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Too Shy: The Story Behind Kajagoogoo’s Definitive 80s Pop Song
dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

Too Shy: The Story Behind Kajagoogoo’s Definitive 80s Pop Song

Kajagoogoo’s Too Shy sold millions around the world, but as the band tell Dig!, the song’s phenomenal success threatened to overwhelm them.

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For many, Too Shy defines the sound and style of the early 80s, but the success of Kajagoogoo’s debut single was off-the scale and threatened to overshadow everything that followed. The former members of Kajagoogoo, and its charismatic lead singer, Limahl, sustain careers to this day, but no one lets them forget their first single together, which topped the UK charts for a fortnight, made it all the way to No.5 in the US and was a hit all around the world, too. Steve Askew, Nick Beggs and Limahl tell Dig! the full story behind one of the world’s best loved 80s anthems.

Listen to the best of Kajagoogoo here.

The backstory: “Suddenly we had equipment, and our demos were transformed”

Formed by Steve Askew (guitar), Nick Beggs (bass), Stuart Croxford Neale (synthesisers) and Jez Strode (percussion), the band were first called Art Nouveau when they advertised for a singer in the music press. Chris Hamill, using the professional name Limahl, started working with the group, and the challenge of getting a record deal soon became everyone’s shared focus.

“About a year before we were signed, a businessman friend of mine invested £10,000 in the band for new equipment,” Limahl tells Dig! “£10,000 was a considerable sum then and so, suddenly, we had all the musical equipment that our established contemporaries were using. Stuart went off programming sounds and our demos were completely transformed.

“We had sounded a bit prog-rocky and, dare I say it, a bit dated – certainly, nothing new – and, with these synths, we sounded like our contemporaries, and it was very exciting.”

The band name: “I thought of something a child would say… Kajagoogoo! The sound of primal life”

On the subject of changing their band name from Art Nouveau to Kajagoogoo, Beggs told pop bible Smash Hits that the group wanted a name that didn’t mean anything. “I thought of something a child would say – ‘Goo-ga-ga-goo-goo’ was the first thing that came into my mind,” he said in 1983. “I didn’t like the ‘goo-ga-ga’ part, and so went for something more casual. So, Kajagoogoo! The sound of primal life, don’t you know!” Limahl agreed in the same interview, saying it was the era of unusual names with contemporaries such as Yazoo and Spandau Ballet.

Duly renamed, the band secured a prized record contract in the summer of 1982. “EMI had signed us and knew we had potential but hadn’t heard what they regarded would be a hit record,” says Nick Beggs. “At the weekend, we would use the downtime at EMI’s Manchester Square studios for continuing with the demos with a terrific engineer called Ron Hill.

“It wasn’t until the late summer that we came up with what would become Too Shy.”

Writing Too Shy: “We felt we had stumbled on something… I was leaping up and down”

“I still have a cassette of us writing Too Shy in the living room of Nick’s flat in Leighton Buzzard [about 35 miles north-west of Central London], and Stuart is in the background playing the bridge melody,” recalls Limahl. “In the original bridge, Nick had written 35 lyrics and I remember saying there are too many words. With ‘Hey, girl, move a little closer’ it became six!

“We felt we had stumbled on something with Too Shy. Stuart is classically trained and so was an important influence creatively. Of course, everyone does focus on that great bassline from Nick on the intro but, before the bassline, came those beautiful chords from Stuart, and I don’t think, without those, we would have had that bassline. I was leaping up and down when Stuart was playing those chords because they were very seductive in the way they rose.

“I remember at the end of the intro the synth dropped out – I was the one who suggested we had to keep it in. It was a really equal, collaborative effort. Nick and I were the ones writing lyrics, but Nick is the one who came up with that chorus hook.”

The recording: “There are so many twists and turns in the evolution of Too Shy”

“Finding a producer was then really difficult,” recalls Beggs. “We sent out demos to loads of major producers and they all turned us down. I recall [longtime David Bowie collaborator] Tony Visconti saying, ‘Why would I want to produce this band? I am a living legend.’ Later on, of course, Mutt Lange [Def Leppard; Bryan Adams] wanted to produce us and we turned him down!”

