Sad songs in disguise: ‘Together in Electric Dreams’

It’s ironic that songs that seem so positive and life-affirming can be dissected apart and suddenly seem like real kicks to the gut. That happened to me this morning when listening to Phil Oakey singing “Together in Electric Dreams.”

“I only knew you for a while, I never saw your smile
Till it was time to go, time to go away (time to go away)
Sometimes it’s hard to recognise, love comes as a surprise
And it’s too late, it’s just too late to stay, too late to stay”

What the hell, Phil? The frontman for The Human League partners with the great Giorgio Moroder for this pure slice of pop heaven, which was featured in the 1984 movie of the same name. Good luck finding a copy of the movie that will play on DVD players in the U.S. and Canada. (I did find a version of it on YouTube though.)

The movie was largely panned by critics – it has 44 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes – though Siskel & Ebert curiously gave it 3 1/2 out of 4 stars, crediting its “genuine sweetness.” That’s what I used to think of when I hear the song.

“We’ll always be together, however far it seems (love never ends)
We’ll always be together, together in electric dreams”

Aww, my heart just melts. And then, Phil and Giorgio fill it back up with air and pop it.

“Because the friendship that you gave
Has taught me to be brave
No matter where I go
I’ll never find a better prize (find a better prize)

Though you’re miles and miles away, I see you every day
I don’t have to try, I just close my eyes, I close my eyes”

Wait! She’s gone? (Or he’s gone – the specifics don’t matter.) So this is a song about being happy that true love is gone. And the vision of that love haunts you every day. And you’ll never find its equivalent? Holy hell. Are you sure this wasn’t written by Depeche Mode?

“We’ll always be together, however far it seems (love never ends)
We’ll always be together, together in electric dreams”

No, no. Too late now for the chorus again and that mumbo jumbo contradiction.

Truth by told, it’s probably best not to dissect songs you love too much. This tune – recorded in a single take, Phil once told me – was a top 10 hit in the UK and Australia. The Human League – often erroneously credited for the song – often includes it as an encore in live performances.

I’ll still play it on my headphones and quietly sob – it was also once my phone’s ring tone – but now, I just cry … and I close my eyes.

“We’ll always be together, however far it seems (love never ends)
We’ll always be together, together in electric dreams”

Listen to our ‘Planes Trains and Automobiles’ episode from 2006

Back in 2006, when the world was still new and full of wonderment, the gang at Stuck in the ’80s recorded a podcast on the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles. It’s the standard-bearer of movies about Thanksgiving – in the ’80s or any other decade.

Some 12 years later, I honestly can’t remember a think we said in the show. My memory works great when it comes to recalling stories from the ’80s, but from the last 12 years? Eh, not so much. In any case, I figure a fair number of ’80s fans are looking for some podcasts to load onto ye olden iPhone for the holiday travel ahead this weekend, so here it is. Enjoy.

Dennis DeYoung talks unlikely hits and robot masks

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Tampa Bay Times on Feb. 22, 2012.

In the early 1960s, Dennis DeYoung was just a 14-year-old with an accordion and a mission: to make a few bucks with his friends performing at weddings around his Chicago neighborhood of Roseland. A TV show changed all that.

“It was the Beatles on Ed Sullivan,” Dennis told me during a phone interview that went a lot longer than the planned hour. “If you talk to any baby boomer guys in rock bands, I would believe 80 percent would tell the same story. It was an epiphany.”

DeYoung retired his accordion for a set of keyboards and co-founded a band that would go on to achieve platinum sales success and fill stadiums with fans from the late ’70s through mid ’80s: Styx.

A battle over music direction coupled with health problems led to DeYoung’s dismissal from the band in 1999. But he still performs the music of Styx for fans around the world, while his old bandmates continue on with a new lead singer.

I spoke with the singer – long a hero of mine – a few weeks before he was scheduled to perform with the Florida Orchestra in Clearwater, Fla. Dennis was touring the nation, performing the hits he wrote with his own hand-picked band and local orchestras.

“The music lends itself to orchestration,” DeYoung says. “This is no condemnation of Chuck Berry, who I greatly admire. But Chuck Berry’s music will not translate as well to orchestration because of its very three-chord rock ‘n’ roll nature. It is the music of the artists that are more pretentious, pompous or closer to the kind of big dramatic stylings that orchestras are good with.”

