11
Feb 09

BUCKS FIZZ – “The Land Of Make Believe”

FT + Popular76 comments • 8,109 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. 1
    Mark G on 11 Feb 2009 #

    Aiming for ‘hole in my shoe’ psychedelia?

  2. 2
    Conrad on 11 Feb 2009 #

    Thank you Tom. I acquired this on CD and couldn’t believe how thin and tinny it sounded. Not how I remembered it at all. I then downloaded a far murkier but much more powerful version, and just assumed the two had been subject to violently different mastering techniques. The re-recording explanation makes much more sense.

    The original is indeed a peculiar sound for a pop single, very bass heavy with the vocals surprisingly submerged in the mix – what were they aiming for, strung-out ‘daylight bores the sunshine out of me’ Jagger circa Exile?

    And yet it works – the verse melody is beguiling. The drum punctuations are the first appearance (along with the contemporaneous “Mirror Mirror”) of a real feature of some of the key New Pop hits in early 82 – Dollar/ABC/Bardo/Horn’s Spandau remix.

    It sounds fresh and daring and kind of peculiar. A million miles from the lightweight fluff of “Making Your Mind Up”, although that chasm was bridged, to some extent, by the low-key yet wonderful “One of Those Nights” from September.

    Quite a slow climb up the chart this one – a good 6 or 7 weeks before it reached the summit.

  3. 3
    Tom on 11 Feb 2009 #

    I have to credit Marcello for the “re-record” information – I had the thin version myself and he set me right after I played it at Poptimism (or included it on a Poptimism CD, I forget which). The intros are quite different too.

  4. 4
    Brack on 11 Feb 2009 #

    This is the first number one I can recall being excited about seeing on Top of the Pops. While I could remember a lot of the 1981 number ones from the general background noise of my childhood (and possibly Chegger’s Plays Pop), this is the one that got me watching TOTP as a kid.

  5. 5
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 11 Feb 2009 #

    is this “the” pete sinfield? (the one from king crimson) (i should know this but don’t — if it is then his claim is at least slightly bolstered by the fact that his KC lyrics are all KINDS of intellectually fancy, if you like that kind of thing)

    bucks fizz here and the league previously mark the two wings of the New Pop™’s project i think — this former arguing that established light-entertainment professionals, if used well, would enjoy being open to all kinds of alrgely untapped potential; the latter that here was the blueprint for the future, in terms of technology and scope, as givben a kind of dry run by clever young people whose professional chops were still a bit raw (eg oakey is well out of tune on “the lebanon”)

    in the event i think* it marks a bit of a high-water mark — the mutual suspicion never really dissipated, and indie ideology began increasingly to make a (passive aggressive) virtue of necessity re professional technique (viz better a technically weak singer attempting deep stuff than a technically brilliant singer singing lame piffle)**

    *i haven’t second-guessed bunny so i might change my mind about this
    **others will claim that these two wings were fused in the shape of eg scritti politti, but *i* think this is wishful thinking…

  6. 6
    Tom on 11 Feb 2009 #

    Yes it is the Pete Sinfield! And importantly I’m not really trying to suggest he was LYING – he wrote the thing after all – but that what was on his mind in writing it really doesn’t come over in the record, frankly EVEN IF you are “in on the secret” (at least with the ‘hidden meaning’ of “There She Goes” et al it’s pretty blatant).

    Good points on new pop as pincer movement – some of this will just be the current generation of pro songwriters raising their game a bit as new people hustle their way into the charts and intrude on their territory, I’d guess.

  7. 7
    Tom on 11 Feb 2009 #

    & it’s interesting that writing-wise a lot of the darkest material of 81-82 came from people who’d been around the block a few times by this point: ABBA’s “Day Before You Came”, this, Marty Wilde!!! on Kim’s “Cambodia”… as you say New Pop certainly wasn’t just the clever kids showing off that pop’s range had been expanded, it was a lot of other people jumping in to take advantage.

  8. 8
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 11 Feb 2009 #

    one of the MANY problems i have with the received alt.rock-crit concept of “subversion” is that changes effected by the (so-called) “subverters” tend only to get hipster-audience approval if they can also signal to the Activist Minority that they’ve been signed off by the Secret Committee of Aesthetic Revolutionaries — when actually the much more potent and important transformative effects may be ones where the changes have been adopted unconsciously, or unintendingly, or calculated in the sense of bank balances rather than Art-Movement Masterplans

  9. 9
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 11 Feb 2009 #

    similarly, the problem with the (often rather smug) “selling out” meme is that it fails to take account of the many gifted people who happened to arrive in the “wrong” era for the best use of their own gifts, who have ended up trapped in the wrong arm of the entertainment industry, very likely bored and frustrated with the limitations put on them, without the right kinds of sharp elbows or negotation skills (or just antenna) to recast that space in a better shape for themselves… punk allowed for a GENERAL liquification of industry protocols (at all levels) that was just such a chance for old kinds of old-skoolers otherwise doomed to resentment and suffocation, before the strata all re-congealed

  10. 10
    Matthew H on 11 Feb 2009 #

    This is a meaty record, quite surprising for da Fizz. A Grimm kind of nursery rhyme with fat beats and handy hooks.

