Dead or Alive were formed on the Wirral, England in 1980 by front man Pete Burns.
He was persuaded to form the band by a local music promoters who sensed that his outlandish style could have a more widespread appeal.
He formed an early band with Julian Cope, Pete Wylie and Phil Hurst. Called The Mystery Girls, they only played one gig in November 1977 at Eric’s club, Matthew Street Liverpool.
Nightmares In Wax
Burns’ next band, Nightmares In Wax were formed in February 1979 and were duly signed to Eric’s Records (although the recorded work was released by Inevitable Records in 1980).
In 1980, after some line up switches, Burns’ changed the name of the band to Dead or Alive. This was just before a radio session on the legendary radio host John Peel show.
These line-up changes continued for the next three years. Burns’ wild appearance began to attract more and more attention. This lead to comparisons with Boy George who’s band Culture Club arrived on the music scene a few years after Dead or Alive.
Signed by Epic Records
In 1982 The Stranger reached #7 for the band in the UK Indie Chart. Epic Records began to take notice and signing them in 1983.
Misty Circles was the bands first release with the record label. The single came in at #100 in the UK Singles Chart.
Two more singles were released by the five piece. Members now included Pete Burns (Vocals), Mike Percy (Bass), Tim Lever (Keyboard/ Saxophone), Wayne Hussey (Guitar) and Steve Coy (Drums). While the singles were Top 100 hits, major success continued to elude the band.
The band cracked the Top 40 with a cover of KC and the Sunshine Band’s That’s the Way (I Like It). The single hitting #22 at its highest point.
Guitarist Wayne Hussey left the band just before the release of the bands debut album Sophisticated Boom, Boom. This was despite being a part of the albums writing team. Released in May 1984 the album peaked at #29 in the UK album chart.
You Spin Me Round
Established as a four piece, the band released their second LP Youthquake in 1985. The album reached #9 in the UK album chart and also made a splash in the US hitting #31.
The record was produced by one of the most successful production teams in music history. Made up of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman or Stock Aitken Waterman.
The band finally reached the mainstream with their first single from Youthquake, You Spin Me Round (Like a Record). What is remarkable about the single is that it lurked outside the Top 40 for two months before becoming a number one record.
The single also introduced the band to international audiences. Hitting #1 in Canada, #3 in Australia and #2 In Italy. Other singles from the album included Lover Come Back to Me (#11 UK) and In Too Deep (#14 UK).
Controversy video and sleeve art
1987 brought the bands album “Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know”, another Stock Aitken Waterman production that charted at #27 in the UK (#52 US).
The album produced one of the bands most memorable songs in Brand New Lover. It actually charted higher in the US (#15 and #1 on the US dance chart) than in the UK (#31).
The sleeve art and video’s for the next few singles also caused a lot of controversy. This was because Pete Burns was depicted as a Satanist, a blasphemer and a wild homosexual. All of which were extremely taboo topics in the 1980’s.
As a result of record company interference, the singles were not always properly promoted. Some say that the artistic integrity of the records were compromised. For example, Epic records covered the word SEX with a sticker saying KISS after some retailers complained.
The video was also banned by MTV because of its suggestive homosexual content. Despite this, the band continued to be a successful chart act in all the major music territories around the world.
1987 also brought a world tour with dates in Japan, USA and Europe.
The two shows in Japan were filmed and released on VHS. It was widely accepted that the two shows were mimed but certain segments were actually live.
Watermen Partnership Ended
The partnership with Stock Aitken and Waterman ended in 1988 and in 1989. Tim Lever and Mike Percy made moves to become mixers and producers, leaving the band.
While being behind the recording desk the two have written and mixed #1 hits for acts including Robbie Williams, Blue and S Club 7.
The two remaining band members Pete Burns and Steve Coy produced and released Nude. The album didn’t chart in the UK, but spawned several internationally successful singles including Come Home with Me Baby which hit the #1 spot in Brazil.
The band and its members (Burns and Coy) released several albums under the Dead or Alive moniker. Other names in the 1990’s including Fan the Flame (Part 1), Nukleopatra, Fragile and Unbreakable (these latter two being remix compilations).
Burns has also collaborated with several artists including the Pet Shop Boys (enjoying a return to the charts with a single release reaching #75). He was also the vocalist in Italian techno band Glam.
On its re-release You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) reached #5 in 2006. Pete Burns also appeared on the UK version of Celebrity Big Brother. Steve Coy is now managing the band and are planning a tour to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of You Spin Me Round (Like a Record).
Dead or Alive’s official website.