The problem was solved when Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes and his band’s then producer, Colin Thurston, expressed an interest in working with Kajagoogoo. It proved to be a magic formula, though there were initial reservations. “We were a bit uncomfortable,” recalls Beggs. “We thought it was too obvious and came up with the idea they would produce us under a pseudonym and that would be Bill And Ben, The Production Men. When we actually did the demos, it was working well, and we thought this is ridiculous; what’s the problem? They were great.”

“Colin was a very calming influence; an old-school engineer and, of course, there was a massive confidence in him as he had done the first two Duran Duran albums,” says Limahl. “Nick was more focused on the arrangements and mixing levels. What you have in someone like Colin and Nick – and later, for me, in Giorgio Moroder – is someone who can crack the whip. Otherwise, bands can squabble… It’s always a compromise – a big and important word in any collaborative situation.”

The release: “Little did we know the international impact it would have”

Beggs confirms Too Shy was earmarked for release as the first single ahead of Kajagoogoo’s debut album being finished, though not everyone was convinced. Askew recalls that some at the label had reservations. “EMI International didn’t originally want to put it out,” he says. “They wanted to release what they considered to be a brighter, poppier track.” Beggs is sure there were concerns that the intro was too long, while Limahl remembers one of the band’s earliest champions, radio DJ Paul Gambaccini, thought they had more obvious hits they could release. “Paul absolutely loved Ooh To Be Ah,” he says. “It was the song that got him interested in the band, so we all initially felt that would be the first single.

A decision was finally reached and plans developed to launch the band with the song that made its members an almost-overnight sensation. “There are so many twists and turns in the evolution of Too Shy,” confirms Limahl. “First, there was a home demo, then there was a studio demo, and you could technically say that the released version was a third recording.”

Kajagoogoo supported the band Fashion, who had three minor UK hits, on an autumn tour, but Askew believes they didn’t even play what was to be their first single on those dates. Sessions continued at Chipping Norton Recording Studios in Oxfordshire to complete what would become the band’s debut album, White Feathers.

The promo video: “I was so excited… it felt like a movie set”

Shooting the iconic video for Too Shy was another early highlight for the band. “I was so excited doing it,” remembers Limahl. “I’m from a council estate in Wigan, I ran away from home at 16; my family had no money; my father was a bit of an alcoholic and, somehow, I found my way to London with these crazy dreams. I then spent three or four years in theatre, taking singing and piano lessons and doing talent contests in pub. Suddenly, we were signed to a big record label with Nick Rhodes producing, and we were making our first video. It was beyond excitement! Technology was so different back then – it felt like a movie set. There was such a massive team involved and I recall that video cost £30,000 – a huge amount of money in 1982.”

“The [idea] was that we wanted to have three delineated times where the song was playing in different eras – the end of the war; a 60s Austin Powers vibe; and modern times. But I don’t think that dialectic entirely came across,” says Beggs of the clip that still airs on rotation on some music channels.

Askew recalls another concern: “We were worried about the video and the connotations with ‘Welcome Home, Boys’ and the [then recent] Falklands War. It must have been shot pre-Christmas, just after we came off the tour with Fashion.”

The success: “They couldn’t keep up with demand”

Finally, at the start of January 1983, the 7” and 12” copies of Too Shy hit the shops. Limahl attributes some of the single’s immediate impact to two timely pieces of TV promotion. There was a performance on Saturday Superstore and a longer feature on the band in the launch episode of a Paul Gambaccini Channel 4 series The Other Side Of The Tracks, offering viewers a behind-the-curtains look at the music industry. The show, which aired the Saturday immediately prior to the single’s release on Monday, 10 January, featured a recording of the band’s first headline gig at Brixton’s Ace Club (later known as The Fridge), made on December 17. The show also featured a segment on the recording of the music video.

Unusually for a new act at that time, Too Shy shot straight into the UK Top 40. On the chart dated the week ending 22 January 1983, it was listed at No.33; the song vaulted into the Top 10 seven days later and was No.1 just three weeks after that, on 12 February.

“We were still finishing the album when the single became a hit and we had to complete the mixing of seven tracks in a night before we went to France to do some TV,” says Beggs. The pressure was starting to build: “We were mixing for about 48 hours and it really does mess with your head,” says Askew.

