Aug 11

JIMMY NAIL – “Ain’t No Doubt”

FT + Popular99 comments • 8,110 views

#678, 18th July 1992

“Ain’t No Doubt” plants its emotional flag in territories claimed and mapped by Phil Collins – that master of gangrenous wrath and bitterness lurking below blokery’s rumpled jacket. It’s break-up pop of the shabbiest kind; lies, quarrels and wilful miscommunication played out raw in front of us. On TV Nail played hard bastards, for laughs or drama or both – some of the intrigue of his pop career must have been seeing a more sensitive element in him, but I doubt the straight-talking, bullshit-calling narrator of “Ain’t No Doubt” came as much of a shock to the fanbase.

What’s rather more surprising is the music. Most of Nail’s records were thoroughly trad: gruff, measured rock and soul stylings, workmanlike performances enlivened by the odd Knopfler guest-spot. “Ain’t No Doubt”, on the other hand, is a one-of-a-kind meeting of pub rock and swingbeat: ruminative, finger-pointing spoken passages broken up by a two-fisted funk chorus that lunges at you like a closing time drunk. It would be an odd record if anyone had recorded it, but this really isn’t the style you expect a 38-year-old TV star to pioneer.

Here’s the really strange thing: it kind of works. The lurching production is so awkward, its singer so ill-at-ease, it makes Nail’s spoken passages rawer – this is a man happy to humiliate himself if it gets the message about his partner’s perfidy across. Contrast his lumbering with the smooth replies from the ever-professional Sylvia Mason-James, quite at home in this setting: it’s as if Jimmy’s barged into the disco on a girls’ night out to shame his lady, and we’re onlookers peeping through our fingers.

It’s also an unintentionally funny record, of course, and probably the most imitated of the year. And in the end it’s not a thing you’d want to listen to much: I couldn’t stretch to calling it good. But it’s interestingly, admirably bad in a way most TV-star records aren’t.



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  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Jimmy Nail invents The Streets

  2. 2
    Kat but logged out innit on 30 Aug 2011 #

    This is a great record to sing along to!


  3. 3
    Tom on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Actually “unintentionally funny” is unfair and lazy – J Nail is not a dimwit and must have been aware how meme-able the track is.

  4. 4
    punctum on 30 Aug 2011 #

    The most successful of the Geordie actor’s occasional forays into music – in 1992 he was best known as the star of the BBC detective series Spender – “Ain’t No Doubt” is an extremely sharp, smart slice of metapop. Indeed, Nail almost seems like a spectator at his own record. The verses consist of a monologue where his lover is leaving him and offering him bland and palpably false words of reassurance, but Nail could just as well be sitting in his chair, listening to another lie of a love song (“She says it’s like in the song, remember? If you love somebody, set them free? Well that’s how it is with me”), counting off its clichés– “She says, it’s not you, it’s me/I need a little time, a little space” – before adding his own blunt reflections: “Oh yeah, I know a goodbye when I hear it,” “So I say ‘Fine’ and just hope that I’m a better liar than she is.”

    Then a second voice, Sylvia Mason-James (sounding very much like Sarah Cracknell) comes in to turn the track into momentarily lush Brill Building pop, with Nail still cynically grumbling – “I don’t want nobody else, I love you (She’s lying)/There won’t be somebody else and that’s true (She’s lying!)” – before he explodes into an exasperated, slightly strangulated howl of a chorus, patterned after the US Army jogging chant: “Ain’t no doubt it’s plain to see!/A woman like you’s no good for me!” over a brightly energetic white soul backdrop (very reminiscent of late period Style Council with its horns and Guy Pratt’s marauding bass). Pratt also co-wrote and co-produced the record (with Danny Schogger and Nail himself) and echoes the singer’s inner turmoil with clattering drum drop-outs, slamming doors and Neil Sidwell’s morose trombone solo. Only right at the end of the fadeout does Nail break down: “It’s you saAAAAA-ying goodbye!” he wails, aghast.

    It’s a brilliant piece of work, easily worthy of Saint Etienne – who at the same time in 1992 released their greatest single, the staggering “Avenue,” seven-and-a-half minutes long, discursive and therefore little played, but which pulled all the punctum strands in avant-pop, from the Pretty Things to Dollar, together with a rare mix of acuity and tenderness; it peeked cautiously into the chart for one week at number 40 before thinking better of it and beating a swift retreat – though it took Nail’s sense of theatricality to make the bleeding sound as though it is coming from a real person, and not, as with so much other “worthy” pop-soul of the period, a bar chart of demographic responses to “emotion,” since its role is to examine and question the truthfulness of “emotion” in the pop song as a whole. Did somebody say Lexicon Of Love?

