Sixteen Listens For Sixteen Weeks: An Everything I Do Liveblog
This song got to number one for 16 weeks, so I decided to play it 16 times in a row, writing as I went.
Play 1: And we’re off. I’ve honestly hardly heard this in the last twenty years so I don’t anticipate the full horror will strike me for a few plays. In case anyone doesn’t know why I’m doing this, “Everything I Do” – a soundtrack hit from Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves – holds the record for the longest consecutive run at Number One in the UK singles chart. At least one other record has come close, a few have threatened to, but this is still the champ. Sixteen weeks. Almost four months.
The record is – oh look, you know this, but anyway – it’s a power ballad, slower in fact than I remember. Very weighty. It levels up repeatedly, reaches a climax about two-thirds of the way through, then we have a lingering solo (which I didn’t remember at all and have really no desire to hear another fifteen times), a reprise of the pre-chorus and chorus, and that’s your lot.
Play 2: So on first go that wasn’t so bad! I was 18 when this song was around and I dare say a great deal less amenable to ballads in general and romantic ballads in particular. The song got to number one just after I’d left school – I was spending the summer listening to Bob Dylan and picking fruit for a pittance. “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” – now there, I thought, was a love song. I suspect “Everything I Do” might have a rather wider appeal. (Ah – the solo again – now I’m noticing little moans from Bry on it, dear me.) Anyway I hardly noticed this being number one for its first few weeks and certainly bore it no ill will.
Play 3: “This is a little bit sad music” says a passing four-year old. “I don’t like sad music.” Don’t worry, only thirteen more plays to go! Anyway, in the comments Billy Hicks asks the killer question – why this? As he points out the top ten seemed to be this plus half a dozen breakbeat tracks. At the risk of a stab at topicality which will date this entry event more, there’s yer argument for AV right there. If the second preference votes for Rebel MC had been counted in favour of the Prodigy perhaps we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
More seriously I think there’s a sense in which “Everything I Do” was put at number one as a reaction to a lot of the other stuff which was going on in pop, a ballad built on good old fashioned (well, circa 1986) values. Doesn’t quite explain the longevity, though.
Play 4: That piano intro is starting to sound a bit fussy. You also have to think about the subject matter, of course. Most of the really colossal 90s hits are love songs, and very big, demonstrative, Hollywood love songs at that. And there hadn’t been many of those at Number One recently, the last comparable thing was probably “Unchained Melody”, which was from 1965 anyway. Someone in the comments called “I Wanna Sex You Up” distressingly indiscreet, which seems a bit prudish but Bryan is definitely serving up something a bit more romantic – the sexing you up is all in the thrusting, hairy-chested sound of it, not in the devotional words.
Play 5: By this point in 1991 it was simply a big summer hit – I was aware of it, and pretty sick of it, but I still doubt anyone predicted it would have the legs it did. I don’t recall it breaking sales records – the overall levels of singles sales were quite weak, so the reign of the balladosaurs was partly a function of no real competition. Broad-based hits were rarer, so when one did come along it would really clean up.
I’m feeling a bit resentful of its bludgeoning properties by now.
Play 6: The film, right, let’s talk about the film. I never saw it. I understand someone shoots an arrow into a tree at one point.
So let’s not talk about the film yet. I’m definitely noticing little touches in the production – it feels wrong to call them “subtleties” somehow – there’s a kind of quiet keyboard bit going on behind the riffola just before the solo, for instance. It all serves to make the record bigger and more treacly.
Play 7: Someone has pointed out that there’s a SIX AND A HALF MINUTE version of this, if someone throws me a YouTube I’ll treat myself to it, but no, the bulk of these plays are a radio edit.]
