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Jun 10

WET WET WET – “With A Little Help From My Friends” / BILLY BRAGG ft CARA TIVEY – “She’s Leaving Home”

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#609, 21st May 1988

As I hinted last time “Little Help” showed up, it’s probably the most inappropriately covered Beatles song. It’s such a strong sentiment and such a rousing tune people can’t seem to resist it, but it only really works for me when Ringo takes his best sturdy shot at it on Sgt.Pepper’s. Everyone else sounds too confident, Marty Pellow certainly included. Pellow starts humble enough here but for the second half of the song he begins to showboat, borrowing phrasing from the Joe Cocker version (“ooh I get BAH widalittle help from MAH FRENDZ”), then ‘cutting loose’ to put some of that studied throatiness into the tune on the “love at first sight bit”, the 80s soul man’s vocal version of designer stubble. Though that’s also the only bit this perpetual smoothie sounds sincere on, since it strongly implies ditching those gooseberry “friends” forthwith in favour of Hot Pellow Action. Who needs them anyway? A little help can’t beat a whole lot of lovin’!

It’s undoubtedly Wet Wet Wet who pushed this charity single into our consideration, but for some fans it’s redeemed for its smuggling Billy Bragg to number one. Bragg’s side is certainly better: not lovely or subtle or re-listenable as the Beatles’ version, but it’s an intelligent cover by people who’ve thought about the song. Lugubrious though he is, his “She’s Leaving Home” shaves a half-minute off the Beatles’ original, mostly through switching the arrangement from George Martin orchestral lacework to simple piano-and-voices. That also fits a change in tone in the song. Though the Beatles’ version draws a lot of its power from McCartney’s sad, even-handed lead, there’s a straightened-doilies prissiness in the music which links with the lightest of backing vocal sneers from Lennon to tilt your sympathy towards the fleeing girl. You know exactly why she’s running and what she’s hoping to find – she wants to break out of the Berni Inn, light programme sixties and jump into colour and life.

But in Bragg’s version it’s less clear-cut: Cara Tivey sings the parents’ side with a flat, baffled sincerity, and the robust piano makes the song all the more hurt and stoical. By 1988, after all, a lot had changed, and ideas of “fun”, upward mobility, aspiration and cutting free of your roots were a little more double-edged – especially to a socialist like Bragg. The sadness and ambivalence were in “She’s Leaving Home” already: for me Bragg just shifts their direction a little, back towards the parents and away from the girl and her man from the motor trade with his Wet Wet Wet album on the in-car tape deck.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    Rory on 15 Jun 2010 #

    Out of a sense of duty I tracked down the lip-synched TOTP performance by Wet Wet Wet, and now feel the need to rinse out my brain. It’s like a joke cover-version from a Royal Variety Show.

    Billy Bragg’s “She’s Leaving Home” via Spotify wasn’t much better, to be honest. The label “worthy” springs to mind, and not in a good way. Around this time Bragg was one of those artists you felt you should like if you were at all left-leaning, but I really couldn’t take to his lugubrious vocals. Decent bloke, but musically just not my bag.

    (1 + 3)/2 = 2.

  2. 27
    Billy Smart on 15 Jun 2010 #

    #25 Manic Street Preachers’ Suicide is Painless was also taken from an NME charity album (Ruby Trax)

  3. 28
    vinylscot on 15 Jun 2010 #

    The Wets version of this is bland, bland, bland. It does sound like a karaoke cover, and even the bits where they deviate from the norm, e.g. “would you believe”, sound like he’s just lost the place and is struggling to catch up again.

    Despite being from Glasgow I never felt any sort of “ownership” or “protectiveness” of WWW, the way so many of my fellow Glaswegians seem to have done. It was as if, although they were cr*p, they were OK because they were local.

    As Rory mentioned, the Billy Bragg track just sounds worthy. You’re supposed to respect it, even though it’s really not terribly good.

    The Frank Sidebottom track was my own favourite on the NME album. I’m not sure if he’s been discussed much here, although he has covered a number of #1s, including Bo Rap and Kylie’s 1st. So maybe here is as good a place as anywhere to wish Frank (and/or Chris) a swift and full recovery from his recently diagnosed illness.

  4. 29
    Matthew H on 15 Jun 2010 #

    Like Punctum (whose skewed take is a lovely counterpoint to Tom’s perceptive write-up), I’ve got the cassette version of Sgt Pepper Knew My Father and now – goddammit – I’m going to have to reacquire a tape player to find out if I have the sample.

  5. 30
    thefatgit on 15 Jun 2010 #

    Another problem I have with Marti Pellow is that he always sounds pleased with himself, especially on “Angel Eyes”. It seems to be his default state.

