If you thought old rock nerds were MAD about synthesizers today, you should have heard them back in the 1984, when Van Halen released their smash hit “Jump,” with its iconic synth line. I should have too, actually, I wasn’t really paying attention to music criticism at the time on the account of being more into boogers and mud pies, but still, you can just imagine. That track in particular, the only #1 of Van Halen’s career full of hits actually, was a sort of Trojan Horse in that it smuggled synthesizers into the rock mainstream, and its indirect influence can still be heard in music being made almost twenty years later. As a personal note, I’ve lost interest in mud pies, but boogers still rule. I also still don’t really pay attention to music criticism.
Among those young fans turned on by the song, and the album it came from, 1984, were John Eriksson, who you might know better as the nominal suffix of Swedish electro-pop act Peter Bjorn & John. “Jump” was the first song I became obsessed by,” he says.
Earlier this summer Eriksson released an album under his solo project Hortlax Cobra, which is nowhere near as metal as it sounds unfortunately. The album, Night Shift, is a mostly-minimal wisp of effects and clattering percussion, with heavily effected vocals unfurling over chintzy (on purpose) beats.
For his follow up, 1984, due out December 11 on Swedish label Ingrid, and the track “Jump”, which we’re premiering here today (you can probably guess where this whole thing is going), Eriksson has composed an album full of original songs all adhering to the same lengths, tempos, keys, and titles of the Van Halen record.
Eriksson explained for us what the album meant to him.
“My best friend’s bigger brother had bought the vinyl single at the local tv and radio shop, and he was listening to it in his room while me and my friend were writing our own mystery comic magazine. I remember that I couldn’t believe my ears, I had never heard something as magic as this before.”
At the time he and his friend, 10 years old, had their own hard rock band called Bad Boys, which I kind of wish we could premiere a track from here now. Back in 1984, he says, ” there was a war going on between hard-rockers and synth-poppers. It was totally against all rules to listen to two different genres of music. Either you listened to heavy metal or synth.”
But like so many other confounded children at the time, Van Halen’s mix of the two blew his mind wide open. “But what was this? A hard rock tune with a synth riff? What the fuck?”
“My friend’s brother came out of his room screaming and he was mad. He hated this song so much that he almost cried. Later that afternoon I sneaked into his room and listened to ‘Jump’ probably 5 or 6 times in a row. It was the coolest song I had heard.”
The next day he took the bus from his village of Hortlax in northern Sweden into two to buy his first ever vinyl album. You can guess what it was. Thriller. Just kidding, the other one we mentioned like ten times already.
Fast forward to 25 years later he was working on material for Hortlax Cobra and experienced a bit of writer’s block.
“A good friend suggested that I could do like painters do, my own interpretation of an old classic movie. I went through my bookshelf and found my old Van Halen album with my handwriting on the back cover reading: ‘Bought by John 1984.’”
“So I started to build my own first solo album around the tempos, keys and lengths of all the tracks on the original Van Halen record,” he explains. “I didn’t sample anything apart from the noise of the needle running in the grooves before the music starts playing (on side A and B). As I was a hard rocker in 1984 I now wanted to use only synths and keyboards, so almost every sound on the album is electronic instruments apart from the opening track “1984” which is only a processed acoustic guitar.”
“When I had made this concept album I felt ready to do something totally from scratch, so a couple of weeks after my 1984 was done I started to work on my ‘real’ first solo album Night Shift. So, these 2 albums are connected in many ways but none of them would exist if I hadn’t heard ‘Jump’ back in 1984.”
Probably a lot of people out there reading this who also wouldn’t exist if not for that record.