Level 42 tonight. Staying in the 80s at least for part of the week. Level 42 formed on the Isle of Wight in 1979. They had a number of UK and worldwide hits during the 1980s and 1990s.
Their most successful single in the UK was “Lessons in Love”, which reached number three on the UK Singles Chart, and number 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, upon its release in 1986. The earlier single, “Something About You”, was their most successful single in the United States, reaching number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
After much success as a live and studio band in the 1980s, Level 42’s commercial profile diminished during the early 1990s following a series of personnel changes and musical shifts. After disbanding in 1994, the band reformed in 2001.
After they were seen jamming together, Level 42 were invited to sign to Elite Records (a small independent label) in 1980. They were also encouraged to branch out into vocal music. Having considered recruiting a singer, the band eventually settled on giving King and Lindup the vocal role. The two men developed a complementary style, with Lindup’s falsetto frequently used for harmonies and choruses while King’s deep tenor led the verses (although Lindup would also sing entire songs on his own). Lyrics were generally written by the Gould brothers while King, Badarou and Lindup concentrated on Level 42’s music.
The Elite Records single “Love Meeting Love” brought the band to the attention of Polydor Records, with whom they signed their second recording contract. In 1981, they released their first Polydor single, “Love Games”, which became a Top 40 hit. They then cut their critically acclaimed, self-titled debut album, which was an immediate success throughout Europe.
The band quickly established themselves as concert favorites on the budding British and European jazz-funk scene, taking advantage of the musical expertise and performance skills of all four members. Polydor capitalized on the band’s success by releasing a second album, The Early Tapes later in the same year. This was a compilation of material from the Elite Records period (and is also known by an alternate name, Strategy).
In 1982 Level 42 released their third album The Pursuit of Accidents. This was a further development of the Level 42 formula, maintaining their instrumental jazz-funk skills and styling but also experimenting further with pop songs. Both of the singles from the album — “Weave Your Spell” and “The Chinese Way” — charted. The latter, in particular, rose high in the charts and gained the band a much wider audience than before.
By 1985 the band were well established in their mainstream pop/R’n’B sound, as evidenced on their next studio album, World Machine, released later that year. King’s dextrous bass playing and Lindup and Badarou’s chugging keyboards acted as templates for pop songs such as “Something About You” and “Leaving Me Now”, which were both UK Top 20 hits (Top 40 hits in the Netherlands).
Significantly, “Something About You” was also their first (and only) US Top 10 the following year; also reaching the Top 5 in Canada and the Top 20 in Italy and New Zealand. “Leaving Me Now” was the second hit from this album, peaking at No. 15 in the United Kingdom but proving less successful in Europe. Elements of Level 42’s roots could still be found in the funky “Coup d’État” and “Dream Crazy” on the UK version of the album, as well as a long instrumental track named “Hell,” which was also recorded during the World Machine sessions (This last track did not see the light of day until the early 2000s as an MP3 download on the original Napster).
World Machine gained positive reviews from critics, with AllMusic journalist William Cooper, in a retrospective review, describing it as “one of the finest pop albums of the mid-’80s.” During the recording of the album, the first major tensions between Phil Gould and Mark King began to surface over musical direction, production and their personal relationship. This clashing led to Gould leaving the band for a week. Allan Holdsworth’s drummer Gary Husband was lined up as a potential replacement, but Gould and King’s dispute was subsequently patched up and the group went on to enjoy their most successful year to date.
And for a sample of their later 80s evolution, here is a concert from Wembley Arena, recorded on January 12, 1989 for BBC Radio 1’s In Concert series.