80s Symphonic / 80s originals combined with orchestral arrangements

Warner Music/Rhino are to release 80s Symphonic next month, a new ’80s compilation that features 80s original recordings combined with orchestral arrangements.

The album features songs like David Bowie‘s ‘Let’s Dance’, a-ha‘s ‘Take On Me’, Simple Minds‘ ‘Alive and Kicking’, Echo & the Bunnymen‘s ‘The Killing Moon’ and many more eighties classics.

Now these are neither re-recordings, nor original vocals with full orchestral arrangements, but rather something in between. Lots of original elements from the multi-tracks of the actual recording combined with new orchestral arrangements. With permission of the artists, the work has been carried by producer and arranger Andy Wright, with orchestrations arranged and conducted by Sam Swallow. The one exception is Nile Rodgers who ‘produced, arranged and conducted’ Let’s Dance.

He says “My work with David Bowie and specifically “Let’s Dance” is sacrosanct to me so when I was asked by David’s family and Warner’s to add orchestration to the original recording I approached it with extreme trepidation. In fact my only concern was to protect David’s artistic vision and integrity. In the end I’m very grateful that we did this, as I believe anyone who loves the original will be excited by it. I’m certain David would approve from above”.

In fact, Nile tweeted about this very recently, although at that time no one quite knew why he was working on an orchestral arrangement of David Bowie’s number one single!

#letsdance The orchestra playing the solo super tight! @abbeyroadstudios @davidbowie “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues” #funky & #jamming

Posted by Nile Rodgers on Saturday, 22 September 2018

The video above allows you to hear some work in progress, but check out the full ‘symphonic’ version of a-ha’s ‘Take On Me’ below, via Spotify.

What do you think about the a-ha arrangement? For me, the jury is out. The strings are all over the shop and rather ‘fight’ with the vocals ruin some of the enjoyment of the song. It will be interesting to sample some of the other tracks, especially minimalist numbers like Bronski Beat‘s ‘Smalltown Boy’.

80s Symphonic will be released on CD on 9 November 2018. A double vinyl edition will follow on 7 December 2018.

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80s Symphonic - CD


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  1. David Bowie – Let’s Dance*
  2. a-ha – Take On Me
  3. Simple Minds – Alive & Kicking
  4. Ultravox – Vienna
  5. Echo & The Bunnymen – The Killing Moon
  6. Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy
  7. Howard Jones – What Is Love?
  8. Tina Turner – What’s Love Got To Do With It
  9. Simply Red – Holding Back The Years
  10. Chris Rea – Josephine
  11. Chicago – Hard Habit To Break
  12. Roxette – It Must Have Been Love
  13. Foreigner – I Want To Know What Love Is
  14. The Cars – Drive
  15. Pretenders – 2000 Miles

80 responses to 80s Symphonic / 80s originals combined with orchestral arrangements

  1. Marc Osborne says:

    Ironically, the a-ha song is one of the weakest on the album. Smalltown Boy is gorgeous, with even more emphasis placed on Jimmy Somerville’s amazing vocals. The harp and flute on Holding Back The Years is also rather lovely.

  2. Julian Bashford says:

    THERE’S AN ERROR ON THE ALBUM! And its hilarious! Drive – Who’s gonna hold you down, when you – USHK! They have Shake reversed, or they have an out-take on the recording and have failed to spot it!!!

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      No there isn’t. It’s exactly the same as on the master.

    • Richard Mc2 says:

      Midge Ure help create Ultravox Orchestrated, with a selection of their hits (and some album tracks) that have been re-imagined to good effect, worth listening too.

      This backs up an earlier comment about OMD, I think the artists who have actually worked with orchestras end of up good results (even Steve Strange of Visage did orchestrated versions of their classics).

      This is just a nice to have 80’s collection, but probably worth waiting when the price is reduced! Artists will endorse this product because it is free publicity for their work!

    • René Peraza says:

      Well, I just purchased my MP3 album, and ‘Drive’ is seemingly still the same take Ben Orr did with The Cars. He give’s is a unique “shhhh…ake.” Sound like he original vocal take to me. Yes: I’m of that age generation to know this when it was new ;)

  3. Fred says:

    An 80’s compilation without Duran Duran ??? RIDICULOUS !!!

  4. Fletch says:

    I’m not a fan of these types of orchestral do-overs (the Beach Boys one was pointless) but some songs on here may actually benefit from an orchestra – Foreigner, Ultravox, Chicago, etc.. I didn’t like the a-ha track. It’s like they’ve taken all compression off his voice – it’s very raw and doesn’t really suit.

