In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re talking about songs we loved from our first favorite bands.
INXS, “Never Tear Us Apart” (1988)
Everyone who came of age when music videos were still in heavy rotation on MTV has a story of some band they fell in love with on first sight. My story is the opposite: I was totally put off by INXS the first time I ever saw the clip for “Need You Tonight,” in which Michael Hutchence—at the zenith of his ’80s Jim Morrison magnetism—works the camera bare-chested under a leather jacket, a giant “SEX” pin on his lapel. I was all of 10 years old the first time I saw that video, and while I’d recently experienced some confusing stirrings around Elisabeth Shue in Cocktail, sex was not especially on my mind. As it was, I felt “Need You Tonight” lacked the emotional depth that I had come to demand as a discerning, 10-year-old pop music listener, after years of being weaned on Phil Collins and Tears For Fears.
So naturally, I fell hard for “Never Tear Us Apart,” the band’s fourth single from the blockbuster album Kick, and the first to break through my stubborn sixth-grader’s belief that INXS were only capable of dance-floor fluff. They were also capable of deliciously overwrought ’80s melodrama. “Never Tear Us Apart” is the balcony serenade to the booty call of “Need You Tonight,” with Hutchence pledging his undying love over a rose petal-strewn bed of synths and cellos. In the video he wanders lonely along the foggy banks of Prague bundled in a coat and gloves, and the only thing he’s baring is his heart. As a serious boy whose understanding of love was primarily based in romantic movies and aching synth-pop, this I got.
Hutchence doesn’t need a lot of fancy words to say why he loves you. He was standing; you were there. Two worlds collided, so boom, you’re in love. He doesn’t even need to sound like he’s not a crazy serial killer. If he hurts you, he’ll “make wine from your tears”—but only because he loves you, baby. It’s all in the way Hutchence delivers these lines, his breathy howl cascading upward on “Don’t know why-y-y-y,” like those people with wings he was confusingly singing about. And just as the song has reached peak simmer, there’s Kirk Pengilly’s saxophone to deliver the final orgasmic wail.
By the time I saw the “Never Tear Us Apart” video in the fall of 1988, I’d already become caught up in my first-ever relationship drama—having unknowingly spurned the nice, quiet girl who nursed a crush on me, taken up with the popular girl who’d made the first romantic overture I’d ever experienced, then realized far too late that I’d chosen poorly, after said popular girl dumped me for my best friend—on Valentine’s Day, no less.
Oh how “Never Tear Us Apart” spoke to me then, as I longed for that nice girl I’d scorned! Oh how I wandered my own foggy banks of Prague (the creek near my house) forever wondering what might have been! Our two worlds had collided—she was there!—but I had hurt her, and certainly I would never make wine from her tears! She wouldn’t even sit next to me at lunch. Night after night, I pledged they’d never tear us apart. But then we went to separate junior highs*.
Oh well. Our young love story was over, but the one between INXS and I had just begun. I became obsessed with the band somewhat backwards, liking its waltzing ballad and its swinging follow-up, “Mystify,” more than those earlier breakthrough singles, but later gaining a new appreciation for “Need You Tonight” and especially “Devil Inside” et al. that led to Kick becoming a constant presence in my boombox. Soon after, INXS became the first band where I’d collected its entire discography—no mean feat for a kid whose only resource was pawing through Sam Goody cassettes in suburban Texas—and my great affection for its songs, and this song in particular, continues to this day. At least that was one relationship that proved un-tear-apart-able.
*Many years later, when we were in our mid-20s—long after that nice girl had drifted in and out of my circle of friends in high school, and we’d all graduated and moved on to different cities and lives—a group of us met up in our hometown bar over the holidays. This song came on the jukebox, and I mentioned how often I’d thought about putting this song on a tape and sending it to her, way back in seventh grade. She said she probably would have fallen in junior-high love with me right then and there. If any heartsick seventh-graders are reading this: Never underestimate the power of “Never Tear Us Apart.”