Last updated
Studio album by
Released16 February 1979
Studio Townhouse Studios, London
Label Harvest
Producer John Leckie, Bill Nelson
Singles from Sound-on-Sound
  1. "Furniture Music"
    Released: February 1979
  2. "Revolt Into Style"
    Released: May 1979

Sound-on-Sound is the sole album by English new wave band Bill Nelson's Red Noise, released in February 1979 by record label Harvest. Band leader Bill Nelson formed the group after the disbandment of Be-Bop Deluxe in 1978. The record was recorded with producer and engineer John Leckie, and marks a stylistic change for Nelson with its emphasis on synthesizers. His lyrics were inspired by science fiction and dystopian themes, which the musician tried to present in a humorous way. The album cover, featuring a bed-ridden robot, was photographed by Bishin Jumonji


Promoted by the singles "Furniture Music" and "Revolt Into Style", Sound-on-Sound reached number 33 on the UK Albums Chart and perplexed fans and music critics, with criticism centred on its 'artificial' sound. EMI, Harvest's parent label, dropped Nelson in July 1979, rendering Sound-on-Sound their only album. It has been re-released by Harvest several times, including as a deluxe edition in 2012, and has been reappraised in a positive light by critics.

Background and recording

Since their 1972 inception, Bill Nelson was the leader and guitarist of eclectic rock band Be-Bop Deluxe, with whom he achieved some success, [2] but later found himself restricted as the group's guitarist. [3] With the band's final album, Drastic Plastic (1978), Nelson felt his ideas were marginalised compared to those of his bandmates, describing the record as disrupting the "transitional stage" he envisioned exploring between their previous album Modern Music (1976) and what became Sound-on-Sound. As such, he dissolved Be-Bop Deluxe, feeling that beginning a new band was "the only way to do what I wanted to do." [4] He had wished to dissolve the group before Drastic Plastic was recorded, but was persuaded by the band's management to continue. "Had I gotten my way," Nelson later said, "the Drastic Plastic material would have been recorded as the first Red Noise album. Instead, I adapted it for the final Be Bop album." [5]

The Minimoog is one of the most-used synths on Sound-on-Sound. Minimoog.JPG
The Minimoog is one of the most-used synths on Sound-on-Sound.

By forming Bill Nelson's Red Noise, the musician again exerted creative control, paying the other members as session musicians. He described the decision to form a band, rather than present himself as a solo musician with "an anonymous backing group", as a way of "hiding" and avoid being trapped "in a specific mould" if he achieved major success, saying: "This way I can change whatever cover I have to work under when my ideas alter or develop." [4] Be-Bop Deluxe keyboardist Andy Clark joined Nelson in Red Noise, with the line-up completed by Bill's brother Ian on saxophone and jazz bassist Rick Ford. Drumming on Sound-on-Sound is split between Nelson and Dave Mattacks. [6] The group recorded the album at Townhouse Studios, London, with producer and engineer John Leckie. [7] Nelson had worked with Leckie since the first Be-Bop Deluxe album and found their partnership had developed into a "very give-and-take" fashion. [4]

Recording the album was a simpler process than any Be-Bop Deluxe record due to the prevalence of synthesizers, which Nelson felt were "much richer, tonally, than you realise," and only used overdubs to emphasise a specific sound, typically guitars. He elaborated: "With a synthesizer you press a switch and a sound is the direct result. With a guitar you pluck a string, which resonates above a pick-up, which then sends a signal along a wire to an amplifier, etc, etc, etc. It's a thinner sound altogether, which is why we can reproduce the album material so much more simply onstage using a lot of electronic instruments." [4] The influence of electronic music on Nelson in the period, including groups like the Residents, led him to begin using a synthesizer guitar instead of an ordinary one, and processing snare drums through fuzzboxes, among other experimentation. [8] The most prominent synths on the album are the Minimoog and Yamaha CS80. [7] Several songs on the album were remixed at Utopia Studios, London. [7] Upon completion, Nelson felt unusually proud of the album, whereas with Be-Bop Deluxe albums he "couldn't bear to hear them for two months afterwards." [6]


