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Rejecting the abrasive guitars of their punk-era contemporaries in favor of lushly romantic synthesizers, Ultravox emerged as one of the primary influences on the British electro-pop movement of the early '80s. Formed in London in 1974, the group — originally dubbed Ultravox! — was led by vocalist and keyboardist John Foxx (born Dennis Leigh), whose interest in synths and cutting-edge technology began during his school years. With an initial lineup consisting of bassist Chris Cross, keyboardist/violinist Billy Currie, guitarist Steve Shears, and drummer Warren Cann, their obvious affection for the glam rock sound of David Bowie and Roxy Music brought them little respect from audiences caught up in the growing fervor of punk, but in 1977 Island Records signed the quintet anyway, with Brian Eno agreeing to produce the band's self-titled debut LP.
After scoring a minor U.K. hit with the single "My Sex," Ultravox returned later that year with Ha! Ha! Ha!; sales were minimal, however, and Shears soon exited, replaced by guitarist Robin Simon. A third LP, 1978's Systems of Romance, was recorded in Germany with renowned producer Conrad Plank, but it too failed commercially. Island soon dropped the band, at which time both Foxx and Simon quit, the former mounting a solo career and the latter joining Magazine. At that point the remaining members of Ultravox tapped singer/guitarist Midge Ure, an alumnus of Slik as well as Glen Matlock's Rich Kids; upon signing to Chrysalis, the new lineup recorded Vienna, scoring a surprise smash hit with the single "Sleepwalk," which reached the number two spot on the U.K. pop charts in 1981 and pushed the LP into the Top Five. The album's title track also fared well, peaking at number two on the charts and remaining there for several weeks.
After 1981's Rage in Eden, Ultravox teamed with legendary producer George Martin for 1983's Quartet; their most successful LP in the otherwise impenetrable American market, it launched the minor hit "Reap the Wild Wind." Upon completing 1984's Lament, Warren Cann left Ultravox to forge a solo career. The remaining members, after adding Big Country's Mark Brzezicki, resurfaced with U-Vox in 1986 before going their separate ways. Currie and Simon re-formed the band in 1993, adding vocalist Marcus O'Higgins; three years later, they released the lackluster Ingenuity with Sam Blue on lead vocals. The album marked the group's final studio release.
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1974 in London, England
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