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Sep 09

DEAD OR ALIVE – “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)”

FT + Popular61 comments • 6,110 views

#546, 9th March 1985, video

If “Relax” – as Mark Sinker put it during the subsequent discussion – was a non-DJs idea of a club record, “You Spin Me Round” is a DJ’s idea of a Frankie track. In fact, it sounds like Stock, Aitken and Waterman have broken into Trevor Horn’s studio at night, nicked a load of his gear, done a bag of speed and started pressing buttons at close to random. Marvellous, in other words. The hidden force driving the record’s mania is that hyperfast sequenced keyboard run, its chattering bleeps like a player piano installed on the bridge of the Enterprise, adding a note of derangement to a track already lacking in restraint.

Without Pete Burns, of course, “You Spin Me Round” would be considerably shyer. It’s a fine example of a limited performer finding the one perfect record for him: he gets to play the Lion Queen, prowling and roaring his way around the song-stage in his finest panto predator style while the drum machines bang out a strutter’s rhythm. “I WANT YOUR LOVE!”

“You Spin”‘s crude machine-rush wouldn’t be matched on a number one for years but its chassis was already well-travelled: hi-NRG club beats and keyboards in debt to Patrick Cowley, Bobby “O”, and other NYC and European post-disco music. SAW always knew their stuff (and could be somewhat sniffy about the fact when their credentials were mocked). But this is trashier, buzzier, more immediate even than that: there’s a Dionysian kick to it which feels more like a rebuke to New Pop than its barbarous fag-end. Sadly it’s a staging post on its producers’ journey to the centre of the cheap, and without Pete Burns to frame they never achieved this wildness again.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 15 Sep 2009 #

    It’s Pete Burns’ voice that adds extra value to this record for me – whereas a lot of later SAW productions tend to be a bit shrill (not always a bad thing) this resonates with a deeper bass growl.
    The video is hilarious – the three guys wrapped in ribbon look so uncomfortable – ideal candidates for the line up on Buzzcocks

  2. 2

    i love this song but i do always faintly wince when he sings “like a record DO YOU SEE, A RECORD, it is ROUND, you spin me ROUND like a RECORD it is an METAPHOR”

    stevem taught me this:
    ELP –> ZTT –> SAW

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 15 Sep 2009 #

    YES! Then and now! Tom is right about how much faster and more exciting this seems than most other singles, an effect magnified by its spinning theme and self-referencing – i.e. it sounds even more fun when you play it as a 7″ single.

    It’s also a dream combination of producers and star. SAW singles sometimes sounded a bit weedy and routine, but with an ego and outlandish character such as Burns, there was no risk of that here. Similarly, early Dead Or Alive records never sound much cop to me – a pop star lumbering about without a pop song.

    My favourite Pete Burns story comes from the fortnight that this was at the top. For a pop star to be number one and trapped in his limosine by screaming schoolgirls is a common occurrence, but for the schoolgirls to be screaming “We’re going to kill you, you fat poof!” is the mark of a character with a dangerous ability for winding people up and getting under the public’s skin.

  4. 4
    MikeMCSG on 15 Sep 2009 #

    This is a milestone number one as the first to be produced (though not written) by the terrible trio who were to debase the chart for the rest of the decade.

    Query for Billy Smart : Am I correct in thinking that Pete Waterman’s own embarrassing TOTP appearance (as 1418 doing Goodbye-ee) where he pranced around in a soldier’s uniform has been lost ? I’ve never seen it on TOTP2 or Angus Deayton’s programme.

    As for Dead Or Alive they are an 80s equivalent of Mud, a third division act who couldn’t get a look in until the competition weakened. They were getting nowhere with their stodgy goth pop when Wayne Hussey was in the line up. Once he left they decided to become a dance act and their 1984 LP “Sophisticated Boom Boom” is a masterclass in plaigiarism.

    Having said that Pete Burns did make a first rate pop star and it’s a shame that like Bob Geldof and more recently Louise Wiener he didn’t have the songs to keep himself in the spotlight.

    Does anyone know if this is still the record which took longest to reach the top in a single chart run ? I’m guessing as we move into an era where instant number ones become the norm it probably is.

    Btw while this was number one the best record of the year (IMHO) peaked at number 12. In Jimmy Savile style two points to the first person who can guess what that was !

  5. 5
    Erithian on 15 Sep 2009 #

    It was “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley and I claim my two points.

    Comparing DoA to Mud is a bit harsh on the latter, who had many more top 10 hits while none of DoA’s smaller successes were anything like as memorable as this. One of those songs that kick-starts the new year after you’ve slept through January and February, with a suitably wide appeal. And after a few more hits Burns returned to niche celebrity, only to return as the biggest asshole in a Big Brother house chock-full of them.

