Billy Mackenzie was The Associates. Sure, there was Alan Rankine, who wrote the melodies. But melody was never why you remembered The Associates. It was for Mackenzie's extraordinary voice. If pop was opera, then Billy Mackenzie was the diva of the early 80's.
1980 was Scottish pop time. There was Postcard and Orange Juice, Simple Minds, Scars, Altered Images and, God forbid, Josef K. There was a buzz about the Scottish scene which has not been replicated since.
And then, from Dundee, The Associates burst onto the scene with "The Affectionate Punch", a blistering debut. They disappeared in 1983 when the band split and only briefly resurfaced in 1997 when Billy Mackenzie committed suicide. There's an epitaph for you, huh?
But they left indelible impressions. "Sulk" was the NME album of the ear in 1982. The NME award was THE award to have at that time in pop history, pre-the Brits and television's recognition of the marketing, punter-pulling power of awards.
It was pre-telephone poll-rigging territory. Punters had to buy an NME, cut out the bloody voting page, fill it in longhand, put it in an envelope and send it in to the paper. Today, if you want to rig the poll and vote 40 times for the same artist, it would take 20 minutes.
In 1982, it would have taken 2 days to fill the bloody forms in, cost forty quid in NME's and twenty quid in postage. Oh, the joys and benefits of Internet polling.
For a better epitaph, the man himsel':
"Drugs? Och, I detest all that decadent Warholian crap and I'm no' into coke anymore. I'm not going into the world to sing to a lot of stoned bastards and I'm no' gonna be stoned when I sing.
I'm saving the drugs and books for when I'm 65 and I can't do it anymore. "
There are many eloquent tributes to The Associates avaible on the web. Perhaps the best is at http://www.billymackenzie.com.
ASSOCIATES TRIVIA FOOTNOTE
The Associates were signed to WEA, one of the mega-labels. They were a London-centric label. Not many folk at the label had Whippets. Whippets were Mackenzies' passion, possibly more so than music (for the uninitiated, Whippets are a breed of dog, slightly smaller than a Greyhound, but roughly the same shape).
A story is told of Billy, only days after the band had split (unbeknown to WEA), of taking six whippets on a train journey from Dundee to London and on his arrival at a posh London hotel, demanding a doggy minder. Which, of course, being a major label rock star, he got. The bill, which went to WEA, contributed to his being "de-rostered".