Number ones: #1


  • HOWARD JONES What Is Love? (WEA)
  • Week ending 7th January 1984
  • 3 weeks at #1


New Song, the debut single from Howard Jones, had been the catalyst for much of my freshly-discovered obsession with pop music when it hit the UK charts in the autumn of 1983. For all its impact on my world, it never occurred to me to actually go into a shop and buy the vinyl record to have as my own. It would have been my first “proper” purchase had I done so. Instead, that honour fell to its follow-up, What Is Love?

I can vividly remember buying the 12″ single, seeing it in the chart racks at #2 (Pipes Of Peace by Paul McCartney denied it top spot in Britain), but I don’t know what prompted me to actually make the leap into the realms of a bona fide record-buying music fan. Despite still rising on the Top 40, it wasn’t exactly a new release and for several weeks before Christmas 1983 I would tune into the Radio One chart countdown expecting it to have fallen down the listings. Somehow it just managed to edge into the Top 10 come the year’s end, and then made that 8-place leap into the runners-up slot. Never again would Howard Jones get so close to a #1 hit in the UK.

On my personal chart, it would prove a very different story.

So, there was little doubt what single would be top of the first Top 40 I compiled that January evening (New Song, too, would be safely in the Top 5 despite being about 4 months old by that point). What Is Love? was a whole lot more complex and subtle than its predecessor, underpinned by a lush bassline and layer upon layer of synths and multi-tracked vocals. It swooped and soared, in a catchy yet magnificently moody way that, sadly, he would rarely emulate over the rest of his career.

The extended 12″ version, which is the format I opted for on that fateful day, only heightens the vibe and appeal (CD editions of his Human’s Lib album have always included it over the shorter edit, tellingly), but the biggest plus of having the 12″ single was found on the B-side. The standard 7″ featured the throwaway It Just Doesn’t Matter (replete with fashionable cod-Japanese stylings….hello Thompson Twins, Thomas Dolby et al), but the extra track was a live recording of Hunt The Self from the Marquee in late 1983.

“We’re gonna get a bit tribal on this one!”, he exhorts, as the onslaught of drum patterns and sequencers churn out a terrific slice of figuring-out-who-you-are thoughtful pop that obviously appealed to an almost-teenage boy. It’s like early Tears For Fears on steroids, before they beefed up their own sound a year later with Mothers Talk and Shout. He would record Hunt The Self in the studio for inclusion on Human’s Lib, where it made for a nicely dramatic conclusion to Side One. Having been exposed and accustomed to the raw live incarnation first, I never quite felt the album version did the song justice; its signature keyboard refrain was changed, for one thing.

Hunt The Self was probably a major reason for this single managing to stay top of my charts in the face of fierce competition from an explosive debut single that was quickly gaining notoriety.

But more of that next time…..


  1. Okay, my first comment on the #1 section and I feel a bit of pressure knowing how much the artist, song and parental album mean to you. I was too young at the time and not yet into buying singles, let alone 12″, the glorious concept of which still eluded me, but that cover is so beautiful that I’m tempted to hunt down a copy on Discogs. Love that spiky hair, the contrasts and, of course, the song. A very haunting composition with smart lyrics to match it. I can see how this went to no. 1 in your charts (and partially stayed there until this day).


    • Thanks! Yes, everything about the first Howard Jones album era, from the artwork to the production, was spot-on. What Is Love? alternates with another song as my all-time favourite HoJo moment, depending on my mood.


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