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Members include Pete Burns (born on August 5, 1959, in Port Sunlight, England; married; wife's name, Lynne), vocals; Steve Coy, drums; Martin Healey, keyboards; Wayne Hussey, guitar; Tim Lever, keyboards; Mike Percy, bass. Addresses: Record company--Sony Music, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022. Website--Dead or Alive Official Website: http://www.deadoralive.net.
Dead or Alive's 1985 hit "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" endured as a dance-club classic around much of the world for nearly two decades after its release. The British synth-pop band, led by its notoriously eccentric frontman Pete Burns, is sometimes unfairly characterized as a one-hit wonder. Dead or Alive did issue a number of chart-toppers throughout the 1980s and subsequently found a dedicated cult following. Even early on, however, Burns was wary of fame. "When you become a pop star you're meant to be an ambassador for the goodness of the earth, say all the right things, encourage people in wholesome ways," he told Abigail Wild, a journalist for the Glasgow, Scotland, Herald. "I just wasn't ... interested."
Born in 1959, Burns was in his mid-twenties when Dead or Alive issued their phenomenally successful second album Youthquake in 1985. He was the son of a German-Jewish refugee of the Holocaust who had wed a British soldier. Burns later said in interviews that his mother had suffered a nervous breakdown when she learned the details of what had happened to her family members during World War II. Burns recalled his father as a taciturn sort who once spotted a young Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones on a television show and delivered a brief outburst about Jagger's looks. "That was the first time I'd heard him talk in two weeks," Burns told Kate Thornton in an interview in London's Sunday Times.
Joined with Julian Cope
Burns remembered that the children in the town of Port Sunlight, where he spent his first 13 years, teased him because of his mother's German background. She was an elegant woman and he inherited her love of fashion. "She'd do five costume changes a day and had a real thing about make-up," he told Thornton. "Every day at 5.30 [a.m.], she'd barricade herself into the front room and do her face." Burns discovered a penchant for costumes at an early age, and he also became fascinated by Native American culture. For a time he wore an Indian headdress constantly, and held court in a tepee his mother managed to convince school authorities to let him put up on the playground. Around 1972, when he was 13, the family moved to Liverpool. His classmates were unforgiving about his eccentricities, which by age 14 included dyed red hair and thoroughly shaved-off eyebrows, and he eventually dropped out of school. For a time he worked as a hairdresser in a mall, where his outrageous look--including green foundation, bouffant wigs, and pink latex costumes--drew shoppers to gawk at him through the salon's windows. Untrained as hairdresser, he was eventually fired.
For a time Burns ran a series of boutiques in Liverpool. His first band, a shortlived 1977 venture with Julian Cope, was called the Mystery Girls. Two years later he formed Nightmares in Wax with some other musicians and renamed the band Dead or Alive, but the original band members were eventually replaced after a first single, "I'm Falling," was released in 1980. The record was produced by Ian Broudie, later of Echo & the Bunnymen fame. Dead or Alive's formal lineup was in place by 1981 and teamed Burns, who sang, with keyboardist Martin Healey, Steve Coy on drums, guitarist Wayne Hussey, and Mike Percy on bass. Their first record together was "Number Eleven," released in May of 1981.
The band soon became lost in the crowd when the "New Romantic" movement broke in England, which included Duran Duran, the Human League, and Ultravox. When Boy George came on the scene in the early 1980s with his band Culture Club, his colorful, androgynous appearance caused a sensation, but Burns claimed Boy George had actually copied his look. Dead or Alive soldiered on, releasing an EP titled It's Been Hours Now in February of 1982. "The Stranger," a single from the EP, got them signed to major label Epic. "That's the Way (I Like It)," a cover of the 1975 disco-era standout tune from KC and the Sunshine Band, nearly became a hit, coming close to cracking the Top 20 in Britain.
Slow Rise to Number One
Dead or Alive's first full-length release for Epic was Sophisticated Boom Boom in 1984. With his newfound income, Burns decided to have a nose job, the first of several surgeries on his face, not all of them well-timed. The album's first single, "I'd Do Anything," suddenly became a hit, and the band found themselves appearing on a top-rated British pop music television showcase. "The operation was a disaster--my nose completely caved in on one side," Burns told Thornton. "I'm at home recovering, when I get a call telling me I'm on Top of the Pops next Tuesday. That's why I had to wear that eye patch. It wasn't a fashion statement, it was practical."
