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.
There’s a number of songs by A Flock of Seagulls that were not released as singles but are worth your time. I’m going to specifically mention their Grammy award winning instrumental “D.N.A.,” “Over My Head,” and “The Traveler” as being particularly worth a few moments of your time. Here are ten terrific songs that were singles.
10. The More You Live, the More You Love
First single from The Story of a Young Heart (1984), released as a single in 1984
I’m not crazy about the lyrics to “The More You Live, The More You Love” and that has made it difficult for me to acknowledge that the musical performance on this song is really very good. The band seems energized and tight, their sounds polished but not so polished that it has lost it’s character. Guitarist Paul Reynolds evocative guitar work, Mike Score’s signature keyboard drones, Frank Maudsley confident bass work and even Ali Score’s very-80’s electronic drums add up to create an especially satisfying tune. I wish the lyrics were addressed to a robot, but with a little imagination on the listener’s part, perhaps they were. Lyrically, this song points the way to the problems they faced on their next two albums, but musically the band was reaching a kind of creative peak. Perhaps this sound had run it’s course and it was time to change directions, but to my ear they were on the verge of a sort of sonic breakthrough here. They could easily have gone in a Depeche Mode/New Order direction – building on their sound and incorporating new musical directions. Ah, hindsight is everybody’s best friend.
Third single from The Light at the End of the World (1995), released as a single in 1996
This is arguably the most successful track from The Light at the End of the World in no small part because of Mike Score’s retro keyboard work. It’s inventive, fresh and hearkens back to the band’s glory days but it’s also part of a musical setting that suggests 1996. This, to me, is a hint of what could have been! AllMusic’s entry on that album suggests that Matt Green of Spahn Ranch wrote this song, but I think he may just have remixed it. The lyrics are decent if not planet-shattering but that fact is largely irrelevant to me because of the improved quality of the music. This is the last “merely good” quality song on this list – we take another big leap up in quality as of the next song.
8. (It’s Not Me) Talking
Stand-alone single released in 1981
This is the first truly great A Flock of Seagulls song on this list. This was A Flock of Seagulls’ first single and it’s clear that their style was already in place – spacey keyboard work, extensive coloring from the guitar and paranoid, science fiction themed lyrics. Furthermore, it’s really catchy, which of course helps in a single. The song was a minor hit in the UK and was later added to A Flock of Seagulls’ second album, Listen.
First single from A Flock of Seagulls (1982), released as a single in 1981
This track reminds me a little of Thomas Dolby’s contemporary work, like “Airwaves” (#2). It got a bunch of club play and was a minor hit in the U.S. Our local college station, WXCI, played this song a bunch in 1981 and 1982 and this led to me associating A Flock of Seagulls with bands like New Order and Ultravox. Producer Phil “Creator of the Wall of Sound and also Convicted Murderer” Spector loved this song and wanted to work with A Flock of Seagulls. Apparently, this was due to their use of layers of sound on their tracks. I know the band was eventually overshadowed by the haircut and the video, but it is worth remembering that in 1981-82, they were regarded as an extremely promising young band by many people (teenage me included).
6. Remember David
Third single from The Story of a Young Heart (1984), released as a single in 1984
“Remember David” is the best song from The Story of a Young Heart. It failed to chart, which is a real shame because it is probably the band’s best lyric. I mentioned before that I thought A Flock of Seagulls was at their best when they seemed a little like aliens trying to study humans. On this song, they come across as those aliens trying to understand the concept of grief. Mike Score gives one of his best vocal performances on this song – he sounds like he’s trying very hard to connect with sorrow but he can’t quite do it. His inability to connect (whether genuine or effected) makes the song much more poignant to me. I’m reminded of the concept of yugen from Noh theatre – the idea that one goal of Noh theatre is to show a reflection of beauty (“like observing moonlight reflected off a pan of water”). Sometimes experiencing an emotion indirectly can be more moving than having it shoved in your face. I’m also reminded of something one of my acting teachers mentioned. Apparently, his female students were excellent at connecting with their emotions but, in general, his male students tended to speak their emotions. I’ve seen this first hand in improv comedy – we do this emotion game where the goal is to commit to different emotions and I can’t tell you how many men (in general) play this by stating how they’re feeling (“this makes me angry”) rather than showing it. I’ve wandered far afield here so let’s conclude by saying “I get you, Mike Score.”
5. Modern Love Is Automatic
UK EP from A Flock of Seagulls (1982), released as an EP in 1981
In case you don’t know this, for years in the UK, you could released an EP (“Extended Play” record – typically a mini-album with 3-5 songs on it) and that EP could chart on the UK singles chart. While this didn’t necessarily work for “Modern Love is Automatic,” the theory is that fans are more enthused to buy a record if it has a few more songs on it. I’ve always suspected that Gary Numan was a major influence on A Flock of Seagulls and I cite the lyrics of this song (suggesting love involving a robot) as an example. On the other hand, lyrics like “They meet in a garden/Down in old Japan/Where young love’s forbidden” make me suspect that they learned about Japan primarily from listening to The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan. Seriously, what? That aside, this single is a stone cold classic.
