During the early '80s, the synthesizer certainly became a fast-growing part of mainstream pop music. Among its practitioners during the new wave era, however, English singer-songwriter Howard Jones holds a firm place as a member of the elite. Composer of several classic synth pop hits of the era, Jones explored the capabilities of his signature instrument while always focusing his efforts on strong melodic hooks and specific yet universal lyrical themes. Here's a chronological look at the best Howard Jones songs of the '80s, a solid array of well-crafted, singular pop gems.
Jones immediately became a chart threat in his native U.K., notching two consecutive Top 5 pop hits there in late 1983 prior to the release of his 1984 debut LP Human's Lib. In the U.S. both tracks were less successful, stalling in the lower portion of the Top 40. Still, while lead-off single "New Song" lacked elements of distinction, this follow-up tune displays Jones' first truly memorable melodies. It may serve merely as a precursor to the all-time classics that would soon follow, but this is a song that showcases Jones' gift for vocal exuberance and the promotion of keyboards as dominant instrumental contributors.
Jones seriously amped up the sophistication for this sparkling lead-off single from 1985's Dream Into Action, and his reward was a U.S. Top 5 showing and worldwide success. The addition of horns certainly helps to broaden the artist's sonic palette, but the song's primary gifts squarely stem from the moving hooks Jones employs: "And do you feel scared? - I do - but I won't stop and falter. And if we threw it all away, things can only get better." Aided by the payoff of one of the best "whoa-oh" nonsense choruses of the '80s, the song rises to an unexpected level of effectiveness.
Jones' quick evolution into an artist full of pep seemed to come to fruition with this song, a positively infectious lyrical exploration of the concept of living for the moment. Musically, it manages to be uplifting and soulful in equal measures, complemented particularly well by the backing vocals of British duo Afrodiziak. However, Jones' unique talent for composing undulating melodies in the verses serves him well once again here, and ultimately the whole package takes on the feel of an odd but pleasant fusion of British folk and calypso-laced dance music. As a single, it's really quite the revelation.
This exemplary '80s soft rock classic first emerged in the form of a spare recording on Dream Into Action, but it didn't become a hit until released as a non-LP single in a remixed, increasingly percussive version in March 1986. Undoubtedly Jones' signature masterpiece, the piano ballad veers convincingly into dark romantic territory, chronicling in an ambiguous but affecting way the pain of conflicted mutual attraction. Though ultimately noncommittal as to whether the narrative's characters have actually acted upon their impulses (a fine literary touch), this track is musically straightforward in its lovely, haunting piano melody for the ages. Essential '80s listening.
Jones' final '80s album, 1989's Cross That Line, came up quite short commercially - especially in the U.K. Nevertheless, it contains some substantial charms well beyond its No. 12 U.S. pop single "Everlasting Love." This track, by surprising contrast, effectively makes use of a guitar-oriented rock arrangement to create one of the artist's finest efforts. The intense vocals and muscular instrumental heft of the tune begs favorable comparisons to the best work of Tears for Fears, and in this sense it's an appropriately versatile way for Jones to round out his most successful decade as a major pop/rock artist.