In the 80s, you could hardly turn on the radio without hearing Howard Jones. Hit songs such as Everlasting Love, No One is to Blame, and Things Can Only Get Better filled the ears of every pop-rock radio listener the world over! Jones never had a #1 in the United States, mind you, but he charted ten times in the 80s on Billboard, His biggest hits, No One is to Blame and Things Can Only Get Better, charted at #4 and #5, respectively. So, what happened? Did Howard Jones just disappear at the stroke of midnight on January 1st, 1990? And what is Howard Jones doing now that he’s out of the limelight? Let’s look at the career of Howard Jones.
A Look at the Hits of Howard Jones
in 1983, Howard Jone’s hit the airwaves with his first single, simply titled “New Song.” A new wave flavored, synth-pop number, New Song gave and still gives us a happy feeling while listening. Charting at #3 in his native UK, and spending 20 weeks on the charts, New Song even received a bit of praise from US listeners, charting at #27.
Again, Jones chartered ten times total in the 80s in the US alone, with such songs as What is Love at #33, Life In One Day at #19, and You Know I Love You…Don’t You? at #17. Of course, this was just in the states. Howard Jones had several hits all over the world, especially in the UK where he had 15 hits in the top 100.
Then there were the more memorable hits. My favorite Howard Jones song, Everlasting Love, topped at #12. Everlasting Love transcends Jones’s past of ballads and new wave standards and embraces the power pop-rock of the late 80s. Musically, with a simple drum machine part and a steady synth line during the verses, the focus is on Jones’s vocals and lyrics. Granted, there’s nothing too spectacular about the lyrics and vocals, but they do their job. What is their job? To keep you interested in the hook that comes with the chorus. The lyrics and simple melody of the verses build anticipation, by telling us what the subjects of the song are not looking for. They aren’t looking for a “cuddle in the backseat,” they aren’t just looking for a “pretty face.”
When we get to the chorus, we hear what the subjects are looking for. They’re looking for “an everlasting, precious love.” They’re looking for a “friend and a lover divine.” Sure, they know it’s going to take a while, they know they’re going to have to “wait for it.” But they’re ok if they have to “give it some time.”
The vocals on the chorus hammer the song’s thesis home. We hear multiple vocals, not just one singer. We hear Jones and band all sing, as to say this is the outcry of several voices. Of course, this goes along with the verses which switch focus from a male subject to a female subject in every line. Still, the multiple voices tell us this song is not just about the yearnings of two individuals, this is about the yearnings of hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of people the world over. This chorus tells us it’s ok if we’re looking for Everlasting Love. It tells us don’t lose yeard, you’re not alone.
Things Can Only Get Better
A new wave standard, Things Can Only Get Better is danceable and positive. No wonder it was such a big hit. The meat of the song can be found in the pre-chorus, where we hear some of the most encouraging lyrics ever written: “And do you feel scared, I do / But I won’t stop and falter / And if we threw it all away / Things can only get better. Wow. Just wow. Try to feel bad after listening to those lyrics. To add to the “meatiness” of the pre-chorus, we hear an amazing vocal hook. The lines are sandwiched between each other, with a lower octave, then a higher octave, and a lower octave again. It gives you such a warm, positive feeling.
If the pre-chorus is the meat, we can’t forget that sweet, candy dessert that is the chorus. Yeah, the lyrics consist of the nonwords, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa-oa-oa.” Nothing special, but again, it’s such sweet candy. It pairs so well with the meat of the pre-chorus.
Things Can Only Get Better is just a rainbow sparkly unicorn of a song!
No One Is To Blame
No One is To Blame charted higher than any other Howard Jones song in the 80s. Charting at #4, this song was all over the radio. A standard ballad, I would argue the first verse has the most poetic lyrics ever written by Jones. Consider the following:
You can look at the menu, but you just can’t eat
You can feel the cushion, but you can’t have a seat
You can dip your foot in the pool, but you can’t have a swim
You can feel the punishment, but you can’t commit the sin©1986 WEA / Elektra Records
Four metaphors, all showing discomfort and pain (or at least a lack of relief). This is how Jones delivers the first lyrics to No One is to Blame. The second and third verses continue in this respect, with lines that would fit perfectly in Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.” I have to wonder if Morissette was inspired by No One is to Blame, but I digress.
Musically, the verses and chorus are pretty simple. A soothing tone lulls us into a sense of security. As we hear Jones sing “And you want her, and she wants you,” we get a sense of slow dancing with that special someone during a school dance. It just seems so innocent. I guess that’s what makes And She Wants You so special. Sure, it’s not musically complex, but its combination of innocence and desire describes the feelings of young love so well.
So, what happened to Howard Jones after the 80s?
Howard Jones had one final hit in the US. In 1992, the song Lift Me Up which reached #32 on Billboard. Lift Me Up was certainly a departure from his previous work. Howard Jones sounds like he’s trying to emulate a combination of Steve Winwood and Huey Lewis. Lift Me Up is overly produced and has a lot of competing sounds. While this steam train of sound works for Lift Me Up, we don’t get the same emotional impact as we did with Jones’ earlier songs. Maybe Jones was trying to find his new sound, and just hadn’t quite gotten there. To be certain, Lift Me Up isn’t a bad song. It’s quite catchy. But Lift Me Up is easily forgettable, and honestly, a song I really could have gone my entire life without hearing again.
So what is Howard Jones doing now?
Howard Jones never stopped making music. To date, Jones has released over 30 singles. He hasn’t been afraid to explore other genres. Jones has released an album of piano solos, an acoustic album, and several other albums since the end of his heyday.
However, Jones seems to have gone back to his roots with his latest album. 2019’s Transform is a synthpop pleasure machine! With songs like Beating Mr. Nag, Hero In Your Eyes, and the opening track, The One to Love You, we’re instantly transported back to the 80s. We’re back in the new wave era, and we love every minute of it.
So, what happened to Howard Jones? He never went anywhere. He may have fallen out of fashion for a few decades, but his music of now is every bit as good as it was in the 1980s. So, while jamming to Things Can Only Get Better, make sure to balance it out with a track or two from Transform. Your ears will love the ride!
Be sure to check out Howard Jones and other artists on my most recent playlist: 80s Radio Pop Rock: Classics and More.