12
Jun 09

SPANDAU BALLET – “True”

FT + Popular73 comments • 4,894 views

#520, 30th April 1983, video

The effect of “True” – potent for some, emetic for others – is a function of how it rubs two impulses up against each other. One is a yearning for depth and the authentic, in the form of soul music. The other is a wish to make your records gleam, to emphasise their sleekness and luxury. Understand this combination and you understand pop in the mid-80s. On the one hand, “You are Gold!” On the other, “Always believe in your soul!”

Both these urges are aspirational, but from some perspectives they create an intolerable friction. If – for instance – you believe soul music is something raw and unbiddable then the unctious shine of the Spandau approach is a laughable betrayal. Meanwhile, if you like your pop to be a shiny futurist bauble then their smooth reverence can come over as embarrassing cultural cringe. But the friction is also what gives this music its character, helps it capture its time and place. Today’s soul revivalists – and the slickers who consume them – are too savvy or tasteful to seem as foolish or brazen as Spandau Ballet, and this is one reason “True” is more interesting than anything Duffy (say) has done or will ever do.

“True” is an appropriate hit for this discussion because it’s a song about writing songs, fumbling for inspiration, finding it in “Maaarvin” and the music of the past. Oh, it comes dressed as a love song, but it’s utterly self-centred: its “you” is a cypher. Its best legacy, PM Dawn’s gorgeous “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss”, captures “True”‘s selfishness and pushes it even further into dreamy solipsism. And “Set Adrift” also dumps the song’s obvious ballast: Tony Hadley’s oily, overdetermined vocals. Strip them out, seaside arms and all, and what you have left is a lovely meringue of a record, particularly the delicious horn solo. Unfortunately, we had to wait for others to do this and realise “True”‘s potential – what we have is flawed and earthbound, but there’s enough here to turn a kind eye to its vanities and faults.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    LondonLee on 16 Jun 2009 #

    Or “Not Heavy Metal or R&B and sung by someone under 30”

    I remember Jolley and Swain doing a pretty good job with Bananarama, but Imagination were very much the epitome of aspirational penthouse soul which is obviously what SB were going for. I know they might have seemed a bit of a joke but ‘Body Talk’ was very popular.

  2. 52
    AndyPandy on 16 Jun 2009 #

    Yes it was a pity with Imagination that there slightly tacky image often got in the way of some very worthwhile slinky Britsoul grooves.
    They werent completely ignored however and at the time I remember the “Nightdubbin” remix album was already looked on as quite cutting edge.
    And now many garage/house producers/djs look on it as boundary breaking in the extreme.Larry Levans remix of “Changes” and someone else’s (cant remember who)mix of “Burnin Up” being more or less dry runs for a 90s (not late80s they sound more modern than that!)house/garage sound. When I heard these for the first time in over 20 years quite recently I was stunned how modern they sounded.

  3. 53
    Conrad on 16 Jun 2009 #

    I have a Joey Negro mix of Burning Up – not sure when it was done, but might be the one you are referring to.

    Imagination were an excellent act. Loved all their singles up to and including “Changes”.

  4. 54
    Conrad on 16 Jun 2009 #

    Number 2 Watch:

    A lot of records kept from Number One by “True” during its 4 week reign at the top:

    FR David “Words” – 2 weeks
    Human League “(Keep Feeling) Fascination” – 1 week
    Heaven 17 “Temptation” – 1 week

  5. 55
    AndyPandy on 16 Jun 2009 #

    Conrad at 53 the remix of ‘Burnin Up” on ‘Nightdubbing’ is by Richard Lengyel and the tracks original producers Swain and Jolley. I think the Joey Negro version came out around the time the album got sort of ‘rediscovered’. I’m listening to the Nightdubbing version as I type this and it is unbelievably ahead of its time – it has elements that could come out of a house track from 1988/89 (the piano is straight from such a track) and then as it breaks down it verges on dubby garage from the 1990s.

    I suppose the fact that piano was so important to both Imagination and house music’s sound makes the convergence slightly more likely.

