Listen to Howard Jones’ song “What Is Love?” and, if you’re of a certain age, something remarkable happens: You’re transported back in time to the era of big hair, Molly Ringwald and the Reagan administration.
Jones — whose synthesizer was one of the sounds of “The Breakfast Club” age, sharing heavy radio-rotation time alongside bands like Simple Minds and Thompson Twins — comes to Peekskill’s Paramount Center for the Arts on Friday with a show that painstakingly recreates, song-for-song, his first two studio albums: “Human’s Lib” and “Dream Into Action.”
It’s something Jones hasn’t been able to reproduce in live concerts before. Some he has had to distill or simplify; others he has never attempted to play live.
“The aim was to recreate the albums as closely as possible and to make them sound exactly like the records,” says Jones, whose once-wild red hair is now a rather staid silver, and close-cropped. “What we’re doing wouldn’t have been possible in the ’80s. I wasn’t able to play these songs live back then.”
In the ’80s, he would slave over the synthesizer in the studio, creating layer after layer of sounds, a result he can now produce with the push of one key in a live concert.
“We’ve gone in with a microscope to make this really hi-fi reproduction of the songs,” he says.
Jones had nine Top 40 singles in the mid-’80s, among them: “New Song,” “What Is Love?” “No One Is to Blame” and “Things Can Only Get Better.” His single, “Like to Get to Know You Well” topped out at No. 49 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list.
The Peekskill concert is 24 songs, presented in almost three hours, with an intermission. It is the final stop on Jones’ tour.
“It’s a real journey,” Jones says. “I really enjoy doing it.”
Having diligently recreated those original tracks, Jones has a deeper understanding and appreciation of what he accomplished back when the Cold War still raged.
“I felt at the time that I was developing new sounds and new ways of doing things,” he says. “People could not have gone out and done a one-man show with drum machines and sequencers and lots of keyboards before that time. Because it was such a radical new sound, it did grab people’s attention.”
Perhaps Jones’ most attention-grabbing performance came at the 1985 Grammy Awards, when he teamed up on a synthesizer medley with Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder and Thomas Dolby.
“I have lots of memories around that event,” the singer says.
“We ended up in Stevie’s studio in L.A. and I had the most amazing jam session with Stevie. It was just me and him, we each had a keyboard, and we were just trading licks and it lasted 20 minutes. It was one of the most amazing musical experiences of my life.”
While Jones is certain that the music they played on the stage at the Grammys that night “wasn’t the best piece of music in the world, the way it was segued together,” he is equally certain that turning the telecast over to synthesizers changed the way keyboards and electronic music was viewed.
“It really put keyboards on the map,” he says.
The 56-year-old Jones says the demands of the synthesizer have kept him on his toes.
“What’s interesting is playing independent parts with your left hand and your right hand and singing and paying attention to the audience,” he says. “It occupies a lot of your brain. That’s what I like about performing. It keeps you sharp. You have to be sharp.”
Jones, who has no problem hitting the notes he hit a generation ago, credits the coaching of a London opera singer for keeping his voice fresh. And the fact that the crowds at his concerts know every line of every song “allows me to give myself a rest every now and again,” he says with a chuckle.
Peekskill is the final stop on a tour that started in the Philippines and has stretched across the U.S. After the Friday concert, Jones says he and his band likely will move on to a different approach to their music.
“After this tour, we’ll evolve the songs again and mix and mash them up again. But this is to lay it down the way it should be.”
Jones isn’t all about the past. He listens to contemporary bands and appreciates up-and-comers.
“There’s an English band called Hurtz that I really love,” he says. “They’ve just got one album out, kind of ’80s-influenced, but it’s got its own unique sound as well, really great songwriting and great singing.”
He’s also partial to Laura Marling, an English new-folk artist whom Jones calls “one of the most gifted songwriters and lyricists you’ll ever hear, a one-in-a-generation type; she’s only 21, but she’s on her third album and getting better all the time.”
Howard Jones: 8 p.m., Oct. 28. Paramount Center for the Arts, 1008 Brown St., Peekskill. $25-$45. 914-739-2333. Go to the Paramount Center for the Arts website.
Photo by Fredrik Svensson: Howard Jones.