15
Oct 09

FEARGAL SHARKEY – “A Good Heart”

FT + Popular81 comments • 5,670 views

#559, 16th November 1985, video

It’s our misfortune to happen upon Feargal Sharkey in the least interesting bit of his three-stage career. We knew him once as a leader of post-punk’s emotional shock troops, putting that quaverous Derry voice into the service of everyday lust and laughter. We know him now as an industry spokesman, a general in a long, attritional fight to shore up recorded music as something people want to – or at least have to – pay for.

In between, this. You can see it as the worst of both worlds, if you like: the teenage tremble that animated The Undertones gone to seed and turned to schtick, with a backing that suggests the music industry at its most unimaginative and businesslike. “A Good Heart” can’t decide what it’s for – is it a torch song, a chugalong bit of pop-funk, or as that wretched guitar break suggests a rocker? So no wonder Sharkey sounds so lost and drab in it. Oh, it’s catchy enough: underneath the arrangement Maria McKee’s song could be a sweet bit of teenpop, or a girl-group throwback. But – like most of Sharkey’s solo career – all it leaves me with is the sense of people marking time, putting out material because they’ve got little better to do.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    swanstep on 18 Oct 2009 #

    But surely it’s not *just* a production problem: the song requires the singer to say of him- or herself that he/she’s got a good heart. But, on pain of being a clueless David Brent-type, only someone *else* can say that about you. In my view, then, the core lyric of the song just doesn’t work, perhaps especially with a male singer. [A proviso: the lyric probably can be saved (at least in part) by a singer who’s got an established persona as long-suffering or some such thing – country and bluegrass gals like June Carter and Loretta Lynn do seem to have additional freedoms in this regard (and maybe Maria Mckee fits in there).]

  2. 52
    wichita lineman on 18 Oct 2009 #

    Good point. McKee’s delivery, with a definite hint of barfly sarcasm, fits that brief. It could also work as sung by a JAP like Lesley Gore; the line about leaving it too late would sound very Brill Building coming from a prim, slightly frigid and slightly fearful 19-yr old.

    Tom, I get your point (though imho Easy Lover’s instrumental hooks would have worked better with an AOR production, and taken a bit slower). I suppose I’m also surprised that people don’t understand how this got to number one when pretty much ALL pop sounded like this at the time, whatever the ‘sound’ of the artist – see Strawberry Switchblade’s unlikely leap from Trees & Flowers (cute, woodwinds, tiny little drum box) to Since Yesterday’s big but hollow ’85 production, or Lloyd Cole’s Rattlesnakes (string quartet, Hank Marvin-esque guitars, ’84) and Easy Pieces (DX7, ’85).

    From ’85 it felt like drum sounds were only getting bigger and bigger, worser and worser – for me it felt like Jack The Groove finally broke the evil spell, coldly and cleanly (some way off so I’ll hold my tongue).

  3. 53
    Ian on 18 Oct 2009 #

    Bit surprising at the low score for this one, especially following the poor run.

  4. 54
    Mark M on 18 Oct 2009 #

    Listened to the acoustic Maria McKee version they have on Last.fm, and am still not convinced there’s actually much of a song here…

  5. 55
    Izzy on 18 Oct 2009 #

    I’ve been putting it off, but I thought I should actually listen to this one rather than commenting just from memory. It’s not too bad, really. The lyrics are clunking but the tune’s pleasant enough. Feargal’s vocals are thin, certainly, but his voice is reasonably charming and I believe his performance. I quite like his look in the video too – at the time he seemed like an old man, now he seems more like a kid dressing up for church.

    I agree that the production’s abominable though – that keyboard effect throughout (sorry, I don’t know the name for it – phasing? staggering? echo?) plain gives me a headache. It’s one of those effects that seems to take over the entire track, and listening to the bits where Feargal’s not singing makes me feel hungover.

  6. 56
    Abe Fruman on 18 Oct 2009 #

    but TWO FEMALE DRUMMERS though…….

    it got an extra 2 points ( making 6 ) just for that.

