The third Altered Images single was due to be released in September 1981 just in advance of the as yet unnamed debut album. It must have been a nervy time for all concerned both within the band and at the label given how poorly the first two singles had sold, especially as there was a consensus that those were probably their best and catchiest songs.
Steve Severin had completed his production duties at Rockfield Studios in Wales but there was a nagging doubt that the resultant music wasn’t ever going to transform well to daytime radio and so alternative names were banded about with Martin Rushent emerging as the first choice.
He was someone who had enjoyed a fair degree of success in the post-punk era working in the producer’s chair for the likes of The Stranglers, Generation X and Buzzcocks. But it was his work on Dare by The Human League that had taken things to a whole new level and so, perhaps as a final roll of the dice by Epic Records, he was asked to take over the reins of a new song called Happy Birthday in the hope that something a bit more pop-orientated would result.
The track was worked on at a studio in Berkshire and the results certainly pleased the record label who decided it would be issued in 7″ and 12″ form with the latter featuring an extended dance mix. Not only that, and despite every other track on the proposed LP being the work of Severin, it was decided also to name the album after the third single. No pressure then.
It looked initially as if the idea wouldn’t bear fruit as the single crawled into the charts at a very lowly #63. But unlike Dead Pop Stars which had dropped out of the charts immediately, there was a modest increase in sales in week two that saw it climb to #48. Week three saw the band crack the Top 40 and so become eligible for increased daytime airplay and more importantly appearances on Top of the Pops. Six weeks after its release, Happy Birthday hit the #2 spot in the singles chart, a position it held for three weeks. It was unable to initially dislodge It’s My Party by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin and then it was leapfrogged by The Police and Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic. While I’m sure it was disappointing not to quite grab #1 the chart performance of Happy Birthday, especially given what had happened with the first two singles, has to be regarded as a triumph.
All told, Happy Birthday would spend more than four months in the Top 75 – it was still in the charts when the band’s fourth single was released in December 1981 and indeed just as it appeared to be ready to drop out Happy Birthday jumped back up the charts again thanks to end of year sales at Christmas time.
I remember at the time initially loving this song but, as so often happens when something hangs around the chart and daytime radio for what seems like an eternity, I got sick of hearing it and longed for the days when the band were a well-kept secret. But as time has passed, I fully acknowledge and recognise that the breakthrough hit was a fabulous moment in pop music:-
mp3 : Altered Images – Happy Birthday
mp3 : Altered Images – So We Go Whispering
The b-side was self-produced and its dark and rather haunting tune, highly reminiscent of The Cure, would have been a bit of shock to those who had been attracted to the band by the lighter side of pop music on the a-side.
As mentioned, the 12″ came with an extended dance mix together with an additional track:-
mp3 : Altered Images – Happy Birthday (dance mix)
mp3 : Altered Images – Jeepster
The latter, again self-produced, is a more than passable stab at what had been a hit single for T Rex back in 1971/72 when the various members of Altered Images would have been young kids.