1988 Countdown #52: INXS, “Never Tear Us Apart”

(New to the countdown? Catch up here.)


Violins saw away as we slowly pan down an antique lamppost. We have time to note the lamppost’s broken pane of glass, its ironwork, and the details of its patina. This shot lasts, no lie, twenty seconds, as if INXS want to destroy MTV’s reputation for quick-cut editing with one long, loving look at a lamppost. It’s director Richard Lowenstein’s music-video equivalent of Scorsese’s tracking shot through the Copacabana nightclub in Goodfellas, except it’s just a lamppost.

It’s not even an especially nice lamppost. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it, but if you were visiting Prague (where this video was shot), you wouldn’t stop to take a picture of it. But this video extended the single’s instrumental intro–just to have more lamppost time.

We visit a public park as the extended Prague-rock string intro continues. White birds fly over a pond; blocky cement architecture can be seen in the mist past the water. We pass by three tree stumps, a strolling nerd who I believe is one of INXS’s five members not named Michael Hutchence, three gray-haired symphony violinists miming that they’re playing the song, and then the one member of INXS who is named Michael Hutchence.


Hutchence exudes charisma from every pore and follicle. He’s walking by the water, wearing a long dark coat and leather gloves, clasping his hands, letting his hair audition for a role in Oliver Stone’s Doors movie. “Don’t ask me / What you know is true,” he sings, looking moody and wounded. Hutchence passes by an embracing couple, and another lamppost, and then drifts towards the water, arms crossed. We cut to a brief shot of a large building (a castle? a hotel?) at night, glowing with golden light. Then a Prague bridge: two subaltern members of INXS and a brunette model all look dramatically into the camera.


After a full minute and a half of strings (and some synth filigree), we get some guitar, emphasized by a closeup on the hands of the guitarist. Or more precisely, a closeup on his fingerless gloves–this scene was apparently filmed on a very cold Czechoslovakian night. We pan back to see Hutchence and the other members of INXS, all huddled in thick coats. They stride purposefully down a cobblestone street, trying to keep warm. I believe this is the only moment in the video where we see all six members of the band in the same place. Hutchence keeps turning over his shoulder to lip-sync the lyrics for the camera’s benefit, but somehow makes it seem natural.

We return to the bridge; a soldier patrols nearby, making sure that nobody steals the bridge. Hutchence sits on an embankment, singing “we all have wings, but some of us don’t know why-i-i-i-i-i-yi.” The brunette model stands around, waiting to be told what to do.


Back in 1988, I wasn’t crazy about INXS. I liked the singles off their previous album–“What You Need,” “Kiss the Dirt,” “Listen Like Thieves”–back when the band still felt like a secret in the United States (despite having a top-five hit). The Kick album, however, seemed crass and inescapable–the band placed five songs from it in this countdown, tied for the most with Michael Jackson. (Admittedly, INXS occupied only four slots with those five songs. But their videos collectively placed a lot higher than Jackson’s.) Two decades later, “Never Tear Us Apart” (the fourth single from Kick), just seems like high-quality pop rock, much better made than most of the songs surrounding it on the countdown. It’s a moving ballad with an unusual sound (mostly strings and synth, anchored by a guitar lick), and Hutchence makes you believe that even gorgeous Australian rock stars have ineffable romantic longings.

Back to the public park, where Hutchence is crouching in front of the string section. He gets up and walks past some swans. Other non-Hutchence members of the band get a few seconds of screen time, with Prague stretching out behind them. In 1988, it was unusual to film videos in Eastern Europe; the Velvet Revolution didn’t happen until the following year. Why don’t INXS get any credit for bringing democracy to Czechoslovakia?


Sax solo. The saxophonist wails away in an urban graveyard. He gets considerably less screen time than the lamppost did. Hutchence walks past the saxophonist, then past another member of the band, and onto the bridge where the brunette model eyes him, with the cold wind whipping through her hair.


More violinists, more random members of INXS, more Prague streets. I spent a few days in Prague back in 2005, so at this point, I’m watching the video as travelogue, wondering whether I’ve gone over that bridge or down that staircase, and whether Hutchence is concealing a copy of Let’s Go Czechoslovakia in that long coat. And then Hutchence reveals himself as a total tourist, passing by the famed Prague Astronomical Clock! He disappears into a crowd in the Old Town Square, looking either for Vaclav Havel or a literary agent interested in his unauthorized Narnia sequel, Michael and the Magical Lamppost.

