May 10

TIFFANY – “I Think We’re Alone Now”

Popular76 comments • 5,564 views

#603, 30th January 1988, video

Listening to it now, what strikes me most about “I Think We’re Alone Now” is how discofied it is. Its clipped drums and chunky bass synths mean it starts like a low-rent “Always On My Mind”, and it looks set to head down a similar hi-NRG path. Only a couple of the very mildest rock touches – that tiny organ flourish leading into the chorus, a very diffident bit of electric guitar over the coda – and its rather sluggish pace divert it.

Oh, and the way Tiffany Dawlish herself never lives up to the gusto of that opening – “Children behaaaaave”. You hear that and you think she’s going to belt the song out, grab onto of its urgency, ride its hormonal high stakes. Original singer Tommy James knew why being alone was a good idea: so most certainly did his band the Shondells, who play “I Think” with a hopping, blue-balled desperation. But that single-mindedness is missing from Tiffany’s version and so her “alone” seems a little more academic. You don’t really believe anything terribly naughty is going to happen, and actually the comforting swell of strings towards the end just seems to underline that Tiff’s parents don’t have a great deal to worry about: that trademark denim jacket is staying firmly on.

Teenpop stars are often accused of pushing a wholesome image to mask a less squeaky-clean reality, but actually remarkably few do: the people buying them want some level of glamour from even the most reputable star. This era is the larval stage of modern teenpop, but compared to 00s and 10s pop acts Tiffany seems quaint, hokey almost, and even at the time there was a sense of the amateur about her which served her quite well. Her record sleeves seemed defiantly basic, and all that homespun mythmaking about her touring malls was more endearing from her than similar gimmicks would be from anyone else after. Nothing wrong with the song either: it’s very strong and always fakes me into thinking I enjoy the record more than I do. But for me song and singer don’t really fit, and the arrangement drains the potential from both.



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  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 13 May 2010 #

    Low-rent is right. The thing that prevents me from responding to Belinda Carlisle becomes actively irritating here: the clash between the classic pop intention/ source and the new pop styling, lacking the warmth of the first, or the strangeness and bright yellow playfulness of the latter.

  2. 2
    Tom on 13 May 2010 #

    By the way, Sterling Clover’s account of a 2001 Tiffany show is highly recommended.

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 13 May 2010 #

    My 16-year old reaction wasn’t much better, though I responded more positively to the inherent strength of the song, being less familiar with sixties pop.

    The response of my peers was even more unforgiving, seeing this music as inauthentic, with an undertone of misogyny at it being made by girls the same age as us. This viewpoint was best articulated by a Ben Elton routine on ‘Friday Night Live’ complaining, Billy Bragg-style, that every time he switched on the radio he had to listen to “Kylie Taxi Tiffany” rather than proper grown-up music. What a knob.

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 13 May 2010 #

    Number 2 watch: It’s started! A week of Bros’ ‘When Will I Be Famous?’ In retrospect, a prophetic single, documenting the way we live now.

  5. 6
    Tom on 13 May 2010 #

    My peers were pretty forgiving of Tiffany – she seemed considerably less evil to us at the time than the next number one, for reasons of distance/lack of ubiquity really. Someone even had a Tiffany poster though it was very quickly defaced*. He switched his affections to Wendy James soon after.

  6. 7
    Billy Smart on 13 May 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: Tiffany twice performed I Think We’re Alone Now on Top Of The Pops;

    14 January 1988. Also in the studio that week were; Climie Fisher, Krush, Morris Minor & The Majors and Terence Trent D’arby. Simon Mayo & Gary Davies were the hosts.

    28 January 1988. Also in the studio that week were; Debbie Gibson, 2 Men, A Drum Machine & A Trumpet, Jermaine Stewart and T’Pau. Mike Smith & Gary Davies were the hosts.

