"Let Me Go" by Heaven 17 is one of those quintessential 80s synthpop songs that you know from the first few notes, one that everyone loves to hear on those retro shows. For those of us who grew up watching the first few years of MTV, we loved it whenever that freaky black and white video came on where the trench-coated singer gets lost in an abandoned city. Surprisingly, it failed as a single in the UK (it only hit #41) but made it all the way to #4 in the US dance charts in 1982.
In doing research for my Walk in Silence project, the most interesting has been watching the evolution of post-punk and synthpop in the early 80s--specifically, the line that stretches from the death of UK punk in 1977, through the purposely uncommercial and experimental rock in the late 70s, up through the original post-punk of bands like Wire and early Public Image Limited...and the arrival of bands that got their start in the clubs such as Human League, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, and so on. By 1981-82, the two had somehow melded together in the UK and hit the charts on a steady basis. Had MTV not been around, they probably would have been picked up eventually, but at the time, the US charts were still filled with either straight ahead guitar rock or the last vestiges of disco and other dance-oriented songs--and rarely were they heard together. What the British charts and MTV brought to the States was a catchy and radio-friendly mix of the two. And as most of these bands became bigger and more famous, some of the more leftfield post-punk made its way to the college radio stations and the outpost "new rock" stations such as WFNX and KROQ. It really wasn't until around 1983 or 1984 or so when the first hint of what became the "college rock" of the 80s made its presence known (primarily with bands like The Cure, The Smiths, XTC, and all the others we know and love now).
I'd like to think that in that brief time, from around 1981-1983, the synthpop, club and pub bands from the UK, the ones pioneering the post-punk genre, were the ones that laid the original foundation for 80s alternative rock.