As a founding member and the lead singer of the British New Wave pop/dance group Dead or Alive, formed in 1980, Burns was surely one of the most uniquely recognizable figures on the scene, rocking a long, wild mane and Elizabeth Taylor makeup, bellowing in baritone and flaunting fluidly feminine dance moves that made him even more of a gender-bender than the more iconic Boy George.
With the group's debut album, Sophisticated Boom Boom (1984), they made their mark with the staccato “I'd Do Anything” and the minor hit “Misty Circles,” which featured Burns's trademark operatic-leaning Goth vocals. Showing they were unafraid of the disco backlash, the group also covered the 1975 hit “That's the Way (I Like It),” the KC and the Sunshine Band. Revved up by an added refrain of, “Keep that, keep that body strong,” the song's video echoed Olivia Newton-John's 1981 video for “Physical,” presenting Burns as a slinky taskmistress surrounded by rock-hard female bodybuilders.
It was a twist on ideas of gender that would come to define the act.
With 1985's Youthquake, the band tasted true success—it would be their highest-ranking Billboard 200 album in the U.S., and also its biggest seller in the U.K. “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” from that album hit #1 all over the globe (a career-best #11 in the U.S.) and is one of the top hits of the '80s.
(Record-sleeve images via Epic)
It was followed by Top 40 Euro hits “Lover Come Back to Me,” “In Too Deep” and “My Heart Goes Bang (Get Me to the Doctor).”
Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know (1987) represented a streamlining and mainstreaming of the band's sound, resulting in the pop hits “Brand New Lover” (#15 U.S.), ”Something in My House,” “Hooked on Love” and “I'll Save You All My Kisses.”
With 1989's Nude, featuring a beautiful, painting-like nude profile of Burns, Dead or Alive had become a full-on Hi-NRG dance act—in this fan's opinion, the entire record is one long, irresistible thrash in a gay club, with stand-out tracks like “Turn Around and Count 2 Ten” (by the way, poppers help, too), “I Cannot Carry On” and the unapologetically horny “Come Home with Me Baby” (quite a statement during the AIDS era), the final DOA single to touch the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S.—and of course it landed on #69.
Fan the Flame (Part 1) (1990), Nukleopatra (1995) and Fragile (2000) were released only in Japan (until many years later), the last place where DOA was still big. All have a same-sounding appeal to the group's biggest hits, following the same it-ain't-broke-and-we-ain't-fixing-it approach as groups like Erasure, New Order and Pet Shop Boys.
Along with the studio albums, there have been many hits and other packages. An utterly massive Dead or Alive compilation called Sophisticated Boom Box is set for release for around $150 on November 4. It contains a mere 17 CDs worth of material.
In spite of his flamboyant demeanor that made many assume he was gay, Burns was married to Lynne Corlett from 1978 until 2006. He did engage in a civil partnership with Michael Simpson in 2006, but they broke up and Burns disparaged gay marriage, saying he preferred marriage to a woman. He and Simpson did reconcile.
(GIF via Tumblr)
Burns was perhaps as well known (fueled by a stint on Celebrity Big Brother in the U.K. in 2006) for his ever-changing visage as for his musicality and showmanship, claiming to have had hundreds of plastic surgeries.
One, on his lips, went so horrifically wrong he required a year and a half of reconstructive procedures. He was barely recognizable in his fifties, a state he said was his goal:
“The number of surgeries that I’ve had'll probably be 300. I hope when I’m 80 that I get to heaven and God doesn’t recognize me.”
Sadly, he was off by over 20 years.
One of Pete's stage final performances of his signature hit, from earlier this year: