John Howard Jones (born 23 February 1955) is a British singer, musician and songwriter. He had ten top 40 hit singles in the UK between 1983 and 1986, including six which reached the top ten, and his 1984 album Human’s Lib went to number one. Around the world, he had 15 top 40 hit singles between 1983 and 1992. He has been described by AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine as “one of the defining figures of mid-’80s synth pop.” He also performed at Live Aid in 1985.
Jones is the eldest of four boys. His brothers, Roy, Martin, and Paul, are all musicians in their own right. They had a band called Red Beat in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Born in Southampton to Welsh parents, Howard Jones spent his early years in Rhiwbina, Cardiff, South Wales, where he attended Heol Llanishen Fach primary school and then Whitchurch Grammar School. Later in Stokenchurch, near High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, he attended the Royal Grammar School. He took piano lessons starting at age seven. The family moved to Canada when he was a teenager. His first band was Warrior, a progressive rock group.
Jones returned to the UK and attended the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester while playing in various bands. He met Buddhist practitioner Bill Bryant, who wrote lyrics for some of Jones’s songs and was a major influence in this period. In the late 1980s, Jones began practising Nichiren Buddhism as a member of the worldwide Buddhist association Soka Gakkai International; he has credited his daily practice of chanting “Namu myoho renge kyo” (I devote myself to the Lotus Sutra) since 1991 as “having a profoundly positive effect on my life.”
Howard Jones appeared as a solo artist in local venues in High Wycombe, before inviting the mime artist Jed Hoile who performed improvised choreography in white makeup as Jones played behind him. In 1983, he hired the Marquee Club in London and invited record labels to come and see him perform. After a BBC Radio 1 session, Jones obtained support slots with China Crisis and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) before signing to Warner Music Group (WMG) in mid-1983. He has cited influences such as OMD (whose song “Enola Gay” was covered by Jones in early live sets), Keith Emerson and Stevie Wonder.
His first single, “New Song”, was released in September 1983. It reached the Top 30 in the US and the Top 5 in the UK. He made his debut performance on BBC Television’s Top of the Pops on 22 September 1983, and he watched his tape-delayed performance on a borrowed television resting on an ironing board before a concert at the University of Kent. He subsequently had four more hits over the next twelve months and a UK Number 1 album, Human’s Lib, which eventually went double platinum. Credited with jointly writing the lyrics for six songs on the album was the lyricist Bill Bryant. “New Song”, “What Is Love?”, and “Pearl in the Shell” all did well during 1983 and 1984. Human’s Lib was certified gold and platinum in several countries. Jones had developed a loyal teen following. His parents ran his fan club.
In the summer of 1984, he released “Like to Get to Know You Well”, which he said was ‘dedicated to the original spirit of the Olympic Games.’ Although it was not an official Olympic anthem for the Games in Los Angeles that summer, it was a worldwide hit. It reached Number 4 in the UK Singles Chart. The sleeve featured the song title in ten different languages while Jones sang the title line in French and German on the extended 12″ version. The song also appeared in the film Better Off Dead (1985) and the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (2006).
Jones’ second LP was a remix album. It contained six songs, all but one of which had been previously released, but which appeared in elongated formats, including the multilingual version of “Like to Get to Know You Well”. The album was certified gold in the UK.
In 1985, Jones released his second studio album, Dream into Action, which included backup work by the trio Afrodiziak. Afrodiziak included Caron Wheeler and Claudia Fontaine. His brother Martin played bass guitar. He had to have an extra string added to his instrument to play some of the bass lines, which had originally been scored for keyboard. One of the singles released from this album, “No One Is to Blame”, was later re-recorded and featured Phil Collins as drummer and producer (and on backing vocals); this 2nd version appears on Jones’s album One to One.
Dream into Action, Jones’s most successful album, was popular worldwide, reaching number 2 in the UK and number 10 in the US. It stayed on the US chart for almost a year. The singles “Life In One Day”, “Things Can Only Get Better”, and “Look Mama” appeared on this album. In July 1985, Jones performed at Wembley Stadium as part of the Live Aid concert, singing his 1984 hit “Hide and Seek” and playing piano. He also embarked on a world tour.
The EP Action Replay came out in 1986. It included a remixed version of “No One Is to Blame”. It was Howard Jones’s biggest US hit, reaching number 4 on the chart. However, by this time, his fortunes were changing in his native UK and “No One Is To Blame” peaked at number 16. His next single, “All I Want”, peaked at number 35, and would be his last UK Top 40 hit. Jones released his third studio album, One To One, in October 1986, which peaked at number 10 in the UK and would be his last UK hit album, despite going gold. Stateside, however, Jones continued to fill large arenas and the single “You Know I Love You Don’t You?” went top twenty in 1986 on the Billboard chart.
In June 1988, Jones performed at Amnesty International’s Festival of Youth at the Milton Keynes Bowl. Jones’s subsequent albums Cross That Line (1989) and In the Running (1992) both performed poorly in the UK, the latter even failing to chart. But some of his songs charted in the US during this period, including “Everlasting Love” (1989, his second number 1 hit on US Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks, after “No One Is to Blame”), “The Prisoner” (1989), and “Lift Me Up” (1992).
Jones continued to play large venues in the US during the late 1980s, and the Cross That Line tour played major outdoor venues in the US, during 1989. With his ten-year tenure on the Warner Music label at an end, a greatest hits compilation The Best of Howard Jones was released in 1993. The album peaked at number 36 in the UK, and by 2005 (12 years after its release) it was certified silver by the BPI for over 60,000 copies sold in the UK.
Jones also had success as a songwriter for other artists in the early 1990s. He co-wrote the dance music hits “Heaven Give Me Words” and “Your Wildlife” with the members of Propaganda. The tracks appeared on the 1990 album 1234; “Heaven Give Me Words” reached number 22 on the Adult Contemporary chart and “Your Wildlife” reached number 22 on the Dance Music/Club Play Singles chart.