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 find the life cycles of different bands to be a fascinating if somewhat inexplicable topic of study. Why does one band end up like the Grateful Dead (one very late career hit but possibly the loyalest fan base in rock history) and another end up like their contemporaries Country Joe and The Fish (one biggish single early on, gone after two albums, pretty obscure at this point in history)? Thompson Twins were one of the biggest bands in the world and were pretty savvy about balancing their signature sound with the changing musical landscape of the late 80’s and early 90’s but something about them failed to inspire the kind of fan loyalty that some other New Wave bands of the period (for example, Duran Duran and Depeche Mode) inspired. It could be something as simple as the band not actually especially wanting to continue to be a huge thing – for a lot of people, fame sucks. At the Hard Rock website, Jason Lent offers a retrospective of their albums with some suggestions as to what might have been at the heart of their fall from public favor.
Anyhow, they kept making good music long after the greater public stopped listening. For example…
30. Shooting Star
Artist: Tom Bailey
Limited release single from Tom Bailey’s album Science Fiction (2018), released as a single in 2018
Bailey is a master of creating hooks. I offer the chorus of “Shooting Star” as evidence of this – I find that little “hey hey” that kicks off the chorus to be completely irresistible. While I don’t think the pop winds are blowing in a direction that would make Science Fiction a big chart hit, Bailey saved up two decades worth of pent up pop hooks for this record. If he pulled a Milli Vanilli and released these songs with a false frontman as the marquee face, I bet several of them would at least climb the A/C charts. Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of “career advice that very successful professional musicians don’t need from an amateur.” I also want to mention that Bailey (both solo and with Thompson Twins) has had a lot of fun extrapolating music and words from other sources – in the case of this song, there’s hints of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
Second single from Set (1982), released as a single in 1982
Thompson Twins were a seven person band by the time Set (it was titled In The Name Of Love in the USA because many record companies think we’re idiots) came out. Since Bailey wanted to move from bass to keyboards, Matthew Seligman of the Soft Boys was brought in to play bass. Furthermore, Bailey was fairly new as a keyboardist, so Thomas Dolby was brought in to play on several tracks (he did not play on this one). Further furthermore, Steve Lillywhite served as producer on this album (he also produced albums by many great bands including U2, Talking Heads and The Pogues, to use examples of bands who’ve singles I’ve already ranked). The band was getting serious about trying to make a chart impact. The reggae-tinged “Runaway” may not be a song you know, but if you have been thinking “you know, I’d really like to add another classic Thompson Twins track to my regular Spotify rotation,” this is the song you have been looking for. Bailey still plays it as part of his live sets between his better known songs. I bet that even if you’ve never heard it before, you’ll feel like you’ve known it your whole life the moment you do.
28. Nothing In Common
Single from the Soundtrack to the Motion Picture Nothing in Common (1986), released as a single in 1986
There was once a music video for this song, but it was almost exclusively clips of the film. Since there’s no point in promoting an old Tom Hanks flop, nobody has bother to put that video online. Anyhow, I bought this single as a 45 in 1986 – I had no desire to buy the whole soundtrack (and I’m not even 100% sure such a record ever existed). The song wasn’t really successful enough for me to hear it in any other way and I was a big fan. At the time, I remember finding it pretty boring (I was looking for something more inventive like my pick for #1). Listening to it now, I think it’s really a fine song with an almost powerful chorus. Based on what I know about the film from reading it’s Wikipedia entry, I think Bailey/Currie probably did a bang-up job of capturing the mood of the film.
27. Science Fiction
Artist: Tom Bailey
Limited edition single from Tom Bailey’s album Science Fiction (2018), released as a single in 2018
Listen to the first set of notes of “Science Fiction.” I know this isn’t earth shattering or anything, but that’s the melody Bailey employs when he sings the words “Science Fiction” later on in the song. I get tremendous joy out of this in part because that is such an 80’s thing to do. The production on this song is a little more lush than on the previous two singles I’ve shared and that also has a real 80’s feel to it. Long-time readers will know that I am a sucker for any song that kicks it up a notch on the chorus and I hope you will feel my thrill vicariously when you listen to this track.
26. Play With Me (Jane)
Single from the Soundtrack of the Motion Picture Cool World (1992), released as a single in 1992
I’m cheating a little bit here in that description (but just a little) because the Cool World version of this song only used the music and the “play with me” refrain. The single is actually a (superior) remix of “Strange Jane” from Thompson Twins’ final album Queer. Their record company released a mix of the Cool World version with the vocal line from the original. The Cool World soundtrack has also been represented on this list with Bowie’s “Real Cool World” (#85). For those of you mentally trying to figure out how I’d rank songs next to songs by other artists. I like this track better than Bowie’s track (which is more of a comment on the quality of “Real Cool World” than on how I feel about Bowie vs anyone else in toto). This was the final Thompson Twins single and, honestly, wasn’t a bad way to go out.
