Apr 10

T’PAU – “China In Your Hand”

Popular67 comments • 6,454 views

#600, 14th November 1987, video

When I was small we had one of those boxy Minis with a wood-framed chassis. It was a fine car I’m sure – my Aunt took it from us in the late 70s and gave it a good run before it finally died. But there was always something ungainly about it, and looking back it’s odd to remember these machines which mixed metal and timber in a way that seems now quite un-car-like.

And “China In Your Hand” gives me the same feeling. This is a power ballad which hasn’t come out sleek and thunderous, it’s come out lumpy and awkward and lashed together with incongruous bits of wood. There’s a wrecking-ball chorus, Carol Decker’s billowing voice, enjoyably scrambled lyrics – but there’s also that sax solo where you’re expecting a guitar one, and those precise scene-setting pizzicatos which make the intro so tempting and the rest of the tune so draggy. The mix of sounds should make the song more interesting, expand on the sturdy, denim-clad virtues at its core, but it just seems messy. Especially if you play it next to a full-on hormone exocet like Heart’s “Alone” – a fairly obvious marker for what this version of “China” was aiming for and missing.



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  1. 31
    Stevie on 16 Apr 2010 #

    Candie Payne. Though Decker was born in the same part of Merseyside as me, she’s really more of a spiritual Black Country girl, I think.

  2. 32
    thefatgit on 16 Apr 2010 #

    Swanstep, that Milla Jovovich video is homage to Louis Bunuel innit?

  3. 33
    James Masterton on 16 Apr 2010 #

    Worth noting that the producer of China In Your Hand was Roy Thomas Baker. This record shares its creator with Bohemian Rhapsody. Think on it.

  4. 34
    Mark M on 16 Apr 2010 #

    I have nothing to say about China In Your Hand, a dull, dull song.

    Heart And Soul on the other hand, always seemed suspiciously conceptually similar to this indie classic.

  5. 35
    Billy Smart on 16 Apr 2010 #

    Re 27: Alan Partridge in Norwich Tandys, pressing the open button on a tape deck: “Nice action!”

    I saw a big book of sheet music once that promised “The 100 best-loved songs ever”. I was surprised to see that ‘China In Your Hand’ was one of them. Now that we hardly ever have to listen to them, I’d say that T’Pau are a rather endearing footnote in British popular culture – a bit rubbish, but at least having the courage of their convictions, and their art having a certain homemade quality, however much of a sheen it was given.

    This went down quite well in the fourth form, the majority of boys being suckers for classic rock stylings, and some of us fancying Carol Dekker.

  6. 36
    Billy Smart on 16 Apr 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: T’Pau performed China In Your hand on Top of the Pops on three occasions;

    5 November 1987. Also in the studio that week were; Heartbeat and Eric B & Rakim. Janice Long & Mike Smith were the hosts.

    3 December 1987. Also in the studio that week were; The Hooters, The Proclaimers, Paul McCartney and Maxi Priest. Gary Davies and Janice Long were the hosts.

    25 December 1987. Also in the studio that week were; The Bee Gees, Rick Astley, The Pet Shop Boys and Johnny Hates Jazz. Mike Smith and Gary Davies were the hosts.

  7. 37
    Jimmy the Swede on 16 Apr 2010 #

    I can only echo Erithian’s comment about the ash cloud with relation to Tom’s holiday, which one suspects is overseas. I am writing this at the Customs Red Point in Gatwick’s North Terminal and I am the last man left before the night team take over, the rest of my team having been stood down. The reason, not suprisingly, is that not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse. Basically, we’re closed and there is not yet any indication that flights will resume after 1300 tomorrow (Saturday). Best of luck, Tom! And to everyone else, of course.

    “China In Your Hand?” Not really one for me, I’m afraid. A fairly tame effort, which probably owed much of its success to the singer rather than the song. Didn’t Carol Decker attract a particularly nasty “admirer” soon after this hit the top?

  8. 38
    Billy Smart on 16 Apr 2010 #

    Re: 36. Heartbeat? Who they?

