HAD IT. LOST IT. (Part 9)


When this new series was first introduced, T(n)VV readers shared a plethora of excellent suggestions. Yet, the first band that came to mind for me was nowhere to be found. Such a definitive example that I began to wonder why others didn’t share my view. I began to run through possible hypotheses:

1. Was the band too obscure?

Hard to believe. Their first five albums were all in the top 30 in the UK and they have been featured at least once on this very site, admittedly with lukewarm praise, at best, from our resident blogger.

2. Did no one remember the period when they “had it”?

I suppose this is possible for some, but I know for sure that, recreational drug use notwithstanding, there are plenty of us 50+ old sods for whom 1980 was smack in the middle of our formative musical listening years.

3. Did readers think that this band never “lost it”?

No, can’t be…

mp3 : The Psychedelic Furs – Heaven

4. Was it actually possible that no one thought they ever “had it”?

Well, I guess that is the case I need to make.

A bit of background cobbled together from the wiki:

The Psychedelic Furs are an English rock band founded in London in February 1977. The band initially consisted of Richard Butler (vocals), Tim Butler (bass guitar), Duncan Kilburn (saxophone), Paul Wilson (drums) and Roger Morris (guitars). By 1979, this line-up had expanded to a sextet with Vince Ely replacing Wilson on drums and John Ashton being added on guitar.

The Psychedelic Furs’ debut, a self-titled album from 1980, was produced by Steve Lillywhite. The LP quickly established the band on radio in Europe and was a No. 18 hit in the UK Albums Chart. The album also found success in Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Australia. The US version of the album was re-sequenced, but failed to have a strong commercial impact. The Furs did find success in the US with their next release, 1981’s Talk Talk Talk, which saw the band making its debut on the US Billboard 200 chart. In the UK, the album spun off two charting singles, “Dumb Waiters” and the original version of “Pretty in Pink”.

In 1982, the band was reduced to a four-piece with the departures of Morris and Kilburn…

…and subsequently went completely to shit.

Ah, but for two glorious years at the beginning of the 1980’s, at least among my circle of friends at University, the Furs were discussed in the same breath as Joy Division, Gang of Four, and The Cure as seminal bands in the post-punk movement.

mp3 : The Psychedelic Furs – India

You could certainly have waited years for a crooner from Manchester to tell you about the drawbacks of societal conventions like marriage or you could have listened to this:

Marry me and be my wife
You can have me all your life
Our love will never end
Parties for our stupid friends….

We will be a part of structure
You will have a face of structure
We will make ourselves a scene
We will live our stupid dream

I am you and you are me
Tie me down I will be free
Our love will have no end

mp3 : The Psychedelic Furs – Fall

And while the commonsense view is that the early Furs sound was driven by Richard Butler’s gravely, atonal vocals, I am of the opinion that Duncan Kilburn was often the key. That’s right, the saxophone player! Now I know that many of you are not big fans of the sax in rock music, but this is not your father’s saxophone. For lack of a better term, I contend that the Furs represented the pinnacle (if not the only) example of Post-Punk Sax.

mp3 : The Psychedelic Furs – Dumb Waiters

It was just a fleeting moment for sure, but for me, The Psychedelic Furs absolutely “had it” before, in pursuit of greater fame and fortune, they threw it all away. Have I convinced you?


14 thoughts on “HAD IT. LOST IT. (Part 9)

  1. Hey, Dave. I think they had it a little bit longer than you do. Their sound changed a lot between the first and fourth albums, but I love everything through Mirror Moves. Great to hear India today. It has been too long.

  2. Ghost in you and love my way despite sounding very mid 80s and polished means they never fully lost it for me ( although midnight is a bit of a turkey)

  3. I agree broadly with the comments above – a band I never really fell out of love with despite some of the rough edges being smoothed off from Mirror Moves onwards, although most of Midnight To Midnight did try my patience (All Of The Law is the only one from that I still regularly play).

  4. A fine, well argued piece Dave, but (as visitors to my own humble blog will know) I would have to respectfully disagree. What I consider to be Furs’ strongest LP came very late in the day, with 1989’s ‘Book of Days’. So I’d probably say that the band had it, lost it (‘Midnight to Midnight’ era), then got it back!

  5. I fully endorse what you are saying, and I would add more examples to prove the point. When ‘We Love You’ was released (or unleashed?) their ability to fuse the bass riff of ‘Waiting For The Man’ with a manifesto of their loves, including, “Frank Sinatra, Fly Me To The Moon,” was unprecedented. R.E.M. got praise for a similar prose style with ‘The End Of The World’, but the Furs grabs your attention. ‘Sister Europe’ is probably the track you hint at in terms of ‘Joy Division-ess’ music, and the dark, brooding sound with a haunting sax (yes, central to the ‘atmosphere’) is great piece of mood-music, and a brave choice for a second single. Hey, we’ve not even touched on the brilliance of the original ‘Pretty In Pink’, not the song for a twee American film in this version. And the audacity to reinvent Brecht’s ‘Mack The Knife’ as an aggressive rock attack? They certainly had it. ‘Love My Way’? They’d lost it.

