Number Ones: #52


  • THOMPSON TWINS Don’t Mess With Doctor Dream (Arista)
  • Week Ending 31st August 1985
  • 2 Weeks At #1


Fresh from sharing the stage at Live Aid with Madonna the previous month, the Thompson Twins’ first single of 1985 promptly ended Into The Groove‘s reign atop my charts after only one week. I told you I was a fan.

Of course, this wasn’t quite how it was meant to be. Lay Your Hands On Me, released at the end of 1984, gave precious little hint as to the direction they were planning to take on Into The Gap‘s follow-up, Here’s To Future Days. That album was already being teased on some European TV shows, as its intended second single Roll Over was readied for release in the UK over Easter 1985. Around 250,000 copies of the single were primed for shipping to retailers……and then Tom Bailey collapsed in a hotel while on the promo trail.

“On and on and on it goes….where it all leads, nobody knows”, went the chorus of Roll Over.

Everything ground to a halt. From the outside, the temporary exhaustion of your lead singer really ought not to cause more than a brief interruption to continued pop domination, but we weren’t to know just how much of the workload Tom was carrying, far more than the music press and the band’s PR ever let on at the time.

The band were presented to the world as Alannah the lyricist, Joe the musician, and Tom the vocalist, guitarist and probably contributor to a bit of everything. The reality would appear to be Tom did pretty much everything in terms of the records, with the other two members’ input largely confined to visual and performance aspects. It would at least explain why there had to be such a lengthy break before the band returned, and why Tom decided to radically rethink the musical approach of Here’s To Future Days.

It’s understandable that Roll Over was permanently mothballed for reasons other than pure musical merit, but the physical and mental drain of maintaining a continuous stream of chart-friendly material can clearly be detected in its lumpen, clumsy stylings that would have been at odds with the UK chart landscape of early 1985. Roll Over, in all likelihood, might have done fairly well in America but surely would have proved problematic here in Britain.

As things turned out, the Here’s To Future Days era would sadly prove to be problematic in Britain, ending their imperial phase with its lack of a genuine UK hit and an all-too-brief residency on the Top 100 Album chart (9 weeks, compared to 51 for Into The Gap and 56 for Quickstep & Sidekick).

Yet all of this was still to unfold, and the arrival of a brand new Twins track in the middle of August caused me a great deal of excitement.  The 12″ single duly purchased, I was initially oblivious to the fact Don’t Mess With Doctor Dream was light years from the focused, faultless pop craftsmanship of Lay Your Hands On Me and sounded more like a Quickstep & Sidekick B-side. Are the female screams at the start and end of the track a knowing nod back to Sister Of Mercy? Is the lyric “roll over me” a conscious reference to the troubled record which Tom couldn’t disassociate from the dark days of his illness? Even the pre-chorus refrain of “blue marble dreams” sounds suspiciously like a line from Lay Your Hands On Me; the more you dissect the record, the more it seems like parts of several ideas (not all of them new!) stitched together.

In the process of going back to the drawing board, post-collapse, Nile Rodgers had taken over production duties and his influence does at least give Doctor Dream – and a couple of other tracks on the ill-starred album – a genuine groove. It also helps the record sound contemporary enough for British tastes, though America was more partial to a reworked, gospel-tinged Lay Your Hands On Me and the rote romanticism of King For A Day.

The latter attempted to rekindle the Into The Gap formula, but its weary tone and vapid lyrics weren’t in the same league and there would be no further #1s from Here’s To Future Days on my chart (a frankly nonsensical decision to issue a leaden cover of The Beatles’ Revolution – the song they played at Live Aid, with Madonna on tambourine – made sure of that).

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