  6. 31
    LondonLee on 15 Jun 2010 #

    I’d be pleased with myself too if I was that handsome.

    Without doing some memory research I can’t remember what I was doing in 1988 but the last few chart toppers passed me by without leaving a mark. I remember them but have no strong feeling either way about them and I don’t think I did at the time. An indication of their ordinary nature but I’ve a feeling I was hitting the point when I just didn’t care that much about the charts and was more interested in club music. A few years before this sort of thing would have annoyed me intensely and led to a few rants in the pub but now (or rather, then)… I couldn’t care less.

  7. 32
    wichita lineman on 16 Jun 2010 #

    The densely packed vocal line thankfully allows no room for Pellow’s soulful tick of filling in the gaps with “oh yes I do’ or “oh yes it is”. I guess it’s nicked from Sam Cooke but coming from Marti it sounds more like he’s opposite Molly Weir (or Sheena Easton if he’s lucky) in panto.

    Whenever I hear Billy Bragg I remember an interview he gave circa ’85 saying that being in love was nothing like he imagined it would be from growing up with Smokey Robinson songs, because Smokey never mentioned rows about washing up, or farting in bed. He felt cheated. At the time, still in my teens, I believed him and was prepared, when the blessed day came, for something more prosaic than My Girl. But the older I get, the more I feel sorry for Bragg – I wonder if he still can’t relate to Oo Baby Baby or The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage.

  8. 33
    swanstep on 16 Jun 2010 #

    @wichita. Worth a look in case you haven’t seen it is a relationships-y film for which Bragg did a lot of the soundtrack, Walking and Talking, the 1996, first film from Nicole Holofcener (it introduced the world to Catherine Keener, Anne Heche, Liev Schreiber, Todd Field). There are a couple of well-known Bragg songs incl. “She’s got a new spell”, but there are also a bunch of nice noodly guitar bits that soundtrack driving home, rows in the the kitchen, when someone stares at themselves in a mirror originally just morosely then more intently as she notices a new mole that looks dark, and so on. Anyhow, I thought W&T was pretty fab at the time, and it fitted brilliantly with the slightly bruised, prosaic romanticism that was Bragg’s signature (non-political) mood. Bragg-land transplanted to NYC. As far as I know, however, Bragg has never worked with Holofcener again.

  9. 34
    CPB on 16 Jun 2010 #

    Yeah, when I was doing my blog post about the Wets track, I couldn’t find the video either, although I remember there was one: they flashed up the phone number for Childline at the end. I did find a video of Pellow and Joe Cocker singing it together, but I’m too kind to actually link to that here.

  10. 35
    Billy Smart on 18 Jun 2010 #

    TOTPWatch A: Wet Wet Wet twice performed With A Little Help From My Friends on Top Of The Pops. The Christmas edition I’ll document in the fullness of time;

    12 May 1988. Also in the studio that week were; Harry Enfield, The Adventures, Narada, Starturn On 45 Pints and Fairground Attraction. Mike Read and Simon Mayo were the hosts.

  11. 36
    Billy Smart on 18 Jun 2010 #

    TOTPWatch B: Billy Bragg performed She’s Leaving Home on the Top Of The Pops transmitted on the 19th of May 1988. Also in the studio in an otherwise rather superior week were; Prefab Sprout, Derek B and Aztec Camera. Gary Davies and Simon Bates were the hosts.

  12. 37
    vinylscot on 21 Jun 2010 #

    Re my post no 28 and others. Very sad to hear today of the passing of Chris Sievey, a.k.a. Frank SIdebottom. RIP Chris.

  13. 38
    Rory on 21 Jun 2010 #

    Jon Ronson’s Sidebottom memories (via his Twitter feed).

  14. 39
    Erithian on 22 Jun 2010 #

    fatgit at #19 – vulnerability and fragility were just words in the dictionary for the Wets, and not on the well-thumbed pages either. This is unpretentious karaoke, never analysing the meaning of what they’re singing, never striving for sincerity and throwing in a few variant vocal flourishes towards the end – but as a pop performance it does its job pretty well. Lightweight and throwaway, and you move onto the next song without a backward glance – but then that’s some people’s definition of pop. I wouldn’t make any great claims for it, but it’s fun to spend time with (and even the perma-grin is toned down).

    Billy Bragg’s voice suits soulful material (the aforementioned “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” being a total standout) but yes it’s a pity the wonky TOTP appearance is the main version available on YouTube. The world’s a much better place for the existence of both Bragg and “She’s Leaving Home”, but maybe they were better apart. Agree with Anto #23 about Cara Tivey though.

    Still, a very worthy charity – I didn’t give Childline much thought and wasn’t exactly a fan of Esther Rantzen until one year she turned up as the recipient of the Biggest Hero award at a Smash Hits poll winners party. To get that from a constituency that encompasses the people you’re working to help – fair play.