  7. 8
    Tom on 13 May 2010 #


  8. 9
    punctum on 13 May 2010 #

    One particularly telling point of difference between British and American pop culture is their differing attitude to the act of singing in shopping malls. The comic actor and singer Don Estelle, who, as you may recall, had a number one with Windsor Davies in 1975 with “Whispering Grass,” was toward the end of his days reduced to selling his homemade tapes in Arndale shopping centres up and down the country, and worse, singing live to their accompaniment, to the utter bewilderment of teenagers too young to remember It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and pensioners too old to care.

    For the young Tiffany, malls were there to be worked, a ladder to be climbed rather than a terminal cellar. The video for “I Think We’re Alone Now” is a cut-and-paste sequence of Tiffany enthusiastically (although it’s supposed to be a song about secrecy, concerning concealed feelings) and energetically belting out the number to uniformly appreciative shoppers. At least she can sing the opening “Children BEHAVE” line with more authority than the approaching-twenty Tommy James did in 1966.

    The staccato bass eighths which James added to his original version, cutting out all extraneous guitars and keyboards and hiding the basic Four Tops-derived beat, does have a minor role to play in the road to electropop perfection, but inevitably his “I Think We’re Alone Now” is far more subtle; after the line “The beating of our hearts is the only sound” the band drops out entirely to leave a solitary conga drum and crickets drumming and chirping in the background, whereas in Tiffany’s beat-perfect update all that can be offered is a minor variation on the “Blue Monday” drum program.

    However, Tiffany’s vocal performance is indisputably the better one; her despair on the “play” of the phrase “watch how you play” carries an aura of truthfulness and her eager scamping towards the “you put your arms around me and we tumble to the right and then you say” mono-breath passage is decidedly, if dangerously (for her age), libidinous (but then, to complete the mall circle, “the trees don’ t need to know”). It’s just a shame that the backing track sounds neutered with some entirely inappropriate rock guitar drawling towards the end. Of course she couldn’t really go anywhere beyond or after this, and the fact that she was last seen doing full-frontal Playboy centrespreads (in 2002) is a sad confirmation of this. It’s the second of the female bubblegum triumvirate to open Popular‘s 1988 account, but perhaps the least convincing.

  9. 10
    weej on 13 May 2010 #

    I can’t see any appeal in this, and I like plenty of disposable girly pop. It only escapes a ‘1’ from me as it’s too bland to actually grate.

  10. 11
    Billy Smart on 13 May 2010 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Only four UK TV appearances on the list;

    DES O’CONNOR TONIGHT: with Paul Nicholas, Tiffany, A-Ha (1988)

    HIT ME BABY ONE MORE TIME: with Gloria Gaynor, Howard Jones, The Honeyz, Limahl, Tiffany (2005)

    THE ROXY: with 2 Men, A Drum Machine & A Trumpet, Jermaine Stewart, The Christians, Tiffany, Terence Trent D’arby (1988)

    WOGAN: with Simon Callow, Pauline Collins, Kit & The Widow, Esther Rantzen, Tiffany, Desmond Wilcox (1988)

  11. 12
    David Belbin on 13 May 2010 #

    I like this song so much that I once named a short story after it. The story was in Ambit magazine and concludes with the narrator listening to the (uncredited) Tiffany version of the song. However, the version that turned me onto it was by The Rubinoos. It’s on their eponymous album and got to 45 in the billboard hot hundred. I’m pretty sure I prefer it to the Tommy James version, but it’s been a while…. This is one of those lyrics that sound like they belong to a girl group song but is much more effective when narrated by a male, and is, in some ways, a successor to Billy J Kramer’s 1964 UK number 1, ‘Little Children’.

  12. 13
    DietMondrian on 13 May 2010 #

    Interesting description of it as a low-rent Always On My Mind – I often find myself humming the “Children behaaaaaave” line over the start of Always On My Mind/In My House.

    That’s the second time I’ve mentioned AOMM/IMH – I’ll shut up about it now.

