The Cure are an English rock band formed in Crawley in 1976. The band has experienced several line-up changes, with vocalist, guitarist, and principal songwriter Robert Smith being the only constant member. The Cure first began releasing music in the late 1970s with their debut album Three Imaginary Boys (1979); this, along with several early singles, placed the band as part of the post-punk and new wave movements that had sprung up in the wake of the punk rock revolution in the United Kingdom. During the early 1980s, the band’s increasingly dark and tormented music (as well as Smith’s stage look) was a staple of the emerging style of music known as gothic rock.
Following the release of the album Pornography in 1982, the band’s future was uncertain. Smith was keen to move past the gloomy reputation his band had acquired, introducing a greater pop sensibility into the band’s music. Songs such as “Let’s Go to Bed” (1982), “Just Like Heaven” (1987), “Lovesong” (1989), and “Friday I’m in Love” (1992) aided the band in receiving commercial popularity. The band are estimated to have sold roughly 27 million records as of 2004 and have released thirteen studio albums, two EPs, and over thirty singles to date. The band will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.
The founding members of the Cure were school friends at Notre Dame Middle School in Crawley, West Sussex, whose first public performance was at an end-of-year show in April 1973 as members of a one-off school band called Obelisk. That band consisted of Robert Smith on piano, Michael “Mick” Dempsey on guitar, Laurence “Lol” Tolhurst on percussion, Marc Ceccagno on lead guitar and Alan Hill on bass guitar. In January 1976 while at St Wilfrid’s Comprehensive School Ceccagno formed a 5-piece rock band with Smith on guitar and Dempsey on bass, along with two other school friends. They called themselves Malice and rehearsed David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Alex Harvey songs in a local church hall. By late April 1976, Ceccagno and the other two school friends had left, and Tolhurst (drums), Martin Creasy (vocals), and Porl Thompson (guitar) had joined the band. This lineup played all three of Malice’s only documented live shows during December 1976. In January 1977, following Martin Creasy’s departure, and increasingly influenced by the emergence of punk rock, Malice’s remaining members became known as Easy Cure after a song written by drummer Laurence Tolhurst.
Due to the band’s lack of creative control on their first album, Smith exerted a greater influence on the recording of the Cure’s second album Seventeen Seconds, which he co-produced with Mike Hedges. The album was released in 1980 and reached number 20 on the UK charts. A single from the album, “A Forest“, became the band’s first UK hit single, reaching number 31 on the singles chart. The album was a departure from the Cure’s sound up to that point, with Hedges describing it as “morose, atmospheric, very different to Three Imaginary Boys.” In its review of Seventeen Seconds the NME said, “For a group as young as the Cure, it seems amazing that they have covered so much territory in such a brief time.” At the same time, Smith was pressed concerning the concept of an alleged “anti-image”. Smith told the press he was fed up with the anti-image association that some considered to be “elaborately disguising their plainness”, stating, “We had to get away from that anti-image thing, which we didn’t even create in the first place. And it seemed like we were trying to be more obscure.
We just didn’t like the standard rock thing. The whole thing really got out of hand.” That same year Three Imaginary Boys was repackaged for the American market as Boys Don’t Cry, with new artwork and a modified track list. The Cure set out on their first world tour to promote both releases. At the end of the tour, Matthieu Hartley left the band. Hartley said, “I realised that the group was heading towards suicidal, sombre music—the sort of thing that didn’t interest me at all.” In a 1981 interview with the Dutch magazine Muziekexpress, Smith also stated about Hartley’s departure: “About half a year ago we took Matthieu as a 4th member of the Cure because we would give a particular mood to our music with a synthesizer.
However, Matthieu was always frustrated on stage because he thought the role of the keyboard which we had in mind was too little. So he did more keyboard-parts. And that was what frustrated us again. We want to use other instruments again for the next album. We have also recorded some songs in which I play keyboard, but we don’t already know what is going to happen “live”. Besides it will be very difficult to find someone who can fill up the now-empty place. It’s not that it’s very difficult for us to like or dislike him or her, but it will be difficult for them to feel in place with us in the band.”
