Aug 10

JASON DONOVAN – “Too Many Broken Hearts”

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#624, 11th March 1989

As a pop star, Jason Donovan had two big problems. The first was his singing, which we’ll get to, but the second was that Stock Aitken And Waterman didn’t seem to have much idea what to do with him. Kylie couldn’t sing terribly well either, but she immediately turned out to be a missing piece in the PWL puzzle: a girl who could be ordinary without being boring. It helped that she’d had a few years experience as an actress doing exactly that, too.

Couldn’t Jason do the same? Maybe: PWL had gone down that route a little with Rick Astley, but his appeal was more the Clark Kent demeanour and Superman voice, and Jason had, so to speak, no vocal spandex in his closet. That comically awkward bit of guitar at the start of “Too Many Broken Hearts” sounds like a gesture to the idea that Jason, being a boy, might have some connection to Boy Music, but it’s a complete bluff: this is business very much as usual. “Too Many Broken Hearts” seems like SAW taking the path of least resistance, giving Jason some solid material and hoping he doesn’t make too much of a bish of it.

As an insurance policy he’s mixed down in the big earworm chorus and the “backing” vocalists track his vocal line to the note. He gets the verses to himself though, giving us plenty of opportunity to appreciate his trundling delivery, tiny range and the strain every time he has to do anything dynamic. The overall vibe is one of karaoke – not in the usual critical sense of someone doing a crap cover, but the unpleasant sensation you get when you’re singing karaoke and realise you’re only actually comfortable on the choruses: the verses become tightropes of potential embarrassment. In this context the pre-chorus climax – “I’ll be HURT I’ll be HURT” – is a triumph, not just because Jason actually nails it but because there’s a huge sense of relief every time he gets there.

And that’s when I realise SAW’s diabolical cleverness. Because by that point in the song I’m on Jason’s side – I want him to get through this, which is exactly where the record needs to be emotionally: “Too Many Broken Hearts” has to seem like a struggle or else the guy singing it will just come over as an overconfident dick. And so we have a record which ought to be awful but somehow isn’t really. Phew! Now, if only they don’t do something really idiotic and give him a ballad to carry…



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  1. 31
    Rory on 11 Aug 2010 #

    @21 Did Kylie actually date Nick Cave? I thought that was just a working relationship. Being Michael Hutchence’s gf was the turning point in Australian music critics’ eyes. Cave sang at Hutchence’s funeral and is godfather to his daughter, so presumably that’s where the link with Kylie came from.

    “Confide in Me” is very much a product of the Sexkylie Hutchence-dating years.

  2. 32
    Rory on 11 Aug 2010 #

    Or not quite – it came just after them. Apparently their relationship was 1989-91.

  3. 33
    Rory on 11 Aug 2010 #

    Just noticed that on the single sleeve pic, Jason’s hat looks like a black halo, medieval-painting style. Too many broken SOULS.

  4. 34
    weej on 11 Aug 2010 #

    Never mind WHY is he playing the guitar, WHAT is he playing on it?
    I can’t play at all, but I can still see the chords have no relation to the song at all. Though he does look like he’s able to play the thing.
    This just looks and sounds cheap, but it’s too harmless to hate.

  5. 35
    Steve Mannion on 11 Aug 2010 #

    I remember him saying in Smash Hits that he had a guitar and played casually. And Kylie herself could give Bez a run for his maracas money.

  6. 36
    Mark G on 11 Aug 2010 #

    Jason’s “I’ll be HURT” is sung with the conviction that it’s not going to happen.

  7. 37
    MikeMCSG on 11 Aug 2010 #

    #11 Lex, I think Mike Stock’s worked with enough black artists not to have the r-accusation casually thrown at him. And you’re quoting him a bit out of context; the main thrust of his argument was against premature sexualisation of children with Britney Spears and Lady GaGa as his examples. If he was maoaning about everything in the charts sounding the same then of course he’d be on very thin ice indeed but that wasn’t the argument.

    Musically you can’t make a case for Jason – all his records are terrible though “I’m Doing Fine” the one he claimed was a Beatles pastiche (presumably with Pete Best on vocals) was quite amusing just for the conceit. I do quite warm to him in interviews nowadays when he’s still moping about Kylie and never seems very happy about the way his career mapped out after “Neighbours”.

  8. 38
    MBI on 11 Aug 2010 #

    You give me one good reason to leave me
    I’ll give you ten good reasons to stay

    Maybe this is not a new observation for you Brits who actually know this song, but I cannot hear those lines without thinking that Jason is threatening to beat this woman. With both fists, even.

