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Sep 10

JASON DONOVAN – “Sealed With A Kiss”

Popular42 comments • 3,774 views

#629, 10th June 1989

Digging into the earlier versions of “Sealed With A Kiss”, I discovered two things. First that I really liked the song, second that it’s stretchy enough for nobody to have quite nailed a definitive take on it. It works just as well insincere as sincere, for a start – in the Four Voices’ 1960 recording (the first) the doo-woppers sound bereft and spectral, like parting for Summer is some kind of malign destiny and they’ll be holidaying in the Underworld this year. But by the time Bobby Vinton’s singing it in 1972, he’s got the full early-70s luxury pop treatment: bongos, flutes, wah-wah, strings and reeds in a gluttonous, glorious mix, and it makes him sound utterly insincere, like he’s phoning his abandoned lady while being rubbed down by hula girls.

How does Jason approach it? He sounds tolerably sad: he’s keeping things simple, with a light, open arrangement, and the song works for him. I’ve been harsh about his voice in past entries and he’s no world-beater on “Sealed” but he does the mournful job the track requires and doesn’t try anything stupid: as a postcard of fantasy devotion it works fine. What lets it down is the backing. Stock Aitken and Waterman had no great feeling for ballads; slow jams need to tempt, not thrill, and they never seemed to have the patience, or at least not while the big Donovan eyes did that job for them. The only moments with any musical life here are the swelling intro and the guitar solo (did Jason play it, I wonder?) Otherwise SAW hobble their singer with a limp preset lilt, which fails to provide any of the atmosphere or urgency this song could thrive on.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    punctum on 20 Sep 2010 #

    Brian Hyland’s famous 1962 recording of the song is a record of bleakness comparable with “Johnny Remember Me” and “Ghost Town.” While Carole King attempted to put a brave, jolly face on the same issue in the same year’s “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” the five-note dies irae of the opening guitar figure, the distant harmonica and the unreachable wraiths of female backing voices all contribute to the singer’s sense of dazed dread that September may never arrive, or that his love is already lost (the sequel to “Sealed With A Kiss” did eventually arrive five years later in the Velvet Underground’s “The Gift,” a warning that unilateral cherish always has its inbuilt limits).

    Hyland sings with the chill of death flowing within his teenage veins, since of course to such teenagers even summer holidays from school are a matter of life and death. The most charitable remark I can make about the Jason Donovan reading is that he sings the right notes – well, approximately – but with a complete (verging on detached) lack of attachment to the emotions the song tries meta-clumsily to articulate. It is all done on one, not even especially morose, level. At the song’s climax of “You won’t be there,” and “I don’t wanna say goodbye,” which Hyland sings as though having just slashed his wrists with fragments from his newly-broken mirror, Donovan can’t even get his timing or phrasing right.

    His performance is therefore something of an innocent insult. But naturally such concerns failed to register with his fans, most of whom were not old enough to remember Donny Osmond, let alone Brian Hyland, and who ensured that his “Sealed With A Kiss” became the first non-charity single to debut at number one since “Two Tribes.” But even this achievement signals the beginning of the decline and devaluation of the singles chart. In the same week there was also a new entry at number two – “The Best Of Me,” Cliff Richard’s 100th single, and heavily promoted as such, although it was an instantly forgettable routine ballad – and although Cliff’s hundredth single attained the same peak position as his first, thirty-one years previously, both he and Donovan dropped down and out of the charts fairly rapidly, and neither record has survived on oldies radio or endured in any other noticeable way. The ground was therefore laid for the charts to becoming yet another marketing tool as opposed to a genuine representation of the public’s musical likes at any given period (though some would believe, not without reason, that ’twas ever thus); instant results became required, and by the mid-nineties a first week number one entry would become more or less obligatory for any would-be chart-topper. Thus the stage was set for the rotating passing fancies of a few thousand people rather than for genuine future classics; and although the rest of Popular is far from devoid of great number ones, the overall decline begins here.

  2. 2
    weej on 20 Sep 2010 #

    “Preset” pretty much nails it, I’m sure this backing was one of the rhythm tracks on my uncle’s old electric piano. Aside from that the song continues on tolerably enough until the grating key-change and, what’s that, no, Jason, don’t do the chorus again!

  3. 3
    JLucas on 20 Sep 2010 #

    I liked this one at the time. Being young and unfamiliar with anything outside the charts, its strange mournfulness was quite compelling. I still have nostalgic fondness, but in retrospect no, not great.

    I wonder how Kylie would have fared with this? She had her own stab at a standard with ‘Tears On My Pillow’ the following year, which I think she made a decent fist of. But this was probably a bit bleak for her voice.

  4. 4
    JLucas on 20 Sep 2010 #

    And God yes, listening back now, that key change is truly painful. Especially as it actually only seems to consist of a rather embarassing yelp on the “YES it’s gonna be a…” I don’t think poor Jason was actually capable of singing in two whole keys.

