“Too Shy” and “NeverEnding Story” Singer Limahl Talks Stranger Things, Kajagoogoo, Dennis Miller (?) and His New Holiday Song “London For Christmas”
As the lead singer of Kajagoogoo, British singer Limahl enjoyed the instant celebrity of hitting the top of the charts with the 1983 debut single “Too Shy,” courtesy of its high-rotation video in the early years of MTV. After unceremoniously and infamously being kicked out of the band, Limahl quickly struck out on his own and re-emerged at the top of the charts again with the worldwide smash single “The NeverEnding Story,” the theme song to the hit film of the same name.
So here we are, 36 years later, with Limahl re-entering the pop culture consciousness with those songs highlighted on three wildly popular television shows: “Too Shy” was featured earlier this year in the standalone, interactive Black Mirror episode “Bandersnatch” on Netflix and also in AMC’s hit anthology American Horror Story: 1984, while Stranger Things’ fans saw two key characters sing “The NeverEnding Story” during the climax of the this season’s finale.
Not to rest on those laurels, Limahl has released a new holiday song “London for Christmas” as this new chapter in the career of Limahl continues. We spoke with Limahl by phone about the “Too Shy” video, the wild ride of his songs resurgence in 2019, and, uh, comedian Dennis Miller. Read on.
The Christmas song that you’ve recorded and released this year is called “London for Christmas.” How did it come into your mind to want to write and record a Christmas song?
Well, it was always in the back of my mind, to be honest. I just thought it would be an undertaking that would be madness, but I like the challenge. I bet myself that I could never write what would be yet another Christmas song, because it’s just a topic that has been well, well covered, and I thought that there can’t possibly be a new angle or new melody, etc. I mean, we hear these wonderful Christmas songs every year. There’s some I hate, we all have those. But there are particular ones I love, and just those are the ones that kind of help me to keep the faith, as it were. And really the other deal, the yearning I’ve had is to write a song about London. If you’re into popular music and jazz, you hear these songs with place names, you know, and that means something to that person who wrote it or sings it – he’s twenty-four hours from Tulsa or she’s on a midnight train to Georgia, or whatever it is.
Ray Davies of the Kinks is so famous for having name checked so many of the places where he grew up in the U.K. He composed in that area of British music that’s very close to home in its lyrics.
Yes, absolutely! And obviously for him that felt important, reminiscing about where he was raised, etc. For me, I spend my adult life for forty years in London. I love to travel, I’ve also seen the world, and I’m very lucky, but there’s always something special about London for me. And also, over the years, I learned to love jazz. It’s an acquired taste. If you grew up with Motown and pop, as I did, jazz felt too sophisticated to me as a youngster. But then, you start listening to Ella Fitzgerald, or you be listening to a jazz song in a movie or on an album, and there’ll be a funny song about Manhattan. And I loved it, you know, describing all these areas of Manhattan that I’ve never heard of. “Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, too.” These places that sound so charming, and what the lyric is saying is that it doesn’t matter where we are as long as we’re together. It was such a nice sentiment. So by combining all of that, we ended up where we ended up, with “London for Christmas.” Also, these circumstances happened that led to me write this song. About three nights a week, the resident and pianist at the Savoy Hotel in London is John Nichols. Just so happened that he lived around the corner. And so, you know, I think I rang him up in the summer, and we said, let’s just have a jam and see what happens. Then, it just was very organic. It just sort of came from that.
I sort of feel that if I gone to the record companies and said, “Can we put this out, guys?” then it couldn’t have happened. I mean, I’m 60 years old! So, with the technology as it is today, with outlets like Spotify and iTunes, everything allows us to instantly connect. And unlike a new band, I’ve got a bit of a profile that makes it slightly easier to cut through, especially at this moment. I’m trying to grab with both hands because of the exposure of the old catalogue via those TV, those high profile TV shows.
Speaking of that, this seems like a wonderful moment for you, to have your songs pop up in Stranger Things, Black Mirror and American Horror Story, all in the same year. I would guess that’s a little head-spinning for you in 2019.
I think the reason is that there’s a bit of an 80s thing going on, yet again, and I think conglomerates are very good at jumping on bandwagons. They think,“Hey, that’s working. It’s made a million, let’s duplicate that.” Why did they pick up my songs? I have no idea. You know, it’s serendipity. It’s luck. And of course, I’m thrilled. If I worked like really hard and I was going, “Yes, we achieved something,” it would be different, but I had nothing to do with it. (laughs) When you sign a publishing deal, you basically allow them to manage the copyright, as it were, for a percentage of the earnings, of course. They’ll administrate, they look after it, so on and so forth. It came out of nowhere, right out of the blue. It is a blessing as far as I’m concerned. I’m really enjoying it.
What’s great about the Stranger Things episode is that it’s not just a song in the background of a random episode. The NeverEnding Story is sung by two characters at a very pivotal, important plot moment in the season finale. That’s enormous!
Yeah, I know. I hadn’t been watching Stranger Things, I do watch Netflix. But, you know, there is so much choice and there’s limited time, and I just hadn’t got around to that one. So the first time I heard about it was through social media — oh, and my nephew Cole! I mean, now I have seen the scene, and I had heard how important it is, and why everybody thought the guy didn’t have a girlfriend. Yes, it was a very touching moment.
