When MTV entered the households of countless kids across the U.S. in the early ’80s, bands with a strong visual sense were able to take the imaginations of teenagers by storm. A lot of these groups were English – Duran Duran, The Thompson Twins, The Human League, etc. – but a few American groups carved out their own airplay niche with the right mix of catchy tunes and eye-catching imagery. One of the most notable American outfits from this early wave was Missing Persons.
All their videos had the right combo of cutting edge video stylization with hairstyles and makeup that could compete with anything the New Romantics had to offer. Best of all, they had a stunning frontwoman in Dale Bozzio: her neon colored hair, Hollywood starlet looks and racy attire captured attention on every t.v. screen. However, it’s often forgotten that they were serious musicians beneath those video theatrics: most of the members had collaborated with Frank Zappa and they worked with top-shelf producers like Ken Scott and Bernard Edwards on their own music. They only lasted three albums in their original incarnation but said catalog is full of interesting listening for new wave ravers young and old.
Members: Dale Bozzio (vocals), Terry Bozzio (drums/keyboards/vocals), Warren Cuccurullo (guitar), Patrick O’Hearn (bass/keyboards), Chuck Wild (keyboards)
SPRING SESSION M (1982): this debut shows Missing Persons had all the new wave moves down pat – Dale’s quirky “Betty Boop meets Lene Lovich” vocals, slick synths, angular rhythms, punky pop hooks – but there was also complex musicianship and a surprising rock sensibility under those trappings. For example, consider the radio favorites: “Words” offsets the hooky chorus with brash, sometimes avant-garde riffing from Cuccurullo, “Destination Unknown” harnesses Philip Glass-esque minimalism to create a sleek electro-pop cruiser and the amusing California social satire “Walking In L.A.” is a perfect gene-splice of airy synth-pop and chugging rock and roll. They all share a sense of songcraft felt in similarly catchy album tracks “It Ain’t None Of Your Business” and “Bad Streets.” There’s also a post-punk edginess that pops up on tunes like the churning “Here And Now” and “Rock And Roll Suspension,” which is full of crazy, high-speed drum fills from Bozzio. Dark horse favorite: “U.S. Drag,” an unexpectedly jazzy recitation about American small town desperation that has a new-wave-goes-noir melody and sultry, Debbie Harry-esque vocals from Dale.
RHYME & REASON (1984): the band’s persona and chops remain in place on album #2 but the sound broadens in a number of interesting ways. The foremost is the production style, which trades the balanced yet powerful electro-rock of the last album for a digital audiophile sound that allows you to hear every detail in stark relief. There’s also a new focus on groove: listen for the finger-popping bass driving the verses of “Right Now” and the ornate, almost jazz-funk rhythms formed by serpentine guitar and bass lines on “Give.” Bozzio’s drums are predominately electronic so this sounds very ‘1984’ throughout but his playing remains complex, his quicksilver fills enhanced by the precision of electronic percussion. Dale’s vocals are subtler this go-round, showing a new expressiveness on the disarmingly delicate balladry of “Surrender Your Heart” and gliding elegantly over the percolating spage-age grandeur of “If Only For The Moment.” Elsewhere, the group’s new wave style is represented by the bracing, angular “Clandestine People” and “Racing Against Time.” A cult fave with fans that other new wavers should seek out.
COLOR IN YOUR LIFE (1986): New wave was a memory by the time this album emerged and that’s reflected in a serious stylistic about-face. Some fans call this Missing Persons’ “Power Station album,” which fits as Bernard Edwards produced both. Songs like the title track and “I Can’t Think About Dancin'” push synths back in the mix to create an aggressive rock/dance hybrid built on huge, booming drums and growling guitars that reflect the production values of the era. Echoes of past new wave can felt in tunes like “No Secrets” and “Boy I Say To You” but even there, the guitar/drum excess takes the fore. The loudness of the approach and the tendency of most songs to stay within a singular groove once established can be wearying if you’re not in the right mood but the playing is as sharp as ever, the choruses remain catchy and Dale’s vocals ride the big sound with style and surprising subtlety. Unexpected surprise: “We Don’t Know Love At All,” an atmospheric power ballad sung by Terry Bozzio.
Note: all the above albums have received excellent CD reissues by Rubellan Remasters, all of which have fantastic sound and copious bonus tracks. Click here to order directly from the label.