    Chiefly it reminds me of Radio 1’s countdown of the Bestselling Singles of 1982. I used to record the Top 40 (er, didn’t we all), but this particular time it was ear unheard, i.e. I had to have the sitting room stereo turned down because my parents had guests. I had no idea Sir Tommy Vance wouldn’t be doing the regular chart that day, so was surprised to hear this when I turned the volume up for a second. I still have the tape (tough stuff, that Memorex), so can still enjoy Vance’s dramatic handling of the wildly exciting build-up to the top tune. BUT WE WON’T SPOIL IT*.

    *unlike Tom, who appears to let the 2001 cat out of the bag to Chris Evans! Only messing. Nice little snippet, that.

  11. 11
    wichita lineman on 11 Feb 2009 #

    Lord Whatnot, you’re on fire. Very well put re the pincer movement. I’ve been wondering, whenever people have flagged up New Pop since the Numan/Buggles posts, just where they consider the boundaries to be. Fizz, Nolans, Dexys? Did Tight Fit release anything you’d define as New Pop apart from Fantasy Island? Maybe there’s a definitive essay on Freaky Trigger already?

    It was a brief period, but this meeting point for cabaret acts and the underground was boundary-trashing; it gave me the same “We win!” feeling as the Balearic scene of 88-90, when Chris Rea was followed by The Grid, was followed by Movement 98, was followed by Edie Brickell, was followed by Primal Scream, and everyone kept dancing*. “It’s all pop music” may be a commonplace line of thought now, but these were possibly the only two windows between 1967 and some time early this decade when you wouldn’t have been looked down on for saying so.

    I’ll be intrigued to discover who the first post-New Pop pop star turns out to be…

    *until Mr Mister’s Broken Wings or The Soup Dragons’ I’m Free came on, both of which cut through drugs and made you realise you hadn’t completely lost perspective.

  12. 12
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 11 Feb 2009 #

    first post-New Pop pop star = bono >:(

  13. 13
    Billy Smart on 11 Feb 2009 #

    Re #7: And don’t forget that Kim Wilde’s band were The Enid disguised in new wave young person’s clobber!

    “Of course not many people listen closely to the lyrics, and why should they?” I have to disgree with this, at least from the nine-year old in the school playgrounds vantage point. A large part of the success of Smash Hits was having the words of songs such as ‘Land of Make Believe’ in print to enable us (well, girls, actually, not boys) to be able to memorise them. Though it is true that we didn’t then go on to do much in the way of textual analysis.

    I think that we did see it as being a modern nursery rhyme, a song about falling asleep and the witching hour. The only two points of comparison that come immediately to mind are “Lullaby For Frances’ by Ian Dury and Madonna’s ‘Dear Jessie’. But then thinking back further, you could see this as being a child of ‘Hush Hush Hush Here Comes The Bogeyman’ by Henry hall & His Orchestra, the rather genial dark flipside to ‘The Teddy Bear’s Picnic’. There’s a similar light and shade/ day and night relationship between ‘Making Your Mind Up’ and this.

    Incidentally, ‘Now Those Days Are Gone’ surley has as good a claim as this to being Bucks Fizz’s best song, surely?

  14. 14
    vinylscot on 11 Feb 2009 #

    Definitely their best single. It’s amazing the positive reactions you can get from people by forcing them to listen to this track (the only way to get most non-pop fans to listen to BF), and to a lesser extent their later “When We Were Young”)

    Billy, was “Now Those Days Are Gone”, great that it was, not just a ripoff of the New Seekers “Anthem”?

    All three are expertly crafted and extremely well-performed singles, which are undoubtedly infinitely better than Bucks Fizz’s reputation would suggest.

    Incidentally the “cutesy” voice at the end – did Trevor Horn hear this and tack the end-bit onto Dollar’s brilliant “Give Me Back My Heart” which arrived about three months after this? It is the one moment of Dollar’s career which gets me weak at the knees!! (Although wtf was “Hand Held In Black and White” really meant to be about?)

  15. 15
    Tom on 11 Feb 2009 #

    I don’t think there’s any kind of definitive essay up here – and I’m not sure exactly where the boundaries are, because living through the period I had no idea that a New Pop era was starting or ending: I think the last hurrah of NP is surely Morley at ZTT, but maybe that was a brief resurrection?