Now, to that point, I did a gig in north London about eight weeks ago. It was a private birthday party gig, so I of course have “NeverEnding Story” in the set. I start singing, and a bunch of kids come running to the room, right to the front of the stage and were literally quivering with excitement. Their little faces! It was so adorable. They were like 9, 10, 11, 12 years old! And I just thought, wow, here we are, thirty five years later, and this song is reaching a whole new generation and they’re standing in front of me! It feel not just a thrill, but a huge sense of responsibility, and I’m so grateful that I can still sing it because it’s never been the easiest song to sing. It’s quite demanding vocally. It’s all at the top of my register!
When you perform “Too Shy” and “The NeverEnding Story,” are you transported back to when you first recorded them, or does it have a different meaning for you now?
Oh, no. It takes me back without a doubt. You know, I remember joining Kajagoogoo, I remember driving to gigs. I remember the demos. I remember meeting Nick Rhodes from Duran and getting signed to EMI and then him co producing our first album. I remember all of that. That will never leave me. And even though it was a little acrimonious in the end, we are on talking terms now, and I think we’ve all moved on.
I mean, there’s lots of things to talk about with “The NeverEnding Story.” First of all, there’s the irony that if I hadn’t been fired by Kajagoogoo in a phone call, I may never have recorded “The NeverEnding Story.” It’s this sort of bittersweet experience. I remember when I when I got the call to record “The NeverEnding Story”. I had met Giorgio Moroder (the song’s producer) with my manager in Japan about six weeks earlier. We’d done something music festival in Tokyo at the Budokan Hall, and then later back in the UK, my manager got a call that Giorgio would like to try my vocals on a song for a movie.
So of course, I get on a plane and go to Munich. I nearly missed the flight! And when I got there, my voice wasn’t working. Picture it — I’m 23, I’m young, I’m successful and I’m up all night partying on smoking cigarettes, and I’m now late for the session, and my voice is gone. But Giorgio was very calm. “Hey, listen, don’t worry. We have some food and wine and we try again later.”
Also, I think my brain didn’t connect with singing in daytime, that it was somehow an evening thing. And, you know, thankfully, we nailed it later.
There must have been some satisfaction from the success of “The NeverEnding Story” after being throw out of Kajagoogoo after “Too Shy” became a hit.
I’m not going to lie, there’s no better impetus or incentive to do well than that. I’m sure I did have a bit of that – the whole “Okay, guys, watch me” thing. It’s a bit like being jilted by someone you loved. There will always be, for me, a sort of morbid fascination about what they’re all doing, whether it’s individually or together, because you just cannot take away that three important years that we spent together. But of course, later, we all realize that life’s too short.
What do you recall from shooting the “Too Shy” music video? It was very iconic for the time.
The woman in the video was my best friend, Ali [Carolyn “Ali” Espley]. I met her at the Embassy Club. The Embassy Club was the place to go. I used to see Gary Numan in there. Lemmy from Motorhead too. He used to put lots of money into the slot machine and then get more and more drunk. One time he had hold of the machine and he was slamming into the wall, he was so angry.
For the “Too Shy” video, I remember them discussing the budget of 30,000 pounds. Of course, that’s recouped from royalties, and that would be like $50,000. Right then, we see emergence of MTV and later VH1, and the record companies thought, well, this is an important part of the selling of the artist. So anyway, we sat down with the director of the video department came up with the idea of this girl is coming towards the band on the stage, and as she does the crowd era changes. So initially it’s during the war, then it was 60s, I think. And then we were into the 80s. I don’t think a lot of people really got that. It was too subtle, you know, for whatever reason, and yet they spend a lot of money on that set, you know, changing it for each era.
So, here’s a story about me and Ali. We were in New York, and we went to a comedy place called Catch a Rising Star on the Upper East Side somewhere, and Dennis Miller was on that night. And when we came out, we were standing on the pavement in front of the club, and we were thinking it’s early — at that age, you know, 11 o’clock at night is early – so where should we go now? So then Dennis came out, and he said we should come with him to a place called Columbus. We said okay, and got in a cab with him — a total stranger! We went into Columbus and the first person we see is Michael Douglas, and I thought, oh, my God, this is a really cool place. So Ali went to the bathroom, as ladies do, you know, to check on makeup and hair, and the first thing that Dennis said once she is gone is, “Wow, your girlfriend, she’s beautiful.” And I said, “No, no, I’m gay, we’re just like, best buddies.” And he goes, “Oh, thank God.” And the rest, as they say, is history. He dated her for a while and then they got married and have three or four beautiful children. They live in California. It’s a fantastic story of serendipity, of fate, whatever you want to call it. And just it was such a thrill to watch this guy just tear up an audience, and then he married my best friend!
I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but what is the origin of your name Limahl?
OK, so, I’m fine with my name, Chris. My mum calls me Christopher, which is kind of nice and always makes me smile. But I just thought it didn’t stand. And I remember thinking at the time — Sting from the Police. That’s very cool. One word, and clearly not a real name. Just like a stage name, you know. And I was a fan of ABBA and I remember reading how the name is based on Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Anna-Frid and I and I start thinking about letters in my surname Hamill, my real family name. So I just put one of the L’s at the front and I read it backwards. L-I-M-A-H-L. And I thought, oh that sounds original. So — I’m not even sure we were signed – and yes, there was some snickers in the rehearsal room when I came in and said “Guys, I’m Limahl now. Don’t call me Chris.” (laughs)
Check out Limahl’s “London for Christmas” right here.