“We were very focused on the UK as the record took off – little did we know the international impact it would have,” says Limahl. “I will never forget that the first request to go overseas was to Holland and a show called TopPop. Back then, before the internet, the UK and US charts were so influential.” In some European markets, the Too Shy record sleeve was printed with the billing of the song’s chart-topping success in the band’s homeland.

In the UK, Kajagoogoo’s phenomenal success started to draw unfair flak, largely down to the band’s popularity with the teenage market and the perceived hype created by the involvement of Nick Rhodes (during a period when Duran Duran had yet to even score their own chart-topper). “Too Shy would have done its business, whether Nick was perceived as being involved or not,” says Beggs. “At the time, there were so many other issues that were overshadowing that – we were getting a lot of coverage in the media, and we looked ridiculous, so it instantly seemed to have its own atmosphere, irrespective of Nick’s involvement.”

“Too Shy was around for so long and the sales were so crazy, they had to hire another pressing plant,” recalls Limahl. “At its peak, they were pressing 30,000 copies a day and they still couldn’t keep up with demand.”

Too Shy’s fortnight-long hold on the top of the UK charts was ended by Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, but the song was still climbing charts across Europe. In April, it would begin its ascent of the stateside Billboard listings, where the second British Invasion of pop acts was just starting. Too Shy formed part of that advance guard and eventually peaked in the US Top 5 that July.

The aftermath: “It was scary. The screaming was overwhelming”

Following such a sizeable success was to prove challenging. The choice of Ooh To Be Ah as Kajagoogoo’s second single was compromised from the start. Limahl picks up the story:

“Paul Gambaccini sent me something a few days ago. He told me: ‘I’ll never forget my horror when, in a single fortnight, EMI released Let’s Dance, Is There Something I Should Know and Ooh To Be Ah. The Bowie and Duran Duran singles leapt out of the radio at the listener, but the then manager of the band had given EMI the wrong mix on Ooh To Be Ah, which had only 60 per cent of the volume of the other two (I measured them). You may remember that [producer] Colin Thurston was on holiday at the time and the band’s manager had taken it upon himself to deliver the mix to EMI. I knew at once that the first track I had heard on your demo tape – the song that had convinced me you were going to make it – was not going to be as big a hit as it should have been because of a poor master.’

“There was a pressure and, of course, a No.7 [Ooh To Be Ah’s UK peak] felt like things were on the slide already,” concludes Limahl.

The band’s White Feathers tour offered a welcome respite from the stress. “The whole touring experience was surreal,” says Nick. “We had to have security men because young ladies would act in very strange ways towards us… the shows were a runaway success, but it was very disconcerting to have 200 girls pulled out of the audience by St John Ambulance teams before the concert even started!”

“I remember the first gig in Cornwall,” says Limahl. “I walked out on stage to see the first ten rows all had a Limahl haircut. I was kind of scared as I thought, My God, is that how much influence I have got? It was a scary responsibility. The screaming was overwhelming, and this female adulation put the musicians in Kajagoogoo off a bit. Of course, it wasn’t planned. We were just five vaguely cute guys, but, still, The Beatles had screaming fans…”

Despite a third single, Hang On Now, tensions continued to build. “We questioned after Too Shy: is this already the pinnacle of our career or is it the beginning of something?” says Beggs. “We were lucky to have another five hits after that. I think we could have had another No.1 if Limahl had stayed in the band. Looking back on it all, it was surreal.”

“Ooh To Be Ah is a great record – Stuart’s programming of the sequencers is wonderful – but it went in and out the charts really quickly,” says Limahl. “It hasn’t maintained the same sort of airplay as Too Shy, which around the world is still considered a classic.

“And then, Hang On Now peaking at No.13… one does have to wonder: did this influence the band’s decision to fire their singer? Perhaps they felt things were quickly on the slide for some reason.”

After Kajagoogoo: “We have all gone onto do many varied things”

Both Kajagoogoo and Limahl would continue to have hits, but Too Shy’s impact would not easily fade. “For each one of us, Too Shy played a different role as we followed our own careers,” says Beggs. “For me, it became a sticking block in interviews as I was always being asked about it and the band. There is a duality to it, to say the least.”

