“All That Money Wants”: In 1988, the Psychedelic Furs left the woods near Woodstock and climbed to the top of the pop charts

By on January 26, 2017

One of the more popular of the original “Night Flight” episodes is our “Take Off to Acid Rock,” which originally aired on September 16, 1988, and featured the Psychedelic Furs’ video for their chart-topping Modern Rock hit, “All That Money Wants.” Watch it all flashing back now on Night Flight Plus.

Pat Prescott introduces their video this way: “One of the first real acid bands, the Psychedelic Furs from Liverpool, paid homage to the Sixties in name, look and attitude, but the Eighties trip is technological, not chemical.”

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The Psychedelic Furs formed in 1977 with Richard Butler (vocals) and his brother Tim Butler (bass) coming together with Roger Morris (guitar) and saxophonist/keyboardist Duncan Kilburn, originally veering toward a post-punk austere art rock sound that mixed in influences like Roxy Music and David Bowie, with Butler often being singled out by critics for his Thin White Duke-ish full-throated and sometimes harsh vocal stylings (his voice has also been compared occasionally to Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols).

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Vince Ely — who had drummed in Chrissie Hynde’s last band before the Pretenders — joined the Furs in 1979, the same year they signed with Columbia (or CBS) Records, who were in the midst of a punk and new wave band signing frenzy at the time.

Their somewhat moody and pensive “All That Money Wants” video — directed, shot in treated black & white, and edited by Walter Pitt, who is credited here onscreen as Walter Willington, for some reason — was filmed on location in the local area surrounding Bearsville, New York, located just west of Woodstock (the city where Furs guitarist and record producer John Ashton continues to live today).

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The Furs first became familiar with the woodsy upstate NY area when they decide to record their third album, 1982’s Forever Now, with producer Todd Rundgren, who was going to be quite a change after recording two very fine albums with producer Steve Lillywhite: a gloomy but accomplished self-titled 1980 debut and their more upbeat pop-sounding sophomore effort, 1981’s Talk Talk Talk, which had featured the original version of a song that years later would become one of their biggest hits, “Pretty in Pink” (the song launched to international attention in 1986 when the film director John Hughes used a new hit version “Pretty in Pink” for his movie of the same name).

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The Furs had liked working with Lillywhite — who had worked with XTC, Peter Gabriel, U2 and others — but when he proved to be unavailable to work with they decided it was time to make a change anyway.

They were ready to stretch out with a new producer who they wanted be more open to working with string arrangements and helping them achieve a more sophisticated and textured overall sound, placing a greater emphasis on song structure.

In January 1982, in fact, they’d told Creem‘s John Mendelsohn that they were keen to use cellos on some of their next recordings (Richard Butler told Mendelsohn he’d been listening to a lot of the Beatles recordings at the time).

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At some point in ’82 they also sacked two original members — Morris and Kilburn — and they trimmed down to a four-piece. Ashton has recalled that he considered this a bit of a dark period in the band’s history, and the abrupt departure of two of the Furs put an end to a lot of the disagreements and fights between Richard Butler and the others, but left them feeling like they’d turned an important corner in their career.

Not only that, but their A&R man, Howard Thompson, had left Columbia Records, and he’d long been their champion, and so it felt very much, to the band, that they likely had one more chance to come up with the hit songs they all knew they had in them, deep down, or they were likely going to be looking for a new recording contract.

During band meetings, they discussed working with Bill Nelson (Ashton’s first choice) and David Bowie (both Richard and Tim’s choice), but drummer Vince Ely managed to convince them that Rundgren had an experimental side that would allow them to go off in different and new directions, which is what they wanted.

Rundgren — who was pretty familiar with working with bands who were undergoing transitional periods in their careers — met the band members at his home, which was located on Mink Hollow Road in Lake Hill, New York, not too far from Woodstock, while they were on an east coast U.S. tour.

They discussed their ideas and he agreed to produce them, and so they climbed back on their tour bus and finished their tour before returning back to Mink Hollow Road only to find that Rundgren was busy finishing up another recording project. He told the band to make themselves at home, and get to know the neighborhood, telling them that he’d be done in a few days.

The Furs then spent nearly six weeks on their recording sessions for Forever Now, which ended up being recorded not in Rundgren’s famed Utopia Sound Studios, but in a garage connected to Rundgren’s guesthouse, where they were staying during the recording sessions.

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One of Rundgren’s key suggestions — which came fairly late in the process — was to use background voices as an instrumental effect, and so he called on his longtime friends, Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, better known as Flo & Eddie of the Turtles.

Rundgren’s idea was to have them making strange vocal sounds that were more like keyboards than normal backing vocals, and when the Furs said to Rundgren, “Who the hell are these guys?,” they were told that they’d done the same kind of vocalizing on some of the big T. Rex hits (the Furs, hearing this and being big fans of Marc Bolan’s band, realized that it was a good idea after all).

Rundgren also expanded their sound with the additions of Gary Windo and Donn Adams (horns, formerly the Whole Wheat Horns with NRBQ), and cellist Ann Sheldon.

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When “Love My Way,” the first single from the new album was released in February 1983, it immediately connected with a much more mainstream fanbase, landing in the Top 30 of Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and #44 on their Hot 100 Pop Singles chart.

MTV played the band’s video for the song — which featured them miming along to the song in a shallow pool of water, with Vince Ely plinking along on a marimba (an instrument he didn’t actually know how to play) — in regular rotation.

Forever Now — released worldwide on September 25, 1982, although the American version (with its different track sequence) switched out Barney Bubbles’ colorful artwork and used a more new wave-looking cover that featured brightly-colored geometric shapes — gave the band their biggest U.S. success up to that point, charted at #61 on the Billboard album charts.

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Vince Ely quit the Furs after Forever Now, and now they were essentially down to just three regular members (the Butlers and John Ashton). Ely’s replacement on the band’s U.S. tour to support the album was the Birthday Party’s Phill Calvert.

Both Richard and Tim Butler moved to the United States following their tour, and Ashton — who made his home in Woodstock — flew out to Los Angeles to record with the band on their 1984 Keith Forsey-produced album Mirror Moves, which gave them two UK-charting hits, “The Ghost in You “Heaven” (peaking at #29, which was their biggest chart hit to date).

The band were enjoying the success that had eluded them during their earlier phase, especially when their re-recorded “Pretty in Pink” (a slick new version produced by Chris Kimsey for the movie soundtrack) reached #7 in the Billboard Top 200.

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Despite all the tour and chart success — including their next U.S. Top Forty hit, “Heartbreak Beat” — Richard Butler later characterized their next full-length album — 1987’s Midnight to Midnight, also produced by Kimsey — as “hollow, vapid and weak.”

1988’s “All That Money Wants” was the first recording that many of their original fans — some of whom had fled from the band’s side as they moved more towards a more commercial pop sound — saw as a deliberate attempt to find their way back, out of the woods and on to the pop charts.

The track was originally included on All of This and Nothing, a Psychedelic Furs “best of” compilation, which was also released in 1987, and was co-produced by the band and producer Stephen Street (who had previously collaborated with Morrissey on Viva Hate).

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The track’s popularity with rock radio stations led to it being released as a single in July 1988, which gave them a hit song — #1 on Billboard‘s Modern Rock chart; #75 on the U.K. singles chart.

There’s more to their story, of course, but we’re running out of cyber-ink.

Have a look and a listen to our “Take Off to Acid Rock” — also featuring artists like S’Express, the Cult, Nina Hagen and the Mission UK, among others — which you’ll find streaming on on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.