The Psychedelic Furs

The Psychedelic Furs are an English new wave band from London that released six albums between 1980 and 1989 on CBS and Columbia. Their popular songs include “Pretty In Pink,” “Heaven,” and the 1982 MTV hit “Love My Way,” a mainstay of eighties new wave playlists. Singer Richard Butler formed the band with his bassist brother Tim Butler. The pair led the band through multiple iterations, aided through their initial run (1979–91) by guitarist John Aston and recurrent drummer Vince Ely.

The Psychedelic Furs emerged in London’s post-punk scene with the 1979 single “We Love You.” Their self-titled debut album contains early live favorites (“India,” “Sister Europe,” “Imitation of Christ”) that embody their early sound: a combination of art rock (Berlin-era David Bowie) with contemporary neo-psych (Siouxsie & The Banshees). Their 1981 second album Talk Talk Talk made transatlantic waves with “Mr. Jones,” “Dumb Waiters,” and the early MTV staple “Pretty in Pink.”

Soundman Steve Lillywhite (U2, Ultravox) produced the first two Psychedelic Furs albums, which feature a six-piece lineup with saxophonist Duncan Kilburn and guitarist Roger Moore, who both left the band by the time of the 1982 Furs release Forever Now, a refined set with multiple fan favorites (“President Gas,” “Sleep Comes Down,” “Merry-Go-Round”) produced by Todd Rundgren, who plays the distinct marimba part on “Love My Way,” their most recognized song.

The Psychedelic Furs trimmed to the trio of Ashton and the Butler brothers for their 1984 fourth album Mirror Moves, which drummer–soundman Keith Forsey produced and embellished for the global market with “The Ghost In You,” “Here Come Cowboys,” and “Heaven,” another Furs signature hit.

In 1986, the Psychedelic Furs gained newfound stateside popularity with their re-recorded “Pretty in Pink,” used as the theme for the namesake teen romantic-comedy by director John Hughes. The Furs scored their biggest US hit with “Heartbreak Beat” from their 1987 fifth album Midnight to Midnight. Ely rejoined for the 1988 single “All That Money Wants,” included on the best-of compilation All of This and Nothing. The re-grouped four-piece made the 1989 album Book of Days but Ely left before its 1991 followup World Outside.

In the nineties, the brothers made two albums in a new band, Love Spit Love. They reformed the Psychedelic Furs in 2000 but functioned mainly as a live act until their 2020 release Made of Rain.

Members: Richard Butler (vocals), Tim Butler (bass), Roger Morris (guitar, 1978-81), Duncan Kilburn (saxophone, 1978-81), John Aston (guitar, 1978-91), Vince Ely (drums, 1978-91), Ann Sheldon (cello, 1982), Mars Williams (saxophone, 1984-present), Roger O’Donnell (keyboards, 1986-87)


Background

The nucleus of the Psychedelic Furs coalesced in February 1977 when singer Richard Butler (b. June 5, 1956) and his bassist brother Tim Butler (b. Dec. 7, 1958) formed a band with saxophonist Duncan Kilburn, drummer Paul Wilson, and guitarist Roger Morris. This lineup dubbed themselves RKO, then changed their name to Radio.

In 1979, drummer Vince Ely replaced Wilson and John Ashton joined as a second guitarist. Both hailed from The Unwanted, an early London punk band that cut two singles on Raw Records and landed one song (“Freedom”) on the 1977 Harvest release The Roxy London WC2 (Jan – Apr 77), a document of acts who played the fabled punk haunt.

The new six-piece band gigged briefly as The Europeans — a name already in use by a Bristol synthpunk quartet — and settled on The Psychedelic Furs.

They chose the word “psychedelic” to distinguish themselves from their new wave contemporaries, many of whom rebuked the legacy of late-sixties rock. (Ironically, this word choice coincided with the appropriation of psychedelic sounds by fellow post-punks Echo & the Bunnymen and Siouxsie & the Banshees).


1979

In September 1979, the Psychedelic Furs signed with CBS Records. On Sunday the 2nd, they supported The Only Ones and Toyah Willcox at London’s Lyceum Theatre.


