Jones was one of the defining figures of mid-'80s synth-pop. Jones'
music merged the technology-intensive sound of new wave with the
cheery optimism of hippies and late-'60s pop. Jones racked up
a string of hits in the mid- and late '80s before he retreated
into being a cult figure in the '90s.
A native of Southampton, England, Jones learned how to play piano
at the age of seven. By the time he was a teenager, his family
had relocated to Canada, which is where he joined his first band,
a progressive-rock group called Warrior. Eventually, Jones moved
back to England, where he played in a number of different groups.
In the mid-'70s, he enrolled in the Royal Northern College of
Music. After he dropped out of college, he played with a variety
of local Southampton jazz and funk bands. Eventually, Jones began
performing as a solo artist. At these solo shows, Jones performed
only with synthesizers and drum machines. For these one-man concerts,
Jones had a mime called Jed Hoile perform. After a few years of
solo performing, Jones attracted the attention of John Peel, who
offered the keyboardist a BBC session. Soon, Jones was opening
for new wave synth-pop acts across England. By 1983, he had signed
with WEA in England and Europe; in America, he signed to Elektra.
Howard Jones released his first single, "New Song," in England
in the fall of 1983 and it became a big hit, peaking at number
three. His second single, "What Is Love," was released a few months
later and it reached number two. Humans Lib, Jones' debut album,
was released in the spring of 1984 and quickly rose to number
one in England. Thanks to repeated exposure on MTV, the album
became a moderate hit in the U.S. Later in 1984, "New Song" and
"What Is Love" became American Top 40 hits, while "Pearl in the
Shell" became his third British Top Ten single.
In 1985, Jones phased Hoile out of his live show, formed a touring
band, and released his second album, Dream into Action. The record
became his most successful album, reaching number ten and going
platinum in the U.S. and spawning the hit singles "Things Can
Only Get Better," "Like to Get to Know You Well," "Life in One
Day," and "Look Mama." In the spring of 1986, he released Action
Replay, an EP of remixes that featured a new version of "No One
Is to Blame" from Dream into Action. "No One Is to Blame" became
Jones' biggest U.S. hit, peaking at number four. The relatively
weaker chart placement of number 16 in the U.K. was indicative
of his future in England — his next single, "You Know I Love You...Don't
You?," taken from his third album One to One, became his last
British Top 40 hit.
Jones released his fourth album, Cross That Line, in the spring
of 1989. The first single from the album, "Everlasting Love,"
became a number one adult contemporary hit in America, reaching
number 13 pop. However, the album stalled at number 65. Jones
returned three years later with In the Running, a set that saw
him abandoning synthesizers for piano. The album didn't make the
charts. Following the release of The Best of Howard Jones in 1993,
Elektra dropped him. Instead of seeking a new record contract
with another major label, Jones hit the road in 1994, performing
acoustic shows. At the 1994 shows, he sold Working in the Backroom
— an album he recorded at his home studio and released on his
own label, Dtox Records — at his concerts. For the next two years,
Jones continually toured America and Europe. In 1996, he released
Live Acoustic America on PLM Records; People followed two years
later. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine