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.
You’ll know some of these songs, but the good news is that every song is at least pretty good from here on out. This chunk of the list features several of their more obscure pre-trio singles as well as two of their biggest hits.
40. The Saint
Second single from Queer (1991), released as a single in 1991
Queer was Thompson Twins’ final album under that name – after this album tanked, they switched their name to Babble. They had good reason to do this – when their songs were released under another name, they got club play. When they were released under the name Thompson Twins, they flopped. David Bowie – you may recall – experienced something similar that same decade and had a club hit with a song titled “Pallas Athena” (#42) under the name Tao Jones Index. “The Saint” is, in my opinion, the weakest track from Queer that saw life as a single but the worst that can be said about it is that it’s catchy if forgettable. The classic Thompson Twins trio originally broke from the rest of the group to focus on dance music so it make sense that they continued in this direction. Indeed, Tom Bailey’s career arc led him to making dub music as International Observer for a decade – Mr. Bailey is serious about his dance music.
Fourth single from A Product of… (Participation) (1981), released as a single in 1981
The song “Politics” is an extended riff on the well know second-wave feminist political argument that “the personal is political.” I’m not a deep enough thinker to parse this with 100% certainty, but my sense is that the lyrics sort of invert the whole point of that statement but making personal conflict “only” politics. It sounds like they’re saying “Oh, this fighting we do as a couple is only politics and thus it’s no big thing.” Again, I could be reading this entirely wrong. Anyhow, this is another early Thompson Twins song that sounds more post-punk (think Mission of Burma or Wire) than the more dance-oriented sound that brought them to the public ear.
38. Lay Your Hands on Me
First single from Here’s To Future Days (1985), released as a single in 1985
Here’s To Future Days has a complicated production history. The album was originally to be produced by Alex Sadkin (who had produced their previous two albums) and Tom Bailey. Those sessions produced the 1984 UK single of “Lay Your Hands On Me.” At some point, the band parted with Sadkin and decided that Bailey would produce. This led to Bailey experiencing nervous exhaustion which, in turn, led to the band turning to 80’s master producer Nile Rodgers. The version of “Lay Your Hands On Me” that you probably know (and the one in the video above) is Rodgers’ more gospel oriented version of the song. This version of the song was a huge U.S. hit and I loved it at the time. Over the years, however, I’ve started to feel put off by how much this song seems like an obvious attempt to almost literally recreate the success of “Hold Me Now.” If you listen to the first two Thompson Twins-as-trio album, there’s quite a bit of musical experimentation going on. On Here’s to Future Days, it sounds like they’re trying just a little too hard to grab the brass ring again and again. Currie’s lyrics are also quite good. So, basically, this is an excellent song that I acknowledge as excellent and feel annoyed about at the same time.
37. Oumma Aularesso (Animal Laugh)
Second single from A Product Of… (Participation) (1981), released as a single in 1981
Cover of a traditional Sierra Leone song
I’m curious to hear a version of this song by singers from Sierra Leone but my Google skills have failed me. Lots of musicians in the early 80’s were looking towards Africa for inspiration (Talking Heads, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel etc). In 2018, we recognize that this is cultural appropriation. In that decade, it was de riggeur. Once a song is released into the wild, the artist has no control over what meanings that song accrues at the moment of it’s release or over the years. While it is of course possible to intellectualize your listening experience to a piece of music in such a way as to try and experience it the way it was intended to heard on the day of it’s release, the reality for most songs is that we form our own associations with them that have little to do with artist intent (hence “Every Breath You Take” – #13 – being treated as a romantic love song). I might have been able to get over my own biases and rank this song (which is catchy and well performed) higher if I’d heard it before this year. As it stands, I heard it for the first time this year and went “hmmm.”