  5. 5
    Scott M on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Thing is, as preposterous as this is, Jimmy Nail takes (or took) it, and his other stuff, like the equally bizarre Love Don’t Live Here Anymore cover, very seriously. (That’s not to say that this isn’t very good though, definitely more than a 4 for me.)

    EDIT: Just seen Tom’s comment; this is just what I’ve read about him. He doesn’t seem stupid but delusions of grandeur can belie that.

  6. 6
    chelovek na lune on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Very much better than anything the Streets ever came close to doing (all of which is monochrome in comparison), and much better than anyone had any reason to expect it to be. Definitely better than a four in my book, too. Maybe a six.

    But as good as “Avenue” – indeed a quite outstanding work, of some intricate beauty – or even the weakest track (if I could even decide if any of them might deserve to be described as such) on “The Lexicon of Love”?

    I can’t go for that (no can do).

    Although maybe Hall and Oates – on a track like, say, “Private Eyes”, isn’t such a bad point of comparison (although “Ain’t No Doubt” is its inferior, melodically. (I’m not lying)

  7. 7
    MarkG on 30 Aug 2011 #

    I’d give this one an eight, remember the golden rule: “If you can make a record that’s better than people reasonably expect, do it.” Here, we were all genuinely surprised that this record was as good as it was, given that his previous effort was a dull-ish cover version.

    Which is why most of the solo singles from ex-members of Girls Aloud shouldn’t have bothered: Wearing nighties in yr video with a song that is some variation of a theme along the lines of “I’m Yours” is what you’d expect.

    There are a million other examples, but I digress…

    There’s a great story about how JimNail’s Virgin contract was ended, but it’s probably actionable so no.

  8. 8
    Billy Smart on 30 Aug 2011 #

    TOTPWatch: Jimmy Nail thrice performed ‘Ain’t No Doubt’ on Top of the Pops. Details of the Christmas edition shall be provided anon;

    16 July 1992. Also in the studio that week were; Wet Wet Wet, The Wedding Present, Jason Donovan, The Shamen and Sophie B Hawkins, plus a live performance by satellite from Billy Ray Cyrus in Nashville. Mark Franklin was the host.

    23 July 1992. Also in the studio that week were; Sunscreem, Shakespeare’s Sister, Enya and Jon Secada. Claudia Simon & Tony Dortie were the hosts.

  9. 9
    swanstep on 30 Aug 2011 #

    This is new to me, but at first listen I like it quite a lot, and it feels like a 6 or 7 (maybe more – those horns are tasty, the shuffle beat works, the bass is great, and the female vocal timbre is just…. right). I could easily imagine this gender-flipped and done by Swing Out Sister – the #1 they never had. Anyhow, although all my thoughts here must be provisional, this was a very pleasant surprise…

  10. 10
    Jimmy the Swede on 30 Aug 2011 #

    I think “unintentionally funny” is spot-on. Nail is not stupid, no, but this is ludicrous and half-inching the US Army jogging chant simply pushes it over the edge of ridicule.

  11. 11
    MarkG on 30 Aug 2011 #

    #8 how nice that it seems everyone was on the same week as The Wedding Present, recently. It’s their “Hit Parade” year innit?

  12. 12
    wichita lineman on 30 Aug 2011 #

    The chorus screws this up for me. US army marching songs seemed to be all over the place (post gulf war?) at the time, so it was a smart move. But a novelty song called I’m On The Train would have been a smart move a few years later – doesn’t mean it would have actually been GOOD.

    I assumed Sylvia Mason-James would emerge, Seal-like, as a star after her cameo, and listening to her now I can’t believe it didn’t happen.

  13. 13
    Billy Smart on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Jimmy Nail’s heyday as a TV guest was in the nineties;

    ASPEL & COMPANY: with Jimmy Nail, Alice Cooper, Catherine Zeta Jones (1992)

    DES O’CONNOR TONIGHT: with Jimmy Nail, Chris Barrie, Berry Gordo, Jethro, Those Two Girls (1995)

    FRIDAY NIGHT’S ALL WRIGHT: with Pete Tong, Lennox Lewis, The Lilt Ladies, Helen Chamberlain, Chris Eubank, Rosanna Arquette, Jimmy Nail, Paulo De Canio, Shania Twain, Cleopatra (1998)

