Behind the Song: “I Melt with You” by Modern English

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The writers behind the classic, “I Melt with You,” share how it came to be.

“I was definitely stoned when I wrote it,” says Robbie Grey. “It was during the day, I remember it really well. I sat down on the floor of my flat in London, a cheap place in the housing association, and wrote the verse just straight off in about 10 minutes.” As the stream of lyrics flooded out in apocalyptic visions and other imaginary states, there was “I Melt with You.”

The message: Make love as the world dissolves and melt into one.

Moving forward using all my breath
Making love to you was never second best
I saw the world crashing all around your face
Never really knowing it was always mesh and lace

That was it. Cusping Modern English’s 1982 sophomore release After the Snow, Grey’s momentary creative inebriation resulted in one of the most infectious pop anthems, and the calamitous tale of love still resonates nearly 40 years later. 

“It does feel like the world is coming to an end, doesn’t it?” ponders Grey, who says he tends to lean on the darker side when it comes to pop songs. “What I’ve always tried to do with the pop songs is put some dark stuff in there. When you live in England, there’s a lot grey. I’m pretty sure that’s the reason you get a lot of good music from here. It has to do with the climate, because you spend a lot of time indoors.”

“I Melt with You” marks the band’s shift from the noisier punk of their earlier singles and 1981 debut Mesh & Lace—the title also referenced in the song—to the more new wave pop of After the Snow. “We didn’t want to keep going over the same ground, so when the producer joined, he started to bring melody to the table. We never used acoustic guitars before or string arrangements, but that’s the first time on After the Snow. We never really thought about it, so it was really exciting to do.”

Under the tutelage of producer Hugh Jones, who had already worked with Echo & the Bunnymen, Simple Minds, and The Damned at this point, the band pieced together the final arrangement around “I Melt with You,” right down to the indelible break of Hmmm hmmm hmmm.

“He came to see us play, and he heard all our noisy stuff,” says Grey. “At the time, we did not write songs that went verse, chorus, verse, chorus. We do now, but we didn’t then. We used to call them pieces, little bits of music we’d stick together, almost like we were glueing it.”

Grey says that after their rehearsals with the producer, they had all these fragments of music and didn’t know what to do with them, but Jones helped the band configure them into songs, including the parts of “I Melt with You.”

“He put them all in an order, and that’s how the musical side of it came about with the lyrics,” shares Grey. “I wrote the words, but I never actually stood next to a mic and talked into it before. I always shouted into a mic. He showed me how to stand in front of a microphone and just talk into it, so that’s how you get that almost spoken word thing, which is what I think is kind of the charm of it, I suppose.”

I’ll stop the world and melt with you
You’ve seen the difference
And it’s getting better all the time
There’s nothing you and I won’t do
I’ll stop the world and melt with you

“I Melt with You,” artwork by Vaughan Oliver

Recording in the English countryside also gave After the Snow a very pastoral sound, which Grey says resonated with U.S. listeners more, giving it an almost West Coast feel. 

Trapped in a state of imaginary grace
I made a pilgrimage to save this human race
Never comprehending the race has long gone by

Overshadowing other After the Snow singles “Life in the Gladhouse” and “Someone’s Calling,” “I Melt with You,” was first popularized when it was featured in the 1983 Nicolas Cage teen rom-com Valley Girl. Several years later, the band re-recorded “I Melt with You” on fifth album, 1990’s Pillow Lips, following Modern English’s reformation with founding member Mick Conroy and Aaron Davidson. In 2011, the song’s title even inspired I Melt with You, an artsy drama, starring Rob Lowe and Jeremy Piven, unraveling a college reunion that goes awry.

Grey laughs that “I Melt with You” is always the last song in the band’s set, because they wouldn’t know how the audience may react if they played anything following it.

Coming full circle with “I Melt with You,” the band called on their longtime friend, artist Vaughan Oliver to create the cover art work for the track prior to the band’s now-postponed 40th anniversary tour. Oliver, who passed away December 2019 at the age of 62, was responsible for some of the most iconic album cover art throughout the past four decades, including Modern English’s fellow 4AD label partners at the time, Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, and Clan of Xymox and later crafted the abstract surrealism of the Pixies’ Doolittle and The Breeders’ candied heart burst of Last Splash.

“He was our friend,” says Grey of Oliver, who also worked with the band in later years for their seventh album, Soundtrack, in 2007. “His artwork is genius. The first work he ever did was a ‘Gathering Dust’ 11-inch single, and the last work he ever did was ‘I Melt with You.’ He started with us, and ended with us. It’s really sad.”

Nearly 40 years later, Modern English returned to “I Melt with You,” re-recording a “From Quarantine” rendition with the band—guitarist Gary McDowell, bassist Michael Conroy, keyboardist Stephen Walker, and drummer Roy Martin—from their respective homes during lockdown. “The quarantine version of it has gone ballistic,” says Grey. “And the comments that people left that it cheered them up, or it made them feel better. It’s pretty clear that it still resonates today.”

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