  13. 14
    Mike Atkinson on 13 May 2010 #

    Like David, I first knew the Rubinoos version, which I taped off John Peel’s show circa 1977-78. I therefore found Tiffany’s version hard to take at the time, but I’ve long since come around to it – it’s a great record for dancing and singing along to drunkenly at parties and wedding discos, and I have done both on numerous occasions.

    Back in 1988, a friend of mine was one half of an alternative cabaret act, and I have a clear memory of the parody version they performed at Nottingham’s Old Vic (supporting the Joan Collins Fan Club, as I recall, or was it a Clause 28 campaign fund-raiser?), with lyrics amended to take the piss out of smug young marrieds. “We’ll tear down the walls… and build an archway to the dining room…” Happy days.

  14. 15
    Erithian on 13 May 2010 #

    This and the aforementioned Bros song were featured on a TOTP2 80s special over the weekend, and Tiffany brought a fond frisson or two. Despite the subject matter, the entire package is as wholesome and unthreatening as Rick Astley, Debbie Gibson and the upcoming person to whom Punctum alluded but got away with it. The shopping mall appearances were canny marketing, depicting Tiff as just like the rest of us, down to her fine but not overly glamorous looks. I remember being vaguely irritated by the phrasing where she hesitates mid-line in “doesn’t seem to be ……. anyone around”. But overall, I knew this was a song for kids younger than myself, although I had plenty of time for it.

    Thought the Bros record sucked big-time though.

  15. 16
    Pete on 13 May 2010 #

    Yeah, the Rubinoos version is my favourite too, and Tom is right about the plastic syn drums, really really odd (possibly designed to be a shopping mall backing track, to cut through the chat). Its a sad thing there is no Debbie Gibson number one, I much preferred Debbie to Tiffany – possibly for rockist reasons but if you can’t be a rockist when you at 15 when can you be. There was this brief explosion of female singers at this period* – it was like a proto-2009!

    *It wasn’t an actual explosion that would have messed up TOTP too much.

  16. 17
    Erithian on 13 May 2010 #

    Come to think of it, this was number one when I first met my future in-laws!!

  17. 18
    pink champale on 13 May 2010 #

    i’ve not heard the original(s) but i like tiffany’s version and think that it somehow works better staying pg rated. (though for the same theme done with beserk sweaty palmed intensity see tatu’s mighty ‘not going to get us’). everyone’s favourite shouty punkalong merchants, snuff proved that it works quite well as a shouty punkalong too.

  18. 19
    MBI on 13 May 2010 #

    Last thread I mentioned how this number one is actively failing at what Belinda Carlisle did successfully in the last one. What I was thinking about is the little growls she does in the verses — they sell the whole thing for me.

    Meanwhile, Tiffany tries the same — trying to get away into the NIGGHHT — and it just sounds awful. It’s embarrassing and a clear showcase for her failings as a vocalist. She sounds like she’s coughing up a hairball.

  19. 20
    col124 on 13 May 2010 #

    re: 16, yeah Debbie Gibson, at the time (and in my high school), seemed the superior choice. “She writes her own songs, at least” was the usual argument, and “Only in My Dreams” is pretty great stuff. Tiffany always seemed lower-scale and cheaper, the Cracked to Gibson’s Mad magazine. I’m surprised how quickly they both faded–at the time, it seemed like DG and Tiffany could’ve been chart forces for years. But they were both (seemingly) gone by 1990.

  20. 21
    swanstep on 13 May 2010 #

    I think this record is quite horrible: unlistenable and unmusical in something like the way that 1986’s Every Loser Wins is. Of course, the underlying song here has lots of personality, so even a genuinely bad version of ITWAN is, on one level, not *that* bad. Still, this is the worst version of ITWAN I’ve ever heard, and I think that if you commissioned 100 new versions of the song tomorrow, at least 90 of them would be better than this. Tiff’s diction is shocking (including on the ‘Children behave’ – she could be singing ‘Children explain’), and she’s *late* (and not in any interesting way – although maybe it helps at drunken parties judging by one nice comment above!) on a bunch of lines. It’s hard to believe that a competent producer would allow this stuff to slide by. I’m guessing that this was, at bottom, a demo that escaped into the wild somehow in some local market and then took off, went surprisingly national, then international. Makes Kylie’s 1987 (pretty awful, utterly redundant) Locomotion look polished! Unwanted cssty watch: TomScore(Tiff’s ITWAN) = TS(Message in a Bottle) = TS(Brass in Pocket) > TS(Hey Jude) > TS(Sailing).

