5
Jul 10

PHIL COLLINS – “A Groovy Kind Of Love”

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#614, 10th September 1988, video

All cover versions flirt with anachronism but in this case it’s baked in before the record’s even left the sleeve: that word “groovy”. Linguistically switched-on for 1965, the Mindbenders’ brightly confident original now sounds caught in time: pop loosening up a little but still riding a beat group fad. Phil Collins, on the other hand, approaches the word and the song hesitantly, as if reaching for long-unfamiliar slang of his youth to describe an idea – love – which also might be lost somewhere in his past.

As I’ve said before this was pretty much the point of Phil Collins in the 80s, a stolid everyman who could channel blokish emotions without ever risking his rather stodgy masculinity. A quick rewind back to Chris De Burgh tells us how awful this approach could be, and for the second time Collins has hit the top with a cover that lands safely on “bearable”. In fact “A Groovy Kind Of Love” gets a more interesting reading than Phil’s bluff charge at “You Can’t Hurry Love”: he sounds like a man remembering a song and a feeling, rather than thumping away at one.

The video makes this meta-cover approach more explicit, with the extra twist that Collins seems to be in a darkened studio-cum-prison, remembering his own performance in Buster. Phil played the title character, train robber Buster Edwards: maybe the film, which I’ve never seen, moved away from a “loveable rogue” approach but the publicity (and this record) surely didn’t. It’s ultimately let down by its arrangement, swamped by echoed pianos and synthesised strings. The strings are particularly unpleasant, evoking not the brash world of 60s pop but the near future of the blockbuster rom-com. If Phil Collins could turn 60s pop into AOR, why couldn’t anyone else with a soundtrack to promote do the same? The consequences, some years down the line, will be thoroughly un-groovy.

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  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 5 Jul 2010 #

    I used to walk past Buster Edwards’ flower stall at Waterloo Station every day when I worked at South Bank Polytechnic and was in the Young Vic Youth Theatre in the early nineties. The only time that I ever exchanged words with him was when a Youth Theatre actress friend wanted to buy some flowers for someone. The aura I got from him was that he was pleased to be serving somebody who didn’t know who he was, and therefore only registered him as an ordinary trader. My friend (rightly) said that the stall was too expensive and moved on, and the former Great Train Robber looked a bit crestfallen.

    This story might not be very interesting, but is still more exciting than this dreary pointless cover version. ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ is considerably more irritating, but at least most people can remember that one!

  2. 2
    flahr on 5 Jul 2010 #

    Tom hits the nail on the head in the last paragraph – the painfully unsubtle piano and shrill strings make this song a rather unpleasant experience. A 3.

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 5 Jul 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: Phil Collins twice performed A Groovy Kind Of Love on Top Of The Pops;

    8 September 1988. Also in the studio that week were; Marc Almond and Spagna (‘Every Boy & Girl’ – I’d forgotten that she had another hit). Mike Read & Andy Crane were the hosts.

    15 September 1988. Also in the studio that week were; Bros, The Proclaimers and The Hollies. Simon Mayo & Peter Powell were the hosts.

  4. 4
    lonepilgrim on 5 Jul 2010 #

    a case study in how to drain the joy and energy from a pleasantly lightweight piece of pop.
    1988 is shaping up to be one of the worst years for Number 1s.
    Was the yoof pound being spent in the indie ghetto or on club music?

  5. 5
    MBI on 5 Jul 2010 #

    I gotta say, I find this rather unbearable, and would probably be the first thing I thought of when asked for Phil Collins’ worst song. It’s not nearly as bad as “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You” but what is? Collins has never been more boring or put this little effort into his hit singles.

  6. 6
    anto on 5 Jul 2010 #

    Phils shoulda-been-a-number-one is surely Two Hearts the surprisingly snappy Motown homage that followed this up. Groovy Kind of Love itself is about as groovy as a 3-week old Sunday supplement.
    I can assure you Mr. Ewing the film is a 4 as well.

  7. 7
    MikeMCSG on 5 Jul 2010 #

    # 6
    Don’t agree with you on “Two Hearts” Anto -it’s just a re-write of his own cover of “You Can’t Hurry Love”. Pop not only eating itself but recycling its excrement. I think Phil was more interested in the acting here and the songs were tossed off (so to speak) in a spare hour.

    Don’t forget the soundtrack also included the Four Tops less than classic “Going Loco In Acapulco” as repulsive an appropriation of 60’s cool as The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo”.

