Top 40 Smash Taps: “Just Like Heaven”

These posts are about the songs that can accurately claim to crossed the key line of chart success, becoming Top 40 hits on Billboard, but just barely. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 40.

The Cure were hardly new faces in the mid-nineteen-eighties when they first started to garner some significant commercial attention in the United States. The band first got together in 1976 and released their first single, the controversial and occasionally disowned “Killing an Arab”, two years later. They quickly developed into a perennial presence on the charts in their English homeland, but had to settle for cult adoration on the other side of of the big pond. Until the release of their seventh studio album, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, the Cure only had one single get a taste of the U.S. charts: “In Between Days,” which peaked at an almost conciliatory 99. The double-album changed that, though. The lead single, “Why Can’t I Be You?”, climbed as high as number 54, undoubtedly bolstered by generous MTV airplay. But it was the third single–released after “Catch” received only moderate interest–that got the band their first top 40 hit in the States.

Apparently written for Mary Poole–who’d become Mrs. Robert Smith around a year after the album’s release–the song springs forth with a poppy buoyancy that was, for many, at odds with the band’s gloom and doom reputation. “‘Show me how you do that trick/ The one that makes me scream,’ she said/ ‘The one that makes me laugh,’ she said/ And threw her arms around my neck,” are the opening lines, and Smith delivers them with just enough swooning charm to make the effusive pleasure of the relationship poignant and almost palpable. It’s not a song of bland sunshine romance–for one thing, there are hints of the danger of love’s enveloping spell in the lyrics–but it does tap into the transporting joy that the title implies.

The Cure made the Billboard Top 40 two other times after this (it’s hard to conceive of a scenario in which it happens again): “Lovesong,” from the masterful 1989 album Disintegration, which made it all the way up to number 2, and then “Friday, I’m in Love,” from 1992’s Wish, which topped out at number 18. It’s possible that “Just Like Heaven” had the strongest afterlife of all three of these songs, starting with an early cover version by Dinosaur Jr. that Smith reportedly liked so much that it shifted the Cure’s subsequent live versions of the song.

79 thoughts on “Top 40 Smash Taps: “Just Like Heaven”

  1. Easily one of my all time favorite songs; I can recognize it from the opening cords. The video kind of sucks, but it’s perfect for The Cure. They wouldn’t be in my top 10 favorite bands of all time, but when they wrote a good song, it was REALLY good. In Between Days, Pictures of You, Never Enough. All good. John Prine did a great version of In Between Days for Elektra’s anniversary release called Rubyiat.

  2. I found my way to this post by reading your 2/29 series of movie reviews, but before commenting on that I saw the Jennifer Eccles post and I’m listening to that while I clicked through to read about “Just Like Heaven,” so that’s why I’m commenting here lo these many months after you first posted it.

    I’ve always thought “Just Like Heaven” was one of the most romantic songs I could think of, and I thought I might be the only one who got the idea that there was a sort of impending doom or sorrow to it, which to me makes it all the more romantic because I’m like that. Nobody ever really gets past their teen angst; we just bury it under layers of nostalgia.

    On the other hand, “Catch” was even better than “Just Like Heaven.” I didn’t know it was released as a single. It probably failed as a love song because if you’re going to put it in a mix tape and give it to someone, you will inevitably raise questions about who the “girl I think I used to know” is, and why your current mixtapee is being compared to her.

    Not that I know from experience.

    1. “Nobody ever really gets past their teen angst; we just bury it under layers of nostalgia.”

      As someone well removed from the “teen” part of “teen angst,” I can sure verify that your comment is true as can be.

      I’ve grown to love Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me as much as any Cure record, and I can’t help but think of “Just Like Heaven” as probably the band’s very best song, even though I agree that “Catch” is also wonderful. The opening lyrics to “Heaven,” though, are absolute perfection, as evocative of the head-swirling thrill of romance as any expression of art I’ve ever encountered. “And I promise you I promise that/ I’ll run away with you/ I’ll run away with you.” God, I wish I knew how to do “that trick.”

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