The Good Life 1979 – 1986
How does a band qualify for the best mix of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s? Well, I call it “canonization” – some expert decides which song that charted get put into the Science Diet of music that passes for oldies these days. A song rotates, or is doesn’t. You’re either in the Bible of Pop Music, or your banished to the Pseudepigrapha, a curiosity for the specialist and nothing more. Vivabeat is such a casualty of the LA New Wave scene — a band with a good sound and a semi hit under its belt, but destined to remain in the cut out bins at the Capitol Records swap meet. Vivabeat formed back in ’79, when the fresh wind of power pop blew away the last vestiges of stadium rock. Fronted by Terrance Robay and backed by a morphing line up of a half dozen or so fairly talented musicians, they put out their only album, Party in the War Zone, in 1980, containing the promising hit “Man From China.” A moderate hit in the US, it did much better on the Continent, which means bupkas when it comes to golden oldie air time these days.
There was a second album, never formally released but with a few cuts peppering this comprehensive look at the band’s style. They found their greatest success opening for the heavy hitters of the era — The Human League, The B-52’s, Gang Of Four, that sort of band. Always the flower girl, never the bridesmaid, Vivabeat rusted away by the end of the Reagan years. Despite this desultory career, the band’s sound clearly fell smack in the middle of the power pop and pre-techno groove. Shades of Berlin and The Bangles, Polyrock and Stan Ridgway, Sparks and Spandau Ballet color their music. Were they the influence or the influenced? It was a fervent, fetid time, and tracing cause and effect is near impossible. The spare, clunky arrangements that pioneers like Devo created are filtered and refined through the commercial sensibilities of West Coast capitalism. Even Terrance’s hair looks like the training ground for A Flock of Seagulls. The LA sound, rooted in the idea that “ANYONE can start a band” flowered into “Yeah, but you need a sound to sell records,” and Vivabeat had all the parts but somehow missed the big time. If you’re just discovering that sound, this is a great sounding band that deserves more recognition. If you were there, go back and listen again. You’ll agree, they should be on the MIX105 rotation.