I Ran (So Far Away)
July 22, 2013
Todd plays "I Ran (So Far Away)" on the piano
A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS - I RAN (SO FAR AWAY)
A one-hit wonder retrospective
Todd: I-I do try to space out the '80s New Wave bands I cover on One Hit Wonderland, but going more than a few episodes without covering at least one of them feels wrong. I've got...
- Various clips of New Wave band songs as the opening of "I Ran (So Far Away)" plays in the background. Montage includes The Buggles - "Video Killed the Radio Star", Falco - "Rock Me Amadeus", Gary Numan - "Cars", Kajagoogoo - "Too Shy", Nena - "99 Luftballoons", and The Vapors - "Turning Japanese"
Todd (VO): ...a long list to get through. A long, long list.
Todd: So I feel like I should get to work on that. And today?
- Clip from Pulp Fiction
- Jules (Samuel L. Jackson): You, Flock of Seagulls...
- Video for "I Ran (So Far Away)"
Todd(VO): A Flock of Seagulls! Not the Flock of Seagulls, just A Flock of Seagulls!
Todd: A band largely known for two things.
- Michael "Mike" Score: And I ran
- I ran so far away
Todd (VO): One of them is "I Ran", the MTV-powered Top 10 smash that was a big, major hit at the dawn of the '80s. The other is their lead singer's unmatchably, legendarily ridiculous hairdo, one that has to be considered as the outright [picture of band] stupidest hairstyle of the '80s, and it's not like the 80s was short of [picture of woman with ridiculous hairdo] competition for that title.
Todd: I mean, look at it. It's some kind of [picture of Mike] combination of...it's...it's like [corresponding pictures of...] part mullet, part emo-fringe, part pointy-haired boss from Dilbert.
Todd (VO): Underneath that horrible styling-gel-and-chainsaw accident was an actual band, not that you would know. Lead singer Mike Score has always lamented how the hairstyle has overshadowed the music.
Todd: Which...[picture of Mike] ...you should not need Captain Hindsight to point out how this happened, dude.
Todd (VO): Pretty much everything about this band—its sound, its look, its name—signifies pretty much everything iconic, for good or for bad, about the early 80s. And yet, they never seemed to get their fair due. Who were they? What were they about? Why did they end up running so far away afterwards?
Todd: Well, let's find out.
- Mike: I couldn't get away
Before the hit
- Pictures of band and Mike Score by himself
Todd (VO): A Flock of Seagulls was started in 1979 by lead singer and eventually lead synth player Mike Score as a side hobby away from his day job as...
Todd: ...hold on, this is amazing, you'll never guess...
Todd (VO): ...a hairdresser. Apparently, he designed that monstrosity himself. [Clip of live performance] Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was the '80s, everyone had big hair, I know, whatever. It looks really dumb, I'm not gonna bend on this. Now, Flock of Seagulls was from [clip from Rock Family Trees] Liverpool, a city which apparently brought forth some...
Todd: ...middlingly successful bands in the '60s.
- Clip from The Ed Sullivan Show
- The Beatles: She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
- She loves...
Todd: And that's mostly what it's known for in the music world. But Liverpool also produced a pretty serious...
- Clips of various bands
Todd (VO): ...post-punk scene in the very late '70s and early '80s. Now unlike most of the English New Wave scene, the Liverpool scene has two major characteristics—1., they mostly favored guitars over synthesizers; and 2., they had a cavalcade of just the [posters for Echo and the Bunnymen, OMD, and The Mighty Wah!] stupidest band names that have ever existed.
Todd: A Flock of Seagulls fits firmly into both those categories.
- Live performance
Todd (VO): First of all, they did, in fact, mostly favor guitar. I mean, they're a synth band technically, but not by very much. Most of what's going on in "I Ran" is guitar, [clip of video] 'cause the lead singer Mike Score isn't exactly working very hard on those keys. Yeah...not exactly Chopin-level keyboarding there. And yes, they did have a pretty dumb band name, if only because a large group of seagulls is [single cover of "Modern Love Is Automatic"/"Telecommunication"] called a colony, not a flock. The name comes from lead singer Mike Score having just read [cover of...] Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and then right afterward, hearing a random lyric from a punk song.
- Clip of The Stranglers - "Toiler on the Sea"
- Hugh Cornwell: Pointed the way to a flock
- A flock of seagulls!
- A flock of seagulls!
