Full marks to Golden Earring for perseverance and adapatibility. They’re now 51 years into their career, and still having hits – their most recent album, the unfortunately titled Tits’n’Ass, reached No 1 earlier this year. Admittedly, it was in Holland, but you’ve got to expect Dutch people to support what must be considered their greatest ever band.
Theirs is a fascinating discography. Their first records – made as the Golden Earrings – were in the style history has dubbed Nederbeat, that being the admirably tough Dutch take on the British R&B explosion of the mid-60s. They embraced the psychedelia and then the new mood of progressive exploration – their 1970 album Eight Miles High featured a 19-minute take on the Byrds’ song that’s surprisingly decent, as 19-minute takes on mid-60s pop classics go – and found themselves briefly famous outside their home nation when Radar Love became an international hit in 1973, the kind of boogie that seemed effortlessly find an audience in those distant days.
Then they disappeared back to massive success in Holland and relative obscurity everywhere else for another nine years, until 1982 saw the release of Twilight Zone, which became a US smash. Golden Earring were by now a different band again, producing slick pop-rock that was perfectly placed to capitalise on both the rise of AOR and the birth of MTV.
The usual explanation for Twilight Zone’s success is that its stylish, cinematic promo clip became a staple of the young music network, and that’s true. But it rather ignores the song, which is just about as good as AOR ever got. I’m not sure an American band would or could ever have written Twilight Zone: there’s a very European edginess and sense of discomfort to it, both lyrically and muscially, which the faux noir video suits admirably. And you can hear the many and varied lives of Golden Earring folded into its construction – the beat group in its simple opening guitar figure and familiar chord changes and the progressive explorers in the guitar solos of the extended album version brought together into something slick and of its time.
Of its time, though, suggests it is mired in the 80s. But it’s not. Twilight Zone has a clean and crisp production (probably helped by being just a little too early for the gated snare sound that ruined so many records in the second half of the decade) that’s all but timeless – certainly, many of the groups who’ve been dabbling with 80s MOR in the past couple of years might learn something from its combination of rock’s propulsion and pop’s tunefulness: this is indisputably a rock band – that crashing chord, just off the beat, at “when the bullet hits the bone” is proof enough of that. Twilight Zone would work without the production bells and whistles, but they’re restrained enough to complement the song, and I think a straight rock version wouldn’t generate the same excitement (a part of me wonders what Trevor Horn might have made of it, given what he did to Yes’s Owner of a Lonely Heart).
And still they plug away. In fact, after finding the Eight Miles High clip above, I tweeted the link. A couple of minutes later, Golden Earring – who must assiduously self-search – tweeted back: “thats a long time ago Michael…:-)”