On June 15, 2014, Casey Kasem, host of the longtime countdown program, AMERICAN TOP 40, passed away at the age of 82. From my first blog post (and prolly some more inbetween then and now), I explained how, in 1979, I was a geeky, lanky and somewhat lost 12-year-old living in Central Maine, had a few friends and not a lot of interest in much of anything, but at some point early that year, I discovered AMERICAN TOP 40, and was glued to it every weekend. Not only could I hear the 40 biggest songs in the country every week, but also Casey’s cool trivia and facts about the songs and the artists, a trait I treasure to this day. For me, the show was No. 1 with a bullet. And still is (thanks to the re-airing of broadcasts of AT40 on iHeart Radio).
In honor of my radio hero, Casey Kasem, for the entire month of June, I will be highlighting a song each day (some days will have two songs!) that peaked in the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (including five (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s), and with every blog post, just like on AMERICAN TOP 40, the hits will get bigger with each post. On June 1, 2017, I featured a song that peaked at No. 40. On June 30, I’ll feature a “song of the day” that went all the way to No. 1.
As Casey used to say on AT40, “And on we go!”
Between late 1979 and the end of 1989, there were nearly 500 (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s that reached the BILLBOARD Hot 100 just one time, a list that includes Soft Cell, Gary Numan, Timbuk 3, The Church, Bronski Beat, Nik Kershaw, The Buggles, The Waitresses, Ultravox and two different bands named The Silencers. Once a week, I’ll highlight a (real) one-hit wonder for you.
More than 100 (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s reached the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 between 1979 and 1989, and in this month-long tribute to Casey Kasem, I’ll feature five of them. Out of the 100-plus (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s that reached the Top 40, eight of them peaked at No. 37. One of them was The Icicle Works, a three-man New Wave / Alt-Rock band based out of Liverpool, England named after a 1960 short story called “The Day The Icicle Works Closed” by the late sci-fi author from New York City, Frederik Pohl.
The Icicle Works, formed in 1980 and then-comprised of singer / songwriter / guitarist / keyboardist / lead vocalist Ian MacNabb, bassist / backing vocalist Chris Layhe, and drummer Chris Sharrock. In 1981, they released an independently-released EP called ASCENDING, and a single from that EP, “Nirvana,” reached the Top 15 on the U.K. Indie charts.
A year later, the band was picked up by one of my favorite labels, Beggars Banquet, and in June 1983, on a subsidiary label of Beggars (Situation Two), the single, “Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)” was released. It cracked the U.K. singles chart and peaked at No. 90, but reached No. 2 on the U.K. Indie chart. The Icicle Works fared much better with their next single, “Love Is A Wonderful Colour,” which reached No. 15 on the U.K. singles chart.
With the success of “Love Is A Wonderful Colour,” The Icicle Works released their eponymous debut album in late March 1984. This album contained ten songs, including “Nirvana,” “Love Is A Wonderful Colour” and “Birds Fly,” which was re-issued with a new cover, and as a double-A side with the song, “In The Cauldron Of Love,” and the reissue climbed higher on the U.K. singles chart than the original, peaking at No. 53.
Over here in the U.S., the band was picked up by Arista Records, but strangely enough, the cover art and album track listing for the U.K., U.S. and Canadian versions were all different.
As for “Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream),” Arista refused to release the single unless in the U.S. and Canada until the title was flipped to “Whisper To A Scream (Birds Fly),” and the brief spoken-word part in the intro (by a woman only known as “Mariella” on the original U.K. single) was removed in the U.S., but kept on the Canadian version (confused yet?). So, “Birds Fly” was now “Whisper To A Scream” and slightly remixed. Oh, and one more thing – in the U.S., The Icicle Works were now known as just Icicle Works. Silly record labels.
But, silly or not, the changes paid off somewhat here in the U.S. and Canada. A month after the album was released, “Whisper To A Scream” debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 85, right behind debuting singles by fellow Brits Howard Jones and Shakin’ Stevens, and ahead of London New Wavers, Wang Chung. Yepper, the Second British Invasion was well under way on the Hot 100.
I was in the last months of my Junior year in high school here in Central Maine when I first heart “Whisper To A Scream,” and fell in love with it right away. I was instantly drawn to the melody, the quick and powerful drums of Chris Sharrock, and the song’s strong lyrics:
“We are, we are, we are but your children / Finding our way around indecision / We are, we are, we are ever helpless / Take us forever, a whisper to a scream…”
By the end of May 1984, “Whisper To A Scream” reached the Top 40 at No. 40. A couple of weeks later, it spent the first of its two weeks at its peak position of No. 37. It stayed on the Hot 100 for 12 weeks, and Icicle Works wouldn’t grace the chart again. I am not sure if it’s because the Canadian version was the same as the U.K. original (with the female spoken-word part in the intro), but it fared better there, reaching No. 21.
Though “Whisper To A Scream” was the only success The Icicle Works had here in America, they continued to have moderate success in the U.K., charting 12 songs on the U.K. singles chart between 1984 and 1990.
After some lineup changes in 1988 and a 15-year break between 1991 and 2006, The Icicle Works are still around in 2017, with founding member Ian MacNabb leading a four-man version of the band today (when he’s not working on any solo projects), playing a handful of U.K. shows every year or so.
Though I mostly lost track of The Icicle Works after 1984 (save for their 1986 single, “Understanding Jane,” and their 1988 album, BLIND), I’ll always treasure their one and only hit here in America, in whatever version I can take it…