Many of the great early 80s pop bands either received acclaim at the time or have been deservedly re-evaluated since. It’s fair to say we’re still waiting on the day that Altered Images are identified as one of the finest bands of that era.
Formed in 1979, the band put out their first single — the thrilling and unsettling, ‘Dead Pop Stars’ at the beginning of 1981. Lead singer, Clare Grogan was on the verge of fame thanks to her cameo in the charming Bill Forsyth comedy, Gregory’s Girl. It was their ridiculously infectious single, ‘Happy Birthday’ that made the band regulars on TOTP. The single was so big it threatened to overshadow the rest of their excellent debut album which is full of off-kilter spiky Siouxsie & The Banshees inspired new wave.
For their second album, ‘Pinky Blue’ they smoothed out the rough edges a bit more and came up with another batch of wonderful singles (although not releasing, ‘Think That It Might’ as a single was a rare misstep for the band). ‘I Could Be Happy’ and ‘See Those Eyes’ were big enough hits for them to just about lose the one hit wonder tag and neatly transition to the sleek pop of their final album.
After the modest success of the Pinky Blue album, the band regrouped and made their masterpiece, 1983’s Bite. Partly produced by Mike Chapman and Tony Visconti, the label had high hopes for this glossy pop record. Over eight tracks, the band refined their sound with their classiest set of songs (opener, the Bond-goes-disco of ‘Bring Me Closer’ glistens brightly and does not sound like a single that limped to number 46).
Bite’s first single, ‘Don’t Talk To Me About Love’ is the band’s most remarkable single. The Moroder-esque synths in the intro lead into an elegant mix of lush disco strings and Chic inspired disco licks as Grogan coos, “they exchanged a look, an hour later her voice shook”. The call response chorus is beautifully designed as she warns, “don’t talk to me about love. She backs herself with the snappy refrain, “yesterday’s shatter, tomorrows don’t matter” repeated in the background. The all-too-brief guitar solo lands as a fizzy rush. A hint of feedback follows as a warning to one last big build up to the last chorus which is a victory lap. As the chorus spins round a few more times Grogan ad-libs, “be that good, it couldn’t be that good, although they said it would, just couldn’t be that good”. Another gorgeous layer of jangling guitars joins in. It really could be that good.
‘Don’t Talk To Me About Love’ is a single that still stands out on those TOTP repeats almost 40 years on. It showcases what a star Clare Grogan was and how underrated the band were as musicians. It’s a tightly crafted song with crystal clear production that’s the perfect balance of euphoria with a slightly sad undertone. A song that has been on almost every single mixtape/playlist/CD I’ve ever put together.
With plenty of songs this illuminating (‘I Don’t Want To Know’ from this same era didn’t even make the album and is better than most bands A-sides), Altered Images should have been one of the most beloved and successful bands of their era. Mike Chapman was brought in to produce the album Bite based on the magic he created with Blondie. Bite should be regarded as their Parallel Lines (critically and commercially) and ‘Don’t Talk To Me About Love’, their ‘Heart Of Glass’.