Second single from Listen (1982), released as a single in 1982
Guitarist Paul Reynolds is the main vocalist on “Nightmares,” though Mike Score sings the choruses. This creates a nice contrast of naivety and alienation. Score’s vocal in particular sounds like it’s behind a veil of dreams – like it emerges from the mist as needed. Indeed, the way the song is mixed makes the whole tune seem just a little bit like it’s happening in a dream. The guitar work in particular is beautifully understated. I’ve been very critical of A Flock of Seagulls lyrics on their later songs and the higher quality of lyrics on this song is a large part of the reason why. The song is about coming of age – realizing that at some point, your mother isn’t going to be there to help you with the nightmares in your life (but still calling out to her anyways). The key line in the chorus, perhaps, is “mama mama do you love me still?” This line hints at the content of the nightmare – maybe not so much monsters under the bed, but the crushing loneliness and alienation of adulthood. This song was only a minor hit which, considering the subdued subject matter, isn’t that big a surprise but is still a shame.
3. I Ran (So Far Away)
Second single from A Flock of Seagulls (1982), released as a single in 1982
I completely understand why Mike Score detests this song. It’s success locked them into a certain sound and a certain look and (furthermore) created tremendous pressure for follow-up hits. I wonder if the classic line-up of A Flock of Seagulls could have lasted together longer if this song had been relegated to cult classic status. Alas for them, it was such a big hit that it overshadowed everything else about the band (including their other top 40 hits – I’ve heard the band referred to as a “one-hit wonder” before, which is patently false unless you make the definition of “one-hit wonder” so narrow as to only include top ten hits which is ludicrous and…. I’ll stop). In my high school Dungeons and Dragons group, one of our players named his main character after this song (which caused some misunderstanding because the song title is, of course, a homonym for the country Iran). To whit, this song was everywhere and whither the song went, the haircut went. As a result, “Flock of Seagulls” has become shorthand for “80’s haircut” (example – the famous insult from Pulp Fiction). It is notable that Mike Score in 2018 is proudly and gloriously bald.
Let us not let the success of this song overshadow the quality of the song. The lyrics draw a parallel between experiencing a genuine emotion with being chased by spaceships – for the singer, both are worthy reasons to get out of Dodge. People tend to focus on the spaceship in the second verse, but I think the first verse (about meeting a woman and freaking out about it) is really the key to understanding of the song. Tell me that’s not infinitely more interesting than lyrics about seeing a girl on a dance floor and wanting to meet her. Regarding the music, I’d encourage you to listen to the album version of the song (which got a ton of airplay on WXCI) for some extra joy. “I Ran” is not the entirety of A Flock of Seagulls’ sound in 1982, but even if it had not been a hit, it is a shining example of why the band is still worth listening to today. It’s a rich, paranoid song that still sounds surprisingly fresh 36 years later.
2. Space Age Love Song
Third single from A Flock of Seagulls (1982), released as a single in 1982
This song went top 40. So did the next song. Don’t say “A Flock of Seagulls are a one-hit wonder” around me unless you want a face full of facts. The lyrics (we’ll get to those in a moment) almost don’t matter on this song – it’s almost an instrumental. What a rich soundscape they create! Percolating synthesizers, melodic guitar work, a excellent supporting work from the back line! Look, I’m not arguing that A Flock of Seagulls were Bowie-level great, but they were a breath of fresh air on the pop charts in 1982 and really sounded like the future. As for the lyrics, this song is saved from from being cotton candy because of one innocuous phase – “for a little while I was falling in love.” That “for a little while” suggests that this love was fleeting which (in conjunction with the title) makes it read like a commentary on love in the 80’s. It doesn’t take much to create a sense of depth in your songs, which again is why “Whose That Girl (She’s Got It)” (#16) irks me so much. The band knew how to write a competent lyric in 1982 and seemed to forget by 1985. Set that aside, though, because this is a lovely song.
1. Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)
First single from Listen (1983), released as a single in 1982
This is one of my favorite songs of all time. Even if you strip away the vocal line entirely, the music is so rich with layers and details that I would love the song anyways. Let’s start out with that flat electronic drum – like a robot burping over and over again. “Wishing” is the first song I’d ever heard that used a deliberately simple challenge like that as a central element (this was the song I thought of when I first heard the incessant alarm on “Leave” by R.E.M., which also continues to be a favorite). The effect of this beat, to me, was a bravado provocation – “we’re going to make you love this song anyways.” Listening to the song in 2018, I marvel at how the band takes their time to create this rich soundscape of whirs, drones, bass and guitar. Once the lyrics are done, they’re in no rush to wrap things up – they let the natural progression of the various melodies and patterns play out until just that simple drum remains (before ending with one last beat that sounds like a fire being extinguished). The lyrics push the song up a whole other level. The song is sung from the perspective of somebody whose lover has left them. While there is nothing science-fictiony about the lyrics, the profound feeling of alienation conjures up that sense that A Flock of Seagulls were just here to study humanity and report back (but somehow got sucked into the human world). Yes, some of their later work disappointed me, but when this song pops up on my iPod, all is forgotten. A Flock of Seagulls, you made my life a little better and I thank you for it.
Coming Soon: The Thompson Twins