“We Love You”

On November 2, 1979, The Psychedelic Furs released their debut single “We Love You,” a two-chord rocker backed with “Pulse.” They co-produced the single and a third track (“Flowers”) at Basing St. Studios with Island soundman Howard Thompson (Suicide, John Cale) and freelancer Ian Taylor (Gloria Mundi, Magna Carta, Pat Travers, Penetration, Rezillos). All three tracks appear on their debut album.

On November 9, the Furs headlined Eric’s Club in Liverpool, supported by post-punk funksters A Certain Ratio.


1980

On February 2, 1980, The Psychedelic Furs opened for Iggy Pop at the Friar’s Club in Aylesbury.


The Psychedelic Furs

The Psychedelic Furs released their self-titled debut album on March 7, 1980, on CBS. It contains both sides of their autumn ’79 first single (“We Love You,” “Pulse”) and the concert opener “Sister Europe,” which preceded this album as their second single. All nine songs are group-compositions with words by Richard Butler.

Musically, The Psychedelic Furs features raw material with sonic traits (trebly guitar, simmering sax, raspy vocals) reminiscent of “Heroes”-era David Bowie.

1. “India” (6:21)
2. “Sister Europe” (5:38)
3. “Imitation of Christ” (5:28)
4. “Fall” (2:40)
5. “Pulse” (2:37)

6. “We Love You” (3:26)
7. “Wedding Song” (4:19)
8. “Blacks/Radio” (6:56)
9. “Flowers” (4:10)

Sessions took place in the autumn of 1979 with producer Steve Lillywhite, a soundman on 1977–78 albums by Ultravox (Ultravox!, Ha!-Ha!-Ha!), Eddie & the Hot Rods (Life On the Line), and Siouxsie & the Banshees (The Scream). Most recently, he worked on Drums and Wires, the third album by XTC. He produced The Psychedelic Furs ahead of Boy, the debut album by Irish rockers U2.

Howard Thompson served as the executive engineer on The Psychedelic Furs with 19-year-old soundman Phil Thornalley, an assistant engineer on the 1978 Polydor release All Mod Cons by The Jam.

The Psychedelic Furs sports a pink-tinted cluster shot with shadowy Ben-Day dots. The back cover features a Furs concert photo against a red-lit backdrop. On select pressings, the front cover has alternate tints (yellow, orange, luminous green).

An edited “Sister Europe” (3:45) appeared five weeks ahead as the second single backed with a longer edit (4:13) titled “* * * *.” The video takes place in a damp outdoor nighttime setting where the Furs perform on a poly-plastic ground sheet and the camera pans down on Richard (gray trench coat) with cuts to Tim (shades) and dark mysterious objects, including a black mask.

In the U.S., The Psychedelic Furs appeared on Columbia with an altered ten-track order and a green-lettered monochrome cover. This version drops “Blacks/Radio” in favor of two newer songs, “Susan’s Strange” and “Soap Commercial,” both produced by A Certain Ratio soundman Martin Hannett, who produced 1980 albums by The Durutti Column, Joy Division (Closer), and Magazine (The Correct Use of Soap).

Susan’s Strange” (3:13) In the UK, “Susan’s Strange” appeared as the b-side of an advance single from their second album.

Soap Commercial” (2:53)

The Psychedelic Furs reached No. 18 on the UK Albums Chart.


“Mr. Jones”

In October 1980, the Psychedelic Furs released “Mr. Jones” and their third single (b/w “Susan’s Strange”).

A. “Mr. Jones” (3:54) is an uptempo post-punk song (in D minor) that takes its name from a character in the 1965 Bob Dylan song “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Butler’s lyrics concern fictional romantic vignettes (in movies and television) and their impact on public perceptions of love.

“We Love You” soundman Ian Taylor produced “Mr. Jones” ahead of the debut EP by Romeo Void. The single came in a picture sleeve by veteran Polish art director Rosław Szaybo, the designer of covers to late-seventies classic by The Clash (self-titled), Cafe Jacques (Round the Back), Crawler (self-titled), and Boxer (Absolutely). The image recreates the “Man In a Bowler Hat,” a much used icon originated by Belgian surrealist René Magritte in his 1964 painting The Son of Man.