    As someone – it might even have been Tim Rice – pointed out, this was the first Number One record with the word “record” in the title. For the first Number One record with the words “number one” in the title, we would have to wait until this year, when the concept of a “record” is almost obsolete.

  6. 6
    punctum on 15 Sep 2009 #

    If 1985 was New Pop’s 1974, then Pete Burns was New Pop’s Alvin Stardust, and not simply because of the Pete Waterman connection – both veterans of a previous era, both hitching a belated ride on the rapidly defuelling gravy train. Older and considerably more resilient than Boy George – it’s that Northern thing again – Burns belatedly reintroduced a notion of dagger-thrusting glamour which George had by this time largely abandoned in favour of cups of tea, whining about “I hate all that Labour crap” and heroin.

    The production team of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman had first come to full notice some 12 months previously with a “Relax” ripoff entitled “The Upstroke” sung by some female session singers grouped under the name of Angels Aren’t Aeroplanes. A big club hit, it led to further mainstream hi-NRG crossovers more indebted to “Blue Monday,” such as Hazell Dean’s “Wherever I Go (Whatever I Do)” (with an astonishing, apocalyptic 12-inch mix), Divine’s “You Think You’re A Man” and, eventually, “You Spin Me Round.” Though classified as the first major product of the Hit Factory, Burns and the group wrote the song and SAW produced it pretty much in accordance with Burns’ unsurprisingly firm instructions. Charting in November 1984, it proved to be yet another sleeper, hitting especially big in Scotland and the North West, but bided its time over Christmas before nudging its way into the Top 40 and thereafter hurtling to the top. Rather like “Relax” a year earlier but without the ban or the outrage.

    Nevertheless “You Spin Me Round” is an important transitional record, the most direct link between the fading embers of New Pop and the imminent age of SAW (and to a degree New Order) dominance. Its beats are trebly but resonant, harshly staccato and slightly crude but finally rather compelling. Over the top Burns flashes his “I”s and swims deliriously in the pre-E ecstasy palindromic roundelay of the chorus, riding a Moebius rollercoaster, with some ingenious touches of near-punctum, e.g. the bass-led descending harmonic figure linking the first chorus to the second verse possibly inspired by UB40’s “Food For Thought.”

    It falls just short of being a great pop record largely because Burns’ undeniably fulsome operatic tenor sometimes falls through the Tom Jones trapdoor of knicker-happy pomp (for instance, on the line “I’ve got to have my way now, ba-BEEEEEE”) and at other times he grits his teeth too hastily (the sneer on “You look like you’re lots of fun”). But “You Spin Me Round” was undoubtedly the liveliest number one since “I Feel For You” and in the light of the dour drear which will characterise much of the rest of 1985’s upper reaches, its blue glow is as near to the carrying of a New Pop torch that we’re likely to discover in the imminent future.

  7. 7
    Kat but logged out innit on 15 Sep 2009 #

    I first heard this song in 2002 and instantly fell for it. 9 is about right though – on the 700th play it’s *slightly* less good.

  8. 8

    haha the wikipedia entry on SAW has a section called “typical SAW chord sequences” — SATIRE NOT DEAD etc (ditto snooty point-missing)

  9. 9
    Billy Smart on 15 Sep 2009 #

    Hm, thinking through how this sounded to me at the time, I think that it had a kind of dervish/ incantatory quality, as if Burns is casting a spell upon both the object of his infatuation and his dancing listeners. This peaks when the chorus splits in two at the climax – “You spin me!” AND “I need you LOOOOOVE!” at the same time, forcing you to become either more involved or doubly irritated by the single. It shares this climactic device with ‘Tiger Feet’, funnily enough…

  10. 10
    MikeMCSG on 15 Sep 2009 #

    # 5 Well done Ian, you’ve bagged your points. That low peak was my first real intimation that my tastes were becoming detatched from the mainstream a process that moved on inexorably for the rest of the century. (The noughties have seen a modest reversal).

    # 6 I seem to remember it was specifically “Whatever I Do” (a record I prefer) that led Pete Burns to engage SAW. I think that notorious revisionist Pete Waterman would challenge your account of this collaboration. He has made grandiose claims of adding bits of Wagner to this record.

  11. 11
    The Lurker on 15 Sep 2009 #

    As a nine (almost ten) year old I absolutely hated this song. Not sure why – possibly I found Pete Burns a bit scary – as it’s grown on me considerably, but it’s still several rungs below Frankie’s finest for me.

