Living in a Box

OHW Living in a Box by krin.jpg

Date Aired
July 1st, 2016
Running Time
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Todd plays "Living in a Box" on the piano

A one-hit wonder retrospective

Todd: Hello, and welcome back to One Hit Wonderland, where we take a look at bands and artists known for only one song. Today, and for the rest of the year, most likely, we'll be looking at a number of requests I sold [shot of Todd's Patreon page] on Patreon. And what I appreciate most about these Patreon requests is that I get to explore bands that...I might have overlooked otherwise. And...yeah, you can definitely say that I had no plans to cover this one.

Video for "Living in a Box"
Richard Darbyshire: In my own mind!
Am I living in a box
Am I living in a cardboard box

Todd (VO): For those of you who are confused, no, this is not Wang Chung, and no, it is not Spandau Ballet. This is actually the band [promo pic of...] Living in a Box, singing their hit Top 20 single [single cover] "Living in a Box" off their debut album from 1987, [album cover] Living in...

Todd: ...a Box. It's about living in a box. Yeah, you remember this one, it goes...

Clips of Aerosmith - "Livin' on the Edge"...

Todd (VO): [singing to above tune] I'm living in a box!

Aerosmith: You can't help yourself...

Todd (VO): No? Uh...

Todd: Maybe it was...

...and Bon Jovi - Livin' on a Prayer

Todd (VO): Oh-oh! Livin' in a box!

Jon Bon Jovi: Take my hand

Todd: Okay, I'll be honest...

Todd (VO): ...I've never listened to this song before. From...from what I can gather, there's probably a reason for that. Yeah, I'm fairly certain that if this song is remembered at all, it's probably because of the novelty of a band with the same name as their only song. I mean, there are other bands like that. [Clips of eponymous songs by...] Bad Company, Black Sabbath, Talk Talk. But Living in a Box is unique in that that's their only song; it wasn't even that big a song. I certainly never heard it ever.

Todd: I'd heard of it.

Todd (VO): But it's certainly not something that's stood the test of time. I...I don't even know if I'm reviewing this really; it's more like I'm [picture of archaeologist at work] studying it, like ancient ruins.

Todd: But you know, I've always said, if you want to get a feel for what any era of music was like, don't look at the stuff everyone remembers.

Todd (VO): Take a look at the stuff no one remembers. So let's dust off this particular '80s relic.

Todd: What were you, Living in a Box? Why were you living in a box?

Richard: In my own mind!
Am I living in a box

Before the hit

Todd: Okay, Living in a Box is...

Clip of band

Todd (VO): ...three guys from Sheffield, England: Richard Darbyshire, Anthony "Tich" Critchlow, and Marcus Vere. They wrote a song about living in a box, and then they were like...

Todd: ..."why don't we name ourselves Living in a Box," so they did.

Clip of Zu Zu Sharks - "Love Tumbles Down"

Todd (VO): Before that, Darbyshire was in a briefly successful band called the Zu Zu Sharks. This was the '80s, so you can call your band things like Zu Zu Sharks.

Richard: Love tumbles down

Todd (VO): This was a #1 hit. In [map of...] Spain, granted, but still, you know, that's still a pretty big country. But Zu Zu Sharks lasted about three songs before Darbyshire bailed on the group. Apparently, he didn't like the band's "pop" direction, which...which I don't get because I've found their entire discography all sounds pretty much like Living in a Box did, but I don't know what he wanted different. And they never even released a full album, but...

Todd: ...I found this live performance which I...I had to share.

Clip of "Changes" performed on Saturday Superstore

Todd (VO): Oh, my God. That shirt, and that hair. That's wonderful.

Todd: And while we're talking about hair and outfits, I wanna talk to you a little about New Wave.

Todd (VO): Now, I've covered, like, 60 different New Wave acts on this show, but Living in a Box belongs to a very special, different subgenre that I have yet to dive into.

Todd: Sophisti-pop.

Clip of Prefab Sprout - "When Love Breaks Down"
Paddy McAloon: My love and I
We are boxing clever

Todd (VO): Now, I'm sure you already have your own idea about what a New Wave band is supposed to look like. [Images of Duran Duran, Boy George, Adam Ant, Split Enz, Devo, Robert Smith, Kajagoogoo, and Mike Score] First, you fill a bathtub full of makeup products and you stick your face in it. After that, you put on the stupidest outfit you can find, something that makes you look like you're in a bad sci-fi movie. And finally, you stick your hand in a light socket, and whatever shape your hair is in after that, you make it stick with enough hairspray to mutate your DNA.

Clip of Danny Wilson - "Mary's Prayer"
Gary Clark: So if I say save me

Todd (VO): Sophisti-pop, though, that one's a little different. It was a special brand that was a little jazzier, more soulful, more mainstream. It emphasized being smooth and classy.

Todd: And despite that, they gave it the ridiculous name "sophisti-pop"!

Clip of Johnny Hates Jazz - "Shattered Dreams"

Todd (VO): And the people who performed it, instead, they wore these, you know, sharp suits and doofy, preppy haircuts, which is kind of ridiculous in its own way, I guess, but it was definitely less envelope-pushing than most New Wave. So if you wanted to sound like Duran Duran, but looked like Huey Lewis, then this was your genre.

