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Prefab Sprout – Hey Manhattan!


Prefab Sprout – the perennial bridesmaids of the British music scene. Despite being eminently loveable, and with a sizeable dowry of ace tunes, they never quite made it to pop’s altar to hear those magical words: “I do, I do love the Sprout.”

It’s curious why some bands become absolutely huge and some don’t, and it’s really never a question of quality of output – I suspect there needs to be something for the public to latch on to. Neil Tennant put it best in the Chris Heath‘s 1990 book Literally when he noted: To be successful in a mass market you have to have one very simple idea. Bruce Springsteen basically is “I’m a man – an American man. And I care.” That’s it, the whole idea. George Michael is “I wear a black leather jacket. I’m kinda sexy, but I’m sensitive.” Madonna is “I’ve got attitude, honey.” Michael Jackson is “I’m weird but I can dance. And I’m incredibly talented. And (he laughs) I’m actually rather boring. U2 are “We’re Irish, but we like your culture. And we care. And we’re passionate about it. We’re in the passion business.” 

It was always kind of hard to find the simple idea behind Prefab Sprout – they were political, but not overtly so. They were on an indie label – Kitchenware – but were licensed to one of the majors, CBS, and at any rate didn’t sound indie in the way that most people understood the term. They didn’t have anyone in their ranks likely to win Most Fanciable at the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party. What they did have was one of the great songwriting talents in the form of Paddy McAloon, so while mainstream success forever eluded them, we’re left with an astonishing back catalogue.

1988 saw the band achieve their biggest success to date with their solitary top ten hit The King of Rock and Roll regrettably viewed as something of a novelty track, perhaps due to its overly literal video depicting giant hot dogs and jumping frogs. Sigh. Follow up Hey Manhattan! was so much better – this is the song to get you out of bed if you find yourself in New York early on a gloriously promising June morning. Kicking off with strings worthy of a Broadway musical and a playful “Guess what? Summer’s arrived…” it perfectly encapsulates the excitement of being in the city that never sleeps.

Unfortunately we were all too busy buying a barely-in-tune Glenn Medeiros record when it was released, and so Hey Manhattan! skulked around the lower reaches of the chart for a few weeks while Transvision VampThe Fat Boys and Debbie Gibson larked about in the top ten, blissfully unaware that their chart careers wouldn’t see out the decade. Prefab Sprout, meanwhile, continued to be amazing and made the occasional foray in the top 40 over the next few years. They’re still going today, I’m pleased to note.


Entered chart: 17/07/1988

Chart peak: 72

Weeks on chart: 4

Who could sing this today and have a hit? Slightly over-excited at the idea of Taylor Swift putting this in a medley with Welcome to New York. Squee!

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