29
Jul 10

KYLIE MINOGUE AND JASON DONOVAN – “Especially For You”

Popular47 comments • 3,754 views

#621, 7th January 1989, video

Stock Aitken and Waterman’s skills were based on simplicity: get a feeling, nail it. Their songs are unapologetically direct, with very little ‘side’ or ambiguity. The acts they worked with were similarly well-defined – the square but adorable one (Rick), the sassy ones (Mel & Kim), the confident everygirls (Sonia, Reynolds Girls), and then of course there was Kylie, sunny and optimistic whatever disappointment love threw at her. So “Especially For You” is Kylie’s happy ending, based very much on her Neighbours’ character’s happy ending.

But the question is, is pop a good vehicle for happy endings? Musicals are, and as a moment in a narrative “Especially For You” does its job. But can a happy ending work as a standalone single? Not in the hands of SAW, whose instinct to directness makes “Especially For You” mercilessly straightforward. No doubts now: all the tension, all the drama here happens offstage and in the past. What has not killed them has made them stronger – hurrah! But non-soap-watchers haven’t seen it try and kill them, so their victory here is unearned, presented as inert fact.

Even then the single would work if there was some sense of relief, or chemistry, or much of anything between the leads. Kylie brings it – she’s not a great singer but she’s likeable and honest and that’s all the record needs. There was a Twitter discussion recently about whether Kylie had “charisma” or “charm” or something else entirely. Certainly at this stage she wasn’t charismatic, but a charismatic singer would have made “Especially For You” unbearable by exposing how flat it is. With Kylie it has a shot at sounding innocent and wholehearted: she isn’t always the best thing about her records, but she almost redeems this one.

Unfortunately she’s paired with one of pop’s all-time plodders, the ever-hapless Jason, whose performance here is so wet that it makes his devoted Kylie seem like a simpleton (he’s comfortably outsung by Kermit The Frog, here). Of course they were an item in real life, so the single was even more of a banker: perhaps too much of one. All the songwriters and performers have to do is steer this record safely home, and so that’s all they do. Nothing on “Especially For You” – except maybe the odd Beach Boys keening right at the start – draws attention to itself, no risks are taken. “Boring” is the most useless of critical adjectives but there’s no getting past it: this record is boring, and to some degree that’s deliberate.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    rosie on 30 Jul 2010 #

    This would be about the time an oleaginous chap of Mediterranean appearance oozed down our area steps and attempted to persuade us to sell half of our garden in Notting Hill. Since private gardens in Notting Hill are a precious commodity we gave him the brush off. The blank wall at the end of the garden belonged to a then semi-derelict mews cottage and shortly afterwards a planning application turned up to put a window in the wall looking directly on our garden. Despite our objections the application was granted and as soon as the hole was knocked through and the glazing was in we uprooted a laurel bush and replanted it right in front of the window.

    There were frequent weekend parties once the mews cottage was inhabited, but we weren’t invited to any of them. It was only several years later after I was no longer living there that I learned that it was set up as Jason Donovan’s London pad, but Jason himself didn’t live there in the beginning. Instead he had a famous tenant, a well-known Pakistani author living undercover while under a well-publicised death threat from a religious-zealot autocrat.

    You heard it here first!

  2. 27
    thefatgit on 30 Jul 2010 #

    Rosie, I got as far as Saladin Chamcha’s pork binge and read no further. Did it get any better after that?

  3. 28
    Matthew H on 30 Jul 2010 #

    My critical judgement may have been clouded by being utterly in love with Kylie at the time (and yeah, now too, a bit), but I thought this was charming. Felt a bit chunkier too, oddly, than some contemporary SAW productions and the ‘catch’ under “You changed my life” is a killer. Jason’s horribly strained vocal anchors it around 6 for me.

    Terrible shame about ‘Stop!’ though, as I think I said last time. That’s an absolute blast, in fun-times and sonics.

  4. 29
    Jimmy the Swede on 30 Jul 2010 #

    # 5 – Hello, Jude. Welcome along.

    I remember many moons ago joining Marcello in agreeing how wrong it was that Donnie and Marie used to sing love duets to eachother. EFY is precisely the sort of thing they would have leapt at. Instead the song was gifted to a pair of tv actors, which for me drops it into the same basket as “Whispering Grass”. In other words, it would have sunk without trace without the telly link. Inoffensive teen fun. But not of my period, really.

  5. 30
    anto on 30 Jul 2010 #

    I’m another whose sticking up for this one. In Ramsey St lingo fair dinkum mate it’s bonzar.

    @5 Hello Jude.

  6. 31
    rosie on 31 Jul 2010 #

    thefatgit @27:

    I enjoyed it actually. I’d read it twice before I realised it was controversial.

  7. 32
    rob on 1 Aug 2010 #

    Because I don’t know where else to say so….

    Another brilliant Poptimist column, Tom. I’ve been working my hardest to bust apart the idea of genre for a while now, but your simple and elegant reflection does so much more than all my little scribblings put together will ever manage.

