80’s Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/ Bands ~ The Chameleons

chameleons1The Chameleons (aka The Chameleons UK) – and in particular Mark Burgess – created a host of incredible post-punk music during the 80’s and beyond. Burgess stormed that period with an immeasurable talent for songwriting that evoked (and still does) an array of deeply felt emotions and clear visuals. Poetic imagery laced with drama-infused vocals completes a very poignant picture with each and every song.


The Chameleons formed in Middleton, England in 1981. The original band was comprised of singer chameleons2and bassist Mark Burgess, guitarist Reg Smithies, guitarist Dave Fielding, and drummer John Lever. From my perspective, the band used what was to become known as “shoe-gaze” guitar  (fuzzy, distorted hooks) a good 10-15 years before that sound took hold as a specific genre. It complimented the moodiness of each song, whether happy or sad, in a particularly successful fashion


Their best-known single, Swamp Thing, is a mesmerizing blend of jangle guitar interspersed with thrumming bass and provocative lyrics. Widespread release of Swamp Thing earned the Chameleons a very loyal and devoted following, but not anything of the magnitude that this band deserved. One very dark song in particular haunts me in a way that is difficult to describe: Soul In Isolation. It became my mantra during a very dark period in my life and feels like an old friend each time I play it. That song hosted my innermost fears and deepest secrets, much like a best friend in time of need.


Burgess and company continue to tour and play timeless, meaningful music. Give them a visit on their website: http://www.thechameleons.com/ (Author’s note – the website seems to be down at the time of this writing – I’m hoping this is just a temporary occurrence). If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing The Chameleons in action, treat yourself. If it has been a while since you’ve listened, take the time to get reacquainted. This is a vitally important band with a lot to say in a manner that will hook you in.


“Soul In Isolation” via YouTube user LefthandOfDarkness:


“Up The Down Escalator” via YouTube user martind1000:


“Monkeyland” via YouTube user martind1000:


Purchase The Chameleons chameleons3


Discography (via Wikipedia):

  • 1983 Script of the Bridge (Statik; issued 1984 on MCA in the US; reissued 2008 as 25th Anniversary 2CD edition)
  • 1985 What Does Anything Mean? Basically (Statik)
  • 1986 Strange Times (Geffen)
  • 2000 Strip (Paradiso)
  • 2001 Why Call It Anything? (Artful)
  • 2002 This Never Ending Now (Paradiso)


Compilations (via Wikipedia):

  • 1986 The Fan and the Bellows (Hybrid)
  • 1990 John Peel Sessions (Strange Fruit)
  • 1992 Here Today…Gone Tomorrow (Imaginary)
  • 1993 The Radio 1 Evening Show Sessions (Nighttracks)
  • 1993 Dali’s Picture/Live in Berlin (Imaginary)
  • 1994 Northern Songs (Bone Idol)
  • 1997 Return of the Roughnecks: The Best of the Chameleons (2CD) (Dead Dead Good)

15 thoughts on “80’s Music Rules ~ Criminally Underrated Artists/ Bands ~ The Chameleons

  1. Excellent band to highlight- they were definitely unheralded precursors to the shoegaze sound as well. ‘What Does Anything Mean? Basically’ is one of my most favourite albums 🙂


  2. Miss P,

    Fantastic post, one of my top 5 favorite bands of all time!
    You hit the nail on the head when you wrote “From my perspective, the band used what was to become known as “shoe-gaze” guitar (fuzzy, distorted hooks) a good 10-15 years before that sound took hold as a specific genre.” And the other thing is Soul In Isolation is one of my most favorite tracks. It too has helped me during times of dark despair. I own their whole discography (even some vinyl) and listen to them all the time. Ah, you don’t get bands like this nowadays. And there are a ton of new bands that try to “cop” their sound but never get it quite right. When you hear The Chameleons, you know it is The Chameleons. Classic sound!
    Nice write and made my day!! ❤


  3. Thanks Marilyn – it does my heart good to know there are folks out there that appreciate great music. Especially coming from someone (you!) who is not from that era. I know I’ve told you this before, but you definitely have great taste in music! 🙂



  4. Heya ((((Merz))))

    I really appreciate your comments. It’s nice to know someone else can understand what I mean by my relationship with “Soul In Isolation.” It gives me chills every time I hear it. And you are so right – no one can deliver the goods like the Chameleons themselves. It’s a unique band with a unique sound which is why they are so timeless. All the best to you – Sunday is almost over!