The video for “Mr. Jones” is a monochrome sound-stage clip with select tints (red and green) and translucent infrared overlays. Apart from the instrumental breaks, the camera zooms on Richard Butler.


1981

As the Psychedelic Furs prepared their second album, drummer Vince Ely played on four songs (“Brenda’s Iron Sledge,” “The Lizard,” “I Watch the Cars,” “Do Policemen Sing?”) on the 1981 Armageddon Records release Black Snake Diamond Röle, the debut solo album by ex-Soft Boys frontman Robyn Hitchcock.


Talk Talk Talk

The Psychedelic Furs released their second album, Talk Talk Talk, on May 15, 1981, on CBS. It contains a re-recording of the autumn 1980 single “Mr. Jones” and nine additional group-credited songs, including the fan favorites “Into You Like a Train,” “I Wanna Sleep With You,” and “All of This and Nothing.” The album spawned two unique singles: “Dumb Waiters” and “Pretty in Pink,” their transatlantic breakthrough song.

This is the second of two Psychedelic Furs albums by the original sextet and their second with producer Steve Lillywhite. In contrast to the loose nature of the Furs’ debut, Talk Talk Talk features tight angular riffs and sharp vocal melodies.

1. “Dumb Waiters” (5:09)
2. “Pretty in Pink” (3:59)
3. “I Wanna Sleep with You” (3:17)
4. “No Tears” (3:14)
5. “Mr. Jones” (4:03)

6. “Into You Like a Train” (4:35)
7. “It Goes On” (3:52)
8. “So Run Down” (2:51)
9. “All of This and Nothing” (6:25)
10. “She Is Mine” (3:51)

Sessions occurred during winter 1980–81 with Steve Lillywhite, who produced the album in succession with titles by The Brains, Joan Armatrading, The Members, Urban Verbs, and the second U2 album October. Phil Thornalley co-engineered Talk Talk Talk  with Will Gosling, a soundman on Kiki Dee‘s concurrent Ariola release Perfect Timing.

Richard Butler co-designed the Talk Talk Talk cover (in the style of Andy Warhol) with Hipgnosis alumnus Julian Balme, a graphic artist on recent titles by Adam & The Ants (Kings of the Wild Frontier), The Clash (Sandinista!), The Korgis, and Madness (One Step Beyond…). Talk Talk Talk shows xeroxed member pics (with color overlays) by Andrew Douglas, whose photography also appears on 1980–81 album covers for Afraid of Mice, The Associates (The Affectionate Punch), The Cure (Seventeen Seconds), Henry Badowski, The Jam (Sound Affects), and New Musik (From A to B).

On April 24, 1981, the Psychedelic Furs lifted “Dumb Waiters” as an advance single backed with the non-album instrumental “Dash.”

B. “Dash” (3:06)

In the “Dumb Waiters” video, the Furs perform in a warehouse rendered in saturated monochrome with varying tines (blue, pink, lavender, mint) and translucent video overlays.

The original UK released has an embossed sleeve etched with a playable grooves (at 33 rpm) of a track comprised of excerpts from “Into You Like a Train”, “I Wanna Sleep with You” and “Pretty in Pink.” In the UK, “Dumb Waiters” became their first chart hit (at No. 59). The Furs performed it on the German music program Rockpalast.

On June 12, the Furs lifted “Pretty In Pink” as the third Talk Talk Talk single; backed with the Brecht–Weill cover “Mack the Knife.”

B. “Mack the Knife” (4:20) is a song by German composer Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for their 1928 music drama The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper). It became a standard through 1950s covers by jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong and pop singer Bobby Darin, whose jazz-pop version became Cash Box Top 100 No. 1 single on 1959.

The original “Pretty In Pink” video takes place in a checker-tiled, pink terra cotta living room furnished with columns, mannequins, statues, and instruments. The camera pans at skewed angles and zooms on assorted members, namely Richard Butler, show sports a scarf and shades. Caroline (a vintage-style platinum blond) makes sly, recurrent glances from the end of corridors.