  5. Jasper says:

    Back in time this would have been a cheap gas station tape. Love Bowie but I have no need for these reworkings that he obviously can not have a say in.

    • René Peraza says:

      My jury’s still out if it works or not — or even needed — but I ‘like’ it. ‘Let’s Dance’ has been my favorite of David’s 80’s catalog since the day it came out and I bought the 45-rpm single. But, Nile Rodgers, whom produced, arranged and conducts the track uniquely for this collection, had the family’s blessing (they sought him ought), and he makes it a point of not ‘wrecking’ David’s performance, but perhaps try and enhance it.

  6. Pingback:Trevor Horn / Reimagines: The Eighties | superdeluxeedition

  7. Rob says:

    I think I’ll wait for Trevor Horn’s ‘Reimagines the 80s’ album that was announced today. Covers of 80s hits with strings and some artists ‘from the 80s’ as well.
    Sounds far more interesting to me. :)
    Its planned for release in February 2019.

  8. CJ says:

    If “Take on Me” is representative of what the rest o fit is going to sound like, there’s no way I’m getting this. And I’m typically a sucker for anything that re-imagines the 80s. That clip sounds something like I imagine people who only ever listened to A-Ha while high on a ton of coke would picture the song sounding like. Yikes.

  9. Kiki_ says:

    This is more or less the same treatment that Alex Christensen did with its “Classical 90s Dance “. I think it was successful in Germany, so it might have given ideas…

  10. Arnd says:

    That’s not Morten Harket on vocals!

    • Anderson says:

      Yes it´s him but the version orchestrated is the earlier 1984 version not the re-recorded version of 1985. Most of people doesn´t know but there was an older version before.
      The 1984 version was released in the 2015 super deluxe edition CD of Hunting High and Low and the vocals is seemed quite of this version.

  11. Mark says:


  12. Timmay says:

    I think of it this way: this is what ’80’s music’ would have sounded like had Disco remained king, and continued to infect every musical thought, what with it’s strings n things. As is, people got wise and moved away from Disco. This is essentially reimagining what would have happened if Disco hand’t died.

  13. ed says:

    At least massive attacks mezzanine album converted into a can of black spray paint fortunately will be unplayable (this is a real thing by the way – can you do an unboxing video paul?). I am now genuinely scared that someone will get me this for Christmas, make me listen to what I am imagining to be a truly awful job made of lets dance and to which I will have to be pretend to be pleased about out of politeness. Its the thoughtlessness that counts (wink)

  14. Richard Cosgrove says:

    Not sure re the a-Ha track. It’s not horrible, but it’s not lovely either. I think the best description I can think of is ‘surplus to requirements’.

  15. AdamW says:

    Based on the comments I thought it would be awful, but I listened to the whole “Take On Me” on Apple Music and… it’s not that bad. It works, for what it is. I wouldn’t change the station if it came on the radio, and it’s far better than 80% of the Billy Idol Revitalized endeavor. And the Nike Rodgers snippet surely gives one hope for “Let’s Dance.”

    The problem for me is that this stuff might work well as one track on a mixtape, but a whole album of it might get tired. We shall see.

  16. EdwinM says:

    OMG this definitely sucks. Why mess with someone elses product. This is like painting a moustache on Mona Lisa.

  17. Tonk says:

    You ’80’s kids are getting a bit long in the tooth now . . here’s something soothing for you in your dotage . . .
    There’s a lovely Buddy Holly With Orchestra (much like the excremental Big-O one) coming before Christmas for the even older gits . . .

  18. Mo Zart says:

    Well, that was horrible. The orchestra is far too high in the mix.

  19. Andrew says:

    When OMD have so fantastically collaborated with Liverpool Philharmonic to show how it can be done.

    Unfortunately the release date is a clue….Christmas gift time.

    Take a leaf out of what Andy and Paul have done and put the proper work in and look at the results.

  20. Stephen dC says:

    Thank you so much! Another £10 saved.

    I might have impulse bought this audio graffiti but now I just have to get that noise out of my head.

  21. Don S says:

    Besides the $ aspect, if you’re going to do this why not collaborate WITH each artist for a new symphonic interpretation? Otherwise (except for the Bowie track) this could be titled:
    The 80s VS The Symphony!