  9. 39
    Mark M on 16 Apr 2010 #

    Re 38: Happy clappy evangelicals, apparently. Maybe they had an earnest debate with devout 5 Percenter Rakim…

  10. 40
    swanstep on 16 Apr 2010 #

    #34, Mark M. Good catch on that Felt song being strip-mined. The curse of Cherry Red records (to influence v. widely but get no money and little public recognition oneself) strikes again.

    #32, fatgit. Milla’s vid. (which she directed) apes/recreates a (n early Bunuel-influenced) ’40s piece by Maya Deren called ‘Meshes of the Afternoon’. I confess to not even hearing of Meshes before Milla’s vid dropped in the mid ’90s, but apparently it’s a Film School/Studies standard/classic. Milla J. marked herself out early as being a bit of a smartie: she wrote some good songs and was v. good in some great films (Dazed and Confused and The Claim)… But (say as you would ‘…and then he invaded Iraq…’) then she married her Resident Evil director…

  11. 41
    Alan not logged in on 17 Apr 2010 #

    the ash won’t be spoiling Tom’s travel plans. But my surprise ft redesign might. I kid. I kid

  12. 42
    MikeMCSG on 17 Apr 2010 #

    Much as I liked the idea of someone from Shrewsbury – much-loved from childhood visits – making it big, this is really awful. How anyone can compare it to Enya or Tori Amos escapes me.

    BTW: I know this is cheeky but is anyone here a Spotify Premium member and can give me an invitation token ? It’s very frustrating to finally upgrade from Windows 98 and find it’s still out of reach. Email to mikemcsg@btinternet.com.

  13. 43
    Billy Smart on 17 Apr 2010 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: T’Pau’s TV appearances include;

    ALBUM: with T’Pau (1988)

    THE BRITISH RECORD INDUSTRY AWARDS: with The Who, The Bee Gees, T’Pau, Terence Trent D’Arby, Bananarama, Rick Astley, Chris Rea (1988)

    THE HIPPODROME SHOW: with Bernard Manning, T’Pau, Munoz, Then Jerico, Jeff McBride (1989)

    THE ROXY: with Jermaine Stewart (‘Gonna Get Lucky’), T’Pau (‘Sex Talk’), Lloyd Cole & the Commotions (‘From The Hip’), Pat And Mick (‘Let’s All Chant’), Bananarama (‘I Want You Back’) (1988)

    THE (NOEL EDMONDS) SATURDAY ROADSHOW: with Craig Ferguson, T’Pau (1988)

    SUNDAY, SUNDAY: with T’Pau, Eric Idle, Carol Decker, Richard Digance, Leigh Lawson, Twiggy (1989)

    WOGAN: with Stéphane Grappelli, Miriam Makeba, T’Pau, Mike Walsh (1988)

  14. 44
    anto on 17 Apr 2010 #

    The review has put into words pretty much all I’ve come to think about this song so I can’t add much.
    I will just say this is the first number one I ever really resented.
    Was it 4 or 5 weeks? I can’t remember but I know at one point it felt like T’pau would be number one forever.

  15. 45
    Brooksie on 17 Apr 2010 #

    Tom accurately captures what is bad about the song. But I’m a real also-ran-fan. So I like this. I’m glad T’Pau got their moment in the sun. I rather like the fact that it was about Frankenstein even though nobody seemed to notice (I did). Compared to some of the dreck around at the time, along with the birth of SAW as a viable force, T’Pau sound positively regal. I also liked many of their follow-up songs.

