Jul 10

ROBIN BECK – “First Time”

Popular71 comments • 5,251 views

#619, 19th November 1988, video

Minor Popular milestone alert! This is the very latest song that I had no recollection of whatsoever before starting this project. Never saw the advert, never heard the record. So I’d have been really happy if this had been an unexpected delight, or even a minor pleasure. As it is the only unexpected thing about “The First Time” is its attempted fake-out: you think it’s going to be one kind of bad song (vaguely motivational ballad) and instead it’s another (vaguely agonised power ballad).

The latter doesn’t have to be bad, mind you – but “First Time” doesn’t go beyond its one selling point, the breathless surge at the end of the chorus. It’s a schlocky moment but as the climax to a 30-second TV spot it’s effective – though you’d hope hearing “I Love You” for the very first time would merit more than a can of pop. Repeat it several times over a single and it just seems a bit profligate, each peak a little smaller than the one before until the record fizzles out completely.



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  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 23 Jul 2010 #

    Ha! I envy you not hearing this at the time. I don’t remember any of my peers liking this at the time – a soppy song masquerading as hard rock.

    The years haven’t done anything to improve the song to my ears. Caterwauling vocals + squalling guitars = disagreeable racket, then and now.

  2. 2
    Billy Smart on 23 Jul 2010 #

    Full-length version of the commercial;


    Wow! It really is generic, innit? Note especially the lighting, back-lit, but seemingly natural – the better to give the participants a glowing presence – and use of slight slow motion.

  3. 3
    Hofmeister Bear on 23 Jul 2010 #

    I have no recollection of this getting to #1. Textbook fodder on local radio stations nightowls playlist.

  4. 4
    thefatgit on 23 Jul 2010 #

    Another triumph for The Men In Suits. Another forgettable jingle. Let’s compare the awkwardness of blossoming love with the experience of tasting New Improved Flavour Coca Cola. You loved the old Coke, but now we’ve tweaked the recipe (oh God! I hope they like it!). We think it’s soooo good, you’ll fall in love all over again.

    Take the jingle out of context, and it’s another generic power ballad. Play that jingle over two youthful everyteens sharing a Coke and it’s like some weird alchemy…”I must stop what I’m doing this very instant and go out and buy this New Improved Coke and see for myself how good it is!” Well…no not really. I’m not going to teach the world to sing and I’m certainly not falling for an adman’s idea of what Young Love should taste like.

    ps. any photos of me wearing Coca Cola sweatpants that still exist were FAKED, I tell ya. FAKED!

  5. 5
    Billy Smart on 23 Jul 2010 #

    Number 2 watch: 3 weeks, 3 runners-up, at least two of which are much better than ‘First Time’; ‘Stand Up For Your Love Rights’, Yazz; ‘Need You Tonight’, INXS; and a value-for-money double A-side from Bros – ‘Cat Among The Pigeons’ AND their interpretation of ‘Silent Night’.

  6. 6
    Tom on 23 Jul 2010 #


    This is a bit after the New Coke fiasco so I wonder if that’s why the renewed emphasis on realness – it’ll be like the first time, AGAIN! Coca-cola as a revirginised brand, how romantic.

  7. 7
    Billy Smart on 23 Jul 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: Robin Beck performed ‘First Time’ on the edition of Top of the Pops broadcast on 10 November 1988. Also in the studio that week were; Brother Beyond, Chris De Burgh and Deacon Blue. Bruno Brookes & Sybil Ruscoe (who?) were the hosts.

    The major talking point of this appearance in the studio was the perceived discomfort of the metaller guitarist at having to mime to this less-than-credible recording.

  8. 8
    Hofmeister Bear on 23 Jul 2010 #

    I seem to remember (I could be wrong though) that the old ”I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” advert was brought back around the same time as well. Or at least an updated version.

  9. 9
    Tom on 23 Jul 2010 #

    #7 grim times for pop. Glad she got a TOTP appearance though since she’s not allowed on the sleeve of her own single.

  10. 10
    thefatgit on 23 Jul 2010 #

    Of course, this won’t be the last time we’ll be discussing fizzy pop at the top of the charts.

    Tom #6 yes, I was a bit off with my timing there. Still an odd way to try and reclaim your brand, when conventional wisdom would dictate that nostalgia is the preferred meme to reconnect with your customers.

  11. 11
    swanstep on 23 Jul 2010 #

    I first encountered this song via Sunblock’s reboot, and, ahem, its ultra-skeezy video.
    Do any of the dance mavens here find the song’s repetitiousness less objectionable once it’s recast in a genre that’s more repetition-friendly?

