Feb 10

MEL AND KIM – “Respectable”

FT + Popular73 comments • 5,289 views

#587, 28th March 1987, video

The marvellous italo-house keyboard break in the middle of “Respectable” gives the game away: Stock Aitken and Waterman were Britain’s premier pop Europhiles. Their late-80s heyday is as near as UK pop has come to European Union – a joyful pan-continental pop sound with Mel, Kim, Rick et al. joining Taffy and Sinitta in vibrant, tinny one-ness.

Everything critical you can say about SAW is of course true. Were they formulaic? None more so. Exploitative? Surely. Lowest common denominator? Yes, and lower still. No hitmakers since have been as brazen about making pop into a cheap, kit-built, product, and their hit-rate wasn’t quite high enough to deflect all the distaste for that approach.

But at the same time they were inevitable and necessary. There was an enormous latent pop market that somebody was going to start catering for. The Hit Factory did so, and what’s more they did so in enjoyably confrontational style. There was a populist, rebellious streak in SAW which imagined their customers as girls who would put on the TV, see a Percy Sledge track or a worthy cover version and think, in Smash Hits terms, “Bo-RING!”. On the video for “Respectable” the set is laughably cheap, the careful, tasteful staging of mid-80s videos thrown out of the window in favour of two sisters enjoying themselves. You don’t need the proto-Spice lyrics to hear this song as a blueprint for a thoroughly achievable kind of fun.

Curing an excess of soul with a dose of soullessness seems like harsh medicine, but “Respectable” is the Hit Factory at close to its best: it hadn’t narrowed its formula down yet – there’s a lot of nice Europop touches in the background, and the “Tay-Tay-TAY-Tay” hook is splendid. Mel and Kim themselves have tons more gusto than many of SAW’s favoured vocalists. The song spins its wheels badly during the verses so I never enjoy it quite as much as I think I do – but this is still very much on the potent side of cheap.



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  1. 51
    thefatgit on 24 Feb 2010 #

    @45 If Vivien Goldman decided to write a Spice Girls book, then it would square that circle nicely.

  2. 52
    MikeMCSG on 24 Feb 2010 #

    #50 I suspect you’re dead right about that generation gap Tom as it seems you might view them as something more than just a marketing phenomenon. :-)

  3. 53
    Tom on 24 Feb 2010 #

    Something it’s worth remembering is that I used to work as a marketer (and still work in a related “industry”) so “marketing phenomenon” doesn’t code to me as ‘dismiss immediately’ but as ‘ooh that’s interesting’. How music is marketed is fascinating to me – not that I’d necessarily let it affect the marks!

  4. 54
    Steve Mannion on 24 Feb 2010 #

    Hard enough to say something about the first #1 by certain Fuller/Cowell-affiliated acts.

  5. 55
    MikeMCSG on 24 Feb 2010 #

    #53 Nor would I dismiss it immediately Tom but marketing tends to relate to the artist rather than the song so if they have a number of chart toppers in close succession the same factors would apply in each case. And if the music and lyrics are formulaic then there won’t be much left to say. But we’ll see in due course.

  6. 56
    lonepilgrim on 24 Feb 2010 #

    I’m not too bothered by marketing phenomena – surely that’s a significant aspect of pop success – whether it be payola in the 50s, the ‘British invasion’ in the 60s (and the Monkees as one US response), glam, punk and disco in the 70s, etc. The recent success of Don’t stop believing was a marketing phenomenon on the back of Glee and, as I suggested on the Hot Love thread, quite possibly a model for future pop success.

    By the time we get to some of the dodgier hits of the last decade we will be able to discuss them in terms of what has followed on and is then current. What I think will be more difficult is when/if Popular catches up with current pop and we’re trying to discuss that week’s hit.

  7. 57
    thefatgit on 25 Feb 2010 #

    Ha! That would be interesting, as Popular catches up with the current narrative (or the narrative that will exist when Popular does catch up) those of us who will stick with it, will become part of that narrative. Mr Spoiler Bunny might be redundant though.

  8. 58
    Garry on 25 Feb 2010 #

    Makes me wonder about which age of house-pop is best remembered. I like the late 80s wave over much of the 90s stuff. Especially Yello.

  9. 59
    Billy Smart on 25 Feb 2010 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Not many UK TV appearances on the list;

    THE MONTREUX GOLDEN ROSE IMMC GALA: with Jean Beauvoir, Cutting Crew, Whitney Houston, Smokey Robinson, Alison Moyet, Boy George, The Cure, The Communards, Mel And Kim, Terence Trent D’Arby (1987)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates, 14 Karat Soul, The Cure, Mel And Kim, Duran Duran (1987)

  10. 60
    Erithian on 26 Feb 2010 #

    fatgit #57 – Spoiler Bunny will by then be in richly-deserved retirement in his mansion with lackeys feeding him carrots all day long. Maybe Simon Cowell can do the job. As for W——e, I suspect that, assuming I’m still around to comment, my contributions on their umpteen number ones will be repetitive, succinct and Anglo-Saxon.

    Now, this generation gap thing. Following the JYB shock to the system, this was the moment when I definitively realized, just short of my 25th birthday, that mainstream pop was being made for people significantly younger than me! And this was one of those records, and I’ll have to admit there are a fair few of them, which break many of the “rules” relating to music I normally like, but which I find terrific. That “tay-tay-tay” stuff, for instance, I’d normally hate but here it sounds fresh as a daisy, and the sheer attitude and fun was a breath of fresh air. The girls were extremely easy on the eye, which didn’t hinder things (although I’d hope that wasn’t too much part of the reason, since there’s plenty of bad pop made by hott women!) It was a point before SAW became cliché, and yes it’s hugely enjoyable. Unfortunately they were to have one of the most tragic stories in pop before too long.

    Proto-Spice: yes, I was thinking of the Belle Stars too, and the Bodysnatchers had that vibe as well, listening to the break in “Let’s Do Rock Steady” where they introduce each other.

    I’ve always wondered about the “other” Mel and Kim, Smith and Wilde, who did “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” for Comic Relief later that year. I know it was for charidee, but wouldn’t m’learned friends have had something to say about nicking another act’s name? (“Kim and Mel” would have worked just as well!) What’s to stop your two mates who happen to be called, I dunno, Ant and Dec, from cashing on in their real names?

    Punctum #34, is that right about “I’d Rather Jack” being earmarked for Mel and Kim? It just sounds more “wrong” the more I think about it. It’s a fangirls’ song, about the stuff they want to listen to on the radio, and lines like “We’d rather sing along with Yazz” would sound plain weird coming not from schoolgirls but from two women in their 20s who’d had more hits than Yazz. Strange…

  11. 61
    Mark G on 26 Feb 2010 #

    .. which is probably why they didn’t do it. Also, why at first hearing I thought it *was* Mel and Kim.

    Oh, and of course the other Mel and Kim could have called themselves “The Smiths”, right DJP?

  12. 62
    punctum on 26 Feb 2010 #

    #61 – Quite.

    #60 – Yes, Pete W confirmed it in a radio interview a couple of years ago. Was rather nonplussed by the Simon Reynolds Girls who (according to Smash Hits at the time) (a) did not jack and (b) rather liked Fleetwood Mac.

    While interviewing a member of F Mac a few years ago I played “I’d Rather Jack” to a response of roaring laughter and hearty agreement with its sentiments. You can probably guess which member it was.

  13. 63
    LondonLee on 26 Feb 2010 #

    Christine McVie?

  14. 64
    AndyPandy on 26 Feb 2010 #

    And of course certain mixes of Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love” from 1987 were possibly the first house mixes of a track by a pop/rock group and you’d still hear the track dropped occasionally when it all went massive in 1988.
    So notwithstanding the fact that it rhymed ironically one non-dance act people did “jack” to…

  15. 65
    AndyPandy on 26 Feb 2010 #

    further to my above comment and not a “mix” but another very early house track by an established pop or rock act was “Chicago” by ABC (B-side of the 12 inch of “When Smokey Sings”)however it never exactly got played out as far as I know.