“I wanted to make the rock band the focus; the orchestra is the sixth member,” he said. “I went one step further in incorporating actual pieces of classical music, trying to weave them within the confines and structures of the hit records that we had — which only pointed out clearly how absolutely c—– my songs were compared to Mozart.”

Here are some more highlights from our conversation:

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After 13 years, Stuck in the ’80s blog needs a new home

For 13 years, the award-winning Stuck in the 80s blog has been hosted and supported by the amazing group of journalists and managers at the Tampa Bay Times. That will change in a few weeks. The new home of the blog will be the same place that has hosted our podcast for the last six years – our website here at

As we transition from our old home to new one, we hope to transform this website into a more dynamic and exciting destination. We plan to redesign the pages and find better ways to offer you the entertainment you’ve come to love over the last 13 years.

When I founded the podcast and blog back in 2005 – more of a mid-life crisis reaction to my 20th high school reunion – I never dreamed we’d survive more than a dozen episodes or posts. For the first seven years of the blog, I posted 365 days a year – breaking that streak only once, I believe, for the day my father passed away. It’s carried me places I’d never imagine – from ’80s-themed vacations all over the world to co-hosting podcasts in New Zealand, to interviewing my hero Steve Perry and more.

In a few short months, we’ll record our 500th episode of the show live on board The 80s Cruise featuring a special group of icons from the ’80s as our interview subjects.

When I left the Times in 2012, the newspaper asked to continue hosting the blog, and I was thrilled to say yes. The Times and I have celebrated milestones together, even though I now live 90 miles away. I wish my colleagues there all the best as they pursue a new direction for their own digital operations.

In the meantime, I will refocus my energies on giving Stuck in the ’80s a second life – maybe a third one, depending on how you score things. I won’t be alone. A group of close friends, co-hosts and ’80s family will be there all the way. Stuck in the ’80s would be nothing without you all. And so, as we embark on this future together, I invite you – as always – to share your thoughts, suggestions and encouragement.

Life does move pretty fast. We’ve taken 13 years to look around so far. Let’s take another few years to see where the journey takes us next.

Hopelessly stuck in the ’80s,

Review: Phil Collins shakes Chicago with his wit and hits

Phil Collins and his band take a bow

Against all odds, Phil Collins is back on the road with a North American tour this year, and our longtime friend and Stuck in the ’80s correspondent “Bassnote” caught Phil’s show in Chicago. Here’s his review:

I have to start out by saying I had mixed feelings about going to this show. On one hand, it was my daughter’s first (and probably only) time to see him. On the other hand, having seen the spry Phil of the ’80s many times (with and without Genesis), I felt I was going to be let down by the fact that he would be sitting in a chair the entire show. It was true that Phil was not as active as he was in the past, but his ability to keep an audience entertained had not waned a bit.

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Guest review: Blow Monkeys and Level 42 shake Northampton

Level 42

Our Montreal correspondent and Canadian concert reviewer Peter Ryan was in the UK this weekend and experienced what he called one of the ’80s shows he’s ever seen. He even took time out to pose with Level 42. Here’s his review: 

The UK town of Northampton finds itself nestled between the British metropolises of London and Birmingham, and over the weekend it played host to a superb show of 80s greatness as part of Level 42’s 2018 tour.

A mostly 40s-and-50s crowd filled the modern Royal & Derngate concert hall to hear an on-time kick-off by The Blow Monkeys, who led the show performing newer songs interspersed with classic ’80s tunes that included the sophistipop anthem Digging Your Scene and It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way, which concluded their set. Singer Robert Howard then met and mingled with fans in the foyer as Level 42 finished their last-minute preparations.

Level 42 hit the stage with tremendous fanfare from the gathered crowd, kicking off the show with the crowd-pleasing Running In The Family, followed quickly by a very danceable instrumental jazz piece. After greeting the audience, the band dove into two of their early ’80s mainstays, which included The Sun Goes Down from the 1983 album Standing in the Light and Starchild from their self-titled Level 42 debut (during which keyboardist Mike Lindup led the crowd in hand-clapping). The end of the 50-minute main set concluded with another jazz performance, which preceded longtime favorites The Chinese Way, Something About You and Heaven In My Hands.

Following a quick break, Level 42 rushed onto stage and closed the show with Lessons in Love and Build Myself a Rocket. Needless to say, an ’80s hungry audience went home feeling fulfilled after seeing two of that decades most enduring bands.