Tuesday, October 5, 2021

"The Promise" by When in Rome

One-Hit Wonder Alert!
Song#:  3634
Date:  09/03/1988
Debut:  87
Peak:  11
Weeks:  25
Genre:  Synthpop

Pop Bits:  This UK trio formed in '87 and immediately set out to record demos and gain exposure by performing in clubs. Elektra Records showed interest in the trio and ended up signing them. Unfortunately, not long after joining Elektra, the US-based label decided to close their London office. The trio could have stayed on the label, but decided to get out of their contract because it proved too difficult to be in London and have to work remotely with a US office. Luckily, they had another option. Virgin Records had also been interested in the trio, so they quickly signed on with Virgin's offshoot label 10 Records. One of their demo songs that attracted the label, "The Promise," got recorded and was initially pushed out in the UK in '87, but it got nowhere. However, later in '88 a remix of the tune got some traction in US clubs. It would catch on and in June of '88 it would get to #1 on the Dance chart. With that success, Virgin ordered an album and then tried to push the song to pop radio. It would take a while, but the tune began to gain an audience and eventually it would just miss the US Pop Top 10 peaking at the dreaded #11 spot. The trio's debut album would get released in the fall and it would make it to #84. Although When in Rome would get one more very minor Pop chart entry, this lone near-Top 10 hit got them tagged as a one-hit wonder.

ReduxReview:  When in Rome fell in line with other Europop bands of the era like OMD and Ultravox who took a combination of synthpop and new wave to the masses via chugging rhythms and catchy melodies. The band hit the right formula on the head with "The Promise." The percolating track with its soaring, memorable chorus and sentimental lyrics was certainly 80s ear candy. It was too bad that it stopped one notch short of the Top 10. Unfortunately, their album didn't have anything else as radio-ready and the band just sort of came and went. Still, they were able to score this one memorable hit that has had a pretty good post-chart life.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This song got a bit of a revival via a quirky hit film. In 2003, When in Rome member Clive Farrington got a phone call asking if "The Promise" could be used in an upcoming movie. The original trio agreed and the song was used in the 2004 comedy flick Napoleon Dynamite. The tune can be heard during the film and also over the end credits. The film, which starred Jon Heder as the title character, would go on to be a hit and that drew attention to "The Promise." The song would also be on the film's soundtrack album, which got to #147. Unfortunately, the song's resurgence did not reunite the original trio. Instead, it drove a wedge between two factions of the band along with a dispute concerning use of the band's name.



  1. I thought "Wide Wide Sea" from their album was a pretty good tune, and in retrospect I'm surprised it didn't have at least some kind of chart success. But these guys to me are a weird middle ground -- they don't have the beats like Thompson Twins or Information Society, nor do they have the forward-thinking of a New Order or the songwriting of Erasure. Much like Living In A Box or Johnny Hates Jazz, their best song by far was a hit, and that was basically all she wrote.

    1. Very true. But that one hit can keep a career going for a long time!