Take Five: Classic Singles from The Romantics

With their signature sound – a deft blend of hard-edged, primal rock and roll and strong pop values – The Romantics were exemplars of the best 1980s tuneful, uptempo rock. The leather-clad Detroit band got its start in 1977, landing a record deal and releasing a self-titled debut album in 1980. On the heels of their debut, their second LP bore the hopeful title National Breakout, but it wasn’t until it wasn’t until September 1983 – 40 years ago this month – and the release of In Heat that The Romantics truly broke through on a national level.

During their heyday, The Romantics landed five of their singles on U.S. charts; one of those songs was an international smash, charting in seven countries. But the band’s albums featured quite a few shoulda-been-hits. Here are five of the greatest songs – some hits, some not – from The Romantics.

“Tell it to Carrie” single (1978)
Sporting a jangling sound that owed a debt to Merseybeat, “Tell it to Carrie” combined The Romantics’ chief assets: strong vocals (all four members sang), tight instrumental work and sharp hooks. The band’s second single on Greg Shaw’s now-legendary Bomp! Records, it wasn’t a hit. But the band knew they had a gem on their hands, so when they cut their debut album with producer Pete Solley, The Romantics re-recorded the song, albeit with a subtly different arrangement.

“What I Like About You” from The Romantics (1980)
Many listeners got their introduction to The Romantics by way of this exuberant single, a highlight of the band’s first LP. It was unusual in that the lead vocal featured drummer Jimmy Marinos. A video for the song enjoyed prominent play on the then-new MTV, helping push the single onto the charts. It didn’t quite make the Top 40, topping out at #49. But in Australia, it was a different story: “What I Like About You” soared to the #2 spot and earning a Gold Record there. It did nearly as well in the Netherlands (#8).

“When I Look in Your Eyes” from The Romantics (1980)
While The Romantics LP is a varied collection of songs – including a cover of a little-known Kinks b-side, “She’s Got Everything” – “When I Look in Your Eyes” is more than a little reminiscent of “What I Like About You.” Considered on its own merits, though, it’s among the finest songs in the band’s catalog. The song features lead vocals by Wally Palmar, the group’s primary lead vocalist.

“A Night Like This” from National Breakout (1980)
Released a mere 11 months after the debut album, National Breakout fared much less impressively on the charts (#176 as opposed to the debut’s #61). Critical notices weren’t quite as favorable, either: critics applauded the harder-rocking sound but noted the absence of single-worthy songs on the level of “What I Like About You.” But that perspective fails to account for “A Night Like This,” a tuneful and memorable songs that in retrospect seems to have all the ingredients for success: a thundering bass line, nostalgic jangle and a garage rock aesthetic. Released a single, it nonetheless failed to chart.

“Talking in Your Sleep” from In Heat (1983)
The Romantics’ third album, 1981’s Strictly Personal sold in even fewer numbers than its predecessor, crawling into the Billboard 200 and stalling at #182. A similar fate befell its single, the non-charting “No One Like You.” But The Romantics’ fortunes improved dramatically upon the release of 1983’s In Heat. No less than three songs from the Gold-awarded album – including the irresistibly catchy “One in a Million” placed on the Top 40 charts. But it was this song that truly broke the band globally. “Talking in Your Sleep” even took the #1 spot on the U.S. dance/disco singles chart. Producer Pete Solley’s subtle doubling (on synthesizer) of Mike Skill’s bass figure and some Vocoder effects applied to Palmar’s vocal both helped reinforce the rocking tune’s dance appeal.