  22. Rickjapan says:

    In a word……


  23. martin farnworth says:

    unnecessary. feels rather cluttered. the only point to such an exercise would be a more radical overhaul- but then the risk is messing up some classics and removing some of what was good about the originals. even when bands like echo and the bunnymen have recently with there own stuff i can’t get excited much.

  24. Dennis says:

    Can’t imagine them using the original Version of ‘It must have been love’ + only that one was recorded in 1987, the re-recorded, commonly known version (from the ‘Pretty Woman’ soundtrack) was recorded in 1990. So, would be out of place.

    Not a fan of these orchestral things in general, but will give it a listen. Hopefully the others will be better than this ‘Take on me’ version.

    • -SG- says:

      I know what you mean, but actually, 1990 is part of the decade that is commonly referred to the “80’s.”
      Strings can be good, Howard Jones already did orchestral arrangements of some of his songs in the 80’s to mixed result. Often, the strings in these new arrangements are overdone to show everyone they are there, but done sparringly, they can be amazing, like A-ha did with the single version of Hunting High and Low.
      Having not heard any clips, I can imagine Let’s dance could take on a Peter Gunn feel if done with an orchestra.

  25. Francis says:

    I have heard the A-Ha ‘Take On Me’ track and it is absolutely awful! There is way too much going in the recording compared to the excellent and more simple original arrangement. It almost seems as though the orchestra are trying to keep up with the song and it sounds like a jumbled up mess and ludicrous! It is an insult to a classic song and I have a feeling all the other songs will be similar catastrophes! I will save my money and give this release a miss!!!

  26. RJS says:

    Supermarket fodder bought by people who buy a couple of CDs a year or bought as a ‘stocking filler’ for some unfortunate recipient.

  27. Phil Salter says:

    I played the whole song on Spotify…horrible!!

  28. Kauwgompie says:

    Let’s Dance sounds sensational.

  29. The Fourth Walker Brother says:

    What a load of tacky crap.

  30. Harold Steptoe says:

    As if the recent Elvis, Beach Boys and Big O butchery wasn’t bad enough.
    Will there be no end to this crass and tasteless cash-in crap?

  31. frattonlad says:

    Hmm, I recall my Dad’s awful Allan Tousaint CD doing exactly this but to 70s hits. It was quite appalling. Think I’ll stick with my Love And Dancing by the League Unlimited Orchestra. Contemporary to the time and rather good too.

    • DiscoDuck says:

      Just to say I picked up a copy recently and was blown away, not heard it since my bro had upon release. Then reading up and how it was made, cutting up the tape and all sorts. Amazing one one of the first true remix albums.

  32. michael59 says:

    where is falco’s “rock me amadeus”?! ;-)

  33. Peter says:

    Listened to the Take On Me snippet, what a mess!

  34. Rune T says:

    There are so many a-ha tracks that would be better suited to this treatment. But gotta go with the big hits in a collection of this type of course.

    Not a big fan of stuff like this, but remember a great (pure orchestral – no vocals) rendition of Two Tribes (Frankie Goes To Hollywood) by London Symphony Orchestra back in the day, so I guess it can work well once in a while.

  35. Tielo says:

    I think what London Philharmonic Orchestra did on the first Elvis album (an in a lesser way on the second one and in no good way on the Christmas one) was great.
    I like Pet Shop Boys and their bland with an orchestra so let’s hope this will be nice too.

  36. Peter Muscutt says:

    This brings to mind a compilation available here….

    Where 80s bands basically cover non-80s songs, does anyone remember it and whether it was any good? ABC covering Radiohead, anyone? Wang Chung covering Blur????

  37. David Johnson says:

    A couple of these artists have already played the Proms with full orchestra so they know it works.
    Interesting to hear how different the version of Vienna will be from Midge Ure’s orchestrated version too.
    £18 for 2 vinyl, I might give it a go….

  38. Ben Williams says:

    Definitely an interesting idea to do 80s songs – will have a listen when it’s released. However, this symphonic craze has gone into overdrive now… begs the question, who will get the treatment next?


  39. Renato says:

    Wow, this will probably be as awful as it seems (which is pretty awful). No, thanks.

  40. Wayne Olsen says:


  41. tim says:

    I love it that the same demographic who buy overpriced box sets laden with utter frou frou, rattle and hum back scratchers, let’s dance lint brushes, the exact same freaking song on the cd, the vinyl, the white vinyl, the 7” edit the radio edit the edit of the edit and complain that not all of the mixes are on the set even the absolutely unlistenable 90’s tribal house techno trance mix (but not the edit of that one) are gonna bang their shoe on the table now and say THIS CROSSES A LINE.

