Looking back, it would be all too easy to mistaken new wave music as a purely English thing. After all, some of the biggest names in the genre came from across the pond. America actually has a rich new wave tradition that evolved out of the New York punk scene. It actually predates the second wave of the British Invasion that was in full swing by the mid-’80s. Bands like The Knack and The Cars brought technology inspired music to the mainstream early on in The States before anyone knew who Duran Duran was.
The Cars would ride the wave to pop like everyone else as former edgy bands went top 40. While The Producers were getting airplay from their second album You Make the Heat, the leading edge of new wave was already making the transition to mainstream pop.
As an extension of the rich and under hyped legacy of American new wave, The Producers were typical of a small crop of bands (mostly from the West Coast) who personified the quirkiness of new wave but with within the muscular rhythmic framework of power pop and various forms of arena rock.
It was a distinctly Americanized interpretation of the genre with slightly brighter themes set to slick rock styled production. At some point the aftermath of the punk explosion sent a wedge through the music world, giving birth to edgy experimental music from bands like The Talking Heads and The B-52s. On the other side of the wedge were transitional veterans like The Cars and by extension bands like The Producers. The early ’80s was still a time when American new wave bands were making the transition to a more electronic sound. The Producers did this while holding on to a traditional guitar based model.
As one of my favorite bands to personify this small and short-lived movement, The Producers popularity came and went almost as quickly as the genre’s transition. The Southern based band’s flame burned brightly for only a few years peaking in ’82-’83 with the release of their second hit single “She Shelia” from the surprisingly good You Make The Heat.
You’d never know it from looking at the weird album cover featuring a iced over building with a “hot” girl looking out the window, that this was American new wave power pop at its finest.
Somewhere between Rick Springfield and the Tubes, The Producers had a typically Californian if not pre-Miami Vice look. Their sound however combined the best of mainstream new wave and rock (Cheap Trick , The Tubes etc.) to create a fresh rhythmic sound that was right in the sweet spot between an electronic and a traditional rock based sound.
Being from Atlanta meant that they were not completely impervious to the wave of new music coming out of Athens and North Carolina. Dear John had the retro vintage sound of a Don Dixon production, but for the most part You Make the Heat was a contemporary collection of musical styles of the early ’80s.
Combinations of slap bass funk (“Back to Basics”) and danceable power pop/rock (“Operation”) coexisted with more traditional straight forward songs. Led by guitarist, Van Temple, The Producers lead vocalist may not have been the most distinctive, but his voice worked well with the high energy, upbeat nature of You Make the Heat’s 9 tracks.
The wonderful melody and rhythm of the album reached a highpoint on “She Shelia”, the albums only real hit. Reaching the top 50, the single got heavy airplay on MTV and was an early example of how the popularity of new media may not have always aligned with traditional chart/radio airplay systems. The popularity of that single got them on the touring circuit with Cheap Trick (a fitting match) and The Motels in 1983. I was in the 11th grade then and remember how frustratingly difficult it was to find You Make the Heat on LP (seemed the Camelot Music mall store only had the cassette in stock). I ended up with the record years later from one of the shops across from The Ohio State University here in Columbus.
After “She Shelia” the band seemed to drop off completely, despite recording well into the present day. You Make The Heat has been out of print for some time which is a shame because it represents an often overlooked period when American new wave and power pop merged to produce a great album (if not band).
Bubblegum pop became the norm for nearly all of what was left of new wave. Artists like Rick Springfield would hold down the middle ground between rock and the “new” pop as The Producers faded into obscurity. In the process Springfield become the poster boy for new wave influenced power pop, while bands like The Producers were all but forgotten.