When people talk about great bands from the 1980s, everyone (myself included) seems to go on and on about the Smiths, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, the Cure, and R.E.M., before they were famous. But what about the post-punk band from London that may have had the best name assigned to any group to emerge from the Reagan/Thatcher years?
I have a few theories as to why the Psychedelic Furs didn’t/don’t get enough love: 1) The members weren’t cute enough to be pin-up idols, which, let’s face it, great as Duran Duran’s music may have been, was a huge factor in that group’s success. 2) The Furs wasn’t particularly pop, not quite rock, and definitely not new wave, so nobody knew what to file its music under.
As a result, the band released critically acclaimed albums and amassed a respectable following, but never scored a Top 10 album or single in its native UK, and only managed one top 40 U.S. hit, with “Heartbreak Beat” (No. 26, 1987), a clunky song that no diehard fan would ever rank as being anywhere near the band’s best. (I shudder to think that I actually spent good money on the Midnight to Midnight vinyl LP!)
A further show of disrespect: The classic 1986 John Hughes film Pretty in Pink was named after a Furs song from the 1981 Talk Talk Talk album, and the soundtrack included a re-recorded version, and the Furs still didn’t have a hit with it in the U.S. (It went to No. 41.) That honor went to OMD, whose Pretty in Pink track “If You Leave” hit No. 4 in the States.
A few years before I left New York City, I saw a reunited Psychedelic Furs on a double bill with fellow Pretty in Pink soundtrack alumnus Echo & the Bunnymen at the Beacon Theater. Both bands sounded great, but as much as I love “The Cutter” and “Seven Seas,” Echo & the Bunnymen’s greatest hits of the ’80s are unmistakeably from that decade.
Meanwhile, Furs songs like “Love My Way,” “The Ghost in You” and “Sister Europe” could have been written and recorded that year, or in 2012. They sound as timely — and much better — than much of what passes for music today. That might also partly explain why the Furs was never a commercial A-list act: Its music may have been a product of the ’80s, but it never completely sounded the part.
It’s never too late to pay homage. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard the “hits,” so here’s a tribute to latter-day Furs…
“Mother Son” Chaos = Beauty, from 1989’s great underrated Book of Days.
“All That Money Wants” The new track on the Furs’ ’88 best-of compilation All of This and Nothing that sounded every bit as classic as the “hits” that surrounded it. Watch and listen here.
“Sometimes” This will always remind me of moving to New York City because I listened to this and the single “Until She Comes” (both from the 1991 album World Outside) practically non-stop during my first few weeks in the big city.
“Shineaway” OK, this isn’t actually a Psychedelic Furs song. It’s BT featuring Furs singer Richard Butler. Listen up, David Guetta! This track (from the 1997 Bruce Willis/Richard Gere film The Jackal) is what a DJ-singer collaboration should sound like, so leave Nicki Minaj alone, and get original!
“Am I Wrong?” Again, not Psychedelic Furs, but Love Spit Love, Butler’s hideously named band during the Furs’ ’90s hiatus. I saw LSL at Irving Plaza in 1994 with my then-boyfriend, who had no use for anything that wasn’t R&B, and even he was in tears by the end of this song, which went to No. 83, making it a bigger hit in the U.S. than most of the Furs’ “hits.”