The Psychedelic Furs are about to get a 14-date American tour underway starting tomorrow, so it seems a good time to have a quick look back at their career. I’m going to lazily crib from the bio on their official website:-
If you sit and talk to many of the alternative rock artists dominating today’s music, you’ll find that many of them pay homage to the The Psychedelic Furs. Led by front man and songwriter Richard Butler, the Furs won over fans and critics alike by combining poetic lyrics, innovative rhythms and melodies driven by an aggressive, punk desperation. Through it all, the band scored major hits with “Love My Way,” “Pretty In Pink,” “Heaven,” “The Ghost In You,” and “Heartbreak Beat” in all releasing seven studio albums and spawning several compilations, a boxed set, and a live concert DVD.
The Psychedelic Furs came together in England’s emerging punk scene in 1977 initially consisting of Richard Butler (vocals), Tim Butler (bass guitar), Paul Wilson (drums), Duncan Kilburn (saxophone), 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 Furs debut, a self-titled album from 1980 was produced by Steve Lillywhite. The LP quickly established the band at radio in Europe and was a top 20 hit in the UK. The album also found success in Germany, Italy, France, Spain, New Zealand and Australia. The US version of the album was resequenced, yet failed to have as strong a commercial impact.
The Furs did find success in the U.S. with their next release, 1981’s Talk Talk Talk, which saw the band making its debut on the US album charts. In New Zealand, meanwhile, the band became immensely popular, as Talk Talk Talk reached the top ten in the charts, the first in a string of Furs’ albums to chart in the New Zealand Top 10.
In the UK, the album spun off two charting singles, “Dumb Waiters” and the original version of “Pretty in Pink”. The latter song served as inspiration for the 1986 John Hughes film of the same name, and was re-recorded for the film’s platinum-selling soundtrack.
In 1982, the Furs, now a four-piece with the departures of Morris and Kilburn, recorded Forever Now, with producer Todd Rundgren in Woodstock, New York. This album included “Love My Way”, which became yet another UK and US chart hit.
Ely left the band after Forever Now, although he would return for the 1988 single “All That Money Wants” and the 1989 album Book of Days.
The Furs’ 1984 release Mirror Moves was produced by Keith Forsey, and featured the songs “The Ghost in You” and “Heaven”. Both charted in throughout the world, and “Heaven” became the band’s highest charting UK hit at the time. Strangely, however, “Heaven” was never released as a single in the U.S. Instead, Columbia Records opted for “Here Come Cowboys”, despite both international success and heavy MTV airplay for “Heaven”. “Here Come Cowboys” failed to chart, but “The Ghost In You” was a hit single on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
By the mid-80s, the band had become a staple on both U.S. college and modern rock radio stations. Simultaneously, they were experiencing consistent mainstream success, placing several singles in the pop charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 1986, the band recorded a sax-infused version of “Pretty in Pink” for the soundtrack of the film of the same name. Butler later claimed that the success of “Pretty in Pink” caused the band to be pressured into entering the recording studio to record a follow-up release before they were ready. The result was Midnight to Midnight, their biggest Top 40 success to date, but also a more overtly commercial effort than the Furs had ever recorded before. The album also featured the single “Heartbreak Beat”, which became the Psychedelic Furs biggest hit yet on the U.S. Top 40. The album also featured drummer Paul Garisto and sax player Mars Williams, both of whom continue to tour with the band.
In the wake of Midnight To Midnight, the Furs found themselves dissatisfied with their new commercial direction, and subsequently returned to a rawer sound with “All That Money Wants”, a 1988 track especially recorded for a best-of compilation album “All Of This And Nothing”. 1989’s Book of Days and 1991’s World Outside also saw a return to the earlier Furs’ style.
The Furs’ steady chart success continued with three #1 hits on the newly-established U.S. Modern Rock chart between 1988 and 1991. “All That Money Wants” was a #1 hit in 1988, while “House” topped the chart in 1990, and “Until She Comes” was #1 in 1991.
The band went on extended hiatus in the early 1990s, with the Butler brothers going on to create the band “Love Spit Love” along with guitarist Richard Fortus and drummer Frank Ferrer. Love Spit Love released two albums and enjoyed some chart success as well.
After spending most of the decade apart, the Butlers and Ashton reignited The Psychedelic Furs in 2000, and released a live album Beautiful Chaos: Greatest Hits Live, which also featured a new studio recording, “Alive (For Once In My Lifetime).” A DVD version of the performance included live versions of “Alive” and three other previously unreleased songs: “Anodyne (Better Days),” “Cigarette” and “Wrong Train.” Since then, lead singer Richard Butler has released an eponymous solo album produced by Jon Carin, and has hinted at the possibility of a new Psychedelic Furs album.
These days, the band continues to tour around the world. The current Psychedelic Furs touring lineup remains Richard Butler (vocals), Tim Butler (bass), Rich Good (guitar), Mars Williams (saxophone), Amanda Kramer (keyboards), and Paul Garisto (drums).
I’ve not bought anything in the last 30 years and in the build-up to this feature I did give a spin to each of the first four albums and found that quite a lot of it sounds dated and a bit dull and safe. I certainly didn’t hear too much of the ‘punk desperation’ mentioned in the bio….and what is now more bleedingly obvious than it was back in the day is just how hard they (and/or their record label) tried to package themselves for the American market. I found myself wondering why it was that I once thought they were an important part of the alternative music scene in the UK in the early 80s when in fact they were really always a mainstream act bordering on the different.
Having said that, it would be very unfair to completely dismiss them. There’s actually enough listenable early stuff that could be compiled into one reasonably decent album while some of the singles remain infectiously catchy but I feel if you were to be exposed to them on a very regular basis you would soon get irritated.
Oh and they should never have allowed Pretty In Pink to be re-recorded in such a dreadful and cliche-ridden fashion…the sax all but kills it. Anyways:-
mp3 : The Psychedelic Furs – Sister Europe (Peel Session)
mp3 : The Psychedelic Furs – Dumb Waiters
mp3 : The Psychedelic Furs – President Gas
mp3 : The Psychedelic Furs – Heartbeat (NY remix)
Be warned, the last of these tracks is more than 8 minutes in length and has a real 80s sounding production….