How's this for a foolproof formula?
Get four cute young guys--the cuter the better--to sing a pretty, romantic ballad with sexy overtones. Then have them make a racy video that MTV will run every five minutes.
What do you get? A No. 1 single, of course. That's how Cutting Crew's "(I Just) Died in Your Arms Tonight"--from the English band's debut album, "Broadcast"--got to be No. 1 on the Billboard magazine singles chart.
This single ideally fits a key element of the formula: The song can't be too sophisticated. That's a turnoff for teen-age girls. It's better for it to be a little corny and to dwell on heartache.
Lead singer Nick Van Eede, known as the cutest guy in Cutting Crew-- real swoon bait, the kids say--talked about the hit single and its aftereffects the other day at lunch in West Hollywood.
But first there was a discussion of his sex appeal, an obvious topic considering that several women at the restaurant were giving him the eye. It's easy to see why: He's a good-looking, suave Englishman.
But they were just reacting to his looks. Had they chatted with him, they probably would have been bowled over by his charm. As a master of the fine art of small talk, he makes a strong impression on fans.
The conversation about his sex appeal was brief--short-circuited by his modesty. "I'm not going to blow my own horn," he said. "I'm not that kind of person." Just then a gorgeous young woman about to sit down at the next table gave him a long, lingering stare. He smiled graciously at her.
This sudden success doesn't seem to have turned Van Eede into an egomaniac. The reason is that, at 28, he's not a novice: "I've been in this business ever since I was a teen-ager," he explained. "I had a publishing deal when I was 18, I've played in various bands--I've done quite a bit. I've never had great success, but I've been around it enough for it not to throw me."
Before "Died in Your Arms" scored in America, it was a big European hit. So Van Eede, Kevin Macmichael (guitars), Colin Farley (bass) and Martin Beedle (drums) had a dose of the star treatment there first.
At the mention of the word star , Van Eede wisely cautioned: "It's a bit soon to be calling us stars, don't you think?"
As you would expect, Cutting Crew, with its undemanding pop-rock, isn't on the cutting edge of pop music. But if you're easily swept away by skin-deep pop-rock, the "Broadcast" album (on Virgin Records) might have considerable appeal. The songs are bright, slick, melodic and simply constructed. But what you see is what you get. Any probes for hidden layers of meaning or extra dimensions of intricacy will turn up empty.
Many critics have panned Cutting Crew, but Van Eede isn't overly sensitive about that: "I know that some critics say we're unsubstantial and we're nothing new and we lack this and that. They may be right in some respects, who knows? But I do think we should get credit for being fresh and uplifting. But they're entitled to their opinion. I wish it was different, but what can we do?"
Van Eede obviously has no illusions about Cutting Crew's music: "We're not going to change the world with this material. That's not what it's for. There's room for good pop music and for good rock music that's not heavyweight stuff. Remember, this is our first album. We've got a long way to go."
The "Broadcast" album, he conceded, is blighted by typical rookie errors: "I'm not going to reveal them. You can probably guess what some of them are. For one thing, we didn't capture that live spirit. That's always a problem with new bands. It has too much of a studio feel. We wanted something stronger and gutsier, something we'll probably get on the next album.
"But we did OK for a new band. When Kevin (Macmichael) and I signed the record deal, it was just us and some songs. We became a band when we added Colin (Farley) and Martin (Beedle). We're just now getting extensive live experience."
On the strength of the No. 1 single, Cutting Crew has been the opening act for such star attractions as Huey Lewis and the Bangles. Van Eede is determined that Cutting Crew build a reputation as a strong live act--undoubtedly to counter its image as an "unsubstantial" recording band. "The live versions of the songs sound better than the album versions," he said. "We're getting better all the time."
There's a problem, though. "One for the Mockingbird," the follow-up single to "(I Just) Died in Your Arms," wasn't a major hit. So Cutting Crew is already struggling a bit.
As Van Eede noted about the band's beginning its career with a No. 1 single: "How often can you be No. 1? After that, the only place to go is down."