Imagination – “Just An Illusion”

There’s no measuring of how much I adore this song. I fell in love with it since its first release dating back in July/August 0f 1982, and I will take it to the grave with me when I pass on.

August of 1982…
My mother and father were taking me around London, shopping for a list of stuff required for me to bring to my boarding-school (Millfield Prep School) which was about to start the first week of the following September.  At the age of 11 years-old, I had been deluged with fear. It was my first time being enrolled in a British boarding-school in Glastonbury countryside. I was counting the 40 or less days left until I would suffer separation anxiety from my mother. As a young Iraqi, I did not understand nor was able to adapt as well as the other British kids to the standards of being sent away from my family, for months at a time, to some place far away where kids sleep in dormitories with 12-plus persons in each room. No candy. No toys. No games (unless school provides them). No walkmans, no music! WHAT WHAT WHAT-!! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD-!!!

So I broke that rule! I made myself few compilation tapes of music recorded from 12-inch records. I had a Sony Walkman, one stereo headphones and one mono earphone with me at school. I was secretly listening to my tapes … nobody else ever knew about it. :twisted:   Even when I was in bed after lights-out, I used the concealed earphone to listen to music. Never once was I caught. I beat the system!

Just An Illusion was my savior all along. Played that track over and over again at school, until the cassette tape got worn out over time, thus sounding more hissy and saturated.

Christmas 1982, England…
Best white Christmas ever in my life. I was on a four-week holiday break and back at home with mom, dad and elder brother, Jeff. We had just moved into our new house in the countryside of Denham Village, Buckinghamshire. England was the best during Christmas seasons in my life. And this one in 1982 was the most special. As a family of non-believers of Islam, we celebrated Christmas for the first time with a bang. Biggest turkey ever. Snow outside. Christmas lights and decorations. People in Denham Village’s main Village-Road were cheery. Bright lights. Lots of sweets at the small shop owned and operated by a very sweet old lady. And on Christmas day, my brother gave me the best present ever: BMX bicycle. I never knew how to ride bikes before. But after six dedicated days of trying … and with the help of Imagination‘s Just An Illusion track playing on the walkman … I learned to ride a bike for the first time in my life on new year’s eve. The biggest achievement I’ve ever accomplished by leaps and bounds! It was magic! The emotion was sensational. The feeling was liberating … to be able to ride a machine that had two wheels and travel around the countryside alone … with the walkman on … listening to music. Countless of joyrides on that BMX while listening to Just An Illusion.

Imagination – “Just An Illusion” (Original Version)…

Artist: Imagination
Title: Just An Illusion (Original Version)
Year: 1982
Label: R & B Records

Imagination – “Just An Illusion” (Original Version) (mp3)

 

Imagination – “Just An Illusion” (Night Dubbing Mix)…

Artist: Imagination
Title: Just An Illusion (Night Dubbing Mix)
Year: 1982
Label: R & B Records

Imagination – “Just An Illusion” (Night Dubbing Mix) (mp3)

 

Imagination – “Just An Illusion” (Correct Claps Mix)…

Artist: Imagination
Title: Just An Illusion (Correct Claps Mix)
Year: 1982
Label: R & B Records

Imagination – “Just An Illusion” (Correct Claps Mix) (mp3)

 

Imagination – “Just An Illusion” (1989 Remix)…

Artist: Imagination
Title: Just An Illusion (1989 Remix)
Year: 1989
Label: R & B Records

Imagination – “Just An Illusion” (1989 Remix) (mp3)

 

About Imagination – Just An Illusion…

The following is quoted from from the sleeve-note of The Very Best Of Imagination, Just An Illusion double-CD (picture below):

Looking at Leee John’s nether regions and his luxuriant falsetto, the phrase ‘all mouth and no trousers’ might well have been invented to describe Imagination. Neither demure nor modest (they were once ordered to cover up when meeting the Prince and Princess of Wales), their outrageous stage presence masked a surprisingly deep well of songwriting talent and a vastly underrated catalogue of recordings.

Named for the recently deceased John Lennon’s unctuous ‘Imagine’, Imagination came into being in early 1981 with the hypno-disco groove ‘Body Talk’. Predicated on a monstrous Linn-programmed kick drum and a hypnotic synth-bassline, ‘Body Talk’ somehow managed to be a killer dance record that was ponderously slow. The best compliment one could give a British dance record in the early 80s was that it sounded American and ‘Body Talk’ did, indeed, sound like it might have come from yet another Manhattan or Detroit hit factory. This was probably no coincidence. ‘Body Talk’ also marked the debut of the production duo Steve Jolley and Tony Swain, a pair who’d met while working on the Muppet Show, and who went on to produce Bananarama’s finest singles, including ‘Cruel Summer’, as well as Spandau Ballet (‘True’), Diana Ross and Alison Moyet.