  7. 57
    swanstep on 18 Oct 2009 #

    I agree that mid-’80s drum sounds got old… still, none of us would have any complaints if it were ‘Hounds of Love”s huge drums at the top of the charts, or ‘P-machinery”s, or, for a modern example, Bat for Lashes’s much-loved ‘What’s a girl to do?”s. So, I tentatively conclude again that it’s the song that’s the real problem: ‘good heart’ bad, ‘bat lightning heart’ good. (Try to say that ten times quickly!)

  8. 58
    Abe Fruman on 18 Oct 2009 #

    “still, none of us would have any complaints if it were ‘Hounds of Love’’s huge drums at the top of the charts”

    erm, yes we would. I may as well come out now as a Bush non-believer……

    Be gentle on my heretical bones.

  9. 59
    Abe Fruman on 19 Oct 2009 #

    @48

    Sorry Tom, I never acknowledged your welcome. Cheers for that. i was slightly worried that after the piece by Sir Bob Stanley in the Times that you might have been deluged by newbies and as such I felt a wee bit backwards about coming forwards.

    I sniffed about for a while before taking the plunge, but now that me cherries popped, hopefully my tuppenthworth will add a wee bit to the broth.

    Why did it have to be 1985 though………………….

  10. 60
    swanstep on 19 Oct 2009 #

    Be gentle on my heretical bones.
    No problems. No conversions necessary, just weaken my (evidently too strong) original remark to:

    *most* of us would have *few* complaints if it were ‘Hounds….

  11. 61
    Abe Fruman on 19 Oct 2009 #

    swan

    it’s not that it’s “too strong”, it’s just wrong.

  12. 62
    lonepilgrim on 19 Oct 2009 #

    be careful abe. I too started here as a Kate Bush infidel but have recently found myself warming to her

  13. 63
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 19 Oct 2009 #

    we will have you all, yes, we will

    *waves arms above head in sinister yet mimsy fashion*

  14. 64
    Mark M on 19 Oct 2009 #

    Re 62/63: slightly odd thing, the degree of Kate Bush-love on Popular – I always knew people who were obsessed by her, but also plenty of people (like me) who just didn’t (and still don’t) get it. Intrigued by the seeming Popular near-consensus, I did a very unscientific poll at a party attended by lots of Freaky Trigger-connected folk, and found those there were roughly evenly split between Kate-likers and haters, which seems more likely…

  15. 65
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 19 Oct 2009 #

    *waves arms more*

  16. 66
    Matthew H on 22 Oct 2009 #

    I don’t actually mind the production, finding it suitably bombastic for a big tune. It’s all OKAY in my book.

    I knew Feargal for a short while, in the missing stage of his career, the stage when he was MD of EXP Records (home of Black Star Liner, erm, and I forget the rest; those Flux Trax compilations too). Me, I was the postroom boy in lengthy pursuit of Feargal’s PA – which was successful in the end, but that’s another tale. Anyway, he regularly came into my cubby hole and ranted at me, which made me think I was in trouble at first, but that turned out to be his standard voice. The guy was a maniac, but a smart one all the same.

  17. 67
    Alfred on 29 Oct 2009 #

    I’m surprised no one’s compared this to “You Little Thief,” which is, to my ears, the superior song and production.

  18. 68
    mike on 5 Nov 2009 #

    Lovely song + great singer = dull record. How often does that happen? Yeah, cheers for that, Dave Stewart out of the Eurythmics.

    Maria McKee – who, as David says above, deserves to be remembered for more than this and The Other One – finally got around to recording her own version on her patchy but occasionally excellent Late December album from 2007. (Sadly not on Spotify.) In my opinion, the song is lifted greatly by the introduction of a harpsichord solo. We should have more of them!

    The song was written when McKee 18 years old, “hence the very innocent, quixotic lyrics – My expectations may be high, I blame it on my youth – which now I have to sing with a bit of irony. But the lyrics still hold true to me.” (Quote lifted from an interview that I did with her in 2007.)

