Modern English’s Robbie Grey is enjoying the winter season in Thailand. “Let me show you the weather,” he says as he directs his camera to the waving treetops and brilliant sunshine outside of his home, his blue eyes sparkling.
The UK-born and -bred Grey has been a Thailand-bound snowbird for the last 16 years when he bought his home there—one of the many windfalls that came with Modern English’s ubiquitous and perennial signature song, “I Melt With You.”
The song is perhaps best known for its double use in the ’80s teen classic Valley Girl where it soundtracked the montage where the titular Valley girl Julie and the cliché Hollywood punk, Randy, fall in love. The song also played over the movie’s end credits, cementing itself in the minds of viewers everywhere.
In North America, “I Melt With You” had already gained traction on radio before the release of Valley Girl. It has not let go of that traction for the last 40 years, and counting. “I Melt With You” continues to get licensed and inspired covers by the likes of Jason Mraz, Natalie Imbruglia, “Weird” Al Jankovic, and David Hasselhoff. And long before TikTok, Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst posted a video of himself lip-synching to “I Melt With you.”
Beyond music, the phrase is seen everywhere from photo opps at ice cream stores to Valentine’s knick-knacks. Despite its romantic associations, Grey’s lyrics are less about love and more about a nuclear apocalypse. Written at the height of the Cold War, the melting he refers to is that of bodies melting after a nuclear blast, albeit post-intimacy. During the recent COVID-19 near-apocalypse, Modern English revisited the song (for the fourth time) and recorded a lockdown version.
At the same time, Modern English began writing their latest album, 1 2 3 4, the group’s ninth since its post-punk beginnings in 1977. Not unlike “I Melt With You,” 1 2 3 4 taps into political themes reflective of the last four years. For the recording, Modern English played live together, which was a key sonic characteristic the group wanted to have.
Says Grey, “We wanted to go against all the things we’re hearing on the radio at the moment, all modernized and cut together in Pro Tools with producers using the same 12 plugins for everything, so very similar sounding. People say [1 2 3 4] sounds different, which is a bonus for us, definitely a compliment.”
Enter Producer Hugh Jones
When we first started, we couldn’t really play. Before punk rock, we never thought we could play music because we were listening to Bowie or Roxy Music and we never thought we could play to that level. But when punk rock came along, we knew we could play. The Pistols, The Clash, all that stuff inspired us to make music. We were learning as we were going along.
We didn’t realize there was such a thing as verses and choruses. When we did music, we used to call them “pieces” and knit them together. It was only when we did the second album, After the Snow with producer Hugh Jones that we understood: verse/chorus/verse/chorus/middle eight type of thing. He showed us that. He taught us how to craft songs. We’d never done that before, and we wanted to do it. It was exciting for us to use acoustic guitars and violins and all this stuff that we never would have dreamt of using on our first album, Mesh and Lace. “I Melt With You” came out with that.
Hugh became another member of the band for After the Snow, and Ricochet Days, the album after. He was as important—if not more important—than all of the members of the band. It was like a patchwork quilt that he stuck together. “I Melt With You” was the first vocal I did on the album. I’d been used to shouting. I’d stand back from the mic and give it some emotion in that way. Hugh said, “Just talk into the microphone.” The verses of “I Melt With You” have almost got a spoken quality. That’s because I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m just standing in front of the microphone, talking. That might be a bit of its charm.
Love and War
I could never write a straightforward love song, I wouldn’t be able to do that. The idea of it being in a nuclear war, making love as the bomb drops is what the concept was. Everybody takes it their own way. People get married to it. I’m sure when they get married to it they’re not thinking about nuclear fallout or anything like that. People always say to us, “The first time I’ve ever made love was to that song.” It does make me chuckle sometimes.
Big in America
The biggest country for us has always been America. We never understood why. For some reason Americans took us to their hearts. God bless them. We were playing in England at the time “I Melt With You” broke in America. We were playing art colleges for 200 people with beards looking at us in the corner. It was very artistic and creative and underground. We came to America and got off the plane in Daytona Beach to play spring break. We were in long coats, walking down the steps of the plane, taking our clothes off as we came down because it was so bloody hot. We didn’t know what to expect. The only thing we knew about America was cowboy films.
Everything was happening for us at that point. We were doing an American tour where we did 80 concerts in 100 days. We’d go around America and because we were so popular, they’d just start us off again.
We didn’t know too much about what was happening with the movie. We were on the road on an American bus tour. We pulled onto the side of the road and our manager put a VHS in the machine and said, “Check this out,” and we watched the film
I don’t understand American culture that much. I’m from England, so for me, I’m always looking from the outside in and wondering what I’m watching. If I see Apocalypse Now, I can understand it more than Valley Girl. I didn’t really understand the whole LA Valley thing. I didn’t get the language of it, “totally tubular” and “awesome” and all that stuff. I just thought it was a good little funny film. We were blown away because “I Melt With You” was in the film two times.
The craziest thing about “I Melt With You” was, it was never a hit. People think it was a hit record, and in the charts, but it never was. We signed to TVT Records in the ‘90s. The guy at TVT said, “Why don’t you re-record it?” We didn’t know how to re-record it. We tried it slow. We tried it fast. We just copied what we did before because we didn’t really know what to do with it. Digital had just come in and the old version was analog, in mono. We re-recorded it the same, but in a digital format.
In 2011 there was a Mark Pellingston movie called “I Melt With You” with Jeremy Piven and Rob Lowe. Kind of a dark movie, which was based on the French-Italian film La Grande Bouffe, where people eat themselves to death. In Mark Pellington’s movie, the characters take drugs and drink themselves to death. That appealed to my sensibilities. We did a weird and wonderful version of “I Melt With You” for the outro on the credits.
Then, in 2019, my wife and I were in India when shit hit the fan. We got the second to last flight out of Bangkok back to England. Within a week, the whole of the country was in lockdown. That’s why we did it. People are sitting at home. No one was really sure what COVID was going to do. It was a terrifying couple of years. We thought, why not do “I Melt With You” again? We did it in our homes and spliced it together. It was good fun to do.
There’s so many versions of that song on YouTube. Nouvelle Vague from Paris, they do bossa nova type stuff, they did a version of it I really like. I actually sang it once with them on stage at a festival. Limp Bizkit, the singer did one. There are choral versions with choirs singing it. There are little chocolate men singing it for Hershey. There are beautiful harp versions, my favorite probably. There’s all kinds of things. It certainly hits home with people. I think the reason for that is because it sort of glides. There are so many tracks of guitars on there, dubbed over, doing the same thing each time, it seems to glide.
We never had a problem with the song–ever. We played Cruel World last summer and there were 30,000 people singing it. That doesn’t get tiring. When you’re in small venues and three people are singing, it’s the same thing. It is never a boring situation. It’s always amazing. It’s really nice to know that a lyric like that, which I wrote, hits home with so many people. That’s pretty incredible. It pays all the bills. It’s used in films and adverts. We get the chance to make new music because of “I Melt With You.” It’s incredible, really. We get a million Spotify plays a month on it. We know that people listen to it still and therefore listen to our other music as well.