Inspired by his dad’s love of cars, The Darkness frontman hit the overdrive button to launch his rock band’s career
When The Darkness arrived in 2003 it was as if a huge rock monster had been dragged from the depths of the ocean floor to remind us all that music should be bombastic, bold and bring a smile to your face. Their debut album, Permission To Land, was packed with virtuoso guitar riffs and the vocal gymnastics of jumpsuited frontman Justin Hawkins. An instant star, his charisma was somehow matched by the melody which underpinned their tunes.
I Believe In A Thing Called Love epitomised everything that The Darkness stood for. A joyful marriage of ridiculousness and memorable music, it was glam rock turned up to 11, with Hawkins’ falsetto reaching glass-shattering highs. That it was pipped to the top spot by Black Eyed Peas’ Where Is The Love is one of the great injustices of those times, while also providing the perfect example of just how different the Lowestoft four-piece were to the rest of the musical landscape at that time.
Here, Hawkins tells us a later more about the birth of this beast of a song…
“We were at Dan [Hawkins] and Frankie’s [Poullain] flat in Primrose Hill and were about to go out to the pub, exasperated after hours and hours of trying to write something good, and I just came out with the riff. I had no idea what I was going to do after that and just followed my fingers around the frets. It was such a preposterous riff that it made everyone in the room laugh. Once we got playing it I just sang along to it and the verse was there.
“The very first thing that I said when I opened my mouth was all that steering wheel stuff. I was thinking about an old car that my dad had restored which had an overdrive button that made it go a little bit faster or put more fuel into it. It wasn’t supposed to be about guitar distortion, it was more a button on the dashboard of love. It was one for the petrol heads. Then I really enjoyed pairing ‘feelings’ with ‘feel,’ I just thought that was a really fun way of saying it.
“We got to that point and I remember Dan came up with the pre-choruses and then the chorus was another riff that I came up with, not caring really. It’s not the kind of riff that you can write if you’re trying to write a riff, you just feel it out and allow the dandelion seeds of the song to fall on your face. One false move and it flies away again.
“I remember singing the chorus and Dan saying, ‘You can’t do that,’ and I was like, ‘Yes I can, watch this,’ and carried on singing it until it became a really memorable chorus. Dan is really good at adding little bits and connecting stuff to make it all gel together but really it wasn’t a song that we tried to write, it wrote itself.
“I had this thing in my head that if we had songs with ‘Love’ in the title we’d be successful. There were a lot of bands that were trying not to write about love, or they were writing about love but without saying the word, like they were too cool to say it.
“I thought, ‘Fuck that!’ Think about some of the greatest songs of all time, they have love in the title. It’s there for a reason because it’s something that we can all feel and understand what it means. To feel embarrassed by it is a bit immature really. So I thought if we did that it might be a really great way to get a foot on a rung. So that was the only cynical thing about that song really, it was part of my fascination of putting love in the title at that time… I Believe In A Thing Called Love, Love Is Only A Feeling and Love On The Rocks With No Ice as well.
“We played the track to our management and they immediately said, ‘That’s a great song,’ and thought it was the one. It went into the set and became really popular live and that’s when we started doing the clapping thing in the dropout. It was a big part in us gaining momentum and getting a following but it was only after we recorded it and the label were saying, ‘That’s the single,’ we all thought it was going to be Love Is Only A Feeling.
“I think it sounds like it’s easy to sing but it’s not, so it invites the challenge. People want to step up to the karaoke oche when they hear it, because it’s deceptively acrobatic in terms of the way it’s done. I’ve never heard anyone else do it properly, to be honest.
“It’s still the first name on the team sheet when it comes to writing a set and it’s a joyous moment in the set that’s never going to be beaten. That song gave me a lot and provided us with a lot of opportunities and it’s the reason why I still work. A hit like that can go a long way to maintain a career – just having that song means there’s always going to be a glimmer of hope for us.”