The never-ending story of viral hit 'The NeverEnding Story': A '#Challenging' Q&A with singer Limahl

In 1983, Limahl was abruptly, unceremoniously fired as the lead singer of Kajagoogoo, only a few months after the British new wave band had scored a massive hit with “Too Shy.” But the following year, while promoting his debut solo single “Only for Love,” Limahl met super-producer Giorgio Moroder at the Tokyo Music Festival and was invited to test his voice on Moroder’s theme song for the epic fantasy film The NeverEnding Story. And a new chapter began.

“I loved the Kajagoogoo song ‘Too Shy,’ and I loved the video a lot too,” Moroder told Yahoo Entertainment last year. “I was talking to the director [Wolfgang Petersen], and I thought the image of Limahl was the right one for the movie and for that song. I thought the voice would fit quite well. When picking a singer for a song of a movie, I always think, ‘How does the image of that singer feel with the movie?’ It was the same thing with Blondie and American Gigolo.”

“The NeverEnding Story” ended up being Limahl’s only major worldwide solo hit, but it has stood the test of time. “It’s still a song which I play as a DJ and people still love it, especially the girls,” Moroder said. “The ladies, let's say 40 years old or so, they all heard the song when they were children. It stays in their head. They love it.”

And now the kaleidoscopic, operatic pop song is adding yet another chapter to Limahl’s career story, and it is finding new fans of all ages. That’s all due to its placement in an adorable Stranger Things scene — and Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown’s subsequent #NeverEndingChallenge, for which everyone from Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert to original NeverEnding Story actress Tami Stronach has posted videos dancing to the track and/or recreating the recent Stranger Things finale’s puppy-love duet between Dustin and his long-distance girlfriend Suzie.

Since Stranger Things Season 3 premiered this past 4th of July, “The NeverEnding Story” has shot to No. 4 on Spotify’s U.S. Viral 50 chart, with on-demand audio and video streams for the track surging by more than 2,000 percent and YouTube views increasing by 800 percent. Interestingly, this revival coincides almost exactly with the 35th anniversary of the film’s U.S. theatrical release on July 20, 1984.

Limahl, whose real name is Chris Hamill, confesses that he’s never seen Stranger Things (though he plans to enjoy a binge-watching session soon), and he says he was floored when his nephew informed him that he was “going viral.” But now that he has, Yahoo Entertainment figured this was the perfect time to catch up with the famously peroxided singer, to chat about “The NeverEnding Story’s” legacy (from his hungover Moroder audition to his manager’s fight to get the soundtrack released), whether there’s any chance of a Kajagoogoo reconciliation, and whether he’ll ever take the #NeverEndingChallenge himself.

Yahoo Entertainment: What it was like working with Giorgio Moroder on this song? How did it all come together?

Limahl: About two months after I got back to the U.K. [from the Tokyo Music Festival], my manager received a call from his office asking if I would fly to Munich to kind of try my voice on the song. It was like an audition, in a way. It felt weird. I thought, "Hmm, I just had a No. 1 around the world [“Too Shy”] that I wrote. What do you mean, auditioning?" But of course, I knew who Giorgio Moroder was, and that was very exciting.

I'd been sent a copy of the lyrics, and I flew to Munich. I'd had about four hours sleep, because I was 23 and I thought I could just party all night and then still get up and work. I remember I nearly missed the flight. I remember I was tired. The song is high, and I couldn't really quite get it in the afternoon. Giorgio was very calming. He used to call me Lim: "Hey Lim, don't worry. We have some food, a little wine. We try it again." Now with hindsight, I can see that he just put his pro hat on and thought, "I'll just calm him down.” And then, about 7 in the evening, thankfully I nailed it. I flew home the next day, and the day after that I got a call from my manager to say that Giorgio had had a listen to the track with a fresh ear and really liked it.

Limahl's "The NeverEnding Story" single art. (Photo: EMI)
Limahl's "The NeverEnding Story" single art. (Photo: EMI)

Have you seen Giorgio recently?

No, but actually about six months ago I got a request from a music organization in Poland saying they were presenting Giorgio Moroder with an award for his legacy work, and would I do a little iPhone video thing for him, which I did. I was up in the north of the U.K. and I just went into the middle of a field with my iPhone and did a selfie thing, and I said, "Giorgio, it's been a while. We haven't seen each other, but I often think of you every time I have to sing that song 'The NeverEnding Story' and I think, 'Why, oh, why the f*** didn't he do it a semitone lower?’” [laughs] Because it's such a mother to sing. It's right at the top of my range.

But you pull it off! So, back to 1984: Did you all think you had a hit on your hands with this song?

Well, my manager at the time, who'd managed Rod Stewart, was an Irish guy called Billy Gaff. He had terrible trouble convincing EMI to pick up the whole movie soundtrack, including that song. I remember I was in his office in Chelsea and he was swearing at the CEO of EMI in London, Peter Jamieson, with his Irish accent — and when Billy Gaff got upset, his Irish accent would get stronger. So, he's on the phone to the chairman going, "Don't you f***ing tell me this song's not a hit. It's a f***ing goddamn hit if I've ever heard one! And I will personally fly you to Germany to watch the f***ing movie with me before you tell me you don't want this song!" Blah, blah, blah. And I'm in the background thinking, "Oh my God, I'm going to get dropped by the record company. My manager is swearing at the head of the company!" But anyway, it worked.

