Columbia Records really wanted new music from Psychedelic Furs. In 1986, the band were unlikely beneficiaries of the John Hughes teen movie factory, which was producing new material at a rapid clip. “Pretty in Pink,” the title of a 1981 single from Psychedelic Furs, was typed onto the cover page of Hughes’s high school romance script that he turned over to Howard Deutch to direct. The resulting film, released in 1986, was a box office success, and the Furs’ freshly recorded take on the song turned into a hit, just missing the Billboard Top 40. Anxious to capitalize on the sudden name recognition for one of their most cantankerous acts, the label rushed the Butler brothers and their bandmates into the studio. Later, the band would claim they weren’t ready, that their material wasn’t up to snuff. If the label agreed, they didn’t much care. Columbia gave the album a heavy promotional push, including ads that excitedly touted the 1987 release as the band’s “masterstroke.” The first single from the album, “Heartbreak Beat,” was lead singer Richard Butler’s stab at capturing the essence of New York City. “It’s about that feeling when you walk through Washington Square Park and you’ve got all the boxes going and it sounds like this huge phase-shifter,” he said. “New York has definitely affected the feel of the songs. I very much pick up on what’s around me, steal things, phrases, the feeling of being out at night in New York.” Whatever reservations the artist may have had about the album and the songs on it, The single “Heartbreak Beat” had the desired business effect. It became the first and only Top 40 hit for the Psychedelic Furs in the U.S.
At the time Steve Brown was hired to produce Love, the sophomore album from the British hard rock band the Cult, his most recent high profile gig entailed presiding over a rubbery dance workout for Wham! This was hardly expected resume fodder given that the Cult was far more likely to draw comparisons to Led Zeppelin and other titans of late-sixties and early-seventies pounding, metal-flecked songs. Reportedly, Brown got the position after telling the group they should record “She Sells Santuary” without a single change, making the correct prediction that the track would make it up to #15 on the U.K. charts. Maybe Brown understood the evergreen appeal of the song’s topic. “What’s the song about? Sex,” lead singer Ian Astbury asked and answered. “Plain and simple, it’s about sex. I’ve had sex and I’m very proud of that fact.” In a later interview, Astbury got a little more expansively philosophical about the song’s inspiration. “’She Sells Sanctuary’ was probably referring to the power of finding solitude in a woman’s arms and the matriarchal energy, whether it be an actual physical person or in a spiritual sense, the greatest matriarch, and thinking of the cosmos as a female energy rather than a male energy,” he said. “These are archetypal things I was picking up from discovering things like Joseph Campbell and Buffy Sainte-Marie or even Jim Morrison.” Although “She Sells Sanctuary” hardly sounds like some sadly softened sell-out, the Cult still found it engendered animosity from their existing fans, apparently disgruntled that their underground heroes had tasted even a modicum of chart success. “Oh, Jeez, we’ve lost a hell of a lot of people,” Astbury said when the single was still riding reasonably high. “People with zero going for them, they like to latch onto something which is very small and unique and feel a part of it. And then when it gets bigger and more people get into it, it becomes dirty, I guess. Not as personal.”
“Getting reasonably big in America is a natural thing,” Echo & the Bunnymen lead guitarist Will Sergeant said at around the time the band’s 1987 self-titled album delivered them a commercial breakthrough in the U.S. “We’ve been pushing away at it for so long that it’s happening automatically. It just takes longer because its too big.” The band’s fifth album overall, Echo & the Bunnymen seemingly found the band taking a stab at broader commercial success, though they maintained a stubborn commitment to their own muse regardless of what their music business overlords wanted. (Reportedly, one of the label execs directed them to deliberate ape the sound of Peter Gabriel’s So.) They went so far as to insist that the little swell of success they were experiencing was the result of building a reputation as a strong live act after years of touring, the sort of folk tale that affords an act the soundest integrity. It’s hard to deny, though, that a track like “Lips Like Sugar,” with its yearning hook, seems almost genetically-engineered for radio success. Of course, the counter argument is simple and satisfying: Who cares if it’s deliberately commercial if it also sounds as good as anything Echo & the Bunnymen ever recorded. Released as the second single from the album, the track was one of those that briefly felt like it was everywhere, even as it didn’t so much as ruffle any of the commercial U.S. charts.
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.