12
Jun 09

SPANDAU BALLET – “True”

FT + Popular73 comments • 5,917 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.

7

Comments

  1. 1
    rosie on 12 Jun 2009 #

    I suppose this above all others is the track that epitomises that first half of the 90s for me. Mid you, I didn’t notice it getting to the top: I missed something in the previous entry: on 9 June, just before this hit the top (or while it was hitting it, the Tories under Maggie Thatcher won the general election by a landslide that saw the Labour Party at the nadir of its fortunes. Why do I get a sense of déja vû about this right now? At the time I was a naive young thing who still believed there was enough discontent in the country for Labour to win comfortably. I was at the count in Hitchin Town Hall, and I still remember who cheered when rumours of Tony Benn’s defeat in Bristol East came through. I’ve got your number, comrade!

    That election, though dispiriting, didn’t do me any harm as it happened. I worked my legs off when nobody else’s heart was in it. I got spat on in Royston market and when Michael Foot came to visit somebody handed me a megaphone and I stood on a bench and ranted until one of Michael’s minders snatched it off me. I was outside any factions and well-in with the full-time agent and well placed to make a mark.

    So, the beginning of my rehabilitation begins with this song. That said, it’s immensely likeable, but like the decade it represents it has no soul; it sounds like something put together by committee to press the maximum number of buttons. But I do like that voice – it doesn’t quite make me shiver but it does feel nice and warm inside. Seven is about right.

  2. 2
    David Belbin on 12 Jun 2009 #

    Five months after ‘True’ came out I met my life partner. Being somewhat soppy, I put this on the first mix tape I made her. Big mistake. She absolutely loathed it and, as a result, I’ve not listened to my single of it since. I remember my mate Mike and I made jokes about the references to Hank Marvin, and how cool it was, listening to the Shadows all night long. Nice tune but there’s something fake about the lyric, isn’t there? She was right (she usually is).

  3. 3
    Jack Fear on 12 Jun 2009 #

    When I was a kid, my understanding of this song was based around a misinterpretation of the line “a pill on my tongue” – I read the lyric as a suicide note, a final testament: “I want the truth to be known.” The melancholic tug of the melody, the slipping-through-my-hands imagery… it was all of a piece. The note would go unfinished, like so many suicide notes – he was leaving the next line to someone else, because he wouldn’t be around to write it himself.

    It all made perfect sense at the time, to my sixteen-year old self; but then, you find death imagery everywhere, at that age. But even though, as a rule, Adult Me *likes* songs about songwriting and the clever pastiche-y bits they engender, in a way I still prefer my earlier, mistaken reading.

  4. 4
    Rory on 12 Jun 2009 #

    The High 80s of Wall Street and John Hughes movies started here, to my mind, and this era’s music was a step down from the few years preceding it. This particular single was Brother Music, again, so I can’t bring it to mind without remembering him singing it at random moments JUST TO ANNOY ME (not really, I guess, but I’m sure he found my annoyance amusing). Ah, ha ha, haaaaaaa, haaa…

    I couldn’t have told you it was about Marvin GAye, as at the time I barely knew who he was, so the whole musician-referencing aspect passed me by. So this was another “When Smokey Sings”, eh? Argh, now I’m going to have to watch the video to find out.

    A 3, I’m afraid, for probably quite irrational reasons. One of which is the irresistible temptation to conflate Spandau and Spandex.

  5. 5
    intothefireuk on 12 Jun 2009 #

    True is irrevocably tied to this period for me – being an ‘our tune’ of myself & my first love. 1983 witnessed the highs and the lows of our relationship and by the end of the year it was all done and dusted. It’s difficult under the circumstances to disassociate the song from this scenario but I can appreciate it for what it is. Blue-eyed soul from white boys who patently don’t seem to have one. It’s as fake as hell and Spandau seemed keener than their peers to disappear into MOR balladry (although I have a sneekin regard for ‘Gold’ and ‘Only When You Leave’) forsaking the dodgy kilts and electro funk of the earlier hits. As Tom rightly points out PM Dawn took the best bit and improved the song some years later.

  6. 6
    Rory on 12 Jun 2009 #

    Oops, my sneaky edit of “Hank Marvin” to “Marvin Gaye” revealed by a now-irrevocable typo. I knew “Sexual Healing”, but didn’t know his work well enough to notice him being referenced in this. (Or Hank. ;) Given where my head was at in 1983, I probably assumed they were referencing Marvin the Paranoid Android.