  9. 39
    wichita lineman on 11 Aug 2010 #

    “Jase is ace” as one banner read at a SAW Roadshow in Bristol around this time. I really don’t mind the song at all, though clearly it’s closer to the stunted ambition of Give A Little Love than Gonna Make You A Star – it really reminds me of early 70s Cookaway/Macaulay-McLeod bubblegum. But obv. Jase is not that ace vocally and the production is made of balsa wood. 4 makes sound sense.

    During his “alleged” “drugs” “period” he would go into a cafe on Westbourne Grove, rather like the one on the cover, where a friend of mine worked. Jase was always in extremely good spirits, and would stick around for hours, but would usually unsettle my friend by saying things like “Look at this chair! Aren’t chairs AMAZING?”. That’s an actual quote. Bjork could’ve pulled it off, I suppose.

  10. 40
    Steve Mannion on 11 Aug 2010 #

    No idea why i put ‘Key To My Life’ for OTV’s single upthread. ‘Sacred Trust’ was its actual title (I nearly typed ‘tritle’ there, which is apt).

  11. 41
    anto on 11 Aug 2010 #

    Everything about it sounds thin and flimsy.
    It’s inoffensive and likeable enough so yes 4 is the fair score.

  12. 42
    flahr on 11 Aug 2010 #

    Have been subjected to this a little too often to like it (last year someone gave my sister a large batch of JD albums) but it is catchy so I’d give it a 3. There could be better bad stuff but there could certainly be worse too.

    It seems a little too upbeat to me frankly – I get that he is singing about how he’s going to try to get his girl back, but shouldn’t he be a little sadder about the fact he lost her in the first place?

  13. 43
    23 Daves on 11 Aug 2010 #

    Of course, if I jump in at this point and say this is actually one of my favourite SAW songs, I’ll be asked to provide some kind of reasonable argument why. And I don’t think I can make much of a case.

    Yes, I know Jason’s voice is dire – and I did say so when we were commenting on “Especially For You”. I also know that this is a good record (in my opinion) rather than a great one. But it was a guilty pleasure for me when it first came out, causing me to go rather quiet when my schoolfriends starting spitting fire about what a terrible number one it was.

    I think a large part of what clinches it for me is actually that the chorus is ridiculously optimistic and uplifting despite the lyrical subject matter, and at the time of its release it coincided with the arrival of Spring. I can still remember listening to this on the radio during a freakishly warm day and feeling that it just soundtracked the moment perfectly. And beyond that, whilst the cheap brassy synths are intact, the SAW-favoured rinky-dink groove is absent, replaced by something which almost (almost!) sounds similar to a rhythm pattern and arrangement Erasure, New Order or the Pet Shop Boys might have used. So this means I disagree with comment 23, unfortunately.

    Ultimately though, it’s much easier to defend things you feel passionately about rather than records you just think are quite good, and this is far too much of a “I like hearing it on the radio” song rather than a “must-own” effort. And actually, this is probably the very last SAW track I actually like – it’s all downhill for me from here.

    (As an aside, Tom’s comments about karaoke have reminded me of a night I sometimes go to where the audience actually break into polite applause if the singer manages to hit difficult notes… “Take On Me” is a particular favourite for this treatment).

  14. 44
    MikeMCSG on 11 Aug 2010 #

    # 44 You’ve reminded me of my ill-advised assault on Crash Test Dummies’ “Mmm Mmm Mmm” where I found I could not physically emit any sound when it came to the chorus. I’m stood there like a lemon watching my wife flee the room with embarassment.

  15. 45
    Vince Modern on 12 Aug 2010 #

    A couple of years later and he still hadn’t taken heed to the ‘guitar as prop’ criticisms.

    Check him here at the 1991 Children’s Royal Variet performance singing RSVP:

    Easy picking for Michael Barrymore to take this piss out of him immediately afterwards:

  16. 46
    Chris Gilmour on 12 Aug 2010 #

    @43, Ah, fair enough, the rinky-dink grooves were always one of my favourite things about SAW!

  17. 47
    23 Daves on 12 Aug 2010 #

    Well, I think for the sake of fairness I should say that I’m fairly sure both Erasure and the Pet Shop Boys used those rinky-dink grooves (or slight variations of them) on some of their tracks as well. But with SAW, it ended up becoming a cliche, causing people to say “Oh, they’re using the same rhythm pattern again!”

