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Feb 08

STEVE HARLEY AND COCKNEY REBEL – “Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)”

FT + Popular41 comments • 6,386 views

#366, 22nd February 1975

Luckily, no one ever said pop stars had to be likeable: Steve Harley spends his four minutes of real stardom on an extended, bitter, glorious great sneer: whether he’s lashing out at ex bandmates, an ex lover, a current lover, the world, himself doesn’t really matter. The song’s built on pauses – between verses, between words – which coat its very real prettiness with a grease of spite, making the dancers stop dancing, the karaoke singers catch a breath, making sure Harley stays in perfect obsessive control of the record. But because “Make Me Smile” is such a great tune it has a jaunty use-value anyway – which extends Harley’s sneer onto the dum-dums who think this is romantic. (My sympathy, as usual, is with the dum-dums, even though for once their misreading doesn’t improve the song).

“Make Me Smile” could overheat – stuffed as it is with different hooks and topped with a smothering organ line – but it still has a slicing force and clarity, thanks to Harley’s outstanding performance. Two highlights, almost at random: his epically curdled “Mother – EEUUURTH”, and the contrasting wistful vulnerability on the chorus’ “I’ll do what you want” – somewhere inside, maybe he still wishes that was true.

9

Comments

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  1. 26
    Doctor Casino on 8 Apr 2008 #

    Sometimes I get these and sometimes I really don’t. 9? Really? I just listened to it for the third or fourth time, and as with each of the other times (occasional since this entry first came up) I feel no desire to hear it again. There’s a couple of good parts, mostly to do with knocking off Dylan (the “blue eyes, blue eyes” is nice) but overall it’s sort of leaden and sluggish, a little too much mid-range to the mix or something. Clearly I’m in the minority here but it’s just dull to me. Do you have to be British or something?

  2. 27
    Jonathan Bogart on 28 Sep 2008 #

    I’m not British, and I like it quite a bit. It helps, perhaps, that I’ve always mentally categorized it as glam, which makes the snarling theatricality of it part of the genre, rather than part of the performance. Or something like that.

  3. 28
    Doctor Casino on 19 Jan 2009 #

    I have to go ahead and confess here that this has grown on me tremendously – a 9 still seems way out of proportion, but this is a great performance and great recording, as good a sneering record as anything by the Pistols.

  4. 29
    lindy on 5 Nov 2009 #

    Steve Harley and the Cockney Rebels, make me smile, fantastic recording, much better than the rubbish about today.

  5. 30
    Al on 16 Nov 2009 #

    Great song. Don’t agree about the Duran Duran version (Live – Hammersmith ’82) being inferior though. Very different interpretation, yes, but rather wonderful as well. It’s always been fashionable to do them down, but on this occasion, they really don’t deserve it.

  6. 31
    Lola on 16 Nov 2010 #

    “an alleged love of music in itself disguising Harley’s supposed reluctance to pay the rest of the group a living wage”

    What the hell are you on about? Supposed indeed. Have you talked with the other band members lately? It wasn’t about money, it was about creative control. Steve asked them if he could stay the song writer for one more album and 3 didn’t want that 1 was okay with it. It’s pretty simple. Steve was 23 freaking years old when the band broke up. What were you doing and how were you acting when you were that age? He didn’t control their wages.

    I’m surprised at some of the negative comments from some of the posters here. Mick Rock said it best when he said Steve was a sensitive man with a very big heart, some of you act like this one song/story defines him.

    He has countless better, deeper more beautiful songs than this one.

  7. 32
    punctum on 16 Nov 2010 #

    “Red Is A Mean, Mean Colour” not being one of them.

  8. 33
    wichita lineman on 16 Nov 2010 #

    Did he also record Blue Is The Colour? Possibly as a duet with Lynsey De Paul?

  9. 34
    lonepilgrim on 16 Nov 2010 #

    ..or alternatively ‘Red, red whine’

  10. 35
    wichita lineman on 16 Nov 2010 #

    Has anyone pointed out that his real name is Steve Nice? Given his rep you can see why he changed it.

    Is this the slowest day ever on Popular???

  11. 36
    punctum on 17 Nov 2010 #

    Slowest month more like. Still, I can hardly talk – I did manage to put TPL #109 to bed but you’re going to have to wait another fortnight for #110. Life commitments innit.

  12. 37
    flahr on 17 Nov 2010 #

    Must say Marcello I thought your treatment of Machine Head was particularly good. Really want to listen to it now (which I gather is your aim).

  13. 38
    hectorthebat on 9 Jul 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    2FM (Ireland) – Top 100 Singles of All Time (2003) 29
    Mojo (UK) – The Ultimate Jukebox: 100 Singles You Must Own (2003) 26
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 100 Singles of All Time (2002) 40
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 71
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 1
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Peter Holmes, The Sun-Herald (Australia) – 100 Best Songs of All Time (2003) 19
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Record Mirror (UK) – Singles of the Year 10

  14. 39
    Larry on 3 Nov 2014 #

    First time hearing this and I like it a lot. It freely acknowledges its debt to “Blonde on Blonde” era Dylan, which is utterly fine with me.

  15. 40
    Phil on 2 Mar 2015 #

    I love this song dearly, but I must admit I didn’t realise quite how good it is until I heard the Wedding Present version. There’s an odd combination of theatrical grotesquerie and confessional angst about CR’s previous singles (I haven’t heard the albums) – as if to say, “Come into my strange and beautiful world… please, *somebody* come into my world…” It’s not as pronounced on this single, but it is there – and doing that in the confines of what’s by anyone’s standards a radio-friendly unit-shifter is quite impressive.

    My theory, which is mine, is that the song’s addressed to a male friend who’s freaked out and run away when the singer made a pass at him. Admittedly, this doesn’t fit very much of the song – but the bits it does fit, it fits very well indeed.

  16. 41
    Mark G on 3 Mar 2015 #

    #40 You do realise that the Wedding Present’s version is Steve Harley’s favourite cover of it? I’m sure you do..

    #10 and others: I see that the TOTP performance has made it onto the 4 disc edition (3CD +1DVD) of Seamonsters.

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