Released today in 1985: Who Knows What Love Is

Korova KOW41

Korova KOW41

Smash Hits had a scoop for the issue of 6-19 December 1984. “The Band Aid Single: We Were There!” the magazine announced, and sure enough a detailed article including an account of the events leading up to the release and a behind-the-scenes look at the day the track was recorded was inside, along with the lyrics to the song and a donation of advertising space for a full-page press ad. But the super-group who performed the biggest selling single of the decade, which had been released in the same week that this issue of Smash Hits hit the newsstands, was not pictured on the cover: Strawberry Switchblade appeared instead. Do They Know It’s Christmas? remains one of the most talked about singles ever released in the UK, and If You Were There you’ll remember the excitement that it caused at the time and for the whole of the next year – it was back in the Top 10 in December 1985. In contrast, by that time Strawberry Switchblade had already released their last single in the UK and were on the brink of splitting up.

Rose McDowall and Jill Bryson were perfect for Smash Hits. First of all they looked the part: they were all ribbons and bows, costume jewellery and bold make-up, big hair and flouncy skirts, lace and polka dots. They looked as good in black and white as they did colour – so they could be put on any page of the magazine and still catch the eye. Then there were the interviews: opinionated, funny, self-deprecating. An example from that fortnight’s issue was:

What are the main differences between you?
Rose
: Red and black hair. And you can hear Jill’s brain rattling when she walks.
Jill: What a bitch. Well, she wobbles all the time. She can’t keep still. I think she must be deeply disturbed – by her ‘rock’n’roll lifestyle’ or something cosmic like that.

As for the music, they occupied the space in the New Wave market recently vacated by the by-then defunct Altered Images; their big hit, Since Yesterday, sounded very much like something Clare Grogan might have sung. The difference was the strong vocal harmonies and the punkier image. The liner notes accompanying the sampler for their debut (and, as fate would have it, only) album probably said it all: “Strawberry Switchblade, as the name may suggest, are a walking contradiction. Small, frail, yet visually striking, the apparent prettiness of their songs belies the harsh reality of the lyrics. Like Macbeth’s weird sisters, the two seem to have sprung from the dark mists of Celtic faery. Their quiet, haunting ballads are sung in the best harmony voices since The Mamas and the Papas.”

NEW SINGLES on sale from May. 10
1985
STRAWBERRY SWITCHBLADE Who Knows What Love Is (Korova KOW41)
The TEARDROP EXPLODES (Julian Cope) Reward (Mercury TEAR9)

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