While many bands are dogged by comparisons to other acts while they try to make their way in the wild of the music business, Heaven 17 endured an especially sharp version of that burden. Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, two thirds of Heaven 17’s most enduring lineup, were both founding members of the Human League. They left that band and ceded the name to lead singer Philip Oakey after the creative relationship became unendurably fractious. “Sometimes it’s hard to give us something that appears to be your entire life, but we all knew in our heart of hearts at the time that it was the best thing for all of us,” Ware explained, diplomatically adding, “It certainly turned out well, I think, for both groups.” The viability of declaring a mutual win emerged only gradually. While the Human League was spinning out major hits (they registered five straight U.K. Top 10 hits across 1981 and 1982), Heaven 17 was still lagging behind a bit, keeping alive the constant comparison with their former musical outfit. There was a little detail that took the sting off the success of the now rival band: in exchange for relinquishing any claim on the name the Human League, both Ware and Marsh had negotiated a small percentage of the proceeds from the band’s next album. That record was Dare, which contained the global smash hit “Don’t You Want Me.” “That enabled me to pay for my first flat in London,” Ware later said. Both relieved of pressure to earn money and emboldened to compete with the success of their former bandmates, Ware and Marsh went into the studio with lead singer Glenn Gregory committed to making something great. “As far as we were concerned, all bets were off the table,” Ware said. “Let Me Go” was one of the first products of that highly motivated recording process. Released as the advance single to Heaven 17’s sophomore album, The Luxury Gap, it just missed the U.K. Top 40 but proved a hit on the U.S. dance charts, peaking at #4.
Like many of the college kids who embraced Psychedelic Furs, Richard Butler’s decision to spend a night out at the pub resulted in some last minute homework. The lead singer was scheduled to work with guitarist John Ashton on material for the band’s third album. “I was supposed to have written some ideas before I went over, but I’d been out carousing instead,” Butler said. “The next morning, I had one of those little xylophone things, and I picked out these three notes and made this little melody. It was all done in about ten minutes, and I thought, ‘That’s good, I can go to John’s now.'” The tune Butler was working out became “Love My Way,” which served as the lead single for that third album, Forever Now, released in 1982. Butler might have felt chuffed about the seedling of a song he’d plunked up, Ashton was initially unimpressed. He started coming around when the song went through a transformation in the studio, thanks largely to the input of producer Todd Rundgren. “When we went to work with Todd, ‘Love My Way’ wasn’t the song you hear today,” Butler conceded. “He said, ‘The song could be a great song, Richard, if you try and be less aggressive with it.’ The idea of singing had been anathema to me.” Rundgren was also directly responsible for the contribution of Flo & Eddie as backup singers and the notable inclusion of a marimba, hardly the sort of instrument most listeners associated with the sort of snarling, punk-influenced pop the Furs had made previously. “It turned out that the little musical theme just sounded perfect with the marimbas, and became a signature element of the song,” Rundgren noted. “So it just was a question of availability. It’s not like I had to go rent some marimbas. I happened to have them.”
For many observers, the Smithereens were one of those bands always on the verge of a major breakthrough. Hailing from New Jersey, the band delivered near-perfect pop rock songs, drawing expertly on influences like the Beatles, the Who, and, maybe most clearly, the Kinks. So expectations were high when the band took advantage of a slip-up in their original recording contract with Enigma Records to hop over to Capitol Records, a move they committed to so thoroughly that their sophomore full-length release, Green Thoughts, was recorded in the studios of the label’s iconic Los Angeles tower. According to the Smithereens’ lead singer and chief songwriter, Pat DiNizio, the perception that they’d significantly upgraded proved to be inaccurate. ““Capitol at that time was perceived as a major, but it was just a very big indie label, with EMI as a parent company,” DiNizio later said. “There were problems with that.” Despite the shortcomings the bad discovered with their new entertainment overlords, their very first single under the Capitol banner proved to be their only song to top a Billboard chart. “Only a Memory,” issued in early 1988 as the first single off of Green Thoughts, spent a week at #1 on the Mainstream Rock charts, in between a monthlong run in that position by Robert Plant and a similarly long stay by Bruce Hornsby and the Range.
As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown.
The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist. All images nicked from Discogs.