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.
Ya know, I have this theory that success often destroys bands. The swift rise and sudden demise of Flock of Seagulls is my most frequently cited cautionary tale – they were an extremely promising young band who released a brilliant and a half albums and then due to pressure for hits and possibly label medelling turned into an increasingly generic dance band before more or less dissolving as a creative force within five years. Thompson Twins experienced something very different. They were given the creative freedom to create whatever kinds of music they wanted on their last two albums and went for it. People even really loved the songs until they discovered they were by Thompson Twins. The sad part is the band dissolved. The happy part is that they can look back at their last two albums (and their two albums as Babble) and be proud of both the work they created and the risks they took.
This chunk of the list is pretty heavy on late career tracks and Babble tracks and they’re all really pretty awesome.
20. Come Inside
First single from Queer (1991), released as a single in 1991
“Come Inside” is exactly the single I discussed in the opening paragraph this time. Thompson Twins released it using the name Feedback Max and it went to #1 on the UK Dance chart. Pleased that they’re proven their point, they then released it under the name Thompson Twins and it tanked on the singles charts. It’s not unusual for huge dance club hits to struggle on the pop charts, but in 1991, they would have sounded right at home. The lyrics walk the line between double entendre and, uh, single entendre – I feel like there’s a new level of confidence in Alannah Currie’s writing on the whole Queer album. Speaking of that album, it is clear from the little reading I’ve done that the band was on the cusp of understanding a little more about being inclusive (but not quite getting there) by naming the album Queer. Like they knew they wanted to celebrate and embrace the differences between people and they knew one way to do it was by trying to push against people’s comfort zones a little but they couldn’t quite express why. Still, they were miles ahead of most of the mainstream in 1991. Anyhow, seriously, give this one a complete listen if you’ve never heard it before.
19. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire
Charted song from Red Hot + Blue (1990), charted in 1990
Red Hot + Blue was the first in a series of compilation albums released by the Red Hot Organization in order to raise funds for fighting AIDS through pop culture. We’ve previously visited with The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl’s cover of “Miss Otis Regrets/Just One Of Those Things” (#16) from that same album. “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” is a Cole Porter tune made popular by Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm in the film High Society . The original is a delight and worth a listen. In the Frank Sinatra version it’s always the man singing the questions and the woman singing the answers. In Thompson Twins’ version, Tom Bailey asks questions on the first verse and Alannah Currie handles the second verse. It’s much more effective that way in my opinion (though in the film it makes sense that it’s Frank asking because the song is set up with Celeste telling him to ask her if she wants to be a wealthy), The songs on Red Hot + Blue were (as is true on all covers albums) hit or miss, but Thompson Twins were in their Madchester phase and this cover is fab.
18. What Kind of World
Artist: Tom Bailey
Promo single from Tom Bailey’s album Science Fiction (2018), released as a single in 2018
“What Kind Of World” was the first single that I heard off of the Tom Bailey’s New Science Fiction album and it is insanely catchy. It is also the track that sounds the most like a classic Thompson Twins song – particularly the keyboard work on the chorus and the backing vocals (that are singing – I think – “we’ve got people who won’t believe this” – there are no lyrics available online so please listen and tell me what you think they’re singing). One of the things that always made me love Thompson Twins is the attention to little details in the song – knuckle cracking percussion here, a beep or boop there – and Bailey brings some of that back in this track. It would be a great song even without those bells and whistles (almost literally) but all those little additional hooks make it great fun. I’m hoping we see more albums from Bailey in the future but he’s been following his own musical path these past 20 years so who knows?
17. Groove On
Second single from Queer (1991), released as a single in 1991
Another remarkably catchy dance tune from Thompson Twins’ final album. I have the sense that the title was originally “move on” based on the situations described in the lyrics, but “Groove On” works fine instead and captures the fact that this is intended as a dance tune. Thompson Twins morphed into Babble after the release of this album and continued to release 90’s dance music of ever-increasing quality. It’s a shame that the larger fan base didn’t stick with them.
16. Come so Far
Artist: Tom Bailey
Stand-alone single released in 2016
Two years before releasing Science FIction, Tom Bailey surprised everyone (well, me at least) by releasing a single and video. I was just starting to put together my list of bands I’d cover for this project and – as with Björk – this new single release threw a wrench in my plans to write about Thompson Twins sooner. I wanted to make sure to give his new song a fair listen. Just as I was preparing to write about them again, he released Science Fiction. I’ve tried to wait out the single release cycle before finishing this list so apologies if it’s immediately out of date due to another single release. Anyhow, “Come So Far” is a lovely ballad that seems (based on the video) to be about being a refugee (though before watching the video, I thought it was about how relationships develop over time – proving once again that I’m not to be trusted on matters of lyrics). This is the last Tom Bailey solo track on this list and is my favorite of his new tunes but, seriously, the Science Fiction album is excellent and if you have a few dollars in your pocket, pay for a download. Thompson Twin gotta eat.