    THE NATIONAL LOTTERY LIVE: with Bob Monkhouse, Alan Dedicoat (The Voice of the Balls), Jimmy Nail, Steve Coogan (Tony Ferrino) (1996)

    THE O ZONE: with Jimmy Nail, Moist, Jade (1995)

    OFF THE RECORD: with Jimmy Nail (1985)

    THE SOUTH BANK SHOW: Jimmy Nail (1995)

    STEVE WRIGHT’S PEOPLE SHOW: with Joan Rivers, Jimmy Nail, Linda Evans, Yanni (1995)

    T•F•I• FRIDAY: with Will Macdonald, Andrew the Barman, Beverley Callard, Jimmy Nail, Reef, Texas (1997)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates, Mel Smith, Jimmy Nail, Tona De Brett, Richard Strange, Little Richard, Charles White, Balaam and The Angel, The Bluebells (1985)

    WOGAN: with Bronski Beat, Marc Almond, Virginia Holgate, William Hall, Peter Massey, Jimmy Nail, Geoffrey Thomson (1985)

    WOGAN: with Charlotte Lewis, Jimmy Nail, Michael Newby, Johnny Speight (1986)

    WOGAN: with Kevin Costner, The Miltown Boys, Jimmy Nail (1991)

    Unless I missed out on something, giving him a South Bank Show profile was perhaps pushing it a bit!

  14. 14
    chelovek na lune on 30 Aug 2011 #

    #8 Good Lord, you’ve done something amazing – that list of artists from those two editions of TOTP (and the songs they were performing) succeeds in making 1992 look like, if not a year of pop greatness, then at least a year in which there genuinely were some great pop numbers doing the rounds. Which is not how I have ever thought of it. Sunscreem! Jon Secada! Sophie B Hawkins! One might not get that impression from the no 1s. (I know this has been said of 1989 too, but for that year it was easy to find a counter-response to the naffness of Jive Bunny et al)

  15. 15
    wichita lineman on 30 Aug 2011 #

    NOW! watch

    Jimmy appears on Disc 2 of Now 22 between the Big O and Joe Cocker, which I’m sure he’d have been quite happy about. A pretty unappealing batch of old people music until En Vogue perk things up.

    I’ll throw my hat into the ring for Richard Marx’s Twin Peaks-channeling AOR murder mystery, though.

    1. Richard Marx : “Hazard”
    2. Elton John : “The One”
    3. Roy Orbison : “I Drove All Night”
    4. Jimmy Nail : “Ain’t No Doubt”
    5. Joe Cocker : “Unchain My Heart”
    6. Curtis Stigers : “You’re All That Matters To Me”
    7. Wilson Phillips : “You Won’t See Me Cry”
    8. Crowded House : “Four Seasons in One Day”
    9. Annie Lennox : “Why”
    10. George Michael and Elton John : “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”
    11. Diana Ross : “One Shining Moment”
    12. Vanessa L. Williams : “Save the Best for Last”
    13. En Vogue : “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)”
    14. Soul II Soul : “Joy”
    15. Incognito : “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”

  16. 16
    wichita lineman on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Re 14: I remember it as a pretty great year, and the no.2s tend to bear that out on the whole. Not in this case though – Jimmy kept the pretty dire Sesame’s Treet off the top. Phew.

    Yes, Jon Secada! Just Another Day is one of the most oddly structured hits of the day. A musicologist could probably explain it, but the chorus comes it an odd moment, the chord progressions seem unresolved, the whole thing has an air of desperate melancholy.

  17. 17
    flahr on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Nail is curiously resemblant of Kevin Rowland in the video, and indeed “Ain’t No Doubt” is, well, curiously good. “Come on,” think I, “it’s a TV star’s spinoff single, it will probably be amusingly awful”, but no, as #1 says Jimmy Nail does a competent Mike Skinner and the chorus is surprisingly funky and it all comes off as an uncar-crash, somehow. [6]

  18. 18
    thefatgit on 30 Aug 2011 #

    In the days before I realised I was a bit rockist, I would have said this was a bit well…naff, really. Without properly understanding why songs like this send me running for cover, I would have dismissed it as an actor’s vanity project, like Bruce Willis for instance. There’s nothing wrong with his version of “Under The Boardwalk” except that I’m imagining a smug little smile on his face which says “I’m doing this because I’m Bruce Willis, and I couldn’t give 2 cents whether it’s any good or not.”

