Love & Keytars – Howard Jones
One of the most unique artists to conquer America during the second British Invasion, Howard Jones always set himself a little apart at the time even if I didn’t quite understand why as an awestruck 12 year old. In October, 1985, my dad took me to Miami, FL to see Howard Jones, only my second concert, and the experience is one that has always stayed with me. For whatever reason, little moments from the show burned themselves into my memory such as him briefly stopping during “No One Is To Blame” to reach for the summit “that you just can’t reach.” Unlike the larger than life pop stars on MTV, HoJo always felt a little more down to earth and today, on his 63rd birthday, I don’t think that has changed one bit.
Currently playing a slew of sold-out shows on his solo acoustic tour, Jones remains one of the most underappreciated songwriters of the 1980s. Not many artists have an arsenal of synth heavy songs that actually work just as well without electricity. His first hit single, “New Song”, was full of bouncy optimism and went against the rising wave of miserableness so finely articulated by The Cure and Joy Division. With apologies to Morrissey, HoJo’s “Assault & Battery”, not The Smiths’ “Meat Is Murder”, was my introduction to music as activism for animal rights. At the time, I was more enthralled by the colorful videos than the lyrical messages but, in the back of my mind, I understood that Jones was writing more serious songs than “I’ll Tumble For Ya” by Culture Club.
After 1989’s Cross That Line, I lost touch with HoJo’s music for over a decade but then it came full circle for me when I met my future wife. Hailing from High Wycombe, UK, she left me speechless when she told me HoJo had been a mainstay in her local music scene and that one night her sister came home ecstatic about this new artist who had played at the pub. My wife’s friend even went around to Jones’ house in town to write an article for the school paper before Jones became a major pop star. Now when I hear the romantic optimism of songs like “Everlasting Love”, I can’t help but think there was some sort of cosmic life-force that made me a fan of Jones as a kid so I could someday bond with my future wife over our shared love of his music.
The current resurgence in 80s nostalgia will wear off soon enough but I don’t expect Howard Jones to change his approach to live performing. Having seen him four times in recent years, he maintains an upbeat, self-deprecating sense of humor about each show with his trademark keytar and flashy clothes. His mastery of technology helped pave the way for electronic artists for the next thirty years but it is the songwriting I remember best. In these turbulent times, an artist with a strong moral compass and an unwavering belief in the power of positivity might be just what music needs. Here is a playlist of some of HoJo’s best music in honor of his birthday!