“If you’re brave, do it like we did.”
The Associates‘ cofounder, guitarist, and synth player, Alan Rankine, has passed away aged 64.
Scotsmen Billy Mackenzie and Rankine formed The Associates in Dundee in 1979, after making some early recordings together under the name Mental Torture (To give themselves a more colourful past, Rankine admitted they made up stories of being in cabaret acts called Caspian and Ascorbic Ones.) The Associates would gleefully experiment with unorthodox instrumentation and recording techniques, such as amplifying sound through a vacuum cleaner tube.
Frustrated by being overlooked, the post-punk band (now joined by bassist Michael Dempsey and drummer John Murphy) debuted as The Associates with an unauthorized, frenetic, howling cover of Bowie’s six-week-old Top Ten hit Boys Keep Swinging. Perhaps sheer audacity was on their side; perhaps the gods that had smiled upon Devo’s similar 1978 stunt with the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction shone upon the Dundee chaps as well. The attention they garnered from the stunt landed The Associates to a John Peel appearance and a deal with Fiction Records.
Billy MacKenzie explained that the band had recorded the Bowie song to prove the point. “It was a strange way of proving it, but it worked,” he said, “People said, ‘That is awful. How dare they!”
The Affectionate Punch debuted in 1980 to critical acclaim, and the singles collection Fourth Drawer Down followed in 1981. The release of Sulk charted in the UK for a stunning twenty weeks, and has been cited by Björk as one of her greatest influences. Bono of U2 concurred: “We ripped them off,” he admitted; even conceding, “Billy was a great singer: I couldn’t rip him off!”
By 1982, however, Rankine had enough of The Associates. On the eve of what would have been the promo tour for Sulk, he decided to call it quits in favour of a solo career and session musician. The choice proved fruitful: Rankine would end up making an immense mark in Scottish indie music throughout the coming decades. In addition to his three solo albums: The World Begins to Look Her Age (1986), She Loves Me Not (1987), and The Big Picture Sucks (1989). He would also produce Peppermint Pig by Cocteau Twins and collaborate with The Pale Fountains, Paul Haig, and Anna Domino.
MacKenzie kept recording under the Associates name until 1990; he would reunite briefly with Rankine in 1993, but after the death of his mother MacKenzie succumbed to depression and died from suicide in 1997.
Rankine was a lecturer at Stow College in Glasgow, where he would help set up Electric Honey, where fellow patriates Snow Patrol and Belle and Sebastian would record their own masterpieces. Their greatest hit, Party Fears Two from Sulk, has been covered by countless artists, including a rousing baroque version by The Divine Comedy.
Ladytron laid tribute to Rankine today with a tribute on Twitter: “RIP Alan Rankine, creator of amongst the most joyous magnificent pop music of all time. No Associates = No Ladytron.”
His sons, Callum and Hamish, who described their dad as a “beautiful, kind and loving man who will be sorely missed,” confirmed the sad news that he died peacefully at home shortly after spending Christmas with his family.