I Melt with You


Date Aired
July 28, 2020
Running Time
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Todd: [sighs] Okay, we're doin' this first. This episode of One Hit Wonderland is brought to you by [logo flashes up on side of screen for...] Skillshare. Now people sometimes ask me, "Todd, how do I become a YouTuber?" And I tell them, "Don't do that. God. It's awful". That's because I have absolutely no background in any of this and I had to learn everything the hard way. If you would like to know how to make videos without fumbling around cluelessly like I did for 6 years...

Various shots of Skillshare website

Todd (VO): ...you should check out Skillshare, an online learning community for creatives, which I guess I am technically. It's less than $10 a month for an annual subscription, and you can learn everything you need to for film production, or producing music if that's why you watch me, or one of their thousands of other classes on subjects like creative writing or web development, photography, or how to freelance, which is what I do.

Todd: Like, here's one that interests me.

Clip of...

Todd (VO): Bookkeeping for Freelancers: How to Handle Your Finances by Emily Simcox. Learn how to track your expenses and stay organised. [beat] I should probably look into that one 'cause...

Todd: ...my finances right now are just... well, I'm not gonna get into it.

Todd (VO): Just whatever you're into. Pick up new skills, improve the old ones, learn to make what you wanna make. The first thousand of my subscribers who click the link in the description will get a 2-month free trial of premium membership, so you can explore your creativity.

Todd: [sighs] Alright, thank you. And on with the show.

Shot of film leader

Todd plays "I Melt with You" on the piano.

A one-hit retrospective

Todd: Welcome back to One Hit Wonderland, where we take a look at bands and artists known for only one song. You know, I haven't done an [clip of A Flock of Seagulls - "I Ran (So Far Away)"] '80s new wave song in a while, that used to be the bread and butter of this show. Well, why don't we do one today? But if we're gonna do it, [back to Todd] let's make it not just any old new wave song. Why don't we do one of the best new wave songs ever made?

Clip of Modern English - "I Melt with You"

Todd (VO): Today's episode: "I Melt with You" by Modern English.

Todd: Fuck yes.

Robbie Grey: I'll stop the world and melt with you

Todd (VO): I overuse the word "classic", I know, but this song is a goddamn classic, I love it more than almost anything.

Todd: And I don't think that's an uncommon opinion.

Clip of VH1

Chris Booker: This is the best one hit wonder of the '80s...

Todd (VO): You can't quite call "I Melt with You" timeless because it's so '80s it hurts, but it is without a doubt one of the most achingly romantic songs of all time.

Todd: Everything about it rules. That perfect chorus, those evocative lyrics.

Robbie: Making love to you was never second best

Todd (VO): This one song is so immaculate that it's nuts to me that this band never had any more success.

Todd: Or didn't they?

Todd (VO): If you've watched this show enough you know that a lot of famous one-hit wonders had many hits that people just forgot. So with that in mind, I looked through their career [shot of scrolling through the band's Wikipedia page] and their chart history and yep, sure enough...

Todd: ...Modern English are not actually a one-hit-wonder. They're a no-hit wonder.

Robbie: Dream of better lives...

Todd (VO): People have definitions of what qualifies as a hit single, but most people agree it's gotta at least clear the top 40 and [shot of Billboard Hot 100 dated March 26, 1983] "I Melt with You" didn't even come close, topping out at number 78.

Todd: Foreign bands usually do better in their home countries, don't they?

Todd (VO): They're a bunch of skinny new wavers, they must be British, right? Sound British.

Todd: Yes they are. And while in America they only had one song barely scrape onto the pop charts, in the UK ,they never charted at all.

Todd (VO): Like, not even close. The only place they show up on over there is [shot of...] the UK indie charts.

Todd: And even there, not very high.

Todd (VO): They were well towered over by the indie giants like [live clip of "Age of Consent" by...] New Order, and [clip of "Everything Counts" by...] Depeche Mode, and... [clip of "Papa's Got a Brand New Pigbag" and album cover for Dr Heckle and Mr Jive by...] Pigbag?

Todd: But sometimes chart success isn't how you define a hit.

Shot of Consequence of Sound article with quote highlighted: "the best one-hit wonder of all time"

Todd (VO): "I Melt with You" has so thoroughly shot beyond its mediocre chart status that I feel more than comfortable calling them a one-hit-wonder.

Todd: In fact, I'm sure of it, and I'll tell you how you can tell.

