Thompson Twins Singles Ranked, 1-10

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.

Some background on the history of Thompson Twins largely in their own words from 2001 here – it’s fascinating if you’re interested. That was 18 years ago – which was 10 years after their last big hit (“Come Inside” – #20 on my list – had been a top 10 US Dance hit in 1991). At that time, they were pretty dismissive of their body of work. However, since 2014, Tom Bailey has been touring regularly and most of the songs he plays are Thompson Twins classics. This 2014 interview reads like he’s embraced the wonderful legacy of pop music that he, Currie and Leeway (among others) created.

And speaking of their wonderful legacy of pop music…

10.  The Gap


Fourth single from Into The Gap (1984), released as a single in 1984

The lyrics may be somewhat inscrutable, but I love the music on these track.  The little sampled “ai a a ai” thing (which makes me think of Morse code) is a delight as are the sinister keyboards and (as always) the percussion.  I don’t recall ever hearing this on the radio in 1984 (not a huge surprise – it was the fourth single from its parent album) but I sure played the cassette to death that year.  There’s a little bit of a nod to stereotypical sort of “Middle Eastern” sound in the melody (a trick they used a bunch in the early 80’s) that feels a little dated now, but otherwise the track is perfect pop.

9.  Tribe
Artist: Babble


Single from The Stone (1994), released as a single in 1993

Oh, what could have been!  I played “Tribe” a bunch on KTUH when it first came out and loved it.  I was playing a lot of Madchester sounding music at that time and “Tribe” fit in perfectly.  I had no idea (at the time) that Babble was essentially composed of 66.66% Thompson Twin (and 33.33% engineer Keith Fernley).  I honestly don’t think it would have made a difference if I’d known because I had been all over “Bombers in the Sky” – #36 – in 1989 and “Groove On”  – #17 – in 1991.  It is funny – I was so passionate about R.E.M and U2 and I abandoned both of them for a couple of years during the late 80’s but I never fully walked away from Thompson Twins.  I think it’s because I started following U2 and R.E.M. when they were minor rock bands and felt betrayed when they became popular – like they were moving away from me.  Thompson Twins, on the other hand, were already pretty popular when I got into them so as their success on the charts declined I embraced them more – possibly it felt like they were moving towards me.  My goodness, my reasons for liking musicians are sometimes silly and shallow.  Anyhow, my point (and I do have one) is that, yeah, I felt like part of Babble’s tribe and was overjoyed to learn they had been Thompson Twins.

8.  Lies


First single from Quick Step and Side Kick (1983), released as a single in 1983

I have never seen that video before.  It is one of the most 80’s things I’ve ever seen.  “Lies” was a huge college radio hit (on WXCI, Danbury at least), an enormous US Dance club hit and even their first U.S. Top 40 single.  Featuring more arch (and thus better) little stereotypical generic melodies from Egypt and Asia to accentuate certain lyrical elements, “Lies” is sort of a spiritual ancestor of “The Gap” (which makes a lyrical reference to lies as well).  The drum and percussion work is especially great in this song and the keyboard work is delightfully off-kilter (at least to my ear).  I can’t say for sure if this actually happened or not, but I have a memory of this song coming on at some dance or club or something while I was in high school and my friends and I all singing the chorus in each other’s faces.  If that didn’t happen, it’s not so much a lie as it is a false false false memory (yeah).

7.  Don’t Mess With Doctor Dream


Second single from Here’s to Future Days (1985), released as a single in 1985

I was critical of “Lay Your Hands On Me” (#38) because I felt it was a somewhat cynical attempt at replicating “Hold Me Now.”  The single that followed up “Hold Me Now” was “Doctor Doctor” (#21) and the song that followed up “Lay Your Hands On Me” was “Don’t Mess With Doctor Dream.”  Yes, they are both songs with the word “doctor” in the title, but “Don’t Mess With Doctor Dream” is so fundamentally different from its predecessor (and so much more inventive)  that this deliberate evocation of an early tune doesn’t bother me.  I love the “oo oo oo oo ah” vocal rhythm, the backing vocals, and the Nile Rodgers production on this track.  It’s my second favorite song from Here’s to Future Days and great fun to revisit if you’ve not heard it since 1985.  Can you still get away with clunky song titles like “Don’t Mess With Doctor Dream” or “Church of the Poisoned Mind” in the 10’s?

6.  Love on Your Side


Second single from Quick Step and Side Kick (1983), released as a single in 1984

When Tom Bailey sings “I played you all my favorite records” on “Love On Your Side,” he plays the main keyboard riff from “In The Name Of Love” (#12) and that frankly cracks me up.  While it didn’t break the top 40 in the U.S.A., “Love On Your Side” was Thompson Twins’ first top ten hit in the U.K.  Alannah Currie produced a great lyric about jealousy and paranoia that suits Bailey’s vocal delivery to a T.  Indeed, I think paranoia fit the whole band pretty well.  I owned a cassette of Side Kicks (the American title for Quick Step and Side Kick – a much more interesting title) which featured the whole album on side A and remixes of all the songs on side B.  To this day, one of my favorite versions of any record I’ve ever owned.

