There is an element of religious iconography present in the music of British sophisti-pop group Breathe. Of their five top 40 American hits, one is called “Say A Prayer”, another (the excellent and phenomenally sad “Does She Love That Man”) takes place during the Christmas season, and their debut single is called “Hands To Heaven”. Coincidence? I think so. Someone posited recently that they may have been a Christian-rock band in hiding, but I’m not so sure I buy that. There were no overt references to Jesus, no Scott Stapp-esque savior complexes.
Anyway, “Hands To Heaven” has a hymnal quality to it, but it’s a song about lovers who have separated and how the singer longs for them to be back together again. The pre-chorus asks for this lover to “raise your hands to heaven and pray” for a reunion so that there can be some sweet caressing, calming of loneliness and relieving of sadness. David Glasper sings the lyrics with all the trembly-lipped longing of a young British lad in love for the first time. It’s a soulful performance, as was the order of the day for many British pop acts during this period. Breathe slid right in alongside Sade, Simply Red, Spandau Ballet and many UK outfits that trafficked in light pop balladry, with varying degrees of soul and jazz influence. “Hands To Heaven” does feature a fairly kickass sax solo, but Glasper’s tortured singing is the main attraction here.
Back in the day when a reasonably anonymous pop act could get major play, “Hands To Heaven” spent a couple of weeks at the #2 position on the Billboard Hot 100, held back by a fellow Brit who blurred the lines between pop and soul: Steve Winwood, whose inferior Motown pastiche “Roll With It¹” was in the middle of its month-long reign atop the American charts. Breathe never charted higher, and they never made a better song (although to be fair, they made a handful of pretty great songs). Sometimes your first shot is your best shot.