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Feb 09

BUCKS FIZZ – “The Land Of Make Believe”

FT + Popular76 comments • 4,878 views

#492, 16th January 1982

If “The Land Of Make Believe” is – as lyricist Pete Sinfield later claimed – a song about Thatcherism, then he has to be congratulated on one of pop’s more thorough veiling jobs. Thing is, the song doesn’t need added significance to be a striking and successful lyric: “Something / Nasty in your garden’s / Waiting / Patiently till it can have your heart” – strong stuff, especially sung in Bucks Fizz’s blandly chipper tones.

Of course not many people listen closely to the lyrics, and why should they? “Land Of Make Believe” works just fine as a romp, something for panto season. If all you remember is the dayglo chorus and the cumbersome beat, then you’ll still have had a good time. It’s more than just the words, though, that hint at something a little darker. A few years later Bucks Fizz re-recorded “Land” with cleaner, sparklier, cheaper production, and it just didn’t work: there’s an oddly foggy thickness to the sound on this song which makes it slightly hard for your ears to focus but works in the record’s favour. And then there are the drums – sudden jagged clipped beats which cut alarmingly through the sonic murk, not disrupting the song exactly – but when you’re listening for them, they start to dominate it.

“The Land Of Make Believe” is Bucks Fizz’s best song, but it’s far from perfect – the verses outshine the chorus, the inserted character names are awkward, the kid at the end is a spooky-ooky touch too far, and Bucks Fizz themselves do a professional job but can’t be said to add much. For all its occasional clumsiness, though, the record is a success, conjuring resonance and even a little mystery out of not a great deal.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    Conrad on 12 Feb 2009 #

    #48, Lord Whatnot, what do you make of Chinese Democracy?

  2. 52
    AndyPandy on 12 Feb 2009 #

    …isnt this grunge killed Guns n Roses similar to the oft-quoted idea that punk killed off the stadium bands when many of the bands in question were actually even more successful during and after punk. Of those who did fade away many had just reached the end of their natural lives anyway and would have died out with or without punk.

  3. 53
    LondonLee on 12 Feb 2009 #

    That’s what I never got about the Grunge murdered Metal thing, to my ears Grunge was Metal. Just with shorter hair.

    I think most stadium bands were just busy in the studio taking too long to make expensive follow-ups to their previous mega-selling albums during the height of punk. Then they all seemed to be released at the same time, post-punk. I remember the NME review of ‘Tusk’ had a photo of Christine McVie carrying some clothes with the caption “Fleetwood Mac take The Eagles and Led Zeppelin to the cleaners”

  4. 54
    Lena on 13 Feb 2009 #

    First, let me note that I have just turned fourteen, so everything from this year – even songs discussed here I didn’t know at the time – is of course GENIUS…

    That said, I didn’t know this at the time at all…and am not sure what my fourteen-year-old self would have made of it. But there is no doubt that it is a sinister song; there is something uneasy-making about not just the lyrics but also the music – as if something, and I don’t know what, is about to go very, very wrong…even if this was in a language I didn’t know much of, but just enough to get *some* idea, like Italian, I would feel this way. It’s like oil being poured on water, but the water is churning, maybe thisclose to becoming a whirlpool…

    If “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” was a proto-punk song (I’ve just read England’s Dreaming so I think I can claim that), then this is the waking nightmare after those people have indeed claimed what is now today; the spooky girl at the end (before Poltergeist, though there are girls like her before in horror film/literature I’m sure) is eerie, naive – what does she know of nuclear war or war in general?

  5. 55
    mike on 13 Feb 2009 #

    It is a very, very strange record – not least because the four members of Bucks Fizz don’t appear to have any understanding of/interest in its darker undercurrents, treating it instead as a shlocky singalong for all the family. We’ll eventually be dealing with another UK vocal group in the late 1990s with a similar disinterest in their lyrics…

  6. 56
    Tom on 13 Feb 2009 #

    #55 – I don’t think it’s disinterest exactly: they’re reading it as pantomime, which is valid. Bucks Fizz weren’t ever going to rival Sinatra as interpretative singers but they knew what a lyric was about, cf “Now Those Days Are Gone”

    #54 Lena if you have spotify access check out Celine Dion’s French version and see if the sinisterness transmits!