    There’ll be plenty of opportunities to praise/slag off SAW later, but in the meantime may I nominate Bananrama’s Venus as probably the next best (and conveniently un-bunny-embargoed) SAW hit?

  12. 12
    Rory on 15 Sep 2009 #

    Revisiting this was more of a revelation than I expected, because I’d never connected it to SAW before (nor Divine’s “You Think You’re a Man”), although it’s glaringly obvious now. In early 1985 I didn’t really think of SAW as SAW, I guess; they were just anonymous names in the background. But the first song I thought of as a SAW production (Bananarama’s “Venus” in 1986, an Australian number one) sounds basically like this with different vocals – which was SAW all over, wasn’t it?

    The different vocals here were key, though, as Pete Burns was a more forceful and intriguing performer than the later SAW roster. They howl out of the hi-NRG backing and grab our attention, pushing the beats down to where they don’t seem as mechanical and obvious. And of course there was the video (here’s the full version without the last ten seconds chopped off); Burns is about the only interesting thing in it, but it hardly needs anything else.

    Number three in Australia, and a six from me, which for a SAW track is pretty good going. But who knows, I may yet surprise myself. We shall see, SAW.

  13. 13
    intothefireuk on 15 Sep 2009 #

    Dead or Alive had been hanging around for a few years before they met with success, Burns had been part of the Liverpool scene with Cope, Wylie etc. They’d already had a minor hit with a KC cover the previous year before joining forces with the devil and producing this piece of unmittigated drivel. There’s something distinctly unappealing about Burns voice, add a typically (for them) thin mechanised production (which unfortunately would become hugely prevalent as the decade wore on) and crap lyrics and you have a complete waste of plastic. Now if The Teardrop Explodes or Echo or even Wylie had made it to number one…..

  14. 14

    if only wylie had teamed up with SAW! the race against rockism TAKES IT UP A LEVEL

  15. 15
    swanstep on 15 Sep 2009 #

    Sorry, a 9 (the same as I feel love, 1 more than Take a chance on me [of which it’s a lame-o cousin I suppose], 2 more than Mamma mia and Careless whisper, 4 more than Message in a bottle and Brass in pocket…. I know you disavow consistency but…blimey!) for this is incomprehensible to me. Busy and irritating gets at best a 5 or 6 from me.
    I never realized this was SAW… I first took note of them a few months later with Princess’s ‘Say I’m your No. 1’ which is miles better than this (SOS-band monster bass-line + the nifty chords and chorus key-change from ‘Strawberry letter 23’ = dance record of the year: go here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuV8uL5BVls if you’ve forgotten). I dare say that it was Dead or Alive rather than Princess that accurately portended SAW’s future direction. Too bad.

  16. 16
    Jonathan Bogart on 15 Sep 2009 #

    I’ve heard this probably hundreds of times, and yet I’m lost in the foregoing discussion of specific moments in the song; all that I can conjure up in memory is the chorus. I never particularly liked this song — like Frankie, they sounded bullying to me — and this year put the capper on it when Flo– ARGH BUNNY.

    SAW has never meant anything much to me (unlike many other production teams), so I’m interested to follow their career through this context, especially given the variety of views on hand.

  17. 17
    LondonLee on 15 Sep 2009 #

    My main memory of this is being at art college parties and all the Cure and Smiths fans dancing like idiots to it (and ‘Blue Monday’) but sitting down when ‘Let The Music Play’ ‘You’re The One For Me’ or even ‘I Feel Love’ was played which, to my ears, are all fairly similar electro-dance records aren’t they? If I didn’t know better (!) I’d swear there was some Rockist snobbery involved and maybe not a little musical racism.

    Brilliant record of course, but like most SAW productions way too tinny sounding for me to really love. They always sounded a bit cheap to me.

  18. 18

    someone should draw up some very vast but very clear diagram which relates phases of tinniness vs bottom vs hifi with the demographics of who is accessing what music via what technology when — cf current release being mixed to sound GREAT as mp3s on iphones and hence lousy on old person’s wax cylinders etc etc

    in 1985 we are c.three years into the move to CD and the switchover from analogue to digital, i believe? (i didn’t look this up so may be a bit out)

  19. 19
    Conrad on 15 Sep 2009 #

    This is harmless fun, but not a record I can take seriously. The production is grating in the extreme, like pretty much all SAW records. What a dreadful thing for pop music they were.

  20. 20
    Tom on 15 Sep 2009 #

    #15 I’d rather listen to this than any of those (often fine) records, except obviously in a “Careless Whisper” mood I admit Pete Burns wouldn’t quite do.

