Alphaville is a German synth-pop band formed in Münster in 1982. They gained popularity in the 1980s. The group was founded by singer Marian Gold, Bernhard Lloyd, and Frank Mertens. They achieved chart success with the singles “Forever Young”, “Big in Japan”, “Sounds Like a Melody”, “The Jet Set” and “Dance with Me”. Gold remains the only continuous member of Alphaville.
Alphaville was formed after lead singer Marian Gold and Bernhard Lloyd met in Berlin in 1981. The pair were heavily influenced by UK indie acts like Tubeway Army, Gary Numan and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD). Gold had written “Big in Japan” in 1979 after hearing the music of Holly Johnson’s band Big in Japan. They first named their band “Forever Young” and subsequently changed it to “Alphaville” after the 1965 science fiction film. Together the three wrote Forever Young and recorded their first demo of the same name. In 1984, the newly renamed Alphaville released their debut single, “Big in Japan”. In the early years, Gold said that “none of us could really play an instrument. The music was in our heads, but we were dependent on synthesizers and drum machines and things like that. … The equipment we had at that time was basically toys – the cheapest monophonic synthesizers you could imagine. We had a little studio in a basement, made a couple of demos and sent them to some record companies to try to get a deal. We didn’t have much hope, but we had three offers and from that moment everything happened very fast.”
In autumn 1984, they released their debut album, Forever Young, produced by Colin Pearson, Wolfgang Loos and Andreas Budde.
“Big in Japan” topped the charts in Germany, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, Turkey, Venezuela, and the US Billboard Dance Chart (the group’s only Top 10 on any Billboard chart). The single also reached the Top Five in the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Ireland and South Africa. It became the group’s only Top 20 single in the UK, peaking at No. 8.
The band’s next two singles, “Sounds Like a Melody” and “Forever Young”, were also both European Top 5 successes, although the former track failed to make an impression on the American charts. The song “Forever Young” was written during the Cold War, where the singer said “hoping for the best, but expecting the worst; are you gonna drop the bomb or not?”
Amid reports that pop star Laura Branigan was featuring the song on her next album, Hold Me, Alphaville’s “Forever Young” was re-released as a single in the US. The Alphaville version was released a third time in the US in 1988, to promote Alphaville: The Singles Collection, and peaked at No. 65, their highest charting (and also last) single on the Billboard Hot 100.
Despite the success of the album and its singles, the band did not tour. Said Gold, “we didn’t feel we were good enough musicians [to tour]. These days it wouldn’t be a problem to go out and play with tracks, but at that time it was really complicated. We didn’t feel like we were performers. We felt more like we were studio rats. The studio felt like a safe environment. So, much to the annoyance of our manager, we didn’t play [live] very much.”
Soon after the success of the album, Mertens left the band in December. He was replaced in January 1985 by Marian’s old friend Ricky Echolette on keyboard and guitar.