A Flock of Seagulls Singles Ranked, 11-16

If you’re just joining us, check out the About This Project link for details. Basically, I make playlists of all the singles by certain musical artists and then try to order them using the guiding principle “do I like each song more than the last song.” I define “single” in a broad enough way to include any song that was released as a purchasable single in any format in any country; as a promotional single in any country; as a video; or generally any song that I know charted anywhere. My main sources are Wikipedia (mostly reliable) and Discogs (reasonably reliable). I welcome editing feedback since sometimes I favor speed over spelling.

I loved A Flock of Seagulls self titled debut album in 1982 and I still love it to this day. Putting aside Mike Score’s iconic haircut, they were a band with a distinct sound (anchored by Paul Reynolds’ guitar work) and an interesting lyrical focus. I contend that having hits destroyed them and even before they reached the end of the decade, they were making music with none of the qualities that made them worthwhile in the first place. In some ways, A Flock of Seagulls story was the story of making music in the 80’s – more seasoned musicians than they struggled with the same issues that decade.  Some weathered a few fallow years, but the 80’s destroyed A Flock of Seagulls as a band creating interesting songs.  I’m pleased that Mike Score has managed to build a career around touring with his classic tunes, but I feel like there could have been so much more interesting new work from this band if not for the mid-late 80’s.

I’ll not be writing about the band’s recent release – Ascension – but I will report that if you enjoyed their classic tunes, this orchestral album of their early hits is really satisfying. I also won’t be writing about the singles from Mike Score’s very good solo album Zeebrata.

16. Who’s That Girl (She’s Got It)

First single from Dream Come True (1985), released as a single in 1985
Watch the official video here

Paul Reynolds – the guitarist who was central to A Flock of Seagulls sound – quit shortly before the 1985 Dreams Come True album came out.  Mike Score, Ali Score and Frank Maudsley moved to Philadelphia (ostensibly to pursue a more soulful) and the band gradually dissolved as they were making this album.  I listen to this song and the first thing I ask myself is “who was the intended audience for this song?”  The lyrics are worse than bad – they’re generic.  It’s as if somebody programmed an Apple IIe (in BASIC) to generate the blandest words possible.  There’s nothing about this lyric to set A Flock of Seagulls apart from any other lame 80’s dance band.  The music is even worse and for the exact same reason.  There’s absolutely nothing in it that original, interesting or even connected to the band as they sounded even one year before.  I’m very comfortable with bands exploring or expanding their sound palette, but on “Who’s That Girl (She’s Got It),” A Flock of Seagulls sets aside both their previous lyrical and musical style elements in favor of “exactly what any other dance band might do.”  Ugh and that little keyboard riff just kills my heart.  All that’s left of the Flock of old is that Mike Score’s has fabulous hair in the video.

I’ve put forth this theory before that having hits can wreck a band.  Once you’ve had that hit, there’s tremendous pressure from a record label to produce a second hit.  Record companies are focused on shifting units not on artistic quality so many of them (especially in the mid-80’s) seem to have pushed previously unique pop artists towards this bland dance sound that inevitably flopped.  The early 80’s were a time where you could have Dexy’s Midnight Runners and Madonna and Taco and Prince and Toni Basil on the pop charts at the same time.  Everything in the late 80’s sounded like Richard Marx – and there can be only one Richard Marx.  If I’d been advising A Flock of Seagulls, I’d have encouraged them to double down on the things that made them unique – creating what they imagined the music of the future might sound like.

I think this might be the worst song I’ve included on any list on this site.  It certainly competes for that place with the other  (#147) worst (#37) songs (#26).

(This is also where I stress that I’m not claiming I can do better – just that I know when I don’t like something)

15. Burnin’ Up

Second single from The Light at the End of the World (1995), released as a single in 1995

Instead of writing up a critique of “Burnin’ Up,” I am tempted to just link the lyrics and stress that this isn’t the same song as Madonna’s “Burning Up” (#9).  In 1995, Mike Score made a valiant attempt at reviving A Flock of Seagulls with an entirely new set of musicians.  The album isn’t entirely unsatisfactory, but this particular song suffers from the same problems as “Who’s That Girl (She’s Got It).”  The lyrics are generic and – despite changes in production standards – the music could once again have been created by any band trying to get a hit on the 90’s adult contemporary chart.  Once again, I have to ask “who was the intended audience of this song?”  There are other better songs from the album, but one again some record company wonk must have thought “this sounds like the least inventive song on the record so clearly it must be the single.”

I think at this point I need to stress that I really genuinely like A Flock of Seagulls and – on the balance – they have more good singles than bad.  The bad are so very bad, though, and it upsets me because I think the bad singles wrecked their career.  Mike Score was capable of more – even without the rest of the band.  Listen to his single “All I Wanna Do” from 2013.  He has always been able to create musically rich songs.

