This article was written by special guest writer, Jim Vilk. Jim loyally Returns to the ’80s every day, and we correspond frequently. I have always loved Level 42’s “Something About You”. However, like a lot of us, I knew very little else about them. Well, this happens to be Jim’s favorite band, and he pointed to a Mark King bass solo, and I was blown away. My first reaction was that more people need to know about this band! And what better person to write about them than a huge fan. Jim is the author of a children’s book called The Not-So-Great State Bird Debate*. It is a very timely book to get this election year, so I would highly recommend it.
Well, I’ve done enough yapping, so without further adieu, I present Jim Vilk’s article – “One-Hit Wonders? Not Level 42!”
Now that we’ve gotten past 1986 in the One-Hit Wonders series, some of you may be thinking, what about Level 42? After all, if your 80s station is like mine, when you hear their name you just know you’re going to hear “Something About You.”
That song makes me cringe ever so slightly for two reasons. First, I get flashbacks of Mark King’s creepy Vaudeville-ish character in the video (which is very out of character for the humorous, down-to-earth bass player/vocalist). Second, while the song itself is excellent, these days it makes me want to yell at my radio, “They have lots of songs that are even better! Play those for a change!”
From 1979 to 1994, and from 2001 to the present day, Level 42 has been making wonderful music – both live and in the studio. The British jazz-funk band turned into pop music stars over the course of the 80s, with twenty UK Top 40 hits to their credit and two Top 40 hits in America. “Something About You,” the highest-rated track from their sixth studio album World Machine, was released in England in 1985. The following year, it climbed all the way to #7 on the US Billboard charts. Later in 1986, the band released the single “Lessons In Love,” which ended up on the 1987 album Running In The Family. Remember this video?
That song is one of my all-time favorites, and it’s one of the reasons Level 42 is now my favorite band. It went to #12 on the US charts, while across the pond it became the most successful of the band’s singles.
For a glimpse of what most Americans have missed, here is a brief history from the band’s web site,
and here are some of Level 42’s songs from the 80s:
From the early days, when the band recorded the occasional instrumental number, this is “Mr. Pink”:
“Hot Water” was the most successful song on the album True Colours. It ended up on the US version of World Machine as well, and on the live album A Physical Presence. The live version made it to #87 on the Billboard charts.
Yes, they can do ballads, too. My favorite song from the World Machine album (and another one of my all-time favorites), here’s “Leaving Me Now”:
The title track from Running In The Family spent four weeks on the US charts, where it peaked at #83. You might remember this video:
The final studio album of the 80s, Staring At The Sun, was the first after original drummer Phil Gould and his guitar-playing brother Boon left the band. This is “Heaven In My Hands”:
Level 42 toured the US in 1987 as an opening act for Madonna. They wouldn’t return here until 2010, when they visited a handful of cities to celebrate their 30th anniversary and the release of their box set titled Living It Up. I was lucky enough to see them in person both times. Members have come and gone, but two things have remained constant: Mark King, and fantastic live performances highlighted by his thumb-slapping bass solos.
There are so many other videos I’d love to share with you, but you get the idea. Now if only American radio would realize there’s a lot more to Level 42 than “Something About You.”
Here is a description of Jim Vilk’s The Not-So-Great State Bird Debate:
Voting isn’t for the birds, but Great Blue Heron thinks so. He’s running against Cardinal to be the new state bird. Will it be a great blue state, or will it remain a redbird state? And will either bird learn anything while running for office? A fun story for birds of any color and for people of any political party. Whether you’re right-wing or left-wing, you’ll flock to this book!