    Best ad turned into song? for my money, We’ve only just begun – so brilliant for the Carpneters, began as this bank ad.

  12. 12
    Ian on 23 Jul 2010 #

    I heard (and loved) the Sunblock version before I looked up the original – this number one being before my time of regular chart listening. One of my all time favourite pop-dance songs.

  13. 13
    lonepilgrim on 23 Jul 2010 #

    I too had no recollection of this when I saw it in the list of number ones. I assumed Robin was a man.
    It may be that its origins as an ad are what hamstring it as a song – whereas the better power ballads build and build this just repeats and repeats and repeats.

    Her hair in the video is something to behold

    I was in the US when New Coke was introduced and remember almost having a breakdown in a supermarket when confronted with the various permutations: Old or New: Diet or regular, Caffeinated or caffeine free – or Cherry, then Pepsi and numerous other sodas

  14. 14
    Erithian on 23 Jul 2010 #

    Hearing her valiantly trying to reach each new peak, especially in the middle eight, I was reminded of the David Coleman puppet in Spitting Image: “Oh no, I’ve gone too soon! I’m already hysterical and there’s an entire lap to go!! Disaster for Coleman!!! And my head’s going to explode!!!! BOOOM!!!!!”

    Anyone remember the genius that was the Irn Bru parody of songs like this – where the lad tries to impress his girlfriend by kicking the vending machine and the machine gives him a headbutt? Or something.

  15. 15
    23 Daves on 23 Jul 2010 #

    Until just now, I had no memory at all of what Robin Beck looked like. Even as one-hit wonders go, she seemed spectacularly under-publicised (although apparently she had further hits in Germany and Switzerland, according to Wikipedia. Who’d have thought?)

    The advert irritated the hell out of everyone at the time, to the extent that the Irn Bru advert which was created as a parody of it was greeted heroically, rather than just being regarded as another cyncial marketing ploy. Barr are hardly a cottage industry, after all, even if they’re not as mighty as the Coca Cola company.

    As a result of everyone’s irritance and an unimaginative Ben Elton routine slagging the ad off, I didn’t think anybody would be interested enough to buy the single. How wrong I was. It really does seem like a total chart anomaly to me. It would be no less berserk if the Sunkist tune were issued and became a massive hit – there was nothing about the track to suggest that it should be anything other than an advertising jingle. It’s an adland cliche, suffering from the same attention seeking, over-emotional female vocals many ads in this era used to suck the audience in (Bodyform perhaps used this device the most noisily and most memorably), the same greetings-card level lyrical pleas to the heartstrings, and the same bland melodic simplicity. Why would you want to own it, especially when you were already hearing it against your will at least three or four times a day? There are special “promotional only” corporate singles which are as good (or bad) as “First Time”. “The Day They Remembered”, a three minute plea from Royal Mail to encourage the public to buy more greetings cards, isn’t a million miles away from this. You could get that single for free, though.

    Interestingly enough, I can’t remember this being played on Radio One much. Did they avoid it due to the Coke connection, or was I just not listening to the radio much at this point for some reason?

  16. 16
    Mark G on 23 Jul 2010 #

    And let’s not forget “Howard” from the Halifax.

    On second thoughts….

  17. 17
    lonepilgrim on 23 Jul 2010 #

    According to wiki, in the ‘Cola wars’ that ran through the 1980s and 90s:
    advertising for Coca-Cola and Pepsi focused particularly on rock stars; notable soft drink promoters included
    for Pepsi
    Tina Turner, David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Ray Charles
    for Coca Cola
    Whitney Houston, Paula Abdul, Weird Al Yankovic, George Michael, and Elton John.

  18. 18
    thefatgit on 23 Jul 2010 #

    If I had to select a favourite from the soft drink jingle canon, Um Bongo would get my vote.

    Everybody sing along now!

    Way down deep in the middle of the Congo, a hippo took an apricot, a guava and a mango.

    He stuck it with the others, and he danced a dainty tango.

    The rhino said, “I know, we’ll call it Um Bongo”, Um Bongo, Um Bongo, They drink it in the Congo.

    The python picked the passion fruit, the marmoset the mandarin. The parrot painted packets, that the whole caboodle landed in.

    So when it comes to sun and fun and goodness in the jungle, They all prefer the sunny funny one they call Um Bongo!

  19. 19
    Rory on 23 Jul 2010 #

    This beat “Need You Tonight”? Crikey.

    I have now heard this precisely once in my whole life. Long may it stay that way. 3.

  20. 20
    Steve Mannion on 23 Jul 2010 #

    This is at least significant as the first song to get to #1 off the back of a TV advert without being a cover version or re-release tho right?

