Wednesday, February 8, 2012

THE VOICE: The '80s Chanteuses (1 of 4)

["The Voice" is OUR ongoing series on unique & overlooked vocalists of any genre.
Any similarities between it and another network TV series -- including the logo -- is purely hallucinatory.]

While we were watching the final episode of Sam Dunn’s Metal Evolution series, the Beast played a game with the VH1 Classic ad campaign that offers a spate of enigmatic visuals corresponding to famous rock & roll icons (a “pumpkin” being “smashed”; a “flock of" flying "seagulls”; guy with a “radio” for a “head”, etc.). We managed to name all of them, save for a quick two-shot of a blonde-haired woman with a prominent metal bustier. The Beast blurted out “Madonna! Lady Gaga!” but our wife surprised us with “That chick from Missing Persons!”

Dale Frances Consalvi

It couldn’t have been, could it? A few years ago, we picked up a Missing Persons greatest hits CD for $7.99 – and it was the bargain of a lifetime. We remembered lead vocalist Dale Bozzio as the New Wave sex siren who predated both Lady Gaga and Lady Miss Kier with her swap-meet-on-Mars fashion sense (like breasts floating in fishbowl bra cups with live goldfish) that led one one reviewer to describe her as “somewhere between Barbarella and Judy Jetson." She was svelte and angular with day-glo shocks of pink and aqua in her platinum blonde hair – think of a WW II pinup stamped on the side of an alien starfighter.

Of course, we of a certain Gen (X) know the songs: “Words,” “Destination Unknown” (later covered by Smashing Pumpkins), “Walking in L.A.,” “Give,” “Windows,” “Right Now,” “Mental Hopscotch.” (The arty “U.S. Drag” arguably is the tune where her vocals are most Gaga-like.) But why does this band still pop up on the modern rock radio? How have Missing Persons, despite being one of the first image-conscious New Wave bands thrown at the public by a nascent MTV, remained somewhat relevant?

First off, there’s Bozzio’s unmistakable vocals – among her own improbable influences are the hicuppy yelps of Buddy Holly (her trademark falsetto “ah!” sent a million geeks into lap-to-hand overdrive) and the loverlorn croon of Frank Sinatra. (One might also add in Dion and Debbie Harry.) Like her contemporaries -- mainly The Motels’ Martha Davis, The Waitresses' Patty Donahue and Quarterflash’s Rindy Ross -- Bozzio affected a sort of slick toughness. But her voice sounded truly otherwordly -- like a confused pleasure robot that just became self-aware.

Her heliumized chops, it turns out, was a perfect foil for Chuck Wild’s pre-trance synthesizer, which seemed handed down from German motorik music of the mid-1970s and the L.A. noir flourishes of the Doors’ Ray Manzarek. Both Bozzio and Wild kept the rest of the band -- including Dale's hubby and fellow Zappa collaborator Terry Bozzio -- from sounding fully rock & roll. Each seemed like they were trying mimic each other, like a flesh siren and artificial intelligence were meeting for the first time and figuring out how to get their groove on. It was this tension that ensured that a rock and roll singer would have an unwitting influence on the dance music of the next century – just check out all of the "Missing Persons Remix" albums on Spotify. (Dale even went onto the dance floor herself with the Prince-produced “Simon Simon,” which was a minor European hit in 1986.) Her broken-baby-doll vocals wound up influencing future indie divas like Santi “Santigold” White and Gwen Stefani.

And, of course, she was drop-dead gorgeous!


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