    Oh, and Marcello at #2 – I only understood the reference to Pastor Jack Glass through having read about his fury at Billy Connolly’s routine on the Crucifixion. Apparently at gigs after this spat Connolly did a reworking of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” that went “Pastor Jack Glass is an ass, ass, ass…”

  15. 40
    Billy Smart on 28 Dec 2010 #

    MMWatch: Andy Darling, 7 May 1988;

    “Jesus H Wept… It’s not that Bragg has “ruined” a “classic”. It’s just that Lofty’s sub-pitiful fumbling attempts at playing Wilmott-Brown’s guitar and singing some of the campfire songs from his army days now seems remarkably prescient. And Bragg was in the army too, wasn’t he…”

    Darling awarded single of the week to ‘Christine’ by The House Of Love. Also reviewed that week;

    David Sylvian – Orpheus
    Voice Of The Beehive – Don’t Call Me Baby
    Sam Brown – Stop
    Kevin Rowland -Walk Away

  16. 41
    pink champale on 14 Apr 2011 #

    i picked up a copy of ‘sgt pepper knew my father’ from my local oxfam today (£2.99, if your interested). here’s what i reckon, typing pretty much as i listen

    side one
    1.the three wize men – sgt pepper: who on earth are the three wize men for a start? actually suprisingly enjoyable in a sub-pwei sort of way, i quite like the bloke’s voice. reminds me a bit of a rap version of the thomas the tank engine theme tune that my son was very into for a while.
    2. wet wet wet: what everyone said; too perky by half
    3. the christians – lucy in the sky with diamonds: i’ve a bit of a soft spot for the christians, but this doesn’t seem to feature any of the stuff that was ever good about them and is not good. mind you, it’s not exactly a great song to begin with.
    4. wedding present – getting better: not so bad – i think i always liked the wedding present more when they were doing covers (i.e. with decent songs). for some reason david g confesses to beating his brother rather than his woman – political correctness gone mad.
    5. hue and cry – fixing a whole: to give h&c their due, they clearly spent some time thinking about this and genuinely have made the song their own. unfortunatley they’ve done this through turning it into a sort of waltz-time pseudo soul abomination. fascinatingly horrible.
    6. billy bragg – she’s leaving home: not a big billy fan, but this is quite affecting and yes, cara tivey is the best thing about it.
    7. frank sidebottom – mr kite: i think maybe you had to be there to get much out of poor frank.
    side two
    1. sonic youth – within you without you: i was dreading a bit because i’m not normally a fan of their covers – ‘superstar’ is hateful and even’into the groovy’ isn’t all that. but this is excellent. it misses the brilliant tablas and strings and whatnot from the original, but the, ahem, feedback storm they whip up instead has some real dynamics and drama to it. if i just heard this as a standalone record, not knowing of the original i’d be totally blown away. much the best thing so far.
    2. courtney pine – when i’m 64: starts off pleasant but uneccessary. but then goes of at a tangent and becomes really quite good, before going on a bit too much. i’m *really* not a jazz expert.
    3. michelle shocked – lovely rita: blimey: EXACTLY the sort of shit folky cover that everyone goes crazy about these days. i’m amazed it hasn’t been in a john lewis advert.
    4. the triffids – good morning, good morning: oh dear. if you want a brilliant sneering canter, listen to the original. if you want awful hamfisted gothery though, this is perfect.
    5. three wize men – sgt peppar reprise: seems less good this time round. some okay vocoder.
    6. the fall – a day in the life: www apart, the only one i knew before. i like the echoeyness and the way he says ‘hat’. (and the way he says everything else, being mark e smith.)

    so the winners are….sonic youth.

    not sure it’s a record i’ll be returning to too often. now, did we ever establish how to tell if it’s a super-valuable copy?

  17. 42
    Mark G on 15 Apr 2011 #

    I do have that cassette version Marc mentions in #4, so…

  18. 43
    Patrick Mexico on 23 Oct 2013 #

    Morrissey – Every Day Is Like Sunday (#8 peak) and Sabrina – Boys (Summertime Love, #3 peak) were released on the same week (June 11, 1988.) Now they’re the two polar extremes of Western pop culture.

  19. 44
    glue_factory on 24 Oct 2013 #

    Three Wize Men were an early Brit-hop act, most famous for their single “Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’” (might have been some Zs in the spelling, actually). I remember it being quite funny/good, but the misty-eyes of history may be playing a role there. Will have to have a re-listen when I get home.

  20. 45
    hardtogethits on 24 Oct 2013 #

    #43. One’s a saucy little number about sun, sea, sand and the removal of clothing. The other one’s by Sabrina.

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