Nelson wrote the songs on Sound-on-Sound about "mundane, domestic things," citing "electronic appliances, factories...the paraphernalia of the times," and commenting that the album's instrumentation and arrangements reflect this. [4] He said the "basic concept" behind the record was to explore all the science fiction themes he "hinted at" with Be-Bop Deluxe, who had one song on each album with such themes. [9] He drew inspiration from dystopian novels like E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops , Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and those by George Orwell, as well as the imagery of Fritz Lang's film Metropolis (1927), but also felt the album had a "future-kitsch element", highlighting its "slight tongue-in-cheek quality that suggests humorous absurdity" and describing the album as exploring its sinister concepts playfully. [5] According to critic Michael Waynick, the album's lyrics explore a wide palette of 20th century dystopian fantasies, ranging from "Soviet-style social realism to state-sponsored lobotomy," [10] while writer Daryl Easlea describes the album as modernistic and "full of 1984 -style portent." [11]

The music is characterised by its mechanical synthesizers, harsh guitars and frenzied rhythms. [10] By emphasising synthesised instrumentation, and eschewing guitar solos, the record marks a firm departure from Be-Bop Deluxe, [3] with Red Noise moving Nelson into a new wave direction, [12] [13] although a guitar solo does appear on "The Atom Age". [10] Nelson wrote some songs to break from "the idea of a rhythm which starts at point A and goes to point B by a logical progression," instead building songs like "Don't Touch Me (I'm Electric)", "Stop/Go/Stop" and "Radar in My Heart" in a more abnormal fashion until the results were "a little bit angular; you can't just flow through them, yet their urgency creates its own kind of flow." [6] The musician described the musical structure of "Art/Empire/Industy" as a jokey experiment "using a kind of Beatles' 'Twist & Shout' build-up but with modern instrumentation and techniques." [4] He wrote "Stop/Go/Stop" – which features the line "To Central Information, from Intelligence Patrol/We all must follow orders, obey remote control" – in 1977 about his future-wife Jan while he was still married to his first wife. He married Jan by the recording of Sound-on-Sound and reflected on the song: "I'd been trying to tell Jan how I felt about her through my songs. They were born out of this heady love I was feeling for her." [4]

Release and reception

The sleeve of Sound-on-Sound was designed by Japanese artist Bishin Jumonji, [11] and depicts a bed-ridden robot constructed of both electronic and electromechanical components, chosen by Nelson to represent the album's 'mundane, domestic' themes. [4] The back cover features an "Important Notice" writing that the album was "styled with today's hi-fi in mind," saying that the record should be "played at high volume in a room with no views other than those affored by the use of subliminal image video apparatus." [7] Nelson said he wrote the notice with his "tongue firmly in cheek". [5] During the band's live performances, the group wore Red Army-style matching uniforms and used intricate lighting to "underline the point of the music," according to Nelson, who elaborated: "The songs are about the impending gloom of 1984, the austerity and the indoctrination. But I wanted to present the band as the perpetrators rather than the victims. The uniforms are part of that." [4]

After disbanding Be-Bop Deluxe, Nelson gave EMI – parent company of Harvest Records, whom the band were signed to – a choice between signing Red Noise or dropping him altogether. Although the label agreed to sign Red Noise, they were taken aback when hearing Sound-on-Sound. Nelson elaborated: "A friend had dinner with EMI's head of A&R and told me he'd been asked, 'What's wrong with Bill? Why's he doing all this crazy music?'" [9] Harvest released Sound-on-Sound on 16 February 1979, [5] with the lead single "Furniture Music" being issued the same month. [11] While the album jarred Nelson's fan base, [14] it debuted and peaked at number 33 on the UK Albums Chart, where it stayed for five weeks, while "Furniture Music" reached number 59 on the UK Singles Chart, with "Revolt Into Style" reaching number 69 in May. [15] In the United States, where the album was released by Capitol Records, it was a commercial failure. [9]

Sound-on-Sound was released to polarising reviews from music critics, some of whom panned its intricate sound and compared it unfavourably with the work of Talking Heads and T. Rex. [4] John Orme of Melody Maker derided the album for its "transparently contrived" music, which he equated with the ben-ridden robot on the album cover. [4] Nelson was upset at the poor reception, telling interviewer Mark Williams that he felt reviewers chastised the album for sounding "artificial" when this was the intention of the album. He also rejected criticisms of the album being too dense and layered as "it was recorded so much more simply than the Be-bop albums." [4] Following the album's disappointing sales in the US, Nelson was dropped by Capitol. [9] In the UK, EMI dropped Nelson altogether in July 1979, alongside other groups like Wire, as the label was slimming down its roster and looking for more commercially viable artists. [9] [14] By that point, Nelson had been working on a second Red Noise album, which was intended for an August 1979 release, but the dropping left the tapes with EMI. He reworked some of the material for his solo album Quit Dreaming and Get on the Beam (1981); Nelson's prioritisation of solo material effectively ended Bill Nelson's Red Noise, [9]

