As a new artist in the late ‘80s, Sananda Maitreya – then known as Terence Trent D’Arby – was certainly not lacking in confidence. As his debut album Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby was climbing the U.K. charts in 1987, he told England’s Melody Maker, "I think my album is the greatest album ever made...It's even better than Sgt. Pepper by The Beatles.”
It was a great quote – a Top-10-all-time juicy bit of arrogance, spoken at a time when a then two-decade-old Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was being roundly hailed not just as the Beatles’ masterwork, but as the greatest rock album of all time.
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Brits ate it all up, sending Introducing the Hardline to the top of the album chart and “If You Let Me Stay” and “Wishing Well” to the peak of the singles chart. The bright lights and big cities of America beckoned, and Maitreya gladly crossed the pond to accept the accolades that would surely be bestowed upon him.
Except it didn’t work out that way. Not at first. “If You Let Me Stay” topped out at No. 68 on the Billboard Hot 100, and suddenly the hype machine seized up. Maitreya – who was actually born in the U.S. and only wound up in Europe due to a stint in the Army – felt compelled to walk back some of his image-building statements.
“You’ve got to realize that I said a lot of (outrageous) things in England,” he told the Los Angeles Times in early 1988. “A lot of it was what I truly believed, but a lot of it was exaggerated to make a point. You have to hit people over the head to make them notice, and I did it. I know how to play the game.
“But now I’m worried that a lot of people in America think I am some kind of hype because of all that has been written in England,” he continued, “and I’m very serious about my music and my career. I don’t want to be just the latest curiosity.”
In mid-January, Maitreya released “Wishing Well” as the second single from Introducing the Hardline; it debuted at an inauspicious No. 79.
“‘Wishing Well’ was written when I was in a half-awake, half-asleep state of mind,” the singer told Record Mirror. “I like the feel of the words on that song.”
Actually, little about the lyrics in “Wishing Well” make much sense. “Hugging like a monkey see, monkey do / Right beside a riverboat gambler,” he sings, also calling out "erotic images" in his head and “sugar bells” ringing.
What is undeniable is the song’s groove, with drums front and center in the song’s mix. Maitreya’s voice moves from gruff declaiming, to sweet falsetto punctuation at the end of each chorus. It’s undeniably soulful, but in a spare, almost rock setting. Maitreya's image in the song’s video was mesmerizing, particularly his striking gaze and angular dance moves – a sort of audiovisual hybrid of Michael Jackson, Prince, James Brown and Sam Cooke.
“Wishing Well” showed U.S. audiences what the hype was about, and the song made a slow, steady climb up the Hot 100, hitting No. 1 on May 7, 1988, in its seventeenth week on the chart. Though two other singles from Introducing the Hardline (“Dance Little Sister” and “Sign Your Name”) impacted the singles chart, “Wishing Well” remains the singer’s only No. 1 hit.
When a follow-up LP, 1989’s ambitious Neither Fish Nor Flesh (A Soundtrack of Love, Faith, Hope & Destruction), flopped internationally, D’Arby found himself having to accept a lower profile and a shrunken interest in his artistry. In 2001, he changed his name and to this day he still writes and records a prolific amount music for a small but intense group of fans.
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