    Your Pitchfork column is easily my most eagerly anticipated reading on the web — not that it would look like it, given that I’ve only just worked out it’s a four-weekly piece and not a monthly one…

    So thanks, and keep up the intelligent intervention.

    Cheers

  8. 33
    Erithian on 2 Aug 2010 #

    This song is so sugary, you can almost feel your teeth rotting as you listen to it.

    Come to think of it, it reminds me a little of Daniel the Blue Peter Baby. By which I mean… Blue Peter had its own pets, garden and even a baby so that kids who had pets, a garden or a baby sibling could identify with the programme’s features on them, and those who didn’t could have the ones on TV as surrogates. This was Kylie and Jason the Blue Peter Relationship – two such beautiful people that the Neighbours audience could watch them, emotionally adopt them as their own and get through the tissues on their wedding day. I’m not saying this scornfully, but recognising that the pair of them played a valid role in the adolescent (or younger) days of a lot of people – just look at the comments on the YouTube page on Tom’s link for examples of how fondly people look back on this. And like many a SAW song it’s hugely effective at what it sets out to do – with the harmonies Billy enthuses over and the drum track holding it together while stopping just short of plodding.

    Mind you, the build-up to the chorus seems as long as a Tour de France mountain climb and almost as exhausting.

  9. 34
    LondonLee on 2 Aug 2010 #

    I had a mate who looked like Jason Donovan (tall, blonde, good-looking – the bastard) and one afternoon back then we were in this clothes shop in Soho and the assistant kept following us around, making flattering comments whenever my mate pulled out an item of clothing to look at. It was only when we were leaving and he said “I love your records!” that we realized why he’d been acting like that.

  10. 35
    23 Daves on 3 Aug 2010 #

    Like many of the people above, I actually had a downer on this record purely because it kept Erasure’s “Stop!” off the number one spot – although not on the ITV Chart Show chart, where the positions were reversed.

    Although Jason Donovan is responsible for one of my favourite SAW tracks, it’s hard to justify his performance on this one. This is supposed to be a frivolous, romantic tune, and yet his vocals are akin to listening to a groaning cow with its neck caught on some barbed wire. I know love can sometimes end in a similarly bloody and unpleasant way, but the noise hardly seems appropriate in this instance. Call a vet sharpish, there’s something horrible going on at Pete Waterman’s farm.

    The common criticism hurled at SAW at the time was that with their magic studio gadgets, they could make even a terrible vocalist sound competent. Jason Donovan is living proof that, for the most part, this wasn’t an accusation which held much water.

  11. 36
    Jimmy the Swede on 4 Aug 2010 #

    Apropos the Blue Peter Baby (#33), I remember Daniel clearly, the cute curly-haired little tyke! But, wait! The Swede remembers something else. The child became a scrote. I was sure this was true. Bloody certain, in fact. So I googled him and dagnabbit I was right:

    SHAME OF THE BLUE PETER BABY

    WHEN the parents of 14-week-old Daniel Scott called Blue Peter in 1968 suggesting they “adopt” him and chart his progress, bosses loved the idea.

    Up until the age of two, cute little Daniel made several appearances to teach viewers how a baby develops and how to care for one.

    Sadly, BP’s chubby-chopped adopted son turned into something of a black sheep. Daniel’s parents split up and he became a teenage tearaway. After pulling himself out of a life of drugs and petty crime, he admitted: “I was a look-out man in a burglary and I was caught. I got a minor fine and two years’ probation.”

    Auntie Val would have been disgusted. Mind, you, Daniel’s not the only Blue Peter personality to have fallen from grace. Remember, for example, what they used to grow in the Blue Peter garden one time?

  12. 37
    Ciaran Gaynor on 4 Aug 2010 #

    I’m part of that generation of Neighbours fans, was 11 when this hit number one, had a crush on Kylie (and felt a bit embarrassed about that) and though I would have denied it at the time I liked this single, just because as Tom says, it played an important part in a greater narrative. I understand the criticisms levelled at it here, but I STILL can’t but like it. I’d give it a 6.

  13. 38
    intothefireuk on 4 Aug 2010 #

    I really can’t understand the generosity shown towards the vapid anonymous anti-music manufactured by SAW and their ever-bewildering array of talentless vocalists. I cannot imagine anything less attractive or exciting in pop. Clean, crisp generic synth sounds, obvious melodies, shockingly poor lyrics. Nothing SAW produced was original or inspirational or anything I would look for in pop. It was an exercise in marketing which killed off my interest in the charts for some time -if not for good. This is just a turgid ballad with naff lyrics sung by two very average singers – nothing even vaguely romantic about it. Is this really what it had come to? Do people really sing this at karaoke? Thank God for E’s, Baggy & Raves. Tom, stick to your guns here – it’s awful – no ABBA-style revisionism is ever going to persuade me otherwise.

  14. 39
    Ciaran Gaynor on 4 Aug 2010 #

    Re: comment #5

    Years since I’ve heard that b-side and cripes it’s terrible; rinky-dink forced jollity, only the merest whiff of a tune and so non-descript and un-rock it calls to mind some of the weaker number ones from the early days of Popular – it’s like something from 1958, not ’88.

