The Psychedelic Furs are one of the best ’80s bands. I don’t mean in terms of sales or commercial or critical success. You know, the way most people would quantify “best.” What I mean is, the music holds up, to a point where I can listen to it right now (I am, actually) without cringing at a nostalgia overdose (See: “Safety Dance,” Toni Basil, and Molly Ringwald — although that last one is complicated).
The Psychedelic Furs, for the uninitiated, are a cross between The Cure, The Church, and The Velvet Underground. They may not have made the same impact as those bands, or other contemporaries like R.E.M. or maybe The Smiths, but there can be no argument that they produced a song that would be eligible to represent an entire decade: “Pretty in Pink.” And they aren’t/weren’t a one-trick pony, either; the band released other notable numbers like “Love My Way,” “Heartbreak Beat,” and “Heaven.”
The point is, this isn’t some rag-tag assemblage of ’80s stars in festival form, this is Richard Butler and his New Wave Mick Jagger-sashay and gestations growling at you about heaven, love, heartbreak and, well, the color pink. So you shouldn’t have any nostalgia guilt pangs if you pony up to go see the band play this weekend at Ponte Vedra Concert Hall.
Formed in the late-’70s, The Furs arrived at the tail end of the great punk happening in England, and brought a little more theatrics and bigger hair, which ultimately nixed them from that movement. But the Butler brothers (Richard on vocals and weird hand gestures in music videos and brother Tim on bass) were able to parlay the DIY punk work ethic into regular shows in nearby London (the boys are from Surrey) in front of large, paying crowds. This interested producers, particularly legendary producer Steve Lillywhite, who wanted to harness the fading fumes of the punk scene with the sparks of the upcoming New Wave era. What we ended up with was their 1980 eponymously titled debut, which did fairly well in Europe (but nobody here cared about it – Boo!). Their next album, though, 1981’s Talk Talk Talk, made a bigger splash and included some songs that you probably know, particularly “Pretty in Pink.”
This version predates the classic movie of the same name by five years. There can be no doubt that the Furs have been at least partly successful because John Hughes chose to title his 1986 teenybopper romantic comedy after the song and included it in the soundtrack. But in my expert and undisputed opinion, the original “Pink” is way better than the one the Furs redid for the soundtrack. While the soundtrack version just drips with “radio play” production, it lacks the angst and barebones of the original. Still, unless you’re Matt Pinfield, you probably know them because of the film’s version.
I stated earlier that “Pretty in Pink” would be on the short-ballot for the most defining song of the ’80s. I know; it’s a bold statement. But think about this: The song is alternative enough to sit well with fans of Echo & The Bunnymen or Bauhaus or Joy Division, but also pop-oriented enough for those buying Debbie Gibson and Tiffany albums. “Pretty in Pink” crosses the aisle and gets both votes, whereas Thompson Twins or Flock of Seagulls simply doesn’t.
The Furs followed up “Talk Talk Talk” with 1982’s Forever Now, which was produced by power pop wizard Todd Rundgren. Perhaps the Fur’s second-most popular song, “Love My Way,” appears here and must have been a close runner-up to the song Buffalo Bill danced around to in The Silence Of The Lambs.
In ’88, the Furs released All of This and Nothing, a best-of and — as I am sure they meant it — the best place to find a cross-section of their work, from the art house rock of “Dumb Waiters” to the darker “She is Mine” to the more mainstream “Heaven” and the punkier “All That Money Wants.” All of This and Nothing really showcases why The Psychedelic Furs can let their music stand on its own, as opposed to being some sort of decade-influenced playlist.