In the first half of the ’80s new wave music was morphing into distinct types. For bands like England’s Spandau Ballet, the evolution would carry their sound from a rough slap bass driven dance music to smooth sophist-pop. The writing had been on the wall on the wall as early as “She Loved Like Diamond” from Diamond the previous year. Actually with each of their albums all made in quick succession starting in 1981 you could hear the roots of R&B with the arrival of jazz by True.
Mature Duran Duran or Neutered Heaven 17?
Like nearly every other English pop act, R&B figured prominently in Spandau Ballet’s catalog of influences from the beginning. On True the elegance of jazz was added giving their brand of sophist-pop a marked distinction from other bands make similar music like Everything But the Girl. Before that, their sound could be compared to early Heaven 17 – imagine the rhythmic funk without the sarcastic political messages. The two bands even worse suits on stage. Heaven 17 of course saw it as a means to infiltrate the corporate machine while Spandau Ballet was only interested in melting the hearts of teenage girls (like Duran Duran).
Something for Everyone
The whole sophisti-pop movement was big enough to accommodate those who looked to black American music and traditional European cues for inspiration. The polish of True was certainly out of the European tradition. Songs like Gold and True were hits in both America and England where Spandau Ballet had been only popular in Europe before True. True was the bands best possible introduction to America as the title song went to #1 while “Gold” and “Communication” made chart appearances. In all singles from True scored on the dance, R&B, adult contemporary and pop charts in ’83-’84.
There’s no denying the importance of R&B in the success of True. Produced by the team of Steve Jolley and Tony Swain (the producers of the British R&B band Imagination), True had that sheen of a color by numbers approach to R&B that was common amongst English artists. They certainly did their homework, but never got too sweaty in the process. Spandau Ballet was too cool for that anyway. They were an adult Duran Duran with the smooth Frank Sinatra of the ’80s vocals from Tony Hadley.
The Definition of Smooth
Hadley smooth crooning was another element that made the band so popular. Similar to others from the school of David Bowie/David Sylvian, crooners like Martin Fry of ABC or Iva Davies of Icehouse would be elegant when they were not being funny (ABC) or taking themselves too seriously (Icehouse). Hadley had the distinction of making the move to a jazz influenced sound first and charting with it. Icehouse and ABC were still making funk or new romantic inspired new wave pop when True was released.
The pleasant songs of True would open former new wave artists like Spandau Ballet to the airwaves and into Muzak systems in department stores across the country. In the process fo cracking both the pop and adult contemporary charts, True hastened the popularity of sophist-pop in America. Before long bands like Johnny hates Jazz, Everything But the Girl and Sade would further fuse jazz, r&B and pop to dominate the charts.
The sophist-pop takeover of the charts probably would have happened eventually, but those five guys from London certainly cracked the door early in America. Spandau ballet is still together and continues to record, but most of us will always remember them as the suit wearing sophisticates from those MTV and VH-1 days of fuzzy pop domination.