The band reconvened with Hedges to produce their third album, Faith (1981), which furthered the dour mood present on Seventeen Seconds. The album peaked at number 14 on the UK charts. Included with cassette copies of Faith was an instrumental soundtrack for Carnage Visors, an animated film shown in place of an opening act for the band’s 1981 Picture Tour. In late 1981 the Cure released the non-album single “Charlotte Sometimes“. By this point, the sombre mood of the music had a profound effect on the attitude of the band. The band would refuse requests for older songs in concert, and sometimes Smith would be so absorbed by the persona he projected onstage he would leave at the end in tears.
In 1982 the Cure recorded and released Pornography, the third and final album of an “oppressively dispirited” trio that cemented the Cure’s stature as purveyors of the emerging gothic rock genre. Smith has said that during the recording of Pornography he was “undergoing a lot of mental stress. But it had nothing to do with the group, it just had to do with what I was like, my age and things. I think I got to my worst round about Pornography. Looking back and getting other people’s opinions of what went on, I was a pretty monstrous sort of person at that time”. Gallup described the album by saying, “Nihilism took over […] We sang ‘It doesn’t matter if we all die’ and that is exactly what we thought at the time.” Parry was concerned that the album did not have a hit song for radio play and instructed Smith and producer Phil Thornalley to polish the track “The Hanging Garden” for release as a single. Despite the concerns about the album’s uncommercial sound, Pornography became the band’s first UK Top 10 album, charting at number eight. The release of Pornography was followed by the Fourteen Explicit Moments tour, where the band finally dropped the anti-image angle and first adopted their signature look of big, towering hair and smeared lipstick on their faces. The tour also saw a series of incidents that prompted Simon Gallup to leave the Cure at the tour’s conclusion. Gallup and Smith did not talk to each other for eighteen months following his departure.
With Gallup’s departure from the Cure and Smith’s work with Siouxsie and the Banshees, rumours spread that the Cure had broken up. In December 1982, Smith remarked to Melody Maker, “Do the Cure really exist any more? I’ve been pondering that question myself […] it has got to a point where I don’t fancy working in that format again.” He added, “Whatever happens, it won’t be me, Laurence and Simon together any more. I know that.”
Parry was concerned at the state of his label’s top band, and became convinced that the solution was for the Cure to reinvent its musical style. Parry managed to convince Smith and Tolhurst of the idea; Parry said, “It appealed to Robert because he wanted to destroy the Cure anyway.” With Tolhurst now playing keyboards instead of drums, the duo released the single “Let’s Go to Bed” in late 1982. While Smith wrote the single as a throwaway, “stupid” pop song to the press, it became a minor hit in the UK, reaching number 44 on the singles chart, but entered the Top 20 in Australia and New Zealand. It was followed in 1983 by two more successful songs: the synthesiser-based “The Walk” (number 12), and “The Love Cats“, which became the band’s first British Top 10 hit, reaching number seven. The group released these studio singles and their B-sides as the compilation album Japanese Whispers, designed by Smith for the Japanese market only, but released worldwide on the decision of the record company. The same year, Smith also recorded and toured with Siouxsie and the Banshees, contributing as guitarist on their Nocturne live album and video and their Hyæna studio album. Meanwhile, he recorded the Blue Sunshine album with Banshees bassist Steven Severin as the Glove, while Lol Tolhurst produced the first two singles and debut album of the English band And Also the Trees.
In 1984, the Cure released The Top, a generally psychedelic album on which Smith played all the instruments except the drums—played by Andy Anderson—and the saxophone—played by returnee Porl Thompson. The album was a Top 10 hit in the UK, and was their first studio album to break the Billboard 200 in the US, reaching number 180.
