More than ever it seems, ’80s music is an enduring fixture for music enthusiast, longing for the days of old. But it’s not just enthusiasts who find inspiration from an era where, for instance, the emergence of dance music and new wave was the background music to our lives. ’80s synth-pop surprisingly continues to play an integral part in music today with many artists from Justin Timberlake to Lady Gaga and Tame Impala to Sarah Belkner, all inspired in one way or the other, by legends such as Prince, Bowie, Madonna and even Peter Gabriel.
But not everything about ’80s synth-pop was life affirming. Believe me, I listened to my fair share of cheesy ’80s pop. That said, the Thompson Twins and their music today, sits somewhere in between being decent and cheesy pop. Ask former Thompson Twins drum and percussionist, Alannah Currie, on her thoughts of playing Thompson Twins songs again and she’d tell you that she’d rather “vomit on my boots”. It’s fair to point out she made those comments some ten years ago. Though when it was suggested that they re-form in recent years, Currie still had no interest. Thompson Twins frontman, Tom Bailey, is probably a little more diplomatic recalling their music as being “instant, catchy and even disposable”. On the subject of reforming, unlike Currie, Bailey admits to being seduced back into it again, under the moniker of ‘Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey’, singing his pop hits like King For A Day and Lay Your Hands On Me, was from a retrospective point of view.
In 1984, Rolling Stone magazine wrote a feature on the Thompson Twins just as they were storming the US charts with their MTV friendly Hold Me Now and Doctor Doctor. In an attempt to decipher who were the Thompson Twins, staff writer Parke Puterbaugh said,
“There are neither Thompsons nor twins in the band; they took their name from a pair of characters in a French comic strip, Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin. Their locks are genuine, except for a portion of Tom Bailey’s red mane that is synthetic (an over-zealous female fan cut off a chunk of the real thing last year). As for the hats, Alannah Currie picks ’em.”
Led by founding member Tom Bailey, former partner Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway, were the most recognised members of the Thompson Twins, which originally in its formative years was a seven-man band. In 1982, after the underground success of their song In The Name of Love on the US dance charts, the group saw an enormous opportunity to revamp their sound and to ultimately hit upon their new-found popularity. The Thompson Twins were in effect trimmed down to a trio and the following year debuted their more synth pop-orientated third album Quick Step and Side Kick (1983). It was this album with its synth-pop singles like Lies, Love On Your Side and We Are Detective that helped fuel American dance audiences obsession with them. But it was their fourth album Into The Gap (1984) that made them global superstars.
As part of what is sometimes referred to as the Second British Invasion of America, the Thompson Twins were one of many British acts whose popularity in 1984 was arguably second to none in the United States. The catchy and well crafted lead single Hold Me Now (from Into The Gap) about a lovers-quarrel skyrocketed up the charts, just falling short of being a number one hit on the Billboard charts. It was followed by the equally intoxicating Doctor Doctor, a memorable ’80s song that would become a favourite amongst most ’80s pop aficionados. Three more singles followed, but to some extent they failed to come close to the success of the first two singles, but in hindsight that didn’t matter because Into The Gap was a monster runaway success.
By 1985, the Thompson Twins would peak and eventually levelled out in popularity. A few months before the release of their fifth studio album they appeared on stage at Live Aid in Philadelphia, where they played Hold Me Now, but more importantly their cover version of The Beatles song Revolution, which would subsequently appear on their new album Here’s To Future Days (1985). In hindsight it’s interesting that they chose to play that song. All in all it was a modest attempt at trying to make a classic Beatles song their own. Personally, I don’t think they won over any new fans with it. Nonetheless, from Here’s To Future Days (the only Thompson Twins album I still have tucked away in my vinyl collection) came the last of their truly successful hit songs. Lay Your Hands On Me and King For A Day were arguably the best of the bunch. The rest was unfortunately uninspiring. Personally I still cringe at the thought of listening to Don’t Mess With Doctor Dream.
Interestingly, Here’s To Future Days was apparently a troublesome project, in particular, for Tom Bailey who collapsed with exhaustion making it. Legendary producer Nile Rodgers was asked to step in and save the project, but arguably did more harm than good? In the end, Here’s To Future Days was the Thompson’s Twins last hooray. Leeway left the band the following year in 1986 and Bailey and Currie would record and release three more forgettable albums before they quietly disappeared from the charts and called it quits in 1992. They had finally it seemed said everything they wanted to say with music.
In short, the Thompson Twins legacy in synth pop between 1982 and 1986 is for many ‘80s music fans undisputed. The breakout single In the Name Of Love in 1982 started a run of hits that included Hold Me Now, Doctor Doctor, Lies, Love on Your Side, We Are Detective, You Take Me Up, Sister Of Mercy, King For A Day, If You Were There and Lay Your Hands on Me. From the bunch, my personal favourite is King For A Day, which was curiously the bands last significant hit from Here’s To Future Days.
It could be said that the Thompson Twins had lost their way after Here’s To Future Days, unable to recapture the mood and success of their earlier records. I guess trying to be innovative or one step ahead of the pack in a flooded music scene of synthesizers and percussions was a tall order even for the Thompson Twins by the mid ’80s. Furthermore, whether the Thompson Twins had become bland or synth pop itself, by the mid to late ‘80s, I’m not sure. We will leave music historians to examine that question.
Photo credit: I am unsure of the copyright status of the header image. I make use of the image under the rational of fair use. It enables me to makes an important contribution to the reader’s understanding of the article, which could not practically be communicated by words alone, by placing the key members of the Thompson Twins, from left to right, Alannah Currie,Tom Bailey and Joe Leeway into the frame. I am not the uploader of the YouTube clip embedded.