Shot of Modern English Spotify page, showing various versions of "I Melt with You" in their top 10 most played songs

Todd (VO): If you go to a band's Spotify and more than half of their top 10 songs are the same song, they're a one-hit-wonder.

Todd: Hear all your favourite Modern English songs like [shots of single covers for various versions of the song] "I Melt with You", "I Melt with You (Live)", "I Melt with You (Remix)".

Todd: But you know what? The song is good enough to be repeated that many times. So let's check out the band that stopped the world with their one hit.

Before the hit

Todd: Now as I've said over and over, that early burst of new wave pop is what made the '80s the '80s.

Clips of Madonna - "Like a Virgin" live at the 1984 VMAs

Todd (VO): Before the blockbuster '80s, your Prince and Michael and Madonna, the [clip of The Buggles - "Video Killed the Radio Star"] tone of the decade was set by the new wave acts, who were all art school refugees who liked making weird, eye-catching music videos.

Todd: And so when MTV took over, the bulk of their playlist was...

Clip of The Human League - "Don't You Want Me"

Todd (VO): ...ear candy synthpop like, you know, "Video Killed the Radio Star", "I Ran", "Don't You Want Me"...

Todd: ...and this is of course, where [shot of the band] Modern English entered the equation in 1981. So let's check out their first entry into the [back to Todd] silly and magical world of synthpop.

Clip of "Dance of Devotion (A Love Song)" with Mesh & Lace album cover onscreen

Robbie: You didn't know

How much I wanted you

You didn't know

Todd: Uh-huh.

Todd (VO): Actually, we're gonna have to start this story a little further left of the dial.

Todd: OK, let me introduce you to a little label called [shot of logo for...] 4AD.

Shot of Guardian article: "4AD: the 'pure' label behind Pixies and Cocteau Twins"

Todd (VO): It was a minor imprint of a bigger label and it was founded to be the destination for all the coolest, most top 40 unfriendly alternative bands. [clip of Bauhaus - "Bela Lugosi's Dead"] It launched in 1980 with a bunch of the big goth rock acts, you know, like [clip of The Birthday Party - "Junkyard"] Bauhaus, Nick Cave and his original band The Birthday Party, [clip of Pixies - "Where Is My Mind?"] and they just continued through the decades being the hottest hotspot of indie shit, they're...

Todd: ...still doing it now.

Todd (VO): They've got Bon Iver, [clip of "Kill V. Maim" by...] Grimes, [clip of "Snakeskin" by...] Deerhunter, probably a whole bunch of other bands I'm...

Todd: ...way too basic to know anything about.

Picture of Modern English

Todd (VO): So yeah, that's the kind of band Modern English were on [shot of cover for...] that first album, Mesh & Lace. They must like...

Todd: ...that phrase 'cause it shows up later in their big hit.

Clip of "I Melt with You"

Robbie: Mesh and lace

Todd: But before they ever wrote that they were...

Shot of the band

Todd (VO): ...one of the original post-punk bands, they were groups who wanted to outdo punk, which [quote from Robbie fades in: "Punk was kind of dying off; it had become very commercialized."] I guess they thought had gotten too commercial.

The following text appears on screen:

Todd (VO): Punk Rock - selling out since 1979! [Image of the band] Even in that scene, I get the sense that Modern English weren't super acclaimed. I think...

Todd: ...the critical opinion was that they were decent enough [image of album art for Unknown Pleasures by...] Joy Division wannabes. But they weren't that for long. [Image of Modern English appears onscreen] They started their career being like, [the following text appears beside the image: "We used to think, 'God, we'll never make a pop record, we're artists!'"] "Oh, we're dark and goth, and we'll never go pop!" [Image of album art for After the Snow] And on their second album, apparently almost by accident, they looked at what they were recording and they were like, "Oh... shit."

The big hit

Todd: Okay, originally, Modern English was not going to have hits. [Image of Modern English promo picture] This was a band destined to never be heard anywhere except the very most hipster of college rock stations. [Image of album art for After the Snow] And even on that second album, where they kinda surprised themselves by writing radio-friendly singles, their music was still not even available in America, unless you were one of those [image of a man with glasses showing off his record collection] pre-internet super nerds who bought import records. So how did these obscure, art school Brits become the darling of the '80s? What force of nature was powerful enough to propel them into the mainstream?

Clip from Vampire's Kiss

Peter Loew (Nicolas Cage): You know, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L M N O P...

Todd: That's right. Nicolas. Fucking. Cage.

