The Psychedelic Furs: Loving their new way
Never mind the Furs’ song was originally recorded in 1981 and had a far more punk sound.
“The movie producers thought the original sounded like our guitars were out of tune,” laughs Tim Butler, the Furs’ bassist and original founder, along with his older brother, Richard, the raspy/velvety-voiced lead singer. “But to us, that made the song.”
The previous year, the Furs were asked to record “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” from Hughes’ boffo box office hit, “The Breakfast Club.” The song had already been turned down by Brian Ferry and Billy Idol, and the Furs weren’t feeling it either. They passed.
History shows Simple Minds went on to record the tune, which became a generational anthem for those growing up in the ‘80s. It rocketed the band into the stratosphere, although that success was bittersweet: the band has long expressed a love/hate relationship with the tune’s overtly sugary commercialism and its impact on their reputation.
So, when the Furs were offered an opportunity to record a new version of “Pretty in Pink” a year later, they agreed, mainly because it was one of their originals.
The movie was yet more box office gold for Hughes, as was the soundtrack. The song shot up the charts and put the Furs on a much broader musical map.
The problem was that prepubescent, shrieking girls decked out in pink started turning up at Furs’ concerts, which Butler says alienated their core fan base.
“People coming out to see an underground alternative band weren’t expecting to see that. We lost some fans, but many of them are coming back now,” he says. “Of course the screaming girls are now 50 years old and have settled down a bit,” he laughs.
Indeed, if you listen to the Furs’ first commercially successful second album, “Talk Talk Talk” – produced by multiple Grammy Award-winning legend Steve Lillywhite – there’s an energy more punk than post-punk. The songs are raw, with a hammering drum and bass line, non-melodic pitches, aggressive synthesizers, a blistering saxophone, all anchored by Richard Butler’s distinctive honey-on-gravel crooning.
Like a lot of ‘80s bands, college radio played a critical role in the Furs early career. “Love My Way,” a gorgeously lush meditation about rejecting conformity, featured, of all things, a marimba – “You don’t hear that a lot in rock music,” quips Butler. The song garnered significant airplay in the all-important U.S. market.
That surprised Butler.
“Love My Way'” was the first single that started to make waves for us in America. It was our break-out moment. But we were sure “Only You and I” would be the one that took off. It must have been the marimbas,” he chuckles.
“When we first started out, we were all babies playing our instruments. Everybody was fighting to be heard, so it sounds like a wall of melody, which some later called ‘beautiful chaos.’ As we got better, the sound became smoother, more complex and refined,” he says.
Butler, who’s been in America since 1982 and now lives in rural Kentucky after years as a Manhattanite
He thinks the Sex Pistols revolutionized the music industry by “giving it a much-needed kick in the butt.” He says the Pistols fought against the staid commercialism and all-controlling muscle of record companies and radio stations of the time. The world’s youth, he says, were ready for something new. And he’s proud of how the Furs contributed to that milieu.
“The Pistols were revolutionary, which feeds into the nostalgia people have about the ‘80s. They identify with that change. Our popularity came from the fact that we helped bridge the gap between punk and alternative. It’s unfortunate we had bad record company representation back then, but, in the end, we had some hits and influenced a lot of ‘80s bands. That’s satisfying.”
Butler’s not only proud of the Furs’ longevity, but also that he and his brother have remained tight-knit, especially in a business that can be brutal on siblings – just consider The Kinks and Oasis.
“I just can’t understand that, really. We’ve had our fights over the years, mainly when we used to party a lot in the early days, but now, five minutes later, we’re best friends again. We both realize each of us has an important part in the band’s sound,” Butler says.
Things are picking up for the modern Furs.
They have a new album in the works and later this summer will play with The Church and The B52s for a series of shows at LA’s famed Hollywood Bowl (where they opened for The Killers earlier this year, and played an encore together of “Pretty in Pink”).
At the end of the day, Butler says he’s just happy to still be playing music with his band.
“Our band today is raw and rocking. We got away from that over-polished sound we had in the late ‘80s, when we recorded “Midnight to Midnight.” We took our eyes off the prize and steered far away from where we originally came from. I think it’s the best we’ve ever sounded from a musicianship and energy level. This is not a retro Furs, it’s a new, modernized Furs.”
If you go:
The Psychedelic Furs at the Tally Ho Theatre, 19 W. Market St., Leesburg
Tuesday, June 2
Door open 8 p.m.
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