Retro spin: The mystery and style of Spandau Ballet

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In 1983, pop audiences in the US were introduced to Spandau Ballet. The well-coiffed, well-dressed pop ensemble from London wowed Music Television viewers with their “classy” approach to contemporary music. It was on May 10, 1983 that Spandau Ballet made their way to the US Top 10 with “True.” But the band’s biggest US hit only tells part of the story of the band’s style.

The single “True” did not show everything that Spandau Ballet had to offer. Meaning, that not every Spandau Ballet song was going to be a gentle love song with just enough of a bass-y, rollicking undercurrent to keep teens swaying through prom night. Moreover, we hadn’t really seen anything like them. They weren’t the Beatles, Duran Duran, or the Police, to name a few popular bands. It is likely some audiences didn’t know how to take them.

Spandau Ballet before “True”

What most US audiences missed from Spandau Ballet was the song “To Cut a Long Story Short.” The song was released in 1980, pre-dating Music Television by one year. However, it did not pre-date video technology. Still, those videos that most Americans saw between movies on cable were likely to be mainstream, regardless of nationality.

“To Cut a Long Story Short”: what we missed

If audiences didn’t hear “To Cut a Long Story Short” before having been exposed to “True,” and its follow-up single, “Gold,” then the impression they formed of Spandau Ballet might be inaccurate.

“To Cut a Long Story Short” is a tense, but danceable song that tells a somewhat uneasy story. But what is more impressive than the lyrics is the sound of it. The synthesizer part is biting and flexible, following the lyrical line like an aggressive dog somehow trained to obey. The synth parts come in angry snips and longer, aggrieved passages to underscore and punctuate the lyrics. It is fairly in-your-face for a band that would become known for a well-behaved ballad.

“True”: what most people know of Spandau Ballet

That “True” contrasts with “To Cut a Long Story Short” does not detract from the ballad. While the instrumentation which is almost hushed, is not “bad,” the vocals stand out. Lead singer Tony Hadley shows not only a neo-crooner style, but depth and power. In this case, the “power” comes from restraint needed to not over-sing the ballad.

The backing vocals sing a light “ha-ha-ha-ha-ha’s” as Hadley performs the chorus. For its time, “True” was as pretty as a pop song could get without being completely sugary. And certainly, it was too sweet for some people’s taste.

Regardless of any criticism that “True” might have received, the song reached as high as No. 4 on US charts. In the UK, Ireland and Canada, it did reach No. 1. Conversely, “To Cut a Long Story Short” failed to make a mark on Canadian and US charts. The song became popular again after the advent of satellite radio. At which point it was played frequently on 1980s pop-oriented stations.

As for the band itself, Spandau Ballet took a hiatus that lasted from 1990 until 2009. The band has been active ever since. It will be interesting to see what they will do during this portion of their career.

 

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