  7. 57
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 13 Feb 2009 #

    conrad i have not made up my mind yet! which is its own comment, i suppose, given how immediately i responded to appetite… more soon (“soon”)

  8. 58
    Mark M on 13 Feb 2009 #

    On the subject of the lyrics, I wondered whether they really do have lots of corn in Carolina. A quick check proves that, yes, they do – so I guess Mr Prog had done his homework.

  9. 59
    Mark M on 13 Feb 2009 #

    On the grunge/metal debate, I remember my instant reaction to first hearing Mudhoney being “Hang on, this is just undigested rock.” The same applies to Nirvana – Kurt may have spent his evenings listening to the Shop Assistants and Leadbelly and Abba, but the music he made still sounds like sludgy rock.

    Hair Metal was massive in Mexico, although so was everything else on the rock/metal continuum. At my school the cool kids (mostly foreign) had no time for it; you either looked back to The Who and Black Sabbath or forward with Talking Heads. I suspect G’n’R would have got a more generous hearing…

  10. 60
    mike on 13 Feb 2009 #

    Crikey, this is weirder than the “No Charge” comments box turning into a meditation on punk.

    I have no thoughts whatsoever on Hair Metal, as I consider it an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. There are almost no genres left which I won’t touch – but that’s one of them.

  11. 61
    Tom on 13 Feb 2009 #

    My impression of hair metal – the looks and image rather than the sound, really – is that it probably made a huge amount of sense as a local LA Sunset Strip-based scene and then took on surreal overtones as it spread through American and then the world. By all accounts the bands involved lived pretty much the same lifestyles as local heroes that they went on to live as proper rock stars, it’s just they could now afford it rather than having to blag it to some degree.

  12. 62
    Tom on 13 Feb 2009 #

    #60 Looking again at that Bucks Fizz sleeve it doesn’t seem *quite* so weird…

  13. 63
    AndyPandy on 13 Feb 2009 #

    To be honest don’t really like either of them but unlike grunge at least hair metal didn’t take itself seriously. Or let the American rock establishment think they’d found a way to breathe life into the tired old rock beast…

  14. 64
    DV on 13 Feb 2009 #

    I would like to add my vote of support to the idea of Bucks Fizz as style gurus.

  15. 65
    wichita lineman on 14 Feb 2009 #

    Re 58: Always thought the China/Carolina lines showed their close links to Guys & Dolls (see There’s A Whole Lot Of Loving, specifically) rather than acute criticism of 3m+ unemployed under the Tories.

    More 70s model buffed up than future vision, which in retrospect is an aspect of New Pop that I really enjoy without the Tainted Love/ Don’t You Want Me overexposure getting in the way.

  16. 66
    peter goodlaws on 14 Feb 2009 #

    I’m puzzled as to how some of you are drooling all over this one, interpreting all sorts of things from it, as if it were the work of Nostradamus or Joyce instead of Brotherhood of Man Lite. For me (then and now) TLOMB is a puerile pop song, helplessly drowning in melted Red Leicester and nothing much else.

    Erithian # 19 – I can’t allow you to liable Doddy. The Ticklish One was, of course, acquitted. Lester Piggott. Now THERE’S a fucking tax dodger, boy!

  17. 67
    Malice Cooper on 14 Feb 2009 #

    This is a superb pop record and ensured they would stay around for a bit longer and establish themselves as regular chart stars.

    Behind Bucks Fizz were a very strong songwriting and production team and although they still hadn’t thrown away the eurovision image at this point, sadly when they did with much harder hitting songs, their popularity dropped until it went Bang and I’m not talking about the coach crash.

  18. 68
    peter goodlaws on 14 Feb 2009 #

    There was a coach crash?

  19. 69
    The Lurker on 14 Feb 2009 #

    Yes, Mike Nolan was seriously injured, but recovered.

    This was a childhood favourite, but I can’t say I’d heard it for several decades until watching it on YouTube just now. I think Tom does a good job of making it sound more interesting than it is – the lyrics are a bit sinister, but they’re sung in such a cheery way any impact is lost.

    Looking at the video, I was struck by three things:

    1) The clip on YouTube appears to show it as number 19 on VH1′s 100 worst videos, which seems a bit harsh;
    2) Cheryl Baker’s dress looks like a prototype for Liz Hurley’s famous dress;
    3) Did the video inspire the cover of Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain?