Retrospective assessment and legacy

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar half.svg [10]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music Star full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svgStar empty.svgStar empty.svg [16]
The Great Rock Discography 7/10 [17]
Record Collector Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svg [11]

Sound-on-Sound went out-of-print in 1980–81, [5] but was re-released on vinyl by Cocteau Records in 1986, [5] and remastered for CD release by Harvest in 1999. [18] In 2012, Harvest released a deluxe edition of the album featuring live tracks, B-sides and Peel sessions. [11] Reviewing the vinyl reissue, Option said the album's "nervous, jagged King Crimson meets Queen at a new wave club sound (with some metal thrown in) sounds as much like MTV as anything on MTV, and that is intended as a compliment." [19] In a review of the 1999 reissue, Neil Mckay of Sunday Life wrote that the album's "pioneering electro/rock/pop" was "still sounding fresh." [20] Reviewing the 2012 reissue, Daryl Easlea of Record Collector called Sound-on-Sound "the intelligent, one-off a curio that split the crowd on release in 1979, but simply gets better with age." He hailed it for its "weird, futuristic music" which he felt was consistently surprising and speedy, concluding that the album "still sounds how you once imagined the future would be." [11] "Furniture Music" was also credited by Easlea for predicting Tubeway Army's hit single "Are 'Friends' Electric?" by three months, highlighting their "striking commonality". [11]

Michael Waynick of AllMusic praised the album as "a brilliant collection of anti-romantic anthems" that "sounds like Devo given the Phil Spector wall-of-sound treatment." He hailed its breathless pace and tuneful sound and wrote: "If Nelson did abandon Red Noise as a musical dead end, it was a fascinating cul-de-sac nonetheless." [10] His colleague Steven McDonald called the record "a fluid document that demonstrated Nelson's ability to experiment." [14] Mac Randall of Musician described Sound-on-Sound as a "brilliant album that went nowhere." [8] Ira Robbins of Trouser Press wrote that Nelson "attacked the future with gusto" with the album's mix of lyrical modernism and "subtly infiltrated synthetic sounds," but considered the songs to be "the weak link," which he felt were generally half-formed "despite some good ideas." [3] In The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music , Colin Larkin described the record as an "agitated but confused" response to "punk and techno-rock forces." [16] The music magazine Sound on Sound , established in 1995, was named after the album. [21]

Track listing

All songs written by Bill Nelson.

Side one

  1. "Don't Touch Me, (I'm Electric)" – 1:50
  2. "For Young Moderns" – 4:24
  3. "Stop/Go/Stop" – 3:10
  4. "Furniture Music" – 3:31
  5. "Radar in My Heart" – 1:36
  6. "Stay Young" – 3:11

Side two

  1. "Out of Touch" – 3:31
  2. "A Better Home in the Phantom Zone" – 4:26
  3. "Substitute Flesh" – 3:29
  4. "Atom Age" – 3:01
  5. "Art/Empire/Industry" – 2:45
  6. "Revolt into Style" – 3:23

2012 bonus tracks

  1. "Wonder Toys That Last Forever" ("Furniture Music" B-side)
  2. "Acquitted by Mirrors" ("Furniture Music" B-side)
  3. "Stay Young" (live at Leicester De Montfort Hall, 8 March 1979) ("Revolt Into Style" B-side)
  4. "Out of Touch" (live at Leicester De Montfort Hall, 8 March 1979) ("Revolt Into Style" B-side)
  5. "Stay Young" (Radio 1 Friday Rock Show session (17 February 1979)
  6. "Furniture Music" (Radio 1 Friday Rock Show session (17 February 1979)
  7. "Don’t Touch Me (I’m Electric)" (Radio 1 Friday Rock Show session (17 February 1979)
  8. "Out of Touch" (Radio 1 Friday Rock Show session (17 February 1979)


Adapted from the liner notes of Sound-on-Sound [7]

Bill Nelson's Red Noise

Related Research Articles

Neil Young Canadian singer-songwriter (born 1945)

Neil Percival Young is a Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, and activist. After embarking on a music career in Winnipeg in the 1960s, Young moved to Los Angeles, joining Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and others. Since the beginning of his solo career with his backing band Crazy Horse, Young has released many critically acclaimed and important albums, such as After the Gold Rush, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and Harvest.

