the classics – the associates

“Don’t turn around
I won’t have to look at you
And what’s not found
Is all that I see in you
My manners are failing me
I’m left feeling ugly
And you say it’s wonderful
To live with I never will”

As one develops an appreciation for music that goes beyond the average and evolves into an obsession in which the music you listened to as you were younger seems to have shaped every fabric of your being. Everything you know, everyone you came in contact with and every emotion you’ve felt is forever inextricably linked to a song, a verse, a simple chorus or even a whole record. It’s uncontrollable and it’s irrevocable. It’s also natural to have that hope that others feel the same way you do about that song or that artist and a sort of communal experience may then take shape. Oftentimes it doesn’t happen but when it does, there’s no other feeling quite like it. 

“Alive and kicking at the Country Club
We’re always sickening at the Country Club
A drive from nowhere leaves you in the cold
Refrigeration keeps you young I’m told
Alive and kicking at the Country Club
We’re old and sickening at the Country Club
Your limitations are our every care
Every breath you breath belongs to… someone there”

In the annals of pop music history, the new romantic era of the early 1980s tend to be tossed aside, disregarded with its contributions forever relegated to being a mere footnote or worse: the cut-out bin. You know the names…ABC, Japan, Spandau Ballet…I can go on. Bands that had their fleeting moments of fame but still, all in all, made indelible marks in our young, impressionable hearts and minds. One star that shined the brightest but sadly faded away were the Associates. They formed in 1979 in Scotland and were made up of mutli-instrumentalist, Alan Rankine and one of the most glorious voices we’ve heard in the last forty years in Billy McKenzie.  Theirs was a sound that could be summed up as eclectic but that wouldn’t tell the entire story. Instruments out of place, vocals recorded in a bathtub or shower. A world where anything was allowed for the sake of doing it. That was the Associates and it all came together on their hit 1982 album, Sulk,  which included their two biggest hits Party Fears Two & Club Country. 


It rarely fails but ultimately the trappings of fame and a clash over the band’s future direction in the face of said fame led to the dissolution of the Rankine/MacKenzie partnership leaving MacKenzie to carry on alone. Several albums were to follow. The first few waving the Associates flag before Billy simply using his own name.  None having the dazzle and awe-inspiring effect of Sulk save a for a couple of songs on each. There was later news of a possible reunion between Alan Rankine and Billy MacKenzie with the wheels apparently set in motion with word of demos being recorded for a possible release. Alas, it would not come to pass as MacKenzie, amid news of his mother’s passing and dealing with his own demons, would be found dead in the garden shed of the family’s home on 22 January 1997. He was 39 years old. 

To those who know of the Associates, the first thing that still tugs at the heartstrings is the emotion and naivete that resonates in Billy MacKenzie’s voice. Their time may have been brief but the influence remains. You can hear traces of Billy in singers like Andy Bell of Erasure or even Tom Chaplin from Keane. 

For a good idea of what the world is missing, no one put it better than one of Billy McKenzie’s dear friends and former peer, Robert Smith. 

“So dizzy Mr. Busy – Too much rush to talk to Billy
All the silly frilly things have to first get done
In a minute – sometime soon – maybe next time – make it June
Until later… doesn’t always come”

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