful music that is now being given a new lease on life courtesy of Cherry Pop/Cherry Red Records. For the uninitiated who prefer to dip their toes in the water, GREATEST HITS is a two CD collection containing 21 of their best-known tracks on Disc One and remixes and rarities on Disc Two. For those who want more bang for their buck (pun intended), the seven CD + DVD box ULTIMATE DOLLAR is the way to go. This set contains everything the band released during their short career plus loads of unreleased mixes, demos, etc. It is a dream come true for Dollar fans.

So, how did Dollar change ‘80s music? Be patient, I’m getting there…

(And now, my review of the ULTIMATE DOLLAR box set.)

Disc One of the box contains the duo’s Pop-errific debut album SHOOTING STARS (1979) plus loads of bonus tracks. Since ’79 was a transition year for Pop music, the album is a bridge between the Disco-fied ‘70s and the Synthpop sounds of the ‘80s. Filled to the brim with delightfully catchy songs, the album has remained a joy to listen to even though it is over 40 years old. Originally released on the Carrere label and produced by Christopher Neil, the album features five songs written by Van Day/Bazar plus a few tracks penned by others including David Courtney (“Shooting Star” and “Who Were You With In The Moonlight”) and Chris Rainbow (“Ring Ring”). Highlights include the aforementioned tracks plus “Love’s Gotta Hold On Me,” “Love Street,” “Tokyo,” and the haunting “Star Control” (complete with robotic vocoder-ized vocals). Of the bonus tracks, the duo’s updated take on The Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” is a little awkward (as most Beatles covers are) but the non-album cuts and mixes are stupendous.  It is always a thrill to listen to different mixes of songs you love. Or maybe that’s just me.

That big ‘80s reveal will be here soon enough, dear reader….

Disc Two features the duo’s sophomore album, THE PARIS COLLECTION (plus bonus tracks). Now signed to Warner Brothers, the duo had more control over the material, writing a solid collection of great Pop tunes. Producer Christopher Neil was busy with other projects so Bazar had approached The Buggles’ Trevor Horn about producing the duo. However, Horn was unavailable at the time so David and Thereza handled most of the production on the album alongside Greg Walsh. Recorded in Paris (hence the album title), this second album was slicker and far more sparkly than their debut. Jam-packed with great tunes (“Radio,” “Takin’ A Chance On You,”, “The Girls Are Out To Get Ya,” “Love At First Sight,” “Don’t Change Your Life”), the album truly defined the ‘Dollar sound’. It was contemporary (for 1980) but still held on to the charm of their previous album. However, the Pop bliss of THE PARIS COLLECTION was about to be taken to the next level on the duo’s follow-up album…

The moment you’ve been anxiously awaiting is now upon us…

Disc Three and Four feature the entirety of the duo’s third full length – THE DOLLAR ALBUM -  plus an additional 21 non-album tracks, remixes, demos, backing tracks and more. While the first two albums were Pop feasts, THE DOLLAR ALBUM is a smorgasbord of audio delights. And on this album, the duo managed to finally rope in producer Trevor Horn, who was already a seasoned vet (The Buggles and Yes) but a completely untested producer. The Horn-produced single “Hand Held In Black And White” (penned by Horn with his early Buggles bandmate and solo star Bruce Woolley) was unleashed upon the public in 1981. Reaching a respectable #19 on the British singles charts, this record single-handedly changed the course of British Pop in the ‘80s! How? Well, the single caught the ear of industry folks and, before you knew it, Horn was producing genre-defining records by the likes of ABC, Spandau Ballet, Band Aid, Grace Jones, Pet Shop Boys, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Art Of Noise, Malcom McLaren, and so many others. Sounds and samples were created thanks to Horn’s innovative production work. And it all goes back to Thereza Bazar’s insistence that he and Dollar work together!

Since you are still here, please continue to read the rest of this quite long review...

Anyway, let’s get back to THE DOLLAR ALBUM. Filled to the brim with great Pop nuggets, the album also features the hits “Mirror Mirror (Mon Amour)" (another Horn/Woolley-penned track) “Videotheque,” and the 10cc homage “Give Me Back My Heart.” While not all of the album is produced by Horn, the songs that were handled by Bazar/Van Day are equally strong. This is a Pop album from top to bottom. Delightful, inspiring, and sweetly infectious, THE DOLLAR ALBUM is a healthy dose of joy in a world growing increasingly bleak.

With success comes pressure, and the duo’s crumbling relationship couldn’t take the strain so Van Day and Bazar went their separate ways, never to record a full-length album of new material again. However, the duo did reunite in 1986 to give it another shot and this box set continues their story…

Disc Five features their ‘86 singles “We Walked In Love” and “Haven’t We Said Goodbye Before” plus B-sides and a plethora of remixes. Disc Six contains their singles “O L’amour” (their hit cover version of the Erasure song) and “It’s Nature’s Way” plus B-sides and many different remixes.

There is a limited seventh CD (entitled A Few Dollars More) that gathers up a handful of rarities that wouldn’t fit on the other discs!

The DVD in this set includes promo videos, TV performances, and TV adverts. And yes, they can be cheesy – this was the ‘80s, after all – but they are also pure eye candy. The music and the visuals work together to create a wonderful snapshot in time that we will never experience again.

And the booklet? Sensational! Loaded with bio info, personal memories from David and Thereza, and so much more. If you were a novice before getting this box set, you'll be bang up to date once you've scoured every inch of the book and enjoyed the music and videos!

So, there you have it. A wonderful display of music and visuals that will be embraced by the band’s longtime fans and will forever be studied by lovers of Pop Music and pop culture. As long as our collective hearts beat together, we will always need a band like Dollar to bring sunshine to our lives.

Your buddy,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

No comments: