Jan 10

THE COMMUNARDS – “Don’t Leave Me This Way”

FT + Popular45 comments • 11,655 views

#576, 13th September 1986, video

As a straight man it’s easy for me to be complacent about this, but the Orwellian “THE COMMUNARDS ARE BANNED” business at the start of this video looks completely ridiculous to me now, and the fact that it does suggests genuine and positive social change. Around this time I remember reading a tabloid article suggesting that gay men be interned offshore, Anthrax-island style, until AIDS had burnt itself out: an extreme expression of the panic and fear surrounding the disease – and of who much of the public wanted to blame. From one angle it was a time of increasing, indulged, and with Clause 28 ultimately government-sanctioned homophobia, a lurch back between the several steps forward of 60s decriminalisation and 00s equality legislation.

Jimmy Somerville very much emerged as a pop star against this background – out and proud, making records with Bronski Beat about growing up gay, his falsetto keening over “Small Town Boy” as a lament and rebuke for the provincial towns which drove out young men like him. He was always a serious man, even when he made surging, celebratory records like this one. Partying was in itself political. In fact what gives “Don’t Leave Me This Way” its odd grain is the contrast between Somerville’s slightly aloof, elevated performance and the gusto the arrangement seems to demand.

Without that sense of hedonism the record feels too effortful. Somerville is acting the choirboy in a gospel song, floating over the listener when he needs to lift them up with him, and without his support the rest of the band try for Sylvester and end up closer to Black Lace – uncomplicated, manipulative party music. That whomping great hands-in-the-air “Whoooooooooooaaa – BABY!” is the least subtle moment all year, which probably explains why “Don’t Leave Me This Way” was ’86’s top-selling single. The sonics have aged terribly, though – it all sounds so thin now, which would block the song’s instrumental lunge for ecstasy, even if you didn’t leave it convinced Somerville is no fun to dance with.



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  1. 26
    anto on 6 Jan 2010 #

    Re#10 Good to hear “Rain or Shine” mentioned pop magic. In much the way some people like the Monkees better than the Beatles I always preferred 5 Star to the Jacksons. They were one of those pop acts where amateurism and professionalism met at precisely the right point.

    As for ” Don’t Leave me This Way ” it’s one of those tracks where different people probably have their own favourite bit for some it might be that long long intro, others might like the AAAAHHHHH bit before the chours or Richard Coles seemingly impromptu piano interjections or the brass section etc.

    My personal favourite is when the lady with the deep voice sings


  2. 27
    Matthew on 6 Jan 2010 #

    A track that takes me straight back to my childhood, being 11, almost 12. Didn’t realise it was a cover, absolutely no inkling that there was any kind of gay agenda (or indeed gayness at all!) going on; can’t help but break into an 80s-nostalgia grin whenever I hear it. It is beyond criticism now for me, as I hope today’s terrible pop music will be for the thirty-somethings of the 2020s and 30s.

  3. 28
    Billy Smart on 7 Jan 2010 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: The Communards were a regular UK television presence for a few years;

    FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE: with Harry Enfield, Nick Revell, The Panic Brothers, The Hooters, The Communards (1988)

    LATE NIGHT IN CONCERT: with The Communards (1988)

    LIVE FROM THE PALLADIUM: with Donna Summer, Barry White, Tom O’Connor, The Communards (1987)

    THE MONTREUX ROCK FESTIVAL: with Whitney Houston, Smokey Robinson, Alison Moyet, Boy George, The Cure, The Communards, Mel & Kim, Terence Trent D’Arby, Samantha Fox, Robbie Neville (1987)

    SATURDAY LIVE: with Ben Elton, The Communards (1987)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates, The Communards, Ken Russell, Edna Crepaldi, Robin Jones, Smiley Culture, Buddy Curtis & The Grasshoppers, Edwin Starr (1985)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates, Kurtis Blow, The Psychedelic Furs, Alice Cooper, The Communards (1986)

    WHISTLE TEST: with The Judds, The Communards (1987)

    WOGAN: with The Communards, Judi Dench, Gordon Thomson, Noelle Walsh (1985)

    WOGAN: with The Communards, Ross Davidson, Monsignor Bruce Kent, Roy Kinnear, Bill Paterson (1986)

  4. 29
    tim davidge on 7 Jan 2010 #

    These guys once did an ad for a Paris radio station. The strapline?

