Things Can Only Get Better

Good morning. I am not Rhonda. If you read her blog earlier this week, you know she is dealing with that fearsome dragon we call Life. So, you’re stuck with me today. And this week, we celebrated the birthday of one of my 80s heroes, Howard Jones. Most remember “Things Can Only Get Better” as his biggest hit and that is exactly what I wanted to tell her as she grappled with some unwelcome family drama.

One of the most unique artists to conquer America during the second British Invasion, Howard Jones always set himself a little apart at the time even if I didn’t quite understand why as an awestruck 12-year-old. In October 1985, my dad took me to Miami, FL to see Howard Jones, only my second concert, and the experience is one that has always stayed with me. For whatever reason, little moments from the show burned themselves into my memory such as him briefly stopping during “No One Is To Blame” to reach for the summit “that you just can’t reach.” Unlike the larger than life pop stars on MTV, HoJo always felt a little more down to earth and this week, on his 65th birthday, I don’t think that has changed one bit.

Currently playing a slew of sold-out shows on his solo acoustic tour, Jones remains one of the most under-appreciated songwriters of the 1980s. Not many artists have an arsenal of electronic songs that actually work just as well without electricity. His first hit single, “New Song”, was full of bouncy optimism and went against the rising wave of miserableness so finely articulated by The Cure and Joy Division. With apologies to Morrissey, HoJo’s “Assault & Battery”, not The Smiths’ “Meat Is Murder”, was my introduction to music as activism for animal rights. At the time, I was more enthralled by the colorful videos than the lyrical messages but, in the back of my mind, I understood that Jones was writing more serious songs than “I’ll Tumble For Ya” by Culture Club. 

After 1989’s Cross That Line, I lost touch with HoJo’s music for over a decade but then it came full circle for me when I met my future wife. Hailing from High Wycombe, UK, she left me speechless when she told me HoJo had been a mainstay in her local music scene and that one night her sister came home ecstatic about this new artist who had played at the pub. My wife’s friend even went around to Jones’ house in town to write an interview for the school paper before Jones became a major pop star. Now when I hear the romantic optimism of songs like “Everlasting Love”, I can’t help but think there was some sort of cosmic life-force that made me a fan of Jones as a kid so I could someday talk to my future wife about how much I loved his music which led us down the path we follow today.

The current resurgence in 80s nostalgia will wear off for some eventually (not me) but I don’t expect Howard Jones to change his approach to performing. Having seen him four times in recent years, he maintains an upbeat, self-deprecating sense of humor about each show with his trademark keytar and flashy clothes. His mastery of technology helped pave the way for electronic artists for the next thirty years but it is the songwriting I remember best. In these turbulent times, an artist with a strong moral compass and an unwavering belief in the power of positivity might be just what we need. Here is a playlist of some of HoJo’s best music to help celebrate his birthday.

3 thoughts on “Things Can Only Get Better”

  1. Howard Jones to me made songs that I look back as placeholders, that is to say I remember what was going on in my life when they were released. Things Can Only Get Better is interesting because during that time I was transitioning to high school I took a few classes over the summer and struggled to get through but remember hearing that song and realizing yes things will get better and they did! I can look back now on that summer (almost 35 years ago) and remember the good things(new friends, good grades and the fact it allowed me to graduate from high school earlier than normal). Every time I am feeling down or overwhelmed I listed to that song and remember the bad moments are just those.

    1. Nicely said. For me, seeing that tour was monumental. My dad took me (6th grade) and we had 4th row. First time being so close to a live show and it really left an impression on me.

      1. Thanks. I have never seen him in concert but one day maybe I will. I think of him in such a good life and it’s like the songs are a part of my 80’s history if that makes sense.

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