The 80’s were a strange time. People were adding shoulder pads and synths to everything, whether it made any sense or not, because it was the future, man.
But people were also experimenting with going backwards, and adding horns to songs that may not have not seemed originally to need them.
Here are two instances where they got it right, and one that went oh-so-wrong.
Up top is the version of “Close to Me” that appears on The Cure’s 1985 album The Head on The Door (it was the album’s second single). A fan favorite, songwriter Robert Smith seems to this day sort of bemused by the success of this simple, whimsical pop tune; it was the kind of thing he could probably write in his sleep at that point, with childlike one-fingered keyboard parts.
Which may be why the band decided to add dueling delirious jazzy horns (inspired by New Orleans funeral marches) when they released it as a single:
Ahhhh. See? NOW that track is complete. After hearing that version, the album version always seems unfinished to me.
The road-weary “Can’t Hardly Wait” appears on the Replacements’ 1987 album Pleased to Meet Me. But they had first demoed it during the sessions for 1985’s Tim, with soon-to-be-fired guitarist Bob Stinson (and slightly different lyrics):
When they re-recorded it for album release, Stinson’s wild guitar is slightly missed, but the re-worked lyrics and Memphis-style horns (it was recorded there, with legendary producer Jim Dickinson) really work for me:
Let’s just excerpt some lyrics, ‘cos they are great:
Jesus rides beside me
He never buys any smokes
Hurry up, hurry up, ain’t you had enough of this stuff?:
Ashtray floors, dirty clothes and filthy jokes
Here’s one where it all went wrong.
Galaxie 500’s drummer Damon Krukowski was often credited with a “jazzy” playing style (rhythmic drift, lots of cymbal work):
Which is presumably why some genius thought that adding a bleating saxophone to the gorgeous “Blue Thunder” was a good idea.
It was NOT a good idea, wrecking the gentle narcotic undertow of the song:
At least they had the good sense not to include that squawking abomination on On Fire. You have to get the outtakes or the video collection (or, you know, call up YouTube!) to hear it.
I tried to find the version of R.E.M.’s “Finest Worksong” with the horns (I think it’s decent, but still prefer the Document version I think) but it’s not on YouTube.
The album verion, just ‘cos it’s good:
Also, it’s older, but I have a version of “Bitch” somewhere that doesn’t have the horns (it’s better with the horns, obvs.) that again, I can’t find on YouTube.
But I will put this here anyway, ‘cos HOLY CRAP I wish I’d been there:
What other examples do you have? Put ’em in comments.