  16. 46
    anto on 17 Apr 2010 #

    Re 24: Good point about Qs creep towards misogyny. This months issue features Florence in a figure-hugging outfit on the cover – other recent front covers Lily Allen topless (from the back), Cheryl Tweedy looking wet and willing, Lady Gaga with her arms over her nipples.
    If a woman wants to be on the cover she’s required to compromise.
    Have they ever asked Noel Gallagher whose featured on the cover 579 times to go topless or Bono to whip his bum out????
    I know Terence Trent D’arby once appeared full-frontal nude on the cover with a strategically placed caption to avoid ahem introducing the hardline which Q insisted was because they had taken a risk putting him on the cover as his previous album had flopped and they needed a kind of attention-grabber. I would be interested to know if they would have asked a white singer whose previous album had flopped
    (Be Here Now? Pop? Tin Machine?) to do the same.
    I seem to recall Q did a special “Womens Issue” a few years back – the cover was inevitably P.J Harvey in a skimpy t-shirt and underpants.
    One of the main questions they asked female artists in the issue was
    ” What’s wrong with being sexy?” Yes! Really! I can’t remember the other questions but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were along the lines of ” Does your boyfriend write all your songs for you?” and
    ” Why do you worry your pretty little head about these things?”

  17. 47
    lonepilgrim on 17 Apr 2010 #

    I really hope Q (or anyone else) never ask Bono to “whip his bum out”

  18. 48
    MikeMCSG on 17 Apr 2010 #

    Many thanks to whoever sent me the Spotify invite. Who says your mates on the Internet aren’t real ones ?

  19. 49
    anto on 18 Apr 2010 #

    Re 47: Well he doesn’t ask permission to talk through it.

  20. 50
    Conrad on 18 Apr 2010 #

    46, maybe they thought quoting spinal tap would allow them a free pass?

    Q is a horrible, horrible publication – the music-related equivalent to the daily mail. Smug, reactionary, middle england personified.

  21. 51
    swanstep on 19 Apr 2010 #

    @anto, 46. In the light of your remarks I checked out Q’s on-line cover archive….and, for what it’s worth the Gaga and Florence covers seem to me to be in the same ballpark as covers with Eminem, Justin T., Pink, Chili Peppers etc. from 5+ years ago. When you look at the last 20 years of covers in fact only 2003 is truly skin-obsessed (half of the covers – including Robbie Williams – basically naked), and beyond that the Lilly Allen and Cheryl Cole covers you mention from 2009 really jump out. They don’t feel like music magazine covers at all, and presumably they were designed to cause consternation/controversy, as well as to draw in a lads mag audience. I guess it’ll be interesting to see whether Q heads in this direction, but I wouldn’t bet on it. They might get a quick circ. boost from a naughty cover, but I don’t think they want to become just another lads mag.

  22. 52
    Erithian on 19 Apr 2010 #

    anto #46 – if it’s the one I’m thinking of, it was a cover featuring PJ Harvey, Bjork and Tori Amos under the headline “Hips, Lips, Tits, Power” (May ’94 – thanks for the tipoff swanstep) and as I recall the feature was a pretty serious and respectful interview with the three of them about women’s involvement in music.

    The abovementioned references to T’Pau, Sleeper and Transvision Vamp were of a piece with their occasional targeting of a band to be Aunt Sallies (Toploader took that role for a while) but female-fronted bands were used relatively often. (And Q are detemined to use that photo of BEP’s Fergie wetting herself at every opportunity!)

    Re women having to compromise to be on the cover – in the cases of Lily, Cheryl and Gaga at least they seem perfectly willing to wear fairly revealing clothing in their videos: is that compromise on their part as well or are they happy with it as part of their image, I wonder?

  23. 53
    Erithian on 19 Apr 2010 #

    Oh, and James at #33 – good to see you on these pages.

  24. 54
    thefatgit on 19 Apr 2010 #

    Adrian Deevoy, (for it is he) wrote that article on PJ Harvey, Bjork and Tori Amos. I notice his CV includes Penthouse AND Cosmopolitan. Go figure!

  25. 55
    anto on 19 Apr 2010 #

    Re 52: No it was a different one. More recent with P.J Harvey on her own.
    I think with Q it’s more a kind of lazy, pandering sexism of the sort we sometimes find in Richard Bransons Virgin ads. It’s the way they think there is actually something wrong with looking like a Barmaid.
    Not as aggressive as the whole Nuts/Zoo thing. It’s a kind of thoughtlessness as much as anything.
    It’s not the only reason I find Q disagreeable. I think Conrad@50 put it best. It’s a rather small-minded publication which probably thinks of itself as sophisticated. It’s brother mag Empire has similar tendencies.

