If I were to pinpoint the time pop music started mattering to me, it would be the summer of 1984.
But, first, this: A year prior, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was released and the cassette found its way into our household. Somehow it was the only tape we had for a time, hence it played from end to end, side A to B. We literally wore down Michael Jackson until his singing went wobbly.
Long story short, by that time I was ready for something new. Enter Spandau Ballet. Having come across their hit “Gold” on ‘MV2’ (a 30-minute music program at the time), it seemed an easy band to like. They had the catchiest singles in “True” (which triggered this article when I heard it again after seeing Adam Sandler’s “The Wedding Singer” just recently), “Lifeline,” and “Communication.” Their sound was an even blend of tuneful synth-tinged pop with the purest sing-along choruses.
But it was their 1984 album “Parade” that made a pop music fan out of me. For one it had “Round And Round,” a great ballad that sounded like nothing else at the time. The all-too-familiar keyboard motifs that open the song primed my ears unknowingly for New Wave. And the lines were not your standard ‘love you, love me’ either. It had a touch of melancholy that went “Oh I don’t have to be so wise/ You’re just my fantasy and I will fantasize/ Something more or less to make things started /We are the artisans and we’ve been crafted.”
The band members namely drummer John Keeble, bassist Martin Kemp and brother Gary on guitar and saxophonist-percussionist Steve Norman were more than able musicians as heard on “Parade.” The intro guitar riff on “Highly Strung” was exceptional including the rhythm work. Actually, Gary Kemp’s guitar style all throughout is a study on melodic funk style guitar in a pop context. Ditto Steve Norman’s sax melodies, iconically so mid-80’s, had the most hummable solos.
Then there’s Tony Hadley as lead vocalist. Gary Kemp maybe the main songsmith in the band, but he was lucky he had T.H. who had great vocal tone if a little posh sounding. But he was perfect. Besides the songs, Hadley’s voice is the signature sound of Spandau Ballet.
Compared to their previous singles, the fourth album had more serious subjects and stylistically, these sounded sophisticated. Two tracks, namely “Only When You Leave” and “I’ll Fly For You” dealt with heartbreak, betrayal and unrequited love. A deep track on the album titled “Revenge For Love” (which had the most memorable outro ever in the Spandau catalog) mentioned the lyrics “alimony never can pay…” For 10-year-old like myself back then, it’s like Greek.
Besides this record, recommended listening would be their “Singles, Rarities and Remixes” album (which I had Tony Hadley sign for me back in 2008) and the film “Soul Boys Of The Western World” (2014) if you want the meat and potatoes of this band.