The ‘80s hair is gone, but the songs remain
When one flashes back to some of the cheesiest aspects of the ’80s music scene, A Flock of Seagulls undoubtedly comes to mind. First and foremost there was that hair — an extreme blond version of Eddie Munster’s ’do, falling into singer/keyboardist Mike Score’s face, topped by a set of gull wings that made his head look like it was ready for takeoff. Then there was the music, a bouncy and incessantly upbeat mix of atmospheric guitars and hooky synthesizer lines, a 180-degree contrast to the doom and gloom of much of the post-punk crowd.
Thirty-three years after “I Ran (So Far Away),” the band’s biggest hit, broke into the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100, A Flock of Seagulls is still at it. The hair is gone — Score now shaves his head — and he is the band’s lone original member, but the songs remain the same. The band performs Saturday at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank.
Although the group has been the butt of New Wave jokes for years, in retrospect, Seagulls — as Score tends to refer to them — did earn their fair share of accolades back in the day. “Their look overpowered their music,” says Richard Blade, a KROQ DJ during the band’s ’80s heyday, who now hosts the Flashback Lunch of sister station Jack-FM. “Most people forget they won a Grammy in 1982 and scored a series of big hits. But that ‘waterfall’ ’do, as Mike calls, it stole the show.”
The Grammy Blade refers to was for Best Rock Instrumental for the track “D.N.A.,” from the band’s 1982 self-titled debut. That album reached the top 10 of the Billboard album chart and spawned the hits “I Ran” and “Space Age Love Song,” and also included the early dance club hit “Telecommunication/Modern Love is Automatic.”
Along with the chart success came critical accolades from none other than the “dean of American rock critics” Robert Christgau, who gave the band’s debut album an A-minus rating in a review in which he wrote, “This is very silly, and I know why earnest new-wavers resent it. But I think it’s a hoot — so transparently, guilelessly expedient that it actually provides the hook-chocked fun most current pop bands only advertise.”
These days the 62-year-old Score, who calls Cocoa Beach, Fla. home, is happy he’s still able to support himself playing music, but he also feels that the band is getting a long-awaited reconsideration from music fans who once might have dismissed it as nothing more than New Wave fluff. “When I hear synth bands these days, I hear us,” he says. “It’s almost like it skipped a generation and the people right after us didn’t like us and that’s fine, because they wanted to rebel against what was going on before them, kind of like the punks rebelled against the ’70s super bands.”
As Score sees it, A Flock of Seagulls were innovators. “We did things that no other band was doing before, whether you think it was good or bad, and it’s had its influence.” The influence includes Score’s famous hairstyle. “A lot of young bands realized that having an image can really set them apart,” he says. “I watched some stuff on TV, and I think that could have been me if I started out now ... In a way we broke a lot of barriers and we started different directions. A lot of people don’t like change. Guitar people hated synths, so when synth bands started having hits they were all against it.”
A Flock of Seagulls formed in Liverpool in 1979 with Score’s brother Ali on drums, Frank Maudsley on bass and Paul Reynolds on guitar. Prior to forming the band, Score owned a salon called Oz the Magic Hairdresser, which catered to clients involved in Liverpool’s music scene. “I think we were like the only place in Liverpool where you could have your hair dyed red one day and get it stripped out the next so you could go to work,” he recalls. “There were a lot of weekend punks. They’d come in on Friday and want green and red in their hair and then come back on Monday and say, ‘Can you do it brown, because I got to go back into work.’ In those days, having green hair was not acceptable at all.”
Score’s own famous ’do came about on accident. “Me and Frank used to have like [David Bowie] Ziggy [Stardust] hairdos,” he recalls. “We’d always be looking in the mirror to see who could get their hair to stick up the highest. Then Frank just put his hand on my hair and it collapsed down in front.” At the moment, the band’s manager announced the group should have been on stage five minutes ago. With no time to fix his ’do, Score took the stage and was surprised by the response. “People started pointing at it,” he recalls. “And I thought, ‘You know what? I think I’ve got something here.”
However, Score noticed that the hairstyle had overshadowed the band’s music, “which is why, after about a year, I stopped doing it,” he says. “I thought we’re not going to have a huge career, if I’m a hairstyle, but it didn’t turn out that way did it?”
After the initial success, there were a few other hits, including “Wishing (If I Have a Photograph of You),” which peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. Score looks back at that song as the band’s crowning achievement. “I think if ‘Wishing’ came out today, it would still be a hit,” he says. “It’s a timeless song. I think ‘Space Age’ is also a timeless song. I think ‘I Ran’ is an iconic song of the ’80s.”
Back in 2003, the original lineup got back together for VH1’s “Bands Reunited,” but it didn’t last. “Things were fine for about a month or six weeks,” Score says, “but then the same problems that split the band up in the first place began to surface again.” Today, Score says, “I have more fun with the newer version of the band than the original guys.”
Who: A Flock of Seagulls with Video Star
When: Saturday, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Starlight Bowl, 1249 Lockheed View Dr., Burbank.
Contact: (818) 238-5300, starlightbowl.com
CRAIG ROSEN is a regular contributor to Marquee.