16
Nov 09

GEORGE MICHAEL – “A Different Corner”

FT + Popular137 comments • 13,126 views

#568, 19th April 1986, video

At first brush “A Different Corner” sounds too diffuse and tentative to count for much – the kind of single that gets to #1 when its maker is a big enough star that anything will. But this is misleading – “Corner” is wispy and cloudy because it’s an attempt to capture a particular kind of confusion and despair in a pop song. Listen more closely and its politeness – all those nouvelle cuisine dabs of keyboard and guitar – is revealed as paralysis. Michael is impotent: he’s worse off for falling in love, he would go back if he could, he’s terrified of the rejection that might follow if he goes further. A strange fear grips him: in its sketch of sensitive abjection, “A Different Corner” touches the same nerves and explores the same pitiable ground that mid-eighties indie was making its own. “I don’t understand it, to you it’s a breeze / Little by little you’ve brought me to my knees” – you could imagine David Gedge writing that!

You couldn’t imagine him singing it like this, mind you. “A Different Corner”‘s kind of wandering, choked-up slow soul would end up being a key part of George Michael’s repertoire, the style he deployed when he wanted people to know he was getting personal. It’s been the source of his worst performances as well as his best, but “A Different Corner” avoids self-indulgence by its relative concision – just two short, tightly written verses given plenty of space in a simple arrangement. The delicacy of that arrangement is fragile – even a touch like the acoustic guitar between verses on the album and video version seems to overload it. But the single mix keeps its balance between comfort and sparseness, its broken-up piano lines halfway between the wine bar’s consoling ambience and ABBA’s icy, grown-up pain. This song of disillusionment and ruined hopes is remembered as a minor single, if at all: for me it’s the best number one George Michael’s been involved with.

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Comments

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  1. 61
    Izzy on 18 Nov 2009 #

    ♯59: I don’t see it that way. For me, it’s more about reinterpreting that ‘now’, to see what I was missing*. I find myself empathising with and vindicating the past more often than condemning it. I think it’s fair to say that the 80s got it right in selecting George Michael and Bono as its icons, and not Morrissey.

    Which isn’t to say that I don’t despair at ‘I Got You Babe’ outselling ‘Running Up That Hill’. However, that was a battle within the top five. If I were annoyed at a string of ♯31s being kept off the top, well maybe then the problem would be me!

    * NB that we’re only just beginning to reach the time when ‘that now’ was also ‘my now’, so hitherto I’ve mostly been comparing my secondhand knowledge of the era (gleaned mainly from a musical education in the 90s, and in the context of at least some of which The Smiths were the colossus that bestrode the 80s) to the firsthand/thirdhand knowledge I’m getting from Popular (i.e. actually sitting down and listening to the records, and thereby thinking twice about them)

  2. 62
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    re 60: i’d say at this point the “alt media”* had not yet brought pressure to bear on the “mainstream media” — or rather, the pressure had only borne very slight fruit as yet… within a couple of years the situation had greatly shifted

    *defining this to cover the totality of the music papers and the style mags; peel; the alt.listings mags — and what else? grown-up newspapers were beginning to hire exiles and aspirants from these various sources, but at this stage they rather ended to be disgruntled older voices — jazzniks for example, forced to flee the MM cull — and the sun was just beginning to grasp that pop gossip was a endless source of readership

  3. 63
    thefatgit on 18 Nov 2009 #

    It wasn’t until I was 14, that I picked up an inkie in the newsagents, and started reading it. It was the NME and by ’86 I was 5 years in to buying it every week. I can understand that without it, (and The Face and i-D) my exposure to new music; pop, dance, indie, rock or even Bulgarian folk music, would have been nearly impossible. I suppose John Peel may have given me some pointers, but daytime Radio 1 was pretty much mainstream as you could get. Granted, if I wanted to seek out certain stuff, my local Our Price wasn’t well stocked, but Reading, Basingstoke, Guildford and London were never really far away by bus or train and I could seek out stuff there. Many people out in the sticks might not have got the opportunity to expand their personal music experience, beyond JP’s show.
    The towns above also had good venues, so I could go see live music at any given opportunity. My reliance on the charts alone as a reference point for new music had all but disappeared by 86.

  4. 64
    Conrad on 18 Nov 2009 #

    The charts were only ever part of the popularity picture. They were undoubtedly the biggest part, but music press and national press coverage also play(ed) a part in cementing an act’s popularity, or notoriety.