    There are a few other SAW cliches present on “Too Many Broken Hearts”, of course, but as a single it did sound relatively fresh to me at the time. And like Tom, I think that Jason’s weaknesses as a vocalist may actually help the song slightly, in much the same manner that Bernard Sumner’s vocals seem charming rather than cringeworthy on most New Order tracks.

  18. 48
    Tom on 12 Aug 2010 #

    Savour that comparison while it lasts, Jase :)

  19. 49
    MikeMCSG on 12 Aug 2010 #

    #47 Bernard will always sound more comfortable (excepting the first album) because he’s singing his own lyrics on tracks he has helped to sculpt. Jason’s always straining to keep in line with a guide vocal over music that doesn’t really excite him (or anyone else over 12).

  20. 50
    Billy Smart on 13 Aug 2010 #

    I always feel a little bit cheered whenever I hear this one, even at the time when it was greeted by my fifth form peers as an abomination, signifying the depths to which music had sunk, etc. The skwalling guitar leading you into the blind alley of jolly pop, and – in particular – the ace backing vox that lift the second half of the recording up, when its clear that the song itself isn’t going to do anything very surprising.

    I have a mental game with this song that I frequently try out and which provides it with a perhaps unearned depth. I like to imagine it as sung by an aged Johnny Cash, ‘American Recordings’ style.

    “You give me one good reason to leave me.
    I’ll give you TEN good reasons to stay.
    You’re the only one I believe in.
    I’ll be hurt.
    I’ll be hurt.
    If you walk away.”

    It sounds good, doesn’t it?

  21. 51
    Billy Smart on 13 Aug 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: Jason Donovan eventually performed ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’ on the 1989 Christmas day Top Of The Pops. Of which more later.

  22. 52
    punctum on 13 Aug 2010 #

    #50: The verses would work in that context but I’m not convinced that the chorus would.

  23. 53
    Billy Smart on 13 Aug 2010 #

    It’s true that in the version in my head, he suddenly becomes 25 years younger in the chorus, which is delivered in the lighter, chattier, style of ‘A Thing Called Love’. This is the advantage of imaginary records!

  24. 54
    Tommy Mack on 13 Aug 2010 #

    “I like to imagine it as sung by an aged Johnny Cash, ‘American Recordings’ style.”

    It is a cracking game to play with songs. Every Rose Has it’s Thorn works a treat.

    As does The Locomotion done with Mark E Smith’s voice and intonation…

  25. 55
    punctum on 13 Aug 2010 #

    Best theoretical cover of “Too Many Broken Hearts”; King Sunny Ade, or Diblo Dibala.

  26. 56
    Mark G on 13 Aug 2010 #

    #54, a theoretical singe I dreamed once, “Put away” (M.E. Smith) by Jimmy Saville, on Columbia records, 1965 approx.

  27. 57
    punctum on 13 Aug 2010 #

    Speaking angularly on Savile, whatever happened to early eighties reggae toasting duo Laurel and Hardy, they of the classic “Clunk Click” and “You’re Nicked”?

  28. 58
    wichita lineman on 15 Aug 2010 #

    “Ten good reasons to stay” always reminds me of Miar Davies’ girl group heart tugger:


    Re 56: not hard to imagine these words from the mouth of J Saville: “you don’t have to be weird to be wired, uh-UH-uh-UH”.

  29. 59
    Erithian on 16 Aug 2010 #

    I guess this was the point at which SAW were on the turn, their hooks and techniques becoming obvious and a mite predictable. But this one is still something of a marketing masterclass. As a companion piece to Kylie on the back of that car swanning around Sydney, here’s Jason in a vest in the outback, portraying the endearing Aussie image to perfection and giving the target audience just what they want.

    You can carp about the lack of “hurt” in the “I’ll be hurt” line, but after all this is Neighbours World, where a character’s problems aren’t necessarily all that deep, and anyway there’s always the scenery and the weather. So, the fans would have thought, the song is lively, danceable and fun, and who cares how miserable its protagonist is supposed to be sounding?

    Jason’s voice was limited – mind you the chart has heard worse – but he was as hot as hot could be. There was the Jason Donovan board game (admittedly one which many people were to find in charity shops soon afterwards) where players built a full-colour heart-shaped jigsaw of Jason by successfully answering questions about him. And when you’re that hot, an uptempo number like this is a cert. Not pitched at the likes of me by any means, but you can see why it was such a hit.

  30. 60
    Tom on 16 Aug 2010 #

    Sorry for lack of updates by the way – Jason doesn’t really deserve a whole week in the spotlight, I know.

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