The title is self-explanatory really, but the music world or more importantly artist albums are littered with the songs that really should have been singles, let’s begin..
ROBBIE NEVIL – LOOK WHO’S ALONE TONIGHT
Who knows what record company politics dictate the line of single releases that will define an artist’s career but had this followed C’est La Vie and Wot’s it to Ya back in ’87 perhaps it would have propelled the album to greater success. Instead Dominoes was lifted and not surprisingly didn’t trouble the top 10 (though amazingly, the tuneless dirge did chart).
OLIVE – YOU ARE NOTHING
Once ‘You’re Not Alone’ had been re-issued and finally became the hit it should have been in the first place, climbing all the way to the top spot in the UK, the band then faced the unenviable task of which track to release as follow up. They and/or the record company opted for Miracle (great on the album but hardly a single) and then Outlaw, again pleasant enough on their excellent Extra Virgin début and although it charted, was no match for this ballad. Granted, You Are Nothing is not their strongest track but it would have made a nice shift in mood and ‘perhaps’ a top 10? Only the Americans spotted its potential, though it only got as far as the radio promo.
INXS – WISHING WELL/STRANGE DESIRE
They had fought long and hard to break Britain culminating in a robust show at Wembley. In 1992 after the disappointing X album, they delivered both a shocking return to form while moving forward at the same time. In much the same way as U2 had done with Achtung Baby, INXS reinvented themselves artistically with Welcome To Wherever You Are. Pity then that they released the wrong clutch of singles from it. Heaven Sent’s driving rock and distorted vocals were a good start, Taste It was fine too albeit more so for America. Beautiful Girl would have been a nice second single but Baby Don’t Cry? To an extent it’s quaint and oddly the highest charting of the ‘WTWYA’ singles but let’s delve a little deeper. The UK was still basking in its Manchester phase with dance music king as far as singles were concerned. Both Wishing Well and Strange Desire would surely have been better choices. The former is an organ fuelled pop blast with quirky time signature and sax. The latter may have been a summer stunner had the record co acted accordingly. At the same time the catalogue numbers began to lapse. UK singles were identifiable thus: INXS1, INXS2 and so on. For some reason, there was a jump from INXS20 to INXS23 which suggests the record co was losing the plot or asleep at the wheel. Who the hell knows, but some mighty fine singles were lost forever and perhaps this cost the band in terms of sales (even if the album did make it to #1).
SIMPLE MINDS – NIGHT MUSIC
Sticking with rock, New Gold Dream was by now a memory from youthful minds. In 1995 the now mid-career SM were also in recovery mode following a poor showing for their previous record, though how #2 is poor I don’t know. Good News From the Next World kicks off with the mighty She’s a River – to date their last top 10 in the UK and misfortune would ensure it failed to weave its way to the Billboard top 40 in America. This was followed by Hypnotised – another beauty which peaked at #18 in the UK and then… nothing! Does a band that gets to such an age and who have made their record company a lot of money not merit a third single? Apparently not. At nearly 20 years old, I am hearing it as fresh – having not bought the album at the time, perhaps the student debt was worrying me but I digress, Night Music’s joyful tune is perhaps, as the band were so good at doing, a reinvention of an earlier piece Stand By Love as Ghostdancing was a mid-eighties stab at I Travel and Let the Children Speak borrowed from Theme for Great Cities. Too bad it remained stuck on the album. *Again it made it to promo stage, this time in Italy.
A-HA – TURN THE LIGHTS DOWN/THE BANDSTAND
In 2002 A-ha released their second reunified album Lifelines. A hotchpotch of tracks produced by a multitude of producers in as many studio locations. The lilting title track was released as was Forever Not Yours but no such fortune would shine on probably one of their strongest ballads. Fast forward to 2009 and more of the same ill-advised shenanigans from Foot of the Mountain. The slightly twee title track had been a single and failed to scale any heights. The path was clear to make amends with the follow up. In the age of social media, Facebook fans screamed ‘Bandstand!’ The record company ignored this and put out Nothing Is Keeping You Here. Muppets!
DURAN DURAN – BREATH AFTER BREATH/WANT YOU MORE
The so called Wedding album had re-established Duran Duran for the nineties. Lead off single Ordinary World came close to the being the finest thing the Hollies never did and the stupendously sombre Come Undone was even better and unlocked the top 20 as easily as they had done the previous decade. Next? …Too Much Information. While I like the track, I don’t think it was a good move. What happened to summer? There was a lengthy gap between Come Undone in April and TMI in September so one assumes even EMI weren’t sure how to proceed. It seemed TMI won a toss-up with Drowning Man (which won the toss across the pond). There were a plethora of other ‘wedding’ tracks chosen in as many countries. For me, Breath After Breath – unusual for its duet between Simon LeBon and Brazilian superstar Milton Nascimento was a clear winner with maybe None of the Above following that in September. Both were issued to radio in Brazil and Japan/US in the latter instance. Moving forward and fellow eighties pop connoisseurs A-ha were not alone in their new century reformation; the famous five or classic line up of DD reconvened to record Astronaut. As with the wedding album, two singles were pulled from it and had almost identical chart merits. (Reach Up For The) Sunrise made the top 5 (one place beyond Ordinary World) with What Happens Tomorrow lagging behind at #11 (again slightly higher than Come Undone had managed). Cue history repeat and.. nothing. Nice, which as its title reflects is an absolute pleasure to listen to, was very nearly a third single and would have been a great choice, so why didn’t it make it beyond promo stage? As bewildering, why didn’t Want You More, proof the band were as contemporary and relevant than ever come afterwards? One can only surmise that the singles were not selling in the quantities the record company would have preferred. We were now into file sharing territory. It’s guesswork that Sony wanted to steer the ship clear of the Pirate Bay. To some strange behaviour, to others good business sense.
