Twenty-five years ago this week, British trio Fine Young Cannibals released one of the biggest surprise hits of the decade. “The Raw & The Cooked,” on the strength of a pair of #1 singles, “She Drives Me Crazy” and “Good Thing,” became a chart-topping album in both America and the U.K. Fine Young Cannibals — which included former members of The Beat, Andy Cox and David Steele, and vocalist Roland Gift — were unlikely chart-toppers. Their self-titled debut album was released nearly four years previously, and while they had a pair of Top Ten hits in the U.K. with “Johnny Come Home” and their cover of “Suspicious Minds,” Fine Young Cannibals didn’t make much headway in the U.S.
Their second (and final) album, “The Raw & the Cooked” took a long and circuitous route to completion. The first taste of what would become the band’s biggest album came only a year after their debut as they contributed a cover of The Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen in Love” to the soundtrack to the 1986 film Something Wild starring Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith. The cover gave the trio another Top 10 hit in the U.K. and the song was ultimately included on “The Raw & the Cooked” nearly three years later.
Fine Young Cannibals’ next connection with a movie was their appearance in the 1987 Barry Levinson comedy Tin Men starring Richard Dreyfuss, Danny DeVito and Barbara Hershey. The film is set in the ‘60s and the trio appears as the house band in a nightclub scene. Three songs that would eventually end up on “The Raw and the Cooked” first debuted in Tin Men, the songs specifically recorded in a soulful, retro style to fit in with the movie’s 60’s timeframe: “Good Thing,” “Tell Me What” and “As Hard as it Is.” Thus, nearly half the album had already appeared in two different films nearly two years before “The Raw & the Cooked” hit stores.
To complete the album, the trio brought in a producer with a strong pedigree — David Z, who had worked with Prince (most notably on his 1986 smash “Kiss,” and whose brother Bobby Z was a former drummer for Prince’s backing band The Revolution.) Collaborating with David Z, the band produced three more tracks: “She Drives Me Crazy,” “I’m Not Satisfied,” and “It’s OK (It’s Alright).” Two more songs were produced by the band themselves — “Don’t Look Back” and “Don’t Let it Get You Down” — and suddenly the band had enough material for a full album. “The Raw & the Cooked” was released in February, 1989.
Given the odd process by which it was created, the album could almost be considered a compilation of sorts. But despite the diverse stylistic directions on the album — the funky pop that David Z helped contribute is a far cry from the old-school R&B of the Tin Men tracks — the album works exceedingly well. The band’s debut album also featured a bit of a mixture between old-school influences and more modern sounds, so it all fit together despite the disparate nature of the album’s tracks.
Lead single “She Drives Me Crazy,” with its distinct snare drum part, sparse arrangement, and Roland Gift’s brilliant falsetto vocal, preceded the album’s release by a month. By mid-April, “She Drives Me Crazy” was the #1 single in the America. It stayed at the top for one lone week before being dethroned by Madonna’s rapidly ascending powerhouse “Like a Prayer.” “She Drives Me Crazy” was buoyed by frequent MTV airplay, and the fact that it fit in multiple formats — it was a major hit on the Billboard Dance and Modern Rock Charts in addition to being a #1 pop hit.
The second single taken from “The Raw & the Cooked” was the two-year-old “Good Thing,” and it quickly became a second #1 smash. The Motown-influenced track, with its funky bass-line and fantastic piano solo, reached the top in July 1989, and its momentum was enough to lift “The Raw and the Cooked” to #1 on the Billboard Top 200 album charts where it spent a remarkable seven weeks, wedged between Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” and Prince’s “Batman” soundtrack. On the strength of two killer singles, Fine Young Cannibals were right up there at the top of the charts alongide two of the biggest names in the business.
The album would land one more Top 40 hit in America. Featuring a more straightforward rock sound, “Don’t Look Back” peaked at #11 in September 1989. Although not as big a hit as the first two singles, “Don’t Look Back” has a fantastic vibe and it sounds particularly fresh today. It features a superb lead vocal performance by Roland Gift. It seems ironic that the most obviously melodic and commercial song on the album, “Don’t Look Back,” didn’t do nearly as well as relatively oddball creations “She Drives Me Crazy” and “Good Thing.”
A fourth single, “I’m Not The Man I Used to Be,” a mid-tempo track with strong percussion, stalled at #54 in America after its release in December ’89, but it became another Top 20 hit for the trio in the U.K. The straightforward dance-pop “I’m Not Satisfied” ended up being the fifth and final single in the U.S., limping to a peak of #90. By this time the momentum of “The Raw & the Cooked” had clearly dissipated. It’s a shame because both of these singles deserved a better fate on the charts — they are outstanding tracks that should have followed the album’s first three singles into the Top 40.
“The Raw & the Cooked” is one of those classic pop albums that, as a result of fortunate timing, was released at precisely the right moment in history for maximum impact. The sparse funk of “She Drives Me Crazy,” with its irresistibly catchy hook, fit in perfectly with what pop radio was playing at the time. Unfortunately “The Raw and the Cooked,” one of the great pop/rock albums of the late 80’s, would have no follow-up, as the band split apart in 1992. Fine Young Cannibals weren’t around for long, but they made their mark on pop music history with an album that compiled songs recorded over a period of multiple years, with different styles and different producers, and yet somehow it worked — proving once again that there is no one single formula for producing a great pop album. It’s been a quarter-century since “The Raw & the Cooked” was released, and it still sounds fantastic. A deluxe 2-CD reissue of the album came out in early 2013, featuring a bonus disc of b-sides and remixes, and significantly better sound quality than the original CD pressing. It’s worth picking up and rediscovering one of the biggest surprise smash albums of the ‘80s, and most importantly a truly outstanding collection of songs.
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