    The Smiths sold a lot of papers – Morrissey was a funny and entertaining interviewee. He and Marr looked fantastic – so their presence was very firmly felt in the firmament of mid 80s popular culture.

    The reasons their records didn’t chart higher in the singles chart were down to a combination of factors

    – They never came close to ‘crossing over’. As their chart positions indicate (highest position first or second week usually), they were bought by their fanbase only

    – They lacked quality control, and put out too many singles with too few long breaks to re-establish public demand

    – They rarely (arguably never) released anything with a big enough hook/crossover potential to break the Top 5.

    I don’t think incidentally that the alternative music scene came to be more embraced by the mainstream media. Quite the opposite, the alternative music scene started producing more accessible and commercial music, thereby increasingly putting it in the position of setting the agenda

  5. 65
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Conrad, I’d also argue that a generation of writers who’d grown up reading the alt press in the early 80s increasingly made up a significant critical mass culturally within the mainstream press by the 90s: so the agenda got set almost unconsciously; “our kind of music” almost established as a given (rather than something consciously fashioned or worked for).

  6. 66
    punctum on 18 Nov 2009 #

    “Our kind of music” – where’s David Jacobs when you need him? Or maybe Steve Lamacq will take over his R2 slot in the fullness of time: “Hello thaar! Let’s be together until midnight to share that which many still call Our Kind Of Music. All derived from within – The Steve Lamacq Crap Indie Collection” (cue lugubrious intro from Carter USM’s 30Something). Three in a row from Thousand Yard Stare and no mistake!

    #61: trouble with this is the usual “either/or” death trap which insists that the Eighties Symbol* MUST have been George/Bono OR Morrissey. Why not both – and, if not both at the time, whose fault is that? Nobody gets anything right; it’s all to do with perception, infiltration and the frequent inverse proportion in which the latter divulges from the former, given time and luck.

    *no offence Izzy but in general I think there needs to be a moratorium on the terms “ic*n” and “ic*n*c” – this being pop music and not early Russian painting – or maybe institute a global spambot subsitution for both words of “sausage.” George Michael and Bono as top sausages of the eighties! Now who could argue with that?

  7. 67
    thefatgit on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #65, I agree. You have the likes of Danny Baker, Danny Kelly, Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons and many others firmly part of the Meeja Establishment from the mid ’90s onward. The very same people I used to read in the NME.

  8. 68
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    I don’t just mean those who actually fought the wars at the time though — I mean those who wanted to be fighting the wars but weren’t yet. The former are often more complicatedly pragmatic with respect to their “foes” than the latter…

  9. 69
    Mark M on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Re assorted: the fact remains that in the mid-80s it was UNCOMMONLY hard to be a big star with rubbishly produced guitar music. You may or may not regard this as a good thing, but it is interesting in so far as by 1988 C86-second wavers The Primitives (the poor man’s Shop Assistants with a psych-goth wardrobe) were in the top five, and shortly REM (a very much marginal taste in the UK in 86) would be in a position to bore us senseless for years to come and Nirvana would turn up with their warmed-over rock dreariness and Vaselines T-shirts and eat the world… Eventually Pete Doherty would ridiculously be hailed as a genius for songs that would’ve made low quality Wedding Present b-sides and Dave Eggers would celebrate the June Brides over acres of press space. And in that context, it’s interesting to consider what was happening (or not) in the mid 80s.

  10. 70
    Mark M on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Re 67/68:
    Not least, consider that this year two semi-mainstream Hollywood comedies – 500 Days of Summer and Adventureland – came out considering the romantic prospects of a Smiths fan in the first instance and a Replacements/Velvets fan in the second instance.

  11. 71
    MichaelH on 18 Nov 2009 #

    As a sideline, it’s interesting to remember the reasons for the swooning before How Soon Is Now, when it appeared on the B side of William. IIRC, there was a perception outside the very heartlands of Smiths loving (NME, really, at this point) that they were a busted flush – that Morrissey had said everything he had to say, and that while Jphnny Marr played a nice jangle, so what. I remember reviews of William that barely mentioned the A side, concentrating instead on the Incredible New Direction that might save them from descending into self-parody. How Soon Is Now is not a favourite of mine, but I think it is the track that allowed the Smiths to jump a level in terms of their critical ranking. Does anyone else remember it this way?

