Steve McQueen is the second studio album by English pop band Prefab Sprout, released in June 1985 by Kitchenware Records. The album was released by Epic Records in the United States as Two Wheels Good in anticipation of legal conflict with the estate of American actor Steve McQueen.[1][2] The album cover references Steve McQueen's lifelong passion for Triumph motorcycles and the 1963 film The Great Escape.

Steve McQueen
Studio album by
ReleasedJune 1985 (1985-06)
  • Nomis (London)
  • Marcus (London)
ProducerThomas Dolby (except for track 4, which was produced by Phil Thornalley)
Prefab Sprout chronology
Steve McQueen
From Langley Park to Memphis
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

The album released to highly positive reviews from critics and was a modest commercial success, reaching number 21 in the United Kingdom. Four singles from the album entered top 100 of the UK Singles Chart, with "When Love Breaks Down" reaching the top 30. Retrospectively, Steve McQueen has received lasting critical acclaim, widely credited as an indie pop benchmark and ranked by many British publications among the greatest albums of all time. 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 album Swoon.[3] The band subsequently contacted Dolby, who met with frontman and songwriter Paddy McAloon in the latter's County Durham home.[3] McAloon presented Dolby with a number of songs he had written, "probably 40 or 50" by Dolby's estimate,[4] some written as far back as 10 to 12 years prior.[3] 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.[4]

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 which they moved to Marcus Studios for proper recording.[5] The sessions were amicable, with the band being respectful of Dolby's edge over them in recording and musical experience, and Dolby keeping into account the band's wishes, knowing that McAloon "wouldn't want to be diluted" by Dolby's additions to the album.[5] Subsequent mixing was carried out at Farmyard Studios in Buckinghamshire.[5]

Music and lyrics


Musically, Steve McQueen is informed by Dolby's lush, jazz-tinged production.[6][7] McAloon's lyrics on Steve McQueen touch on a number of themes, including love, infidelity, regret, and heartbreak.[6] Alex Robertson of Sputnikmusic described the album's songs as lyrically "literate and humorous without being condescending in the slightest".[8]



"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 top 40 and peaked at No. 25 for two weeks in November and December 1985.[9][10]

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,[9] and "Appetite" in August 1985, peaking at No. 92.[9]

"Goodbye Lucille #1" was renamed "Johnny Johnny" for the final single release from the album in January 1986, peaking at No. 64.[9]

Critical reception


Steve McQueen was critically acclaimed at the time of its release. Record Mirror's Graham K. Smith awarded it a score of five out of five, championing it as "the finest album you will hear this year" and Paddy McAloon as "the country's best (by a mile) songwriter".[11] Rating the album nine out of ten in Smash Hits, Chris Heath praised McAloon as one of the best writers of "depressingly precise songs about the joys, fears and disappointments of love" and lamented that listeners might be put off by the "obscurity and complexity" of Prefab Sprout's music.[12]

Spin critic Richard Gehr cited Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Lennon–McCartney, and Elvis Costello, among other figures, as some of the various "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."[13] Robert Christgau of The Village Voice, giving the album a "B+" grade, 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."[14] In a less enthusiastic review for NME, Danny Kelly found Steve McQueen "both brilliant and flawed", complimenting McAloon's songwriting but criticising the album's "clipped, parchment-dry jazz" sound.[15]

At the end of 1985, Steve McQueen was named the fourth best album of the year by NME,[16] and placed 28th in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll.[17]


Retrospective professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [6]
Classic Pop     [18]
The Irish Times     [19]
Mojo     [20]
Q     [22]
Record Collector     [23]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide     [24]
Spin     [25]
Uncut     [26]

Subsequent retrospective reviews of Steve McQueen have also been highly favourable. AllMusic's Jason Ankeny appraised it as "a minor classic, a shimmering jazz-pop masterpiece sparked by Paddy McAloon's witty and inventive songwriting."[6] Reviewing the 2007 legacy edition for Record Collector, Terry Staunton wrote that "more than 20 years on, his 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."[23]

The Sunday Times labelled the legacy edition as revealing McAloon's "genius" and described the record as being "buttressed by a phenomenal rhythm section and fairy-dusted with Wendy Smith's breathy harmonies".[27] In Spin, Will Hermes deemed Steve McQueen Dolby's "supreme achievement" as a producer.[25] Pitchfork reviewer Stephen Troussé highlighted Dolby's "profoundly 80s sonic palette", which Troussé said reflected "one of the defining qualities of the record... its pop ambition, its willingness to engage with its times, precisely by not being a sullen singer-songwriter would-be timeless classic."[21]

Noel Murray of The A.V. Club wrote that Steve McQueen and its predecessor 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] Russ Slater of PopMatters described them as "two albums of great indie-pop" that established Prefab Sprout in the 1980s as "one of Britain's brightest lights".[29] Steve McQueen was featured in Treble's 2014 list of 10 essential sophisti-pop albums;[30] in his review for Pitchfork, Troussé cited it as "the defining record of 1985 sophisto-pop".[21]

