A STAPLE OF THE 80s b/w A BIZARRE CHOICE OF COVER

It was back in 1981 that The Psychedelic Furs released their fifth single in the UK, and the third lifted from their sophomore album Talk Talk Talk:-

mp3: The Psychedelic Furs – Pretty In Pink

It’s a gem of a 45, one that was tailor-made for radio and had smash hit written all over it.  But despite the best efforts of all concerned at the record-label, including the gimmick of a free t-shirt included in the initial copies of the 12″ version, it stalled at #43, ensuring that the band, for now, wouldn’t get much beyond cult status and their tours would continue to be at the lower end of the scale, capacity-wise.

There was a very unusual choice of cover song for the b-side:-

mp3: The Psychedelic Furs – Mack the Knife

Written by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for their 1928 music drama The Threepenny Opera, it is one of those songs that had been much recorded by pop/jazz singers since it had been translated, in 1954, by Marc Blitzstein for an off-Broadway staging of the show. Louis Armstrong is credited with the initial popularity while Bobby Darin took it the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in 1959.

To be fair to the Furs, their gothic interpretation is quite distant from the chirpy version that had been such a massive hit, with their take being more aligned to the fact that it’s a lyric about a serial killer.

Here’s the third song that was made available on the 12″, together with the free t-shirt:-

mp3: The Psychedelic Furs – Soap Commercial

It is no wonder, listening to this track, which was lifted from the band’s debut album that had been released in 1980, that so many critics lumped The Furs in with the likes of The Cure, The Banshees and Bauhaus.

Fast forward five years and the Hollywood director John Hughes decides to make a movie entitled Pretty In Pink, for which he asked the band to record a new version of the song that had helped inspire the story:-

mp3: The Psychedelic Furs – Pretty In Pink (remix)

This one went all the way to #18 in the UK charts and remains the band’s best performance in that regard. It’s a hit that has long proved to have caused a bit of angst in the Furs camp, as this recent press interview with lead singer Richard Butler reveals:-

“He (John Hughes) made it to be literally about a girl that was wearing a pink dress and it wasn’t about that at all. It was about a rather unfortunate girl.

“Me saying pretty in pink meant somebody who is naked. It was a metaphor and he got the wrong end of the stick.

“Given that, the movie did us a lot of good. It was a double-edged sword because it increased our audience but a lot of people that were the darker set of our fans thought: ‘It’s a ‘Brat Pack’ movie scene now and we are not really into that.’”

I think it’s a bit disingenuous, however, not to reflect that Butler & co. were party to an abomination of a remix that had more to do with alienating the long-term fans than the fact it was now linked to a hit movie.

JC

8 thoughts on “A STAPLE OF THE 80s b/w A BIZARRE CHOICE OF COVER

  1. Yeah, you Dance with the Devil and you get singed! But the original was impeccable. Trouser Press singles column picked it for top single of 1981. And that was a year with a lot of competition, but I can’t complain. Never had the single so the Brecht/Weill cover remained unheard1 And the DLX RM of “Talk Talk Talk” was missing all of the B-sides that should have been there as bonus tracks. Grumble.

  2. I love both versions. Love the film also. And Molly Ringwald? Well, I love her too,
    I’m afraid. Hughes wrote the film but, amazingly, did not direct it.

  3. I have never seen the film, but it was the “abomination of a remix” (I love that phrase!) and the accompanying singles from Midnight To Midnight that really got me into The Psychedelic Furs. I also saw them live for the first time on that tour. It wasn’t long after that I got Talk Talk Talk and after hearing the opening salvo of Dumb Waiters and the original Pretty In Pink, that was it. I love both versions and I’ll even stretch as far as to say I like the “Berlin Mix” on the even more abominable 12″ single, but the original will always be the best for me.

    I got a secondhand copy of the 1981 12″ single (no T-shirt, sadly) and have long enjoyed their take on Mack The Knife. Perversely the B-sides popped up as bonus tracks on the DLX RM of their first album, not Talk Talk Talk as you would reasonably expect. There’s John Peel/BBC session versions of both songs which are pretty good, too.

    Arguably Butler & co. were on a trajectory to alienating the long-term fans from Forever Now to Mirror Moves increasingly more polished sheen. Midnight To Midnight was the logical next point, but Pretty In Pink (the film) inevitably launched the band and album to a larger audience than might otherwise have been possible. That said, I’m glad that the cycle progressed as (for me) the subsequent albums returned to the styling of the first two albums without simply trying to recreate past glories. The new album this year (Made Of Rain) was a surprise after a nearly 30 year gap, but its also surprisingly good.

  4. The original is superb (and produced by Martin Hannett too). The remix is full of mid 80s studio gubbins and it can’t hold a candle to what they achieved in ’81. I think it’s funny the way the lyrics were so at odds with the film, a film I’ve always had a soft spot for. And then there’s Molly Ringwald. ..

  5. @PostPunkMonk is spot on. Very few who musical artists that have ever signed on with John Hughes have enjoyed the results of their collaboration. Sure some bands “broke” America, but at what price and with what to follow it up with…
    The original Pretty In Pink may not have set the charts on fire, but it cemented the band as one of the foundation bands of the Alternative Music scene, espcially in the US. Through some hard graft touring and focusing on the US market, the band was doing better than OK certainly.
    For me, Mack The Knife is as important to The Psychedelic Furs canon as India, Mr. Jones, Dumb Waiters and Sister Europe. Brecht/Weill, properly approached, can be a great success in the hands of a Rock and Roll band.

  6. Psychedelic Furs are key witnesses for both the prosecution and defence in the great “sax has no place in rock” hearing.
    Had the original PiP 7″, 12″ and t-shirt and played and wore them to death. The movie version is a strange and horrible aberration, and even live versions never really came close to the original recording.

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