Columbia issued Talk Talk Talk in the US with a revised running order that shuffles Side One and (in exchange for “She Is Mine”) tucks “I Wanna Sleep with You” near the end of Side Two. After the promotional rounds for this album, guitarist Roger Morris and saxist–keyboardist Duncan Kilburn left the band.


1982–1983

In early 1982, the Psychedelic Furs scoped out producers for a new album as a four-piece composed of Richard and Tim Butler, John Aston, and Vince Ely. They demoed material with Furs auxiliary keyboardist Ed Buller. Their prior producer Steve Lillywhite (who typically imposed a two-album limit on clients; U2 excepted) was booked with the Thompson Twins and Toyah Willcox. Columbia suggested David Bowie (an avowed influence and reciprocal fan) but his schedule precluded timely involvement in the Furs’ new project. Ely suggested Todd Rundgren, a veteran solo artist and bandleader (Nazz, Utopia) with a lengthy resume in production (Badfinger, Sparks, Hall & Oates, Meat Loaf, New York Dolls, The Tubes).


Forever Now

The Psychedelic Furs released their third album, Forever Now, on September 24, 1982, on CBS. It features ten group-credited originals, including the singles “Danger,” “Run and Run,” and “Love My Way.” Deep cuts include “President Gas,” “Sleep Comes Down,” “Merry-Go-Round” (renamed “Yes I Do” in the U.S.), and the title-track.

Forever Now is the only Psychedelic Furs album recorded by the trimmed four-piece lineup of Richard and Tim Butler with guitarist John Aston and drummer Vince Ely, who left before the ensuing tour. Todd Rundgren produced the album and plays marimba on “Love My Way,” which became the band’s signature song.

1. “President Gas” (5:09)
2. “Love My Way” (3:26)
3. “Run and Run” (3:43)
4. “Merry-Go-Round” (3:44) US copies re-title the song “Yes I Do.”
5 .”Sleep Comes Down” (3:43)

6. “Forever Now” (5:25)
7. “Danger” (2:32)
8. “You and I” (4:15)
9. “Goodbye” (3:47)
10. “No Easy Street” (3:54)

Sessions took place in April–May 1982 in upstate New York with Rundgren, who combed through two sets of demos and made revisions with the band when they arrived at Utopia Sound, his home studio on Mink Hollow Road in Lake Hill, west of Woodstock. In addition to the “Love My Way” marimba motif, he plays saxophone on “No Easy Street” and keyboards across the album.

Rundgren’s work on Forever Now came between his 1981–82 solo albums Healing and The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect and the two 1982 Utopia albums Swing to the Right and Utopia. He co-engineered the Furs with Utopia soundman Chris Andersen.

Todd augmented the Furs with guest appearances by NRBQ trumpeter Donn Adams, jazz saxophonist Gary Windo (Centipede, Brotherhood of Breath), and cellist Ann Sheldon, a classically trained player who accompanied the band on their ensuing tour. Rundgren also summoned the vocal duo Flo & Eddie (ex-Turtles), whose backing vocals appear on four tracks, including “Love My Way.”

Veteran graphic artist Barney Bubbles designed the green-surround cover to the CBS version of Forever Now, which shows a pink–lavender diamond pattern on an image still from the “Love My Way.” The name and title appear as a yellow-star halo. Bubbles (1942–1983) also did recent covers for Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Inner City Unit, MX-80 Sound, and The Soft Boys. The Forever Now inner-sleeve features monochrome member pics by one Graeme Attwood.

Columbia Records in the US vetoed Bubbles’ cover on account of its obscured imagery and lettering. They commissioned an alternate cover by Chris Austopchuk, who designed a monochrome scheme with multi-color tints (predominantly red) and image overlays. Austopchuk also designed 1982 sleeves for Men at Work, James Blood Ulmer, and the “book cover” image on The Nylon Curtain by Billy Joel.

US copies switch three Side One tracks — “President Gas,” “Run and Run,” and “Merry-Go-Round (Yes I Do)” — with “Goodbye,” “You and I” (titled “Only You and I”), and “Forever Now” (the Columbia version’s opening track).

On July 2, 1982 “Love My Way” appeared in the UK as an advance single backed with the non-album “Aeroplane.”