  6. 56
    AndyPandy on 16 Jun 2009 #

    Meant to add this above:

    On the subject of unlikely connections to the coming but still 3 or 4 year away house invasion of the charts just outside the Top Ten during ‘Trues’ run at the top were Galaxy and ‘What Do I Do’ featuring
    Phil Fearon and 2 females one who returned to the charts at the end of 1994 as the voice of the only true hardcore/rave track to ever hit Number One on the pop chart. Phil Fearon himself being the man behind one of the most successful ever hardcore/rave labels responsible for Acen, the House Crew as well as the act I can’t mention and many other early 90s hardcore delights…

  7. 57
    Mark G on 17 Jun 2009 #

    Phil Fearon auditioned as the pianist for the Sex Pistols…

  8. 58
    Stuart P on 19 Jun 2009 #

    Nightdubbin’ etc has inspired a new comp from Dimitri from Paris btw

    http://open.spotify.com/album/3qNnr5sl1OR45NWNM5j16n

    oh, and house piano’s first appearance was probs here … discuss!

    http://open.spotify.com/track/6PFsub5iIJwrBb8qBRqmiV

  9. 59
    Billy Smart on 19 Jun 2009 #

    I really didn’t care for this at all when I was ten. It seemed rather smarmy and plodding to me, and the work of a different band to the kilted and saronged Cut A Long Story Short people of a few years earlier, who seemed much more like my idea of what a pop group should be like.

    Twenty-six years on, I haven’t revised my opinion much, but the sax break is rather lovely, and I wish that it could have appeared in a better song.

    Whenever I see or hear a documentary about eighties pop, Gary Kemp seems to be on it, saying “Of course, the NME hated it, so we knew it was going to be a hit!” This never fails to really irritate me – if critical acclaim was so unimportant to you, then you wouldn’t go on about it at every single opportunity.

    Best Spandau moment: ‘Instiction’, the lone collaboration with Trevor Horn. It is, as I believe that the young people say. “bonkers”.

  10. 60
    Billy Smart on 19 Jun 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Spandau Ballet performed ‘True’ on Top Of The Pops on three occasions;

    21 April 1983. Also in the studio that week were; Culture Club, FR David, Twisted Sister and Heaven 17. Richard Skinner and Janice Long were the hosts.

    5 May 1983. Also in the studio that week (the 1000th edition) were; Thompson Twins, Human League, The Beat, Heaven 17, Blancmange and Fun Boy Three, plus two appearances from Zoo, interpreting ‘Friday Night’ and ‘Candy Girl’. The hosts were “The Radio 1 DJs” (it says here).

    29 December 1983. Also in the studio that week were; JoBoxers, Thompson Twins, The Cure, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Howard Jones and The Style Council. Richard Skinner and Tommy Vance were the hosts.

  11. 61
    Billy Smart on 19 Jun 2009 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Spandau Ballet’s many UK television appearances include;

    THE BRITISH RECORD INDUSTRY AWARDS: with Curiosity Killed The Cat, Whitney Houston, Spandau Ballet, Five Star, Level 42, Simply Red (1987)

    FRIDAY PEOPLE: with Spandau Ballet (1985)

    HARTY: with Barbara Cartland, Ken Livingstone, Spandau Ballet (1984)

    IBIZA 92: with Steve Earle, Belinda Carlisle, Breathe, Robert Palmer, Spandau Ballet, Prefab Sprout, Natalie Cole, Brian Wilson (1988)

    THE OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST: with Spandau Ballet (1982)

    THE OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST: with Spandau Ballet, Little Steven and the Disciples Of Soul (1983)

    THE OXFORD ROAD SHOW: with Spyder, Spandau Ballet (1983)

    POP QUIZ: with Duran Duran v, Spandau Ballet (1984)

    SWITCH: with Spandau Ballet, UB40 (1983)

    THAT WAS THEN… THIS IS NOW: with Spandau Ballet (1988)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates, Virna Lindt, Gary Kemp, Tony Hadley, Jason Bratby, Chaka Khan, Spandau Ballet (1985)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates, Spandau Ballet, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Wendy May, Nick Kamen, Felix Howard, Jermaine Stewart, Gwen Guthrie, Gregg Parker (1986)

    TWENTIETH CENTURY BOX: Spandau Ballet (1980)

    WHISTLE TEST: with Spandau Ballet, Dwight Yoakam, Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians (1986)

    WOGAN: with Alan Cox, Brian Cox, Bob Geldof, Nik Kershaw, La Bouche, Janice Long, Francis Rossi, Spandau Ballet, Ben Vereen (1985)

    WOGAN: with Alessandra Ferri, Trevor McDonald, Kate O’Mara, Prince Roy & Princess, Joan Sealand, Spandau Ballet (1986)

    WOGAN: with Leon Brittan, William Davis, Bill Treacher, Spandau Ballet (1987)

    WOGAN: with Butterfly McQueen, Spandau Ballet, John Ward (1989)

    Wogan in 1989: “Spandau Ballet with ‘Be Free With Your Love’ – and don’t send your medical bills to me.”