  42. Mark Bumgardner says:

    The original versions of these would make a great ’80s mix tape for sure. Back in the late ’90s/early ’00s, I sort of “got” the glut of ‘Symphonic ‘ versions of Floyd, Zeppelin, Queen, etc. that were everywhere, as that music lent itself to orchestral arrangements fairly well. This…I don’t know. I don’t see myself running out to nab this. Not when the originals are so good.

  43. eMSig says:

    One of the most unnecessary releases ever. What a waste…

  44. Craig Hedges says:

    Utterly pointless.

  45. DJM says:

    That ‘Take on Me’ is just awful. I completely agree with your observation “The strings are all over the shop and rather ‘fight’ with the vocals”. I think the orchestra is playing an entirely different song. Either that or no one involved has ever heard the original

  46. Gary Hunter says:

    Agree with you Paul regards the A-Ha track, terrible arrangement and all over the place, hopefully the other tracks are better.

  47. Tim-Meh says:

    Coming soon to a hotel lobby/lift interior near you soon…

  48. Matteo Leoni says:

    “Take on me” with those drums sounds like a 180 bpm techno-hardcore remix with strings all over it…

  49. kevin says:

    The only way to treat remixes, re-workings, tribute covers etc is to enjoy them for what they are and don’t worry about the original. The original is still available, untarnished. So if 8 out 15 tracks interest you and maybe 3 or 4 of those really work then you have an idea of how much value this compilation really has. Personally I like re-interpretations of major songs but they might have limited the range of artists and tried 2 or 3 from each artist. I can see this failing commercially because its too wide a range of artists. They maybe should have limited it to early 80’s british synth pop or US chart acts but not done both.

  50. Steve says:

    Agree with you about take on me. I was ready to be pleased but it’s all over the shop and awful. Maybe the rest of the tracks will fair better? I do enjoy listening to the summer solstice version of take on me from mtv unplugged and used recently in deadpool 2

  51. garax says:

    That list seems a little bit ‘what we could clear’ doesn’t it – some overly obvious ones and then some fairly odd picks – like the Chris Rea – not exactly a massive hit in comparison to many of the others.

    Looking at the list some could be interesting – some it would suit – but for me a lot of the 80s is about a certain atmosphere – and whilst a song like Vienna it symphonic on paper the reality is it’s perfect – it needs nothing – and it doesn’t need legitimizing by having a proper orchestra on it.

  52. AKICKUPTHE80S says:

    I’m really looking forward to hearing this. At least it’s better than another 80’s compilation of songs that have been released many times before.

  53. Auntie Sabrina says:

    Yes, I agree Steve. Worth a listen methinks

  54. Michalis says:

    I was about to start complaining, but then I saw the Nile Rodgers vid. Now I’m a bit intrigued.

  55. Dannu Doolan says:

    All just a bit naff. I’m reminded of ‘Hooked On Classics’ and the entr’actes they used to play before Royal Varieties. Can’t imagine the young Jim Kerr, Morten or Jimmy Sommervile would have approved if they were told this was going to happen to their biggest hit?

  56. Howie says:

    I don’t understand what it is? If there are no original artist vocals, it is simply a covers album using ‘some’ original instrumentation? Have I understood that correctly?

  57. CAB says:

    I have a sneaking feeling that this project is going to be “you paid for orchestra, you get orchestra, all the time.”
    Certain licks and riffs will work with strings, but they worked with keys and guitars too.
    I reckon Vienna will be the test tube. If they crack that and leave it a-la Blue Nile (i.e sparse and subtle), then I’m wrong. But I think it’ll turn out to be an OTT drama prowling about in stage make-up and going mwah-ha-ha. Just a thought.

  58. Ian Hicks says:

    Personally I think that A-ha is a complete mess
    Went to see OMD with the Liverpool Philharmonic the other week. That’s how you do proper arrangements!

  59. mr mercury says:


  60. Gareth Jones says:

    Do record labels just think they’ve exhausted all reissue ideas so the next thing to do is stick an orchestra over everything? It started with Elvis, and has continued with Roy Orbison, Beach Boys, etc. plus we’ve also had 80’s and 90’s dance anthems given a classical twist. And now 80’s classics. I just don’t get it or see the point. They will never top the originals, but also aren’t different enough to be considered as quirky cover versions.

  61. Steve Robertson says:

    This will be interesting….

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