    Re Tight Fit: certain other animals may sleep, but the bunny remains wakeful – we will discuss their claims in due course :)

  16. 16
    Conrad on 11 Feb 2009 #

    12, the new pop anti-Christ maybe

  17. 17
    Billy Smart on 11 Feb 2009 #

    TOTP Watch: Bucks Fizz performed ‘The Land of Make Believe’ on Top Of The Pops on four occasions. Christmas Day 1982 we’ll get to in the fullness of time, but here are the first three;

    10 December 1981. Also in the studio that week were; Showaddywaddy, Dollar, Ken Dodd and The Police plus Zoo’s interpretation of ‘Yellow Pearl’. Jimmy Saville was the host.

    24 December 1981. Also in the studio that week were; Wizzard, Elvis Costello, Altered Images and The Human League, plus Zoo’s interpretations of ‘Get Down On It’ and ‘Yellow Pearl’. David ‘Kid’ Jensen was the host.

    14 January 1982. Also in the studio that week were; Dollar, Elkie Brooks, Shakin’ Stevens, Altered Images and The Stranglers, plus a double helping of choreography – not only Zoo’s interpretation of ‘ Don’t Walk Away’, but ‘Get Down On It’ soundtracking the award winning moves of ‘The UK Disco Dancing Champions’. All this *and* Dave Lee Travis as host!

  18. 18
    vinylscot on 11 Feb 2009 #

    Ken Dodd and the Police – now there’s a duet I’d like to have seen!

  19. 19
    Erithian on 11 Feb 2009 #

    The definitive essay linking “TLOMB” to “In the Night Garden” has yet to be written too, Tom…

    A fine record indeed, one that didn’t mean too much to me personally at the time (I’ll have to listen to it again with two-year-old in tow, perhaps) but you can’t miss the quality and the care that was taken over this. Much more than you’d expect from a throwaway pop act, and it proved the Fizz were nothing of the kind.

    Matthew #10 – dramatic handling of the build-up to the number one – them were the days!

    Re Ken Dodd and the Police, can I be the first to make the tax-avoidance link?

  20. 20
    wichita lineman on 11 Feb 2009 #

    Re 14: The New Seekers’ Anthem was an a cappella version of Australian group The Procession’s 1968 single One Day In Every Week. Though structurally similar to the New seekers’ take, I have to say Now Those Days Are Gone trumps both of them, much more melancholy, and the arrival of the strings is, for me, the single greatest second in BF’s career.

    Re 15: ZTT. You’re right, and it seemed too late, a desperate, eleventh hour bid… but I’ll leave it there to avoid bunny (again).

    Bono? New Pope, you mean?

  21. 21
    lonepilgrim on 11 Feb 2009 #

    i think a residual rockism made me dismiss this out of hand at the time…but with the benefit of hindsight I’ve realised it’s really rather…bland. 5 for me
    Pete Sinfield popped up on the BBCs Prog Britannica programme recently, pointing out the ‘prog’ qualities of the lyrics which, if anything, made me feel less well disposed towards the song.
    The manner in which Da Fizz (™ Matthew H) sing the lyrics without any sense of understanding makes me feel better disposed towards them as performers – they didn’t take it seriously so why should we?

  22. 22
    mike on 11 Feb 2009 #

    Hated it then, love it now. I was far from snooty about Bucks Fizz at the time – anything but! – but all I heard in this one was schlock, not subversion.

    Pete Sinfield co-wrote King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” of course, and I think there’s another former KC-er on this track as well: saxophonist Mel Collins. (Although Wikipedia suggests that MC only played on BF’s debut album, so perhaps his work was already done.) Sinfield also co-wrote a massive-selling 1990s Number One, but I’d better cogitate a second time about mentioning it.

    As for the alleged anti-Thatcherism of the lyric, did ANYONE spot the subtext before Sinfield flagged it up, years later? If you’re going to insert a Trojan Horse, it helps to make it a visible one…

  23. 23
    Tom on 11 Feb 2009 #

    #22 haha NO WAY! That’s one of the 90s records I’m really looking forward to doing actually.

  24. 24
    wichita lineman on 11 Feb 2009 #

    Re 15: I didn’t think of New Pop as an era either, I just thought the rockists had been beaten and the war was won. I mean, I’d just turned 17.

    And I can remember the exact moment that proved me horribly wrong: when the likes of Ultravox and the Thompson Twins all let down those nasty, itsy-bitsy pony tails they’d grown in ’83 to reveal LONG HAIR that had been grown in SECRET. Dancing With Tears In My Eyes, TOTP, spring ’84, official death of New Pop. Says me.

