Top Mike + the Mechanics Songs of the '80s

The idea of progressive/arena rock band Genesis during the '80s doesn't always generate a lot of cutting-edge excitement, but there's little doubt the songwriting efforts of two of the group's members (Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins) produced some unforgettable songs of the era. Whether in the music of Genesis, Collins' solo career, or Rutherford's side outfit Mike + the Mechanics, this music was unabashedly mainstream but also full of strong melodies and musical elegance. Employing the skills of versatile powerhouse singers Paul Carrack and Paul Young in the latter group, Rutherford used his namesake act as a showcase for his thoughtful songwriting. Here's a chronological look at the finest Mike + the Mechanics song of the '80s, culled from the group's two highly popular recordings from the decade's latter half.

01
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"Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)"

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Bob King/Redferns/Getty Images
This thought-provoking, genuinely haunting mid-tempo track introduced the world to Mike + the Mechanics, a group doubtlessly led by Rutherford but also flavored significantly by the other four accomplished members. In particular, Carrack's lead vocals here inject plenty of emotional gravity into a simple tale of chaos, oppression and possible impending revolution in an unnamed troubled land. Rutherford and songwriting partner B.A. Robertson prove themselves more than capable of creating ominous atmosphere and a sense of compelling mystery. As lead-off track and single from the group's 1985 self-titled debut, the song became a Top 10 pop radio staple during the late fall of that year. As such, it certainly reigned as one of the most contemplative and evocative mainstream pop/rock tunes of the mid '80s.
02
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"All I Need Is a Miracle"

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Album Cover Image Courtesy of Atlantic/WEA
In sharp contrast to its predecessor, this follow-up single offered an unexpected hop, skip and jaunty step to listeners during the winter of 1986. Although it depicts a level of heartbreak and regret, the ultimate optimism of Rutherford's take on romantic lessons and hard-fought maturation is both refreshing and somehow genuinely convincing. Much of this effectiveness certainly owes to the soaring vocal performance of the late Paul Young, once lead singer for unsung rock band Sad Cafe. Though perhaps too dependent on keyboards and a somewhat mechanical (pun partially intended) musical arrangement, this is simply high-quality mainstream music. The fact that it so effortlessly makes an authentic emotional connection with listeners is testament to the skills of composer Rutherford and his ongoing songwriting partner/producer on this record - Christopher Neil.
03
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"Taken In"

Despite a comparatively lackluster performance on Billboard's pop charts, which consisted of brief entry into the lower reaches of the Top 40, this great ballad is one of the finest lovesick pop songs from the summer of 1986. Once again, Young provides versatility and convincing passion to an arresting melody. More importantly, Rutherford proves that he's able - independent of Genesis and Collins - to craft memorable late-era soft rock that lends credibility to that often-maligned genre. All three of the impressive singles from the group's debut display highly hook-laden choruses, but there's also plenty of substance behind the catchy ear candy that rises immediately to the surface. Rutherford and Neil once again partner up effectively on the strength of solid songcraft, as the song's somber verses work well as both counterpoint and companion to that killer bridge: "And when you reach out for my hand I don't believe it..." Devastating and beautiful.

04
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"Par Avion"

Another memorably atmospheric, keyboard-driven ballad comes from the band's impressive debut - in the form of this affecting album track. However, this time an entirely different vocalist steps in to provide yet another compelling performance. Journeyman singer John Kirby ably handles lead vocals here, hinting at Rutherford's desire to make his new venture into a versatile collective of musical talents. Ultimately, this song would find a fitting place within an episode of '80s cop drama , and its melancholy charms certainly make plenty of sense in that context. However, that central partnership of Rutherford and Neil takes center stage once again, as the former has credited the latter for taking this particular tune into its gently hypnotizing direction.

05
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"Nobody's Perfect"

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Album Cover Image Courtesy of Atlantic/WEA

Though a little too slick for its own good, this lead-off single from the group's sophomore 1988 LP - - features another moving lead vocal performance from Young. The song probably relies on its catchy if only moderately substantial chorus far too much, but the keyboard textures of the verses certainly do reach back effectively into Rutherford's Genesis past. At any rate, the tune - co-written by Rutherford with earlier collaborator Robertson - definitely deserved better than its No. 63 peak on Billboard's pop charts in late 1988. It's a lesser effort from the Mike + the Mechanics catalogue, to be sure, but that certainly doesn't mean it lacks charms entirely.

06
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"The Living Years"

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Album Cover Image Courtesy of Atlantic/WEA
Despite topping the charts worldwide during the winter of 1989, this song probably shortchanges the work of Mike + the Mechanics if it's viewed as the group's signature song. Oh, there's certainly some hard-won pathos here, and the tune cannot be accused of being anything less than earnest. However, its "live-for-today" theme as applied to relationships with close relatives probably doesn't qualify as truly profound. Ultimately, even the thoroughly professional, soulful vocal performance of Carrack can't save the track from some lapses into cliche and slightly vapid generalities. The message is a good and wise one, to be sure, but this familiar hit doesn't reach anywhere near the creative heights of "Silent Running" or "All I Need Is a Miracle." Still, there must be a place for it on any Mike + the Mechanics essentials list.