At the beginning of their career, Level 42 was squarely a jazz-funk fusion band, contemporaries of fellow Brit funk groups like Atmosfear, Light of the World, Incognito, and Beggar & Co. By the end of the ’80s, however, the band — whose music was instantly recognizable from Mark King’s thumb-slap bass technique and associate member Wally Badarou’s synthesizer flourishes — had crossed over to the point where they were often classified as sophisti-pop and dance-rock, equally likely to be placed in the context of Sade and the Style Council as was any group that made polished, upbeat, danceable pop/rock. The band’s commercial peak came with 1985’s World Machine, but they continued to record and tour sporadically throughout the ’90s and 2000s.
The Early Tapes Featuring Mark King (bass, vocals), Phil Gould (drums), Boon Gould (guitar), and Mike Lindup (keyboards), the band formed in 1979. Before they released their first single, “Love Meeting Love,” the band was pushed to add vocals to their music in order to give it a more commercial sound; they complied, with King becoming the lead singer. Released in 1981, their self-titled debut album was a slick soul-R&B collection that charted in the U.K. Top 20, resulting in the release of The Early Tapes. Level 42 had several minor hit singles before 1984’s “The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up)” hit the British Top Ten. Released in late 1985, World Machine broke the band worldwide; “Lessons in Love” hit number one in Britain and “Something About You” hit number seven in America. Their next two records, Running in the Family (1987) and Staring at the Sun (1988), were a big success in the U.K., yet made little headway in the U.S. Both of the Gould brothers left the band in late 1987; they were replaced by guitarist Alan Murphy and drummer Gary Husband. Murphy died of an AIDS-related illness in 1989; he was replaced by the renowned fusion guitarist Alan Holdsworth for 1991’s Guaranteed. The band followed Guaranteed in 1995 with Forever Now.