Success for INXS did not come overnight.
Since forming in 1977, the band had slowly but surely built a following in their native Australia. Their third album, 1982 Shabooh Shooba, was her first to be released worldwide, even peaking at number 46 on the Billboards 200 in the US Two years later The swing hovered around the same chart position: No. 52. Another year later, with 1985 Hear how thieves, they finished much closer to the top at No. 11. For a versatile group from Sydney, this international success was impressive. “We wanted to try and get a gig,” joked singer Michael Hutchence in 1988. Cracking the top 10 was the next step.
In March 1987 INXS met again at Rhinoceros Studios in Sydney to plan their next album with producer Chris Thomas. The band had toured extensively in the mid-’80s and had built a reputation for their searing live performances, but they knew their next album had to deliver more. It wasn’t that they didn’t have enough material for what was to become 1987 kick, but something was missing. “They had incredible momentum and were gaining fans all the time,” Thomas said in 2005 “There was an audience waiting for the product, but I decided they didn’t have the right songs yet.”
There wasn’t much time. The band were given a two week deadline to come up with a hopefully successful single for the album. Exhausted, keyboardist Andrew Farriss made his way to Hong Kong, where Hutchence and drummer Jon Farriss had an apartment. Inspiration hit him as he got into the taxi to the airport. “Just before the guy could drive away, I heard the guitar line in my head, told the guy I forgot something, and ran upstairs,” recalled Andrew Farriss. He quickly recorded the riff, plus a bass line and a basic drum hit, and made sure to bring the cassette with him. When he performed it for Hutchence in Hong Kong, the singer liked it immediately, listening to it for a couple of hours before writing down almost all of the words in about 10 minutes. The result was Need You Tonight.
Flexibility was important to Farriss and Hutchence, who had never relied on strict rules when working together. “We didn’t have a set formula — and that was key,” Farriss later said. “Sometimes he would add some lyrics he had already written to a piece of music I had, sometimes we would write together from scratch, and sometimes I’d add music to lyrical and melodic ideas he had come to me with. We were just solid and very arrogant. We never questioned each other or ourselves and followed our instincts. It was all very natural and organic.”
Watch INXS’ Need You Tonight video
Another piece of the puzzle came together when Hutchence brought a demo of “Mediate” into the studio. Engineer David Nicholas first heard the song while “Need You Tonight” was playing and got an idea. “I rewound his tape and hit play when ‘Need You Tonight’ finished and it synced so perfectly I actually thought something was wrong,” he recalled. “It was one of those very scary studio moments where you’re not sure what’s going to happen.” The concept was realized on kickwhere “Need You Tonight” flows seamlessly into “Mediate”.
For their part, the band was thrilled with how kick had come together. “I think we were really, really looking forward to the album, but it wasn’t something we heard on the radio,” Andrew Farriss said in 2018. INXS’ US label, Atlantic Records, thought otherwise. The band’s manager, Chris Murphy, was the first to discover this apathy after playing the album for executives in New York City. “The label’s president told me he would give us $1 million to go back to Australia and do another album,” he said. Murphy attempted to play the record for the band’s European and Australian labels. No dice.
Murphy said nothing to the band and launched a publicity campaign. Unbeknownst to record company executives, he managed to get Andrea Guinness, Atlantic’s head of college radio promotion, on board and also planned a college tour, using almost every penny he and the band had.
The tour was a phenomenal success, so much so that Atlantic eventually agreed to add kick to the release schedule. “Need You Tonight” was released as the first single kickdominating the charts, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and becoming the band’s first and only US chart topper.
Watch INXS perform “Need You Tonight / Mediate” in 1994
A video for “Need You Tonight / Mediate” highlights the transition between the two songs, which were often played back-to-back on radio stations. In the clip, as “Need You Tonight” ends and “Mediate” begins, Hutchence flips the cue cards to quote Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” promo. The video won five MTV Video Music Awards, including 1988 Video of the Year.
All of this stems from a sketch that started in the back of a taxi. “It’s amazing,” Andrew Farriss later said, “that often the simplest songs — incredibly simple songs — that take the shortest amount of time and just happen, are the ones that become big hits.”
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