    Just watched the video despite myself, and oh no, the sideburns! The shaved sideburns inflicted on every teenage boy in the mid-80s by Spandau-loving hairdressers… J’accuse, Tony Hadley!

  7. 7
    Erithian on 13 Jun 2009 #

    Not that I was listening much to UK radio at the time, but if I had been, “True” at number one would have soundtracked the single greatest month of my life. May 1983 was my last month in Vannes.

    I saw the month in with the biggest hangover of my life, after three of the language-assistant community in the town had a joint 21st birthday bash and drank way too much. Three days later we had the triumph of the Lycée’s troupe theatrale, our production of Zadig at the Palais des Arts. I got a big round of applause for my portrayal of the King of Babylon, then after the interval shaved off the beard I’d been cultivating for a year to take the bow clean-shaven, to the delight of my pupils. For the rest of the month classes were a total breeze as I’d never been so popular in my life.

    And at weekends, like a cricket team at the end of a one-day match I was hitting out all over the place. The first weekend saw a trip to La Rochelle and the Atlantic coast; the second, visiting another assistant in Brest and spending my 21st birthday touring the north-west coast (and hearing how Manchester City got relegated!); the third, a trip to Cherbourg, Bayeux and Caen in order to get better reception to listen to the Cup Final (with crew members from the Rosslare-Cherbourg ferry buying me drinks in return for listening to my radio); and the fourth, visits to the area’s prehistoric monuments (Carnac the Breton answer to Stonehenge).

    What with all that going on, I was only just about following the UK chart. And as for “True”, well, it’s patchy. I do like the verse about Marvin, written from a soulboy’s perspective, but the rest of the lyric is drivel, and when one of your main hooks is about struggling to write the next line, you really are struggling. (Natasha Bedingfield irritated me for the same reason, but at least there was some wit to her song.) And in our language the truth is “told”, not “said”, Gary! Unlike Tom, though, I always found Tony Hadley’s vocals a strength, giving something that set Spandau apart from other bands of the time. Of their two big hits of the year I much preferred “Gold” – stylish, dramatic, a James Bond theme manqué, and most of all – coherent. Spandau’s early material was exciting, funky, versatile: with this they headed off down the road which had me before long dubbing them “Blandau Ballet”.

  8. 8
    snoball on 13 Jun 2009 #

    I have mixed reactions to this song. On the one hand, I really liked the sparse feel, as it’s a contrast to the start of the balloons’n’neon TOTP era. On the other hand, the song doesn’t say much apart from “I can’t write lyrics!”. A 4, because I don’t really hate it but I’m not interested enough to ever hear it again. For me the only purpose it serves now is to illustrate why Bowie’s mid 70’s soul was so effective despite on paper appearing awkward – underneath the fidgety coked out nervousness DB actually cared about the music he was borrowing from. The Spandaus didn’t seem to care, soul reduced to a shiny grey suit, a convenient gimmick to dress up in.

  9. 9
    peter goodlaws on 13 Jun 2009 #

    Rosie # 1 – It’s astonishing to consider that Michael Foot is still with us, bearing in mind the main criticism of him more than a quarter of a century ago was that he was on his last legs! Say what you like about him but he’s always been a far more honest and dignified broker than the likes of Mandleson and the equally vile Balls.

    Erithian # 7 – Ah, City getting relegated by Luton in the last seconds and one David “Night Cruiser” Pleat doing a Bob Stokeo in celebration! How times change. City now the world’s richest club, whilst The Hatters will be visiting Eastbourne Borough next season.

    Spandau Ballet? Er…no.

  10. 10
    Steve Mannion on 13 Jun 2009 #

    I think this soul paradox type thing is also a key issue re George Michael so look fwd to exploring that at a later date. As for Ver Spanners, it seems they were on a similar trajectory to Duran Duran for a while with vague funk, disco and punk leans converging for the new wave thrills of ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’ and ‘Chant No.1’ which I still like…but lacking the thrust of Le Bon and co. seemed to leave them forced to tread this duller path sooner. ‘Gold’ itself felt like a tepid take on ‘Rio’, adding to the sense that they were a poor man’s DD too often.

    You know you’re entering the mid-80s because you can hear a hundred sax solos advancing. Which reminds me again I really must make that sax icon…

  11. 11
    LondonLee on 13 Jun 2009 #

    I wrote on my blog a while ago that this was the quintessential 80s Disco-Pub slowie. The minute I hear those opening clipped guitar notes I’m taken back to a place where the atmosphere is thick with Paco Rabanne, Silk Cuts, lager and hormones – and I’m usually standing at the bar on my own while people are coupling up and hitting the dancefloor all around me. So in a lot of ways it’s the sound of sadness and frustration to me but I still think it’s gorgeous, even though I can understand while a lot of people would loathe it.

