Released today in 1987: New Sensation

1229

Mercury INXS9

“Collectors’ edition poster bag versions on 7” and 12” containing full colour doubled sided band poster, also available on ordinary 7” and 12”,” declared the initial press adverts for this eleventh British single from INXS. Mercury were going all-out with merchandising to make sure this time the band had a major hit in the UK, given none of their previous singles had quite made it. In the band’s native Australia their new album Kick (probably the best of their career) had been an immediate hit and there was no reason to think it wouldn’t finally break them in the UK too. But lead single Need You Tonight had continued the pattern in Britain of minor hits, and so this time as well as the formats listed in the advert mentioned, a 7” picture disc, a CD single and a 12” single featuring a previously unreleased alternate mix of New Sensation would also be made available to maximize the opportunity to influence purchasers. It worked: it was their first Top 40 hit here.

Early INXS singles in the UK had been available only on standard 7” and 12” singles in picture sleeves. There had been some creative marketing: the title track of their fifth single I Send A Message inspired the production of a special outer cover shaped like an envelope, with a postcard and information sheets accompanying the standard 7” inside, and all four singles taken from the album Listen Like Thieves were available as limited edition double-packs to attract sales, although this promotional technique had been outlawed (see the earlier article on chart hyping) by the time of Kick’s appearance. But there were all sorts of other techniques used by record companies to make the product look attractive, and during the 1980s most of the commonly available formats were used by Mercury for INXS singles, including:

Variations in size, shape and colour of vinyl
Traditionally, singles were seven inches in diameter, round, and black. But they didn’t have to be. The most common variation was the 12” single (a discussion of which can be found in the earlier article about them), and with the exception of I Send A Message, all INXS singles in the UK from their second release Don’t Change onward were available on that size of record. Rarer but still made by all the major record companies was the 10” single, the first single from INXS appearing on that size being Devil Inside. Their next 10”, Never Tear Us Apart, was also pressed in white vinyl, changing the colour of the disc being a frequently used gimmick. Picture discs (usually a paper image contained within two sides of a transparent vinyl record) were another popular option for making a release stand out on the record racks, and were usually housed in a clear PVC sleeve rather than the usual paper ones. Listen Like Thieves was the first INXS picture disc in the UK, and that also changed the shape of the record itself. It was marketed as a 7” single but was cut into a flag shape. Shaped discs generally had the usual 7” circular playing area, but had been pressed from a larger piece of vinyl which was cut to the desired shaped around it. The shape had to be kept to a maximum of twelve inches wide or the manufacturer risked creating a disc that wouldn’t turn on the purchaser’s record deck.

Paper ephemera
Originally, singles came in plain, die-cut sleeves or paper bags with the issuing record company’s logos on them. Occasionally, advertisements for other products might appear on the bags. But by the 1980s it was usual for singles to come in a picture sleeve with photos of the act concerned on the front, and maybe the lyrics of the lead track on the reverse. There were a number of variations possible with the record’s sleeve. Some sleeves were printed on large pieces of paper designed to fold into a bag for the record, but when unfolded were poster-sized and revealed a large image of the artist. As indicated at the top of this article, New Sensation used poster sleeves for limited editions of its 7” and 12” versions. The re-issue of Need You Tonight in 1988 came in a special ‘magic pack’ which unfolded to reveal images of all the band members. Another type of sleeve was the gatefold, which opened up book-style. Usually printed for practical purposes (double albums where there were two discs to house), INXS used one for aesthetic reasons on a limited edition of the 12” of Never Tear Us Apart. Other paper goods used for INXS releases were cards and stickers (inserted in the pack for the Mystify single) and postcards (Devil Inside, and the previously mentioned I Send A Message).

