Howard Jones was the first person to successfully humanize the 1980s musical genre of techno-pop, breathing new life into a style of music that had been previously characterized as cold, unemotional, and sterile. According to Ira Robbins in the fourth edition of the Trouser Press Record Guide, Jones used “instruments that in the mid ’80s were generally favored for their musical anonymity, [creating] bouncy, warm hearted missives of personal encouragement and general goodwill. This likable ex-hippie may very well have been the new age’s first pin up pop star.”
John Howard Jones was born on February 23, 1955, in Southampton, England. He started to play the piano when he was seven years old. Jones and his parents moved around a lot when he was a young child. He spent part of his teenage years living in Canada and it was there that he began to play the organ in a progressive rock group called Warrior.
By the time he was old enough to study at the university, Jones was back in his native England where he enrolled in classes at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Jones did not last there long as the school’s emphasis centered solely on classical music, quickly alienating and disenchanted Jones. After dropping out of the Royal Northern College of Music, Jones began to give piano lessons to interested students. He also worked with his wife as a produce distributor. Jones kept his musical drive alive as he continued to perform in clubs, including stints in numerous jazz and funk ensembles.
He performed shows where he was accompanied only by drum machines and various keyboards and synthesizers. Also appearing at these shows was a mime named Jed Hoile who served to entertain the assembled audience with his interpretations of Jones’ music. Jones received his big break when word of one of his one-man shows reached the attention of famed British DJ John Peel. Peel offered Jones the chance to record some of his music for a “Peel Session” radio broadcast on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
By 1983, Jones had already signed a recording contract with WEA for distribution rights for his material in both England and Europe. In America, however, he was signed to Elektra. In the autumn of that year, Jones released his first British single “New Song,” which peaked at the number three spot on the British singles chart. A few months later he released his second British single, “What is Love,” which managed to climb up to the number two slot on the British singles chart.
The spring of 1984 saw the release of his debut album, Human’s Lib. Human’s Libquickly climbed up the British album chart and nested itself at the number one position. In America, however, things happened a little bit slower for Jones. It eventually took massive college radio airplay and constant MTV exposure of his videos before his debut album became a top 100 album. Later on that same year both “What is Love” and “New Song” finally managed to crack the American top forty singles chart, while his third single, “Pearl in the Shell” became the third British top ten single from Jones’ debut album.
Jones released his second album, Dream Into Action, in 1985. This was the album that finally enabled him to make it big in America. Dream Into Action marked a departure for Jones. Gone was Hoile, the mime, and Jones’ synthesized songs were augmented by the addition of horns, a cellist, and additional vocalists. The album managed to make its way to the number ten slot on the American album chart. The first single, “Things Can Only Get Better,” peaked at number five on the American singles chart.
1986 brought continued success for Jones as he released Action Replay. This EP contained six songs including remixes or alternative versions of five previously released tunes. Action Replay produced Jones’ biggest American hit single, the Phil Collins produced ballad “No One is to Blame,” which managed to peak at number four. Later on that same year, Jones released
Born John Howard Jones, February 23, 1955, in Southampton, Hampshire, England. Education: attended Royal Northern College of Music.
Signed to Warner/Elektra, 1983; released Human’s Lib, 1984; released Dream In to Action, 1985; released Action Replay, 1986; released One to One, 1986; released Cross That Line, 1989; released In the Running, 1992; released Best of Howard Jones, 1993; left Warner/Elektra and released Working in the Backroom on his Dtox label, 1993; signed to Plump Records and released Live Acoustic America, 1995; signed to Pony Canyon In and released Angels and Lovers, 1997; signed to Ark 21 and released People, 1998.
Addresses: Record company —Ark21 Records, 14724 Ventura Blvd., Penthouse Suite, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423.
One to One, which served to focus on Jones as a writer and singer while allowing a number of backing musicians to handle more of the chore of actually playing and performing the music.
Commenting on the change in pace on the Plump Records web site Jones said, “I started off as a one man band with Jed doing mime and dancing. Then I had a three piece band with bass drums and all of the keyboards and then I had a much bigger band with backing singers, horns and guitars. I think people are used to me doing different things and they seem to enjoy the various ways I present the music.” Unfortunately, neither One to One nor its 1989 follow up Cross That Line were as successful as their predecessors, although Cross That Line did produce the modest hit “Everlasting Love.”
For Jones’ next album, 1992’s In the Running, he changed his style yet again, touring with a single percussionist who accompanied him as he played the piano. Further commenting on his style shifts, Jones stated on the Plump Records web site that, “I keep up with technology as much as possible. But, I’ve played the piano since I was seven, and I studied piano at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Piano is the most natural thing for me. That’s where my roots are.” Unfortunately for Jones, going back to his roots and embracing them did not increase album sales as In the Running sold poorly.
1993 marked yet another change in the life of Jones. After the release of his greatest hits package The Best of Howard Jones, he was dropped by both his British and American record labels. Initially depressed and worried that he was already washed up and would never record again after, he soon came to realize that being dropped from his former labels was a blessing in disguise. Jones was now free produce whatever he wanted without the financial concerns of a large record company. He released his next record on his own label, UK Dtox. The collection of raw and unpolished out-takes and demos was called Working in the Backroom. Jones managed to sell 20,000 copies at his concerts.
His next record, Live Acoustic-America —released on Plump Records in 1995—highlighted a single show from Los Angeles in 1994. It would be another two years before Jones released another album. The 1997 Pony Canyon In release Angels and Lovers was Jones’ first studio album since 1993. He would not wait that long before he released his next album, 1998’s People on Ark 21.
Speaking about the role of creative people in greater society, Jones remarked in the Plump Records web site that “It’s the job of an artist to articulate those feelings that people with busier, more hectic lives, haven’t got the time or energy to express. I think that one should take that job seriously and realize that this is a way to positively contribute to society…. I like to encourage the idea of looking deeper into ourselves and finding out why we are and what we are.”
Human’s Lib, Warner/Elektra, 1984.
Dream Into Action, Warner/Elektra, 1985.
Action Replay, Warner/Elektra, 1986.
One to One, Warner/Elektra, 1986.
Cross That Line, Warner/Elektra, 1989.
In the Running, Warner/Elektra, 1992.
Working in the Backroom, UK Dtox, 1993.
Live Acoustic America, Plump Records, 1995.
Angels and Lovers, Pony Canyon In, 1997.
People, Ark 21, 1998.
Robbins, Ira, ed. Trouser Press Record Guide, fourth edition, Macmillan, 1991.
Robbins, Ira, ed. Trouser Press Guide to 90s Rock, Fireside, 1997.
Romanowski, Patricia and Holly George Warren eds., New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Fireside, 1995.
“Howard Jones,” AMG Biography, www.allmusic.com/cg/x.dll (April 16, 1999).
“Howard Jones; About Howard,” The Plump Website, www.plump.com/plump/hojobio.htm (February 9, 1999).
—Mary Alice Adams