GUN – GIRLS IN LOVE
Never mind Money, Girls in Love was a shorter, funkier rock blast – similar in some ways to INXS (Andrew Farriss would later produce them). Although it steals Prince’s ‘in through the out door’ line from Raspberry Beret, it’s still a corker.
MR MISTER – RUN TO HER
As much as I love ‘Is it Love?’ one can’t help wonder what might have been if this had become single #3 from the album, possibly their third straight #1 in the States? As with all mentioned here, we will never know. In reality it was wasted as a b-side (to Kyrie).
LORRAINE/BLACK ROOM – TELL IT ALL
Norway’s unlucky lads should have been as big as fellow countrymen A-ha but for… you’ve guessed it a record company that were totally clueless! Initially named after Marty McFly’s mother from the Back to the Future trilogy of films, they had already achieved the seemingly impossible, by becoming a band that fans of Depeche Mode actually liked! Tell it All has the sound of a track which would have felt at home on one of those American teen show soundtracks (say Dawson’s Creek or Beverly Hills 90210 or such like). By the time of their début album (Pop Noir), the band had rechristened themselves as Black Room because of a fire that destroyed their equipment and presumably to get out of their contract with – then – record company giant BMG. The record was brim full of pop beauties, this being one, A Million Colours another but it sank with little promotion and the second, Lighthouse, limped out without much fanfare either. A major shame.
KIDS OF 88 – APART OF YOU
Staying with great synth-pop, this time from New Zealand. According to the band it barely made the album – for me an astounding admission. It of course was and is a sure fire winner, warm as a red sweater and above all short, so it never gets boring. Endearing as it is beautiful.
BRYAN FERRY – RESCUE ME
The Taxi album from 1993 yielded three singles. Two were fairly well justified, Girl of My Best Friend was at best left on board the Taxi. Rescue Me however is a stunner cover of the Fontella Bass hit that sounds light years away from it. Not surprisingly Ferry has, as if in a test tube filled laboratory of cool, transformed it into a laid back groove imitators can only admire with (I imagine) consummate envy! Sadly it remained an album cut but one of its strongest. The following year Virgin had the right idea by releasing Mamouna’s title song; a light funk caress with wah bass but any attempts to reignite interest in BF in an age of grunge were misinformed.
CHRIS DE BURGH – CRYING AND LAUGHING
On a plane in the early eighties. Duran Duran album track, check, Hall and Oates, check, Chris de Burgh, umm… who? It was the beginning of an age of discovery that would last the rest of the eighties. As for the song, you can tell it’s a track pitched somewhere between ’78 and ’84 from its usage of the fretless bass; in this case 1982 and played by John Giblin. Despite being forever mocked for his very successful Lady in Red he is capable of atmosphere on this rain swept ballad and his powerful larynx is not unlike John Foxx; particularly on his song Systems of Romance from The Garden album (coincidently released a year earlier) and the b-side A Woman on a Stairway. Back to Crying and Laughing which lyrically has an ‘end of the affair’ vibe to it. A time of temporary debauchery has – for now at least – come to an end and the love interest is on the way back to wherever she came from and to whomever she is attached to. De Burgh belts out ‘you’ll be crying, laughing, half a world away.’ I’m not quite sure why it resonated with me but all I wanted on arrival in England was his album The Getaway. Despite some nice tunes ‘Ship to Shore,’ ‘Living on the Island,’ nothing came close to this. It was also one of the first times I became aware of an artist that was favoured more in foreign markets, in his case Argentina (de Burgh was born there to Irish/UK parents). This esoteric phenomenon would occur in my record collection many times over the ensuing years. Toni Childs (American, big in Australia), Cock Robin (American, big in France), and another Irishman, Perry Blake (big in continental Europe; notably France, Spain and Portugal). Whatever your thoughts of him, Crying and Laughing remains a haunting slice of Euro-cool.
