In the fall of 1983, Spandau Ballet issued a single that not only provided the band with their biggest American hit but, indeed, took them to the top of the U.K. singles chart for the first - and, to date, only - time in their career.
Written by Gary Kemp and recorded in 1982, “True” was the third single released from the Spandau Ballet’s third album, which - what are the odds? - was also entitled True. As its lyrics suggest, the song was at least in part designed as a tribute to the music of Motown, with specific mention made of Marvin Gaye, who was still alive at the time it was written. (We don’t know if he ever actually heard it, unfortunately, but we imagine he would have been pleased by the reference to “listening to Marvin all night long.”)
The song was also partially inspired by the funny feelings Altered Images singer Clare Grogan caused in Kemp whenever she came near him, with some of the lines adapted from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, a copy of which Grogan had given to Kemp. Although he never mentions her by name, Kemp wrote in his autobiography, I Know This Much, “I read it as though she were reading it to me. It slipped beneath my skin and the words bubbled up inside, percolating through me I would send them back in song.”
The song in question was effectively made a single by public demand, as radio stations were playing the heck out of it when it was still a mere album track, but when “True” finally made it onto a 45, it promptly went to the top of the charts…or, to quote Kemp’s remarks to lead singer Tony Hadley when the news broke, “Tony, you f***er! We’re number one!” (We’re not telling tales out of school here, either: that bit is in I Know This Much, too.)
The song also proved to be the band’s biggest hit in the U.S. as well, and by a considerable margin: it hit No. 4 in America in October (Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" was No. 1), and the next closest success in the band’s discography was “Gold,” which made it no higher than No. 29.
“True” has never really gone away, but it’s continued to find further new life over the years thanks to sampling, which is how it kinda sorta did make it to No. 1 in America: you can hear its chorus featured prominently in P.M. Dawn’s 1991 chart-topper, “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss.” Beyond that, though, it’s been featured in episodes of Veronica Mars, Modern Family, and Cold Case, sung by Steve Buscemi in The Wedding Singer, and covered by everyone from Fergie to Paul Anka.
In short, it’s a stone cold classic, and it’s one that still holds up more than three decades after its initial release.
And as long as we’re talking about covers, here’s one by Mr. Hadley himself, and it shows not only how well his voice has held up over the years but also how he can take it, apply it to a more recent song, and still sing the living hell out of it.