Steve McQueen has been included in several professional lists of the greatest albums of all time. The album placed at No. 47 in a 1993 poll by The Times,[31] No. 90 in a 1995 poll by Mojo,[32] and No. 61 in a 1997 poll by The Guardian.[33] It was also selected for inclusion in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[34]

Track listing


All tracks are written by Paddy McAloon, except where noted

1."Faron Young" (retitled "Faron" on US edition)3:50
4."When Love Breaks Down" (UK and US editions 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
US edition bonus tracks
12."The Yearning Loins" 3:38
13."He'll Have to Go"
14."Faron" (Truckin' mix) 4:45
Legacy edition bonus disc
1."Appetite" (acoustic version)3:57
2."Bonny" (acoustic version)5:58
3."Desire As" (acoustic version)7:08
4."When Love Breaks Down" (acoustic version)4:24
5."Goodbye Lucille #1" (acoustic version)3:54
6."Moving the River" (acoustic version)3:39
7."Faron Young" (acoustic version)3:47
8."When the Angels" (acoustic version)4:08



Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.[35]

Prefab Sprout

Additional personnel

  • Kevin Armstrong – guitar (tracks 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 (track 9)
  • Andy Scarth – engineering
  • Chris Sheldon – engineering
  • Mike Shipley – mixing, mixdown engineering
  • Kathy Smith – engineering (assistant)
  • Sven Taits – engineering (assistant)
  • Phil Thornalley – production, engineering, vocal tape loops, mixing (track 5)
  • Peter Simpson – photography, hand-colouring


Chart (1985) Peak
Australian Albums (Kent Music Report)[36] 48
Canada Top Albums/CDs (RPM)[37] 47
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[38] 34
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[39] 33
UK Albums (OCC)[40] 21
US Billboard 200[41] 178


  1. ^ Keefe, Michael (6 August 2007). "Prefab Sprout: Steve McQueen". PopMatters. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  2. ^ McAloon, Martin [@CulpaFeliks] (1 April 2020). "Steve McQueen's estate never officially commented on the album title, it was nervousness in a notoriously litigious nation, that sparked the name change. Almost thirty years later I did correspond with Steve's first wife Neile who was lovely. #timstwitterlisteningparty" (Tweet). Retrieved 1 April 2020 – via Twitter.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ a b Goodman, Frank (July 2007). "A Conversation with Thomas Dolby". Puremusic. No. 78. p. 2. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Doyle, Tom (March 2014). "Prefab Sprout". Sound on Sound. Vol. 29, no. 5. Retrieved 16 August 2015.
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  7. ^ Hutlock, Todd. "Prefab Sprout – Two Wheels Good". Stylus Magazine. Archived from the original on 28 April 2003. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  8. ^ Robertson, Alex (13 June 2011). "Review: Prefab Sprout – Steve McQueen". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
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  10. ^ McIntosh, Bedford. "Prefab Sprout discography". Archived from the original on 4 April 2007. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  11. ^ Smith, Graham K. (15 June 1985). "Prefab Sprout: Steve McQueen". Record Mirror. p. 20.
  12. ^ Heath, Chris (8–21 May 1985). "Prefab Sprout: Steve McQueen". Smash Hits. Vol. 7, no. 10. p. 20.
  13. ^ Gehr, Richard (December 1985). "Prefab Sprout: Two Wheels Good". Spin. Vol. 1, no. 8. p. 28. Retrieved 16 August 2015.
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  15. ^ Kelly, Danny (15 June 1985). "The Great Escape". NME. p. 26.
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  17. ^ "The 1985 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice. 18 February 1986. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  18. ^ Earls, John (December 2019). "Prefab Sprout: Steve McQueen / Protest Songs / Andromeda Heights / Let's Change the World with Music". Classic Pop. No. 59. p. 87.
  19. ^ Clayton-Lea, Tony (6 April 2007). "Still sturdy". The Irish Times. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  20. ^ Eccleston, Danny (February 2019). "The Prefab Three". Mojo. No. 303. p. 39.
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  24. ^ Evans, Paul (1992). "Prefab Sprout". In DeCurtis, Anthony; Henke, James; George-Warren, Holly (eds.). The Rolling Stone Album Guide (3rd ed.). Random House. pp. 552–553. ISBN 0-679-73729-4.
  25. ^ a b Hermes, Will (September 2007). "Reissues". Spin. Vol. 23, no. 9. p. 124. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  26. ^ Mueller, Andrew (29 March 2007). "Prefab Sprout – Steve McQueen". Uncut. Archived from the original on 20 April 2007. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  27. ^ "The hottest downloads; must have reissue; book now". The Sunday Times. 8 April 2007. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  28. ^ Murray, Noel (8 November 2010). "Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  29. ^ Slater, Russ (4 November 2010). "A Slacker Like Myself: An Interview with Prefab Sprout". PopMatters. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  30. ^ "10 Essential Sophisti-pop albums". Treble. 24 April 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  31. ^ "The 100 Best Albums of All Time". The Times. 1993.
  32. ^ "The 100 Greatest Albums Ever Made". Mojo. No. 21. August 1995.
  33. ^ "The top 100 albums". The Guardian. 19 September 1997.
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