Wonderful words by Balearic Mike.
One of my favourite singles of the 1980s was released 40 years ago today… and for Heaven 17 it was just in the nick of time! After the split of the original line-up of the Human League, all the ‘clever’ money – i.e. the UK music press – was on Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh – the musicial members of the band – to be the successful camp. While for the two who kept hold of the name, Phil Oakey, and Adrian Wright – hair-do, and projectionist – ignominious failure was predicted. Of course, things didn’t quite pan out like that, and for the next 2 years, Heaven 17 had to sit back and watch as Phil and co. released one of the greatest synth-pop – actually, let’s just go with ‘pop’ – albums of the decade, maybe of all time. Hit, after hit, of stunning quality, topped off with a UK Christmas #1, followed with a ground-breaking mini-LP of dub / dance remixes! To make matters worse, despite an initially favourable critical reaction to the output of both Ware and Marsh`s B.E.F. (British Electric Foundation) and Heaven 17, commercially the band failed to have a single top 40 hit. Their debut LP, Penthouse And Pavement, did reasonably well, peaking at #14, and going on to spend a staggering 77 weeks on the charts between 1981 and 1983, but the steady stream of excellent singles taken from it had all missed the mark. I do have a story about my uncle Stephen, this LP, a high-end audiophile record deck, and my brother Chris and I dancing on a table, but that’s for another time.
Things didn’t improve with their first new single, Let Me Go, which also peaked outside the Top 40. As well as this lack of commercial success, the critics had now somewhat soured on the trio, possibly feeling a little foolish after so clearly backing the wrong horse. Reviews of both Let Me Go and the B.E.F.s album of cover versions, Music Of Quality & Distinction Volume One, were pretty scathing. So, it was pretty much make or break time for Heaven 17 when they issued Temptation, their second single from an as yet to be released sophomore album, The Luxury Gap. The song, a huge, powerful, building opus about sex, lust, and desire, has been described by Martyn Ware as a combination of an Escher painting and The Lord’s Prayer, with this never-ending, constantly rising chord structure reaching a huge climax with the line “Lead us not into temptation”. The crowning glory is the powerhouse vocal performance from Karol Kenyon, who sings a dramatic call-and-response duet with Glenn Gregory. Karol, or Carol, has had a staggering, and hugely successful career, singing with artists such as Pet Shop Boys, Duran Duran, Kylie, Tears For Fears, and sung lead on another classic, Malcolm McLaren’s 1984 single, Madame Butterfly. Sadly, she didn’t appear in the video for Temptation after a disagreement over money, with her role being filled by model and actress Gillian de Terville, who would famously become the first black model to appear on The Sun`s page 3 and would go on to star in the Bond movie, Octopussy.
After 2 weeks, and some Radio 1 airplay, despite the less than enthusiastic reviews, Temptation entered the charts at #31, earning Heaven 17 a coveted appearance on Top Of The Pops – alongside previous bandmates The Human League. The League were having a bit of a wobble themselves and were performing a new single, (Keep Feeling) Fascination, which had gone top 20 after only a week, and would peak at #2. Heaven 17’s performance, this time with Karol, meant that they began rapidly climbing the charts behind Sheffield’s ‘other’ finest synth-pop combo. Eventually, Temptation would replace “Fascination” at #2, and just like Phil & Co., would be kept from the #1 spot by Spandau Ballet, who had camped out there for a while with True. The success of the single meant that when The Luxury Gap snuck out in May, it was an instant hit, entering the charts at #4, “Penthouse And Pavement” re-entered the charts AGAIN, and subsequent singles all became Top 20 hits as well. So a happy ending for the lads. Hooray!
For more from Balearic Mike you can find him on both Facebook and Instagram – @balearicmike.
Mike has a Mixcloud page packed with magnificent, magical, music, and you can catch him live on 1BTN, from 12 noon until 2 (UK time) every 1st and 3rd Friday.
You can also check out the super silk screen prints of “Balearic Wife” over at @jo_lambert_print