Imagination originally came together through Leee John and Ashley Ingram, both of whom met while working in pick-up bands for touring American acts like the Deflonics and Chairman of the Board. They formed the short-lived Fizzz before meeting West Indian drummer Errol Kennedy and completing the trio. ‘Body Talk’ was a slow burner, totally ignored on radio, but thanks to the support of DJs like Steve Walsh its popularity was sealed in the clubs and by the time it reached TV there was no stopping them. This might have been something to do with the costumes. Aided variously by bin-liners, giant pianos, Centurions’ helmets, generous helpings of dry ice and what might well have been crocheted nappies, Imagination’s image glided effortlessly from gay Romans to transsexual boxers let loose in a sari factory (no wonder Leee John appeared on Doctor Who).

They swiftly became permanent fixtures on mainstream TV, while Leee John’s pleasingly daft persona masked a fierce talent for songwriting (along with Swain and Jolley, John and Ashley Ingram co-wrote all of Imagination’s hits). Their debut album Body Talk yielded a further two Top 20 smashes with ‘In And Out Of Love’ and ‘Flashback’ (as well as club classic ‘Burnin’ Up’) and eventually went gold. A 22-date UK tour swiftly sold out (crocheted nappies had never been so popular). In The Heat Of The Night, their sophomore album, was yet more successful with four of its eight tracks eventually ending up as hit singles. Drawing on the then fashionable influences of Romanology, the trio were portrayed as Centurions atop a winding keyboard that jutted out into the stratosphere, thrusting past Neptune and possibly even beyond the services at Newport Pagnell. This vivid imagery was offset by yet more winning tunes, none less so than ‘Just An Illusion’, the group’s biggest hit (no. 2, UK), again employing the synth-bass and heavy kick-drum beloved of its predecessors

Although crossover success eluded them in the United States, Imagination were huge in Europe and beyond, particularly in France where they even had a horse race, Le Prix De Caen, re-named in their honour (it’s now known as Le Prix Imagination). Despite the lack of pop action in America, their status as club heroes remained undiminished right through the ’80s – it waned somewhat in the UK possibly because of chart success, but also perhaps because of their outré Frankie-Howerd-in-a-turkish-brothel look. They had a huge following in America’s gay clubs with several of their songs being remixed by the leading DJs du jour, such as François Kevorkian and Larry Levan and they continued to enjoy high placings in the Billboard dance charts well past the ’80s. (Imagination eventually signed to RCA and made an uneven album with American producers like Arthur Baker and Nick Martinelli towards the turn of the decade.)

By the end of the 1980s, Imagination had spent a total of 105 weeks on the UK singles charts, released a series of gold albums and embarked on an endless series of sell-out tours throughout the world. And they had worn more gold and see-through satin than Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra. In fact, they looked like they might have actually been in Cleopatra. For a while, Imagination quietly melted away, as the original members left and, finally, Leee John concentrated on other avenues. But the music never really went away. In the 1990s, it was down to the samplers to keep things boiling, with PM Dawn, who sampled ‘Just an Illusion’ on ‘Gotta Be Movin’ Up’, while last year, Mariah Carey’s stupendously good ‘Get Your Number’ was again built around the gigantic bassline of ‘Just An Illusion’. And if you count Leee John’s appearances in the club charts with ‘Mighty Power of Love’ and his collaborations with Club 69, Imagination never really went away.

Musically derided by so many, the ’80s was, in fact, one of the most creative decades ever for pop music, from the invention of hip hop to house and techno, Prince in his pomp and the flowering of the New Romantics with their unique brand of synth pop (and worryingly florid dress sense). Imagination were part of that early 80s revolution that took pop music out of the staid confines of ‘real’ instruments and dull rock formatting, and dragged it into the latter part of the century. The electronic production pioneered by Swain and Jolley on Imagination’s albums might have been viewed as prosaic ten years hence, but back then was undoubtedly revolutionary.

For this gleaming piece of aural artwork you’re presently holding, we’ve selected what we think are the best cuts from the R&B catalogue (their best and most consistent work) and in particular the golden period working with Jolley and Swain. While CD 1 focuses primarily on the hits but also manages to shoe-horn in a couple of choice ballads, I’ll Always Love You and I’m Coming To Get You. Over on CD 2 we’ve included some criminally overlooked album tracks like Shoo Be Doo Da Dabba Doobee (don’t be fooled by its mildly preposterous Flintstone-esque title, it’s altogether splendid) and So Good, So Fine, but we’ve also included the entire Nightdubbing album, imagination’s legendary club remixes LP, which, just so you know, also achieved double gold status. For good measure, we’ve also slung in a few of the original 12-inch mixes. If we got any more generous, we’d be giving it away. Imagination? No illusion.