Clip from Valley Girl trailer

Julie Richman (Debbie Foreman): It's always awesome!

Todd (VO): So, in 1983, there was a little movie called Valley Girl, featuring the first leading role of one Nic Cage in his very brief teen idol phase.

Clip from Valley Girl

Stacey (Heidi Holicker): God! What a hunk. Check out those pecs!

Todd (VO): He actually pulls it off better than you'd imagine. [Montage of clips from Valley Girl] Valley Girl is not quite in the top tier of '80s teen movies, but it's up there; it's pretty well remembered.

Todd: Personally, I found it a little dull. But the soundtrack is top notch.

Todd (VO): Nic Cage's character is supposed to be a punk, and the director, Martha Coolidge, was pretty plugged into the post-punk scene, so she just filled up the movie with bands that she liked.

Todd: Apparently, she heard "I Melt With You on [image of promo poster for] KROQ once, because KROQ used to be pretty cool and underground and not just play old Sublime songs from dawn to dusk...

Todd (VO): ... and she loved "I Melt With You" so much that she made the movie's big falling in love montage set to this song.

Clip of "I Melt With You" montage

Robbie: I'll stop the world and melt with you

Todd (VO): They just played the entire goddamn song from start to finish. And it absolutely kills. During this three-minute stretch, Valley Girl and baby Nic Cage are the most romantic couple in cinematic history.

Todd: So, what is it about the song that works so well? Let's take a listen.

Clip of "I Melt With You"

Todd (VO): Okay, well, first off, it has the NBC jingle obviously.

Clip of the song's guitar riff, followed by the NBC jingle

Todd: That must be why I like it so much, it gives me fond memories of must-see TV.

Clip of the NBC jingle, edited to resemble the "I Melt With You" riff

Todd (VO): ["I Melt With You" continues] You know, actually, I've loved this song so long that I've never really thought about what makes it work and why it's lasted as long as it has.

Todd: I guess the first thing I'd point out is just the construction of it.

Robbie: Moving forwards, using all my breath

Todd (VO): It's very simple and, for lack of a better explanation, extremely coverable.

Todd: It's not even a [image of sheet music for "Four Chord Song" by Nick Long] four chord song; [the image is edited to read "Two Chord Song"] it's actually much simpler than that. Two chords only.

Todd (VO): Plus a couple extra chords in the bridge at the end, but for the most part, the vast majority of the song is just these two.

Todd: [Todd plays the chords to the song on his piano, singing the following text to the song's melody:] Play the C chord and the F chord's next, then you play the C again and right back down to F.

Todd: It also doesn't have a wide vocal range, so it's really easy to sing.

[Clip of Rob Thomas performing "I Melt With You" acoustically]

Rob: I'll stop the world and melt with you

Todd (VO): It's one of those rare songs that sounds just as good being played by a single guy with an acoustic guitar. So, uh, if you've worn out "Wonderwall" and you wanna learn a second song?

Todd: Highly recommend it.

Modern English version of "I Melt With You" continues

Todd (VO): What else is going on? What else is it about?

Robbie: Making love to you was never second best

Todd (VO): Just a love song, right?

Todd: Not quite.

Todd (VO): It is a love song. But it's also about something else:

Todd: The end of the fucking world!

Clip from ABC News Viewpoint: "The Day After"

Todd (VO): It's crazy to think about, but even now, during the Great Pandemic of 2020, we still don't really have the crazy power of apocalyptic dread that people had in the '80s. And they weren't even locked in their homes like we are now. Everyone was off living their lives like normal, but at any second, someone in Washington or Moscow could get real angry or maybe spill their coffee on the nuclear launch console, and literally everyone on Earth would be dead.

Todd: It's the kind of thing that's hard to put out of your mind...

Clips of Nena - "99 Luftballons"...

Todd (VO): So there were a lot of songs about this, some [... Prince - "1999"...] explicitly, some more directly like [...and...] "I Melt With You". But to be clear, that title is not a metaphor.

Robbie: I'll stop the world and melt with you

Todd (VO): Lead singer Robbie Grey has stated, on the record, this is about [image of Robbie Grey interview with the following text highlighted: "... [it was] about a couple making love as the bomb dropped"] two people making love while being vaporized by a nuclear bomb.

Todd: So he is literally melting with you.

"I Melt With You" plays over clip from Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Robbie: I'll stop the world and melt with you. You've seen...