    Do people just stick the ‘aspirational’ label on Spandau because they were from Essex which conjures up images of the brash Thatcherite wide boys of that era? I understand the connection but, just thinking out loud here, did Scritti Politti get lumbered with that for their sleek dance music too? Or was Green too middle class and “intellectual” to be categorized like that? It bothers me a little that when working class boys start sounding a bit classy, like, everyone starts calling them Tories.

  12. 12
    Pete on 14 Jun 2009 #

    Whilst Hadley is a bit unctuous as a vocalist, his greatest skill was to be able to sing much of this lyrical rubbish as straight as possible. As befits a song about songwriting (everyones got one, just as every columnist is allowed one column about writing a column), it is full of the most remarkable toot: not just the “I bought a ticket to the world, and now I have come back again” – though that is justly the most famous. Certainly Spandau Ballet shared with Duran Duran the ability to pen, and sell some nonsense, and its interesting that these two bands appeared at the same time. The words and the delivery all signify something but there is little content. Wittgenstein would have been fascinated.

    As for that sax solo, its one of the great sax breaks in pop and makes me sorry to see that wonderful instrument out in the cold as it is. But needs must, for every True we got a Kenny G or Candy Duffer.

  13. 13
    Alan on 14 Jun 2009 #

    <tanya>how hard was it to write “when I want the truth to be said” do you think?</tanya>

  14. 14
    lonepilgrim on 14 Jun 2009 #

    you can’t argue with that breathy hook – as PM Dawn demonstrated.
    SB were originally North London soul boys – but I suspect fans of the smoother 70s variety filtered through Young Americans era Bowie. Soul music became Dance music and the club scene began to boom.

    The Face magazine played a big part in promoting Soul/Dance in the 80s in a way that the NME/MM had never really done. The May 83 edition features an interview with the Lets Dance era Bowie and a report on SB playing Bournemouth. Gary Kemp is quoted:
    “I’ve been going to Bournemouth since 1975…It was a soulboy haunt really – smooth working-class young people. In about 1979 smaller clubs like Billy’s started up and there was what you might call the Futurist element. I used to go down to the coast with that lot. There was a split between them and the Jazz-Funk people because Jazz-Funk wasn’t aggressive enough: this year there’s been a merger. It’s taken bands like ourselves to bring people around to avant-garde club music. the club scene is enormous now. You’re talking about 2,000 people at the Palace every night and there’s a club like that in every major town. The music is mainly British now, whereas before it was a very American sort of sound. But the music is taking a back seat to the idea of the club as a stage for young people. Youth culture has never been so big. People do feel that something exciting is happening. You can be as famous now for picking up a pair of dancing shoes as a guitar.”

    It’s hard to imagine Spandau Ballet being ‘avant-garde club music’ now.

    re♯11 Gary Kemp was a very vocal Labour supporter and played at various benefit gigs during the 80s

  15. 15
    rosie on 14 Jun 2009 #

    I don’t think I ever noticed the words to this before I listened to it closely for Popular. Which, once again, serves to point out that I like this for an overall impression, a pattern of sounds if you will, rather than for any profundity in the lyric. I don’t expect profound poetry in pop.

    A couple of years hence, after my retirement from Popular, I’ll be working in the City in an environment that might surprise those who weren’t there and read the City as a signifier of everything that was bad and tacky about the eighties. Sure, the power suits and padded shoulders were everywhere, and all that’s been found rotten in today’s City was there in an embrionic state. Mr Cameron sr was funding his son’s expensive education with generous bonuses; if you had the odd few million to spare my employers would let you have an account with their discreet subsidiary in Curzon Street where clever young men and women sought to protect your assets against falls in the market; and armies of young turks who found it more exciting that working on a production line at Dagenham flooded in every day (so many, I had not thought Maggie had undone so many). But it was still a small-c conservative City establishment in charge; one that disliked Maggie the grocer’s daughter, champion of the small businessman. And who’s most telling insult was “comes into Liverpool Street”.

    Mind you, it’s a bit unfair to blame Essex for every ill – after all, did not Alison Moyet come from Basildon?

  16. 16
    rosie on 14 Jun 2009 #

    I don’t think I ever noticed the words to this before I listened to it closely for Popular. Which, once again, serves to point out that I like this for an overall impression, a pattern of sounds if you will, rather than for any profundity in the lyric. I don’t expect profound poetry in pop. And until it was pointed out to me, I hadn’t a clue that there was any kind of connection to Marvin Gaye in it. This pop is a million miles from the pop of my teenage years.

