The recent glut of 1980s inspired TV shows — The Americans, The Goldbergs, Red Oaks, Stranger Things — have brought with them soundtracks from the 80s, for better and for worse.
I won’t go into the “for worse” here; let’s just be grateful that the Footloose and Flashdance soundtracks haven’t been mined (as far as I can recall) in any of these excellent shows.
I just finished season 2 of Stranger Things on Netflix and at the end of the extremely dramatic and intense penultimate episode, a song I hadn’t heard in years began to play just before the ending credits. I recognized it after just the first jangly chords played: “Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)” by Icicle Works.
I remember hearing this song back in 1984, when it was released in the US (it originally came out in ’83 in the UK), right at the time my musical landscape was being expanded from hard rock to include punk and new wave. My world was exploding with amazing new sounds, but hearing Icicle Works and specifically this song — I thought I’d found my new favorite band and song.
What solidified this song as a life-changer for me was the drumming. Chris Sharrock’s speedy and syncopated tribal rhythms were unlike anything I’d heard before. As much as I’d come to appreciate most new wave bands, I never fully accepted the prevalence of drum machines. And the bands that did have live drummers, none were particularly impressive in the showoffy way I’d preferred from years of being a metalhead. Here was the best of both worlds: catchy, jangly tunes with the propulsion of hard-rock drumming.
I would sit in my room for hours playing the song over and over, memorizing all the fills and syncopated rhythms, air drumming with wild abandon. I didn’t stop until I was certain that I knew every cymbal crash, every tom-tom roll.
Icicle Works would never put out an album as perfect and musically adventurous as their self-titled debut, but even today, when I put that album on, I still find myself air-drumming madly, in my car or on my desk, transported back to 1984, an awkward 17-year old teen, lost in the power of a great song.