  12. 72
    LondonLee on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #70 Both quite good films too, especially Adventureland which I enjoyed a lot, though that may have been down to the presence of lovely Kirsten Stewart. Though it is odd to see the cult acts of my youth become cultural signifiers in American romantic comedies (though obviously not Julia Roberts type ones)

    Edit: Though I just remembered that ‘Please Please Please Let Me etc..’ was used in ‘Pretty In Pink’ in 1986.

  13. 73
    thefatgit on 18 Nov 2009 #

    “How Soon Is Now?” features prominently in NME’s top 50 of ’84. Also tops Peel’s festive 50 of the same year. “William” does not.

  14. 74
    Tom on 18 Nov 2009 #

    “William” seems to be a bit of a fan favourite.

  15. 75
    LondonLee on 18 Nov 2009 #

    I think there was a sense that The Smiths’ aesthetic of jangly guitars and mopey lyrics might have a limited shelf life which I don’t think was helped by the release of ‘Hatful of Hollow’ – a compilation of outtakes, singles and b-sides when they’d only put out one proper album. Far as I remember ‘Meat Is Murder’ got mixed reviews too and I don’t think they became THE SMITHS! until ‘The Queen Is Dead’

    I say this as sort of an “outsider” at the time, I was listening to a lot of Northern Soul at this point and The Smiths in my mind were too “studenty” – an impression not helped by the fact that I was at art college and they were loved by the pasty and shy brigade who didn’t dance at parties.

  16. 76
    MichaelH on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Re 75 Yes, that’s right: Queen Is Dead was the launching pad for “The Smiths”. Amazing that it came as much as two years after How Soon Is Now. I think Hatful of Hollow, though, was recognised at the time as the best Smiths album till QID – first album was a botched job, Meat Is Murder’s songs weren’t as strong.

  17. 77
    Conrad on 18 Nov 2009 #

    I’m not sure “Queen is Dead” was their launching pad – I think it was probably their most critically acclaimed album, but “Meat is Murder” was the only one to top the charts, and “Hatful of Hollow” their most consistent seller – it stayed on the chart a lot longer than any of their other releases.

  18. 78
    MikeMCSG on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #64/65 I think you’re crediting the writers with too much influence; only a small proportion of the record buying public ever bought the music press and only a proportion of those would buy a record purely on what had been written about it (as occasionally I did pre youtube) before hearing it for themselves.Love them or hate them Simon Bates and Steve Wright were far more influential tastemakers than Baker or Burchill.
    Indie came into its own eventually because it had a roster of bands ready to fill the vacuum when the A & R guys at the majors bewildered by anonymous house acts and the SAW blitzkrieg stopped looking for new British talent or signed utter cak like T’Pau and Transvision Vamp. I’m not sure it needed to become more accessible; just being there at the right time was enough.

  19. 79
    punctum on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #75: Well, not really – part of the reason for the relative critical coolness towards the Smiths pre-QID in the music press (and their converse worship in the fanzines of the time) was that they didn’t fit in at all with the soulboy aesthetic which absolutely ruled the NME and the Face. In addition Melody Maker was heading more in a Goth direction and despite the Monitor inflow their covers in the mid-late eighties were by and large an endless procession of Cure/Sisters/Mission with the occasional Reynolds/Stubbs/Roberts curveball (is it true that the ’87 AR Kane cover was the worst-selling MM ever?).

    But yes, in an era where the NME interview essentially consisted of interviewees being hectored endlessly about whether or not they supported Red Wedge, and if not, why not, then it’s no surprise that they held the Smiths at relative arm’s length.

    Set against all this was the unquestioned worship of the group and the singer by their fans – this was the resistance (to what? See Popular entries ’83-6 passim) to what New Pop had become, and of course the Smiths couldn’t have been more New Pop if they’d tried. The only critic really to get them in ’84-5 was the late lamented RD Cook who commented in his review of their first album that the songs and the approach to the “rock group” both seemed to come from another planet.

  20. 80
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    my memory is QiD is when the critical consensus came together to declare themselves and describe the shape of their identity: so it’s not so much the launching point as the moment of self-recognition as a force

    i had really liked the first LP and hatful (and still do) but was at the time really quite underwhelmed by queen, where i think the limitations of their mannerisms were already being touted as an obviously added value — which to outsiders they never were

  21. 81
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    78: to reiterate for a second time what i actually SAID, people who DID read the music mags and the style press in the early 80s — who were by definition in tune with what they chose to enjoy reading — went on to have a significant cultural presence within the mainstream press in the 90s…

    i didn’t say anything about influence, a word i (somewhat notoriously) regard as more or less meaningless

  22. 82
    LondonLee on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #79 Good point about the NME and The Face, I was gravitating well away from the former and to the latter (and ID) at this point — being a fancy pants design student with dreams of being the next Neville Brody — so my only view of the music wars at that time took place on the dancefloor at student parties. And the annoying kid I shared a house with who insisted on playing and singing along to ‘This Charming Man’ very loudly in his bedroom. I actually passed up the chance to see them at Canterbury art college back then. Silly me, I like them a lot now that I’m removed from that world.

