Top 10 Songs By The Buggles

The Buggles Songs

Feature Photo: Rouserouse, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Our Top 10 Songs By The Buggles list presents the best Buggles songs like ‘Video Killed the Radio Star,” “Living in the Plastic Age” and many more. The Buggles first formed as a new wave band in 1977 when English singer and bassist Trevor Horn teamed up with keyboardist Geoff Downes. Just before releasing The Age of Plastic in 1980, the duo’s “Video Killed the Radio Star” was released in 1979 as the album’s lead single. This debut exploded the popularity of The Buggles that would turn Horn and Downes into international music heroes at the dawn of the 1980s decade.

Buggy Beginnings

According to the tale told by Geoff Downes, The Buggles got its name as a pun from The Beatles. Originally, he and Trevor Horn went with the name Bugs before a joke was made that the duo would never achieve the same level of success as the Fab Four. As a result, Bugs was expanded to Buggles.

Trevor Horn began his career as a producer of jingles while also performing in punk rock groups. As for Geoff Downes, he was a keyboardist in a band before graduating from Leeds College of Music in 1975. After moving to London, England to look for work as a keyboardist, he met Trevor Horn during a 1976 audition for Tina Charles. At the time, the two were auditioning to join her backing band and worked with her producer, Biddu.

The career path of The Buggles came about when a discussion came up about computers eventually replacing people when it came to recording music. In 1977, Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes, and a recently joined Bruce Woolley began to record together. When the demos from the recording were completed, the trio was unsure what to do with them. After re-recording them in a studio in north London, the search was on to find a record label that would release their work.

At first, this hunt was met with failure until Horn began a relationship with Jill Sinclair. She was the co-founder of Sarm East Studio which managed to secure plans for a possible record deal. However, fate had it Chris Blackwell of Island records was able to sign Horn and Downes the day the duo was about to sign with Sarm. The reason for choosing Island over Sarm was the label offered a better deal. Interestingly enough, Island rejected Horn and Downes three times before something was finally agreed upon.

Now with a recording contract in place, The Buggles completed The Age of Plastic in 1979. The demo recording of “Video Killed the Radio Star” first featured Tina Charles. She was also one of the fundraisers behind this project that technically started out as a Bruce Woolley composition. However, he ended his business relationship with Horn and Downes in order to form his own group, Camera Club, before the single was released. It, plus the album, underwent several months of experimental sounds with various equipment and techniques as Horn and Downes sought to capture the same magic they felt from previous demo recordings. Replacing Tina Charles as the female vocalist were Debi Doss and Linda Jardim.

Yes and No

Shortly after The Age of Plastic was released, Horn and Downes joined the British progressive rock band, Yes. Before that band went their separate ways, they recorded the album, Drama. In the U.K., the fans disapproved of Trevor Horn as Yes’s lead vocal replacement of the departed Jon Anderson. In the United States, the fan base there felt differently. However, it was not enough as Yes officially disbanded in December 1980. It was that same year that “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first music video shown on MTV.

After Yes ceased as a band, Downes and Horn paired up in early 1981 to record a second studio album for The Buggles. However, on the day the two were supposed to record, Downes bailed out to help form Asia with Steve Howe. For Horn, his anger about this development was directed at Island Records as it was the label that renegotiated publishing terms for Downes to hook up with Asia but left Horn in the cold. Still, as The Buggles, Horn proceeded with the recording of Adventures in Modern Recording, which was released in November 1981.

While Adventures in Modern Recording failed to achieve commercial success in the U.K. it did fairly well in the U.S. and quite well in France. For Horn, however, he opted to embark on a career as a producer instead of a performer or songwriter as that was his personal preference.

Reunions

Since The Buggles was mainly a studio production, neither Horn nor Downes embarked on any tours under the band’s name until the two made an appearance on December 3, 1998, to perform “Video Killed the Radio Star” during the showcase show of bands that were promoted by Horn’s ZTT Records label.

In 2004, The Buggles reunited again, this time to celebrate Horn’s career as a producer. Six years later, they performed their first full concert. This was billed as The Lost Gig that featured the band performing in west London’s Notting Hill. This was a fundraising event for the Royal Hospital for Neurodisability. Also performing at the concert was Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

Less than a year later, The Buggles played again, this time at the British Music Experience at the O2 Arena. In 2013, there was talk of another reunion but that never materialized until 2016.

The Buggles Legacy

Inspired by science fiction, Trevor Horn used this as material for the lyrics he wrote for The Buggles. Although the band’s run as recording artists was a short one with two studio albums, both Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes carried The Buggles’ legacy throughout the span of their own musical careers.

Downes, who is still an active member of Asia today, remains the only band member left since its formation. In the meantime, Horn became a very successful producer with bands such as ABC, Art of Noise, Dollar, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. In 1985, Horn won a BRIT Award for Best Producer. He remains an active producer that has also included musical material released by artists such as Cher, Paul McCartney, Seal, and Tina Turner.

Top 10 Songs By The Buggles

#10 – Back of My Hand (featuring The Jags)

Released in 1979 by The Jags, “Back of My Hand” was remixed by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes that added keyboards and synthesizers to produce what became the charted hit version on the UK Singles Chart. It peaked as high as number seventeen there while it became a number eighty-four hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. Sung as if Elvis Costello performed this tune, “Back of My Hand” came from The Jags album, Evening Standards. In the song, the lyrics stated the love interest’s phone number was written on the back of his hand.