    I’m with weej in reckoning this a (low) 2.

  21. 22
    Tom on 13 May 2010 #

    As usual, Swanstep’s consistency watch lets me pride myself on my sound judgement. “Hey Jude” I’ve come round to but I’d enjoy hearing ITWAN pretty much exactly as much as Bottle or Brass and a great deal more than the horrible Sailing. :)

  22. 23
    thefatgit on 13 May 2010 #

    We’re wading through the stonewash denim end of the pop wardrobe, looking for Narnia and Mr Tumnus in the flat-packed MFI creation with the missing bag of screws.

    Punctum rightly joins the dots between Belinda, Tiffany and … (we all know what’s coming next). The transition from AOR/Pop to Pop-rock bubblegum to mmmmfff hhhmmm* is almost seamless. What I remember most about this song (even before the timely TOTP2 reminder the other night (interesting choice of knitwear)) is that rubbery bassline that propels the song along. What I’m reminded of from that TOTP2 is those shrill synths. Tiffany’s voice is almost an afterthought except for that “tryin’ to get away/into the night” where she must be instinctively wrinkling her nose to extract maximum tweeness, at the very point where it should take off into bounce-along rockiness, but instead we’re left with this awkward moment that indicates innocence is about to be lost, but isn’t. Innocence is reinforced if anything. That’s the point of the whole song. The urge to give into temptation challenged by convention, peer pressure, society…all kinds of factors. So it becomes, in the world of Tiffany, incredibly chaste. Is heaven a place on earth? You should be so lucky, young lady!

    *bunny’s paws over mouth!

  23. 24
    Elsa on 13 May 2010 #

    Her name is actually Darwish, if you weren’t making a pun that I don’t get.

  24. 25
    swanstep on 13 May 2010 #

    @22, Tom. That’s the spirit! I should add that I liked and largely agreed with your *essay* on ITWAN. It felt like you were leading up to a 3 tho’…

  25. 26
    vinylscot on 13 May 2010 #

    I’m another who much prefers the Rubinoos – another of these “should have been a hit” songs which possibly suffered due to the sheer volume of late 70s pop/new wave around. I seem to remember Lene Lovich doing a rather Lene Lovich-ish version too – after Rubinoos, but pre-Tiff.

    I caught the TOTP2 rerun earleir this week, and the gap before “anyone around” really grated with me. She was REALLY late first time with it, and it sounded rather like she had to do it that way for the rest of the song just to make it sound as if the first time hadn’t been a mistake!

  26. 27
    Mike Atkinson on 13 May 2010 #

    No comments thus far on the Girls Aloud version? I thought it was rather jolly.

  27. 28
    Steve Mannion on 13 May 2010 #

    to me it seemed massively ineffective and pointless but I do like GA’s Pointer Sisters cover (only cover by them I do like).

  28. 29
    Andrew Hickey on 13 May 2010 #

    The strangest thing about this is that when looking for it on Spotify to remind myself, I see that the accompanying album featured a cover of Panic by The Smiths…

  29. 30
    TomLane on 13 May 2010 #

    Oh, a quite harmless Teen Idol cover. A good solid 6. Nothing offensive to my ears. Obviously it doesn’t top Tommy James’ original. And quite frankly, it was and still is a good song no matter who covers it. BTW- Tiffany went No. 1 in the U.S. with this, and Tommy James’ got to #4.

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