25. Sugar Daddy
First single from Big Trash (1989), released as a single in 1989
I had no idea that “Sugar Daddy” was a hit. When I first heart it in 1989, I thought it was incredibly obnoxious and favored “Bombers in the Sky” (#36) as a DJ. The lyrics sounds playful, but they have kind of a dark subtext. To whit, lyricist Alannah Currie is saying she’s a gold digger. She’s also saying that she might be getting a lot of nice stuff from her titular sugar daddy but she’s not going to get love and support in the long term. Put all that aside though, because the chorus is crazy catchy and the mocking “La la la” business is the sort of ear worm that will be stuck in your head for three decades. Ask me how I know.
24. Sister Of Mercy
Fourth single from Into The Gap (1984), released as a single in 1984
“Sister of Mercy” is about a woman who kills her man and then lives “in a paradise.” I did not listen closely enough to this song in 1984 to recognize this – I just enjoyed the soaring “sister of mer-saaay” falsetto (presumably from Joe Leeway?) and the signature Thompson Twins “knuckle cracking” percussion effects. Into The Gap built on all of the effective pop elements of their previous (and, in my opinion, even better album) Quick Step and Side Kick with a production style via Alex Sadkin and Tom Bailey that sounded cleaner and bigger. I love the dramatic flair on Tom Bailey’s first line “She lives….” You’ll note that this is the first single from Into The Gap on this list and that’s a reflection on the quality of that whole album.
23. Love Has No Name
Artist: Babble featuring Teramoana Rapley
First single from Babble’s album Ether (1996), released as a single in 1996
When Bailey and Currie realized that the name “Thompson Twins” was holding them back, they ditched it and became Babble and released two album of excellent dance music. Freed from their past (and joined by engineer Keith Fernley as a third member), Bailey and Currie headed in a sort of trip hop direction. Indeed, when I first heard Massive Attack, I thought it might be Babble taking a huge artistic leap forward. “Love Has No Name” was the only single (as near as I can tell) from Babble’s second and final album, Ether. The vocalist is New Zealand singer Teramoana Rapley and her vocal line is gorgeous. Babble didn’t really go anywhere on the charts (college or otherwise) for probably a million reasons, but I think Bailey and Currie sound like they’re so relieved to just be creating music they love on those two records. If you have a rainy afternoon, I encourage you to put Ether on in the background and chill.
22. We Are Detective
Third single from Quick Step and Side Kick (1983), released as a single in 1983
I’ve been listening to this song for over 35 years and I’ve just today realized how funny it is that a band named after Thompson and Thompson, the detectives from Tin-Tin, perform a song called “We Are Detective.” The lyrics are an amusing trifle with a couple of painful rhymes, but the vocal deliveries, the music and the sense of fun make the song a highlight. I bought Side Kicks (the American version of Quick Step and Side Kick) on cassette back in 1983 and loved every single track on the album. They cover a pretty wide range of styles and tempos with great aplomb and the b-side of the cassette was all remixes of songs on the a-side. I was sold. This was the first album the band released as a trio and it feels like they’re bursting with ideas and excitement. It was a huge left turn from their early sound but it tore up the charts in the UK and even led to a few minor hits on this side of the Atlantic. I remember looking at the top UK songs as reported in Billboard Magazine in 1983 before I’d ever heard this song and marveling that a song by Thompson Twins with such a strange title was a top ten hit and wondering when it would be a single in the U.S. It wasn’t a single over here – more is the shame.
21. Doctor! Doctor!
Second single from Into The Gap (1984), released as a single in 1984
More knuckle cracking percussion and an eerie keyboard line make “Doctor! Doctor!” almost the median Thompson Twins song. The song was the follow-up single to “Hold Me Now” and almost made the top ten in the U.S. I’m not sure how being in love with a doctor became a sort of rock trope but hey there’s about a billion things I don’t understand about the world. None-the-less, apparently Tom Bailey has had a one night stand with a doctor and now he’s “burning burning” presumable with love and not venereal disease. I’m very grateful for this opportunity to bring that joke back 34 years past it’s expiration date. V.D. jokes aside, this is an insanely catchy tune and I find it shocking that there is not a Dr. Who fan video that uses this song as background for various companies making moon eyes at David Tennant. You let me down today, Internet.
Coming Soon: My favorite new tracks from Tom Bailey and more classic pop