‘If you release that, I’m leaving’: how Cutting Crew made (I Just) Died in Your Arms

Nick Van Eede, singer, songwriter

My band the Drivers had a couple of hits in Canada before the record company got caught up in a scandal. Our manager said: “You’ve got 10 minutes to pack your suitcases!” I went back to living with my mum and dad in Sussex.

“I just died in your arms tonight” was a line among lots of titles and ideas I had written on a sheet of wallpaper. I put it to some chords, sang phonetically and then used other lines I’d written on the wallpaper to write the song. I wrote for three or four hours before I worked out what I was singing about. I’d split up with my girlfriend, we’d got back together for one night and there’s a lot of guilt because I should have kept my distance.

I made a demo in my schoolmate Pete Birch’s front room, with him singing harmony. In Canada, I’d met this amazing guitarist, Kevin MacMichael, and we’d both got drunk and said that if our bands fell apart we’d do something together. So he turned up at Heathrow with his guitar and my mum put him in the spare room, where he proceeded to build a seven-foot pyramid of Heineken cans. He was such a character – no ego, never played the obvious thing – and the combination of his King Crimson orchestral chords and my XTC/Police influences gave us a sound.

Colin Farley, the best bass player I ever played with, was a jobbing musician. So he knew all nine of the drummers we auditioned before Martin “Frosty” Beedle turned up with headphones on, declared “I’m listening to the test match” – and then just blew the roof off.

The band name came from a Queen interview where they were asked why they weren’t touring and said, “We’re a cutting crew”, as in just cutting records in the studio. So many people asked us about the name that Kevin put the answer on a T-shirt, which annoyed an Italian journalist so much he went, “Fuck you, T-shirt answer!” and walked out.

After we got signed, we recorded in New York but it wasn’t sounding right. I told the record company: “If you release that, I’ll leave the band.” We did some pre-production in London with John Jansen. We all tried to sing the harmony and even got a session singer in, to no avail. Then John asked: “Who’s the guy on the demo?” So my mate Pete came and sang a perfect take in four minutes. John left before we were finished, so the Drivers’ old producer Terry Brown came to rescue us.

The song was a US No 1 and a global hit and is now used everywhere from Lego Batman to Stranger Things. I’ve got 99 songs published and nobody’s interested in the other 98, but that’s OK. I remember the record company complaining that the “I Just” in the title was in brackets, but the studio tape operator overheard and said: “What about (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction?” They went: “OK! You can keep the brackets.”

Terry Brown, producer

I started as a tape operator in the 1960s, working on sessions with people including Marianne Faithfull and Barbra Streisand. The pay was abysmal but it was a huge learning experience. My first rock session as an engineer was Substitute by the Who. Then I got flown to Toronto for a session, loved it, started producing Rush and built a studio in my house, where I produced the Drivers.

I kept in touch with Nick and he called up out of the blue when they were trying to make (I Just) Died in Your Arms. He said: “I need your help. Can you come over?” So I jumped on a plane to London.

We used some existing keyboards and vocals but otherwise recut the whole song. I concentrated on the drums, which is how we made the Rush records. They’d all play, generating a lot of excitement, but we wouldn’t keep the guitar or bass. They’d be put on later. We did overdubs, then peeled everything back to make sure all the notes were in the right place. It wasn’t like today, where if someone makes a mistake you can move each note. The band had to be really tight, which Cutting Crew were.

I thought it could be big, although I didn’t expect it to become as huge as it did. It’s my only No 1 record in the US and it was life-changing. Even now, I’ll be in making lunch and (I Just) Died will come on the radio. I’ll call Nick and say: “Hey, we haven’t talked in a few weeks. I just heard your tune.” It never goes away.


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