Level 42 – Running in the Family
We'd make the same mistakes
Couldn't take his eyes off Joe and me
Looking back, it's so bizarre
It runs in the family
All the things we are
Probably if there is a group we discussed less than others in our journey in the 80s, that group is Level 42. A group that had enormous success, but who for various reasons is still rather reluctant to leave traces in the future. Few interviews, few stories, a YouTube channel with many footage from recent concerts but with very few videos from the 80s, maybe for rights issues owned by third parties, or maybe not since there are several songs anyway.
In any case, Level 42 were an absolutely important presence in the landscape of the 80s, not only for many of their great songs, but also for the technique and mastery of their leader Mark King, born as a drummer and then transformed into one of the greatest bass players in the world, thanks to his very particular “slap” technique with which he actually slaps his four strings.
Level 42 formed after Mark King and the Gould brothers, all from the Isle of Wight and school mates, had moved to London, where they met Mike Lindup, who will give a particular sound to their music thanks to his ability in falsetto. And so from 1981 they begin to create records at the rate of one a year, until the mid-80s, certainly obtaining good visibility and a good following especially in England.
Of course their name is inspired by that famous Douglas Adams’ book where “42” is the ultimate answer to questions about life, universe, and everything.
Over time they were also joined by producer Wally Badarou, who was not a real member of the band, but who in fact accompanied them behind the scenes throughout their journey. Of course he also collaborated with other artists, especially as a keyboardist, and played with names like Robert Palmer, M (as in Pop Muzik), Talking Heads, Power Station, both for Some Like It Hot, Get it on and for other songs on the album.
For Level 42, 1985 was the turning point: their sixth album World Machine, driven by the great success of Something About You, had opened the doors to international success for them and in the following year the group was split between an international tour and the realization of the album that should definitively celebrate their popularity. And in February 1987 the great maneuvers began for the release of the album Running In The Family, which was anticipated by the song of the same name, and which also included the beautiful Lessons In Love, released the previous year as a single.
The song Running in the Family is quite enjoyable, and retraces some childhood memories, with flashbacks to moments in father’s car with siblings Emily and Joe, while their father kept an eye on them in the mirror, or playing scenes in garden. I’ve actually always tried to figure out if this song was really autobiographical, or if Emily and Joe were fictional characters, but unfortunately after so many years I still don’t have an answer. The song is still very upbeat, but it’s also profound, centered around the fact that no matter how much parents can help or protect their children, they will still have to repeat exactly the same mistakes as the parents, in the circle of life.
The video is in full pop art style, almost halfway between Mondriaan and Andy Warhol, with the members of the group playing and singing in a room that looks like a chessboard with the pawns of some game, and with a revolving platform in the center, like a big vynil record. In addition to the members of the group there are also cardboard figures with their features, and at the beginning it almost seems that the cardboard figures become active at the right moment, when the members play or sing, and then return to inanimate. An interesting effect.
Running in the Family remains, after so many years, one of Level 42’s most beautiful and loved songs. The group still exists and still plays, but without its leader. Their last concert in the traditional lineup dates back to 1994, after which they alternated events and musicians, with Mark King retaining the right to use the group’s name, but in fact playing with with different musicians from period to period. After all, these are also family memories!
Final detail about families: Mark King left his first wife Pia and married his second wife Ria. He loves short names!
Level 42 on Wikipedia