36. Bombers In the Sky
Second single from Big Trash (1989), released as a single in 1989
I played “Bombers in the Sky” on the radio on KTUH a bunch in 1989. If ever there was a case of too little, too late for a band, it would be me playing their single in 2 in the morning on a college radio station. I quite like this song and initially had it in my top 20, but repeated listens sort of put me off the track. Its production hasn’t aged well – it sounds very 1989 and in retrospect I find a lot of late 80’s pop production to sound too plastic and a little tinny. That could be my ears getting old, too. I think the lyrics are almost good – I appreciate the clever nod to “Riders on the Storm” (you’ll hear it when you listen to the chorus). I know Thompson Twins were interested in making statements at this point in their career (and good for them for that impulse) but I’m not sure what they were saying here beyond “War is Bad.” If that’s all you want to say, Culture Club did that a little better (?) a few years earlier.
35. Perfect Game
First single from A Product of… (Participation) (1981), released as a single in 1981
I don’t have the pop song Rosetta Stone that allows me to interpret what Tom Bailey is on about in the lyrics to “Perfect Game.” It seems like this game is a pretty bad thing, let me tell you, and you don’t want to find yourself playing it or around people who are. This was the band’s first single from their first album (third single overall) and is sonically consistent with most of the rest of the songs from this era.
34. Feels Like Love To Me
Artist: Tom Bailey
First single from Science Fiction (2018), released as a single in 2018
After years creating dub music as International Observer in New Zealand, Tom Bailey decided to record a new album of pop songs just this past year. Its really quite good and is full of the sorts of well crafted pop songs he created in the 80’s and 90’s. The album was released a little under the radar and it was a bit of a challenge for me to determine which tracks had been released as singles (and in which order). Discogs has the release date for this song as November 6, 2018. “Feels Like Love To Me” is a decent pop song but I think it’s the least excellent of the tracks Bailey has released as singles so far. None-the-less, had this been the only song he’d put out, I would still be thrilled to hear a good new pop song from one of my favorite pop music composers.
33. King for a Day
Third single from Here’s to Future Days (1985), released as a single in 1985
As with “Lay Your Hands On Me” (#38), “King for a Day” was released in different versions on different sides of the Atlantic. The UK version is somewhat more keyboard oriented whereas the (more familiar to U.S. listeners version in the video above) Niles Rodgers produced version focuses more on guitar. There were three versions of the music video. I remember really liking this song back in 1985. I owned the cassette of Here’s to Future Days during my first semester of college and remember playing it a whole bunch. The four (plus one) singles from that album are stretched out all over this list. There’s nothing essentially wrong with this track and I realize it’s a reasonably well-liked big hit – I just like a bunch of their other songs better (as is often the case on these lists).
32. Squares and Triangles
Stand-alone single released in 1980
Thompson Twins’ first single is a reasonably decent post-punk rocker that doesn’t offer even a hint of what the band would sound like in three years time. Tom Bailey doesn’t even sound like Tom Bailey yet. Currie and Leeway had not joined the band at this time. According to what I’ve read, they had a sizable live following and were known for inviting audience members to come up on stage and jam along with the band on non-standard percussion instruments (like hub caps). I’ve not been able to find the lyrics online (I didn’t try especially hard, but if I don’t see them after 4 pages of google searching I usually give up) and am not quite sure what Bailey sings about 40% of the time (for example, on the chorus I hear “Squares and Triangles” then either “1-9-8-2” or “1 90 2” or sometimes just sounds).
31. Make Believe
Third single from A Product Of… (Participation) (1981), released as a single in 1981
That video gives you an idea of the pure chaos of the seven-member version of Thompson Twins stage shows. In my opinion, the quirky “Make Believe” is the best single from their debut album. The lyrics are either about having a fantasy lover or about being in a relationship with somebody and realizing you didn’t actually know them all that well. You decide. Bailey’s vocal has this quirky, angular thing going on that he eventually stylized into his signature singing style and there’s a bunch of interesting things going on with the musical performances. While this doesn’t especially sound like their future songs, you can hear a certain attempt at pushing against the limitations of post-punk rock on this track. Not quite the sound of a band discovering itself, but perhaps the sound of a band growing restless.
Coming Soon: Introducing: Babble.