  12. 62
    Rob M on 19 Jun 2009 #

    Regarding “A pill on my tongue” I saw an interview with the Spands recently which seemed to imply that it was about lying on a beach and taking drugs of some kind. Probably not ecstasy, as has been noted it was a bit of a niche thing only on the NY club scene in the early 80s (hence Cindy Ecstasy on Soft Cell’s “Torch”, she was their dealer in NY), but probably something else. Not very useful information, sorry. Maybe someone should ask them to clarify?

  13. 63
    pink champale on 19 Jun 2009 #

    my driving instructor used to point out (what he said was) tony hadley’s house every single time we spluttered past it, so i suppose i could pop in and ask. i saw paul young in a bakery last week too. maybe he’d know.

  14. 64
    TomLane on 21 Jun 2009 #

    Spandau Ballet or PM Dawn? Either way, great song.

  15. 65
    hanfist on 26 Jun 2009 #

    Tom, this is such an awesome review that I had to finally stop lurking, register and add my two cents worth. Some of your picks are downright weird (but then I was brutally scarred on an emotional level by ABBA’s domination of the charts when I was 14-17)…

    True wasn’t a song I appreciated much at the time — chants, long stories, fade to grey had had so much impact that True seemed trite and prissy, Spandau were aging all too gracefully. But then I was more into rhythmn than melody back then. Even later, as I grew to enjoy True without being enraptured by it, the song still felt like a series of magic candy moments buried in a cardboard sponge. And then PMD came along and releeased it to soar into the ether. I am trying to vote and give it an eight, which realistically includes 2 bonus points for the Dawnster.

  16. 66
    Tooncgull on 21 Oct 2009 #

    #30 I agree! How can nobody see how dreadfully dull and dreary this song was? Spandau Ballet were probably the epitome of the type of band I disliked most in the early eighties – but perhaps I was just getting too old. I was 19 at the time…. !

  17. 67
    Brooksie on 1 Mar 2010 #

    Medallion men in search of money. They made some good songs though, and to me this is one of them. The synth opening with the ‘picking’ guitar, followed by the “Ha ha ha haa haaaa” works for me. Yes the lyrics are clunky, yes it’s bombastic, yes it stops and starts, yes it’s plastic soul, but who cares? This was always going to be an instant classic smash. The fact that it could be sampled and become a hit all over again just underlines how solid the song is. A little like a certain Police number; if a piece of a song is strong enough to carry a whole new song, then any arguments about whether the song is good / bad kind of fall apart. If you hate this but love PM Dawn, then I’d say you really dislike Spandau or Hadley’s vocals – but not the song.

  18. 68
    thefatgit on 2 Mar 2010 #

    Xerox soul reflected against New Pop’s refracting lens. The Spands present the most divisive song on their roster. For many, this was the dealbreaker. Suburban whiteboy funk to Nescafe Gold Blend soul. Blandness never tasted so good. But this is still POP! A pop for young girls to swoon to, a karaoke standard for the Bacardi Breezer and Stella Artois generation, a half-formed memory of an ’80s that was out of reach. Back then it was a betrayal to the scenesters that Spandau Ballet emereged from, but the masses, oh, the masses lapped it up and still they do today.

  19. 69
    Lazarus on 13 Aug 2012 #

    Christian O’Connell, the breakfast show presenter of Absolute (formerly Virgin) Radio, made good on an earlier threat and, by way of tribute to Team GB, played ‘Gold’ 29 times in succession this morning, from just after 6 to sometime between 9 and 10. No other track was played in that time, and O’Connell relented only to chat, break for ads and have various numpties sing the song down the phone for him. It did not go down well in my workplace where Absolute is pumped out, and round about the 20th play it was changed to some godawful commercial station that played limp, anonymous r’n’b for the remainder of the shift. Probably should have let it be really.

  20. 70
    Mark G on 13 Aug 2012 #

    Did he dedicate each play to each medal winner, individually?

  21. 71
    Lazarus on 13 Aug 2012 #

    Not sure, the sound isn’t always clear enough to make out speech (various industrial noises going on as well). Here’s the explanation:

    http://music.uk.msn.com/features/absolute-radio-to-play-spandau-ballet%E2%80%99s-gold-over-20-times

  22. 72
    punctum on 12 Jan 2014 #

    #35: TPL is nice to the album – http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/spandau-ballet-true.html

  23. 73
    hectorthebat on 15 Nov 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

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