Unless you are/were a die-hard album buying, b-side listening, concert attending Thompson Twins fan you may not know or remember the song, “Sister of Mercy”. Thompson Twins’ 1984 album, Into the Gap, produced three international hit singles, “Doctor Doctor,” “You Take Me Up“, and of course, “Hold Me Now.”
But it seems my favorite radio station, WLIR wasn’t content playing only those three songs from the album. Each of those singles were nominated for, and won, the station’s Screamer of the Week competition (each week listeners voted for the best new song of the week) in the winter of 1984. In the first week of March, “The Gap” became the fourth song from the album to win Screamer of the Week. And finally, “Sister of Mercy” won the competition in the second week of June. I’ll need verification from a Screamer of the Week scholar – but I’m pretty sure 5 Screamers from one album has to be some type of record. i don’t think R.E.M. or Depeche Mode or OMD or U2 ever came close to that achievement.
So what caused Thompson Twins to dominate the modern rock and pop airwaves in 1984 ? I think my answer may come in one word – their songs were incredibly, “CATCHY”. I fear some may think that calling a song a catchy is a back handed compliment – but I use the phrase as major praise. “Yellow Submarine” is catchy. “Beat It” is catchy. “Ode to Joy” is catchy. So when I say that Into the Gap is filled with some of the catchiest tunes of the year, maybe I’m coming close to calling it a perfect album. Maybe.
I always interpreted “Sister of Mercy” as the band’s attempt at gravitas. It falls within what is a surprisingly large category of pop songs written about domestic violence. 10,000 Maniacs’ “What’s the Matter Here,” Janet Jackson’s “This Time”, The Pretenders and Annie Lennox’s respective covers of “Thin Line Between Love & Hate” are some of my favorites in that genre.
Thompson Twins were such a positive band – I always thought they might record a sequel to the song in which the female character is released from prison and goes on to counsel other women who have suffered a similar fate. Or maybe she sees the Thompson Twins video for “You Take Me Up” and, inspired, engineers a prison break.
I like a happy ending.
Additional Screamer of the Week posts: