Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

The Chameleons Create Way to Rock

In 1983, while The Ferns were recording a pair of original songs in the ‘modern rock’ vein, The Raisins had already been profiled the summer before in an arts piece for Cincinnati’s short-lived alternative weekly The Outlook entitled, “Raisins Create Another Way to Rock.”  The final section of that article – “The Problem” – would affirm The Raisins’ distinctive sound and musical sensibility, while acknowledging the additional friction caused by the band’s insistence on originality, at a time when Cincinnati was still very much in thrall with a more classic rock approach:

Record labels want cliches, [Rob Fetters, guitarist] said, commenting on the nature of the music industry.  “We want to invent cliches.  Some labels say we weren’t commercial enough, and others said we’re too commercial.  One label said they wanted material that sounded like Styx and Foreigner.”

Although [bassist, Bob] Nyswonger said they were musically influenced “by everyone,” Fetters said, “We don’t want to copy another group’s sound.”

Referring to a popular rock song, Fetters said, “Only an idiot would say, There’s only one way to rock [Sammy Hagar’s 1981 radio hit of the same name].”

Chameleons 45-a

1983 would also see the release of a soaring single – “Up the Down Escalator” – by UK up-and-coming modern rockists, The Chameleons, who were likewise exploring alternative ways to “rock,” as it were.  “Up the Down Escalator” would traffic in the same sort of chords (I-IV-V) as many a blues song, intriguingly enough — and yet sound the furthest thing from the blues.

Pop Matters lavished the following praise on this stand-out A-side for its 100 Greatest Alternative Singles of the ’80s:

Manchester band the Chameleons’ debut Script of the Bridge is one of the great unheralded post-punk albums of the ‘80s.  It’s strong from start to finish, but they really nailed it with the first single “Up the Down Escalator”.  It’s a galloping rocker with a massive wall of guitars by Dave Fielding and Reg Smithies over John Lever’s rousing drumwork.  Frontman Mark Burgess delivers an impressive vocal performance, conveying all the restless urgency and simmering unease exhibited by the song’s title (never mentioned in the lyrics), “Oh, must be something wrong boys”.

“Up the Down Escalator”

The Chameleons (1983)

I can only imagine how unsettling this lyrical ambiguity must have been for US audiences, as evidenced by MCA’s decision to re-title the song for the American market, “Up the Down Escalator (There Must Be Something Wrong, Boys).”

You either swim or you drown…”

Chameleons 45-cThe Chameleons, who disbanded in 1987, reunited in 2002 for a series of dates that would find the band in especially fine form for their appearance at Washington, DC’s Black Cat, for which the band was supported by Springhouse, whose drummer – Jack Rabid, proprietor of The Big Takeover Magazine – had previously reviewed Script of the Bridge for Trouser Press.

Knob twiddling by Colin Richardson

No relation to Zero to 180’s nephew

Chameleons 45-b

In 2011, Mark Burgess and drummer John Lever – as “Chameleons Vox” – performed Script of the Bridge in its entirety at a pair of shows in Oakland and New York City.

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