Synth-pop is a subgenre of new wave music that first became prominent in the late 1970s and features the synthesizer as the dominant musical instrument. It was prefigured in the 1960s and early 1970s by the use of synthesizers in progressive rock, electronic, art rock, disco, and particularly the Krautrock of bands like Kraftwerk. It arose as a distinct genre in Japan and the United Kingdom in the post-punk era as part of the new wave movement of the late 1970s to the mid-1980s.

Yellow Magic Orchestra Japanese electronic music band

Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) is a Japanese electronic music band formed in Tokyo in 1978 by Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi and Ryuichi Sakamoto. The group is considered influential and innovative in the field of popular electronic music. They were pioneers in their use of synthesizers, samplers, sequencers, drum machines, computers, and digital recording technology, and effectively anticipated the "electropop boom" of the 1980s. They are credited with playing a key role in the development of several electronic genres, including synthpop, J-pop, electro, and techno, while exploring subversive sociopolitical themes throughout their career.

<i>Parallel Lines</i> 1978 studio album by Blondie

Parallel Lines is the third studio album by American rock band Blondie. It was released on September 23, 1978, by Chrysalis Records to international commercial success. The album reached No. 1 in the United Kingdom in February 1979 and proved to be the band's commercial breakthrough in the United States, where it reached No. 6 in April 1979. In Billboard magazine, Parallel Lines was listed at No. 9 in the top pop albums year-end chart of 1979. The album spawned several successful singles, notably the international hit "Heart of Glass".

Bill Nelson (musician) Musical artist

William Nelson is an English singer, guitarist, songwriter, producer, painter, video artist, writer and experimental musician. He rose to prominence as the chief songwriter, vocalist and guitarist of the rock group Be-Bop Deluxe, which he formed in 1972. Nelson has been described as "one of the most underrated guitarists of the seventies art rock movement". In 2015, he was recognised with the Visionary award at the Progressive Music Awards.

<i>So</i> (album) 1986 studio album by Peter Gabriel

So is the fifth studio album by English singer-songwriter Peter Gabriel, released on 19 May 1986 by Charisma Records. After working on the soundtrack to the film Birdy (1984), producer Daniel Lanois was invited to remain at Gabriel's Somerset home during 1985 to work on his next solo project. Initial sessions for So consisted of Gabriel, Lanois and guitarist David Rhodes, although these grew to include a number of percussionists.

John Leckie Musical artist

John William Leckie is an English record producer and recording engineer. His production credits include Magazine's Real Life (1978), XTC's White Music (1978) and Dukes of Stratosphear's 25 O'Clock (1985), the Stone Roses' The Stone Roses (1989), Radiohead's The Bends (1995), Cast's All Change (1995), Muse's Origin of Symmetry (2001) and the Levellers' We the Collective (2018).

Wont Get Fooled Again Song by the Who

"Won't Get Fooled Again" is a song by the English rock band the Who, written by Pete Townshend. It was released as a single in June 1971, reaching the top 10 in the UK, while the full eight-and-a-half-minute version appears as the final track on the band's 1971 album Who's Next, released that August.

Simon Andrew Clark is an English keyboard and synthesizer player best known for working alongside guitarist Bill Nelson in art rock band Be-Bop Deluxe and their synthpop offshoot Red Noise. One of his earlier involvements in music was as member of a progressive rock band from Sheffield, Yorkshire, called Mother's Pride.

Cherry Red Records is a British independent record label founded by Iain McNay in 1978. The label has released recordings by Dead Kennedys, Everything But the Girl, The Monochrome Set, and Felt, among others, as well as the compilation album Pillows & Prayers. In addition to releasing new music, Cherry Red also acts as an umbrella for individual imprints and catalogue specialists.

Be-Bop Deluxe

Be-Bop Deluxe were an English progressive rock band who achieved critical acclaim and moderate commercial success during the mid to late 1970s.

Ian Walter Nelson - 23 April 2006) was an English new wave musician, and younger brother of Be-Bop Deluxe singer and guitarist Bill Nelson, whom he accompanied in different musical projects. He played mainly the saxophone.

Bill Nelson's Red Noise, or more simply Red Noise, was Bill Nelson's umbrella term for what effectively became a British new wave band formed by himself, his brother Ian (saxophone), Andy Clark (keyboards) and Rick Ford (bass). Dave Mattacks and Steve Peer (drums) both had brief stints in the band.