    This blog has an annoying tendency to highlight irritating features in songs I enjoy that I hadn’t previously noticed. (See also that triangle on ‘Eternal Flame’. RUINED FOREVER).

  5. 5
    Billy Smart on 20 Sep 2010 #

    Fifth form reaction rather supported Marcello’s thesis, the universal consensus being that pop-pickers are so gullible that any old rubbish can get to number one these days.

    We weren’t wrong! Open-minded revisionism can only take you so far…

    What’s odd about watching the video now is the very conscious attempt to create a 1962 nostalgia -‘Mad Men’ done on the resources of ‘Crossroads’ – an aesthetic surely lost on all of Donovan’s target audience, and one that must have struck anyone old enough to have actually remembered 1962 as entirely bogus.

  6. 6
    Billy Smart on 20 Sep 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: Jason Donovan performed Sealed With A Kiss on the Top Of The Pops broadcast on 8 June 1989. Also in the studio that week were; Transvision Vamp, The Beautiful South and D-Mob featuring LRS. Nicky Campbell was the host.

  7. 7
    swanstep on 20 Sep 2010 #

    I dare say that someone like George Michael would sing and arrange the hell out of this song. SAW and Donovan not so much. This is dire, honestly inspiring ‘Why did they bother?’ thoughts. Next.

  8. 8
    flahr on 20 Sep 2010 #

    Sounds a bit like “The Sounds of Silence”. Possibly just the first line playing tricks on me. As you were. 3.

  9. 9
    rosie on 20 Sep 2010 #

    I associate the Bryan Hyland version with being on holiday in Llandudno in the summer of 1962, when I turned eight. I can also remember it being more than the usual song of loss, without really knowing why, and it sending shivers up my spine even at such a tender age. So that is the definitive version for me, the one against which others must be measured.

    Listening to Jason makes me feel he’s in the studio fulfilling his contract, and that’s about it.

  10. 10
    weej on 20 Sep 2010 #

    By the way, nobody seems to have mentioned it so far, but this is the third SAW song in a row at number one, and their fifth of 1989, AND it’s only June. They were on a (pretty rubbish) roll.

  11. 11
    robotsdancingalone on 20 Sep 2010 #

    Well, at least there’s some mystique in the echoey atmospherics, and some charisma in the slow Latin rhythms. Sort of reminds me of Besame Mucho. Not the worst thing I’ve ever heard, and yes I sort of liked its mystery (to a seven year old) at the time too.

  12. 12
    MBI on 20 Sep 2010 #

    I think it’s the backup vocals that really kill this.

    SAW’s work on this sounds for all the world like a knockoff karaoke track of the original.

  13. 13
    MikeMCSG on 20 Sep 2010 #

    #1 All square on the head there MC. I can’t remember a single note of “The Best Of Me”. Was it all down to marketing though or did falling sales make instant number ones more likely ?

    Being a bit younger than Rosie I associate the song with its reissue in 1975 when coincidentally it was in the charts at the same time as Pete Waterman’s first marker, Susan Cadogan’s “Hurts So Good”.

  14. 14
    wichita lineman on 20 Sep 2010 #

    Snap, Mike, I remember Brian Hyland’s version from 1975 when it reached no.7. I remember the TOTP countdown featured an early 70s sepia shot of Hyland with a pony tail, so I had no idea it was an older song. Timeless, for once, seems pretty appropriate.

    Possibly worse than Jase’s version was Gary Lewis’s 1968 US Top 20 version. Jerry Lewis’s son, Gary had always been a chipper presence in the US chart since he had a no.1 with This Diamond Ring in 1965, but he was conscripted in ’67 and SWAK was his comeback 45. Pitching and enthusiasm are painfully lacking.

    As for Brian Hyland he came up with one of my favourite pop quotes – “One hit record means two years’ gravy.”

    Does anyone know if 80s teen TV show SWALK is worth a second look?

  15. 15
    Tom on 20 Sep 2010 #

    I am a terrible old cynic it seems, but listening to the Hyland version while exploring – and after the more dolorous Four Voices one – I didn’t believe a word of it. Not that I disliked it, it’s very good (the Vinton one is my favourite though), but his urgency at the end I took more as an attempt to “seal the deal” pre-departure – which the song supports: the “kiss” in that final bit of lyric turns from something chastely applied to a letter to something in the physical here-and-now.

    Initial impressions of each – and Youtube links – from last week on my tumblr http://tomewing.tumblr.com/ (scroll down a bit)

  16. 16
    Dominic on 20 Sep 2010 #

    IIRC “The Best of Me” was written by Richard Marx. Still, could have been worse, could have been written by Climie/Fisher!

    As everyone has says, this isn’t really very good. Production, background, key-change, all guilty. (Best SAW-produced ballad: hmm, maybe Sonia’s take on “End of the World”? Which given that she was far from being the brightest star in their constellation of instant pop-singers maybe means I’m wrong.) But, well, same applies to pretty much all of Jason’s singles, more or less, alas.

