INXS – Need You Tonight. Dragging myself back to the eighties after a haircut.
Sitting in the park this afternoon with my little family, there were a few other parents with young children around. Sharing the bench with us was a dad with shoulder length, wavy dark hair. I thought this reminds me of Michael Hutchence, who had great hair – hair I wanted to have – byronic locks. As a goth, I was as attracted to the romantic poets as to the post new romantic music scene, so there was a strong appeal, even if the music of INXS didn’t exactly ‘fit’.
I think I first came across him in the film ‘Dogs In Space’ – released in 1986. At the time I was living in Brussels, the first year after school in a provincial English town and enjoying my new-found freedom by seeing pretty much every film in the many English-language cinemas across the Belgium capital. This was one of a series of rebellious cool films like Down By Law, Sid and Nancy, Rumblefish, The Color of Money that gave me a good feeling about being a teenager in the eighties. Set in a Melbourne squat, it was chaotic and rowdy and Hutchence looked so good in it.
Need You Tonight was released the following year, when I was retaking A levels to get into university. I think I must have been up at Oxford, at a crammer, doing extra studying when I heard it on a jukebox in a pub. It may sound quite conventional now, but at the time, the mi of rock and dance seemed quite exotic. At night, I wandered the deserted back alleys of the city, on a kind of goth/Brideshead/Jude the Obscure drunken trip, getting caught up in the fantastical architecture lit up by the sodium haze of the street lights. I may be imagining it, but this punchy, dynamically rhythm guitar grooved song may have been ringing in the back of my head as I looked up at the walls of the fabled colleges I would never formally study in.
The contrast between slinky, breathy half-whispers, smooth crooning at times in call and response with full voiced singing balances precariously on a delicious mix of different guitar moods – constant background notes, distinct rhythmic ringing strums and dominant strokes of the main riff that strike through the song – and pattering drum beats. And the pauses in the song seem as deft in their marking out the different layers of sound as a skateboard poised on the edge of a skatebowl before descending to the bottom for another exhilarating rush of sound.
The bass is almost imperceptible in this song, but listening carefully, I can feel it, adding to the syncopation of the rhythm guitars – unobtrusive, but there – allowing the other instruments to take the foreground and enabling a lightness and airiness in the song.
It’s a narcissistic beauty of a song, which winks an eye and beckons a finger at the listener with a saucy self-satisfied grin. Naughty but nice, I still fall for its charms some thirty years later after first hearing it and wanting to be Michael Hutchence, though I think I have other role models now…