B. “Aeroplane” (3:22)

The single also appeared on 12″ with extended dance versions of “Aeroplane” (5:22) and the album track “Goodbye” (5:45).

In the tinted monochrome “Love My Way” video, the Psychedelic Furs perform on a watery stage with a cloudy backdrop; intercut by rippling reflections and sepia spotlights on Richard. The director, Tim Pope, did recent videos for Altered Images, Visage, and Soft Cell, who compiled multiple clips for their 1981 album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret (and surrounding singles) into Non-Stop Exotic Video Show, one of the first video-album releases. Pope soon found his principle client in The Cure, starting with the clip for their late 1982 single “Let’s Go to Bed.”

“Love My Way” reached No. 9 in New Zealand and No. 23 in Australia. In November 1982, it became their first general-issue single in the US, where the video gained high rotation on the fledgling music cable network MTV.

Meanwhile, the Psychedelic Furs lifted “Danger” in late October as the second UK single, backed with the non-album “I Don’t Want To Be Your Shadow.”

B. “I Don’t Want To Be Your Shadow” (3:49)

The Psychedelic Furs performed “Danger,” “President Gas,” and “Sleep Comes Down” on the October 28 broadcast of the BBC music program The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Forever Now reached No. 4 in New Zealand and No. 20 on the UK Albums Chart. The Psychedelic Furs toured the album with auxiliary musicianship by session cellist Ann Sheldon and Waitresses saxophonist Mars Williams, who recently played on albums by Fred Frith and the Swollen Monkeys. Australian drummer Phill Calvert (Boys Next Door, Birthday Party) stepped in for Vince Ely, who departed the Furs for session work (Ministry, Shrapnel, Antonia & The Operators).

In May 1983, Columbia lifted “Run and Run” as the second US Forever Now single. The song’s video intersperses scenes from a stateside record store meet-and-greet with footage from a color-lit private performance for members of the press.

“Love My Way” appeared in the 1983 teen romantic comedy Valley Girl. The song has since become a much-comped classic of eighties new wave music.


1984–1985

The Psychedelic Furs trimmed to the core trio of Richard and Tim Butler and guitarist John Aston. For their fourth album, they teamed with musician–soundman and songwriter Keith Forsey, an erstwhile sideman for Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer who recently produced titles by Icehouse and Nina Hagen. Most notably, he groomed former Generation X frontman Billy Idol for global solo stardom.


Mirror Moves

The Psychedelic Furs released their fourth album, Mirror Moves, on August 21, 1984, on CBS and Columbia. This is their first of two studio albums as a trio composed of guitarist John Aston and brothers Richard and Tim Butler. They recorded the album with industry heavyweight Keith Forsey, who serves as their de facto drummer.

Mirror Moves contains four Butler brothers compositions (“The Ghost in You,” “Here Come Cowboys,” “Heaven,” “Like a Stranger”), four co-writes between Richard Butler and John Aston (“Heartbeat,” “My Time,” “Only a Game,” “Highwire Days”), and one group-credited number (“Alice’s House”). The album spawned four singles, all grouped on Side One, including the hits “Heaven” and “The Ghost In You.” Tim Pope directed videos for both songs and the US single “Here Come Cowboys.”

1. “The Ghost in You” (4:17)
2. “Here Come Cowboys” (3:55)
3. “Heaven” (3:27)
4. “Heartbeat” (5:17)

5. “My Time” (4:27)
6. “Like a Stranger” (4:00)
7. “Alice’s House” (3:53)
8. “Only a Game” (4:13)
9. “Highwire Days” (3:58)

Sessions spanned the winter of 1983–84 at studios in Los Angeles (Westlake Audio) and New York City (Electric Lady, Record Plant) with Forsey, who produced Mirror Moves immediately after the November 1983 Chrysalis release Rebel Yell, the blockbuster second solo album by Billy Idol. Veteran R&B soundman Steve Hodge engineered Mirror Moves in sequence with 1984 albums by Berlin, Brothers Johnson, Cherrelle, Klymaxx, The Sylvers, and Thelma Houston.

