A BEAUTIFULLY CRAFTED BREAK-UP SONG

Heaven 17 had gotten a fair bit of attention in the UK due to the fact that their debut LP, Penthouse and Pavement, released in 1981 was probably the first overtly political synth-pop album. Lead single (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang firmly nailed the colours of the band to a left-wing agenda with its lyrical attacks on Thatcher and Reagan leading to the usual pourings of outrage and anger within the British tabloids and the inevitable banning of the track by the BBC.

There were other songs on the album that were critical of the political system and the increasing shift to the ‘greed is good’ mantra that would come to dominate the decade. It was a strange album in that none of its five singles (from just nine tracks) got anywhere near the Top 40 but the LP went Top 20 and was in the charts for months. It was as if everyone who went on a peace march or other sort of demonstration, such as in support of the striking miners, was determined to get on board with this most unlikely of protest records.

What came next was a big surprise. Heaven 17 dropped the politics and went for the pop on the follow-up The Luxury Gap, released in April 1983. The change of direction paid off as it yielded two Top 10 hit singles and another that went top 20. It has to be said that the members of the group were still at pains to say that their politics hadn’t changed and they were happy to lend their support to various causes.

There was one single that preceded the release of the second album. It failed to chart at the tail end of 1982, stalling at #41, but of all the Heaven 17 songs over the years is the one that I remain most fond of.

It’s a superbly produced and moody piece of synth-pop, with a lyric that reads as if it belongs to a tear-jerking ballad.

Once there was a day
We were together all the way
An endless path unbroken
But now there is a time
A torture less sublime
Our souls are locked and frozen

Once we were years ahead but now those thoughts are dead
Let me go
All hopeless fantasies are making fools of me
Let me go
I walk alone and yet I never say goodbye
Let me go
A change of heart a change of mind and heaven fell that night
Let me go

I tried but could not bring
The best of everything
Too breathless then to wonder
I died a thousand times
Found guilty of no crime
Now everything is thunder

Daytime all I want is night-time
I don’t need the daytime all I want is night-time

The best years of our lives
The hope of it survives
The facts of life unspoken
The only game in town
I’ll turn the last card down
And now the bank is broken

Found guilty of no crime
They were the best years of our lives
I’ll turn the last card down

**I am surprised that nobody has ever taken the lyric and see how it would work with the tune slowed right down.

Having said that, maybe it’s best left alone as it is one of the most enduring and least dated of the tunes from the era:-

mp3 : Heaven 17 – Let Me Go (extended)

As ripped from a piece of vinyl that is will have its 35th birthday later this year.

JC

** after typing out the post, I learned that the band had actually done this back in 2011

mp3 : Heaven 17 – Let Me Go (acoustic version)

Not really sure about it to be honest…too much like the sort of interpretations you find on annoying TV talent shows.

6 thoughts on “A BEAUTIFULLY CRAFTED BREAK-UP SONG

  1. A very good post Jim. Penthouse and Pavement was that political record (Billy Bragg’s were the others) young people like me listened to when we were on political activities in the early 80’s. It is good to remember them and this song is one of my all-time favourites because it combines heartwarming lyrics with a perfect sound.

  2. Ah, yes, the unmistakable sound of the Roland TB303. I know this song is all about combining emotive lyrics with danceability, but the singular pulse of that transistor bass is what zips me right back to 1982. JC and the regulars would have instantly recognized it when this machine helped another tune hit the UK charts a year later on. (‘Rip It Up’.)

  3. What Heaven 17 did was change the focus from the Body Politic to the Politics of The Body. There are some very pointed observations on Society among the songs on The Luxury Gap.
    In the USA, Let Me Go was an urban smash. It was a mainstay on New Wave Club dance floors and made it to #4 on the Billboard Dance charts. As well, if Let Me Go came on at a club before a band was meant to play the level of energy among the crowd would certainly rise.

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