    A couple of years hence, after my retirement from Popular, I’ll be working in the City in an environment that might surprise those who weren’t there and read the City as a signifier of everything that was bad and tacky about the eighties. Sure, the power suits and padded shoulders were everywhere, and all that’s been found rotten in today’s City was there in an embrionic state. Mr Cameron sr was funding his son’s expensive education with generous bonuses; if you had the odd few million to spare my employers would let you have an account with their discreet subsidiary in Curzon Street where clever young men and women sought to protect your assets against falls in the market; and armies of young turks who found it more exciting that working on a production line at Dagenham flooded in every day (so many, I had not thought Maggie had undone so many). But it was still a small-c conservative City establishment in charge; one that disliked Maggie the grocer’s daughter, champion of the small businessman. And who’s most telling insult was “comes into Liverpool Street”.

    Mind you, it’s a bit unfair to blame Essex for every ill – after all, did not Alison Moyet come from Basildon?

  17. 17
    rosie on 14 Jun 2009 #

    Can somebody please delete the double post?

  18. 18
    Steve Mannion on 14 Jun 2009 #

    Interested to hear about Kemp’s Labour support. As SB turned to shit you had the Blow Monkeys also coming thru. I had always thought of them as the height of 80s aspirational sophisticated blahblah. I knew they were anti-Thatcher (the ‘…Grocer’s Daughter’ LP track titles say it all e.g. ‘The Grantham Grizzler’!) but hadn’t realised just how much so. I couldn’t help but find it easy to imagine their hits being lapped up by the sort of (similarly dressed?) people they were seemingly the complete opposite to politically, at least until they paid attention to anything beyond the sharp suits and smooth tones (maybe it’s naive to think they didn’t, or that the BM’s weren’t trying to lure people into their trap like that ha).

  19. 19
    LondonLee on 14 Jun 2009 #

    I knew Kemp was a Labour supporter which is why I thought it a little unfair that the “aspirational” tag gets applied to them – and in a snootily insulting way too, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to better yourself (or have I just lived in America for too long?)

    I remember an article in The Face by Robert Elms called “All You’ve Got To Do Is Win” which attempted to cover the history of modern soul boys and their aspirational lifestyle, starting with Bowie’s wedge haircut on the cover of Young Americans.

  20. 20
    Tom on 14 Jun 2009 #

    I certainly didn’t intend “aspirational” as an insult – or even as a lifestyle tag particularly: I meant it purely in relation to SB’s music. The desire to create music that sounds enormous and expensive, and the desire to create music that matches or approaches the work done by one’s idols.

  21. 21
    AndyPandy on 14 Jun 2009 #

    Essex can be forgiven anything in my book after being the epicentre of the soul/jazz-funk scene a few years later it was the dominant force with hardcore and gave us Rave as we know it…
    Having said that Spandau Ballet were from Islington.

    That’s really interesting about Gary Kemp and the Bournemouth weekenders I’d heard rumours that Spandau Ballet used to go down and that theys been part of the scene before their New Romantic days but had never actually seen anything in print.

    The Bournemouth weekenders lasted up till the start of the Acid House scene at the Bournemouth in Spring 1988 there were a crowd dressed in bandanas, longer hair and brightly coloured clothes (we were still all in baggy jeans and flat tops)who I now know were a lot of the punters from Shoom (I dont think Spectrum had started by this stage or hadnt taken off and I know Clink Street or The Trip hadnt)as Danny Rampling (who’d done the Special Branch up till Shoom) , Nicky Holloway (who was doing the Milk Bar, Doo at the Zoo etc), Paul Oakenfold, Johnny Walker (doing the East Arms back then) etc were all part of the Bournemouth soul weekender crowd.

  22. 22
    lonepilgrim on 14 Jun 2009 #

    re the aspirational thing, from the same Face interview:

    “You can be artistically credible and have something to do with pop culture, and I think that bands like us have been a part of that.
    Now, to be credible, you have to be successful. I think it took us refusing to play live and instead promoting the whole club scene to push that scene to the way it is today. I think we’ve changed an awful lot. We’ve changed things in this country – now we’ve got to take it to America and make a mark in pop history.
    That’s what I want to be remembered for – not just for being the guy who wrote ‘To cut a long story short’ or the guy who played guitar on ‘Chant No.1′. It’s not a financial thing. Just to be British and to sit on top of the largest consumer market in the world and to beat it at its own game is a buzz in itself’

  23. 23
    LondonLee on 14 Jun 2009 #

    Spandau may have been from Islington but their, um, soul lived in Essex. Same with Wham! – also from Norf London as I recall but both seemed to epitomize the Loadsamoney, XR3i-driving ‘Essex Man’

    I used to go to The Milk Bar, great place, though Acid House ruined the London club scene for me. I was big into Rare Groove and Acid Jazz which just got killed off and replaced with 10-minute tracks with no tune you had to be on drugs to enjoy – and there were all these bloody kids in the clubs too, not drinking and waving their hands in the air.