<i>Drastic Plastic</i> 1978 studio album by Be-Bop Deluxe

Drastic Plastic is the fifth and final album by art rock band Be-Bop Deluxe, released in February 1978.

<i>Sunburst Finish</i> (album) 1976 studio album by Be-Bop Deluxe

Sunburst Finish is the third studio album by art rock band Be-Bop Deluxe, released in February 1976. It was recorded in Abbey Road Studios, London.

<i>Axe Victim</i> 1974 studio album by Be-Bop Deluxe

Axe Victim is the debut album by art rock band Be-Bop Deluxe, released in June 1974.

<i>Futurama</i> (Be-Bop Deluxe album) 1975 studio album by Be-Bop Deluxe

Futurama is the second album by the band Be-Bop Deluxe, released in 1975.

<i>Fetch</i> (album) 2013 studio album by Melt-Banana

Fetch is the seventh album by the Japanese noise rock band Melt-Banana. It was released on October 1, 2013, on CD, LP and digitally.

<i>Modern Music</i> (Be-Bop Deluxe album) 1976 studio album by Be-Bop Deluxe

Modern Music is the fourth studio album by the British progressive rock group Be-Bop Deluxe. It was produced by band leader Bill Nelson and producer/engineer John Leckie. As AllMusic reviewer William Ruhlmann states in his review, "the album charted high in England and made the Top 100 in the U.S., but it was Be Bop's peak, not its breakthrough.

<i>Hi-Tension</i> (album) 1978 studio album by Hi-Tension

Hi-Tension is the sole album by Britfunk band Hi-Tension, released in 1978 by Island Records. Following the domestic success of the band's hit single "Hi-Tension", considered the first Britfunk song, the band recorded the album with producers Alex Sadkin and Kofi Ayivor at Island Studios, London. Disagreements arose between producer Sadkin, who proposed a commercial direction, and band leader David Joseph who wanted the album to retain the band's aggressive live sound. Hi-Tension reached number 54 on the UK Albums Chart, while "British Hustle" provided the band with their sole Top 10 hit. Despite its muted reception, and the group subsequently disbanding, Hi-Tension has since been regarded as a key and influential album in Britfunk and British R&B.


  1. "Sound-On-Sound – Bill Nelson". AllMusic . Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  2. Ruhlmann, William. "Be-Bop Deluxe Artist Biography by William Ruhlmann". AllMusic. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  3. 1 2 3 Robbins, Ira. "Bill Nelson". Trouser Press. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Williams, Mark (24 March 1979). "Bill Nelson: The Sound Of Household Appliances". Melody Maker. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Sound-on-Sound". Bill Nelson. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  6. 1 2 3 Mitchell, Tony (1979). "Revolt into Style". Trouser Press. Archived from the original on 2013-10-22. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Sound-on-Sound (liner). Bill Nelson's Red Noise. Harvest. 1979.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  8. 1 2 Randall, Mac (August 1992). "Robert Wyatt & Bill Nelson: Tough Guys Don't Dance". Musician. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Green, Jim (November 1981). "Bill Nelson: Triumph of the Bill". Trouser Press. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Waynick, Michael. "AllMusic Review by Michael Waynick". AllMusic. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Easlea, Daryl. "Bill Nelson's Red Noise". Record Collector. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  12. "Deluxe Edition". Record Collector. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  13. "My Bizarre Double Life In The Pop World Of The Eighties". Beverly Glick. 2005. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  14. 1 2 3 McDonald, Steven. "Artist Biography by Steven McDonald". AllMusic. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  15. "Bill Nelson's Red Noise". Official Charts. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  16. 1 2 Larkin, Colin (1997). Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. London: Virgin Books. pp. 890–91. ISBN   1-85227 745 9.
  17. Strong, Martin C. (1994). The Great Rock Discography. Edinburgh: Canongate Press. p. 581. ISBN   0862413850.
  18. Sound-on-Sound (liner). Bill Nelson's Red Noise. Harvest. 1999.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  19. "Bill Nelson's Red Noise". Option. Sonic Options Network: 68. 1987. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  20. Mckay, Neil (31 October 1999). "The Only Ones to Know". Sunday Life: 35. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  21. Humberstone, Nigel (1995). "Bill Nelson: Guitar Boy In Wonderland" . Retrieved 30 April 2015.