With one of the most instantly identifiable and effective intros in all of '80s pop — not to mention that yearning vocal — “(I Just) Died in Your Arms,” a #1 smash in the U.S for Cutting Crew, is risen again.
As the lead single from the rapturous Ransomed Healed Restored Forgiven, a collection of Cutting Crew songs re-recorded with symphonic backing, it is at once familiar and thrillingly reinvented.
For once, a legacy bit of singing and songwriting has been given a worthy remake.
“My dad would say, 'Leave well enough alone,'” the song's singer and co-writer, Nick Van Eede, says in a phone interview amid COVID-19 craziness. “Some of these songs do mean a lot to people, and to — pardon my French — fuck around with them and fail is a risky thing.”
Lucky for us all, failure wasn't in the cards, with the band's best works — also including the hits “I've Been in Love Before,” “Everything but My Pride” and “One for the Mockingbird” — receiving inspired new incarnations on an album that begins and ends with the group's high drama, and that feels a bit like rock opera or the score of an Old Hollywood musical, albeit one with Elvis rather than Gene Kelly at the reigns.
“For many, many years,” Van Eede says, “fans and mums and band friends would say, 'These songs would lend themselves so well to an orchestra.' Doesn't mean that our songs are better, but just the way we arranged them — big moments. When I was given the opportunity, I jumped... It's been a long time since I've been so blown away by something I've done. It really has worked.”
It's inspiring to hear old favorites given new life, especially at a time when people are seeking out visual and aural comforts from the past, but are also looking to be uplifted by examples of moving on. Van Eede has had his share of that, most searingly when co-founding band member Kevin MacMichael died of lung cancer in 2002, some 11 years after the other original members had parted ways with Cutting Crew.
The weight of so much change rings clear in a poignant reprise of “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” that comes at album's end, crooned with an aching sense of loss, but also representing resilience.
“That was a big moment,” Van Eede says of that recording session. “Imagine me with my headphones on singing that. Those fluffy, ‘80s-big-hair-big-shoulder-pads lyrics — when you rearrange it like that 33 years later after having lost Kevin and your dad and your brother … those lyrics — wow, they were tough to sing.”
“I should have walked away,” Van Eede sings at the end of it — but he did not, and we are the richer for it.
As we began our interview, Van Eede was appreciating the clanging, banging, clapping sounds of appreciation for health care workers across the English countryside, also a familiar sound here in NYC, where I reside, each evening. It was a reminder that making sound to communicate emotion is one of our most primal human urges.
Gr8erDays: Once you'd settled on this orchestral maneuver of remaking all your hits, how did the process go of arranging your most famous songs?
Nick Van Eede: I said to the string arranger, “I don't want it to sound like a Des O'Connor Saturday night TV show song.” You know, one of of those cheesy things where a pop group comes on and there would be an orchestra sort of soaring in the background. That was my only rule. He said, “Do you wanna be involved in the string arrangements?” and I said, “I'd love to react to what you do.”
Gr8erDays: Did reimagining your old work lead to memories of creating it originally?
Nick Van Eede: The key to it is that Kevin, dear Kevin, when we wrote songs, he would just sit next to me — he had no ego at all, he was just this beautiful, dark, mysterious, bandito-looking Nova Scotian, and I'd be all loud and getting on with it. He would just sit and listen, rollin' up a cigarette. I would sing, and he'd say, “How about this?”
Gr8erDays: Everybody knows “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” — is there another tune on the new record of which you're especially proud?
Nick Van Eede: I have to mention “I’ve Been in Love Before” because that was Top 10 in America and it works really well. We’ve had 35 years to tweak the arrangements, it changes key at the end, there’s lots of histrionics going on — I love that.
I suppose nearest to my heart is “No Problem Child,” a big song when we play it live. No matter who you are, your relationship to one kid is very important and I’m very proud of the fact that of all the bad and good decisions — I’ve never said this in an interview before — I’ve made over my life, when Lauren was only 3 years old, that was exactly the time when we were getting Grammy nominations and being serious popstars, and I stayed home, and our relationship is rock-solid, she’s my best friend. That could have been a choice to go, “Okay, byyye! Off to L.A.!” and I didn’t, so that song does mean a lot because we’re best friends.
Gr8erDays: Do you have any crazy stories from those days when you were first dashing around the planet to promote your #1 hit?
Nick Van Eede: Yeah, well ... there’s a book, isn’t there? [Laughs] There’s so many. I was the pretty face and I would do probably 20 times more interviews than anybody else in the band, so I was busy doing it and Kevin would remember it! [Laughs] He took a lot of it to his grave, sadly.
I went to Nova Scotia for his last three or four months and he’d be like, “D’you remember that time in Chicago? With the drug dealer? He had fucking a gun!” These are gone from my brain, but he had all those.