    Miss P


  5. I just wrote a very little about Strange Times a few months back. The Chameleons and their offshoots (notable The Sun and The Moon) were huge on the college radio station I was spinning at in the late 80’s. They were one of those bands that seemed like they were on the edge of something enormous but, for whatever reasons, couldn’t quite get over that edge. Maybe it was because hair metal ruled the land in those days. Anyhow, thank you for re-introducing me to some of their tracks!

    I had been under the impression they broke up again in 2003, but I’m glad to read that they’re at it again.

    Also, let me put in a plug for the song “Tears.”. Lovely tune.


  6. Hey (((Joey)))

    Thanks for the link-up to “Tears” and your article about the Chameleons. “Hair metal” – ack. You’re right. It dominated the airwaves and stole the spotlight from many great post-punk and new wave bands. I went through the era thinking the music kind of sucked. It wasn’t until many years later that I uncovered a treasure trove of underrated and under-promoted bands. So glad I took another look. 🙂

    The one exception to the whole metal debacle, for me anyway, is The Cult. For some reason I hold them above the other cookie-cutter metal bands. “She Sells Sanctuary” has to be one of the greatest metal songs to come out of the 80’s.

    All the best and enjoy your day,


  7. Hi MissP!

    Well, The Cult is an interesting animal in and of themselves. Their sound on their first two albums as The Cult really didn’t sound especially “metal.” Indeed, “She Sells Santuary,” “Rain,” and “Spiritwalker” all sound like psychedelic – dare I say – 13th Floor Elevator inspired blues rock.

    When they made the shift to the more “metal” sound, I was already a fan so was willing to go with them where they went. Their lyrics (though not necessarily brilliant) were always significantly different from, for example, “Unskinny Bop.” Maybe a little more deep, perhaps just more oblique. Furthermore, their guitar riffs (was Billy Duffy the guitarist? I should know this – I was just writing about them) were somehow a cut above the rest. Sort of like the Cult of “She Sells Sanctuary” merged with AC/DC.

    Anyhow, for whatever reason, I think both fans of 80’s metal and fans of 80’s alternative rock have ample to reason to embrace The Cult as their own, you know?


  8. heya ((((Joey))))

    Yep, Billy Duffy was the guitarist. Ian Astbury was the dynamic lead singer. I found a YouTube of him in concert a few years ago and it was sad – he barely moved, preferring to sing lacklusterly in one spot, banging a tambourine against his thigh. not a pretty sight, indeed.

    But, I have to agree with you – they had something for everyone on both sides of the music spectrum. the long mix of “She Sells Sanctuary” is something I could sit and listen to over and over – the guitar riffs and Astbury’s earnest squalling are *hot*! Metal bands are good at making noise, but these guys had a recipe for 5-star gourmet, served on a silver platter, blow your socks off when you aren’t even paying attention, rock! 🙂

    All the best,


  9. Hi MissP,

    Yes, THE CHAMELEONS are truly one of the great bands with their own distinct sound!!! I got into them because of their single “Tears”. CLASSIC!!!



  10. ((((((((McDoc))))))))))

    So great to *see* you again. Thank you for your comment – yes, the Chameleons are truly the best of the best. And “Tears” is by far a classic. Keep spinning those tunes!



  11. Hello everyone,

    I agree about the song “Soul In Isolation” has being one of my favourite track of all time and I’m surprised that I’m so fond of an unusual one from The Chameleons and it’s the one that is knwon by the name “Are You Still There?”; it just gets to me.




  12. Script of the bridge is great, i love the intensity and haunting melodies like Second Skin also the Sound and the Comsat Angels were similar and criminally underated


  13. I absolutely agree with you about The Sound and Comsat Angels – two extremely talented bands that had (and in the case of Comsat Angels still have) so much to offer.

    Thank you for your comment, Kaze.



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