How Rising Stardom Inspired “Things Can Only Get Better” by Howard Jones

Howard Jones was on tour in support of his 1984 debut album Human’s Lib and trying to come up with new songs for what would become his sophomore album Dream into Action. A single that naturally emerged during this period of creativity was “Things Can Only Better,” which would become his second biggest hit in America and fourth biggest in the UK.

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The track was inspired by Jones’ fast-rising commercial success after his first record came out, but it was excitement tempered by anxiety. He was 29 years old, which was a little older for a hitmaker at that time, and a lot was happening at once after his years of slogging away in pubs and clubs.

Give Us Your Talent

“It was reflected with that [song],” Jones tells American Songwriter. “But I knew that I was in this for the long-term, and I guess I proved that now. This is what I love doing. This is my contribution to the world. I’ve always been trying to encourage people to do that—whatever talent you have, please let us have the benefit of it. Please don’t keep it to yourself, please let us have your great talent, wherever that may be. That’s been a theme that I’ve run through some of my songs, [like] ‘Pearl in the Shell.’”

After a short and moody prelude, “Things Can Only Get Better” breaks into an upbeat, funky, mid-tempo dance number with occasional bursts of brass and a middle break from The TKO Horns, who were then known for their work with Elvis Costello. Singing trio Afrodiziak sang backup during the choruses, and they would also make a guest appearance on the rerecorded version of “No One Is to Blame.” The group also appeared in the video for the song and joined Jones on his 18-month world tour to support Dream into Action.

The rousing chorus for “Things Can Only Get Better” itself was one word, featuring different melodic variations for the word “whoa.” It could almost be consider wordless as the effect was just something that the audience could easily glom onto.

We’re not scared to lose it all
Security throw through the wall
Future dreams we have to realize
A thousand skeptic hands
Won’t keep us from the things we plan
Unless we’re clinging to the things we prize

And do you feel scared? I do
But I won’t stop and falter
And if we threw it all away
Things can only get better

A Song About Perseverance

On his Human’s Lib Tour, Jones was “loving the fact that people were singing the choruses of the songs that they already knew. So I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, let’s have a whoa, whoa chorus and anybody can join in.’ Then they don’t have to know the words, they can join in. But the rest of the song is my favorite sentiment to get over—don’t be scared to live your life, don’t be scared to lose it, you’ll get back up again. We all feel scared about going forward and trying new things, but don’t stop and falter, don’t worry about it. You’ve got resources in you. You don’t realize it maybe sometimes, but you can overcome these things. And things can only get better if you have that attitude. They will get better if you believe they can. I really wanted to put as much positivity into that song as I could. Because I felt that buzz of performing every night on tour, and people would want to celebrate those kinds of sentiments.”

One could argue that the most emotional part of the song is the pre-chorus in which the lyrical sentiment is appropriately contrasted by a dramatic, slightly melancholy melody that for a moment acknowledges vulnerability and insecurity before returning to the upbeat, one-word chorus.

The song’s overall message resonated with listeners as “Things Can Only Get Better” became Jones’ most successful single. It hit No. 3 in Sweden, No. 5 in the U.S. and Ireland, No. 6 in the UK, and No. 9 in Canada. It also went Top 20 in Australia, Italy, and Belgium. The video has 17 million YouTube views and 48 million Spotify listens. The track is one of his most licensed, having been placed in television series like Growing Pains, Pysch, Watchmen, and Stranger Things. and films including Is Anyone There? Bumblebee, and the recent horror film Tarot.

Treating today as though it was
The last, the final show
Get to 60 and feel no regret
It may take a little time
A lonely path, an uphill climb
Success or failure will not alter it 

No Regrets

The lyrics of the second verse above are fun to contemplate in retrospect now that Jones has passed the age of 60. Does he have any regrets now?

“No,” Jones says. “I think it’s been interesting with my career, because after the initial first two albums were so big, so quick, there was a time when I had to withdraw and it wasn’t going so well for me in terms of sales. But I was absolutely never going to give up on writing and recording and performing. It was a time when the ‘80s were really out of fashion. But I thought there will be a time when people realize that it actually was a really great time for pop music, and there were a lot of great things happening. That people will eventually come back to that, and then you can move on again.

“That’s what’s happening to me now. And this last part of my career, where I feel like everything I’ve learned I can apply now to what I do. It’s a maturing of the whole career. I can present my music the way I absolutely want to, with a great band and a great show. It’s very satisfying because it is what I love, so it’s a nice time for me.”

Howard Jones, ABC, and Haircut 100 are hitting the road for a U.S. tour that runs from August 14 to September 6. That’s quite an ‘80s pop package.

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Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for IEBA

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