  8. 8
    thefatgit on 5 Jul 2010 #

    I get the impression that Phil Collins was misguided in this choice of piano and strings arrangement. The initial intro with the heavy-handed chord motif sets the scene for something dark and dramatic. Then Phil’s studied and meaured tones come in. “When I’m feeling blue/all I have to do…”

    So what was Phil thinking?

    Well the emphasis, like Tom says is with the word “groovy”. Groovy, to most people is an anachronism, a retro catch-all, a word that can mean everything and nothing. To the 60’s Phil, it meant youth and inventiveness, but in the 80’s, he was getting older, getting richer and complacent. “Groovy” becomes this half-remembered past of epic tours and studio sessions, hotels and airports. “Groovy” represents frustration and boredom. The lows after the highs stretch out to fill the days. How to solve the dilemma? Acting. That’s the ticket. Do something else, be someone else. Get out of the studio and into a different one, with lights and cameras. Hobnob with Don Johnson in Miami for a bit, then bag the lead role opposite Julie Walters in Buster. But the producers want a love theme for the soundtrack album. They’ve got the Four Tops on board and Phil gets co-writing credits with Lamont Dozier (I bet he loved that!). They give Phil a Mindbenders song, a mid-tempo cusp-of-psychedelia pop song. Not his style at all.

    So this pesky “groovy”, then. The dark clouds gather. He plays the demo slow. Just him and the piano. No drums. It comes across as like 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love”. The producers hate it. It sounds “stalkerish”, so they lay over some strings to lift the mood. It’s a botch, but it’s Phil and Phil sells by the shedload. Phil wanted to revive that moody scary “In The Air Tonight” vibe. What he got was something that tried to be moody and stalkerish, but ended up being neither really. Just a middle-aged man in his cavernous basement watching himself being someone else.

  9. 9
    TomLane on 5 Jul 2010 #

    Oh, I liked this at the time, but haven’t heard it much, unless I listen to an Adult Contemporary Station for 24 hours. This is minimal Phil. Like “One More Night”. A good 6 here. And a #1 in America.

  10. 10
    Mike Atkinson on 5 Jul 2010 #

    As generationally targeted as any teenpop, the premise seems simple enough: take a sweet, silly little pop tune from a couple of decades earlier, and re-work it in a “mature”/”reflective”/”heartfelt” style for the same audience (pop-loving teens of the 1960s/student mystics of the 1970s/home-owning marrieds of the 1980s), who will duly be touched by its new-found poignancy, perhaps relating to Good Old Phil as a fellow traveller (from dreamer to pragmatist, adapting to the times).

    As for the execution: Phil’s vocals are sort-of OK for the job – and not entirely devoid of emotion – but the perfunctory arrangement strangles the track at birth. When people with no knowledge of Collins’ work with the likes of John Martyn, Brian Eno and Brand X, no willingness to re-appraise the best of his early solo material, and no appreciation of what made Genesis a decent and sometimes great band for many years, slag Collins off for being a smug, soulless, dreary dick, this pile of gloopy tosh is probably informing a large part of their thinking.

  11. 11
    swanstep on 5 Jul 2010 #

    I basically agree with Tom’s review, although 4 seems a tad generous. I’m glad TomLane, #9 mentioned ‘One more night’ because that’s the song/video I clicked over to on youtube after suffering through Groovy. The difference is night and day to me: OMN has ace production (you can almost hear samplers’ ears pricking up!), is similarly slow but doesn’t *sound* it because the vocals punchily lead the beat just a little on almost every occasion. OMN isn’t my sort of thing at all, but it’s an admirable record that’s a plausible #1. Like Glen Medeiros’s record, Groovy really isn’t in my view.

  12. 12
    Alfred on 6 Jul 2010 #

    “Two Hearts” is much the better record: a 7 to my ears, except the bridge, which is an 8 or 9 (thank you, Lamont Dozier).

  13. 13
    Mark G on 6 Jul 2010 #

    I remember the TOTP appearance, as when it changes key and goes into a “lack of” instrumental bit, the whole audience visibly/audibly sighs and wishes the record would hurry up a bit.

