I don’t recall why I first bought The Age of Plastic by the Buggles. I might have heard Video Killed The Radio Star; it might have been because I knew the Yes connection, though I’m pretty sure I knew the album before the Drama tour (which my sister saw, but I did not). Al of that said, it had a huge impact on me. I played it quite a lot when I was 13 or 14. I’m quite sure I knew it well before we had MTV. Those eight songs were all mini movies in my head, the way the best pop is. (One track is indeed about a real movie studio, Elstree.) The fact that they’re all quite sci-fi as well appealed to my teenage literary tastes.

Much later I found the Bruce Woolley version. Woolley co-wrote it with Trevor Horne, and released a more guitar-heavy version with a crew called The Camera Club, which also featured a pre-Age of Wireless Thomas Dolby and Matthew Seligman. The most recent issue of Mojo (#283) has interviews with Woolley, Horne, and Geoff Downes who was the other half of the Buggles. At the close of the article, it’s mentioned that Woolley has recorded a new version with Polly Scattergood. It’s a very beautiful, slower, lower interpretation that reminds me of why the original excited me so much when I was a kid. (Keep an eye out in the vid for Thomas Dolby.)

After replacing Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman for one album (Drama) and ill-fated tour (Horne didn’t have Anderson’s range or vocal stamina and on the later dates especially, his voice was a liability), the Buggles released a second album, Adventures In Modern Recording, but had already gone their separate ways before its release.

Horne went on to produce a stack of classic albums (Welcome to the Pleasuredome, The Lexicon of Love, 90125, Seal, Dear Catastrophe Waitress, and Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise to name a few) and Downes founded Asia and took prog rock into that weird 80s pop direction. Asia’s a weird animal, too. Downes was the only consistent member (in fact there was one lineup of Asia that even he wasn’t in on) of almost 30 who have passed through, but at different times it was fronted by John Wetton and Greg Lake (both ex-King Crimson among many other bands).

When John Wetton passed away, I flitted through a bunch of videos of ELP and Asia and King Crimson and came across a fantastic concert he and Downes performed in a church which featured a gorgeous arrangement of Elstree. (Track four on this video.)

But back to The Age of Plastic. Giving it another listen now (and it’s a pretty consistent part of my listening – I don’t think a year goes by that it doesn’t come up in the rotation), I’m both 13 again and trying (as I still do with the music I love) to get my friends to hear its brilliance, and the 50 year old wannabe rock historian. More often than not, my friends thought I was enthusing on The Bugaloos, anyway.

The music is almost entirely keyboard/synthesiser-based, but the arrangements are impeccable and multi-layered. Considering the new wave acts of the time, the arrangements put them more in the category of disco (when there were still live string sections) and the intricate productions of Joe Meek. Johnny On The Monorail has both a disco bassline an almost a surf-like hook, and a 70s folk guitar bridge.

Horne is quoted in the album’s wikipedia page as having wanted to make music like Elton John was doing, but didn’t feel he had the chops. He then heard Kraftwerk and learned ‘you didn’t even have to emote’ to make hit songs. That said, all of the musicians had been working for most of the decade (Downes, Horne, and Woolley all worked with a singer named Tina Charles who had several hits, for example), so it’s not a surprise that the album has so many facets. It still rates five stars with