Forsey plays drum machine, drums, and percussion on all but two Mirror Moves tracks: “Here Come Cowboys” and “Heaven,” which feature Rebel Yell drummer Tommy Price. Forever Now live saxophonist Mars Williams guests on Mirror Moves along with fellow Furs auxiliary player Ed Buller, who does uncredited keyboard work.

For the Mirror Moves cover, Richard Butler consulted Da Gama, a British design firm responsible for 1983–84 covers for The Comsat Angels, The Creatures, Endgames, Freur, Gang of Four, The Glove, Siouxsie & The Banshees, and Shriekback. Mirror Moves shows photos of Richard (front), Tim and John (back) with translucent checkers, circular letters, and decorative stars in a stylistic tribute to the late Forever Now cover designer Barney Bubbles. Original copies contain a poster foldout of the cover imagery. Photographer Brian Griffin also has visual credits on concurrent albums by Chris De Burgh (Man on the Line), Depeche Mode (Some Great Reward), Echo & The Bunnymen (Ocean Rain), John Foxx, Rupert Hine, and The Stranglers (Aural Sculpture).

In March, “Heaven” appeared as an advance UK single backed with a remix of “Heartbeat” (5:10). The 12″ version features an extended “Heartbeat” (8:09) subtitled ‘New York remix.’

The “Heaven” video takes place under heavy nighttime downpour, where Richard spins round in a redeemer pose and mimes select lyrics.

“Heaven” peaked inside the UK Top 30. (In August, it became the album’s third US single.)

In May 1984, “The Ghost In You” became the second advance single backed with the non-album track “Another Edge.” In the US, it appeared as the first single (b.w “Heartbeat (remix)”).

B. “Another Edge” (3:45)

The video cuts between neo-noir scenes of Richard seated at a glowing vanity and a white room performance overlaid with flashing polkadots.

In August, Columbia lifted “Here Come Cowboys” as the second US single (b/w “Another Edge”). The video cuts between performance footage and scenes of a rodeo. Richard (teased ginger hair) gesticulates straight to the camera.

In October 1984, “Heartbeat” (The Mendlesohn Mix) appeared as the third UK single backed with the non-album “My Time.”

B. “My Time” (4:26)

Mirror Moves reached No. 5 in New Zealand and No. 16 in Canada. Mirror Moves is the first Psychedelic Furs album with identical UK–US cover art and tracklists.


1986–1987

In 1986, the three-man Psychedelic Furs re-recorded “Pretty in Pink” for the soundtrack to the namesake John Hughes teen drama. The film brought newfound popularity to the band in the U.S.


Midnight to Midnight

The Psychedelic Furs released their fifth studio album, Midnight to Midnight, on February 2, 1987, on Columbia. They recorded the album at Berlin’s Hansa Tonstudio and New York’s Bearsville Studios. The original LP release contains nine songs, including “All of the Law,” “No Release,” and the radio-rotated “Heartbreak Beat” (U.S. No. 26).

Production duties were handled by Chris Kimsey (Peter Frampton, Strapps, Marianne Faithfull, Novo Combo, Fingerprintz). The trio were augmented for these sessions by drummer Paul Garisto and jazz saxophonist Mars Williams (Fred Frith, Swollen Monkeys, Power Station, Rubber Rodeo).

A. “Heartbreak Beat”
B. “New Dream”

A. “Angels Don’t Cry”
B. “No Release”


“All That Money Wants”

Ely rejoined the Furs in 1988 and they recorded the track “All That Money Wants” for the compilation All of This and Nothing.


Book of Days

Ely stayed for their sixth studio album, Book of Days, released in October 1989 and produced by David M. Allen (The Chameleons, Depeche Mode, The Mission, The Associates, The Human League).

The Psychedelic Furs trimmed once again to the trio of Ashton and the Butler brothers on the 1991 release World Outside, their last album for 29 years. During the ensuing decade, the Butler’s recorded as Love Spit Love. The Furs regrouped in 2000 as a live concern and released their eighth studio album, Made of Rain, in 2020.


Discography:

  • The Psychedelic Furs (1980)
  • Talk Talk Talk (1981)
  • Forever Now (1982)
  • Mirror Moves (1984)
  • Midnight to Midnight (1987)
  • Book of Days (1989)
  • World Outside (1991)

Sources:

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