I got my walls,
Sally calls them prison cells
Sometimes I need protection,
I’ve got the chains,
I got the warning bells.”
A Little History:
Human Touch is a 1983 single by Rick Springfield from his album Living in Oz. The song reached # 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. It was also his most successful hit in the UK, peaking at # 23; this also led to a performance on Top of the Pops.
Living in Oz, the album that Human Touch is off of, was Rick Springfield’s response to the dance-pop wave that was starting to explode in the pre-grunge era, as well as a more personal response to the naysayers who would not accept him as a serious musician. Where earlier hits, like Jessie’s Girl and Don’t Talk to Strangers, were well-crafted pop tropes, the release of Living in Oz was meant to show both edge and years as both a “human”, and a musician (Living in Oz was Rick’s 9th album, though many saw it as his 3rd following hits Working Class Dog and Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet).
By embracing the synthesizers he also shows contempt for, he is able to illustrate how they’re changing music and the way fans mindlessly embrace them. This sets up a dichotomy between the coldness of synths and about the need for the “human touch” — whether it’s with a mistress, a lover, a friend, or a parent — as each cut is about the need for that touch or about the consequences of it. Be it of adultery, youthful dreams of fame, or his upbringing, the entire CD is like a confessional, and that type of honesty suits Springfield well as he matures as an artist and not just as a pop idol.
Human Touch is the key to Rick’s overall message, and the video, as well, shows the isolation of technology and modern life, which can also be interpreted as the emptiness in pop versus rock, or at least Rick’s then definition of both.
A Little Memory:
Rick Springfield was one of my pin-up adolescent crushes that expanded into a musician love. Though his posters adorned my bedroom walls (and closet doors and yes, I believe there was one on the ceiling), his albums were where my true devotion lay. I spent countless hours listening to each song, especially the ones off of the Living in Oz album, which I would consider my personal favorite.
I liked to transport myself into the songs, imagining the stories they told, and what it would be like to be a part of them. Sometimes the stories were too beyond me, and my 14 years. I did not know what it was like to be part of an affair, or the other half of a “lover” relationship, good or bad, for that matter. I did not have enough years invested in even my best friendship to really get the significance and ebb and flow of a decades long friendship. But, I understood what it felt like to feel isolated and alone and lost in the pressures of life. I also knew what it felt like to be lonely, and full of longing to be touched, and loved.
This was a dance around my bedroom singing loudly and dancing wildly kind of song, one that I felt physically and emotionally. Sometimes it was my imagined “Rick” that I sang it to, the way that adolescent girls (and boys) will fictionalize pop and rock stars they admire. Sometimes I sang the song to my real life crushes, well not to them directly, but they were who I sometimes pictured when I sang passionately into my hairbrush microphone.
The emotions given to musical crushes during adolescence is such a key to development of that precarious bridge between sexuality and emotions. “Rick” could play out my fantasies with me, safely in the confines of my bedroom walls and imagination. He may have been a sub par partner in his real life, but in my mind he could be all the things I needed a partner to be. In that, I could try to sort out what I wanted (though it would take years to really sort through that completely). But Rick, and songs like Human Touch, were a great starting off point. I’m grateful I had them.