Other sound carrying media
The 8-track cartridge was obsolete by the time Kick was released, but cassettes were popular with music buyers at that time and compact discs were growing in popularity. It was the latter format that Mercury favoured for INXS, with all the singles from Kick being made available on CD. Initially, most record companies used the 3” CD format for singles on compact disc, reserving the standard 5” disc for albums. Difficulty with playing the smaller discs made them unpopular with consumers (most people had to clip them inside an adaptor to play them, and the adaptors sometimes jammed in the players), and in any case they were unattractive, cover art having to be reduced to in size and losing all its impact. INXS’s CD singles were the 5” ones. The last three INXS singles of the 1980s were also issued on the CDV (compact disc video) format. These held audio content and could be played like a compact disc, but could also hold five minutes of video content. This was ideal for including all the sound media from the regular CD, plus the promotional clip filmed for the single. CDVs never took off though, as most people didn’t have the hardware to play them and weren’t about to pay the prohibitive price to get it. As for cassettes: INXS did not issue cassingles in Britain during the 1980s. One was manufactured, for the What You Need single, but this was given away free with the 7”.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 29
1980
DEPARTMENT S Is Vic There? (Demon D1003)
1986
DEAD OR ALIVE (Pete Burns) Something In My House (Epic BURNS1)
BANGLES Walking Down Your Street (CBS BANGS1)
1987
Kylie MINOGUE I Should Be So Lucky (PWL PWL8)
INXS (Michael Hutchence) New Sensation (Mercury INXS9)

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Released today in 1989: Way Of The World

Mercury MXQ1

Mercury MXQ1

September 18th was the date both of Michael Hutchence’s bands were launched in the UK. In 1981, the first British INXS single was released; eight years later, the debut Max Q 7” was issued.

Max Q was short-lived project than INXS and involved Hutchence writing songs with Ollie Olsen, a post-punk band member and producer. Prior to Max Q Hutchence and Olsen had both worked on the soundtrack to the 1986 Australian movie ‘Dogs In Space’, in which Hutchence had appeared. Set in Melbourne’s experimental ‘Little Band’ era in the late 1970s, in the film Hutchence plays Sam, the drug-addicted frontman of the fictitious band the movie is named after. The soundtrack album became hard to come by as it had a very limited release on CD and company responsible folded not long after.

Hutchence fronted Max Q and sang lead, backed by other contacts of Olsen’s from the real-life Melbourne post-punk scene.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Sep. 18
1981
The ASSOCIATES A (Fiction FICS13)
Billy IDOL Mony Mony (Chrysalis CHS2543)
INXS (Michael Hutchence) Just Keep Walking (RCA RCA89)
MADNESS Shut Up (Stiff BUY126)
The POLICE Invisible Sun (A&M AMS8164)
SPARKS Funny Face (Why-Fi WHY4)
TOYAH Thunder In The Mountains (Safari SAFE38)
1989
Kate BUSH The Sensual World (EMI EM102)
Holly JOHNSON Heaven’s Here (MCA MCA1365)
MAX Q (Michael Hutchence) Way of the World (Mercury MXQ1)
Kirsty MacCOLL Innocence (Virgin KMA3)
The PRIMITIVES (Tracy Tracy) Secrets (Lazy PB43173)
WET WET WET Sweet Surrender (Precious Organization JEWEL9)

Released today in 1986: Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain)

Mercury INXS7

Mercury INXS7

From 1980 to 1985 INXS issued around a dozen singles in their native Australia, but only a handful of them saw release here in the UK. None of the British releases made our charts, while in their home country INXS were becoming one of the biggest bands of the decade. They had had three Top 10 hits on the official ‘Kent Music Report’ singles charts there, and a #1 album with 1984’s The Swing. The follow-up to that album, Listen Like Thieves, gave them their second at the end of 1985. It was also their breakthrough album here, although their British record company promoted it differently.

In Australia, INXS were signed with WEA, who launched the album in September 1985 with the release of the first of four singles taken from it, What You Need. It went to #2 and the album went one place better shortly afterwards. Here in the UK, the band’s label Mercury chose to wait until the beginning of 1986 and led with This Time instead, which was the second single in Australia and was in the charts there (on its way to #19) at the time of its UK release. It didn’t quite give them a hit here, as it only made it to #79, but when What You Need was issued as the second single they finally became a hit act in Britain: it reached #51.