Todd: So let's catch back up to where we started.

Clip of interview

Todd (VO): Richard Darbyshire is trying to go it solo, he runs into two guys cutting a demo with a song about living in a box, they decide to collaborate, and they start a band.

Todd: Let's get to it.

The big hit

Video for "Living in a Box"

Todd (VO): Okay, obviously, the first thing you want to know is, you know, what the hell were they on about? Why are they writing about living in a box? I mean, I know all about living in a box...

Todd: ...but that's because I live in New York City. I'm actually filming this [picture of...] in a shipping container. It's only $2,200 a month, you know, so it's not bad. But anyway, "Living in a Box" is obviously significant to you guys—you named a band after it—so why?

Clip of interview
Richard: The song came first, then we decided to name the band after the song. The song's basically about a friend of ours living in Sheffield. I went to see him one day, he said, "I'm literally living in a box," so alright, we'll write a song about it.

Todd: Well, there you have it. Clearly, this is a song about homelessness.

Richard: I feel resistance
As I open my eyes
Someone's foolin'

Todd: You know, for a song about a really depressing issue, this is...awfully upbeat.

Richard: I found a way to break through this cellophane bag
'Cause I know what's goin' on
In your mind
I'm a-livin' in a box [sic]

Todd (VO): Okay, my mistake. This is... I don't think this is about their homeless friend at all; it's a metaphor. Not a very specific one, but a metaphor for...I don't know, being trapped, being caged in somehow.

Richard: I sometimes wonder
What's movin' underground
I'm escaping

Todd (VO): Yeah, like you've been sealed in a plastic bag, you're bustin' out. I wonder how their friend felt knowing about that.

Todd: "Oh, man! My situation inspired you to write a song about me. Wow. That's so great...

Todd (VO): "...knowing that I struck a nerve with you guys, and now it's gonna touch the lives of people around the world. Oh, the song just has a single phrase that I used once. And it has...

Todd: ...nothing to do with me. Okay. Well, I guess I'll just...go back to my box. [beat] Hey, are you gonna finish that bagel? I haven't really eaten in a... I'm just gonna go."

Todd (VO): But at the very least, it hits with force, you know.

Todd: Livin' in a box!

Richard (with backup): Livin' in a box (livin')
I'm a-livin' in a cardboard box
I'm a-livin' in a box

Todd (VO): Okay, hold on a moment. Is this a metaphor or not? 'Cause when you specify that it's a cardboard box, it starts to sound pretty literal. Even if it is a metaphor, why is it a cardboard box?

Richard: I found a way to break through...

Todd (VO): You figured out how to break through a cardboard box.

Todd: Good for you? That's the go-to metaphor for something that [shot from Home Star Runner: Strong Bad in a cardboard jail] doesn't trap you at all.

Richard: I'm a-livin' in a box (livin')

Todd (VO): Actually, hold on, is it "I'm a-livin' in a box," or...

Todd: ..."am I living in a box"?

Richard: I'm a-livin' in a box

Todd (VO): I don't know. I'm not sure it makes sense either way.

Todd: Okay, let's be clear. The lyrics are not why this song got successful.

Richard: A-a-a-a-ow!

Todd (VO): It's mostly about that slamming, all in-your-face wall of synth and Darbyshire's booming bass.

Richard: Nothin' doin'

Todd: Yeah. Makes you wanna dance.

Todd (VO): Very forceful song. Incidentally, that's probably also the reason you don't hear this song much anymore.

Todd: Let's...let's be clear here. This hasn't aged well.

Todd (VO): It's all a little much. It's just so very loud and blaring and, not to mention, if you did like it, there are better songs that sound just like it. [Singing to tune] You are an obsession, you're my obsession.

Todd: Matter of fact, I'm not sure why this band is labeled sophisti-pop at all. Like, most of the...

Clip of Swing Out Sister - "Breakout"

Todd (VO): ...most of the stuff I checked out from this genre was a lot smoother and not so in-your-face.

In fact, with some of the riffs in it, kinda sounds...

Todd: ...more like...

The video is interrupted by Rick Astley - "Never Gonna Give You Up"

Todd (VO): Hey!

Todd: Hey, hey, hey! Stop that!

Rick: ...give you up

Todd: No. No. None of that.

Richard: I'm a-livin' in a box (livin')
I'm a-livin' in a cardboard box

Todd (VO): Okay, yes, this is the song that put Living in a Box on the map. They were huge.

Todd: Okay, no, they weren't.

Todd (VO): That's probably another reason you don't hear them much anymore; it wasn't that big to begin with. #5 in the UK, that's pretty good, but only #17 here. Better than most people, but you know, it's not, like, world-conquering. Look at this. [Clip of G-Eazy and Bebe Rexha - "Me, Myself & I"] Here's a song that's popular right now.

Bebe: It's just me, myself and I

Todd (VO): Got way higher than #17, but you're not gonna remember it next year, let alone in thirty years.

