Swiss new wave electro-popsters Yello mark 40 years in the music business this year, and while they may not be a household name to many, you would have to have been born under a rock to have never come across their biggest hit, 1985’s Oh Yeah, which has featured in The Simpsons, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Secret of My Success, Glee, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and a myriad of other movies and TV programmes…. even the video game Gran Turismo.
But aside from Oh Yeah, Yello have had no shortage of dalliances with fame in their four decades as one of music’s most offbeat acts.
Originally helmed by keyboardist Boris Blank and Carlos Perón (the latter of whom left the band in 1983), vocalist and performance artist Dieter Meier (pictured left) joined the group at the turn of the 80s, resulting in a string of quirky hits, such as The Race, Bostich and I Love You.
But aside from Yello, Meier, born in 1945, is one of the most intriguing characters in the music industry, and not necessarily for his ability to carry a tune, as 909originals explores in more detail.
He used to have a company that converted old drinks cans into watches
The Swiss know a thing or two about watches, and back in the mid 90s, with Yello on a three-year break, Meier launched Rewatch, a company that developed wristwatches from beer and soda cans. ‘We collect the cans from Swissair mainly and the Swiss railway system,” Meier told the New York Times back in 1997.
Meier reportedly got the idea from a visit to the office of his lawyer, who was wearing a watch made from a can of Budweiser. On the strength of that, he sought out the creator and bought the patent.
Other business ventures include his organic beef farm and winery in Argentina (which supplies a store he operates in Zürich, Ojo de Agua), as an author of children’s books, and a stint as a pro poker player.
He ‘performed’ a 22-year long conceptual art piece
Long before Meier and co formed Yello, the Zürich native was an accomplished conceptual artist, and in 1972, as part of the documenta 5 art exhibition in Kassel, Germany (the theme of which was Befragung der Realität – Bildwelten Heute / Questioning Reality – Pictorial worlds Today), Meier installed a commemorative plaque at the town’s railway station, which read, “On 23 March 1994, from 3 to 4 pm, Dieter Meier will stand on this plaque”.
Some 22 years later, on the date in question, he did just that.
Artist Simon Williams recently paid tribute to Meier’s pledge with a piece of art of his own, 2017’s Reunite, in which he promised to stand in front of his own artwork for an hour in March 2039, regardless of its eventual location.
It’s not the only offbeat artwork undertaken by Meier; for a 1970 exhibition in Munich, he spent 12 hours walking round the city, marking each minute where he went, stood or rested with stamped clock stickers.
He once appeared in a National Lampoon movie
As well as directing, Meier has acted in a number of movies, including Swiss drama-comedy Leo Sonnyboy and Hors Saison, a Fellini-esque French flick from the early 90s. But arguably his strangest role to date came in 2006’s forgettable National Lampoon’s Pledge This! – yes, they of the ‘Vacation’ series – alongside Paris Hilton, Carmen Electra, Holly Valance and a cast of mid-2000s faces.
Check out the trailer below, which for some unknown reason boasts a couple of stone cold Chicago house classics… nice try, National Lampoon.
Meier has a bit part role as the character Gamsie, in a film that was described by one reviewer as ‘another steaming pile of excrement to be cut loose from the bowels of National Lampoon’.
Yello’s first single only sold eighty copies in Switzerland
Yello’s formation owes a lot to the Music Market record store, located on in Bäckerstrasse in Zürich, which was operated by Paul Vajsabel, creator of the Periphery Perfume label, on which Meier released his first single (Cry for Fame b/w The Hook), in 1978, as well as from the group Fresh Color, which also featured Meier on vocals.
It was Vajsabel that introduced Meier to Boris Blank, and within months, the due had recorded I. T. Splash / Glue Head, which was released in January 1979 (and reportedly financed by pornographer Edi Stöckli). Initial sales were poor, with just 80 copies being sold in Switzerland, while London’s Rough Trade picked up around 200 copies.
However, a solo copy that was sent to The Residents’ Ralph Records in San Francisco proved to be the clincher, with the group releasing its first album on the imprint in 1980… before history beckoned.
He’s never seen the movie that made him a millionaire
The 1985 release of Oh Yeah transformed the group from situationist electro-pranksters to chart toppers, with Meier reportedly making millions from the track. However, the movie that catapulted Yello to stardom, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, doesn’t have a place on his DVD rack… in fact he’s never seen it.
Oh Yeah features a number of times in the John Hughes-directed film, including the memorable closing credits scene, but as Meier told the Wall Street Journal in 2017, “I never actually saw the whole film. I think I once saw this one famous scene when the guy, I think he opens the garage for his father’s Ferrari.”
On the subject of Oh Yeah, Meier, who provides the track’s deep, repeated vocal refrain, didn’t initially like it, reportedly telling bandmate Boris Blank that it lacked “inspiration”.
Never change, Dieter!