    But Martin Fry WAS rumoured to have been seen at Clink Street or Rage or somewhere!

  16. 66
    JonnyB on 28 Feb 2010 #

    I’m very late into this thread – but is it really true that nobody has done the “because the ‘S’ fell off the door” joke yet?

    I’ve been through the comments, and apologies if I missed it.

  17. 67
    glue_factory on 1 Mar 2010 #

    Re: 65, I’m fairly sure he was one of the celebs who used to to Shoom.

  18. 68
    Rory on 9 Mar 2010 #

    One week at the top in Australia, but it seemed more ubiquitous at the time. I didn’t really warm to it until I picked up an ’80s hits CD with it a decade or more later; with the benefit of hindsight, it sounded like superior SAW. That puts it at 6 for me.

  19. 69
    Alan on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Mel & Kim and others guesting in a 2000AD story

    from londonlovescomics

  20. 70
    Steve Mannion on 11 Mar 2010 #

    The artist has been awfully kind to Bono there re physique.

  21. 71
    hectorthebat on 26 Jan 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    Record Mirror (UK) – Singles of the Year 12

  22. 72
    Mostro on 20 Nov 2016 #

    Erithian #60 – You said almost *exactly* what I’d thought (and planned on saying here sometime) when I heard Waterman had intended “I’d Rather Jack” for Mel and Kim- and thought it’d have done better with them. (#)

    It’s so obviously a song meant to be from the point of view of an ordinary (and probably teenage) pop fan- even if SAW were putting words into their mouths. It wouldn’t have made sense coming from the established Mel and Kim, regardless of their merits as performers.

    Despite the fact “I’d Rather Jack” isn’t a great song by any measure, and I didn’t find them particularly notable at the time, I do find the apparent complete disappearance of the Reynolds Girls since this came out (and the follow-up flopped) somewhat intriguing and almost heroic.

    It’s one of those songs that everyone remembers- not because it’s great (it isn’t)- but because it became iconic (more in hindsight than even its success at the time might have suggested (###)) of the SAW-dominated late 80s; one of their archetypal tracks, if far from their best.

    Even if they had no interest in stepping back into the public eye as part of a nostalgia show or “whatever happened to… one hit wonders” type show, you’d expect someone to have established that the brunette is working as a physiotherapy assistant or something similarly normal…. and yet, nothing. For that to have endured so far into the Internet age is quite strange.

    There were various rumours going around that they got too big for their boots too quickly and were sacked by Waterman. That might- or might not- have been true, or perhaps he was just disappointed that they didn’t do as well as his proxy pop puppets as he might have hoped. Who knows?

    (#) “The record went flying up the charts until The Reynolds Girls appeared on Top Of The Pops. If it was Mel And Kim it would have been number one. The joke went a bit sour on us because it would have been a huge hit if we’d got the image right.” (##)

    (##) I’m trying to remember if I *did* actually hear or read Waterman himself claim that “Jack” was written with Mel and Kim in mind- and if not, I wonder if perhaps the claim that it had been was due to this comment being slightly misinterpeted and paraphrased. (Waterman only says there- in hindsight- that it’d have done better with Mel and Kim). I note that elsewhere- predating that 2012 quote- it’s claimed SAW didn’t originally write it for anyone in particular .

    (###) From memory, I knew it wasn’t a #1, but I’d have thought it went Top 5. Checking Wikipedia- and double-checking Guinness Hit Singles- confirms that surprisingly it only reached #8.

  23. 73
    Mark G on 20 Nov 2016 #

    I certainly recall it being turned down by M&K not just that ‘it would have been better or done better’, in fact it would be all kinds of wrong for Mel and Kim to have a single that complained about not getting enough airplay.

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