Why INXS Pushed For More With ‘Need You Tonight’

Success did not come overnight INXS.

Since forming in 1977, the band had slowly but surely developed a following in its native Australia. Their third album, 1982’s Shaboo Shooba, was their first to be released worldwide, even reaching No. 46 on the Billboard charts 200 in the US Two years later, The swing hovered around the same chart position: Nope. 52. Another year later, with the 1985s Sound like thieves, they landed much closer to the top at No. 11. For an eclectic group from Sydney, this level of international success was impressive. “We sat down to try and get a gig,” singer Michael Hutchence joked in 1988. Cracking the Top 10 was the next step.

In March 1987, INXS reconvened at Rhinoceros Studios in Sydney to plan their next album with producer Chris Thomas. The band had toured heavily in the mid-’80s and developed a reputation for their fiery live performances, but they knew their next album had to deliver more. It wasn’t that they didn’t have enough material for what would become the 1987s Kick, but something was missing. “They had incredible momentum and were gaining fans all the time,” Thomas said in 2005 “There was an audience waiting for the product, but I decided they didn’t have the right songs yet.”

There wasn’t much time left. The band were given two weeks to come up with what would hopefully be a hit single for the record. Exhausted, keyboardist Andrew Farriss went to Hong Kong, where Hutchence and drummer Jon Farriss had an apartment. As he got into the cab to the airport, inspiration struck. “Right before the guy could pull away, I heard the guitar line in my head, told the guy I forgot something and ran upstairs,” Andrew Farriss recalled. He quickly recorded the riff, plus a bass line and basic drum beat, and made sure to take the cassette with him. When he played it for Hutchence in Hong Kong, the singer took to it immediately, listening for a few hours before writing almost all the words in about 10 minutes. The result was “Need You Tonight.”

Flexibility was important to Farriss and Hutchence, who had never relied on any strict rules when it came to collaborating. “We didn’t have a set formula — and that was the key,” Farriss said later. “Sometimes he’d add some lyrics he’d already written to a piece of music I had, sometimes we’d write together from scratch, and other times I’d add music to lyric and melody ideas he came to me with. We were just solid and very arrogant. We never second guessed each other or ourselves and went with our instincts. It was all very natural and organic.”

Watch INXS’ ‘Need You Tonight’ Video

Another piece of the puzzle fell into place when Hutchence brought a demo of “Mediate” to the studio. Engineer David Nicholas listened to the song for the first time while “Need You Tonight” was playing, and an idea struck him. “I rewound his tape and hit play just as ‘Need You Tonight’ ended and it synced so perfectly I actually thought something was wrong,” he recalled. “It was one of those very creepy studio moments where you’re not sure what’s going to happen.” The concept was implemented on Kickwhere “Need You Tonight” bleeds seamlessly into “Mediate”.

The band, for its part, was excited about how Kick had come together. “I think we were really, really excited about the album, but it didn’t sound like anything we heard on the radio,” Andrew Farriss said in 2018. INXS’s American label, Atlantic Records, didn’t quite feel the same way. The band’s manager, Chris Murphy, was the first to discover this apathy after he played the album for executives in New York City. “The president of the record company told me he’d give us $1 million to go back to Australia and make another album,” he said. Murphy tried to play the record for the band’s European and Australian labels. No dice.

Murphy did not tell the band about this and continued to launch a publicity campaign. Unknown to the label’s executives, he managed to get Atlantic’s head of college radio promotions, Andrea Guinness, on board and also planned a college tour, using almost every penny he and the band had.

The tour was a phenomenal success, so much so that Atlantic finally agreed to add Kick to the release schedule. “Need You Tonight,” released as the first single from Kickdominated the charts and reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the band’s first and only US chart topper.

Watch INXS perform ‘Need You Tonight / Medite’ in 1994

A video for “Need You Tonight/Medite” highlights the transition between the two songs, which were often played on radio stations. In the clip, “Need You Tonight” ends and “mediate” begins, Hutchence flips cue cards in a nod Bob Dylans”Subterranean Homesick Blues” promo. The video won five MTV Video Music Awards, including 1988 Video of the Year.

All that was from a sketch that began in the back of a cabin. “It’s amazing,” Andrew Farriss later said, “that often the simplest songs—incredibly simple songs—that take you the shortest time and just happen are the ones that become the big hits.”

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