  24. 24
    glue_factory on 14 Jun 2009 #

    Talking of acid house, is the “with the pill on my tongue” line an early reference to ecstacy? I guess it would have been doing the rounds of trendy New York clubs that Spandau could have frequented. Or are there other pills (i.e. not powders, blotters, etc) that give one a “thrill in the head” and “dissolve the nerves”?

  25. 25
    logged out Tracer Hand on 15 Jun 2009 #

    It has never occurred to me (until now) that this was intended to be a “soul” song.

  26. 26
    AndyPandy on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Lee at 23 I know exactly what you mean – although myself being a bit young at the time to understand exactly the socio-ecomomic stuff behind what you’re saying I realised that Wham! (and especially Club Tropicana) summed up something that was specific to a particular aspirational working-class culture that existed in the South-East.
    Wham! even came from just a few miles up the M25 (not that it was complete back then!) in Bushey in Hertfordshire.

    And I know that as it did for you that Acid House killed the scene for a lot of people. It certainly changed things radically very quickly – as said in my previous post at the Bournemouth Weekender in Spring 1988 except for the few people from Shoom it was pretty much the same but in a couple of months 75% of the underground dance/soul clubs in the south-east (at least) had gone Acid House and within a year the soul/funk scene had been reduced to a rump of a few diehards playing obscure modern soul to a dwindling audience in pubs and back rooms. I’d left the old soul/funk scene completely behind by then after an epiphany that Spring (I’d been into the house records since around 1986) for a world of “right on one matey” and “Deep Heat” compilations (the first 4 or 5 were bloody good!)but from what I heard and the fact that at the big (what had once been the Caister but for a couple of years had been at various other holiday camps)weekenders Acid had taken over the main (what had previously been the “funk”) rooms.

    One final thing in 1988 at least probably at least half of the punters as were the vast majority of djs at the big Acid House dos (in those around London and the south-east anyway) were directly from the pre-house club scene and had made the change over to it like me and for those we lost you had new peole coming in but unlike before because of its newness and mainly because of shock horror headlines in the media the average man in the street knew about Acid House. But the old soul scene had been equally massive with thousands going to the weekenders, listening to the pirates etc but if someone wasnt young, working-class and from a radius of about 40 miles of London they’d never had heard of it so I suppose it was truly underground.

  27. 27
    AndyPandy on 15 Jun 2009 #

    And on Lee’s point about the Spandau Ballet/Wham! thing how could I miss out the group who probably up to the point they ctossed over to the pop Top 10 drew literally about 99% of their fans from the working class Essex/Home Counties/outer London crowd – Level 42 (even though they themselves didn’t even come from the South East (Level 42 coming from the Isle of Wight).
    Their omnipresence among this crowd before they crossed over was such that on pretty much “aspirational geezers in the building or car mechanics” support alone they were already scraping Top 40 hits. Second Image were another similar band who everyone seemed to play on their car stereos back then (as Lee says Xr3i’s but a lot would have still been Cortina Mark II’s preferably 2000Es or Capris with optional “If It Moves Funk It” sunstrips, or “Robbie Spreading Funk Over London Town” car stickers),but unfortunately unlike Level 42 and that band’s eventual commerciality they never crossed over.

  28. 28
    The Intl on 15 Jun 2009 #

    I hate this f#%king song.

  29. 29
    H. on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Wham! and Level 42 never had their New Wave moment, did they? For me, Let’s Dance & True mark the point where New Wave has really died. Even in Duran’s Something I Should Know you can feel the New Wave roots, but with True we’re onto something completely different that would dominate the British sound for the next few years. Even the Keith Haring-ish sleeve is a definitive move away from the New Wave aesthetic, as typified by the album cover of SB’s Reformation.

  30. 30
    will on 15 Jun 2009 #

    I am amazed this has escaped a slagging thus far.

    I don’t think True even works as a ‘slowie’. It stops, starts, stops and only really gets going during the obligatory Steve Norman sax solo. Then there are those awful lyrics, which hardly need further comment.

