What's On Your Mind (Pure Energy)

Album: Information Society (1988)
Charted: 81 3
Play Video


  • With an intricate, dance-floor-ready techno beat, this song got a lot of attention because of its sound, but the lyric also tells a compelling story, with a man desperately trying to get his partner to open up.

    Group mainstays Paul Robb and Kurt Harland wrote the song, and in Robb's 2016 Songfacts interview, he explained that when they wrote the lyric, they considered it just a collection of emotional impressions, but it turned out to be far more meaningful. "When you look back at it now, it's a clear narrative about the difficulty that people have communicating with each other," he said. "At the time, we weren't writing it with that in mind, but it's so clear when you just read through the lyrics. It's a very simple and very clear-cut story. We didn't really realize what we were writing about. You fall into these grooves - I think it's just the way the human brain works, even when you try to avoid it, you fall into the next groove over. But it's still the same narrative structure, because that's the way the brain works: we like to tell stories."
  • The "Pure Energy" vocal comes from Leonard Nimoy's character Spock on the TV series Star Trek. In the 1967 Season 1 episode "Errand of Mercy," Spock and Captain Kirk visit the planet Organia, where their citizens have advanced beyond the need for physical bodies. When two of them vanish in front of them, Spock says, "Fascinating. Pure energy. Pure thought. Totally incorporeal. Not life as we know it at all."

    At the beginning of the song, there's another sample from the series: DeForest Kelley's character Dr. McCoy saying, "It's worked so far, but we're not out yet."

    Two other songs on the album also use Star Trek samples: "Over the Sea" and "Walking Away." Just one problem: the samples weren't cleared and the record company refused to release the album until they were. The album was slated for release in December 1987, but got stuck in limbo when nobody from Paramount would respond to requests to authorize the Star Trek clips. The breakthrough came when the band's A&R man contacted Nimoy's son Adam and asked for help. Adam Nimoy brought the issue to his father's attention, and the samples cleared. The album was released in June 1988 after a six-month delay. "What's On Your Mind" reached its chart peak on the Hot 100 in October.
  • Information Society formed in 1982 and had a club hit with "Running" in 1986, earning them a record deal with Tommy Boy, a progressive label that was home to many hip-hop acts, including De La Soul and Afrika Bambaataa. "What's On Your Mind (Pure Energy)" was the first single released from Information Society's debut Tommy Boy album, and it took off, going to #1 on the Dance chart and rising to #3 on the Hot 100 - quite a feat for a techno/freestyle track, and a life-changing event for the band, who were suddenly thrust on tour and getting recognized in public thanks to airplay on MTV.

    The follow up, "Walking Away," was nearly as successful on the charts, making #9 on the Hot 100, but "What's On Your Mind" proved to be their most durable song, and one that sometimes got them tagged as a one-hit wonder (VH1 included the group on their "Greatest One Hit Wonders of the '80s" countdown).

    Paul Robb told us that the song gets more royalties than the rest of their catalog put together, but in some circles, Information Society is known for other tracks: In Brazil "Repetition" is their biggest hit, and in the New York club scene, they are best known for "Running."
  • Lead singer Kurt Harland came up with the synth guitar riff by using a distortion filter. He used the same technique on another song on the album called "Over The Sea."
  • The band was under pressure from their label to come up with a hit in the vein of "Running," but their efforts in the studio weren't paying off. The breakthrough came when Paul Robb looked to some current hits for inspiration. "I took the instrumental groove that latter became 'What's on Your Mind,' and woodshedded it," he told us. "I listened to songs that were popular of the day, and I really sat down with the intention of, 'I'm going to write a chorus that is hooky and memorable, and people can sing along to.' And that's what I did.

    I took some particular inspiration from 'Sledgehammer' from Peter Gabriel, and I can't remember which one, but there was a Duran Duran song that was big at the time. I used to study Duran Duran a lot, because I really was a fan of their harmonies. So anyway, that song, the chorus came first, and then Kurt and I shared the writing duties on the verses after the chorus was written."
  • This was Leonard Nimoy's only appearance on a hit song, but the actor, who died in 2015 at age 83, did release two albums that made the Billboard charts: Mr. Spock's Music From Outer Space reached #87 in 1967, and Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy made #97 the following year. Both albums consist mostly of spoken-word material.
  • The colorful, whimsical video was directed by Mark Pellington, who later did the Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" and Foo Fighters' "Best Of You."

    Pellington got his start at MTV in 1983 as an intern, and by 1988 was working in their promos department, creating their interstitials and other bits of branding. He and a few other guys in the department made music videos on the side, typically on weekends. He didn't leave MTV until 1990.
  • The female voice on this track is Amanda Kramer, who joined the band in 1986 but left after the Information Society album was released. She later joined The Psychedelic Furs.
  • The song popped up in the 2014 "Change of Heart" episode of Grey's Anatomy, and it also appeared in the 2000 movie American Psycho - a remix was included on the soundtrack.
  • This song has been remix and re-issued several times over the years; in 2001 the "What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy) '01" edit went to #4 on the Dance chart.
  • Information Society disbanded in 1993 after they were dropped by Tommy Boy. Harland wanted to continue doing music under the name so he purchased the Information Society moniker and logo from his bandmates, and in 1997 released the album Don't Be Afraid. In 2004, VH1 tried to reunite the four members that recorded their self-titled album. Harland did not show up for the reunion but did show up for a later reunion in 2005 where Paul Robb was inspired to reunite the band and record new material. They released Synthesizer in 2007, Hello World in 2014, and a collection of covers called Orders of Magnitude in 2016.

Comments: 3

  • Mark from South CarolinaDuring the destruction verse someone says, "Not another .....?" Sounds like crock pot, but I am sure that is not what is being said. Someone help a brother out.
  • Josh from UsaListening with good headphones and I'm noticing the "destructionnnnnnn" sample and I wonder where that came from. Probably something else from that episode or another? Guess I'll have to look into it.
  • Rick from Mason City, IaInfoSociety is one of my favorite bands. Their Debut album is their best..and it's non stop good upbeat stuff. The whole album is filled with Star Trek samples. Also the CD had + graphics on it, and if you had the right player, you would see still graphics with lyrics of the songs, while they played! Any Karoke machine will play it. Innovators they were! Great song by the way!
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Goodbye, Hello: Ten Farewell Tour Fake-Outs

Goodbye, Hello: Ten Farewell Tour Fake-OutsSong Writing

The 10 biggest "retirement tours" that didn't take.

Chris Isaak

Chris IsaakSongwriter Interviews

Chris tells the story of "Wicked Game," talks milkshakes and moonpies at Sun Records, and explains why women always get their way.

Pete Anderson

Pete AndersonSongwriter Interviews

Pete produced Dwight Yoakam, Michelle Shocked, Meat Puppets, and a very memorable track for Roy Orbison.

James Williamson of Iggy & the Stooges

James Williamson of Iggy & the StoogesSongwriter Interviews

The Stooges guitarist (and producer of the Kill City album) talks about those early recordings and what really happened with David Bowie.

Chad Channing (Nirvana, Before Cars)

Chad Channing (Nirvana, Before Cars)Songwriter Interviews

Chad tells tales from his time as drummer for Nirvana, and talks about his group Before Cars.

Experience Nirvana with Sub Pop Founder Bruce Pavitt

Experience Nirvana with Sub Pop Founder Bruce PavittSong Writing

The man who ran Nirvana's first label gets beyond the sensationalism (drugs, Courtney) to discuss their musical and cultural triumphs in the years before Nevermind.