1982 might have been the Golden Age of Synthesizer Music, but on this day 38 years back, Thomas Dolby invited us back to The Golden Age of Wireless, his first individual release. By that point, the then-23 year old had already sung backup for Bruce Woolley (one of The Buggles), worked with Robyn Hitchcock and written songs for Lene Lovich (like “New Toy”). And his work had been heard – albeit fairly anonymously – on a smash single from a #1 album. Dolby played keyboards for Foreigner on their multi-platinum album 4, most notably on the song “Waiting For A Girl Like You.” That anonymity ws heightened by him apparently not being the one “playing” the keyboards in the video for it.
His solo effort resembled The Buggles more than Foreigner, which was no surprise given that he was British and had begun his musical career by building his own synthesizers years before. The Golden Age of Wireless was definitely a product of the ’80s… but that’s not a bad thing! It was heavy on synthesizers and other electric keyboards, but unlike some of his contemporaries, was also full of melodies and interesting lyrics. As allmusic would put it later on, he sounded rather like a “friendlier, peppier flipside of Gary Numan.” While Dolby wrote the music and sang it, as well as playing a load of keyboards on it, he wasn’t alone in the studio. Tim Friese-Greene of Talk Talk helped him produce it, and among the rather extraordinary 24 other musicians credited were Andy Partridge of XTC, Woolley, Lovich and even Foreigner 4 producer Mutt Lange, who sang some backing vocals.
In Europe, the first single off it was “Europa and the Pirate Twins”, a catchy number but not a major hit; the more ephereal “Windpower” from it just missed the British top 30. And The Golden Age… included several other great tracks that are standouts from his career like “Radio Silence”, and probably “One of Our Submarines.” Probably?
Unlike say, Dark Side of the Moon (or most other albums for that matter), The Golden Age of Wireless is an almost loose, blanket-term for several records. Dolby had a few more songs kicking around than would fit the length of a typical LP and he was signed to different record labels in different territories (the small Venice In Peril in his UK, CBS in the States and Harvest, a division of Capitol, in Canada for example) they tended to issue it in slightly different configurations. Then, things took off for Thomas around the end of the year, when he issued another single – the one that would define his career.“She Blinded Me With Science” is one of the most iconic, fun singles of the decade, albeit not necessarily characteristic of most of his work. That song hit #5 in the U.S. and was a #1 hit in Canada (surprisingly, it didn’t do much in his own country). That in turn got his record labels wanting to re-push the album, adding in “…Science”, often at the expense of the song “Urges” which was dropped from some editions. There’ve been at very least 7 different versions of the album thus far, that may actually be a low estimate.
Regardless of exactly which format it came in, the album was a breakthrough hit. It made it to #13 in the U.S. and #8 in Canada, where it went gold…. and that came a few weeks after an album called She Blinded Me With Science got to #3 there. That album was more or less the same but with a different title…perhaps you’d have to be a computer scientist capable of making your own equipment to keep track of all the different, but the same, Dolby releases back then!
It was different, but the early-’80s were all about finding something different musically. The public liked Dolby and the record, and more surprisingly, critics generally did too. Rolling Stone, not one to often laud Brit rock, nor synthesizer music, rated it 4-stars calling it “one of the most impressive debuts so far this year” and comparing him to David Bowie. They add “unlike many synthesizer bands from England, Dolby eschews morbid, droogy drones.” Sentiments echoed decades later by allmusic which call him a “pop adventurer” and consider this album to be the best of his five studio ones, considering it “an intriguing and very often entertaining curio from the glory days of synth rock.”
Dolby had minor success with his next album and the single “Hyperactive” from it and has recorded periodically since then, and followed in his science-loving dad’s footsteps, becoming a university lecturer as well.