  20. 70
    Mark M on 14 Feb 2009 #

    Re 69, point 3: Intriguing thought – nobody mentioned it when I did a piece about Ocean Rain cover for Q, but it is a source of inspiration they would want to keep quiet, I guess.

  21. 71
    lonepilgrim on 14 Feb 2009 #

    re 69, point 3 & 70: that was my immediate thought when I saw the video – is there a pop gumshoe we can put on the case?

  22. 72
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 15 Feb 2009 #

    these days this board is practically a popgumshoeshop

  23. 73
    cniloc on 16 Feb 2009 #

    Please don’t laugh if I’m mistaken, but I’ve always thought Pete Sinfield partly based this on Led Zep’s D’yer M’ker!

    ie. the (reggae-ish) rhythm and the hammering drumbeats

    Any comments?

  24. 74
    Tom on 16 Feb 2009 #

    I can see where you’re coming from on that actually! Mind you, D’yer Maker is kind of where I draw a line with my recent Zep reconciliation…

  25. 75
    punctum on 30 Mar 2010 #

    At first hearing it sounds like a cheerful little seasonal MoR pop ditty for kids. But there is something very, very wrong going on in the belly of its architecture; the accompanying video is full of tinsel and laughter, but is shot like a reoccurring dream, a curious mutation emerging from the indistinct roses glimpsed on the cover of the Teardrop Explodes’ Wilder album of one month earlier. Perception is further confused by the opening desolate howl of wind, as though the record is segueing out of “Ghost Town,” and Mike Nolan’s opening narrative of “Stars in your eyes, little one/Where do you go to dream?” is anything but reassuring. This appears to be a children’s song such as Roahl Dahl might have penned.

    In fact the lyric to “Land Of Make Believe” may prove to be one of the most prominent of all pop Trojan horses; it was penned by ex-King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield, who made no secret of his extreme aversion to Thatcherism and Reaganism and who wrote the lyric as a determined metaphor/denunication of the New Right – Reagan has to be the inspiration for “You’re an outlaw once again/Time to change – Superman/Will be with us while he can…in the land of make believe” (O, Superman!), and its deceptive trinkets are depicted as smiling, patient child catchers, abductors and murderers (“Shadows, tapping at your window,” “Something nasty in your garden’s waiting, patiently”).

    Meanwhile writer/producer Andy Hill revealed himself as at least a temporary rival to Trevor Horn; the song changes from its brooding intro into a superficially jolly pop-reggae sprint, but Hill keeps burdening it with extra drums and keyboards, and soon the rhythm tracks systematically become more disjointed and aggressive, the atmosphere slightly harder and less welcoming, until nuclear apocalypse is heralded in: “Into the blue/You and I/To the circus in the sky,” and the title line “in the land of make believe” is loaded with a degree of spite and venom which seems to have eluded the comprehension even of some of those who sang the song (one of Bucks Fizz, Jay Aston, openly spoke of her support for and admiration of Thatcher). As a pop record it is as radical as “Hand Held In Black And White”; as a political polemic it comes from the other end of “Ghost Town” but arrives at far starker conclusions – and there are few starker conclusions to any pop record than the child’s voice who recites, as the music and the world fade to burn, a would-be nursery rhyme about her invisible friend who comes to tea: “He came today/But had to go/To visit you?/You never know.” Spoken as though she has already been murdered.

  26. 76
    thefatgit on 30 Mar 2010 #

    The re-evaluation of what was considered at the time “throw-away manufactured pop” is intriguing. There is art beneath the sheen like trying to look at a poorly hung picture with the curtains open. Thanks to Punctum above for the insight. For a long time I thought TLOMB was a perfectly good lyric fucked up by some Eurovision winners who forgot to leave the stage. I never really rated Bucks Fizz after “Making Your Mind Up”, maybe it was an ABBA blindspot, after all you couldn’t help but to compare them and the fact that the Fizz didn’t write, but more importantly, they were up against Dollar who, despite the blinding shimmeryness of the whole Dollar concept, were making damn fine music. And that synth-pop and new romanticism showed up the Fizz to be somewhat “70s”. Not necessarily for their fashion or the music but that underlying “glam-pop” sensibility that to me at the time, felt a little anachronistic.

    Now listening to it, it’s closer to the layered and sophisticated approach (but not quite) that Trevor Horn was employing… more New Pop than I thought.

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