5.  Hold Me Now


First single from Into The Gap (1984), released as a single in 1983

I was dating this girl in 1993 and in my mind “Hold Me Now” was our song.  We couldn’t have dated for more than six weeks.  I think I went on vacation with my family and when I returned she’d lost interest or had come to her senses or was dating somebody new.  Who knows?  I’m 99% sure that when she hears this song, she gets nostalgic for the 80’s and in no way does she think about 15 year old me.  Why should she?  When I hear the song, I’m sitting in the back of somebody station wagon with her (with a good chunk of our whole gang in the front two rows of seats) was traveling from point A to point B and I’m playing this song on the portable cassette player I’ve brought along (because it was my duty to inflict whatever wonderful or awful music I was currently obsessed with on my unsuspecting friends).  I was a teenager and only knew huge feelings, which is to say I didn’t understand “Hold Me Now” which is actually a song about being unable or unwilling to verbally express feelings (“You ask if I love you/Well what can I say?”).  Joe Leeway sings the fantastic falsetto backing vocals and both he and Currie contribute to the delightful percussion lines.  While there are four singles from Thompson Twins that I like better, this is that rare enormous hit that has never grown old for me. 

4.  Watching


Fourth single from Quick Step and Side Kick (1983), released as a single in 1984

Grace Jones on backing vocals, people.  Joe Leeway and Alannah Currie seem to be having much more fun than Tom Bailey in this “live” performance.  I have absolutely no idea what Currie’s lyric is all about but I love it with it’s references to soft machines and dinosaurs wandering around suburbia.  Grace Jones’ contribution is just fabulous, but I also love the “Look right/look left” conceit and the way the Bailey’s commitment to the surrealistic lyric gives the song a sense of desperate pathos.  In 1983, the songs that WXCI was playing by Thompson Twins were distinct enough from each other that I didn’t realize they were by the same band for a while.  “Watching,” ‘We Are Detective,”  “Lies,” and the rest all had really different feels to them. 

3.  If You Were Here


Video (?) released from Quick Step and Side Kick (1983)

OK, so you know this song from Sixteen Candles.  You may or may not know it is by Thompson Twins, but John Hughes’ choice to include it in that seminal 80’s teen comedy is yet another example of how keenly he felt the pulse of contemporary suburban teens.  The song is used to great romantic effect in the climax of the Hughes film but it’s really about a person wanting out of a relationship, so you’re not going to want to use it to replace the stalkery “Every Breath You Take” (#13) as your 80’s-themed wedding dance song.  “If You Were Here” was not released as a single or a video in 1983 but I swear there was a a video was made for it and it that was shown occasionally on VH1.  I mean, the video there that I linked has over 2 million views.  I can’t entirely justify it’s inclusion on this list but, holy cats, it’s just such a great song.  But, seriously, I think I saw it occasionally on VH1.  Or maybe MTV2. 

2.  You Take Me Up


Third single from Into The Gap (1984), released as a single in 1984

What is the matter with you, planet Earth?  Why didn’t you make this song an enormous hit?  “You Take Me Up” features all the hallmarks of a great Thompson Twins song – the cracking knuckle percussion, weird instrument solos (harmonica and melodica), fantastic backing vocals (“cry boy cry boy”), a great front-and-center vocal performance by Tom Bailey and a quirky love song lyric.  I loved this song from the moment I heard it and have never stopped loving it.  It was released right after “Hold Me Now” and “Doctor Doctor” and featured a great-for-84 video.  The B-Side was also a great tune – “Passion Planet” – back when B-Side were still a thing.  This is maybe the most XTC like of Thompson Twins songs – it reminds me a bit of the songs from Mummer (for you XTC fans).  Anyhow, great song, largely underplayed in the 80’s so you should listen to it like nine times now.

1.  Roll Over


Recalled single from Here’s to Future Days (1985), released and recalled in 1985

Am I cheating?  Is this cheating?  “Roll Over” was released as the debut single from Here’s to Future Days in 1985, Tom Bailey was struck with nervous exhaustion and sort of thought that was an omen warning him not to release the song.  Or perhaps it was because the band would not be able to promote the song.   It was recalled and only found life again in a version mixed by Nile Rodgers on the U.S. pressing of Here’s to Future Days.  I got to tell you though, it’s a great song.  Here’s where I’m cheating – I don’t like the recalled single version (linked above) nearly as much as the album version (in the video) so that’s the version we’re talking about today.  There’s so much I like about this song – the call to “gimme drum” after the first verse, the musical transition from the verses to the chorus, Bailey’s vocal transition from verses to the chorus, the little crawling keyboard line, the percussion, the “one two…  three four” and Currie’s lyric (about a troubled priest, a hard working hooker and how she and her lover are like the first two) bring me unfettered delight.  This is one of those songs that I play over and over once I hear it – I find it endlessly inventive and exciting even all these years later.  While I completely understand why they’d have second thoughts about releasing a single about a priest and a prostitute, I’m glad they at least released it for a week or two so I could have an excuse to include it on this list.  My favorite Thompson Twins song and one of my favorite tracks of all time.

Coming Soon:  Dire Straits

Thompson Twins Singles Ranked 41-4431-4021-30 11-201-10

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