David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 33: A Flock Of Seagulls (Wishing)

May 29, 2020

In working my way through this year of songs, I sometimes hear a song and know I want to write about it, but I can't find a good angle.  I am tempted to set it aside. Then, occasionally, I realize: that's the bloody point.

I so appreciate a good parenthetical thought. Any frequent reader probably knows that about me, even when I disguise the parenthetical thought with commas or an end-dash. The parentheses are a handy way to present an aside, an afterthought, or to clarify a point (I tend to prefer the former). See, there I go again. Popular music has had its far share of parenthetical elements in titles. I am sure many of them come with little thought, even if meant to convey an afterthought. No one expects a song-writer to clarify what their parenthetical thought is meant to clarify. We just hope a song-writer is judicious in their usage.

For instance, take A Flock Of Seagulls. I remember this 80's band by their parenthetical titles. Most people remember them by their hair. They gained debut success with their initial hit, making the Top 10, "I Ran (So Far Away)."  Lead singer Mike Score tells us many times that he ran so far away, but as often he tells us that he ran both night and day. You tell me, what seems the better clarification: running so far away or running night and day? I'd argue the latter, as the act of running (not that I would really know) primarily takes you far away, but to be running both night and day, that is obsession (I am looking at you, a certain colleague now resting on a presidential perch somewhere).

"I Ran (So Far Away)" was a murky sounding pop hit in a year dominated by a lot of crisply produced songs, like Olivia Newton-John's "Physical," The J. Geils Band's "Centerfold" and Joan Jett And The Blackhearts' "I Love Rock And Roll."  Maybe that is why I can't care that much about how far he ran.  Even among the "new wave" artists on the charts that year, Human League, The Cars, Tommy Tutone, and The Go-Go's, A Flock Of Seagulls seem like an afterthought.

When A Flock Of Seagulls released their second album, they kicked it off with a breath-taking single, replete with yet another parenthetical. "Wishing" (If I Had A Photograph Of You)" should have moved the band from afterthought to independent entity, thus cementing the band's legacy, Sadly, it didn't seem to. The song reached the Top 30 and stalled. The band would end up with one more very minor hit out of their last three albums. 

For me, "Wishing (If I Had A Photograph of You)" is the superior song to "I Ran (So Far Away)" or even "Space Age Love Song," their minor hit in between these songs. It actually did do a little better than "Space Age Love Song" on the charts (not that I would have ever believed that going by memory) but at #26, it was a far cry from "I Ran." "Wishing" is as danceable a song as one can find from New Wave at the time, and it is unfathomable to me that it didn't do better. What hurt it? The five and a half-minute running time, the fact that the gimmick of the band's look had worn off, or the fact that the album it is off of, ironically named Listen, is at times unlistenable?  Look, I try to be charitable in this series, but I just can't sit through "Electrics," "Over The Border" or "2:30" without falling asleep. After "Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)" only "(It's Not Me) Talking" has much staying power.

However, there we are again with the parentheses. What's the story? "(It's Not Me) Talking" seems to share the same burden as "I Ran (So Far Away)."  I guess you are trying to clarify boys and gulls, but really you are either talking or not talking. No real new information.  "Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)" offers so much more. Does the parentheses contain an aside? No, that doesn't quite work. That might be "Wishing (What Happened To That Photograph Of You)". They don't contain an afterthought. That would be "Wishing (Too Bad I Didn't Have A Camera Back Then)." And it doesn't quite contain clarification. That would be "Wishing (I Had A Photograph Of You)." Dang it, boys and gulls, wishing is already the "if." Get right to it!

The truth of the matter is that "If I had a photograph of you" kicks off the chorus and "I wouldn't spend my life just wishing" ends the chorus. Reverse the order. The parentheses contain the most important information, put the "wishing" in as an afterthought!

Reversing the order speaks to what should have been poetic justice for "A Flock Of Seagulls."  Give us "Wishing" first, then "I Ran" (who knew I would get tired of parentheticals). The production of "Wishing" makes for a crisper song than "I Ran," the hook provided by synth, guitar and electronic drums is much more engaging, and Mike Score's vocals are sharper. "Wishing" explodes out of the speakers in ways "I Ran" or "Space Age Love Song" never could. The synth and drum kit dare you not to pay attention, leaving the guitar to run through the background, especially when given its chance to solo.

Even the lyrics seem more playful than the early two hits. What other band than A Flock Of Seagulls could present the lines "it's not the way you have your hair/it's not that certain style" with tongue firmly in cheek. Later, "it's not the makeup" that makes Score wish for a photograph. Hmm, take away hair, makeup and style . . .  "there must be something more" to these guys. "Wishing" showed they had a helluva lot more, at least for one song.

Of course, given my hair since my last haircut, A Flock Of Seagulls' look might be the way we all wear our hair. I am almost to the Mike Score look:

"Wishing." A Flock Of Seagulls. Listen. Zomba. 1983. Link here.

Day 32: World Party "Is It Like Today."

Day 34: Creedence Clearwater Revival "Fortunate Son."

See complete list here.