© Bill Brewster, 2006

Original music video of Imagination – “Just An Illusion”…

Live performance video of Imagination – “Just An Illusion”…

Mantronix - "Simple Simon"

Spring 1988, Denham Village, Buckinghamshire, UK ….. on the way to Syco Systems (high-end pro audio shop — by appointment only — caters only to high-end clientele and famous artists such as Peter Gabriel) to pick up the gear for my first studio (see pictures below)  ….. I heard this track by Mantornix on the radio.

Notice: If you need to know more about Mantronix and the man himself, Kurt Mantronik, refer to my previous blog Hanson & Davis. Please read that first and then come back here and continue reading this blog/article.

I used to dream about having a Linn-9000 one day, so I could load my own drum samples and program beats with its sequencer; I used to sit for hours and drool over the brochures of the Roland D-50 synth and think about how breathy and paddy (also see video below) my tracks would sound along with the Linn-9000 drums pulsing underneath. The D-50 was revolutionary at its time (1987), because it was the first synth to have built-in effects, such as the the reverb, attack-transient samples and linear synthesis, among many other things. When I went to Syco Systems with my dad to buy the new gear, Kendall Wrightson (see quick shout-out below) informed me that the Linn-9000 was no longer in production, because its parent company went bankrupt; however, its designer Roger Linn had come up with a much better machine through Akai. He pointed his finger towards the Akai MPC60 at the other end of the room. It was GORGEOUS. It looked like a mean machine with a tilting LCD screen! Oh, those 16 square rubber finger pads. I didn’t hesitate to add it on the transaction. Kendall said something along the lines that he had one in stock, boxed and with Tony Banks’ name on it (yes, Tony Banks — the keyboardist of Genesis), but Tony didn’t want it at the time. When I looked at the box, sure enough his name was in fact printed on the shipping label.

After picking up my new studio gear from Syco, I stopped by Our Price record store, bought the 12-inch of Simple Simon and then drove home from London to my parent’s country-home in Denham Village. I love this track through and through. It’s very melodic and street-emotional, especially the bassline. Love the guitars (which are not real but tone-sampled and played from a keyboard sampler). The sound and style is very different from Mantronix’ previous releases which were more freestyle-based. Simple Simon sounded more mature but still had that “Mantronix” feel … perhaps it was the snappy, hard drum samples and programming coming from an E-mu SP-1200. Whatever it was, it certainly had the Mantronix‘ stamp with MC Tee‘s rap vocals. These two guys really stood out with this one.

I used to play both A and B sides of the 12-inch. Check out the amazing editing and fast-gating on You Dubba Regard mix, which were very hard to produce. Around that same time of year, the Latin Rascals were doing clever edits like this, with stutters, splice-edits and gated chops. Check out their sound/edits on Information Society’s – What’s On Your Mind which I’ve blogged about previously.

Quick shout-out to Kendall Wrightson:

Kendall Wrightson
who was my personal salesman at Syco Systems. He was very well-known in the pro-audio industry, for representing and selling high-end gear like the Fairlight (watch Kendall’s demonstration), SyclaviersSSL mixer consoles, etc.. There were times when Kendall used to let me and my best friend Noel Derblich to go inside one of Syco‘s studio rooms and transfer samples from the E-mu Emulator-III (also watch video here) to my Akai MPC60 drum-sampler/sequencer (64 midi channel, 99 tracks). Kendall was also featured in several documentaries about music technology.

Mantronix – “Simple Simon” (You Gotta Rock Hard)…

Artist: Mantronix
Title: Simple Simon (You Gotta Rock Hard)
Year: 1988
Label: 10 Records (UK)
Media Source: Recorded straight from 12-inch record to enhanced digital.

Simple Simon – “Simple Simon” (You Gotta Rock Hard) (mp3)

 

Mantronix- “Simple Simon” (You Dubba Regard)…

Artist: Mantornix
Title: Simple Simon (You Dubba Regard)
Year: 1988
Label: 10 Records (UK)
Media Source: Recorded straight from 12-inch record to enhanced digital.

Mantronix – “Simple Simon” (You Dubba Regard) (mp3)

 

My first studio with nice gear which I've bought from Syco Systems, London. Kendall Wrightson was my personal salesman. See his videos below.

Kendall Wrightson at Syco Systems, demonstrating the Linn-9000…

Kendall Wrightson at Syco System, demonstrating the Fairlight…

Roland D-50 synthesizer demonstration of its sounds/presets…

E-mu Emulator-II demonstration of its sounds/presets…

Mantronix - “Simple Simon”…

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