Todd: Ha ha. Talk about going out with a bang. [sadly chuckles]

"I Melt With You" video continues

Todd (VO): For what it's worth, I only found one source that quoted him saying that. He doesn't seem to have brought it up in any other interview. So either A: [image of Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the '80s] this book is lying, or B: [clip from Behind The Vinyl: "I Melt With You" with Robbie Grey from Modern English] he wasn't actually serious or C: he decided he should just keep it under his hat and not ruin people's fond feelings by [image of post-apocalyptic Earth] associating it with human extinction.

Todd: I tend to think it's that last one.

"I Melt With You" continues

Todd (VO): Cause, yeah, it's probably not about anything that concrete or specific, but...

Todd: ...there is definitely a lot of apocalyptic imagery in it.

Robbie: I saw the world rushing all around your face

Todd (VO): I honestly thought for a while that this song was about saving the world.

Todd: With love.

Modern English: You've seen the difference and it's getting better all the time

Todd (VO): He stopped the world and things are getting better all the time.

Todd: The future's open wide

Modern English: The future's open wide

Todd (VO): Maybe that part's just being ironic, I don't know.

Todd: Maybe humanity is done for.

Robbie: I made a pilgrimage to save this human's race

Modern English: Never comprehending the race has long gone by

Todd (VO): Yeah, I think the message of the song is, "You know, fuck it."

Todd: "Fuck the world. Fuck the doomed human race. All that matters now is you."

Todd (VO): "And the future's open wide, now that we don't have to worry about literally anything else."

Todd: I mean, that's romantic, right? I say it is.

Clip from Valley Girl

Todd (VO): When you're in love, especially teenage love like in Valley Girl, every little thing is the end of the world. That's why people like this song, for it's intensity.

Todd: "I Melt With You" feels like a conclusion, for sure. It's a song for the end credits.

Clip of...

Todd (VO): And yes, it does play again over Valley Girl's end credits, and many movies since.

"I Melt With You" video continues

Robbie: There's nothing you and I won't do

Todd (VO): It sounds like I'm making fun of this; I'm not. It's a brilliant idea for a song, and they sell it. It's poetry. If the world had stopped from there, that would have been a fine legacy.

Todd: But they had to keep moving forward, using all their breath, so what happened next?

The failed follow-up

Modern English - "Someone's Calling"

Todd (VO): I've done a few of these episodes where I found out the artist complained like, "Oh, the label didn't support us", but Modern English...

Todd: ...has a pretty good case for being screwed over.

Robbie: Someone's calling in the night

Todd: This is their follow-up single, "Someone's Calling". [Shrugs] It's fine!

Robbie: Someone's calling in the night

Todd (VO): It's kinda midway between "I Melt With You" and the first album, so... like a decent Echo & the Bunnymen B-side. I don't know if it's a hit, exactly, but I do know that if "I Melt With You" had hit, maybe they'd have more momentum.

Todd: But as previously stated... it was not. Here's why.

Clips from Valley Girl

Todd (VO): Valley Girl is an okay movie, but it has one of the greatest soundtracks of the entire '80s. People didn't know that at the time because the soundtrack didn't make it to stores. [Image of Valley Girl soundtrack on LP] It was gonna be released, but then the people in charge were like, "Eh, it's too expensive", and it got pulled at the last minute. Todd: And it didn't get a real release until the '90s.

Clip from "I Melt With You" video

Todd (VO): That's also why there's no clips of the movie in the music video. [Clip of Michael Sembello - "Maniac"] By this point, labels had figured out that tying the music video to the film was a great promotional tool... Todd: ...but no one bothered to do that for Modern English.

"I Melt With You" continues

Todd (VO): This should have gone straight to number one. It was a giant smash on MTV, so selling it should have been a slam dunk.

Todd: And the label just dropped the ball. [Image of Warner Bros. Records logo] People at Warner Bros. Records got fired over this. [clip of interview with Ivo Watts-Russell, head of 4AD Records] And over in London, people at 4AD were like, "We're never working with these big American labels again. These people are tasteless morons". But by the third record...

Modern English - "Chapter 12"

Todd (VO): ...Modern English were kind of not fitting onto the 4AD roster anyway.

Modern English: They'll never let you be yourself today

Todd (VO): The big names at 4AD at this time were, you know, [image of You and Your Sister by..] This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance [clip of Dead Can Dance performing "The Arcane"].

Todd: Meanwhile, this was the direction Modern English were headed.

Modern English - "Hands Across the Sea"

Modern English: Reaching out, stretch your hands across the sea

Todd (VO): 4AD were still the cool goth label, and Modern English were turning into just another mainstream synth band. "You used to be cool, man!"