  26. 56
    swanstep on 20 Apr 2010 #

    @anto, 55. Is this the PJ Harvey cover you mean? She’s got her guitar out, looks pretty in control and ferocious with her ‘lick my legs’ t-shirt on, and in the context of her glorious Stories from the City cd of the time, she looks every inch the Patti Smith of the ’00s. Gaga’s ‘dildo down her trousers’ cover and florence’s ‘attack of the 50 ft woman’ cover seem to me to be somewhat similarly funky ‘rock goddess’ images. Only the Lily A. and Cheryl C. covers seem to me to overtly head off into true lad mag territory. But, as you suggest, Q’s real problems are almost certainly its general shallowness, spitefulness, etc..

  27. 57
    swanstep on 20 Apr 2010 #

    Unrelatedly, the ‘year of mixtapes’ blog which I’ve recommended to Popular a few times before has a Giorgio Moroder mixtape this week. I haven’t listened to it yet, but it looks fab, and very much the sort of thing that Popular regulars might want to check out.

  28. 58
    MikeMCSG on 20 Apr 2010 #

    #56 Much as I like her Northern ballsiness, Cheryl doesn’t belong on the cover of a “serious” music magazine at all. I’ve been pondering a switch to Mojo for a while ; I think it’s the thought that I’d be making a surrender to middle age that’s stopping me.

  29. 59
    lonepilgrim on 20 Apr 2010 #

    #58 I have followed a trajectory from Disco45 >> NME >> the Face >> Q >> Mojo/Uncut/The Wire.

    The latter is the best of the three by a long way – it introduces me to music I would otherwise be unaware of – even if, in many cases, after listening I would prefer to be unaware of it. The other two I buy out of force of habit but there are only so many Beatles/Stones/Dylan articles a person can read.

    I’ve bought The Word on occasions but find it disappointingly shallow when it purports to be more perceptive and wide ranging.

  30. 60
    swanstep on 30 Apr 2010 #

    Seriously, what an election you lot are having! Are you ready to welcome your new Spandau Ballet overlords? (not sure from a distance what clegg and brown equate to – pretty please enlighten me!). Is the whole thing, in combination with short campaigns in a Westminster system, now just X Factor/Idol for politics as a few people have written/said? Anyhow, someone should write a Popular rant on the topic that can then be the election comments thread….

  31. 61
    punctum on 30 Apr 2010 #

    Reminds me of when Steven Wells interviewed Carol Decker in the NME round about that time and she said: “I voted Alliance in the election! Sorry! I know it’s very boring and not rock ‘n’ roll!” They got on pretty well.

  32. 62
    Billy Smart on 30 Apr 2010 #

    IIRC that interview was T’Pau’s sole stint as NME cover stars, with the great strapline “T’BIFF! T’BANG! T’PAU!”

  33. 63
    punctum on 8 Jan 2015 #

    Then Play Long returns from its Christmas holiday to examine the parent album.

  34. 64
    Lazarus on 17 Apr 2015 #

    Carol Decker is one of the interviewees on tonight’s ‘How to make a Number One Record’ on BBC4, along with the always-available Noddy Holder and some bloke called Bob Stanley – clashes with HIGNFY so could be one for the iPlayer, but sounds like it might be worth a look. Also features Chris Difford, who surely can only talk of the frustration of being stalled at number two, as Squeeze were twice in 1979.

  35. 65
    Steve Mannion on 24 Nov 2015 #

    “I was in a coma. They played me China in Your Hand and that’s what brought me out of it.”


  36. 66
    wllilly on 28 Apr 2017 #

    …For ” Heart And Soul ” I will recall that living in Green Bay , Wisconsin at the time (IIRC) ” HAS ” came across in my head , as someone who knew of the Eurovision contest but of course never heard it – I thought to myself that HAS sounded like my idea of what a Eurovision song might be !

  37. 67
    Gareth Parker on 23 May 2021 #

    A perfectly reasonable record from Carol Decker and co, in my view. I’ll err on the generous side and go with a 6/10.

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