Sophisticated Boom Boom was followed by Youthquake, the band's biggest success. "You Spin Me Round" hit number one in the United Kingdom late in 1984, and headed across the Atlantic to capture American alternative dance-club playlists through much of 1985. Few had seen it coming. "Everyone in this building to a man said, 'This is not a hit record,'" Burns told Wild. It had been slow to chart, taking 42 weeks to reach the number one spot in Britain, but the song cemented the band in the annals of 1980s dance-pop. It also launched the songwriting careers of Stock Aitken and Waterman, a trio of hitmakers who went on to write chart-toppers for Bananarama and Rick Astley.
Youthquake featured a few other hits, including "Lover Come Back to Me" and "In Too Deep," but many music critics were unimpressed. "Despite Burns's challenging transsexual appearance ... he revealed himself to be a singularly flaccid performer," wrote David Sinclair in the London Times, after reviewing a show at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1985 at the height of the band's fame. Sinclair dismissed the band's sound as a collection of numbers "all marked by the same inexorable disco thud."
Bowed Out of Madonna Tour
Dead or Alive had another minor hit in 1986 with "Something in My House," but failed to capture new listeners with their 1987 LP Mad, Bad, & Dangerous to Know. They were offered an opening slot on Madonna's "Who's That Girl?" tour, but Burns's mother had just been diagnosed with cancer and given only months to live. He told Wild, "A manager left an answerphone message telling me, 'If you don't want your ... career to die of cancer like your mother, you should pack your bags.'" He refused to go. The band went on hiatus until 1989, when they returned with Nude. It produced their last chart hit, "Turn Around and Count 2 Ten," after which all the band members except for Coy and Burns left the band.
Dead or Alive languished for the next decade, appearing only on compilations, and Burns settled into a quiet home life in the posh Holland Park section of London. Invited to appear on the popular British music-geek game show Never Mind the Buzzcocks in 2002, he showed up with what appeared to be an entirely new face, with sculpted cheekbones and massive lips. In press interviews he admitted to having had several minor procedures, in part because he was bored with his looks and wanted to avoid looking like grizzled Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards. "I cannot accept just looking at the same thing, decaying," he told the London Guardian's Sylvia Patterson.
Dead or Alive's record label capitalized on 1980s nostalgia with Evolution: The Hits in 2003, and Burns and Coy even did a few live club gigs in London upon its release. Happily married since 1980, Burns continued to sport outrageous outfits and makeup, and was confident that even his new face would set a standard for the future. "In 1973 I had my nose pierced. People were queuing up outside the shop where I worked to see the bloke with a hole in his nose," he pointed out to Karen Price of the Cardiff, Wales, Western Mail. "Now housewives walk around with piercings."
by Carol Brennan
Dead or Alive's Career
Group formed as Nightmares in Wax in Liverpool, England, 1979; name changed to Dead or Alive later that year; released single "I'm Falling," 1980; disbanded later that year; re-formed band, released single, "Number Eleven," 1981; EP It's Been Hours Now released, 1982; signed by Epic Records, 1982; band toured England later that year; first full-length LP, Sophisticated Boom Boom, released, 1984; "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" reached number one in England, 1984; toured Japan and United States, 1987; by 1989 the band consisted of only Burns and Coy.
- Selected discography
- It's Been Hours Now (EP), Inevitable, 1982.
- Sophisticated Boom Boom Columbia, 1984.
- Youthquake Epic, 1985.
- Mad, Bad, & Dangerous to Know Columbia, 1986.
- Nude Columbia, 1989.
- Nukleopatra Sony, 1995.
- Evolution: The Hits Epic/Legacy, 2003.
- Billboard, June 21, 2003, p. 34.
- Guardian (London, England), April 19, 2003, p. 4.
- Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), April 23, 2003, p. 16.
- San Francisco Chronicle, June 28, 2002, p. 2.
- Sunday Times (London, England), May 11, 2003, p. 26.
- Times (London, England), July 8, 1985, p. 8.
- Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), May 16, 2003, p. 4.
- Dead or Alive Official Website, http://www.deadoralive.net (June 30, 2004).
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