Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
DEAD OR ALIVE
UK new wave band formed by gender-bender vocalist Pete Burns (b 5 Aug. '59); lineup '84 was Timothy Lever (b 21 May '61), keyboards; Michael Percy (b 11 March '61), bass; Stephen McCoy (b 15 March '62), drums. After first taste of fame fronting Mystery Girls (legendary gig at Eric's Club 4 Nov. '77 incl. Phil Hurst, drums; Julian Cope, bass (later of Teardrop Explodes), Pete Wylie, guitar (later Wah!), Burns formed Nightmares in Wax '79: EP Black Leather on Inevitable label had Burns and Hurst with Mick Reid, guitar; Walter Ogden, bass: Burns said, 'We thought we'd form the worst band in history [playing] one note songs for ten minutes.' Had track on Hicks From The Sticks '80, compilation of provincial new wave. Changed name to Dead or Alive '80; by then Burns had been through 30 musicians; now had Sue James, bass; Joe Musker, drums; Ming, guitar. Further flop singles on Inevitable; EP Nowhere To Nowhere on Rough Trade; then Burns spotted an opening in 'Hi-NRG' disco circuit, where his striking androgynous looks were an advantage: nearly signed by Virgin instead of Culture Club; considered much the same ilk. After false starts with singles laid cards on the table with synthesizer/sequencer-dominated cover of KC and the Sunshine Band's 'That's The Way (I Like it)', no. 22 UK '84: chanted vocal counterpart 'Keep that body strong' in bizarre video featuring female body builders, establishing tacky image which Burns fostered in interviews. LP Sophisticated Boom Boom '84 recorded with German prod. Zeus B. Held, aimed squarely at dancefloor: big gay following as Burns aped Sylvester/Electro Soul sound, creating masterpieces of sheer synthetic tack. 'You Spin Me Around (Like A Record)' sleeper hit early '85, taking four months to reach no. 1; sound cloned to perfection with 'Lover Come Back To Me' and 'In Too Deep' but the shock value had worn off: the music stood or fell by its dancefloor appeal. Youthquake entered UK LP chart at no. 9, then slipped. Burns found like Boy George that image is no substitute for consistent sound. Auxiliary members for live shows '85 incl. Chris Payne, keyboards; Russell Bell, guitar (both ex-Gary Numan).