This year has hit the music world and music fans like me especially hard. And not just a hard punch like my 4-year-old niece punching me in the arm kind of hard. The amount of notable passings of music royalty this year (spanning all genres), unlike any other year to my recollection, has felt more like a repeated punch in the stomach and the head and the heart.
When John Lennon was tragically murdered on December 8, 1980, I was just 13 years old, so my love for John Lennon at nearly 14 was not the same as the love I have for John and his music at nearly 50. As an adult, for me, the first artist whose death really hurt was the loss of Michael Hutchence, the charismatic and gifted lead singer of INXS, who passed away on this date (November 22) in 1997. I was 30 and living in Portland, Maine at the time, and it was less than three months after the high-profile death of Princess Diana. With the Internet still a bit young and not as accessible as it is today, I remember being heavily disappointed that Michael’s death wasn’t being covered as much on television as I thought it should be. I think I saw something on MTV and maybe on the national news that night, but not much else.
Suffering from depression and under the influence of alcohol and drugs, Michael Hutchence sadly took his own life in a hotel room in Sydney at the far-too-young age of 37 (exactly two months shy of his 38th birthday). Five days after his death, his coffin was carried out of St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney, carried by the remaining five members of INXS and his younger brother, Rhett. As his coffin was being carried out of the church, the song which played in the background was “Never Tear Us Apart.”
Earlier that year, INXS released their tenth studio album, ELEGANTLY WASTED. I thought it was the best thing they had done since 1987’s KICK, and I was so excited for the future direction of the band. In 1997, way back in the second year of my (now-20-year-old) little radio show, STUCK IN THE 80s (on WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine), ELEGANTLY WASTED was the first album I played on the show that contained new music by an 80s artist, and I’ve featured new music by 80s artists on my show ever since.
Before Michael died, I had a chance to see INXS in Boston on the ELEGANTLY WASTED tour, which would have been the second time I had seen INXS (the first being at Colby College in Waterville in 1987, just as the momentum for “Need You Tonight” was building). I opted instead to see the band Luna, featuring Galaxie 500 alum (and New Zealand native) Dean Wareham, a decision I don’t regret, because it was a really great show. But, how was I to know…
Released in early August 1988, “Never Tear Us Apart” was the fourth single released worldwide from KICK, the sixth studio album for INXS (released in October 1987). Like the videos for “New Sensation” and “Guns In The Sky,” the video for “Never Tear Us Apart” was filmed throughout the gorgeous city of Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic. I hope to get there one day. The video, directed by Richard Lowenstein (who directed many memorable INXS videos) even had a beautiful extended intro that, to my knowledge, has never made it onto any audio recording.
Just five days after its release, “Never Tear Us Apart” (co-written by Michael Hutchence and keyboardist / primary songwriter Andrew Farriss) debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 86, while the band’s No. 3 U.S. hit, “New Sensation,” was still in the Top 40. “Never Tear Us Apart” found its way to the Top 40 of the Hot 100 by mid-September 1988, and in early November 1988, the lush ballad spent a week at No. 7, becoming the fourth consecutive Top 10 American hit from KICK. It spent a total of 23 weeks on the Hot 100, and departed from the chart in January 1989. “Never Tear Us Apart” also reached No. 5 on BILLBOARD’s Mainstream Rock chart, and No. 28 on BILLBOARD’s then-new Modern Rock chart.
Around the globe, “Never Tear Us Apart” may not have been as big a hit as its three KICK predecessors, but it did reach the Top 10 in Belgium and Holland, No. 18 in Canada, No. 21 in New Zealand, No. 24 in the U.K., and a No. 14 peak in Australia, which changed in 2014 after an Australian miniseries called INXS: NEVER TEAR US APART prompted a return for the single, and it reached a new peak of No. 11.
The song has been covered by the likes of Tom Jones (featuring fellow Sydney recording artist, Natalie Imbruglia), the late, great Joe Cocker, Beck and St. Vincent (which I now have to hear), Carrie Underwood, the Los Angeles Indie Rock singer / songwriter Cary Brothers (you prolly heard several of his songs on my third-favorite TV show, SCRUBS), and a beautiful 2012 cover by English singer / songwriter / actress Paloma Faith, which I was turned on to earlier this year, I think. It reached No. 16 in the U.K. and was certified Silver there.
In 2001, a remixer by the name of Tall Paul (real name Paul Newman; no, not that one) created several remixes using a heavy sample of “Never Tear Us Apart” on a song called “Precious Heart” (named after a line from the song). It reached No. 14 in the U.K. and No. 27 in Australia.
In the years since Michael Hutchence’s passing, many folks have considered “Never Tear Us Apart” to be an anthem-of-sorts for Michael. Well, anthem or not, I can safely say it’s my favorite song off of KICK, and one of my all-time favorite songs from my all-time favorite band. And, 19 years later, what I know is true, is that I still miss you, Michael, wherever you are…