  6. The PFurs were massive for me from day one. The band really did have that parallel development to Roxy Music. First two albums: stone classics. Second two albums; embracing the mainstream to result in excellent, accomplished, though less left-field, pop. Fifth album? Dross… with an obvious single on it as your best shot at any pleasure. The last two albums? Never heard ’em but I’d probably pick them up if I saw them used on principle.

    Having been a fan since 1980, it remained until, ugh, 1986 until they made their way down to Florida where I lived. The concert was behind “Midnight To Midnight” and was pretty anticlimactic as these things go. About as mediocre as the one time I saw Echo + The Bunnymen around the same time, but nowhere near as catastrophic as the first time I had seen Simple Minds in the same year. That was an all time worst event.

    Fortunately, I saw The Furs when they were on their “Talk Talk Talk” tour in 2011 and it was much more engaging than the first show! They blew through the UK running order of the album in question then gave us a host of other delights, including an airing of “Sister Europe,” which I had given up all hope of ever hearing decades earlier. No “India” though. Sigh. Still, there was a world of difference to 1986, though Mars Williams could never be mistaken for the considerably rawer Duncan Kilburn. I agree with Dave’s assessment that Kilburn was the lynchpin of their more valuable early years. He was their Eno.

  7. First LP was brilliant and I was lucky to see their first US show touring it. Second LP was good enough. Third and Fourth LPs had a couple of strong singles but they were clearly losing it by then. If they still ‘had’ anything after Mirror Moves they ‘lost’ by Midnight. Might’ve helped if the band ever improved as musicians or developed their songwriting, neither of which happened.

  8. I’m going to add my voice to the chorus that The Furs managed to Have It all the way through Mirror Moves – Ghost In You and Highwire Days being among my favorite P-Furs songs in their Canon.
    They WERE a band you could easily discuss in the same breath as Joy Division, Gang Of Four, The Bunnymen and The Cure.
    I don’t think people give enough credit to their third album Forever Now. The involvement of Todd Rundgren – someone who attracts as much derision as he does praise allowed the band to flex a few more musical muscles. It did introduce more synths to their sound, but songs like Goodbye, Sleep Comes Down and Easy Street have some of the most pathos of any of their early work while keeping in touch with the venom and vigor of their earlier music. I always thought of it as an album that was commentary of, their recently adopted, America.
    Midnight To Midnight was Psychedelic Furs treading water.
    But as Swede rightly points out, Book Of Days shows a band in renewal of sound and purpose.

  9. When writing this, I thought I needed to make the case that the Furs had it. However, based on most of your comments, apparently the case that needed to be made is that they lost it (and lost it early). For me, the 3rd and 4th albums are simply no match for the first two, despite the fact that there are listenable songs on them. That Midnight to Midnight is so much worse doesn’t improve the standing of the previous two for me. Of all the post-Talk Talk Talk material, I enjoy most The Ghost In You and Until She Comes. However, these are pop songs from a pop band fronted by Richard Butler, not the rocking post-punk Psychedelic Furs of my youth.

  10. I think it is a case of ‘had it’ until John Hughes used Pretty in Pink as a film title and they made an album ‘Midnight to Midnight’ which even they agree was shit. Funny thing though, I saw them on the tour supporting that album, having seen then in 1984 at the Cally Pally, and they were excellent. Recording ‘Book of Days’ in 1989 they got back to their best noise and the tour was great, and the last album is infused with dance grooves and the great ‘Until she comes’. Vince Ely the drummer was key for me – listen to Talk Talk Talk, where he is trying to be a drum machine. I agree about the sax which they now use a lot in live shows. I also agree that Mirror Moves has bits of filler, but Highwire Days, Here Come Cowboys and even Heaven stand up. It may be that the move to America to work on Forever Now with Tod Rungren and Mirror Moves with Keith Forsey (a Georgio Moroder side man) lead to the dross that is Midnight to Midnight. Half the band stayed out there, but on recent re-formed form, they seem to have got over it. Richard Butler is still cool, and Talk Talk Talk a great trashing monster of a record.

  11. One night long ago I saw the Psychedelic Furs support Iggy Pop at the Apollo in Manchester. I then went with a friend on to The Osborne Club to see Joy Division. I thought The Psychedelic Furs were fabulous, Iggy Pop boring and Joy Division a disappointment. Shows how much I know.

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