Today’s featured 7” piece of vinyl was seemingly named as ‘Single of the Week’ in August 1978 within the pages of all four of the main UK music papers – Melody Maker, NME, Record Mirror and Sounds, something I find hard to believe given that the papers projected themselves towards slightly different audiences and it was incredibly rare for all of them to simultaneously champion one band or singer.
But such was the fate of this:-
In an era when many a new band sounded fresh and exciting, particularly to my teenage ears, there was something about Hong Kong Garden that made it stand out even more so, that, of course being the Oriental sounding opening. The reviews in the music papers, to their credit, did nail things very well, offering the sort of soundbites that could be added to a poster if it was being used to attract further custom:-
“a bright, vivid narrative, power charged by the most original, intoxicating guitar playing heard in a long, long time”.
“strident and powerful with tantalising oriental guitar riffs”.
“ catchy, original….coupled with an irresistible sing-along chorus”.
“I love every second”.
The introductory notes come courtesy of a xylophone. The song had originally been aired on the John Peel Show on Radio 1 some six months earlier, with a quite different sound courtesy of a toy glockenspiel. The drums were also quite different….
Ah, the drums. The instrument that played a huge part in making Hong Kong Garden one of the earliest smash hits of the new wave era – it’s #7 placing made it one of the few to go Top Ten in those days. Polydor Records had hooked the band up with an American producer named Bruce Albertine and had hired the expensive Olympic Studios in London for the sessions. The band didn’t like the results and the decision was taken to work with a little-known producer in a tiny basement studio in London. The producer got it done and dusted in two days, concentrating on the drum sound, insisting that Kenny Morris play the bass and snares first of all and then cymbals and tom-toms later on. These were matched up, with a bit of echo added, thus giving the song a bigger, fuller and more ambitious sound, arguably making the first new-wave single that didn’t sound just one step up from a great, live sounding demo.
The producer’s name was Steve Lillywhite and Hong Kong Garden was his first hit in that role….the first of many hundreds.
You can get a real sense of the difference that Lillywhite made by flipping it over to the b-side:-
This was salvaged from the Olympic Sessions with Bruce Albertine. It is distinctly average……(feel free to differ!!!)
The band would return to the studio with Steve Lillywhite to record debut album The Scream. As it was a separate session, and in a different studio to where they had first worked on the single, the decision was taken to leave Hong Kong Garden off said debut album. An act of artistic merit, but something of a commercial folly.