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In this edition of my “Higher Culture” VIP culture column, in a special aside on this side, I ask a musical trivia question–then render a verdict at the end.

So, first, the question: Do you remember the ’80s pop hit, “The Promise”?

No, not “Promises, Promises” by Naked Eyes, released in 1983. Not only are the BPM (beats per minute) more laconic, but it has a truly casual, snare-heavy, and real drumbeat — not a synthetic one. I don’t think you could even argue that that one is a love song, something the song I’m talking about most definitely is.

And certainly not “A Promise,” which was a UK/Europe-only single from Echo & The Bunnymen’s “Heaven Up Here” (1981) LP. You’ve probably never heard it anyway — since it isn’t “Lips Like Sugar” or “Bring On The Dancing Horses” or “Killing Moon.” But, I digress (besides, that’s for another VIP article, probably).
So, in 1987,  When In Rome‘s “The Promise,” a synth-pop, one-hit wonder among many of that decade, was released. And you really could not escape it on MTV, with its heavy rotation.
Now, readers, I’d planned on giving you all some background about this band, When In Rome, but honestly, they’re somewhat mysterious. The music research/sales site Discogs.com doesn’t provide much of a bio, other than listing the members’ names, and saying the group didn’t make it out of the Eighties intact.

So, why bring them up at all? I recently stumbled across what might perhaps be the most useless and wonderful video of all time. If you’ve read this far, you remember “The Promise” and its chorus. And that it’s impossible to listen to the chorus and not have a smile on your face.

But, what if I told you that you could listen to a full hour of just the chorus?

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A bit of overkill, admittedly. And there are other downsides; you miss three very important things:

One, the lovely, slow piano, starting things off all alone, before the shuffling beat of the drum machine kicks in.

Two, the insistent middle lyrics, “I gotta tell ya,” et cetera.

And of course, the breathy, earnest ending, with “the promise” of simply “I will.”

You can hear those below, in the full song– which I was shocked to learn only clocks in just under 3:40:

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But let me ask you to consider another artist, one you likely have never heard of before now — and you really should have, if there were any (pop) justice in the world. Not only is the music underappreciated, and altogether, (in my opinion) better, synth-pop from the ’80s, but it hasn’t been played to death, either in the decade or now, in the ’80s revival.

I think it continues to show that there was quite a wide range of synth music in the late 70s and early 80s — and beyond.

Shona Laing is a New Zealand pop songstress, but she seems to have started out her career in the early Seventies, in the mold of Joan Baez (that is, kind of a hippy type). When I first heard of her, though, it was 1987, and she was belting out politically-charged pop ballads played on alternative rock/college rock radio. And I would argue that her music–well, two of her songs–should be well-known as part of the ’80s lexicon.

Here’s one, and it’s really lovely and orchestral (while still being political). It’s about… the Kennedy clan and their penchant for tragedy. Real Top 40 material, for sure.

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But, Laing had a another single, which–at 4:40–is about a minute longer than “The Promise.”

And it’s called “Soviet Snow.” Yeah, it’s topical right now, isn’t it?

The entrancing melody, traced out in ethereal synths right near the beginning, bounces along with a beat similar to the other song — a shuffling, poppy/dance-y gait, which belies not very jovial subject matter (nuclear fallout/the Cold War). To be fair, in a similar way, the Smiths didn’t get far in the States, with songs about killing the Queen, corporal punishment, and vegetarianism (yeah, I know).

Note: If you dig it as much as I do and want more, take a listen to a remix that runs just under 6:50 (props to my friend, synth musician Randall Erkelens for the intro to this Art of Mix version)!

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Higher Culture verdict: Unfortunately for Laing, she was either behind or ahead of her time. Eighties radio station program directors and record company P.R. folks were not keen on playing/promoting synth pop tunes about the Cold War and John F. Kennedy facing down the USSR. But, what can you do?

Source: This post first appeared on RedState

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