Steve McQueen (album)

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Steve McQueen
Studio album by Prefab Sprout
Released June 1985
Recorded 1984–85
Studio Nomis Studios in West London
Length 45:18
Label Kitchenware
Producer Thomas Dolby
Prefab Sprout chronology
Steve McQueen
From Langley Park to Memphis
(1988)From Langley Park to Memphis1988
Singles from Steve McQueen
  1. "When Love Breaks Down"
    Released: October 1984 (first issue)
  2. "When Love Breaks Down"
    Released: March 1985 (reissue)
  3. "Faron Young"
    Released: July 1985
  4. "Appetite"
    Released: August 1985
  5. "When Love Breaks Down"
    Released: October 1985 (second reissue)
  6. "Johnny Johnny"
    Released: January 1986

Steve McQueen is the second studio album by English pop band Prefab Sprout, released in June 1985 by Kitchenware Records. The album peaked at No. 21 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 180 on the US Billboard 200. The album was released in the United States as Two Wheels Good due to a legal conflict with the estate of American actor Steve McQueen.[1]

The album cover references Steve McQueen's lifelong passion for Triumph motorcycles and the 1963 film The Great Escape, starring McQueen and featuring prominent motorcycle chase scenes (with stunts performed by himself on a Triumph motorcycle).

On 2 April 2007, it was reissued as a "legacy edition" double CD, featuring a remastered version of the original album and a bonus disc featuring acoustic versions of the songs recorded in 2006 by the band's frontman, Paddy McAloon.


On an episode of the BBC Radio 1 programme Roundtable, musician and producer Thomas Dolby, a panelist on the programme, spoke favourably of Prefab Sprout's "Don't Sing", a track from their 1984 Swoon.[2] The band subsequently contacted Dolby, who met with frontman and primary lyricist McAloon in the latter's County Durham home.[2] McAloon presented Dolby with a number of songs he had written, "probably 40 or 50" by Dolby's estimate,[3] some written as far back as 10–12 years prior.[2] Dolby then picked his favourites and asked McAloon to make demo recordings of them; these recordings served as the basis for Dolby's initial process of planning the album's recording.[3]

In the autumn of 1984, Dolby and Prefab Sprout began working on the album's songs in rehearsals at Nomis Studios in West London; after these sessions had commenced, they moved to Marcus Studios for proper recording.[4] The sessions were mutually amicable, with the band being respectful of Dolby's edge over them in recording and musical experience, and Dolby himself keeping into account the band's wishes, knowing that McAloon "wouldn't want to be diluted" by his additions to the album.[4] Subsequent mixing was carried out at Farmyard Studios in Buckinghamshire.[4]

Music and lyrics[edit]

The bulk of Steve McQueen's sound is dominated by Dolby's lush, jazz-tinged production.[5][6] McAloon's songs touch on a number of themes, including love, infidelity, regret and heartbreak,[5] and are lyrically "literate and humorous without being condescending in the slightest."[7]


"When Love Breaks Down" was first released as a single in October 1984, before the album was released, but failed to chart in the top 40, peaking at No. 89 on the UK Singles Chart. It was reissued as a new single in March 1985, but again failed to chart, peaking at No. 88. It was only after the album's release, and on the single's third issue in October 1985, that it finally broke through the singles chart and peaked at No. 25 for two weeks in November–December 1985.[8][9]

Between the second and third releases of "When Love Breaks Down", two further singles were released: "Faron Young" (referencing the country music singer of the same name) in July 1985, peaking at No. 74,[10] and "Appetite" in August 1985, peaking at No. 92.[11]

"Goodbye Lucille #1" was renamed "Johnny Johnny" for the final single release from the album in January 1986, peaking at No. 64.[12]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[5]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music5/5 stars[13]
The Irish Times4/5 stars[14]
Mojo4/5 stars[15]
Q4/5 stars[17]
Record Collector4/5 stars[18]
Spin4.5/5 stars[19]
Uncut5/5 stars[20]
The Village VoiceB+[21]

Critically acclaimed at the time of its release, Steve McQueen reached No. 4 in the 1985 NME end-of-year poll for best albums, as well as No. 28 on The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll for best albums.[22]

Chris Heath of Smash Hits called McAloon one of the best songwriters of "depressingly precise song about the joys, fears and disappointments of love" to emerge in the wake of the Smiths' rise and lamented his suspicion that "too many people" would be put off by the obscurity and complexity of Prefab Sprout's songs.[23] Richard Gehr of Spin cited Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Lennon–McCartney and Elvis Costello, among other figures, as some of the "many ghosts lurking" in McAloon's lyrics, and wrote: "I confess that the usual sensitive singer-songwriter crap almost always makes me squeal with boredom, but McAloon delivers the bacon here".[24] Robert Christgau, writing in The Village Voice, called McAloon "a type we've met many times before—the well-meaning cad," and was reminded of "the justly obscure, unjustly forgotten Jo Mama—or of Aztec Camera if Roddy Frame were a cad".[21]

Subsequent retrospective reviews of the album have also been favorable. Jason Ankeny of AllMusic described Steve McQueen as "a minor classic, a shimmering jazz-pop masterpiece sparked by Paddy McAloon's witty and inventive songwriting".[5] Alex Robertson of Sputnikmusic praised it as "a nearly flawless convergence of gorgeous, smart pop songwriting and immediately pleasurable production that divides itself into eleven songs that are both distinct and also separated by a common thread of excellence".[7] Q's Gareth Grundy called Steve McQueen the most succinct expression of McAloon's skills as a songwriter,[17] while Will Hermes, writing in Spin, described the album as "elegant" and found it to be Dolby's supreme achievement as a producer.[19]


