Top 9 Psychedelic Furs Songs of the '80s

Highlights From the English Band's Legacy

Aside from having a curious and mysterious band name and settling on an ingenious blend of pop and rock impulses, England's Psychedelic Furs simply had no shortage of great songs. That's what transforms the band's '80s consistency into something far better: a legendary legacy. From their beginning during the heart of the first-wave punk-era in England, the Furs delivered a variety of tunes that drew from punk, new wave, post-punk, Goth, New Romantic, power-pop and dance-pop styles. The result makes the most of the haunting croon frontman Richard Butler by supporting it with one of the era's ablest core ensembles.

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"Sister Europe"

Richard Butler and Tim Butler of Psychedelic Furs perform on stage at Glastonbury Festival, 20th June 1986.
Michael Putland/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With this hypnotic tune from its self-titled debut, the Psychedelic Furs helped set an early template not only for all alternative rock and modern rock of the future but for the Goth-tinged sounds exemplified by fellow British bands like the Cure and Sisters of Mercy. However, that arpeggiated, dirge-like approach would turn out to be only one of many strains in the Furs' repertoire. Richard Butler would always be one of the most memorable British singers to pioneer and perfect the slightly sinister, raspy growl common in U.K. rock of the period. There's a richness in the performance of both singer and band that few contemporary bands could muster, making this a spotlight early track for one of the top English post-punk outfits.

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"Imitation of Christ"

If there's one criticism that could be fairly directed at the early output of the Psychedelic Furs, it could be that some of the group's songs that display an identifiable sound could seem a bit samey after awhile. Repetition in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it supports the deliberate, dirge-like plodding established in a song's tone. However, at times on their first two or three records, Butler & Co. returned to the scene of the crime in similar ways perhaps a few too many times. This constitutes an early example of the Furs' Goth rock template, set years before the term would come into vogue and folks would associate it with black clothing, eyeliner and the like. 

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Lest anyone forget that the Psychedelic Furs took first-wave British punk rock as their initial inspiration, this song stands out as one of several from the band's debut that works quite well as a straight-ahead example of that genre. Ashton would prove his inventiveness on guitar many times throughout the Furs' career, but here he delivers an energetic, propulsive riffing attack that Butler supports ably with an appropriately snotty, extra-accented vocal delivery. This band may clearly have had broader intentions than the Sex Pistols (not to mention a much deeper musical well), but there's more than enough guitar-centered fury on tracks like this one to ease properly into the experimentation and expansion to come on later Furs releases.

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"Pretty In Pink"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia/Legacy

Despite its ubiquitous status on '80s flashback playlists and no shortage of mainstream exposure stemming from its connection to John Hughes' wildly popular film of the same name, this tune remains a vital anthem of the Furs' catalog — and the entire decade — for good reason. Displaying an elegance that draws heavily from the edgier, punk-inspired work of Roxy Music, the track has always drawn heavily from the versatility of the composition and the band itself. Even in its 1981 original version (if perhaps more so in the 1986 re-recording associated with the movie), this song exemplifies the Furs' impressive ability to tap into mainstream pop without losing the uniqueness of their sound.

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"Yes I Do (Merry Go Round)"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia/Legacy

In terms of the band's third album, the heavily textured "Love My Way" certainly gets all of the attention, but there's something about that well-known track that can seem cold. All the proper musical ingredients are there, and Butler's vocals are as hauntingly smooth as ever, but the closing track to that record better demonstrates the continuing development of the Furs sound, from the slightly jarring but welcome strains of saxophone (which was an early, important staple of the band's palette), to the emergence of tasteful keyboards, to the reliable expansion of Butler's melodic sense and Ashton's deceptively powerful guitars. This one justifies the omission of some other perfectly deserving tunes.

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"The Ghost In You"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia/Legacy

The Furs may have landed squarely in pop music territory by 1984, but the group's songwriting had simultaneously moved forward to render this development completely palatable. Therefore, the heavy synthesizer veneer that serves throughout as skeletal framework doesn't require an apology. Instead, it merely transforms the band into a defining '80s artist. The chorus provides the all-important payoff here, as pop music generally requires, but the hooks found there would not work nearly as well without the lilting verses that set the stage for the layered, sing-along vocals at the song's core. This is an all-around pleasing effect, buoyed by the rich atmosphere created in both the arrangement and Butler's vocal performance.

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Purists may have scoffed at the Psychedelic Furs' mid-'80s metamorphosis into a post-new wave guitar pop band, but that doesn't mean the group had not squarely arrived at its artistic peak even as it flirted ever more strongly with the mainstream. The selections from Mirror Moves fully embraced the kind of elegant, majestic sound favored by Bryan Ferry after years of evolution away from the glam rock and proto-punk stylings of his revered band, Roxy Music. Butler's vocals are warmer than ever, and the band itself manages to retain Ashton's forceful, imaginative guitars even while introducing a significant keyboard flourish to its music. The guitarist's solo is precise yet free-spirited here, never clashing with the pop arrangement.

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"Heartbreak Beat"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia/Legacy

If some fans bristled at the increasingly pop-oriented direction the Furs took on their previous album, then more than a few probably jumped ship completely when this tune rose to prominence as a signature selection from a band 10 years into a storied career. Still, the track persists in providing a rousing, horn-laced listening experience. More than that, despite its pop trappings, this song stays consistent within the group's oeuvre by functioning equally well as a genuine rock song and a pop confection. No drop-off in quality here, folks.

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"All That Money Wants"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia/Legacy

For this track from a 1988 greatest hits package, the band reached back to its post-punk glory days. Ashton's guitar hums along with its own wall-of-sound momentum, and Butler continues to prove he's one of the most stylish modern rock vocalists of all time. Still, despite a deliberate turn toward the band's earlier sound and away from the slickly arranged pop of its most recent work, the best thing about the Furs remains their unassuming consistency as a versatile early alternative rock act. Therefore, even as the group has maintained a healthy niche among non-mainstream music fans, it has been able to drift rather seamlessly into highly accessible musical territory. This may have been the band's last great tune of the '80s.

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Peake, Steve. "Top 9 Psychedelic Furs Songs of the '80s." ThoughtCo, Nov. 19, 2017, Peake, Steve. (2017, November 19). Top 9 Psychedelic Furs Songs of the '80s. Retrieved from Peake, Steve. "Top 9 Psychedelic Furs Songs of the '80s." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 13, 2017).