    Personally, I only really enjoyed Spandau when they amped up the preposterousness to the max. The Trevor Horn-produced Instinction was probably their last decent single before they slipped on the suits and started taking themselves FAR too seriously.

  31. 31
    H. on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Re: “pill on my tongue” as a reference to Ecstasy – I don’t think E. was around as early as 1983, it came in a couple of years later.

  32. 32
    Matthew H on 15 Jun 2009 #

    I’ll second, third, fourth the shouts for the fantastic sax break, but I almost missed it: couldn’t stand ver Ballet at the time, being way more hardcore than that. I was in the, er, Duran camp.

    Took me years to realise this was a fine record, all of it. This is pretty ersatz, obv, yet way ahead of the surface-gloss emptiness of the rest of their stuff. The only Spandau single I own is ‘Gold’, but I have an inkling I bought it to complete a Top 3 – ‘Gold’, ‘A Paris’ and, well, the single that was No.1 at the time. To me, SB were pretty rotten.

  33. 33
    Matthew H on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Oh yeah, I thought it was Hank Marvin.

  34. 34
    Steve Mannion on 15 Jun 2009 #

    love the quote at #22, thanks lonepilgrim

  35. 35
    wichita lineman on 15 Jun 2009 #

    The intro is a sweetie, but so much sweeter with PM Dawn’s additional harmonies and melody. True doesn’t ring True; I think its central problem is that it has no style, much as it wants to evoke the spirit of “Marvin”. The lyric is empty and risible (“See how hard I work for you? For my art? Can you almost hear the beads of sweat?” Err, no), and they could write some glorious gibberish so I’m not damning all of Spandau’s repertoire. “The art is pretending it’s art” from The Freeze, f’rinstance, is a very good line; “This is the sound of my soul” makes me feel all phlegmy.

    With apologies to Lee and Andy, I never understood the 80s Soul Boy thing, mainly because the music seemed almost devoid of Soul* to me (like Wildheartedoutsider, around the time of True I was catching up on relatively recent but more intense late 60s-to-mid 70s stuff on Charly re-issues, things like George Perkins’ Crying In The Streets). Farahs, maroon v-necks, and waffle cardigans I did like, tho.

    I’m only the 9th person to mention this, but I was dj’ing a few years back and this smoothie came over and asked “Got any Marvin?” For once I didn’t have a Shadows record in my box and I’ve kicked myself for the missed opportunity ever since.

    *I’d like to be proved wrong.

  36. 36
    Steve Mannion on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Yeah I conflate the soulboy tag with retro lovers but also those into stuff from around the time inc. Crown Heights Affair, Fatback Band, Eve King, Change etc. (which I assumed wasn’t seen as particularly retro and a distinct shift from Philly/salsoul/disco/raregroove etc.) Is that wrong? I’m at least adamant that it is not wrong to love that stuff as I do.

  37. 37
    Glue Factory on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Re: 31 – I’m not sure that’s true. Soft Cell’s Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing must have been out or close to being out at this point and was fairly celebratory about MDMA. I get the feeling it was still quite niche though.

  38. 38
    LondonLee on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Re: #29. The sleeve is by Glaswegian artist David Band who also did all Altered Images’ early sleeves and Aztec Camera’s first album.

    I never considered myself a soul boy at all, for a start I always thought Maze were pretty dull and Roy Ayers a bit too noodly, but I was the bloke you’d find putting on ‘Let the Music Play’ and ‘You’re The One For Me’ at college parties. I was listening to a lot of Charly/Kent compilations around this time too.

    I would like to add that my favourite Spandau single is probably the fairly late “I’ll Fly For You”

  39. 39
    AndyPandy on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Steve at 36: At the average suburban soulboy club in 1983 you’d have a lot of what (post 80s) became known as 80s Groove ie Maze, Change, SOS Band, Grover Washington, (80s) Roy Ayers, Al Jarreau, Donald Byrd, some modern soul, the classier end of disco/mainstream funk (Sharon Redd, Evelyn King (for the “ladies”)) interspersed with a lot of more obscure jazz-funk (both 70s and 80s)plus a bit of real jazz and with the occasional soul/funk oldie from possibly as early as the early 70s thrown in too*.
    From about mid-1983 the slightly more progressive djs might have also started adding a bit of early hiphop (Jazzy Dee etc) and less full on electro ie the Shannon and D-Train (who in the latter’s case had been played since the 1981 import/release of ‘Youre The One For Me’)that Lee mentioned.