Todd: Modern English made one more album for 4AD and that was it for them.

Did they do anything else?

Modern English - "Ink and Paper"

Todd (VO): Modern English jumped to a bigger, more mainstream label after that, and they went full pop. This is their 1986 single, "Ink and Paper".

Modern English: Ink and paper

Robbie: Not quite enough to make it clear

Todd (VO): You know what, I'm kinda used to looking at these bands' back catalogues and not finding anything, but I actually really like this. This could've been a hit.

Todd: Check this out.

Modern English: Ink and paper

Robbie: How can I make them change your mind

Todd (VO): Top-tier '80s sax solo. Cannot recommend enough. But, it went nowhere. No chart action for them at all.

Todd: So, the band split up.

Clip of Modern English interview

Todd (VO): They reunited in 1990, and [image of album artwork for Pillow Lips] one more album that actually did chart a single. [Screenshot of Modern English Wikipedia article, with chart numbers circled in red] In fact, it charted at number 76, two spots higher than "I Melt With You". [Interview continues] So even though it's not as well remembered, this is technically their biggest hit.

Todd: Let's hear the song that was supposedly that tiny bit much better than "I Melt With You".

Clip of video for... wait for it...

Modern English: Let's stop the world

Robbie: Moving forwards, using all my breath

Todd (VO): Ha! Let me introduce you to "I Melt With You 1990".

Robbie: I'll stop the world and melt with you

Todd: It-it's basically the exact same.

Todd (VO): I mean, I guess they thought that the song deserved a second chance, and it did -

Todd: Two spots better.

Clip of Modern English performing

Todd (VO): And that's mostly it for them. After that, they kind of exit the public eye. [Clip of...] The most I could find was a truly random performance on the Clueless TV show.

Modern English: ...getting better all the time

Todd (VO): Yes, there was a Clueless TV show. [Clip of Bowling for Soup - "I Melt With You"] In the meantime, "I Melt With You" has recurred over and over again. There are covers of it in multiple teen movies, plus [image of Spotify screenshot showing...] dozens of other covers, [clip of...] a Burger King commercial, [clip of a Hershey's commercial] other commercials, [clip of...] a remake of Valley Girl that went to streaming a couple months ago, [clip of...] a bizarre video from 2004 featuring a lip-synching Fred Durst?

Fred Durst (lip-synching): There's nothing you and I won't do

Todd: I don't even know.

Clip of trailer for I Melt With You

Robbie: I'll stop the world and melt with you

Todd (VO): Robbie even recorded a spare, stripped down version in 2011 for a movie also named I Melt With You, and uh, if I were to rank all the movies I've ever seen, this movie would be in the bottom fifty. It is unwatchable.

Clip of Modern English performing

Todd (VO): Robbie Grey has broken up the band and reformed it with different members several times. More recently, he managed to convince almost the entire original lineup to rejoin, and they've been touring these past couple years. [Different clip of Modern English performing] They have a small but dedicated fanbase from way back at that first album. [Clip of...] Here's them a couple weeks ago performing "I Melt With You" in quarantine.

Robbie: I'll stop the world and melt with you

Todd: Cool.

Did they deserve better?

Todd: Yes! Not a big "YES!", but yes.

Clip from "I Melt With You"

Robbie: I'll stop the world and...

Todd (VO): "I Melt With You" is an all-time great '80s song by any measure. Modern English the band weren't exactly at the level of The Cure or anything, but they're worth checking out if you like that kind of '80s sound. [Image of AllMusic review for After the Snow] AllMusic has a great point that they were... Todd: ... originally tagged as kinda Joy Division wannabes, [image of artwork for Unknown Pleasures] but Joy Division lost their lead singer and became [image of promotional poster for] New Order, [group image of New Order] which became a really great pop band. Modern English became New Order before New Order did, so arguably, they were ahead of their time.

"I Melt With You" continues

Todd (VO): And certainly the long shelf life of "I Melt With You" bares that out.

Todd: A perfect song. [Sings to the tune of the guitar riff] Mmm, mmm mmm. [Gets up and leaves] Mmm, mmm mmm mmm.

Robbie: Let's stop the world

Modern English: I'll stop the world and melt with you

Robbie: Let's stop the world

Closing Tag Song: Natalie Imbruglia - "I Melt With You"


"I Melt With You" is owned by 4AD.

This video is owned by me.


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