This was about a year after you’d left Kajagoogoo…

I didn't leave the band. I got fired by the band in a phone call, and I was absolutely betrayed. I felt really upset, because I had lived with the band for three years. I was so instrumental in everything that happened, in writing songs, in meeting [Duran Duran’s] Nick Rhodes [who co-produced Kajagoogoo’s debut album, White Feathers]. So the thing is, when I had this hit all over the world with “The NeverEnding Story,” it was a little bit of “na na na na na” to the band.

It's still so bizarre to me that Kajagoogoo would sack you — arguably the face and heartthrob of the group — only about six months after you’d had this huge hit with “Too Shy.”

It's really weird. I do often wonder how many times have they thought, "Oops, I think we made a mistake." Because basically, they lost their career. We could've done like three albums and then maybe gone off and done some solo stuff, just so everyone could satisfy their creative juices, and then come back and do some more. Looking back, they worked about seven years trying to make it. … So, it's just crazy [to fire me] after one successful album.

I remember the morning vividly. It was Monday morning, about 10:00. I got a phone call and it was the manager. He'd been a school friend of the band and didn't really have a business head; he was sort of doing sound at the gigs and then he sort of got promoted to a manager position when we needed someone for that role. And he said, "Limahl, it's Paul. I'm here with the band. I'm very sorry to let you know, we're going to carry on without you." And literally I could've just fallen on the floor, I was so shocked. And then I really felt hurt, because my diary was full of anything and everything to do with the band, and it was such an exciting time. We were No. 1 all over the world, and everyone was looking forward to doing the second album. And we had the conglomerate behind us, EMI Records, full support. That's so hard to get. Every EMI company across the world was excited about the next album and all that would've gone with it. So of course, it's one of the big “what-ifs.” But you can't turn back the clock. So that's that.

Limahl in 1983. (Photo: Mike Prior/Getty Images)
Limahl in 1983. (Photo: Mike Prior/Getty Images)

So, now that “The NeverEnding Story” is a solo hit for you all over again, are you feeling more of that “na na na na na” revenge again?

No, I'm not feeling that at all. I am so way past that, because I've got to that stage in life where you just think life's too short, you know? Stay positive, look forward. You can't look back and change things. To be honest, if the guys called me tomorrow and there was something interesting creatively that we all wanted to do, I'd be there in a shot, because they are my legacy. It's where it all started. It's like your first lover, or maybe the first one that really hurt you; you never forget. And yeah, there's no denying the talent and the creativity is there. … I don't know. I mean, Christ, I'm 60 years old. Just hit the big 60. Is 60 the new 40? I hope so. Maybe I could keep going for another 20 years.

Limahl in 2017.  (Photo: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto)
Limahl in 2017. (Photo: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto)

I know you are openly gay, but I don’t think that was common knowledge back in the “Too Shy”/“NeverEnding Story” days…

Everybody, all my friends, knew. I wasn't living a double-life; I wasn't embarrassed about who I was or anything. … For me, everything was about music. You had your Bronski Beats and Pet Shop Boys who came along and did the gay, gay, gay thing, and maybe Boy George to a certain extent, but that wasn't my thing. I wanted to make music; I didn't want to become this political figure. And certainly I was too young and immature to have dealt with all that. But by the time I came out [in the public eye], if you like, I wasn't in the charts in anymore. No one really cared! [laughs]

I'll tell you one thing: I was aware that I had lots of female fans, and I felt slightly guilty. I thought, “God, these poor girls are in love with me. They've got crushes on me.” I mean, at the gigs everyone was copying my hairstyle. I had a huge sense of responsibility and I felt like I would hurt them by saying, “Hey guys, guess what?” I was a bit scared of hurting these young girls, hurting their feelings. It's like slapping them in the face.

Speaking of charts, I am a little surprised that in 1984 “The NeverEnding Story” only made it to No. 17 in America, since it went top 10 in many other countries. Were you disappointed by that?

Are you kidding? I was gutted, absolutely gutted! Because the label asked me to go over to promote the song [in the U.S.], and I traveled for like two months solid, going to radio stations and talking to journalists — two cities a day, sometimes. It was hotel/airport/interviews, and the next day the same thing. And then the end of it, I was like, "Oh, it only got to 17” — after being No. 1 all over the world, and “Too Shy” being No. 5 in America. So that's what makes this new interest [in “The NeverEnding Story”] double-fun for me. Because it's like, "Why did you make me wait 35 years, America?" [laughs] I'm seeing stats of Spotify's monthly listeners go up from 330,000 a month, before Stranger Things, to 1.2 million.

Have you watched any of the #NeverEndingChallenge videos?

I watched the laundry one. That was really funny. … And then the other one was this guy who was dancing and sort of miming, and he had every format available of The NeverEnding Story: the CD, then the DVD, then the 12-inch, then the book. I think there was even a cassette. And he was so proud of it all. And then he turned the camera around and the poster's on the wall behind him! It was fantastic. I loved it.

You need to film your own #NeverEndingChallenge video!

I know, I keep seeing everyone say that! But I'm a crap dancer. And I'm the guy that sold the records. I don't need to sing it.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

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