    * the oldies played would be similar to the kind of “tackle” (to use an 80s soulboy expression) that 3 or 4 years later when the West End clubbin trendies got hold of if became known as Rare Groove but were then just the occasional oldies that were expected to be dropped as the set progressed.

    H at 29: I don’t think anyone in the UK in the 80s had used the term New Wave seriously since about 1978/79 and I should imagine Duran, Spandau or any synth poppers would have recoiled in disbelief if you’d have called them New Wave.It conjured up images of conventional pop/rock bands with skinny ties,slightly shorter hair than pre-punk rockers and who werent quite brave enough to go all the way and be properly punk. And by the end of the 70s was pretty redundant in the UK except when it was used in a pisstaking way when describing certain American Noo Wave bands.
    I’ve noticed to my horror however that probably because of the American domination of the net and the obvious fact that in America they did talk about New Wave post-1970s that it seems to be used to describe acts who were never in a million years called New Wave at the time. Actually I feel quite ill just typing the words New Wave in connection with the New Romantic idols of the earlier part of my teens!Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran were coming from a David Bowie, Roxy Music, Marc Bolan, Kraftwerk and Brass Construction maybe even Frank Sinatra direction New Wave was coming from a very boring place where loads of Radio One djs hung out and talked about Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and maybe even the Boomtown Rats!

  40. 40
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 15 Jun 2009 #

    andy how central were the morgan khan streetsounds comps? were they setting the scene or following it? they began in 82 i think — did people only buy them (or use them) that weren’t on the scene?

    (i bought them, though i found the “mix” element unhelpful for my “never bin to a club”/listen-to-everything purposes: i used to have a near complete set, tho ircc one k0dw0 eshun borrowed some for some project of his in the late 90s and now i haven’t

  41. 41
    LondonLee on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Re: #39 Well, up until “Chant No.1” (which was quite surprising at the time – a funk record! With rapping!) – and even including that if you think it sounds a little like A Certain Ratio/Talking Heads – they were, to use another American label – “alternative” at least.

  42. 42
    LondonLee on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Re: #40 I think they were mostly bought by people on “the scene” – it was a cheap way of getting a bunch of the latest 12″ mixes without spending a fortune at Groove Records.

    Seeing as I’m at home today this seems like a good time to dig out the sleevenotes of ‘Streetsounds Anthems Vol.2’ (from 1987) which take a swipe at the NME/The Face trendies.

    “Over the past couple of years it seems like every semi-literate pillock with a typewriter and a pair of DM brogues has had something to say about the funk. Safely dug in behind a typewriter, tapping one foot out of time with the other, they’ve spewed out all manner of so-called ‘insights’, while attempting to instruct us on what particular funk forms should be putting the steam into out trainers and the steps into our haircuts.

    Do we take any notice? No chance John. The true British soul fraternity carries on regardless, ignoring the bull, picking up on what’s really kicking and having one hell of a good time in the process.”

  43. 43
    AndyPandy on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Lord at 40: among us younger types the Streetsounds compilations were pretty essential at about this time probably peaking in quality and ubiquitousness with (I think) Volume 4 (bang in the middle of 1983!) which was remarkably free of filler and on the case and everyone seemed to have. But I knows there were a few of the more “purist” element who tended to congregate in the jazz rooms at weekenders who would have looked down upon them though. They were often the same people who would frown on electro and later house which made it even more nonsensical when the Boys Own trendy crowd who had moaned at these types for their refusal to get into house were by 1989 trying to dictate what kind of house it was “all right to listen to” (mostly deep house etc) and slagging off a large part of the then acid party-goers including inventing the term “Acid Teds” a catch all insult for them.

    And the Streetsounds electro compilations were pretty unsurpassable when they started (first one about Aug/Sept 1983 I think) but also spelled the beginning of the end for the whole Streetsounds concept because from that moment they started leaving the electro tracks of the main compilations (I remember Newcleus was on Number 5 for instance, COD on No 4 just before the electro ones started).

    Lee at 41: I know what you mean but in my memory the term New Wave if it was used at all by the early 80s had connotations (in the UK at least) far removed from New Romantics/Synth or New Pop.
    “Alternative” could obviously cover all kinds of things and surely the less mainstream side of things in the UK was already more likely to be called post-punk if it was called anything at all.