  25. 25
    Conrad on 11 Feb 2009 #

    I think new pop left the building (having been hanging around in the departure lounge for several months prior) sometime during one of Pino Palladino’s ubiquitous-none-more soulful bass bbbbbooooowwwwnnnnnngggggssss in the terminally dull summer of ’83 (while Duran Duran made friends with Lady Di and Nick Heyward ditched his band in favour of a bunch of session musicians with ponytails). SB won’t let me say anything further about that or the gated snare sound that dominated the record that preceded it….

    actually, #24, perhaps the arrival of the pony tail was the beginning of the end…

  26. 26
    Tom on 11 Feb 2009 #

    There are a couple of versions up on the Spotify playlist now: http://open.spotify.com/user/freakytrigger/playlist/1g1jmJMWwXfia21cDWfVVq

    It’s got all out of order which I’ll sort out at some point. Anyway you will find the rubbish Allstars version BUT also a mental version by a young Celine Dion in French. Hurrah!

  27. 27
    Billy Smart on 11 Feb 2009 #

    Light Entertainment watch part 2: Here are the other Bucks Fizz performances that I didn’t list last time;

    THE BIG TOP VARIETY SHOW: With Bernie Winters, Bucks Fizz, David Essex, The Dingbats (1981)

    CHEGGERS PLAYS POP: With BA Robertson, Bucks Fizz, Coast To Coast (1981)

    CHEGGERS PLAYS POP: With Bucks Fizz, Altered Images (1982)

    THE CHILDRENS ROYAL VARIETY PERFORMANCE: With Stanley Baxter, Jimmy Cricket, Roger the Dog, Bucks Fizz, The Grumbleweeds, Rod Hull & Emu, The Krankies, Fulton MacKay, The Malibu World Disco Dancing Champions, Marylin, Musical Youth, Donny Osmond, Gary Wilmot (1983)

    CRACKERJACK: With Stu Francis, Bob Carolgees, Bucks Fizz, Smokie (1982)

    LIVE FROM THE PALLADIUM: With Jimmy Tarbuck, Patti LaBelle, Bucks Fizz, Maggie Moone, Louie Anderson (1986)

    MARTI CAINE: With Marti Caine, Bucks Fizz, Juan Martin, Gene Pitney (1982)

    MISS UNITED KINGDOM 1987: With Peter Marshall, Alexandra Bastedo, Bucks Fizz, Mark Wynter (1987)

    THE MULTI-COLOURED MUSIC SHOW 1982: With Noel Edmunds, Barry Took, Richard Stilgoe, Bucks Fizz, The Jam, J Geils Band, The Police, ABC, Shakin’ Stevens, bad Manners, 10CC, OMD (1982)

    SUMMERTIME SPECIAL: With Bucks Fizz, Randy Crawford, Lena Zavaroni, Faith Brown, Lenny Windsor, Victor Ponche, Sylvia (1981)

    SUNDAY SUNDAY: With Jenny Agutter, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Jamie Lee Curtis, Rodney Bewes, Bucks Fizz (1983)

    THE TUBE: With Jools Holland, Lesley Ash, Bucks Fizz, ZZ Top, REM (1983)

  28. 28
    AndyPandy on 11 Feb 2009 #

    Wichita that’s so right about the death of New Pop coinciding with the horrible reappearance of long rock hairstyles in 1984 – if I remember correctly they were often mullets a hairstyle which I’m glad to say never caught on with anyone below 30 in the UK (obviously not the case in the rest of Europe or America) give or take the odd British sportsman.

    I also thought the anti-rock battle had been won in 1982 and then again post-1988 only both times to be proved tragically wrong.Although I think it took the full weight of big business to keep it alive/revive it in the latter instance…

  29. 29
    LondonLee on 11 Feb 2009 #

    Just be thankful we were mostly spared Hair Metal in the UK. Living in the States you realize with horror what a huge genre it was over here and only got killed when Nirvana came along (that’s according to the official VH-1 version of rock history anyway)

    There’s an ad on TV here for a CD collection of Hair Metal ballads with a brilliant dramatic voiceover that says “They taught you how to ROCK and they taught you how to LOVE”

  30. 30
    wichita lineman on 11 Feb 2009 #

    Re 29: Is that a current US ad?! There’s a good Mickey Rourke line in The Wrestler about how that son of a bitch Kurt Cobain ruined *real* rock, ie Guns ‘n’ Roses and, beyond that, hair metal. I was once completely turned off by a girl I really fancied who took me back to her place and played me a Blizard Of Ozz hair ballad. It was that bad.

    The idea that Nirvana turned American rock around says so much about US/UK pop relativity. And here I am worrying about Tom Bailey’s mullet.

    This may also explain why I take Nik Cohn over Greil Marcus every time.

    Now trying to think what the US equivalent of dissecting Bucks Fizz would be…

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