Melody Maker praised the album as “psychedelia that can’t be dated”, while pondering, “I’ve yet to meet anyone who can tell me why the Cure are having hits now of all times.” The Cure then embarked on their worldwide Top Tour with Thompson, Anderson and producer-turned-bassist Phil Thornalley on board. Released in late 1984, the Cure’s first live album, Concert consisted of performances from this tour. Near the tour’s end, Anderson was fired for destroying a hotel room and was replaced by Boris Williams. Thornalley also left because of the stress of touring. However, the bassist slot was not vacant long, for a Cure roadie named Gary Biddles had brokered a reunion between Smith and former bassist Simon Gallup, who had been playing in the band Fools Dance. Soon after reconciling, Smith asked Gallup to rejoin the band. Smith was ecstatic about Gallup’s return and declared to Melody Maker, “It’s a group again.”
In 1985, the new line-up of Smith, Tolhurst, Gallup, Thompson and Williams released The Head on the Door, an album that managed to bind together the optimistic and pessimistic aspects of the band’s music between which they had previously shifted. The Head on the Door reached number seven in the UK and was the band’s first entry into American Top 75 at number 59, a success partly due to the international impact of the LP’s two singles, “In Between Days” and “Close to Me“. Following the album and world tour, the band released the singles compilation Standing on a Beach in three formats (each with a different track listing and a specific name) in 1986. This compilation made the US Top 50, and saw the re-issue of three previous singles: “Boys Don’t Cry” (in a new form), “Let’s Go to Bed” and, later, “Charlotte Sometimes”.
This release was accompanied by a VHS and LaserDisc called Staring at the Sea, which featured videos for each track on the compilation. The Cure toured to support the compilation and released a live concert VHS of the show, filmed in the south of France called The Cure in Orange. During this time, the Cure became a very popular band in Europe (particularly in France, Germany and the Benelux countries) and increasingly popular in the US.
In 1987, the Cure released the musically eclectic double LP Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, which reached number six in the UK, the Top 10 in several countries and was the band’s first entry into the US Top 40 at number 35 (where it was certified platinum), reflecting the band’s rising mainstream popularity. the album’s third single, “Just Like Heaven“, was the band’s most successful single to date in the US, being their first to enter the Billboard Top 40.
The album produced three other singles. After the album’s release, the band embarked on a successful tour. During the European leg of the tour, Lol Tolhurst’s alcohol consumption was interfering with his ability to perform, so the Psychedelic Furs keyboardist Roger O’Donnell was frequently called upon to stand in for him.
In 1989, the Cure released the album Disintegration, which was critically praised and became their highest charting album to date, entering at number three in the UK and featuring three Top 30 singles in the UK and Germany: “Lullaby“, “Lovesong” and “Pictures of You“.
Disintegration also reached number twelve on the US charts. The first single stateside, “Fascination Street“, reached number one on the American Modern Rock chart, but was quickly overshadowed when its third US single, “Lovesong”, reached number two on the American pop charts (the only Cure single to reach the US Top 10). By 1992, Disintegration had sold over three million copies worldwide.
During the Disintegration sessions, the band gave Smith an ultimatum that either Tolhurst would have to leave the band or they would. In February 1989, Tolhurst’s exit was made official and announced to the press; this resulted in Roger O’Donnell becoming a full-fledged member of the band and left Smith as the Cure’s only remaining founding member. Smith attributed Tolhurst’s dismissal to an inability to exert himself and issues with alcohol, concluding, “He was out of step with everything. It had just become detrimental to everything we’d do.”
Because Tolhurst was still on the payroll during the recording of Disintegration, he is credited in the album’s liner notes as playing “other instrument” (sic) and is listed as a co-writer of every song; however, it has since been revealed that while Tolhurst had contributed to the song “Homesick”, his contributions to the album were minimal as he was battling alcoholism during the recording of the album. The Cure then embarked on a successful tour which saw the band playing stadiums in the US. On 6 September 1989, the Cure performed “Just Like Heaven” at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles.
80s Studio albums
- Three Imaginary Boys (1979)
- Seventeen Seconds (1980)
- Faith (1981)
- Pornography (1982)
- The Top (1984)
- The Head on the Door (1985)
- Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987)
- Disintegration (1989)