I Want a New Toy To Keep My Head Expanding: “Lene Lovich: Live from New York, at Studio 54″

By on September 29, 2017

On December 4, 1981, celebrated New Wave icon Lene Lovich was captured during the dizzying height of her popularity at NYC’s infamous Studio 54, performing a captivating eleven-song set that included the percolating title track of her then-latest release, the mini-LP New Toy, written by synth-pop pioneer Thomas Dolby, who is featured here on keyboards.

Originally intended for broadcast on music television back in the day, you can now watch Lene Lovich: Live from New York, at Studio 54 streaming on Night Flight Plus!

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Though Lovich was noted often for her trailblazing theatrical onstage appearance — her big expressive eyes, eccentric and outrageous attire, and her pigtailed and plaited hair were frequently mentioned frequently by rock journalists — her quirkly looks were only part of the reason she was considered a New Wave icon.

She rarely received enough credit for what she called her “spontaneous self-expression,” and for being one of the more experimental female singers of the early ’80s.

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Best known for “Lucky Number,” which charted at #3 on the UK charts, Lovich was very well-respected among her colleagues and peers, including Thomas Dolby, who wrote “New Toy” for her as a way of saying “thank you” for hiring him to play keyboards in her touring band.

Dolby — whose song “New Toy” satirized American consumer culture and how too many people often equated love with owning material possessions (“I want a new toy to keep my head expanding”) — would end up having a huge hit of his own in the next year with 1982’s “She Blinded Me With Science.”

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“New Toy” — which peaked at at #19 on Billboard‘s Hot Dance Club Songs, where it remained for six months, and #53 on the UK’s Singles Chart — had been released on a mini-album earlier in the year (May 1981), although Lene Lovich and her band also performed songs from her first two albums, Stateless (1978) and Flex (1980), when she appeared at Studio 54.

Read more about Lene Lovich below.

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Lene Lovich was born Lili-Marlene Premilovich on March 30, 1950 (some sources say 1949) in Detroit, Michigan.

Her father, from Yugoslavia, was apparently unstable and threatened to move his family to the Soviet Union, so her British-born mother left the U.S. — taking thirteen-year old Lene and her three siblings to live in Hull, England — to get away from him.

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It was in the autumn of 1968 that Lene — a childhood nickname from her Serbian father — met guitarist/songwriter Les Chappell when both were still in their teens.

They shared similar interests and developed a lifelong romantic and professional relationship, and moved to London to attend college at the Central School of Art, where Lovich initially focused on sculpture (tying her hair up in plaits to keep it out of the clay soon became part of her personal quirky fashion style).

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Lovich and Chappell busked around the London Underground, and she additionally supported herself through an eclectic mix of occupations, including stints as a go-go dancer (with the “Radio 1 Roadshow”) and an “Oriental” dancer; a singer in a mass choir in a show called Quintessence (they performed at the Royal Albert Hall); a member of the notorious Arthur Brown Show; and by touring Europe and the Mediterranean in the all-girl cabaret trio, the Sensations, and a West Indian soul band.

Lovich graduated from the Central Art School in 1972 and went on to join Bob Flag’s Balloon and Banana Band and the Afro-Rock band Mossa playing saxophone.

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In 1975, Lovich, Chappell and other musicians formed the funk/disco band the Diversions, who released two singles on the indie Gull label. They landed a contract with Polydor, which issued two more singles, before breaking up.

In December of 1976, Polydor released a Christmas EP, featuring the her first co-penned song with Chappell, “Happy Christmas.”

The next year, Lovich wrote lyrics for French disco star Cerrone, including his dance smash “Supernature,” and she screamed for horror films and worked with fringe theatrical troupes.

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In July of 1978, Stiff Records released Lene Lovich’s first solo single, her cover of the Tommy James’ 1967 pop hit “I Think We’re Alone Now,” backed by an early version of “Lucky Number,” which was also featured on her debut, Stateless, which arrived in October.

“Lucky Number” would end up becoming a #3 smash hit on the UK pop charts the following year, making her an overnight new wave sensation.

She joined the Be Stiff Tour, and traveled throughout England by chartered train, playing thirty-two dates before flying to New York City for another eight, and by the end of ’79,  she had two more Top Thirty hits (“Say When” and “Birdsong”).

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1980 saw the release of her second LP Flex, and her first sold-out tour of the U.S., followed by a major three-month tour of Europe.

Stiff/Epic released a six-song mini-LP New Toy in May 1981, the title track charting in the Top Twenty of Billboard‘s Dance Chart, an admirable accomplishment considering that only UK import single copies were available at the time.

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Backstage at NY’s Studio 54 (L-R): Nina Hagen (in babushka), Lene Lovich, NY avant-garde performance artist Collette, Karla DeVito, and Melinda Jones (MSI-Stiff’s Hurricane Jones)

Lovich did a short, successful tour of the U.S. and on September 23, 1981, appeared at Studio 54, where new owner, Mark Fleischman, had begun a Wednesday night concert series.

The show was reviewed by Stephen Holden of the New York Times, (“New Wave: Lene Lovich,” September 26, 1981), who wrote:

“Miss Lovich put on a fascinating show in which she sang, played the saxophone and danced with a lurching spontaneity that seemed half-demented. Her favorite mode is a wild, hiccupy vocal attack that often breaks into semi-improvisatory bird calling that soars easily to an E-flat above high C.”

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Holden also wrote that Lovich was “wearing pigtails and an outfit that suggested a Slavic peasant girl with a surreal taste in clothes.”

Lovich returned in December to the same venue in order to film this live performance.

Watch Lene Lovich: Live from New York, at Studio 54 on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.