Steve McQueen has subsequently featured in a number of all-time lists of greatest albums, including No. 47 in a 1993 poll by The Times, No. 90 in a 1995 poll by Mojo and No. 61 in a 1997 poll by The Guardian.[25][26][27] Stephen Troussé of Pitchfork cited it as "the defining record of 1985 sophisto-pop".[16] The A.V. Club's Noel Murray wrote that Steve McQueen and preceding album Swoon "are considered classics of the mid-'80s post-punk/new-wave era, even though they don't sound like they belong to any particular movement",[28] while PopMatters' Russ Slater described them as "great indie pop."[29] Terry Staunton of Record Collector wrote that "more than 20 years on, [McAloon's] dissertations on love, loss and uncertainty are just as affecting, the intelligence of the lyrics matched by the sophistication of the chord structures and the musical arrangements".[18] Steve McQueen was selected for inclusion in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[30]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Paddy McAloon, except where noted.

1."Faron Young" (retitled "Faron" on US release)3:50
4."When Love Breaks Down" (UK and US releases feature different mixes of the song)4:08
5."Goodbye Lucille #1" (retitled "Johnny Johnny" for single release)4:31
7."Moving the River"3:57
8."Horsin' Around"4:39
9."Desire As"5:19
10."Blueberry Pies"2:24
11."When the Angels"4:29


Credits adapted from the liner notes for Steve McQueen.[31]
Prefab Sprout

  • Neil Conti – drums, percussion
  • Martin McAloon – bass
  • Paddy McAloon – composition, guitar, keyboards, vocals
  • Wendy Smith – keyboards, backing vocals

Additional personnel

  • Kevin Armstrong – guitar (6, 9)
  • Matt Barry – engineering (assistant)
  • Dana – engineering (assistant)
  • Thomas Dolby – instruments, mixing, production
  • East Orange – sleeve design
  • Brian Evans – engineering
  • Tim Hunt – engineering
  • Mark Lockhart – saxophone (9)
  • Andy Scarth – engineering
  • Chris Sheldon – engineering
  • Mike Shipley – mixing, mixdown engineering
  • Kathy Smith – engineering (assistant)
  • Sven Taits – engineering (assistant)
  • Phil Thornally – mixing (4)
  • John Warwick – photography, hand-colouring


  1. ^ Keefe, Michael (6 August 2007). "Prefab Sprout: Steve McQueen". PopMatters. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c Barlow, Jason (14 November 2011). "GQ&A: Thomas Dolby". GQ. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Goodman, Frank. "A Conversation with Thomas Dolby". Puremusic. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c Doyle, Tom (March 2014). "Prefab Sprout – Paddy McAloon: From Langley Park To Memphis (And Back)". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d Ankeny, Jason. "Two Wheels Good – Prefab Sprout". AllMusic. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  6. ^ Hutlock, Todd (1 September 2003). "On Second Thought: Prefab Sprout – Two Wheels Good". Stylus Magazine. Archived from the original on 14 August 2007. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  7. ^ a b Robertson, Alex (13 June 2011). "Review: Prefab Sprout – Steve McQueen". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  8. ^ "'When Love Breaks Down' on Official Charts website". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 19 February 2017. 
  9. ^ McIntosh, Bedford. "Prefab Sprout discography". Archived from the original on 4 April 2007. Retrieved 19 February 2017. 
  10. ^ "'Faron Young' on Official Charts website". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 19 February 2017. 
  11. ^ "'Appetite' on Official Charts website". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 19 February 2017. 
  12. ^ "'Johnny Johnny' on Official Charts website". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 19 February 2017. 
  13. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-85712-595-8. 
  14. ^ Clayton-Lea, Tony (6 April 2007). "Still sturdy". The Irish Times. Retrieved 24 March 2017. 
  15. ^ Easlea, Daryl (May 2007). "Prefab Sprout: Steve McQueen". Mojo (162): 126. 
  16. ^ a b Troussé, Stephen (29 August 2007). "Prefab Sprout: Steve McQueen (Deluxe Edition)". Pitchfork. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  17. ^ a b Grundy, Gareth (May 2007). "Prefab Sprout: Steve McQueen". Q (250): 134. 
  18. ^ a b Staunton, Terry (June 2007). "Prefab Sprout – Steve McQueen: Deluxe Edition". Record Collector (337). Retrieved 6 January 2015. 
  19. ^ a b Hermes, Will (September 2007). "Reissues". Spin. 23 (9): 124. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  20. ^ Mueller, Andrew. "Prefab Sprout – Steve McQueen". Uncut. Archived from the original on 20 April 2007. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  21. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (11 March 1986). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  22. ^ "The 1985 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice. 18 February 1986. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  23. ^ Heath, Chris (8–21 May 1985). "Prefab Sprout: Steve McQueen (Kitchenware)". Smash Hits: 20. 
  24. ^ Gehr, Richard (December 1985). "Prefab Sprout: Two Wheels Good". Spin. 1 (8). Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  25. ^ "The 100 Best Albums of All Time". The Times. 1993. 
  26. ^ "The 100 Greatest Albums Ever Made". Mojo (21). August 1995. 
  27. ^ "The 100 Best Albums Ever". The Guardian. 19 September 1997. 
  28. ^ Murray, Noel (18 February 1986). "Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  29. ^ Slater, Russ (4 November 2010). "An Interview with Prefab Sprout". PopMatters. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  30. ^ Dimery, Robert, ed. (2010). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: Revised and Updated Edition. Universe. p. 534. ISBN 0-7893-2074-6. 
  31. ^ Steve McQueen (liner notes). Prefab Sprout. Kitchenware Records. 1985. KWLP3.