Thirty years ago tonight--on March 8, 1987, if you can't do the math--Wang Chung played the 86 Street Music Hall.
They had that goofily infectious hit "Everybody Have Fun Tonight", but I liked 'em because of that soundtrack they did for To Live and Die in L.A., which was one of my fave movies that year--along with Angel Heart, The Hidden, The Stepfather, and Near Dark (R.I.P. Bill Paxton).
Here's the interview I did the day after the show with Nick Feldman, one of the two guys in Wang Chang.
Why would a British commercial pop outfit name themselves Wang Chung? Beats me. Maybe because Duran Duran was already taken. Or it might have something to d0 with the Chinese musical term huang chung, which means perfect pitch.
“It means lots of different things,” laughs Nick Feldman. “That’s one of them, but that’s not why we chose the name. It was very much a joke. It just seems to suggest the sound of the guitar, you know.”
I’ve always thought that guitars went more like “wah wah” or maybe “dow-de-dow-de-dow-dow”. At any rate, Wang Chung brought their particular guitar sound to Eighty Six Street last Sunday (March 8), and few in the sold-out crowd were complaining–especially when Feldman and partner Jack Hues led their band through catchy but lightweight new hits like “Lets’ Go” and “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”.
But for anyone who went to the show seeking tunes with some substance, the real hits were the songs from the soundtrack Wang Chung did for the movie To Live and Die in L.A. The day after their Eighty Six Street show the Georgia Straight caught up with Feldman at the Four Seasons Hotel and asked him how that rather ambitious score came about.
“It was through [director] William Friedkin’s knowledge of rock music really. I think he knows more about rock music than we do. And he was a fan of Points on the Curve [Wang Chung’s first LP]. He really liked the track “Wait”, which has this kind of driving, relentless feel.
“So he approached us and said ‘Just read the script, go into the studio for a week, and be brilliant. Be spontaneous.’ It wasn’t like ‘I want you to do 39 seconds here, two seconds there, three seconds here.’ And apparently he even cut some of the movie to fit the music. It just blew us away when we saw it.”
Feldman, 31, and Hues, 32, weren’t the only ones blown away by To Live and Die in L.A. In the movie itself drug dealers and FBI agents alike gain experience from the business end of sawed-off shotguns. One wonders whether the meek and mild Feldman might have had second thoughts about doing the soundtrack, considering the barrage of violence in the script.
“Well the violence in the film was definitely not glamourized. It wasn’t a Rambo type. The violence is so shocking and terrifying that, if anything, it would put you off violence for life.”
On the back cover of the To Live and Die in L.A. album there’s a thankful message from director Friedkin. “What [Wang Chung] finally recorded has not only enhanced the film–it has given it a deeper, more powerful dimension.”
Three of the four vocal tracks from the soundtrack were performed at Wang Chung’s Eighty Six Street show, and they really stood their ground against the current hit “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”, which sports the unlikely line “Everybody Wang Chung tonight”. Isn’t it a bit pretentious to push a band’s name in one of its own songs?
“It’s not to be taken too seriously,” explains Feldman. “Some people see it as a very calculated, marketing sort of gesture, but it’s very much throwaway.”
Throwaway is one word that many music fans might use to describe the song itself. It’s the type of song that people either love or hate. Feldman tends to agree.
“As far as diehard Wang Chung fans go, some of them have, initially, certainly hated it. But I’ve found that funnily enough it grows on you. It sort of gained momentum as it went up the charts.”
Although a big hit in Canada, the U.S. and other countries, “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” has gone nowhere in the band’s native Britain.
“There seems to be a resistance to Wang Chung in England,” notes Feldman. ” I think there’s a basic distrust of us over there–they see us as just going across the waters to America completely neglected. I suppose,” chuckles Feldman, “that we haven’t got silly enough haircuts to be big in England.”
Well hey, Nick. It’s never too late to see a hairdresser.