How I wrote ‘Lessons In Love’ by Level 42’s Mark King
The sophisti-pop group’s slap bass-toting frontman on the creation of their 80s classic that topped singles charts in five countries
Formed in 1980 as a jazz-funk fusion band, Level 42 comprised slap bass-toting frontman Mark King, brothers Phil and Rowland ‘Boon’ Gould on drums and guitar respectively, and keyboard player Mike Lindup. French-born synthesizer specialist Wally Badarou also became an unofficial fifth member of the band for several years and, as we discover from Mark, became instrumental in their songwriting process.
By the mid-80s, the band had found worldwide success with a more mainstream pop R&B sound, and their sixth studio album World Machine was a hit both in the UK and US.
Following this was a challenge that would be comfortably met with the LP Running In The Family, propelled by lead single Lessons In Love which became Level 42’s biggest hit. The song not only stormed the charts in their homeland and the US, it also reached the No 1 spot in Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Finland and South Africa.
“We’d been asked by Polydor records to come up with a single that would bridge the gap after the World Machine album that we’d had out in 1985. That had furnished us with Something About You and Leaving Me Now, which both did very well for us.
“Because we were out promoting that in America in 1986, Polydor were saying they needed something to be running with in Europe, otherwise it was all going to go off the boil.
“So around Christmas 1985, myself, Boon Gould, Phil Gould, Mike Lindup and Wally Badarou convened at my house on Bedford Hill in Streatham and we just set about writing songs.
“We had three ideas that we wanted to work on: one became Lessons In Love, another one was Children Say, and there was also Freedom Someday. Those three songs all ended up on the Running In The Family album, but there was no album at that time, because this was only meant to be a stop-gap.
“I’d had this idea that based on the old Vera Lynn We’ll Meet Again vibe and I managed to shoe-horn that into the end of a live track called A Physical Presence, and it actually became the verse melody. We were looking for something so I sped it up, stuck a sequencer and had the rolling bassline going round.
“That was it, I just had the verse idea and nothing else, so it was great when Wally came round and said, ‘What are we going to do then? What have we got?’ I played this and the lads latched onto it straight away, Boon particularly – he wrote the lyrics for Lessons In Love.
“At this time, he was in love with the whole alliteration thing, which is why it’s ‘lessons in love’ and there’s ‘lifeboat’, ‘lies’, ‘lost at sea’ and that sort of stuff. It was a fantastic lyric, something that was a stroke of genius.
“It turned out to be the three of us writing it – me, Wally and Boon. When I played the verse idea to Wally, he took the sequence that I had and inverted it, just turned it upside down.
“The whole section that was the bridge to the chorus is just an inversion of the original G, B, E, C section, so it runs up to C, A minor, B and E. When that happened, I suddenly went, ‘Oh yeah, there it is, that’s fantastic!’
“So the whole thing opened up very fast, it was just a really good organic section of writing. But of course, you don’t know if it’s going to be a single or a hit until you actually get in the studio and do it.”
Interview: Aaron Slater