“Take Off to Animation III”: Featuring Missing Person’s collaboration with “video painter” Peter Max, and more

By on May 7, 2016

One of our most popular segments since we launched Night Flight Plus was the first episode of “Take Off to Animation,” so we went back to the Night Flight archives for another episode, “Take Off to Animation III,” which originally aired on June 1, 1985. You can watch the entire full episode right now on our Night Flight Plus channel.

“We begin our Take Off to Animation with ‘Surrender Your Heart,'” Pat Prescott tells us right at the top, “a video for Missing Persons by noted poster artist Peter Max, who used a computer paint box to translate his art to video.”

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The origin of the band Missing Persons dates all the way back to 1974, when Dale Bozzio first met Frank Zappa at an all-night deli in Boston. She had quit high school at sixteen, took a test for her diploma and then started hopping tables as a Playboy bunny after dropping out of acting college. In just a few more years, she was already out in L.A., auditioning for modeling jobs, when she decided to visit a friend on the CBS lot. That’s when she learned that Zappa was recording in the studio next door.

Zappa remembered her, of course (calling her by the nickname he’d given her, “Teeth”), and when he learned she was doing some singing too, he hired her on the spot to sing backup vocals in his touring band.

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Dale Bozzio toured around Europe with his Zappa’s band (February – April 1979), but she was already dreaming about fronting her own band, which she’d put together on the side with with her husband Terry Bozzio (synths, percussion), and Warren Cuccurullo (guitar, vocals), who had also been in Zappa’s band at various times.

In January 1980, her new group — Missing Persons — began working on a demo at Zappa’s brand new Utility Muffin Research Kitchen recording studio with producer/engineer Ken Scott, who had begun his career as a staff engineer at Abbey Road studios before producing extremely successful 70s albums by Supertramp, Jeff Beck, Devo, David Bowie and the Tubes, to name just a few.

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Terry Bozzio

Dale and Terry Bozzio, and Warren Cuccurullo — along with Garry Guttman (synths/bass) and Trantham Whitley (synths) — recorded four tracks for their debut, a self-titled 7-inch EP, which was released in April ’81 and distributed through their management company, KoMoS.

One track, “I Like Boys,” became an instant regional hit through massive airplay in L.A., then spread across the country and even broke into mainstream AM radio in some cities.

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Soon, Missing Persons were a top club draw in L.A., and went from opening for acts like Code Blue and Greg Kihn, to headlining the Whisky a Go Go, Perkins Palace and the Roxy, selling out and overselling shows as their fanbase grew in size.

The band — now with Patrick O’Hearn (synths, bass) and Chuck Wild (keyboards) — then went on tour in the summer of ’81, playing shows on the east coast, and they even appeared in a low-budget flick called Lunch Wagon.

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By the end of the year, their song “Mental Hopscotch” was voted the #1 record by listeners of the local L.A. powerhouse KROQ-FM.

The self-promoted EP ended up selling 10,000 copies, and by now they were being courted by major labels, and ultimately signed with Capitol Records, who re-released the EP as a 12-inch (it went on to sell another 250,000 copies).

Missing Persons then recorded songs for their 1982 debut full-length LP Spring Session M (an anagram of the band’s name), released in October 1982. It proved to be a smash success too, and the album was later awarded gold status.

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Three of the tracks became instant New Wave 80s classic singles: “Walking in L.A.,” “Words” (the band’s first national hit, cracking the Top 40 in July 1982), and “Destination Unknown” (released in Sept. ’82).

The videos for all three singles were given a lot of airtime on the then-fledgling MTV cable network, and suddenly the band were in huge demand, and even appeared at the US Festival in May 1983, which we told you about here.

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Missing Persons had decided on a somewhat more experimental sound for their follow-up album, Rhyme & Reason, which was released on March 9, 1984.

Even the cover artwork — a striking black and white photo of Dale Bozzio evoking the Magic Realism of the German 1920s — signaled the band’s new sound was going to be more Nouveau this time around, and less New Wave. Capitol Records’ ads for the album promised Rhyme & Reason would “make perfect musical sense.”

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Billboard ad for Rhyme & Reason (March 24, 1984)

The album’s first two singles — “Give” and “Right Now” — were promoted with popular videos that were both aired on MTV, but for the album’s third single, “Surrender Your Heart,” and it’s accompanying video, the band turned to 60s-era illustrator and surreal pop artist Peter Max to create a new and unique form of video art he dubbed “Maximation.”

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According to a press release sent out to promote the video at the time, “Surrender Your Heart” marked Max’s debut as a “video painter,” adding that the video was not animation and it wasn’t computer art either – “it’s a whole new spontaneous form of video.”

“Max’s new electronic canvas comes to life with time-lapse images of Missing Persons’ stunning lead singer, who the artist calls the ‘Electronic Jean Harlow of the ’80s.’ Bozzio’s new-age glamour makes her a perfect subject for the artist, as this creative collaboration between Missing Persons’ music and Max’s innovative video style translates vividly through the artist’s ‘electronic brush and pallete.'”

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Have a look at this complete episode of “Take Off to Animation III,” which also includes videos using different types of animated effects, like Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop,” and the stop-motion pixellated madness of Randy Andy’s “The People (Livin’ in the USA)” — which we’ve told you about here — as well as other examples by Machinations, Will Powers, George Clinton, What Is This, Donald Fagen, The Residents, Pat Metheny, and Jean-Luc Ponty.

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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.