    To be fair, that’s a bit harsh on Ooor Jimmy, who has quite a versatile voice. There’s an oh-so-subtle hint of grit, compared to Rod Stewart’s gravel. The chant-along chorus lifts the song, but I can’t forgive those spoken asides, having been subjected to McCartney/Jackson’s “The Girl Is Mine” from a few years back. I like the idea of giving an almost *cough* bluesy song, a funky twist, but in a more deft helmsman’s hands like say, Chris Rea it might have been so much more. I just can’t love it. 5

  19. 19
    23 Daves on 30 Aug 2011 #

    I think it was my mother who pointed out at the time that there are some resemblances between this and Dennis Waterman’s “I Could Be So Good For You”, except “Ain’t No Doubt” is a rather more downbeat, negative affair. There again, she also said it managed to resemble “I Wanna Be Your Drill Instructor”.

    I need to listen to this one again, I think. It irritated the shit out of me at the time due to its sheer over-exposure, so a fresh pair of ears may be necessary.

  20. 20
    hectorthebat on 30 Aug 2011 #

    I remember this song at primary school, and Jimmy Nail being an unlikely (in hindsight) heartthrob for some of the girls. I also remember the schoolyard joke that Jimmy Nail was going to get togther with Pliers (of Chaka Demus fame) to form some kind of tool-based supergroup.

    As a song, this really represents what Popular is all about. As a song, it really isn’t great. It deliberately steals from a US Army chant, is repetitive to the point of distraction, and is “sung” by a man who is about as far from a natural popstar as you could get. However, as a “great” number 1, it ticks all the boxes. For repetitive, read catchy. It’s more memorable than most of the songs either side of it on this list, but I wouldn’t want it anywhere near my Ipod! In addition, the fact that it’s by Jimmy Nail, and not, say, Wet Wet Wet, or UB40, means that it stands out, and led to a USP.

    Where is Jimmy Nail now? Surely he’d be perfect for I’m a Celebrity – instantly recognisable, down on his luck, and a “cult” figure.

  21. 21
    punctum on 30 Aug 2011 #

    #6: Read my comment again; that’s not what I said.

  22. 22
    Steve Mannion on 30 Aug 2011 #

    One mark off for the “She’s lying” voice NOT actually being the bloke from PM Dawn (so 5).

  23. 23
    MarkG on 30 Aug 2011 #

    #22 reminds me, I heard the 12″ remix version, Sylvia MJ is mixed out, so for a long time it’s just JNail moaning “She’s Lying”….

    “She’s Lying”….

    “She’s Lying”….

  24. 24
    punctum on 30 Aug 2011 #

    #16: “Sesame’s Treet” is not “dire”; greatest TOTP performance ever (if only I could find it on YouTube).

  25. 25
    Tom on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Sesame’s Treet > Roobarb And Custard >>> A Trip To Trumpton – which ones am I missing? (“Charly” I suppose – hard to fairly assess that one tho in light of later activity)

    At the time we reckoned anyone using the Screen Test theme would have been quids in – absurdly dramatic.

  26. 26
    Rory on 30 Aug 2011 #

    I’m surprised that a Pet Shop Boys fan like you, Tom, hasn’t mentioned the glaring similarity of this track’s spoken passages to some of Neil Tennant’s.

    This UK number one marks the first of 1992 that I wasn’t around for – by July I was travelling in the states on my way home from my student year – so I was never immersed in it to the degree you all were, although it did hit number 5 in Australia that September. We knew Jimmy from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, but that had a low enough profile that the “celebrity” angle seemed secondary to whether or not it was any good.

    And to me, it is. Listening to it without the video, the mixture of elements works well – I’m tempted to go to 7, and wouldn’t go below a 6.

  27. 27
    chelovek na lune on 30 Aug 2011 #

    @25 for starters, a brace of Magic Roundabout spinoffs out simultaneously: “Summer’s Magic” by Mark Summers; and another (less commercially successful one) that I can’t remember the name of

  28. 28
    MarkG on 30 Aug 2011 #

    #24 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQtB2x3EDAw

  29. 29
    Steve Mannion on 30 Aug 2011 #

    #25 ‘A Trip To Trumpton’ better than those other two imo (not including ‘Charly’ which is another level up), partly because of how it develops into quite a different track on the side (which I think was actually the b-side ‘I Feel The Heat’ interlopin’).

  30. 30
    JLucas on 30 Aug 2011 #

    This is OK, quite funny. But Crocodile Shoes would be firmly within my top ten least favourite songs of all time.

    It seemed like it was in the charts forever, and it was irritating beyond belief.

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