  21. 21
    Tom on 23 Jul 2010 #

    #20 the New Seekers?

  22. 22
    punctum on 23 Jul 2010 #

    Doubtless wanting to show those Levi’s who’s boss, seventeen years after they started the whole business with “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing,” Coca-Cola were anxious for record buyers not to forget the purpose of “The First Time.” Even on the tracklisting of my Telstar Greatest Hits Of The ’80s double compilation (“50 Number One Hits…The History Of A Decade…”), the Coke logo is prominently displayed next to the song title; advertisement first, art a very distant second.

    The song itself is a clumsy Lego assembly of a power ballad – and I note with some sorrow that among the composers was former Monkee sidekick Tommy Boyce – filled with the standard love-as-free-enterprise memes (“It’s an unchartered sea, it’s an unopened door/But ya gotta reach and ya gotta explore”). Beck, hitherto a jobbing session and jingle singer – as indeed she remained after the hit, at least until 1993 when she unexpectedly became one of the most influential musicians of the nineties with a string of acclaimed albums commencing with Stereopathic Soul Manure – sings it professionally enough, though without much in the way of dynamics or real feeling; at the song’s high-register climax she sounds shrill and throaty rather than liberated. Compare with Ann Wilson’s tremulous, breaking “You don’t know” and “waiting” in the first two lines of the second verse of Heart’s “Alone” and it is clear we are dealing here with door-to-door salesmanship rather than life-altering wonderment.

    Nevertheless it is worth noting that “The First Time” marked the second occurrence in 1988 of a chart phenomenon absent from previous years; the Belinda/Tiffany/Kylie sequence was the first instance of three consecutive number ones by female artists, and with Whitney/Enya/Robin the pattern was repeated. It also marks a small bend in the transatlantic power ballad river; when we reach 1989 the preponderance of homegrown and very uniquely British number ones will quickly become noticeable, though the phenomenon of the number one single as a heavily underlined Event – even if that event is a multinational advertising campaign – will, regrettably, not diminish.

  23. 23
    Steve Mannion on 23 Jul 2010 #

    #21 Always thought that was the other way round!

  24. 24
    weej on 23 Jul 2010 #

    I’ve never heard this before, and I can see why – it’s that magic combination of terrible and boring. I’m glad I wasn’t old enough to pay attention to the charts until 1989 – 1988 would have almost certainly put me off them for good.

  25. 25
    wichita lineman on 23 Jul 2010 #

    I just found myself of I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke, for my sins. Promotional only. Pretty sure the New Seekers hit was contemporaneous, Cook & Greenaway knowing for certain the BBC wouldn’t allow any mention of Coca Cola after the Kinks were forced to change the lyrics of Lola.

    Favourite soft drinks ad? Easy. I’ll be your dawg!


    Re-titled Fedora, the single by Caramba got to 56 in 1983

  26. 26
    weej on 23 Jul 2010 #

    By the way, I’m a bit confused about the first line of the Jim Diamond entry – did you forget this one was coming up, Tom? http://freakytrigger.co.uk/ft/2009/08/jim-diamond-i-should-have-known-better/

  27. 27
    Tom on 23 Jul 2010 #

    Haha busted! Yes Robin Beck was so forgettable I not only never heard her but then obviously forget her existence while doing Jim’s entry :)

    (I think actually I remembered this song EXISTING – “a coke advert was a number one, i missed it though” – whereas Jim Diamond I couldn’t even say that about. So both are true. But you’ve caught me using the same wheel-spinning intro for a dull record, certainly!)

  28. 28
    Tom Lane on 23 Jul 2010 #

    Sounds like late 80’s Cher/Heart mixed in with an oddly effective Pop/Metal guitar solo. But Beck pounces on every word here that I also think this sounds like something Celine Dion would come up with when she needs a Power ballad for one of her albums. Zero chart action in the U.S.

  29. 29
    MikeMCSG on 23 Jul 2010 #

    #22 “she unexpectedly became one of the most influential musicians of the nineties with a string of acclaimed albums commencing with Stereopathic Soul Manure”

    Can you expand on that a little MC ? I can’t recall anybody at any time namechecking Robin as an influence on their music.

    Robin was a bit unfortunate that she just missed out on the Top 75 with the follow up “Save Up All Your Tears” which was then a hit in a near-identical version by Cher 18 months later. Mind you Desmond Child’s songs don’t exactly lend themselves to radical re-invention.

  30. 30
    Billy Smart on 23 Jul 2010 #

    I note with interest that, although she was a one-hit wonder in Guinness Book of Hit Singles terms, Beck’s follow-up single ‘Save Up All Your Tears’ peaked at number 84 in March 1989.

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