Todd (VO): And yet, oddly enough, Flock of Seagulls are not really considered a major part of the Liverpool scene because, and get this, they were never much of a thing in England. I...I'm used to these British one-hit wonders being at least mid-level big deals in their home countries, but n-no. Flock of Seagulls are much better remembered in America, where they were touring fairly extensively in advance of their first album. Their first couple singles weren't hits, but they were pretty big in the dance club scene, so they were already poised to make a breakthrough when their label told them to put on something nice because, that afternoon, they were going to shoot a...
Todd: [with air quotes] ..."music video." I just love how blindsided everyone was by MTV.
The big hit
Todd: [music begins in background] Now me, personally, I prefer the long version of "I Ran", which starts with, like, two full minutes of the band warming up. [beat] That's some good buildup.
- Video for "I Ran (So Far Away)"
Todd (VO): "I Ran" got as high as #9 in America, and also did pretty well in Australia off the back of this video, which...
- Mike: I walked along the avenue.
- I never thought I'd meet a...
Todd (VO): Yeah, even for 1982, this is a cheap, crappy video. You can even see the camera in the mirrors.
- Mike: And I ran
Todd (VO): But MTV turned out to work best with bizarre, eye-catching videos with weird imagery. And despite having basically no budget, this video fit the bill. Oddly enough for their only big hit, their career-defining video doesn't appear to feature their image-defining hairdo yet.
- Mike: A beam of light comes shining down on you
Todd (VO): I would call that something more like a blond [picture of...] Edward Scissorhands, really. Now like I said, A Flock of Seagulls were technically a synth band, but their lead instrument was the guitar. And one of the things that makes them unique is that cool guitar sound effect they had. That's a big reason why "I Ran" was one of the few New Wave songs featured on Guitar Hero. [Shot of Guitar Hero game with "I Ran"] What I don't hear many people talking about is what "I Ran" is actually about, mostly because in the 80s, songs didn't really have to be about anything.
Todd: What is he running from, and why?
- Mike: I never thought I'd meet a girl like you
- Meet a girl like you
Todd (VO): He's running from a girl?
Todd:: I figured with hair like that, you wanted them running from you.
Todd (VO): And why couldn't he get away? What's that bit about the aurora borealis?
- Mike: Aurora borealis comes in view
Todd (VO): It turns out, though, that there is a reason for all of this—the lyrics, the video, the hair, everything.
Todd: And that reason is...[picture of History's Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, with "aliens" stamped below him...] aliums!
Todd (VO): Yes, their entire debut album is basically themed around UFOs, and "I Ran" is specifically about an alien abduction.
Todd: [dumbfounded] I...I don't know why this wasn't obvious to me before. I mean...
Todd (VO): ...the spacy guitar, the other-worldly lyrics, the fearful tone. What the hell else could this be about? The whole reason he wears his hair like that is because he's trying to look like a space alien.
Todd: It's Ziggy Stardust for the new wave era. It's brilliant! [beat] Okay, it's not that brilliant.
Todd (VO): 'Cause if you're going for an image that out there, you have to really commit to it, and they hadn't quite yet. It's hard to look other-worldly while wearing khakis. Also, he hadn't developed a persona beyond hair and spastic faces. But nonetheless, musically, I think "I Ran" is a pretty awesome song, and so did most of America. "I Ran" was at the forefront of a bold new era of music. And yet, for the most part, it ended up that Flock of Seagulls ran so far away from success from this point on.
Todd: What happened? Well, let's take a look at what kind of stupid crap A Flock of Seagulls tried to follow it up with!
The failed follow-up
Todd: The follow-up single was called "Space Age Love Song". It is one of my favorite songs of all time.
- Video for "Space Age Love Song"
- Mike: I saw your eyes
Todd (VO): "I Ran" is a good song, "Space Age Love Song" is one of the best songs of the '80s, I stand by that.
- Mike: For a little while
- I was falling in love.
Todd (VO): I'm not even sure I would even call this a failed follow-up, even in popularity terms. It only reached #30, but I still hear it every now and then on the radio or, like, on '80s nights. And not as much as "I Ran" obviously, but certainly much more than some of the...
Todd: ..."big, big" hits of 1982.
- 'Performance of "You Should Hear How She Talks About You" on Solid Gold, captioned with "You know WTF this is? I sure don't."
- Melissa Manchester: You should hear how she talks about you
- You should hear what she says
- Mike: I was falling in love
Todd (VO): I really can't praise this song enough. And "Space Age Love Song" is the perfect title because that's exactly what it sounds like. I can't imagine a better title for it, and I can't imagine a better song with that title. Why didn't this do better?
Todd: Because people are stupid and they were too busy listening to...I don't know, Air Supply or something.
- Mike: Falling in love
Todd: They also scored one more other Top 40 hit.