COCK ROBIN – FOR EXPERIENCE SAKE/MORE THAN WILLING
As mentioned above CR made commercial windfall in Europe. As a brief note for the uninitiated, Cock Robin are or were (as LaCazio has since left) fronted by male singer Peter Kingsbery and his female counterpart Anna LaCazio. For Experience Sake was another blow to an already baffling tale of why are bands this good not bigger? A ballad rare for it being written by both members, it sat on an equally impressive third album (which I’ve written about many times and will continue to such is its worthiness beyond the few that gave it ears). It may seem familiar to those that chance upon it due to its chord sequence yet if anything that made it all the more likely to succeed! Likewise, More Than Willing, from their first record, in my world at least ought to have made it to third single but Thought You Were On My Side ousted it. This was by no means unsuccessful as it made the top 10 in a few countries but the cool Chic-like groove of this shone bright, however it remained a light in the dark; lost on the flip-side of Once We Might Have Known in the States. Its history in the Cock Robin story is an interesting one. Twelve years later the song resurfaced on Kingsbery’s Pretty Ballerina album with a grunge-indie feel. LaCazio again guested, the first time she had done so in almost a decade which would eventually led to their reunion. Both versions are great but the CR version stood more chance of being a hit, another that never was.
CHIC – HIGH
And so to CHIC themselves, as I have written previously in my summation of their CHIC-ism album, High is a kind of slow take on Goodtimes. With a familiar ‘feel good’ vibe, its sultry summer groove is a hidden gem; a strong point as it wasn’t rammed down our throats by radio.
DARYL HALL – SOMETHING ABOUT YOU
Having run a blazing marathon of chart success in the eighties with musical partner John Oates, Hall’s solo records were few and far between. 1986’s half-baked Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine delivered Dreamtime amid other interesting artefacts like Next Step and the Joni Mitchell backed Right as Rain. In the nineties, save the ill-fated Marigold Sky with Oates, Hall recorded two solo efforts. The first of those was Soul Alone; a stab at classy soul which again left a bit of a void though it did contain some hints at past glory. The second however was absolutely gorgeous. If Soul Alone had been his Kind of Blue, then Can’t Stop Dreaming oozed a glowing charm and swooned almost from beginning to end including the upbeat title track, Cab Driver and even a re-interpretation of his (and Oates) classic She’s Gone. Lurking amid all of this was a standard love song but a pretty one and one which deserved to be heard beyond the album, Something About You. Guided by an acoustic guitar, Hall laments ‘girl there’s something about you, why didn’t I see that smile before.’ Precisely Daryl, why didn’t anyone spot its potential. In fact even the album as a whole suffered and trickled out over seven years from Japan in ’96 through to his homeland and Europe in 2003. Tragedy and mystery, it’s one of his best, including Sacred Songs.
GENESIS – HEARTS ON FIRE
While it was at least on a single (Jesus He Knows Me), albeit the wrong side of it, this could have been huge if attached to a film albeit probably more so in the States than at home. Nonetheless, this is Genesis sounding playful, skilful and above all commercial! There is a nice middle part to this song with the refrain ‘give it up, give it up’.. and they did. A missed opportunity.
JONI MITCHELL – FICTION/STAY IN TOUCH
What would Tears For Fears sound like with Joni Mitchell singing? Fiction may well provide the answer. Taken from her mid-eighties album Dog Eat Dog perhaps through fear of giving her a pop audience Geffen (her then label) or maybe Mitchell herself chose to keep this one on the record. It remains a striking slice of period pop and demonstrated she was still capable of delivering music fit for the Zeitgeist. Rolling forward to 1998’s Taming The Tiger (ironically the title song details her plight amid record company suits) and the heartfelt beauty that is Stay in Touch. Having missed out with her Seal duet How Do You Stop? It would perhaps been expecting too much for a single release and even more so for it to be a hit, though stranger things have happened.
MICK KARN featuring DAVID SYLVIAN – WHEN LOVE WALKS IN
The Japan franchise from east London were always successful in shooting themselves in the foot, stranger still, they often elected to do this on purpose! Here is a subliminal piece guided by Karn’s famously murmuring bass. Also featuring Steve Jansen, it’s more or less Japan in all but name. Of course, they had to put out the less commercial Buoy didn’t they; whether ‘they’ in this case means the label or artist, it’s another one lost. Evidently, both give the best marker of what Japan may have sounded like had they continued into the mid-eighties and beyond.
THE POLICE – OMEGAMAN
Slated as the first single from Ghost in the Machine, Andy Summers place in the spotlight was lampooned by Sting who wanted one of his own compositions to take centre stage. And so it was the political rocker Invisible Sun which instead shone its dismal tune. OK on the album, but a single? Summers was robbed and quite rightly miffed! Personally I would have stuck to Spirits/Omegaman as a double-headed first single then maybe Hungry For You (why not?), then ..Magic. Secret Journey was also sublime yet along with Omegaman remained glued to the album.
RUSH – SPEED OF LOVE
Another acclaimed yet maligned trio, Canada’s Rush are not especially known as a singles band. In the late 70s there was Spirit of Radio, next Tom Sawyer, in ’82 they seemed to be keen on mimicking the Police with New World Man and in ’87 Time Stand Still was very nearly a top 40 in the UK. By the early 90s however, their albums were strong on power (Stick it Out) but running short of melody. Speed of Love bucks the trend somewhat and could have perhaps been their biggest in quite some time had it seen release from Counterparts. Sadly, it never made it.