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Top Spandau Ballet Songs of the '80s

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As one of the most stylish and sophisticated synth pop bands emerging from England's early-'80s New Romantic movement, Spandau Ballet burst onto the scene with an acclaimed debut single and album that marked 1981 in a big way. By the end of the decade, the group had released six full-length albums and enjoyed major success in its native land. American success was certainly less sustained, as in many circles there, Spandau Ballet remains best known as a key one-hit wonder of the period. Nevertheless, here's an in-depth, chronological look at this important '80s band's best songs of the '80s.

1. "To Cut a Long Story Short"

Michael Putland/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Spandau Ballet's debut single introduced the band toward the end of 1980, casting a bit of a Gothic synthesizer glow in so doing. At this point, the group's sound certainly contained a healthy amount of influence derived from the band's earlier punk rock roots, but this song also celebrates the electronic sonic textures pioneered only recently across Europe. Meanwhile, the lead vocals of frontman Tony Hadley take on a powerful vibe supported well by dark, foreboding rhythms and lean production. Vocally, Hadley at times resembles Morrissey of The Smiths, and the band uses this mesmerizing style of crooning to create plenty of intriguing atmosphere.

2. "The Freeze"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Chrysalis
Spandau Ballet's debut 1981 LP, Journeys to Glory, retained strong ties to the band's punk origins and delivered a highly refreshing take on the emerging new wave. The infusion of dance pop elements into this brooding but lively track help lend the album a distinctive maverick sound. Specifically, the engaging contrast between Gary Kemp's alternately biting and funky guitars goes really well with pulsating bass lines and finely textured synthesizers. Like emerging contemporaries including Eurythmics, early Spandau Ballet blazed plenty of new ground for early alternative music and set the stage for the explosion of a superstar band to come called Duran Duran.

3. "True"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Chrysalis
Justifiably iconic and understandably overplayed, this single became one of the most memorable pop tunes of 1983. Even better, it has held up incredibly well in the three decades since its release, gliding beautifully on angelic keyboards and the lovely, breathy lead vocal performance from Hadley. It's so strong, in fact, that the arrangement easily handles the burden of a lengthy saxophone solo, which had a way of becoming the kiss of death for '80s pop singles so often. Other artists have tried to varying degrees of success for the vocal heights reached here by Hadley, but this is the original and best '80s version of romantic unburdening through popular song.

4. "Gold"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Chrysalis
Sort of an elegant companion piece to its smash hit predecessor single, this track from 1983's True smartly spotlights Hadley's earnestly emotive vocals and scores with an appropriately flamboyant arrangement and performance. The darker undertones of Spandau Ballet's early records are entirely gone by now, but there's definitely a place for the clean, jazzy guitar chords from Gary Kemp and the busy but straightforward musical approach on display here. Like this song's title, the band's best music gleams and shimmers, unafraid and fully proud of its own resplendence.

5. "Only When You Leave"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Chrysalis
It's hard to imagine how this bright, accessible single from 1984's Parade could have peaked only at No. 34 on the Billboard pop charts in the wake of the massive U.S. success of "True." After all, Spandau Ballet's fully engaged sophisti-pop sound at this point of its career should have appealed to fans of soft rock, blue-eyed soul and even mainstream rock. Despite its modest American showing, this song achieved massive success across Europe, demonstrating that the band's elegant combination of tasteful guitars, saxophone, soaring vocals and warm melodies certainly reached plenty of '80s music fans in a positive way.

6. "Round and Round"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Chrysalis
Even though its synth opening seems to be inspired by Yazoo's sparkling single "Only You," this track becomes more than distinctive in its own right as it progresses. Credit for this should probably go largely to songwriter Gary Kemp, but Hadley also deserves plenty of praise for his clean and passionate vocal delivery. This is a wonderfully balanced ballad, supported ably by arpeggiated guitars and well-placed keyboard flourishes. Some critics could argue that the touch of soul music influence that finds its way into Spandau Ballet's work is probably not enough to counteract the group's middle-of-the-road arrangements. However, the core pleasure principle of a song like this is pretty much undeniable.

7. "Through the Barricades"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of CBS/Epic
This 1986 track from Spandau Ballet's LP of the same name is a stunner through and through. Inspired by the group's own personal experiences related to the political turmoil in Northern Ireland at the time, this song uplifts in exactly the way its passionate lyrics intended. Musically speaking, Gary Kemp's guitar work stands firmly alone in the arrangement and works symbiotically with Hadley's powerful singing to deliver a powerhouse pop music listening experience. The band's success may have been slightly on the wane before the release of this record, but its earnest strengths helped reverse that trend at least for a while. A deeply sad but tremendously humanistic piece of pop songwriting.

8. "Be Free With Your Love"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of WEA
For some reason Spandau Ballet's final album of its core era, 1989's Heart Like a Sky, wasn't even released in the U.S. Even worse, it failed to have much impact even in the group's native U.K., all but proving that the time for the band's glossy pop had all but passed. Still, that doesn't mean there's not some quality music on this record, namely this spirited tune that again builds on the strengths of the Kemp-Hadley partnership. This particular performance features plenty of conviction in the face of shrinking audiences, and therefore it serves as a fine swan song for an utterly respectable and sometimes remarkable '80s pop career.
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