Classic Track: INXS, "Need You Tonight"

Dec 1, 2012 9:00 AM, Mix, By Blair Jackson

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INXS

The Australian band INXS was always difficult to characterize. They arrived on the scene at the dawn of the ’80s as part of the New Wave; on their self-titled debut album, it’s easy to hear the influence of Joe Jackson, The Clash and Talking Heads in their punchy rock songs. But they also embraced and helped define early ’80s synth-pop, and as the decade progressed, R&B and funk textures became increasingly prominent in some of their songs. Talking Heads were an influence there, too, as was Chic mastermind Nile Rodgers.

In fact, Rodgers produced one song with INXS at the Power Station in NYC in September 1983—“Original Sin,” which appeared on the group’s 1984 disc The Swing and became a worldwide smash (except in the U.S. where the single reached Number 58; still a good showing). The rest of The Swing was cut with producer Nick Launay in England, and the album, too, was a great success, aided by the band touring nearly nonstop in the U.S., Europe and Australia during 1984, and their telegenic appeal on the still-new MTV network.

The following spring, INXS enlisted the great British producer Chris Thomas (Roxy Music, Sex Pistols, Pretenders, Pete Townshend, Elton John) to record their next album, Listen Like Thieves, at Rhinoceros Studios in Sydney, where the group was based. Rhinoceros was the hottest studio in Sydney in the ’80s; indeed, it is where INXS had made the 1982 album that first put them on the map internationally, Shabooh Shoobah, which contained the catchy hit single “The One Thing.” That album was produced by Mark Opitz and recorded by David Nicholas, who, with some partners, had literally built Rhinoceros from the ground up a few years earlier and stayed on as a co-owner and staff engineer.

Thomas had been an INXS fan for a while. As he noted in a 1998 Mix interview with myself and Chris Michie, “Oh, they were a great band! I remember before I worked with them seeing them at the Hollywood Palladium in 1984. That gig was incredible; it was one of the best gigs I ever saw by any band. God, they were good! Michael [Hutchence, lead singer] was absolutely brilliant. And the style of their music—it was funk but it was white and rock; a great mixture.” Listen Like Thieves produced INXS’s first Top 5 in America—“What You Need”—and the LP made it to Number 11 on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart and was another international blockbuster.

So it was no surprise when Thomas was tapped to produce the 1987 multi-Platinum follow-up album, Kick, source of this month’s Classic Track, “Need You Tonight,” the group’s lone U.S. Number One. Once again, Rhinoceros in Sydney was the site for most of the recording, but this time David Nicholas engineered, beginning a fruitful partnership with Thomas that lasted for the next eight years.

“Need You Tonight” has an interesting genesis. INXS’s principal music writer—guitarist/keyboardist Andrew Farriss—was waiting for a cab to take him to the airport so he could fly to Hong Kong for some writing sessions with lyricist Hutchence (who was living in Hong Kong at the time), when he had a flash of inspiration and immediately started laying down tracks on his Fostex 8-track.






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