Why INXS Pushed for More With ‘Need You Tonight’
Success didn't come overnight for INXS.
Since its formation in 1977, the band had slowly but surely developed a following in its native Australia. Their third album, 1982's Shabooh Shoobah, was their first to be released worldwide, even making it to No. 46 on the Billboard 200 in the U.S. Two years later, The Swing hovered around the same chart position: No. 52. Another year later, with 1985's Listen Like Thieves, they landed much closer to the top at No. 11. For an eclectic group out of Sydney, this level of international success was impressive. "We set out to try and get one 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 plot their next album with producer Chris Thomas. The band had toured heavily in the mid-'80s, developing a reputation for their searing live performances, but they knew their next album would have to deliver more. It wasn't that they didn't have enough material for what would become 1987's Kick, but something was missing. "They had an incredible momentum building and were gaining fans all the time," Thomas said in 2005's INXS: Story to Story: The Official Autobiography. "There was an audience waiting for the product, but I decided that they didn't have the right songs yet."
There wasn't much time to spare. The band was given a two-week deadline to come up with what would hopefully be a hit single for the record. Exhausted, keyboardist Andrew Farriss headed to Hong Kong where Hutchence and drummer Jon Farriss had an apartment. As he got in the cab for the airport, inspiration hit. "Just before the guy could pull away, I heard the guitar line in my head, told the guy I'd forgotten something and ran upstairs," Andrew Farriss recalled. He quickly recorded the riff, plus a bass line and basic drum beat, and made sure to bring 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 penning nearly all of the words in roughly 10 minutes. The result was "Need You Tonight."
Flexibility was important to Farriss and Hutchence, who'd never relied on any strict rules when it came to collaborating. "We didn’t have a set formula – and that was the key," Farriss later said. "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'd come 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 fit 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 up so perfectly that I actually thought something was wrong," he recalled. "It was one of those very spooky studio moments where you aren't sure what is happening." The concept was implemented on Kick, where "Need You Tonight" bleeds seamlessly into "Mediate."
The band, for its part, was thrilled with how Kick had come together. "I think we were really, really excited about the album, but it was nothing like anything we were hearing on the radio," Andrew Farriss said in 2018. INXS' U.S. label, Atlantic Records, didn't exactly feel the same. 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 label told me that he'd give us $1 million to go back to Australia and make another album," he said. Murphy tried playing the record for the band's European and Australian labels. No dice.
Murphy didn't tell the band any of this and proceeded to launch a promotional campaign. Unknown to the record-company executives, he managed to get Atlantic's head of college radio promotions, Andrea Guinness, on board, and also plotted a tour of colleges, using nearly 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 Kick, dominated the charts, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the band's first and only U.S. chart-topper.
Watch INXS Perform 'Need You Tonight / Mediate' in 1994
A video for "Need You Tonight / Mediate" highlights the transition between the two songs, which were often played back to back on radio stations. In the clip, as "Need You Tonight" ends and "Mediate" begins, Hutchence flips cue cards in a nod to Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" promo. The video won five MTV Video Music Awards, including 1988 Video of the Year.
All of that was from a sketch that began in the back of a cab. "It is amazing," Andrew Farriss later said, "that often the simplest songs – unbelievably simple songs – that take you the shortest time and just happen are the ones that become the huge hits."