- Video for "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)"
Todd (VO): One called "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph)", which has its fans.
- Mike: If I had a photograph of you
- Or something to remind me
Todd (VO): I'm not really one of them, I prefer their fast songs better, but this is actually their only big hit in England. Didn't stop them from moving to America a few years later though.
- Mike: It's not the makeup
- And it's not the way that you dance
Todd (VO): Notice that they are keeping strong with the sci-fi theme. They made quite a few videos like that.
- Clip of "Transfer Affection"
- Mike: Tying to transfer affection
Todd (VO): Having watched all of the Flock of Seagulls videography, I can tell you that every single one of them is absolutely amazing.
- Clip of "(It's Not Me) Talking"
- Mike: I made a contact with another world
Todd (VO): A band with that haircut pretty much has to live up to making some prime ridiculous '80s videos, and they were up to the challenge. [Clip of "Nightmares"] Unfortunately, the critical consensus is that Flock of Seagulls had basically one good album and then maybe...two songs worth listening to after that. Even their fans will tell you that you probably shouldn't listen to anything they released after 1984.
Todd: Let's take a look why.
Did they ever do anything else?
- Video for "The More You Live, The More You Love"
Todd (VO): Guitarist Paul Reynolds didn't move with them to America. Instead, he left the band, which, in my opinion, is a big reason why they stopped being good, because he had a pretty distinct sound. Mike Score is the only one who stayed with it; a lot of the other original members dropped out pretty quickly after that, too, and they never really had a hit again. I can tell you why.
Todd: See, Flock of Seagulls is a pretty good index of how much trends can change in just two years.
Todd (VO): Now, you're probably thinking, "What, synth pop was still around through the rest of the '80s, wasn't it?" Well, yes, it was, but it changed in a way that was not particularly amenable to A Flock of Seagulls.
- Live concert of Duran Duran performing "The Reflex"
- Duran Duran: fle-fle-fle-fle-flex
Todd (VO): By that, I mean it got a lot prettier. After 1983, especially after the arrival of Duran Duran, new wave gets a whole lot more attractive and less ridiculous, and that was not good to a band like Flock of Seagulls, who were fundamentally a weird, weird band who trafficked in oblique lyrics and space alien imagery.
Todd: Their entire appeal was built around this. Keep that in mind because this is what they sounded like by 1986.
- Clip of "Who's That Girl (She's Got It)"
- Mike: Who's that lovely girl in the corner
- She's so fine
- Oh how I wish that she was mine
- I want to hold her
- To make her mine
Todd: I don't care what you think of that, that is some hardcore selling out.
- Clip of "Heartbeat Like a Drum"
- Mike: Then I'll have to tell you
- What your kisses mean
Todd (VO): That's basically the end of the story for Flock of Seagulls, just a downward slope of declining fortunes, which we could call the classic arc of the one-hit wonder band. [Clip of live performance of "I Ran"] They didn't release another album 'til 1995, which...pfft. No, if they didn't fit in 1986, they didn't stand a chance in the '90s. [Clip of performance on VH1 Bands Reunited] However, Mike Score does still tour with a rotating cast of musicians. He doesn't have the haircut anymore 'cause he got old and bald, and trying to still have luxurious locks just made him look like [picture of Mike with long hair] Meat Loaf, so he just wears a hat now. And while bands resenting their biggest hits is the cliche, Mike Score's maybe the first guy I've covered on this show who actual does seem openly resentful of his one song. If he could get away with it, he says, he'd stop playing it. But...
Todd: ...of course he can't.
Did they deserve better?
Todd: Maybe not a whole lot better, but...yeah, better.
- Mike: Reached out a hand to touch your face
Todd (VO): Even with the absolute glut of New Wave bands out in the early '80s, I feel like A Flock of Seagulls carved out a sufficiently unique style for themselves. You can tell what makes them stick out from, say, Kajagoogoo. Of course, "Space Age Love Song" also counts pretty highly in their favor. That said, I'm not surprised they burned out so quickly. This was a band designed for 1982 and '83, and pretty much only in '82 and '83. They could not survive outside of those fairly unique conditions. And as it turns out, they didn't have a whole lot of ideas beyond their first album. But despite their one-hit reputation, I feel pretty confident going to bat for them.
Todd: Flock of Seagulls—[gives thumbs up] worthwhile band...stupid hair. Really, really stupid hair. Like, even for an alien. Aliens would know better than that. Okay, I'm done.
Gets up and leaves
- Video ends
Closing tag song: Bowling for Soup - "I Ran"
"I Ran (So Far Away)" is owned by Zomba Productions
This video is owned by me