  23. 83
    MikeMCSG on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #79 “The only critic really to get them in ’84-5 was the late lamented RD Cook who commented in his review of their first album that the songs and the approach to the “rock group” both seemed to come from another planet.”

    That may be true of the inkies punctum but all the early albums got good reviews in Record Mirror and Smash Hits where Eleanor Levy, Andy Strickland and Johnny Black were all big fans. RM’s token HM fan Robin Smith was never allowed near a Smiths record.

  24. 84
    MikeMCSG on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #81 OK I’ll give you that

  25. 85
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    actually this is something about marr’s guitar which i think is worth stressing: that he simultaneously demonstrated he had a gifted ear for the tremendous breadth of sound-colour the electric guitar can deliver, at the same time as steering it singelmindedly clear of its staples up till then — including all of those that allowed the guitar to be coded “black”: viz no hint that he was aware that blues or jazz or metal had ever been part of its palette

    which is in a sense a figure for the problem of the indie ethic — and to some extent the MM proto-goth ethic, tho it hadn’t yet hardened: that it presented itself as a Kind of expansion, but was actually a contraction…

  26. 86
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Cook was always good on the power of lack: that focus is always also a kind of mutilation :(

  27. 87
    punctum on 18 Nov 2009 #

    #83: yes I should have mentioned that Smash Hits were pretty sympathetic to them, even later on in the eighties when Morrissey became the kneejerk joke answer in every multiple choice quiz they did. IIRC from the letters pages at the time Morrissey discussing his vegetarianism (front cover, cat and red pullover, Feb ’85?) had quite an impact on Ver Kids (maybe not the hardcore Durannies, mind).

    Ah, Record Mirror, totally forgot about them – blimey, Eleanor Levy, Andy Strickland and Johnny Black; what became of all of them (not to mention token Tory and HM lover Robin Smith)? I do recall a young chap doing the singles reviews at the time using words like “MEGA-DAMMERAMA” about the nineteenth single off In The Studio by the Special AKA. His name was Dylan Jones – no idea what became of him…

  28. 88
    MichaelH on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Re 79 … I don’t remember coldness towards them in the NME, certainly … Remember there was a strong indie faction having their battle with the soul boys – we tend to remember the soul/hip-hop/politics covers, but forget the reams of copy about indie bands in between those features. Though it may be that the unrelenting and incessant patronage of Peel was the big thing for them.

  29. 89
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Nov 2009 #

    As someone right smack in the miggle of the internal editorial battles — and thus probably uniquely poorly placed to remark on how it all came across to outsiders! — I’d say the problem was less to do with balance of forces pro, con and otherwise within the office, as to who held the rhetorical whiphand: the soulboy faction were better certainly organised and better focused and, initially, better led; indie-ism didn’t really coalesce as an activist (and in fact reactive) faction till C86…

    What’s interesting with hindsght is that I think — until Public Enemy — the soulboys were dealt the tougher hand, in terms of music that lends itself well to be written about: and that what came to be obnoxious about how they tackled this was a LOT of rather brittle over-compensation, rhetorically… indie-ism inadvertently nay haplessly played the long game, and — as dweebs tend to — found itself the master of the archives in the end, with the Keys to History

    there were people on both sides i am personally fond of, but i am full of sourness and bile about the grown-ups allowed the actual office politics to play out: it was horrible to work within, esp.if you were trying to push other things entirely, and had thus endlessly to manoeuvre between factions

    Cook had grabbed the chance to move to the Wire: belatedly I followed him.

  30. 90
    MikeMCSG on 18 Nov 2009 #

    # 87 Johnny Black was Smash Hits but that wasn’t clear in my orig post soz. Eleanor Levy and Andy Strickland went on to 90 Minutes which bit the dust in 1997 so they unfortunately have two sinkings on their cvs, don’t know where they went after that.

    You had a lot of pocket money punctum to be buying every one of them :-)

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