The term “New Wave” is one that was perverted from the starting gate. But in the haze of 80’s nostalgia, so many glom onto the most superficial awfulness of that messy decade. It’s all dayglo legwarmers and tinny Casio badness, but there was an incredible amount of bands with actual depth who could not be so easily pigeonholed into the commercially-safer-than-calling-it-post-punk category of “New Wave.” Perhaps no band quite fit this bill like a custom tux better than Gleaming Spires.
Founded by Les Bohem and David Kendrick, both of whom played together during the early 80’s incarnation of Sparks, which included some of the band’s best albums, especially Whomp That Sucker and Angst in My Pants. Face it, if the eternally cool Mael Brothers approve, then you know it is gonna be good!
Gleaming Spires, while best known for their song Are You Ready For the Sex Girls? which was featured on the 80’s T&A teen film, Revenge of the Nerds, made some very singular and unique music. Even Sex Girls, which on the surface may seem like your standard id-driven, dude-anthem about ultra-willing lasses, but scratch that surface and what you will find is a strange pop tune complete with animal noises and lyrics like, “are you ready for the lonely girls? The sad, sad sad lonely girls. They got time on their hands. They got skin like seals.” All neatly ensconced in what otherwise is a song that knowingly is swimming in a sea snarking on over-sexualised beer commercial type lyrics.
Even better is the music video for Sex Girls. Lacking what Mo Fuzz, Don Cornelius’ terrific character from Tapeheads, would call “production value,” the video centers on Bohem and Kendrick, wearing slacks and nice dress shirts underneath aprons. The two then proceed to make a lemon meringue pie from scratch, with the video ending on a shot of two pie slices and black coffee. That’s it! It is almost Artaud-like in its sheer willingness to not give the audience something that would actually fit the title of Are You Ready for the Sex Girls?. Flesh, giggles and curves, for your prurient viewing pleasure? Nope, you’re getting two dudes baking, complete with Bohem miming the lyrics with nary a lurid jeer, sleazy smile or ANY type of smile at all! It’s perfect.
From the satirical to the somber is their 1982 single, How to Get Girls Through Hypnotism. The title may reek of 60’s swinging kitsch, but the song itself is an electronic tone poem about loneliness and the shallow end of the dating pool. The video is appropriately spartan, with flashes of neon colored light in stark white rooms, while Bohem mimes the words with melancholic angst, shadowed by a sinister looking Kendrick. It’s as if the latter is some kind of haunting self-doubt revenant. A revenant whom, at the infernal build-up towards the end, shaves Bohem’s scalp bald under screaming red light.
How to Get Girls Through Hypnotism is the sad-tinged, minimalist answer to the early 80’s yuppie-fied love scene and what can happen when you fake the funk to not have to face the reality of you. One would be hard pressed to craft a better visual representation of such a simultaneously artificial but right from the cerebral gut song as this music video.
As far as songs go, one of the absolute strongest in Gleaming Spires’ short but starburst quality time as a band was their song, A Christian Girl’s Problem. This was actually the song that got me hooked into this band, all thanks to its use in the trailer for the Dark Brothers’ Bosch-meets-New Wave Porn trailer for their film, Devil in Miss Jones 3. The visuals for that might have been lust in the most Hell-racked-cinemascope but the song was so hook-laden and out-right tasty, that I would catch myself rewinding the trailer, just to hear it again.
The actual music video for the song is, disappointingly, just okay. There is some terrific use of chroma key and a Video Toaster-type editor, judging by the ultra-vibrant colors, plus a ghoulish, comic-book devil pops up, which is always nice. But the video ends up a bit muted by a wholly out-of-place gladiator concept, with the whole band dressed up like 3rd tier extras from Ben Hur while jogging in place. Novel, but definitely out of place.
In 1984, Gleaming Spires released the Party EP. Out of the six songs, only Funk for Children got an accompanying music video. The song is a cryptic anthem with a fitting video that is riddled with children’s percussive toys, ice cream trucks that alternately dispense sports equipment and musical instruments and has a strong undercurrent of school-aged gym angst. It’s an odd note but strangely fitting for a band that wiggled and shook off any notions of conventional musical chairs.
Gleaming Spires eventually broke up, with Kendrick joining DEVO after founding member Alan Meyers left and Les Bohem going into the film and television world, working on projects including 1989’s The Horror Show and the sci-fi mini-series, Taken. But as their work remains depressingly out-of-print, their mark remains. Few bands in the early 80’s took this kind of off road path and examined cartoonish sexual roles, the lonely hunting dating grounds and the ridiculousness of life itself like The Gleaming Spires. And this is why they should be loved.