  5. 30
    Izzy on 7 Jan 2010 #

    I don’t think much of Jimmy’s moves in this video. The whole thing’s most unsatisfying. Jimmy’s being watched like in the ‘Smalltown Boy’ video, but it’s not obvious why. A horrible key change. Jimmy couldn’t work a crowd with presence like that. His big strapping co-vocalist probably could (her performance is excellent), but she seems content to just revolve around her weedy pal. An ecstatic gig, but in a fully-lit warehouse – which breaks up hurriedly when even brighter lights are turned on. Again, why exactly?

    The saving grace (other than the kids, who look quite cool) is that unintentional standard of the 80s video – the appearance of mobile communciation equipment. But even that’s a bit rubbish, as it seems to be used only to tip off some people who are in the same room.

  6. 31
    Ben on 11 Jan 2010 #

    I used to get confused between The Communards and The Commitments.

  7. 32
    Erithian on 11 Jan 2010 #

    Have to say that hearing this again just reminds me how much I absolutely love it. I may not be the prime audience for it, but what’s the use of a big gay anthem if it’s not life-affirming and inclusive? Love the way the voices interplay (Sarah Jane’s more impressive than Jimmy’s but they complement each other in a really odd kind of way); love the instrumental break (what James Hamilton used to call zingy cymbal schlurping I think, Mike, and a fab piano bit); and you’re right, that “aaaahhhh… BABY” takes it all to the next level.

    The video (which I’ve never seen in full either) is an oddity, that Big Brother figure looking a bit like Charles Bronson the high-security prisoner, and the subplot, though I’m sure it was a message about oppression by The Man, is a bit of a distraction – as a straight-up performance video it’s fantastic.

  8. 33
    Mark M on 30 Jan 2010 #

    So tonight’s odd ’80s pop postscript was Richard Coles and P Morley on The Review Show, as I believed it’s been rebranded, discussing angels(!) among other subjects, followed by Durutti Column playing some kind of tribute piece to Tony Wilson. Hmmm…

  9. 34
    Tiffany on 11 Feb 2010 #

    This is still one of my all time favorite records. I disagree it sounds thin, on my iPod it cranks up rather nicely thanks!

    Also, I came via Metafilter. This is a great project!

  10. 35
    Realmusiclover on 11 Mar 2010 #

    There’s a reason music of the eighties remains the antithesis of the word fag, its sad when you cant let it slip into oblivion where it belongs.

  11. 36
    Tom on 11 Mar 2010 #

    You don’t actually know what antithesis means, do you?

  12. 37
    swanstep on 12 Mar 2010 #

    ‘Antithesis’ means the antithesis of what he thinks it means (haw haw). Realmusiclover also appears to have failed to grasp that freakytrigger/popular is the antithesis of a site or project that’s slavishly devoted to some particular decade’s output.

  13. 38
    Jimmy the Swede on 12 Mar 2010 #

    …ergo, Realmusiclover is the antithesis of a real music lover.

  14. 39
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  15. 40
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  16. 41
    thefatgit on 18 Jul 2013 #

    This isn’t the Hot Love thread, ceo.

  17. 42

    […] lets a woman run away with his song. This was “uncomplicated, manipulative party music,” in Tom Ewing’s words: 1986’s biggest selling single, a number one dance record and Top Forty hit in America. […]

  18. 43
    mrdiscopop on 10 Dec 2014 #

    I remember Simon Mayo playing this on Radio 1. When it got to the final, crucial “aaaaaaaah”, he cut to the Toy Dolls’ cover of Nellie The Elephant.

    At the age of 11, I thought this was hilarious. Still do, really.

  19. 44
    Mark G on 11 Dec 2014 #

    I’m laughing even thinking about it.

  20. 45
    Adam on 27 Mar 2015 #

    3 for me… Third-rate major-key lift of Tragedy.

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