1985 saw the DCI World Championships go to Madison’s Camp Randall Stadium at the University of Wisconsin for the first of seven times. Many notable records occurred there: The Garfield Cadets became the only corps up until then to win three consecutive DCI titles, Blue Devils became the only corps to win both High Brass and High Percussion honors at the Finals in back-to-back seasons while not winning the title, and Star of Indiana earned a spot in the top 12 in its first year, matching the accomplishment of the 1972 Bleu Raeders.
Fans remember how the Cadets’ “Jeremiah Symphony” pushed the boundaries of audience-accepted sophistication, best summed up by the corps’ popular souvenir T-shirt that read, “It looks like art because it IS art.” Santa Clara Vanguard wowed all by entering an on-field tunnel, coming out with different-colored pants, and Suncoast Sound became the first finalist corps to perform a show comprised entirely of original music. Star of Indiana put a running “Big Bad Wolf” on the field and Freelancers’ uniforms changed color throughout, due to the use of Velcro on various flaps.
Blue Devils’ 3rd place show finished just a tenth of a point under 2nd place Santa Clara Vanguard, kicking off with Marius “Butch” Nordal’s “Liferaft Earth.” (Futurist Buckminster Fuller, best known for the creation of the geodesic dome, used this term along with “spaceship earth” to describe our planet as a vessel hurtling through space, the planet being a spherical container upon which we all rely for sustenance.) Nordal is a jazz pianist who is known for his interviews of other musicians and his YouTube videos covering various jazz topics.
The show began with a plaintive chorale that quickly picked up intensity to turn into a screaming fanfare statement, prior to moving into a hard driving fugue reminiscent of some of Stan Kenton’s offerings with his Neophonic Orchestra. It seamlessly moved between such styles and swing. By 1985, the Blue Devils color guard had become known for its modern jazz dance elements, with sequined bodysuit attire that allowed for an unlimited amount of unrestricted movement. While this wouldn’t cause a second glance today, it was still a relatively fresh approach to costume design in the mid-1980s.
“Trilogy” was the title track of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s 1972 third studio album. The progressive rock band from England was just starting to enjoy (or be cursed by) recognition as classic progressive rock pioneers. (Critics were already considering progressive rock to be somewhat passé, and therefore ELP was thought as being more a museum piece than currently relevant.) The color guard featured large fabric wings they had popularized over the past few years, divided up into three groups of pastel colors, plus two pure white wings.
Another ELP work, “Karn Evil 9,” came from the group’s 1973 fourth studio album, “Brain Salad Surgery.” The title was a mutation of the word “carnival.” The section known as “2nd Impression” is what’s shown in the accompanying video clip, with tuned gongs re-creating the sound of the Keith Emerson’s Moog synthesizer, a huge contraption that was five feet tall and full of tangled cords that could be mistaken as a map of Los Angeles expressways.
This piece segued straight into Keith Emerson’s “Piano Concerto No. 1” off ELP’s fifth studio album, “Works Volume 1” from 1977. (Carolina Crown utilized much of the same source material 26 years later in their 2011 “Rach Star” show.) White wings with gold trim encircled much of the corps.
Quite daring for its day was the use of “The First Circle” from Pat Metheny Group’s “First Circle” album, which won the 1985 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Fusion. Co-written by guitarist Metheny and keyboardist Lyle Mays, the piece was largely in alternating 12/8 and 10/8 meter, based on a rhythmic framework of 22 beat that kept repeating as 3+2+3+2+2+3+3+2+2, with an occasional 8/8 that felt like a typical 4/4 meter. Although the corps marched through the odd meters in a straight one beat to each eighth note, it had to be a remarkably tough piece in which to stay in step.
However, the members stayed in step and finished together, planting their feet firmly on the ground and utilizing their first finish outside first or second place since 1978 to propel themselves to the corps’ sixth championship the following year.
For this week only, you can save on the Legacy Collection DVD that contains this complete Blue Devils performance, along with all finalists from the 1985 DCI World Championships.
Discount DVD offer ends Monday, Dec. 24 at 8:30 a.m. ET.
Michael Boo was a member of the Cavaliers from 1975-1977. He has written about the drum corps activity for more than a quarter century and serves as a staff writer for various Drum Corps International projects. Boo has written for numerous other publications and has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating.
As an accomplished composer, Boo holds a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s degree in music theory and composition. He resides in Chesterton, Ind.