    Re. SAW: They made other great records. Only time will tell if we get to discuss any of them. They also made some very poor ones, and it’s not too much of a spoiler to say we might meet some of THOSE.

  21. 21
    Tom on 15 Sep 2009 #

    The 12″ of this sounds (if you imagine Pete Burns out of the way) really like the Pet Shop Boys, so dismissing it on the basis of “It’s SAW” seems really like a handwave to me.

  22. 22
    lonepilgrim on 15 Sep 2009 #

    the video should also be noted for Pete Burns’ use of the eyepatch – joining the ranks of Bowie (around Diamond Dogs), Gabrielle and Momus

  23. 23
    Rory on 15 Sep 2009 #

    My favourite moment in the video is when the other members of the band are spun round at a speed unlike any record anyone’s ever seen. What is that, 8 rpm? Definitely not 45.

  24. 24
    Steve Mannion on 15 Sep 2009 #

    I had always assumed this had been their first hit, despite the Guiness book being a firm fixture in the house (oh those pre-Interweb days when a pitchfork was something we used to THWART suspect opinions…).

    So I was surprised that the KC&TSB cover which I quite enjoy tho had charted almost a year before this. Also news to me was its slow, erratic chart climb. This bubbled under the top 40 for over a couple of months before finally being propelled to the top.

    Definitely liked it at the time, probably thought Burns was a lady at first. My favourite association is much more recent tho – Erol Alkan mixing this with ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’ at the Rizla Cafe, Glastonbury 02 – bringing the house down in style.

    Its got a vitality lacking from any other SAW #1 with one possible (let’s say “fortunate”) exception and is surely one of their 3 greatest productions, derivative as it may be. Take the vocals off and you still have a barnstormer of a hi-nrg/Italo cosmic disco backtrack.

    Shame about the countless inferior remixes (see also Blue Monday i guess…altho maybe a Hardfloor 303-meltdown version of YSMR(LAR) could’ve worked a treat).

  25. 25
    Steve Mannion on 15 Sep 2009 #

    Mike MCSG asked if there has been a slower climb to #1 since? I know of one 90s #1 which took a week longer (consecutively) than this to get there and THINK that may still hold that particular record.

  26. 26
    anto on 15 Sep 2009 #

    Have to admit if I’m in a club and this comes on I find it iresistible despite any reservations about the two Petes.
    Pete B is a uniquely talentless individual who seems ever more reluctant to admit how lucky he was – I mean come on even Chesney Hawkes seems to have a neat sense of irony about his position in the fickle world of the top 40.
    As for Pete W midas touch and thrust of free enterprise made an awkward combination. By the time his records were dominating the charts 3 or 4 years later he was unseemingly gloating about his ability to make it onto Top of the Pops with any reptitious crap he’d slung together in 20 minutes.
    Some things just work however and You Spin me …. works and then some. A spellbinding and lively track that if anything sounds even better now. Far greater than the sum of it’s soon to be self-parodying parts.

  27. 27
    TomLane on 16 Sep 2009 #

    A #11 chart peak in the States, but if you were to ask people today, they would think it was at least Top 5, as it has become a staple of 80’s oldies shows and commercials and just one of those 80’s songs that has outlived the artist it came from (e.g. “I Melt With You” or Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”). Also a 9 for me.

  28. 28
    MikeMCSG on 16 Sep 2009 #

    #25 You’ve got me thinking there Steve. Any clues ?

  29. 29
    Erithian on 16 Sep 2009 #

    Did it get to number one in a series of small steps?

  30. 30
    Glue Factory on 16 Sep 2009 #

    I’m a confirmed hi-nrg fan, so this is pretty perfect for me. Like Relax, it replaces hi-nrg’s usual more soulful post-disco style with something harder-edged and “nastier”. Neither Holly Johnson nor Pete Burns (nor Divine, for that matter) were you typical hi-nrg belters and their voices required some brutal, machine clatter to surround them, and in this case it’s those pulsing synth-lines and electronic hand-claps. Later SAW productions would lose much of this edge and to me that seemed to coincide with the shift in their main-market, from the club to commercial radio. Even when their dancefloor aim wasn’t as spot on as it was here (on a bunny baiting attempt at early house or their take on rare-groove, Roadblock) there was something there that was sorely missing later on.

    Plus, they just didn’t seem to try as hard later on. Surely no later period SAW production would contain anything like the “palindromic roundelay of the chorus”? Pete would have binned it off and replaced it with something more immediate that wouldn’t sound too odd on Capital FM.

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