    And to think it was Rick Astley who got criticism in song from the likes of the Wonder Stuff or Nick Lowe just a couple of years earlier. if only they’d been more patient before sticking their oars into the fetid waters of the wrong end of the PWL franchise! (Although the fact that “Astley” rhymes which Ghastly means that perhaps Jason would still have got away with it)

  17. 17
    MikeMCSG on 20 Sep 2010 #

    # 16 I’m struggling for a rhyme for Donovan but maybe :

    The critics love to honour Van
    But kids buy Jason Donovan

    Perhaps not.

  18. 18
    pink champale on 20 Sep 2010 #

    there’s not much better than spectral doo wop, so i’ll certainly be tracking down those earlier versions (even the name ‘four voices’ sounds suitably disembodied) but i think i’ll resist the urge to revisit jase at the same time. mind you, it’s probably some tribute to him that twenty years on i can still recall the exact timbre of his pained lowing, especially on what jlucas nails as the not-quite key change.

    16 – i’m pretty sure (please don’t make me check!) the wonderstuff didn’t actually even manage to think of the astley/ghastly rhyme

  19. 19
    pink champale on 20 Sep 2010 #

    i’d rather van morrison/
    than jason donovan

  20. 20
    Alan Connor on 20 Sep 2010 #

    At Our Price Reading’s Billy Bragg store-in in 1989/90, he went for “Shirley, you really know how to make a young man angry / Shirley, can we get through the night without mentioning Astley?”

  21. 21
    wichita lineman on 20 Sep 2010 #

    Re 15: Seeing as SWAK was Hyland’s follow-up to Ginny Come Lately (“I only met you just a couple of days ago, and I want your loving so… my love for you has no more room to grow”) you might well be right to doubt his sincerity. The hound.

  22. 22
    Jimmy the Swede on 20 Sep 2010 #

    Fans of Van Morrison?
    Fans of Jase Donovan?
    Sod the lot of ’em!

  23. 23
    Tom on 20 Sep 2010 #

    Worst line in the Wonder Stuff song: Oh Astley it’s the truth / My patience at its roof”. Ouch.

  24. 24
    Erithian on 20 Sep 2010 #

    Of course there was a song incorporating reference to Jason, sung to the tune of his next number one… but we wouldn’t want to upset m’learned friends.

  25. 25
    Mutley on 20 Sep 2010 #

    Brian Hyland’s other UK hit of 1962 “Ginny Come Lately” is for me a perfect evocation of teenage longing (and when was that ever chaste?) – the song is simple but effective. He also had an earlier novelty hit in 1960 with “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” which perhaps reveals the truely unchaste Brian.

  26. 26
    Jimmy the Swede on 20 Sep 2010 #

    Careful, Mutley. Bunny’s in the safety car!

  27. 27
    Erithian on 20 Sep 2010 #

    Agree he doesn’t do too bad a job with it, and the video of course gives the people what they want. But the Brian Hyland arrangement knocks it into a cocked hat, the wistful harmonica and everything.

    There’s a nice version of this song by Agnetha Faltskog on the youtube page too, albeit featuring a rather inappropriate guitar break and a bloke looking like he could be her stalker.

    Just searched out the Four Voices version, and wow – sorry, but I reckon faced with that mournful delivery, the girl would be saying goodbye for good to the miserable git, not just until September.

  28. 28
    lonepilgrim on 20 Sep 2010 #

    the Jason video is compelling for it’s lack of affect. The man was supposed to be an actor even if he wasn’t that hot as an singer, and he just sits there like some animatronic dummy.
    I can imagine the song being reused at some later date for a movie- as Lynch did with ‘Blue Velvet’. Just as that suited the supersaturated surrealism of the movie this would suit some retelling of the fag end of the coked-up 80s.

    For some reason – perhaps the rhythm of the title falling on the last line of the chorus – the Brian Hyland version reminds me a little of The Beatles ‘From me to you’.

  29. 29
    ace inhibitor on 20 Sep 2010 #

    I too associate Bryan Hyland’s version pretty vividly with 1975 – despite it apparently peaking at no.7 in June, I connect it with late August and the end of the school holidays, which came about a month after my mother’s death. Consequently, I suppose, I’ve been carrying the line in my head for 30-odd years as ‘Its gonna be a cold lonely winter’ and am slightly startled now to realise the trick memory has played on me. Rosie’s comment – ‘more than the usual song of loss’ – maybe explains why the specifics of the lyrics passed me by at the time. (As did Jason’s version in its entirety, to be honest.)

  30. 30
    Snif on 21 Sep 2010 #

    Do you remember Rick Astley?
    He had a big fat hit, it was ghastly…

    sang Nick Lowe on “All Men Are Liars”

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