If we really wanted to, we could probably just change the name of this blog to Weirdest Bands of the ’80s and take a permanent wayback vacation to the era of skinny ties, suspenders and John Hughes movies. What was it about that decade that produced so much wackadoodle pop music?
Me, I was all into Def Leppard and chicks with mullets, so I missed the boat on most of it. Which probably explains why until a reader named Eustaquio (seriously, that’s his name) hipped us to a band called Cardiacs, I had never heard of them before. But consider me schooled, Eustaquio! Even for a time that gave the world Klaus Nomi and DEVO, Cardiacs were pretty out there.
Some history: Cardiacs were originally called Cardiac Arrest and were founded by a pair of brothers named Tim and Jim Smith in a place called Kingston Upon Thames, a suburb of London. Don’t you love how British people name their towns things like “Kingston Upon Thames”? It was probably exactly that kind of stiff-upper-lip prim-and-proper shit that the Smith Bros. were rebelling against.
Anyway, early Cardiac Arrest recordings were apparently pretty scruffy, lo-fi affairs, but by the time the band changed its name to Cardiacs, they were getting a little more polished and a whole lot wackier. Much of their spazzy new sound came from Tim’s herky-jerky vocals (compared to him, David Byrne is Frank fucking Sinatra) and the elaborate keyboard arrangements of a later addition to the band, William D. Drake. They also added a chick sax player, which was very ’80s of them, don’t you think? Her name was Sarah Cutts but she eventually married Tim and became Sarah Smith.
The combination of raw energy and spazzy, complex arrangements (and saxophones!) has led some to label the early Cardiacs sound “pronk,” which is apparently short for “prog + punk.” To his credit, Tim Smith rejected this completely retarded label and would usually just say Cardiacs was a psychedelic pop band. Works for us.
Because everyone in the ’80s was a bit of a weirdo, Cardiacs actually gained a decent cult following and even had a hit single in 1988 with a song called “Is This the Life?”—although by this time they were starting to get that bombastic ’80s guitar sound (thanks a lot, U2) and shooting boring music videos in wind tunnels. Within a few years, Sarah Smith and William D. Drake quit the band and their weirdest days were behind them…although they were active right up until 2008, when Tim Smith suffered a series of strokes that nearly killed him. He’s apparently doing a bit better now, but his days of making music are, sadly, probably behind him.
Anyway, here’s a flashback to Cardiacs’ ’80s heyday, when they dressed up in quasi-military uniforms and smeared greasepaint across their faces and performed as the demented puppets of their malevolent overlords, the Alphabet Business Concern. (He doesn’t show up in the clip below, but they were occasionally joined in videos and onstage by an ABC representative called The Consultant who would alternately stand around looking blandly handsome and/or hurling abuse at the band members, particularly Drake. If you were stoned and British in the ’80s, it was apparently hilarious stuff.)
P.S. We must also give a nod to reader Oded, who also recently suggested we add these guys to The Weird List. But sorry, Oded…Eustaquio beat you to it. By 10 days. Was there just like a Cardiacs documentary on the Bio Channel or something?