  14. 14
    punctum on 6 Jul 2010 #

    The original hit version by the Mindbenders, featuring future 10cc-er Eric Stewart and kept off number one in February 1966 only by Nancy and her boots, with its conflict between strict march tempo (probably derived from “Cathy’s Clown”) and woozily delirious vocals, was a transitional record, blurring the fade from beat group to disorientated psychedelia – the strawberry ecstasy of that “any time you want to you can turn me on to anything you want to any time at all” is pivotal. But when Phil Collins got to it a generation later, to soundtrack his character’s melancholy in the film Buster, a less than merry romp which expected its audience to feel sorry for a bank robber and murderer, he ruthlessly melted it down into AoR Nurofen; there is little, if any, sense of dazzlement or wonder, and the record, from Anne Dudley’s elementary, ‘phoned-in string chart to its gloomy keyboard and dulled drum thuds, treats transcendence as another item on a wearisome Saturday morning shopping list. A plod ploddy enough to send the charts to sleep, and the first, and by some chalk the considerably less interesting, of two consecutive problematic sixties hangovers. One concludes that Collins really doesn’t care if the world should shatter, but it is so grievously the wrong sort of (not) caring.

  15. 15
    Rory on 6 Jul 2010 #

    Bleah. 3.

    Number one for a week in November 1988 on the Australian Music Report chart, but not on the then-new ARIA chart.

  16. 16
    vinylscot on 6 Jul 2010 #

    Mike @ #10 refers to how I felt about Collins. Never a fan, I could acknowledge the fine work he did with Brand X and Genesis, and accept that there was some merit in much of his early solo work. I actually quite like the first album.

    But this song, I believe, is where the tide turned. Whereas prior to this, he could be viewed as a sort of everyman and all-round good bloke, this ill-advised piece of crap just showed contempt; a total lack of quality control, admittedly driven by the movie-makers, but a real lapse in taste, integrity, respect and pride.

    Collins’ failure to right this wrong meant that he now became Chris DeBurgh – ominpresent, and gradually tolerated less and less until actively despised by many who had been quite ambivolent up until this.

    As a side note, considering how “omni-present” he seems to have been over the past 30 years or so, I was surprised to see that he has not been in the singles top 10 since 1996!

  17. 17
    Mike Atkinson on 6 Jul 2010 #

    Here’s a Spotify link to the classical piano piece which inspired the melody.

  18. 18
    Matthew H on 6 Jul 2010 #

    I didn’t detest this at the time, even quite liked it when he loosened up on the final verse – at 16, I was beginning to get soppy about girls, so I’m pinning it on that.

    Listening now, it sounds as if it’s going to be Up Where We Belong for one promising moment before melting into indistinct slop. As vinylscot @ 16 says, this is where the rot sets in. I think I’d probably still rather like No Jacket Required, but after that it’s all emotionally spare, low-effort chart-shots from a man increasingly comfortable with his own celebrity.

    (Going to test my No Jacket Required feelings now)

  19. 19
    Kat but logged out innit on 6 Jul 2010 #

    It remains a mystery to me why Phil ever bothered releasing anything subsequent to ‘Easy Lover’.

  20. 20
    Hofmeister Bear on 7 Jul 2010 #

    To make a purely commercial and dry observation both this and ‘Two Hearts’ topped the Billboard 100 in the US. The ”turning point” was probably ‘…But Seriously’ a year later, especially in the States where it sold just a third of what ‘No Jacket Required’ did (ironically it sold more than it’s predecessor in the UK). Towards the final single releases from that album you begin to see a decline in chart positions.

    By the beginning of the 90’s tastes were changing, but not before the Swiss bank accounts had been built up enough to comfortably cope with later divorce proceedings.

    It’s a 4 for me anyway and definitely less offensive than shite like ‘Against All Odds’ and ‘Separate Lives’. We came perilously close to discussing the former on Popular.

  21. 21
    wichita lineman on 7 Jul 2010 #

    Co-writer Toni Wine had already cut this in a “mature”/”reflective”/”heartfelt” style, as a single on Atco in the early 70s. Something like a soulful, grown-up Shangri La’s, it’s incredibly lovely.

    Wine and Carole Bayer(Sager) wrote the next three A-sides for the Mindbenders as well, with diminishing chart positions, until Graham Gouldman joined them in their final days and 10CC were just a few false starts away. The use of a lightweight term like ‘groovy’ may have been gratuitous even in 1966: Punctum points out the astonishing “if this world should shatter I don’t care”, which seems as fully and frighteningly immersed in a relationship as the Hollies’ The Air That I Breathe (“no sleep, no light, no sound, nothing to eat, no books to read”).

