Sometimes the clichéd music biz phrase “I don’t hear a single” leads to the record company rejecting an album. Then again, sometimes it leads to an unexpected hit.
Talk Talk formed in London in the early 80s as a synth-poppy, New Romantic, Duran Duran type of group. They had a number of minor hits in their native UK and even cracked the Top 40 in America in 1984 with “It’s My Life,” a song which later became a worldwide radio smash when covered by No Doubt. Like most of their contemporaries, however, the band was eager to shed the style-over-substance image associated with their genre.
In 1985, after two albums of relatively straightforward pop, Talk Talk took a sharp left turn and recorded the much more experimental The Colour Of Spring. It consisted of seven songs, most of which were five to eight minutes long, and—in the time-honored tradition of art versus commerce—the band were nonplussed when told, “Um, this is great and all, but where’s the single?”
Head writers Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene initially resisted pleas to add a commercial track, wanting the record to stand as presented. But they gradually acquiesced and took it as a challenge to write a hit on demand that would still feel at home within the confines of their almost finished album.
In the studio, Friese-Greene played a drum pattern resembling Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” over which Hollis played some Booker T-inspired organ. Long-time Peter Gabriel sideman David Rhodes added the guitar hook and thus was born the psychedelic-soul of “Life’s What You Make It,” an artistic success which also became one of the band’s biggest hits when released in early 1986. It was also one of their last — the band made two more excellent albums of genre-defying, radio-unfriendly music before disbanding in 1992.
Talk Talk – Life’s What You Make It