Mercury also reversed the order of the third and fourth singles from the album. The title track was the third single in the UK (#46) and the fourth in Australia (#28). Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain) made #15 in Australia when it was released there in March 1986 and #54 here when it appeared in the summer. Meanwhile, Listen Like Thieves the album first charted here in February and returned on two further occasions, the most successful of which would see it reach #48 during the promotion of the Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain) single.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Aug. 18
1986
INXS Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain) (Mercury INXS7)

Released today in 1986: What You Need

Mercury INXS5

Mercury INXS5

Michael Hutchence, representing his band INXS, didn’t appear on the cover of Smash Hits until the latter half of 1989. By then, INXS had been together for over ten years and had released six albums, making them one of the most established acts to make their debut on the cover. The reason for their low profile in Smash Hits was their lack of chart success in Britain, the UK being one of the last major territories to accept the INXS sound. Their first album was released in their native Australia in 1980, and they were successfully broken to the American audience in 1983. But it wasn’t until the release of the single What You Need in 1986 that the band scored a hit here.

It wasn’t that INXS were ignoring the UK, as Hutchence told Record Mirror (23 August 1986): “We want to come back to England as soon as we can. But our commitment around the world is so great, it’s often difficult fitting everywhere in.” Certainly their albums had had different levels of popularity from country to country, requiring them to increase or decrease their promotional activity in each territory as necessary. In the early 80s, they concentrated on their home market, releasing a string of reasonably successful singles including four Top 40 hits from their breakthrough album Shabooh Shoobah (1982). That album was the one used to launch them in America, with lead single The One Thing making #30 on the Billboard Hot 100. But fourth album The Swing yielded several Top 10 singles in Australia, saw them score their first hits in Canada, New Zealand and continental Europe, and heralded the arrival of INXS as a truly international band – all without a hit in the UK. “It used to be traditional for [Australian] bands to go to England but they don’t do it anymore,” Hutchence told Record Mirror in another interview (14 June 1986). “If you thought you’d be OK as far as the critics go, you’d come here and live for as long as it took to get to know the writers. It was the same with people going to Los Angeles. But neither happens on a serious level anymore.”

Hutchence put breaking America down to media like MTV. “We went to America at a time when you didn’t have to play American music or be [fellow Australian] Olivia Newton-John to get played. MTV had taken hold and the radio programming was different. If we’d gone two years earlier we wouldn’t have had a chance.” Such were the changes in the US music scene in the 1980s that it wasn’t necessary for INXS to permanently relocate to the States; they were able to remain resident in Australia as a base but still get their music heard. Fifth album Listen Like Thieves went platinum during the 80s (it was certified double platinum by the RIAA in 1997) and What You Need gave them their first Top 10 hit. Here, the single was one of several from the album that were hits, while falling short of the Top 40 which would have got them played on charts shows on the BBC’s Radio 1 or Top Of The Pops.

An increased presence in the visual media could only have helped promotion, as Hutchence found himself regularly featured in lists of the sexiest men in rock – but this was attention he was keen to deflect. “I’m not a hunk, I don’t look at myself in that way. I’m not obsessed with peering in mirrors,” he said. The marketing department at INXS’s record companies appeared to have been instructed to play this down too: just look at Mercury’s hideous sleeve for What You Need, with an image taken from the garish and unflattering promo video for the song. Not that the packaging was always unattractive. The artwork for their first two albums was stylish and eye-catching, featuring designs inspired by British artists. The cover of 1980’s INXS was an homage to the Noel Coward (1899 – 1973) painting Two Nuns (the nuns are still present in the INXS version but the other figures have been altered), and 1981’s Underneath The Colours used a detail from the lithograph Folk Dance by Cyril Power (1872 – 1951).

NEW SINGLES on sale from Apr. 4
1986
BIG COUNTRY (Stuart Adamson) Look Away (Mercury BIGC1)
INXS (Michael Hutchence) What You Need (Mercury INXS5)