  15. 40
    Chris Gilmour on 5 Aug 2010 #

    This was probably the record that sealed the move for SAW from dance floor to bubblegum for good, despite the best efforts of Donna later in the year. Their output gets patchier for me from here, though I still loved them at the time.
    I had a serious boy crush when this was out, so it was pretty much perfect for me; thus all critical faculties have been chucked out the window! Even though it’s not something I’d listen to by choice now, I can’t help but get goose bumps when I hear it, especially when accompanied by the video.
    In attempting to listen objectively, still a very strong song, held back considerably by clunky old JD, bless him. Something I’m looking forward to discussing in more detail in the near future!
    @22, SAW definitely said they were influenced by Peaches & Herb for this, and that the original demo was more reggae-flavoured, if you can imagine such a thing. ‘All I Wanna Do’ on the flip seems to be them channelling ‘You’re The One That I Want’, so Ciarans comment about it sounding late 50’s seems about right.
    14 year old me would give it a 10, now I’d give it a five, but that would seem churlish. I’ll settle on seven.

  16. 41
    zaz on 12 Oct 2010 #

    vive jason et kylie voix superbes et supers souvenirs aujourd’hui je les adore toujours et qui ne se rappel pas d’eux ils ont marqués les années 80 et font encore parler d’eux je leur souhaite une bonne continuation

  17. 42
    flahr on 13 Aug 2011 #

    Re #3, was there more than one Indie Chart? The Cherry Red book (or at least the Cherry Red website’s reproduction of the contents of the Cherry Red book…) has this peaking at #2*, presumably behind the Crackers International EP.

    (Yes, yes, not only pedantry but out-of-date pedantry and not only that but out-of-date pedantry regarding the ’80s indie chart. Impressive work.)

    *I’m not sure how this works given that it reached at #1 in the actual chart…

  18. 43
    Mark G on 13 Aug 2011 #

    Oh, there were loads of ‘indie’ charts, some ‘truly independant distributed record label’ based, and some based on ‘indie music styles’ only. So, K&J would feature in one chart, and multiple Bauhaus singles would be in the other.

  19. 44
    mrdiscopop on 21 Nov 2014 #

    Like all S/A/W productions, the sleeve to this single sported the legend “vocals recorded on a CalRec Soundfield Microphone”. It had never occurred to me to wonder what that meant until now but a quick Google turns up this article by Hit Factory engineer Les Sharma:

    http://www.lessharma.com/recording-with-saw-stock-aitken-waterman.html

    There, I learned two things.

    1) Pete Waterman, the Arthur Daley of 1980s synthpop, had done a deal for free microphones in exchange for the credit.

    2) Kylie was deemed a “good” singer, while Jason’s vocals were regularly ghosted by Mike Stock (in the early days, at least).

    It makes you wonder why there isn’t more written about PWL and the glory days of the Hit Factory. The process is fascinating.

    Anyway, to the song in question. I hated it at the time, but have become more fond of its goofy charm over the years. The singers’ lack of skill makes it more believable than the more showy love ballads – like they’d just wandered in, love hearts in their eyes, and asked S/A/W to record a song they’d written in their school jotters. The line that sells it for me is the simple sincerity of “now that I’m next to you”.

    A five, I think.

  20. 45
    glue_factory on 21 Nov 2014 #

    Re: 42, 43, I’m guessing that as well as there being different definitions of an indie record, the charts may have employed different retail outfits. Presumably places like Rough Trade shifted very few/any of this, whereas other, less specialist, stores would have sold more of this over Erasure.

  21. 46
    Adam on 29 Mar 2015 #

    Hm… an analysis of the influence of SAW on early 90s family sitcom theme songs would be fun. I can’t shake the association.

  22. 47
    Paul on 4 May 2015 #

    Re. #44: The Calrec Soundfield microphone was designed for surround sound recording, e.g. of orchestras. PWL/SAW never used it that way… It is puzzling if Calrec gave them a free microphone in exchange for the acknowledgement on all records, as that wasn’t their intended market!

    It was one of the very best microphones available (and expensive.) Hence PWL still have them and IIRC Mike Stock’s own studio has one too; it was designed to be very accurate and not to have a “sound” of its own.

    PWL was well equipped–Fairlight III, SSL mixing consoles, Sony 48 track digital recorders, etc… (no magic time machine to transport auto-tune into the 1980s, though!)

    Vocals sessions were almost all done by Mike Stock and always double (or more) tracked. Top quality backing vocalists (Miriam Stockley, Mae McKenna, etc… and Mike Stock himself) were on all the records.

    There is actually quite a lot out there on their “glory days”–Mike Stock’s autobiography, Phil Harding’s book, Pete “Mixmaster” Hammond’s recently published book, interviews, and, as you mentioned, Les Sharma’s site/forum.

    That said, Mike Stock’s songs are worthy of a more extended musicological analysis, often being far more complex and developed than most pop songs (“Especially for You” is an example of this…)–if you listen past the production.

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