  44. 44
    H. on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Andypandy@39 I guess you’re right about New Wave as a term, I meant more the post-punk aesthetic which you can also feel in the New Romantics (whom you might say developed from a synthesis of New Wave and Bowie/Roxy). In any case I think there was a sound and an aesthetic which stretches from around 1978 to 1982 or so that you could loosely call post-punk – Cut A Long Story Short belongs to that aesthetic, and True doesn’t. Just as Ashes To Ashes belongs to it and Let’s Dance doesn’t.

  45. 45
    lonepilgrim on 15 Jun 2009 #

    What seems to be a common thread linking many of the post-punk/new wave/new romantic acts was a sense of ‘anything but rock’.
    Punk had been portrayed as a kind of end for the rock ‘project’ and so acts had turned to soul/dance/jazz/electro styles as more fruitful and/or credible models.

    I find myself blinking in disbelief at musical styles and acts that have been rehabilitated as credible in subsequent years when at one stage they were portrayed as dead and buried. Metal has returned as has folk-rock – but I couldn’t credit seeing a Jon Anderson solo track being given consideration in this months Invisible Jukebox in The Wire.

  46. 46
    Conrad on 15 Jun 2009 #

    I think Spandau’s club roots and love of funk and soul were always a big part of their musical heritage. If anything I’d argue the synth-based electronic sound was almost an afterthought. They realised it was a way in through their exposure to Billy’s and Blitz and Gary Kemp started playing a synth.

    No sooner had they released the first couple of identifiably New Romantic singles, then they were favouring their truer love – testing the water by slipping “Glow” on to the flip of the third single as a double-A.

    “Chant No 1” followed and then stuff like “Coffee Club” which lifts wholesale from “One Nation Under A Groove.”

    I didn’t really care much for them by the point of “True”. I was more interested in the artier, experimental, cult-approach to being in a band that Spandau espoused; all manifestos and iconic imagery, being at the right clubs, not playing conventional gigs.

    When they started becoming a conventional pop act they lost their edge.
    As New Pop lost its edge at around this time.

    But I don’t think it’s right to chastise or mock Spandau for not being ‘soulful’. In fact it misses the point. Spandau were kids going to clubs dancing to soul, motown, northern soul, then later bowie and kraftwerk.

    they were the kids Andy is talking about in the mid 80s a decade earlier.

    they went onto make records that reflected their passions and musical heritage. what could be any more authentic then their own experiences?

  47. 47
    LondonLee on 15 Jun 2009 #

    I just remembered that the producers on this were Steve Jolley and Tony Swain who also did Imagination’s records, so Spandau were going right to the source of what was “hot” in Brit Soul at the time.

  48. 48
    Conrad on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Lee, Swain and Jolley were also known for their work with Bananarama! Although I know what you mean.

    I think they initially wanted to use Trevor Horn after his work on Instinction but couldn’t get it together for whatever reason. I guess either way the third album was a conscious attempt to stop being a cult band and start shifting units. The success of “Rio” (released at the same time as their flop second album – their career went in parallel with Duran’s) wouldn’t exactly have gone unnoticed.

  49. 49
    johnny on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Andy + H – yes, on my American side of the ocean, this would definitely be considered New Wave, as would the Durans. this was a major source of confusion for me while growing up, reading all the British mags and wondering what this New Romantic, New Pop, Post-Punk etc was all about. We called it New Wave exclusively, admittedly a wide classification which started with power pop (costello, the knack) in the late ’70s and continued right through the dawn of the MTV era. i think we were still using that term maybe all the way up to A-Ha. As a matter of fact, I recall my sister buying an MTV compilation in the late ’90s called “MTV New Wave: 1983” or something similar. SB was featured, as well as “Our House”, “Mexican Radio”, “Too Shy”….all New Wave to us yanks. These terms were so taken for granted by British readers that it never was explained in NME and MM where the classifications came from. It was only with Reynolds’ post-punk book a few years ago that I understood completely.

  50. 50
    Jonathan Bogart on 15 Jun 2009 #

    Hell, I’ve seen Martika and Roxette called New Wave here in the States; for many, it simply meant “80s (White) Pop.”

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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”.

  54. 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

  55. 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.

  56. 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…

  57. 57
    Mark G on 17 Jun 2009 #

    Phil Fearon auditioned as the pianist for the Sex Pistols…

  58. 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

  59. 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”.

  60. 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.

  61. 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.”

  62. 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?

  63. 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.

  64. 64
    TomLane on 21 Jun 2009 #

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

  65. 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.

  66. 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…. !

  67. 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.

  68. 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.

  69. 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.

  70. 70
    Mark G on 13 Aug 2012 #

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

  71. 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

  72. 72
    punctum on 12 Jan 2014 #

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

  73. 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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