But yeah, there's a reason why this faded away.

Todd: But what about their other songs?

The failed follow-up

Video for "Scales of Justice"
Richard: Everybody, everyday
Tries to tip the scales of justice

Todd just taps his face

Richard: Everybody, everyday
Tries to tip the scales of justice

Todd: If I had to summarize the #1 thing I've discovered doing One Hit Wonderland, it is this: there is just an unfathomable amount of mediocre music in the world.

Todd (VO): I'm not saying it's bad, it's's just not something anyone's gonna really care about for more than a second. Even the Hot 100 [logo for Billboard Hot 100], which measures the most popular songs in the country, the ones people...

Todd: ...want to hear more than anything else in the world, is mostly made up of mediocrity.

Todd (VO): So as I listened to this failed follow-up, "Scales of Justice," which did not chart, all I can say is...

Todd: ...well, yeah, there's a reason this follow-up failed. It's not very good. Sounds like soundtrack filler for a bad '80s movie.

Song continues over performance of "Living in a Box"

Todd (VO): Now, like most of the British acts I cover, they did better in their home country, this case, not by a whole lot. A couple of their songs hit the Top 10, but most just barely scraped into the Top 40, if that.

Todd: Well, anyway, let's look at their next one, "So the Story Goes."

Video for "So the Story Goes"
Richard: If it's love you want
Let the feeling go
Follow your heart
So the story goes
If there's time...

Todd (VO): Oh, yeah, I remember this. This is, uh...[game play of...] "Chemical Plant Zone" from Sonic 2, right?

Living (backup singers): So the story goes
[a clip of Sonic losing his rings]

Todd (VO): I don't know why we thought this particular synth tone was ever good. I guess it was still new, hindsight, we can firmly say this was terrible, right? What the hell were you thinking?

Todd: They did release a second album called [album cover of...] Gatecrashing.

Video for "Blow the House Down"

Todd (VO): I'd say it did a little better than the first. Not in this country, but they had a few Top 10 hits in the UK. This is the first single off of that, "Blow the House Down."

Living: We've got what it takes, together we can make it
Together we can blow the house down
Blow the house down (ooh ooh ooh)

Todd (VO): I don't...I don't see the big deal. I mean...blowing the house down is easy when your house is [picture of man peering out of...] a box.

Todd: Actually, this is my favorite one yet.

Todd (VO): It's no "Hip to Be Square," but you know, this is a good yuppie party song, right? [Picture of...] Drink some Bartles & Jaymes, play some croquet. Big problem is that [brief clip of "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" by...] Wang Chung definitely got to this first, know, I don't mind it. But that actually wasn't their biggest follow-up.

Video starts for...

Their biggest follow-up was called "Room in Your Heart," which actually got to #5 in the UK, the same peak as their first hit. So, you know...that's pretty good. Let's check that out.

Richard: I know this must be the room in your heart

Todd: Boring!

Did they ever do anything else?

Todd: No.

Todd (VO): Living in a Box would never release a third album. Apparently, there was some label shake-ups, and they eventually broke up because of creative differences with the record executives.

Todd: You see, Dabryshire wanted to go in a direction that...sucked, but the label wanted him to focus more on being lame.

Todd (VO): Nah, I'm being mean. Apparently, they wanted the band to tone down their sound, which is hilarious; they weren't Megadeth or anything. But you know, they also weren't Chicago. [Todd briefly gags] So, yeah, if that's what the label wanted them to be, screw 'em.

Todd: Break up instead.

Clip of "This I Swear"
Richard; 'Cause honey, I know
I've been holding back too long

Todd (VO): Darbyshire eventually released a solo album or two in the '90s, did some songwriting work for [clip of performance by...] Level 42, which is another sophisti-pop band that only had one hit over here. [Clips of "All Around the World" by...] And he did a lot of work with Lisa Stansfield. Yeah, you remember her, right? It was like been around the world, and I-I-I, I can't... Yeah, you remember. Well, it turned out she [...and "The Real Thing"] had a pretty long career in the '90s. Who knew?

Todd: Never really found out what happened to the two other guys. I assume they went on to [one more picture of a man...] live in a box.

Did they deserve better?

Todd: Well... You know, maybe not better, exactly, but I can see, you know, how they kinda... No, no, they didn't.

Richard: I'm a-livin'
I'm a-livin'
I'm a-livin'

Todd (VO): You know, I do this show 'cause I enjoy breaking down different genres, laughing at funny outfits, exploring things people forgot, but just listening to this music? No, I can pretty much do without Living in a Box. I'm happy to leave that one behind. Once I'm done with this, I'm gonna stick all this in a box. 'Cause you know, that's where this belongs—in a cardboard box [picture of garbage full of them] that you tape up with duct tape, and then you stick it in the garage, along with all your other...

Todd: ...shit from the '80s that you never threw out.

Shrugs it off, gets up and leaves

Richard: In a cardboard box
I'm a-livin' in a box-box-box...

Closing Tag Song: Bobby Womack - "Living in a Box"

"Living in a Box" is owned by Chrysalis Records
This video is owned by me


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