Having a Canadian in the band made the whole thing skewed. When we played the Johnny Carson show, I knew it was a big deal, but he had much more knowledge of how iconic it was. I think Joe Piscopo was on that night, it was somebody’s birthday and 64 million people were watching and we played live — and poor Kevin was throwing up in the toilet. [Laughs] The cool one who never even broke into a sweat lost it that night.
Gr8erDays: Was it always sort of your destiny to front a band?
Nick Van Eede: There was a huge change in British education back in 1970-71. When you see those Harry Potter kind of things — the schoolteachers with the capes and mortarboard hats — they were the stuffy old grammar schools, and I went to one off those schools for one year, and it was just very depressing. Then, politics changed and they introduced these comprehensive schools and everyone was in together, these beautiful young boy and girl teachers, you know, “Call me John, call me Celia,” and of course I responded to that fantastically. What happened was we’d write our school drama plays and this may sound hokey but they were really good and really edgy and I was the guy who would sit on the stage and arrange the songs — and they weren’t shit, so I was popular in the school because I was the guy who sang the songs. That’s where it started.
Gr8erDays: So not destiny, but talent.
Nick Van Eede: Apart from luck. I was working in a plastic surgery operating theater and I played the hospital pub and Chas Chandler, who was the manager of Jimi Hendrix and Slade, came in to visit his kid and saw me, signed me up, and then five years later, when that had run its course of failure and rejections and disappointments, we were playing in a little tiny pub in the middle of nowhere and this one-legged, one-eyed, Jewish attorney from Toronto comes in and he sort of hobbles over to us and says, “I’ve just seen fucking God! You guys are great!” That was the start of the Drivers, and here I am living in Toronto and flying in Lear jets on stolen Florida mafia money. [Laughs]
Gr8erDays: Flashing forward a bit, one thing I loved about you guys was your “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” video was the opposite of the song's high drama. It's just this simple, black-and-white, lighthearted, quasi-behind-the-scenes piece, and unlike some '80s videos, it isn't dated whatsoever.
Nick Van Eede: I won’t claim it was totally planned or anything, but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head as to the overall longevity of Cutting Crew. We’re touring all the time — apart from when Kevin died, we’ve never really stopped — but I think we were so unhip at the time and so absolutely not trying to be anything, we just wanted our music to speak for us. We didn’t get caught in any times or looks of that era, so when you hear “Died” yeah, it’s ‘80s, but is it ‘80s? Is it ‘90s? ‘70s? Is it yesterday?
Accidentally, we got away with it, and it’s kept us alive, whereas, if you listen to the Human League, who were a much bigger band, and a much better band, than us probably, their music is totally and utterly ‘80s.
Gr8erDays: That song has also popped up all over in pop culture.
Nick Van Eede: Stranger Things used it, and you could see the moment when sales spiked. The power of that new world that we live in. And it wasn’t a camp moment, it was a nice moment for the series. But it’s also been a camp moment in some films — and I don’t care, I think it’s great! — like in The Lego Batman Movie. It’s wonderful. A supreme camp moment.
Gr8erDays: And it's been referenced in songs, like Mika's “Relax, Take It Easy.”
Nick Van Eede: I first heard that when I was living in Barbados as a fat pop star. [Laughs] That was luck — a big hit — I'm talkin' about fuck-me luck.
Gr8erDays: Having overcome losses in your life, and the loss of your collaborator and great friend, I wondered if you had any thoughts — in light of where we are in the world today — on how best to move on from loss, from tragedy, as you have?
Nick Van Eede: Going to Kevin's funeral was quite beautiful. It was time. I started writing songs again. I recorded an album in Nova Scotia in Halifax — my word, if you could just say I send my deepest sympathies for the shooting that's just happened over there, for that to happen is astonishingly evil — and I just started writing. Something drew me back up to Halifax, and I found this young, angry bunch of 23-year-old guys in their own band and I just stood in the middle like, “One, two, three, four!” — and we turned out an album. It sometimes takes a while to get back on the horse, but it feels good.
We started the interview with people clapping and that beautiful depth of humanity we all have and that sometimes we forget we all have. It takes times like this to ... my mom is 85 and she’s 100 miles away from me and I haven’t seen her for two months, and she’s doing just fine, she talks about it having a wartime kind of spirit. That’s the good side. But also these divisions coming up yet again — you know what I’m talking about over your way. There are so many people doing beautiful things out there in your country and in my country, but the people that are grabbing the headlines are the idiots. I guess it always will be that way. Let's give them a big island where they can all live and they can all fuck off. [Laughs]
Ransomed Healed Restored Forgiven is available from today on August Day Records.