I’ve always felt that the ’60s had a lot in common with many early new wave pop songs. Sometimes it was subtle as in Soft Cell’s remake of “Tainted Love” or deliberate with the zany retro antics of The B-52s. More likely, the simplified song structures and hooks of ’60s pop was behind just about every bubblegum pop song in the first half of the 1980s, thanks in part to a flood of affordable electronic instruments.
An unlikely pioneer in the fusion of electronica and ’60s-like nostalgia was Naked Eyes. The bath England duo of Rob Fisher and Pete Byrne were one of the few bands to have the costly and sophisticated Fairlight CMI synthesizer. In fact, at the time only well heeled and established artist like Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush used them. To listen to the four hits from the self titled debut album (called Burning Bridges in the U.K.), you would have never figured that they were on the vanguard of electronic music, especially since most of hit singles from had a ring of nostalgia about them. Its conceivable that a young Fisher and Byrne (like many in England) grew up listening to Otis Redding and Bacharach tunes at a time when American kids were into Kiss and Foreigner.
Naked Eyes must have realized this when they released their first U.S. hit “Always Something There to Remind Me”, effectively erasing the memory Dionne Warwicks 1967 version written by Burt Bacharach/Hal David. The Naked Eyes interpretation retained the song’s catchy melody and jet age elegance while blending it with modern pop arrangements. In a record company’s dream, Naked Eyes managed to appeal to a cross-generational audience right out the gate.
Aside from the other hit “Promises Promises” which featured Madonna on backing vocals, much of the album was being featured on college radio stations. MTV and VH-1 featured the video in heavy rotation, insuring it’s place on the charts in both America and England.
The sheer diversity of the album almost guaranteed that it would not be dismissed. I was familiar with no less than five of Naked Eyes tracks before buying my Columbia House LP. It was not unusual to hear very new wave “A Very Hard Act to Follow” with it’s Gary Numan style drum machine and Heaven 17-like slap bass on college radio while “Always Something…” would be playing on adult contemporary stations or in the background at McDonalds.
Not since Frankie Goes To Hollywood would a two album band have so much initial, but forgotten impact. Unlike Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Naked Eyes had a deep bench of great songs that while nostalgic on the surface, were often groove heavy and almost always infectious. The band’s legacy lived on in part as Clime Fisher after Pete Byrne’s unfortunate death in 1999.
Interest in Naked Eyes seems to grow with the passing of time. Both their albums Naked Eyes and Fuel For the Fire are available as a double album or as a semi complete anthology on any number of greatest hits releases. The Pete Byrne reformed the band to record an album of acoustic versions from their catalog and later The Real Illusion featuring songs written for what would have been a third album with Rob Fisher.