 

#9 – Beatnik

“Beatnik” was regarded as a melancholic frenzy that stood out as a song from the album, Adventures in Modern Recording. This, much like the rest of the album’s tracks, showed a producer in the making when it came to Trevor Horn’s vision as a musical artist. The extensive use of digital synthesizers, namely the Fairlight CMI, was what made music from The Buggles distinct from what was produced by other recording artists. The new wave of electropop that became a big part of the 1980s musicscape came from visionaries like Horn.

 

#8 – Adventures in Modern Recording

“Adventures in Modern Recording” was the title track from The Buggles’ second studio album, which was released in 1982. In this song, the reflection of how much the music industry changed over the course of time was regarded by some music critics as a refreshing change from static material that came from other recording artists at that time. This progressive rock number came from the penmanship of Trevor Horn, the same man who later became a successful producer that would unleash top talents such as Grace Jones and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. As a visionary, Horn’s take on the direction the world was taking in the entertainment industry saw an increase in digital influence making its way into music.

 

#7 – Lenny

Released as a single in 1982 from the album, Aventures in Modern Recording, “Lenny” became a number seventeen hit in the Netherlands with its Singles Top 100 chart. On the Dutch Top 40, it became a number nine hit. “Lenny” was a song that danced around science fiction with a story about a personal reflection that felt like it was walking on glass.

 

#6 – I Am a Camera

In Italy, “I Am a Camera” became a number forty-five hit. In the Netherlands, it was a number forty-six hit on its Single Top 100 chart. On the Dutch Top 40, it peaked as high as number eleven. Released in 1981 from the album, The Age of Plastic, this first started off as “Into the Lens” before it was changed to “I Am a Camera.” Both versions were released as singles. In 2012, “I Am a Camera” was re-released via iTunes, as did “On TV” and “Lenny.”

Fans of Yes may recognize “Into the Lens (I Am a Camera)” as it was released as a single from their album, Drama. In a similar format, the band’s version on the album was considerably longer than what was released as a single.

Inspired, Kim Carnes covered “I Am a Camera” as a bonus track for her 1985 album, Barking at Airplanes.

 

#5 – Elstree

On the UK Singles Chart, “Elstree” peaked as high as number fifty-five. This was a tribute song to Elstree Studios that was recorded as one of the tracks on The Buggles’ debut album, The Age of Plastic. In the lyrical tale, an unsuccessful actor looked upon his life with regret as he worked as someone behind the camera instead of in front.

This single was released across Europe, Japan, and the U.K. but not in North America. It was also released in Brazil. There were a few different versions of Elstree that were recorded. The special DJ edition was considerably shorter than what was recorded on the album.

The music video behind “Elstree” featured Trevor Horn working as a BBC janitor at a cemetery set belonging to Elstree Studios. While at work, he reminisced his small role acting days while the studio shot b-rated films.

“Elstree” had some of its music sampled by Gigi D’Agostino’s 1999 hit, “Another Way.”

 

#4 – Clean, Clean

In 1980, “Clean, Clean” was released as a single that became a number thirty-eight hit on the UK Singles Chart, as well as a number sixty hit in Germany. At the time, The Buggles had Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes, and Bruce Woolley in the lineup. This song was first recorded by Woolley for his band, The Camera Club in 1979 before The Buggles covered this for the debut album, The Age of Plastic. “Clean, Clean” was a song that focused on a gangster that was fighting to clean up his act but do so without having to resort to violence to do so.

 

#3 – On TV

Among the Canadian audience, “On TV” became especially popular as a single as it sold enough copies to become certified gold by Music Canada. This came from The Buggles’ second album, Adventures in Modern Recording, which was released in 1981. The highlight of this tune came from the drum and synth performances that seemed to add even more drama to a song that seemed to be ahead of its time. For The Buggles, the heavy use of digital synthesizers was what made not just the band stand out but Trevor Horn as a musical genius.

 

#2 – Living in the Plastic Age

“Living in the Plastic Age” was a synthpop song that was released as the second single from the album, The Age of Plastic. Also titled “The Plastic Age,” this became a number sixteen hit on the UK Singles Chart in 1980, as well as a number twenty-nine hit in Germany and the Netherlands. It was a big hit in France, peaking as high as number three.

As a song, “Living in the Plastic Age” tore into the coldness of a culture that was embracing plastic technology by first starting off with telephones ringing. With the mix of drums, piano, and synthpop bass, the cleverness behind the lyrics went into what was considered a futuristic piece of music at the time.

 

#1 – Video Killed the Radio Star

When ‘Video Killed the Radio Star” was first released as a single in 1979. This was the explosive debut recording The Buggles released that turned the musical group into international rock stars. On the UK Singles Chart, this song climbed to the top. It was also a number one hit among several other nations such as Australia, Austria, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and Switzerland. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number forty.

In 1981, when MTV first went on air, “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first music video it played. Since the release of this single, it has become certified platinum by the British Phonographic Industry and France’s National Syndicate of Phonographic Publishing. So far, over five million copies of “Video Killed the Radio Star” has been released. This song’s legacy continues with covered versions.

When this song was released in 1979 the lyrics shared the concern of technology taking the place of people when it came to producing music. This synth-heavy number was designed as a futuristic piece that now serves as a nostalgic favorite among a fan base that still enjoys “Video Killed the Radio Star” just as much today as they did when it was first released.

Top 10 Songs By The Buggles article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022

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