  19. 69
    Erithian on 5 Nov 2009 #

    … and Maria McKee sang my earworm du jour, “If Love Is A Red Dress” from Pulp Fiction.

  20. 70
    DV on 28 Dec 2009 #

    This song works very well if you substitute “dick” for “heart” wherever it occurs in the lyrics.

  21. 71
    christinefletcher on 5 Jun 2010 #

    fergal sharkey,i am the same age as you,and for years i thourght you were brill,i think you are right of wat you do,good on you.chris

  22. 72
    christinefletcher on 5 Jun 2010 #

    meny years i word for C.B.S,records,freelance,its a shame we never met” may be one day who nows,i would like to here wat you have to say face to face,good work your doing,

  23. 73
    Rory on 19 Jul 2010 #

    That’s Lord Feargal to you all. Possibly.

  24. 74
    Chelovek na lune on 8 Sep 2010 #

    I really don’t mind this. In the ground zero or complete utter wilderness or whatever term you prefer of pop music that is 1985 that is a pretty decent pop song, well-written, and sung more than adequately. I have to agree with #9 that the production is the problem.

    I still have a soft spot for this (much later) minor hit of Maria McKee’s
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQL0OhwgL-c&ob=av2e

    (The video is a bit ridiculous, actually, but, hell, the song is strong enough to take it – from the album “You Gotta Sin To Get Saved”

  25. 75
    Chelovek na lune on 8 Sep 2010 #

    And if posting related links is the thing, well, I think this remains my favourite That Petrol Emotion moment – yeah I preferred their second album stuff
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMXbXDUURSM

    Does anyone else remember (I think fairly big in Ireland, but maybe getting a number 84 hit in the UK) an Irish group, about 1990, called Something Happens!, whos big hit (as was) was called “Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello (Petrol)” on the basis that its main guitar riff was a rip-off of TPE? It also had a heavy metal cover of Sabrina’s “Boys (Summertime Love) on the b-side.

    Oh yes, good times. And much better than almost all of what was on offer in 1985. So I am inclined to be gentle to Feargal, whatever this single’s shortcomings.

  26. 76
    Billy Hicks on 27 Dec 2010 #

    In 2007 I bought a CD of 80s number 1s and this was the only one I’d never heard before. I don’t mind it – it’s certainly not as well-remembered or played these days as other big hits of the decade, but when it plays on the old iPod it’s always a treat.

    A big fan of it is my 70 year old Grandma. Tonight they repeated the 1985 Christmas episode of Top of the Pops, and this (along with ‘I’m Your Man’) were her two favourites. In contrast, her favourite of 2010 is ‘Pack Up’ by Eliza Doolittle…I like to think I’ll still be into music at her age too.

  27. 77
    flahr on 27 Dec 2010 #

    Also saw this on the Christmas 1985 TOTP episode repeated yesterday. Rather bizarre – plenty of people upthread have intimated bewilderment that anyone bought this, and I must add my voice to that fray. I just can’t fit the functionally bland backing music with Sharkey’s vocals – it seems more like a poorly thought through mashup than an actual song. Not very enjoyable. 3.

    “Pack Up” by Eliza Doolittle on the other hand is brill, and it’s a shame it only got to #5.

  28. 78
    DanH on 26 Jan 2013 #

    I read somewhere that Maria McKee wrote this about her failed relationship with Tom Petty’s keyboardist Benmont Tench. And that “You Little Thief” was Benmont’s written response. And poor Sharkey was the intermediary

  29. 79
    Mark G on 26 Jan 2013 #

    Yes, but I also believe ‘thief’ was written first.

  30. 80
    mapman132 on 5 Jan 2015 #

    What is it about 1985 that’s bringing out my contrarian impulses? I actually quite like this. I’ve heard it a few times over the years even though it was only a very minor US hit. 8/10 from me.

  31. 81
    Lazarus on 6 Jan 2015 #

    You might like to check out some of the Undertones, his former band, Mapman – they made several singles better than this (although this is OK I think).

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