14. Heartbeat Like a Drum

Second single from Dream Come True (1985), released as a single in 1985
Watch the official video here

In his review of Dreams Come True at AllMusic, Dan Leroy suggests that “Heartbeat Like A Drum” was “an endearing attempt to re-create Scritti Politti’s bubblegum electro-funk.”  Hoo boy.  Let’s go to the lyrics!  Here is a bit from “Heartbeat Like A Drum:”

Every time you walk on by I got a sight high
You make my heart beat like a drum (heartbeat heartbeat heartbeat)
Every time you look my way I gotta say hey
You make my heart beat like a drum (heartbeat heartbeat heartbeat)

And then here’s a bit from “Wood Beez” by Scritti Politti:

There’s nothing I wouldn’t be
To get to be together
There’s nothing I wouldn’t be
My heart depends on me
There’s nothing I wouldn’t do
Including doing nothing
There’s nothing I wouldn’t do
For you to be with me now sugar

Both are built on a refrain but where the Scritti Politti lyric speaks to an inner life and contains that witty “including doing nothing” bit, the A Flock of Seagulls lyric is just generic, cutesy schmaltz. I guess it’s good that they aspired to this particular sound (better to aim for the sky and miss than aim for the ground and hit), but if you’re going to aspire to do “bubblegum electro-funk” bring your lyrical A game.  Holy cats.

This song was something of a minor hit and I know it has it’s fans.  I enjoy the “heartbeat” backing vocal, but need to stress that (once again) there’s very little too this song for a fan of the band’s earlier work to enjoy.  I had started listening to them in 1982 as “I Ran” was becoming a big hit, bought the album almost immediately, wore one of the band’s pins on my denim jacket (I still have both the jacket and the pin) and had been a vocal advocate for their music.  Here we were three years later (it felt like an eternity to me between when they debuted and when they dissolved because those were my high school years) and 17 year old me was disgusted with them.  I thought this was their worst song ever (because I didn’t hear “Who’s That Girl” until this past year).

13. Magic

First single (sort of) from The Light at the End of the World (1995), released as a single in 1989

“Magic” was released as a single twice.  First, it was a stand-alone track in 1989 and then it was released again to help promote The Light at the End of the World in 1995.  It did not chart either year.  In defense of “Magic,” the music sounds like an attempt to reclaim and update a little bit of their New Wave rock sound from the start of their career.  It points in a direction they could have gone in 1985.  Perhaps without guitarist Paul Reynolds, it was impossible in that particular year.  I propose if this had been the track they released in 1985 instead of “Who’s That Girl,” they might have lasted a little longer.  The problem is, once again, the lyrics which make Steve Miller’s promise that he’s going to “reach out and grab ya” in his magic-themed song sound clever.

This ranking list is divided roughly into three chunks – the stuff that hurts my soul (which ends here), the stuff that is sort of “meh” and the stuff that makes A Flock of Seagulls a worthwhile band to write about.  On to the meh!

12. Never Again (The Dancer)

Second single from The Story of a Young Heart (1984), released as a single in 1984
Watch the official video here

In a just universe, I’d be ranking this single at like #53 on this list and saying it was their worst single because it’s a little boring.  The band was already moving away from the science fiction themes of their first two albums and embracing a warmer sound on The Story of a Young Heart, but the lyrics are not nearly as generic as on their next album.  This song leans a little more heavily on bassist Frank Maudsley than on some of their other songs and he acquits himself well.  I wonder what would have happened if they’re tried to push more in the direction of funk instead of electro-pop on their next record?  Like maybeask to  collaborate with fellow UFO enthusiast George Clinton (who was working with Thomas Dolby around the same time (#23) and may have been open to that idea).  Anyhow, Paul Reynolds guitar work is relegated to color here (though it’s still recognizable) and MIke Score manages to be suitably brooding in his vocal delivery.

11. Transfer Affection

Second single from Listen (1982), released as a single in 1983
Watch the official video here

Big leap up in quality here.  The worst that can be said about “Transfer Affection” is it is a little bit dull.  I think the lyrics – which explore the challenges of moving on after a break up but through a sort of geeky sci-fi lens – are really quite good (and make me furious about the four songs I ranked at the bottom here all over again).  A Flock of Seagulls really work as geeky outsiders trying to navigate life and romance and were much less successful at being jerky guys in the dance club picking up women.  Anyhow, Paul Reynolds’ signature guitar work sounds like the musical equivalent of distant stars becoming visible one by one as the sun sets.  While this is by no means a song I seek out, it’s the first song on this list that I don’t have the urge to immediately skip over when it comes up on random shuffle.

Coming Soon:  By the time we reach the top of this list, the songs are really good, I swear.

A Flock of Seagulls Singles Ranked – 11-161-10

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