Associates were a Scottish post-punk and new wave band of the early 1980s. They were known for the operatic voice and theatrical antics of singer Billy Mackenzie, who committed suicide in 1997.
Mackenzie and guitarist Alan Rankine met in Dundee in 1976 and formed the cabaret duo The Ascorbic Ones. In 1979 they recorded songs under the name of Mental Torture before finally changing their name to The Associates. They then recorded their debut single, a cover of David Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging”. Their version attracted a good deal of attention, not least from David Bowie, as it was released in June 1979 just six weeks after Bowie’s version had hit the UK Top 10 in April. A string of highly regarded singles were released and two albums The Affectionate Punch and Fourth Drawer Down.
In 1981 Rankine and MacKenzie also released a version of “Kites” under the name “39 Lyon Street” with Christine Beverage on lead vocals, the b-side track “A Girl Named Property” was credited to The Associates. The band’s breakthrough came in 1982 with the release of the single “Party Fears Two”. Buoyed along by the popularity of synthpop at the time, the song reached number 9 on the UK Singles Chart. Two other hits soon followed, “Club Country” and “18 Carat Love Affair”. That year the band released their most commercially successful album, Sulk. Martha Ladly, of Martha and the Muffins, contributed backing vocals and keyboards to this album.
Rankine left the band in 1982 just before the Sulk tour. This proved disastrous in terms of the band’s career, in particular as the band were being actively courted by Seymour Stein who thought they could become massive stars in the USA. Mackenzie continued to write and record music under the Associates name until 1990. The albums Perhaps, The Glamour Chase (which the record company refused to release, considering it not commercially viable) and Wild and Lonely were made during this period. However, without the guiding hand of Rankine, recordings were sporadic and subsequent Associates records failed to reach the charts in the UK and sold far fewer than their early albums.
The Associates name was put to rest and Mackenzie released the electronica-influenced solo album Outernational in 1992 with limited success. In 1993 Mackenzie and Rankine began working on new material together: news of an Associates revival generated hype and speculation of a tour and the demos recorded by the two were promising. However Mackenzie was not fully committed to the reunion and especially touring with it so Associates split for a final time. Mackenzie went back to his solo work, signing a deal with Nude Records and finding a new collaborative partner in Steve Aungle. Between 1987 and 1992 Billy worked with Swiss avant-garde outfit Yello. MacKenzie wrote the lyrics of the song “The Rhythm Divine” performed by Shirley Bassey on the album One Second, with MacKenzie singing backing vocals. MacKenzie contributed to three Yello albums; One Second (1987), Flag (1988) and Baby (1991). Some tracks for The Glamour Chase and Outernational were recorded with Boris Blank at Yello’s recording studio.
MacKenzie committed suicide in 1997 aged 39, shortly after the death of his mother. He had been suffering from clinical depression. He was contemplating a comeback at the time with material co-written with Aungle. The albums Beyond the Sun (1997) and Eurocentric (2000) were released posthumously and re-constructed (and expanded with new unreleased songs) in 2004 into two albums: Auchtermatic and Transmission Impossible.
Rankine is now a lecturer in music at Stow College in Glasgow, and worked with Belle & Sebastian on their debut album, Tigermilk in 1996.
The book The Glamour Chase by Tom Doyle documented the band’s career and MacKenzie’s subsequent life.
So many to choose from. Let’s celebrate the last hit single the duo enjoyed:-
And as a wee bonus, here’s a very different early version of the single as made available on the Double Hipness compilation. Dig that sax!!!!