15. Future Days
Australia-only single from Here’s to Future Days (1985), released as a single in 1985
I can’t find the 7″ or album version online and the audio quality of the linked version is pretty poor. The title(ish) track from Here’s To Future Days remains one of my favorite tracks from that album – it’s certainly one of the most musically creative. The success of “Hold Me Now” and “Doctor Doctor” meant that the band and label were more comfortable releasing “Lay Your Hands On Me” and “Don’t Mess with Doctor Dream” as singles (based on the theory that their previous songs about hands and doctors had been hits because of the inclusion of those words) but there’s some really great deep cuts on the album that got no love. “Future Days” is Alannah Currie’s (and the bands’) mid-80’s take on the themes of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” She envisions a future where distinctions between people vanish and we live in peace and harmony. I see why that wasn’t released as a single in UK/US in the Thatcher/Reagan years – that message wasn’t nearly cynical enough to sell. All these years later, we can enjoy the song for it’s call and response chorus (with a choir introduced by producer Nile Rodgers) and the band’s continuing flirtation with world music.
There’s no denying that when Joe Leeway left the band, Thompson Twins’ sound changed significantly. Specifically, there was a lot less rhythmic variety and the songs started sounding a little more like just excellent pop songs. Whether this was because Leeway left or whether it was the result of a shifting musical scene in the late 80’s is, I’m sure, a subject that could be debated, but there’s really a clear difference between the band in 1985 and the band in 1987.
14. Long Goodbye
Second single from Close to the Bone (1987), released as a single in 1987
One thing that we fans did now know in 1985 that we found out by 1987 is that songwriting team Tom Bailey and Allanah Currie were also romantically involved. The backstory for “Long Goodbye: is detailed at Wikipedia but essentially Currie miscarried on the same day that her mother died. The first two lines of the lyrics – “I have seen my future die/My whole past as well” – are desperately raw and painful in this context. Bailey composed one of his finest pop melodies for this song – it is simple and direct. He sings with their shared pain. I really can’t believe this wasn’t a huge hit for them back in 1987. It’s the best song from Close to the Bone and one of their career best. Currie and Bailey did end up having two children together, though they split up in 2003. Currie went on to marry The KLF’s Jimmy Kaulty and Bailey also remarried, so happy endings for all – for now. Life itself, after all, is one long goodbye.
Third single from The Stone (1994), released as a single in 1994
Bailey and Currie ditched the name “Thompson Twins” after Queer stalled – as some evidence suggests – because it was released under that name. They reformed as Babble and continued to explore contemporary dance music. Their first album under the new name – The Stone – produced three terrific dance songs that received a certain amount of airplay from me in my waning days as a KTUH DJ but didn’t apparently find much other love. Get your act together 90’s Earth people! Why weren’t you listening to this? “Beautiful” opens with an off kilter keyboard line that conjures up “I Am The Walrus” a bit to my ear (maybe deliberately? Thompson Twins often deliberately quoted other songs as sort of musical short hand/in-jokes). “Beautiful” is a mid-90’s piece of trance electronica that hstill holds up (in my old person opinion).
12. In The Name Of Love
First single from Set (1982), released as a single in 1982
That keyboard you hear in this song? Right and the beginning and then throughout? Thomas Dolby. Thompson Twins released “In The Name Of Love” when they were still a seven member band and it was a decent sized hit, particularly in the dance clubs. Legend has it that Bailey, Currie and Leeway wanted to move more in this direction. The rest of the band was informed that Thompson Twins were breaking up and were given a largish sum of severance pay. Bailey, Currie and Leeway (who had not broken up) then put together their next album as a trio using “In The Name Of Love” as a sort of north star. In essence, this is the song that gave the band its signature sound and paved the way for the rest of their career. There’s not much to the lyrics, but the song is a classic piece of 80’s dance pop that got a ton of airplay in my part of the world on WXCI.
11. Take Me Away
Second single from The Stone (1994), released as a single in 1994
You know, I dig Thompson Twins, I dig Babble, I love this song and the official video kind of makes me want to hate them. Bailey wasn’t quite 40 in 1994 (he was 38) but I am reminded of this Kids in the Hall sketch. It reminds me of ABC’s video for “One Better World” (#26) – I feel like it’s heart is in the right place, but it just comes across as hopelessly square. Anyhow, put the video aside (MTV certainly did) and listen to the song, which is totally worth your time. The lyrics are a cousin of “You Take Me Up” (coming soon) in that they’re about how a person you love takes you to a higher place but the music is great mid-90’s dance. Thompson Twins were in a touch place with Babble – on the one hand, they wanted to capitalize on the fact that the kids back then liked their music when it didn’t have that name attached to it. On the other hand, by changing their name to Babble, many of their existing fans wouldn’t necessarily know that this was essentially the same creative artists. I recall some of the marketing was around the theme of “Babble – formerly Thompson Twins” which may have been the worst of all worlds since it didn’t break the connection to the name and it didn’t necessarily help the old fans find the record. I think the name change was a smart gambit but it’s almost an impossible needle to thread.
Coming Soon: My top ten is almost exclusively Thompson Twins as a trio classics.