“It was a moment in time, as we have all gone onto do many varied things,” says Askew. “We were always pushing for new technologies. Some of the sequences on Too Shy and the album were created very manually to make it sound like a computer because the technology was all a bit hit-and-miss. We were trying to create this very organic electronic music that was very slick.”

“Our children are so proud and happy about Too Shy,” says Beggs. “For me, personally, I have a sense of resolution about it, and I know we will always be associated with the song. It was a good start, but the real success came with me being able to perpetuate a 40-year career as a musician.”

Limahl, a regular on the 80s revival circuit, confirms keeping a hit as big as Too Shy fresh is a good problem to have. “Any artist will tell you they never listen to their own music – and I admit the last song I want to hear is Too Shy,” he says. “But there’s a fine line, as any singer is tempted to play around with their big hit to keep it fresh. I have seen artists do that and it has made me realise you shouldn’t. It’s about giving the audience what they want.”

Limahl admits the signature first segment of the vocal on the track, the infectious “Time”, was never even meant to be there: “I was actually tuning up! I didn’t realise Colin and Nick were going to keep that in. I was just getting ready for the verse,” he reveals. Today, on some TV performances, Limahl leaves it out to demonstrate that he is singing live.

When challenged on personal favourites from White Feathers, Beggs picks the instrumental Kajagoogoo, which closed the original first side of the vinyl edition and was later used in the classic movie 16 Candles by filmmaker John Hughes, while Limahl and Askew pick the band’s third single, Hang On Now. Though Askew admits he isn’t entirely happy with how that song finally turned out, Beggs reveals that 80s super-producer Trevor Horn also rates the track.

Askew, who continues to record and, in 2020, released the solo project Gateway To Ultraworld, rarely plays Too Shy today, but Beggs was recently persuaded to revive his biggest hit. “I was touring with Howard Jones and he wanted to do it,” says the bassist. “It was his idea and I didn’t really want to do it, but he said, ‘This is a great song and we can do a great version of it together. You should be proud of it.’”

In 1992, Limahl was approached by a German record label to record a new album. The German market has been particularly important in his career: he recorded the theme to one of the country’s most celebrated cultural classics – The NeverEnding Story – in 1984, and he continued to have cut-through in the territory on later projects with Giorgio Moroder, including the highly regarded Love In Your Eyes, from the Colour All My Days album, released in 1986. Limahl also re-recorded Too Shy, with of-its-time production styling, and the track was issued as the first single from the album Love Is Blind.

The legacy: “It’s a bit like your first lover – it will never leave you”

In 2009, Kajagoogoo reunited for a few concert dates. “I have worked with a lot of producers and musicians over the years and the reunion felt like coming back home,” says Limahl. “It felt great to be back with the guys. I started working on a couple of songs with Nick, then we got together with the others to develop those songs. We had a new manager and everything felt exciting for that short period.

“I did an interview a couple of years ago and was generally very positive about Kajagoogoo. It’s a bit like your first lover – it will never leave you. Everything that is happening to you at that time is the first time it has happened. The first No.1, the first Top Of The Pops, interviews, tour and TV shows overseas. I have nothing but great memories.”

“I see Too Shy as an isolated piece of work and as a stepping-stone,” concludes Beggs today. “It has really crystallised in people’s memories.”

Those memories remain a powerful draw, and Too Shy, arguably more famous than the band that created it, lives on. One of 1983’s biggest global sellers, the song still regularly turns up on TV and in film, and on streaming and radio playlists, while it’s an inevitable highlight of any 80s revival set. Few bands enjoy a hit as big as Too Shy and, if there’s a sense that it was perhaps too much, too soon for a new group, Kajagoogoo’s former members now appreciate its place in their careers and the affection with which it is held by so many millions of others.

Keep up with what some of Kajagoogoo’s former members are doing today:

Limahl
Twitter: @limahl_official
Instagram: limahl_official

Nick Beggs
nickbeggs.co.uk
Twitter: @NickBeggs on
Instagram: nick_beggs

Steve Askew
Instagram: the-steven-askew

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