For audiences who watched MTV in the early 1980s, one song that stood out in a sea of synth-pop was “Send Me An Angel” by the Australian band, Real Life.
What some audiences might not have realized is that the song exists in more than one version. The original version was released in 1983, and began climbing the charts in 1984. Then, the band re-did the song in 1988 and 1989. In the US, the 1989 version caught on quickly among dance-oriented audiences.
More than 30 years after “Send Me An Angel’s” original release, the song is still played on satellite radio, and continues to make an impression on audiences. At least in the original, there is a haunting quality created in part by the keyboard motif that mimics the wind, and sounds light and ethereal.
“Send Me An Angel” by Real Life: two versions
Unlike some songs that exist as a standard version and a remix, so to speak, arguably, both versions of “Send Me An Angel” have qualities that make them worthy of repeated spins.
Part of the appeal of the original has to come from the video. The atmospheric woods, complete with fog, and a woman in well-styled black clothing, makes the song sound as if it takes places hundreds of years in the past. Although, it should be noted that the band members are dressed in modern clothing.
Visuals aside, the song sounds as if there is the layering of sound throughout. This is especially true of the keyboards. They are a mix of light and ominous sounds at the beginning, and are lighter and faster in the middle or so of the tune, and as stated, also seem to create the “wind” quality that pervades the song. It is quite possible that the layered keyboard quality is enhanced by the presence of a violin.
The 1989 version on the other hand, sounds harder. In the video, enthusiastic band members playing guitar, bass and drums mouth the words as the vocalist sings. The musicianship and subsequently the soundscape has a distinctly rock ‘n’ roll feel. Perhaps more like rock ‘n’ roll tempered by synth-pop.
The chart placing of each song shows how each version resonated with audiences. The original was more popular in New Zealand Australia, Austria, Switzerland and West Germany, where it reached the Top Ten. In West Germany and New Zealand, the song reached 1. Conversely, the 1989 version reached only No. 51 in Austria, and No, 22 in New Zealand.
In the US, the song performed about the same on Cash Box, attaining the No. 22 and No. 20 spots in 1983-1984 and 1989, respectively.
But on the US dance charts, the song performed well. It reached No. 5 on the Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play, and No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales.
“Send Me An Angel” by Real Life, lyrics
Another way “Send Me An Angel” appeals to audiences is through the dark poetry of its lyrics. The opening lines pose questions of faith: “Do you believe in heaven above/do you believe in love?”
In the second verse, when the tempo picks up and a harder edge is achieved, lead singer, David Sterry declares: “Open fire/on my burning heart/I’ve never been lucky in love…” Violence and beauty are linked in the verse, as throughout the song.
There is a great deal to recommend “Send Me An Angel.” As far 1980s synth-pop goes, the song has depth, poetry and a unique blend of sounds that audiences are unlikely to forget.