    ‘Groovy’ was still common parlance amongst C86-spawned indie kids, in print at least.

    Stuck at no.2 behind Yazz had been a more heartfelt, fan-penned echo of the 60s than Phil’s goosefat-drenched effort – Brother Beyond’s The Harder I Try.

  22. 22

    One point in this song’s favour is that is has a melody that’s not only pretty, but unusually easily mobile*, compared to other mainstream and charting songtypes in the 80s. If you strip away all the Collins-related matter and just think of it in those terms, I can easily imagine people noticing that on radio and being drawn to exactly this aspect. I mean people who aren’t busy music-heads able to dig through cultier trenches, people looking happy to stick with versions that don’t make commitment demands on them? (In terms of hunting around for a quality you favour; or else in terms of feeling you have to be a particular kind of punter — maybe in terms of your sartorial or bodystyle, or marital status! — to be allowed to be publicly enthusiastic about whole reaches of pop. Anyway Collins effortlessly hits several targets around this time, soothing anxieties about lack of listener qualification — “No Jacket Required” is a brilliantly compact dogwhistle phrase. I think the “not much bothered” feel to a lot of it is part of the same package; also the fact that it happens not because he was hunting through his cultist crates of ancient pop like a weirdo**, but because he was hired to be this character in a film, and they handed him this music to sing. Music for people who have accepted they will now never have uncompromised agency in their own lives… )

    *I don’t really know a clear term for this — do tunesmiths have technical terms for different categories of melody? It seems a strangely under-discussed area
    **”Weirdo” as in “that’s a type of pop fan I the consumer will never have the time or ear to be”, hence wistful excluded rather than as in resentfully dismissive of same

  23. 23
    Rory on 7 Jul 2010 #

    “Groovy” was absolutely not defunct for this ’80s kid. It had a fantastic ironic-yet-cool aspect, best demonstrated in its use by Ash/Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead II (1987) when he attached a chainsaw to the stump of his severed right hand. “Groovy” was the perfect word for that moment. Possibly not what Phil Collins had in mind, though.

  24. 24
    Rory on 7 Jul 2010 #

    By which I mean that the word was not defunct, not the song. (The system isn’t allowing me to edit my comment to clarify that, for some reason.)

  25. 25
    Tom on 7 Jul 2010 #

    #25 Mark your argument here is drifting intriguingly close to “music for people who don’t like music”, albeit with a positive spin. We’ll be seeing a lot of this kind of thing (we have already, obviously).

    #23 The next hit with “Groovy” in the title, by the Farm, is an unselfconscious reclamation of the word, which unlike many reclamations also killed it completely.

  26. 26
    punctum on 7 Jul 2010 #

    #22: Melodically it’s an ingenious improvisation on the basics – do-re-mi-fa-so –(oh, all right, C-D-E-F-G) and then lazily, or not so lazily, spinning off from there. My childhood piano teacher pointed this song out to me as a good example of how to write a simple melody.

    Phil’s version is like a ghost of the sixties for eighties people who grew up with fab gear never-ending youth promises but know that (a) they can’t go back there and would look stupid if they did; and (b) fab gear never-ending youth promises are in 1988 happening for another generation but they can’t grasp or translate it, viz. fear of death.

  27. 27
    thefatgit on 7 Jul 2010 #

    #22 is it not the role of say, Jamie Callum or Michael Buble to be the Phil Collins(es) of the current pop alumni? Someone who is trendproof?

  28. 28
    Hofmeister Bear on 7 Jul 2010 #

    ”#25 Mark your argument here is drifting intriguingly close to “music for people who don’t like music”, albeit with a positive spin. We’ll be seeing a lot of this kind of thing (we have already, obviously).”

    If ever there was an act which served to vindicate this theory it would be Bon Jovi. I’ve known a number of people who loved them and cared little for anything else. Hardly scientific I know, but that’s my experience.

  29. 29
    punctum on 7 Jul 2010 #

    Jamie Cullum and Michael Bublé seem to be making the kind of music they want to make and it’s their luck that it currently chimes with (or cunningly engineers) majority demographic desires. They don’t have “roles”; pop is not the National Theatre or the average office. How pop relates to either or both is a different story.

  30. 30
    punctum on 7 Jul 2010 #

    People who like Bon Jovi like music. Just not the sort of music that others might like.

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