“Never Tear Us Apart” hit #7 on the Billboard singles chart. You can watch the video (with Spanish subtitles!) here. Or you can watch Beck and his “Record Club” pals cover it here, with Annie Clark of St. Vincent on lead vocals.

posted 15 July 2010 in 1988 and tagged , , , . 5 comments

5 Comments on 1988 Countdown #52: INXS, “Never Tear Us Apart”

  1. Chris M. Says:

    Back in 1988, I wasn’t crazy about INXS. I liked the singles off their previous album–“What You Need,” “Kiss the Dirt,” “Listen Like Thieves”–back when the band still felt like a secret in the United States (despite having a top-five hit). The Kick album, however, seemed crass and inescapable…

    It was a crass album (I found the cover art — seemingly styled after a ninth grader’s Trapper Keeper collage, framed by a massive shot of Hutchence’s face — particularly schlocky), but I was in full guy-love with INXS at this point. I loved that they were crossing over to the pop charts, loved all the Kick singles (you’re right that the Listen Like Thieves singles were better, but what did I care?), even got up early to stand in line at MSG for tickets to their summer concert — their first U.S. arena tour, I’m pretty sure, and my first time lining up for concert tickets. They were my kind of teen idols.

    In concert, they milked the silences in “Never Tear Us Apart” brilliantly — after the first refrain, where the recorded version momentarily pauses, they shut off the lights in the Garden for a full minute before resuming the song. Girls screamed their assess off during the silence (I…erm, may have screamed too), and when the lights flooded back on with that “durm-durm-durm-DURMMM” riff, the place exploded in a collective orgasm.

    Summer ’88 was pretty much the summer of INXS and George Michael for me, and for a pop fan, that’s really not a bad combination. It was less about Michael for me, because by that point in the year most of the good singles from Bad had been milked; I’ve never been a big “Dirty Diana” fan.

  2. azul120 Says:

    Lol, the year of the Michael indeed.

    Crass or not, the singles from Kick do hold up really, really well from a pop-rock confection standpoint. It’s great that despite coming roughly a full year following the album’s debut and being the fourth single that Never Tear Us Apart, one of their best singles, did so well. That it’s the lowest rated video from the album isn’t saying much, as all 3 of the others were and still have been among the biggest videos on MTV, ever. And its position on this chart isn’t anything to sneeze at, either, given that it was one of the late year entries, and in keeping with MTV’s evident policy of keeping videos from same artists separated on their major retrospective charts, each of their videos was separated by somewhere between 14 and 18 notches from the last. (If not for that, INXS’ runner up videos, “Devil Inside” and “New Sensation” would be much higher than where they will be spotted later on in this list.) This video has also made a few all time lists of 200 or more, and was last seen at approximately 240 on the MTV 500 in mid-1997, not too far behind from their bigger hits, which included “What You Need”.

    They actually made it on the Top 100 of 1985 with “This Time” at #97. Their followup and big breakout hit, “What You Need”, went all the way to #1 on MTV, made them one of the year’s VMA performers, and was #17 on the Top 100 of 1986. “Need You Tonight”, which came out at the ass end of 1987, just barely made the top 100 of that year at #98. (Needless to say, on this chart it’ll be about as high as it was low there.) Funnily enough, it was one of the videos seen on the quickie montage on the promo for that countdown seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0NbUTP-aXk

  3. Rob Says:

    You’re so right: the Velvet Revolution should have been called the Hutchence Hair Toss.

    I’m always surprised how well INXS songs hold up. They sound much, much sturdier than they did at the time. Even “Need You Tonight” sounds okay now (not “What You Need,” though) and I’ve really come to love this one, “New Sensation,” “Devil Inside,” “Original Sin” etc., along with the always-awesome “This Time” and “Don’t Change.” The songs have come to sound well-produced, well-written, and noticably well-arranged, even the sax solos.

  4. azul120 Says:

    Having found the top 100 of 1987 list, I must correct myself: “Need You Tonight” was #89 for 1987.

    Interesting fact: in addition to filming this and “New Sensation” in Prague, with a little time to kill, director Richard Lowenstein eked out another film permit there to shoot a video for “Guns In The Sky”, where the band marches through a building several times during the song. Short and simple, but brings out the song’s impact feeling.

  5. Lukas Says:

    One of three violinists is my grandfather, violinist National Theatre in Prague 🙂

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