Following a career resurgence thanks to retro television, the former Kajagoogoo singer celebrates the holiday season with new single “London For Christmas”
Calling from his hotel room from a tour stop in Katowice, Poland, English singer Limahl is in high spirits. He should be: he’s recently had quite the career resurgence, thanks to renewed interest in his New Wave hits from almost 40 years ago – specifically, the songs “Too Shy” and “The Neverending Story.”
The evocative “Too Shy” (originally released in 1983) was a massive hit worldwide for Kajagoogoo, the band that Limahl fronted – and this year, the song resurfaced twice, in the TV shows Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and American Horror Story: 1984. Meanwhile, Limahl’s solo hit “The Neverending Story” (the theme song to the 1984 film by the same name) also found fame once again this year after it was featured extrusively in a key scene in the Netflix series Stranger Things.
These prominent song placements on such massively popular shows were, Limahl says, “a total surprise. The first I heard about it was from my nephew, who’s 23. He sent me a video on WhatsApp, and he’s freaking out watching American Horror Story.” In the show, fictionalized Kajagoogoo members are murdered as “Too Shy” plays on the soundtrack. This does not bother Limahl. “I was absolutely laughing my head off!”
VIDEO: AHS 1984 – Richard Kills Kajagoogoo
Needless to say, usually “Too Shy” doesn’t inspire such violence. “Over the years, people have told me it was the first record they bought, or it was the record that was the hit when they were kissing that girl, or whatever it was.” Limahl thinks the song still means so much to so many people because “Nostalgia is powerful emotion. It is odd: you hear a song that takes you back to a certain place and time, and it makes you feel poignant. There’s no stronger emotion than that. It’s just wonderful. So I think there’s a value in ‘Too Shy.’ Maybe there’s a value in me. Maybe there’s a value in ‘Neverending Story,’ too.”
He admits that he’s particularly excited that “Neverending Story” played such a pivotal part in Stranger Things, because maybe it will finally fix something that has bothered him since that song was originally released: “I remember that for six weeks, I flew to every major city in America, doing interviews with radio stations and the press, working really hard to try and make the song a hit. But it only got to 16 in the Top 40 Billboard chart – in the rest of the world, it was top five, or even number one in many places. So I was a little bit disappointed, at the time.” He says that having that particular song attracting widespread attention in America, 35 years later, is “really ironic. I almost feel slightly revalidated!” He laughs, but he also seems genuinely pleased.
Limahl says he does not mind that this guarantees that he’ll essentially be required to continue singing “Too Shy” and “The Neverending Story” at every future show he plays. “There does come times where you’re just saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do that bloody song.’ But of course, it all changes when you start doing it and you see the audience reaction. They’re what keeps it fresh for you, really.” It also helps, he says, that “I never listen to my music when I’m not performing, and so it feels a bit fresh when I get to it, and I enjoy it.”
VIDEO: Limahl “The Neverending Story”
He is aware that New Wave, in general, is often derided for putting style over substance – after all, it was the predominant music that MTV chose to play when that channel debuted in 1981, and many of the bands that were in heavy rotation – Kajagoogoo prominently among them – became as known for their lavish music videos as they were for their musical skills. But Limahl says firmly, “From our point of view, the music always, always drove it,” not the image.
Still, he concedes that sometimes they couldn’t help but get caught up in the visual aspect of the scene, to a certain extent (and in fact, Limahl himself became famous for his dramatic and distinctive blonde-frosted hairstyle). But, he says, this was done out of necessity: “When you think of Eurythmics, Boy George, and Duran Duran – they raised the bar, and everybody else felt like they had to compete with that, in a way. Videos were the new thing, and they were important.” Also, he admits it might’ve partly been just plain youthful mischievousness: “You know when you’re young, and you just love shocking people? I remember, I’d just joined Kajagoogoo, and we started messing around with our hair. We went into the local pub, and honestly, it went deathly silent! Everybody thought we were like aliens from another planet when we walked in. It was a little bit scary, but I actually loved it!” He laughs, then adds amiably, “It really was just about trying to stand out in a crowd, that’s all.”
VIDEO: Kajagoogoo “Too Shy”
Limahl also explains that the New Wave scene offered some much-needed escapism, given that the U.K. was still in the midst of a deep economic depression at that time. “There were power cuts for three days a week – you had to sit at home with candles and a radio, that’s all you had. It felt really depressing. So I think when New Wave came along, all the artists were just embracing color, and wanted to be flamboyant.”
But the singer isn’t focused solely on the past: he’s actually releasing a new single, “London for Christmas,” on the very day of this interview (December 6). The song, in a smooth pop ballad style, is at once festive and romantic. Over sparkling piano and sweeping strings, Limahl sings about a couple visiting various famous locales around London as they enjoy the holiday season (“You’ll be looking pretty in my camera lens / As we hear the chimes of Big Ben from our boat trip on the Thames”). It is a joyous celebration of the city Limahl has loved since he first moved there 40 years ago from his native Northern England.
“I’ve lived in London all my adult life, and it means a lot to me,” Limahl says of the decision to write about his adopted hometown. “When you get to know a city really well, and you’ve got regular places that you like to go, and people who work in places that you like to visit, it’s even more special. So doing this song just seemed really obvious to me.” He wrote it with Jon Nickoll, the jazz pianist at the Savoy Hotel. “He just happened to live around the corner, so it was just logistically easy: ‘What’re you doing on Tuesday afternoon? Come over, we’ll just have a jam.’” It was, Limahl says, “a lovely way for something to evolve.”
As Limahl says goodbye so he can prepare for that evening’s concert, he says that it feels like releasing “London for Christmas” and the surprise song placements are like early holiday gifts that he’s been given, and he is grateful. He’s also determined to make the most of it: “This is an opportunity, and so I’m grabbing it with both hands!”
AUDIO: Limahl “London For Christmas”