What’s dominating the record now for me is Adams’ voice. It’s very effortful, really bringing out his fighting for you, dying for you, etc. It’s no walk in the park, this doing everything he does for you stuff! He’d been around for a while by this time, slogging away without really making much of an impression on me. He’d done “Run To You” and that showed he had the requisite huskiness for this kind of music, but he’s a bit of a nullity otherwise. That’s probably a contributory factor to the success here, though – if you’re buying this after seeing the film, you’re probably not thinking of Bryan Adams at all, you’re thinking of Kevin Costner clad in stubble and lincoln green. I see the sleeve goes very heavy on the film title and very light on the song title, for instance.
Play 8: There’s obviously a sort of Ren Faire appeal going on here, too – there’s something a little archaic, courtly almost, in the phrasing on “search your heart, search your soul, when you find me there you’ll search no more”, and we’re in the decade of Riverdance and Braveheart and a general bodice’n’broadsword revival (which culminates in Lord Of The Rings I guess, except luckily the songs from that are all IN ELVISH, thanks Tolk!). The reading of Robin Hood implied is less freedom fighter than a kind of Chivalry rockist, the man who understands duty, honour, love etc but is forced undercover by the decadent tenor of the times.
Play 9: OK, it’s time for the six minute version. on YouTube complete with Windows Movie Maker style floaty lyrics. The piano seems mixed up a bit higher, the guitars are a little more turbo-charged but it looks like the extra minutes are all at the end, which rather wrecks the song’s dying fall, replacing it with a bit of piano and guitar vamping and Bryan doing some kind of – improvised moaning? It’s a bit like a really bad Rod Stewart track but with a lot more crashing and soloing. Sorry, Bryan, this won’t do at all – all the precisely constructed build up of romance wrecked on this longer edit in favour of a bit of post-coital mumbling and grunting. It’s like Bryan is rolling over and stealing your duvet. Or your bearskin or whatever, this is the 13th century after all.
Play 10: Back to the shorter edit, and the clanging chimes of doom start up again. Lex in the comments points out rightly that, yes, obviously the film tie-in is why this managed such a gargantuan shift at the top (by week ten it had gone past “Two Tribes”, my benchmark for massivity in hits, and everyone had noticed what was going on). One of my pet theories is how pop is basically quite a small medium, easily bullied and shifted off course by the gravitational pull of other artforms – and cinema in the 90s exerted a particular force. So in a way it’s surprising there weren’t MORE Adams-sized hits.
I’m really wincing now when the BIG CHORDS come in, it’s like the song is a mash up of a films love scene and fight scene both at once.
Play 11: OK, definitely hitting a wall here. As someone else said in the comments, who on Earth was buying this after ten weeks? I’ve now managed to get myself into the same place of sullen anger I was in back in ’91, as the nights drew in, I started a crap job in the wines section of Tescos, and this bastard thing was STILL at number one.
Play 12: I mean, sixteen weeks is a really long time. It’s like six Olympics back-to-back, or a double summer holiday back when you were a kid and summer holidays lasted forever. They’re doing the TOTP re-runs on BBC4 and people are shifting uneasily as the Brotherhood Of Man are on it week after week (with, I admit, a worse song than this), and that was number one for way less than this. Maybe I should have taken it as a sign to stop caring about pop music, but there was a lot of stuff around I really loved and believed in. On the other hand, by week twelve you didn’t really hear it much in the wild, it was just out there somewhere, selling to someone. I wonder if there was ever peer pressure on people who hadn’t bought it yet?
Play 13: Time to take stock of what I think of it. The opening is the best part, I think – it’s gentle, it sounds humble (as someone pointed out, his voice does sound pretty fucked, but for me that suits the been-through-a-battle vibe). The piano chord announcing the second section sounds grossly echoey, though, and the rhythm it sets up is really donkey-ish and plodding. By this point Adam’s identical long vowels are starting to grate, too. The “no love, like your love” does the same stuff, but heavier – plate mail now, not leather armour – and it works better that way, approaching something like rock. Which is why the solo is such a drag, a real energy-killer – Bryan sounds even more knackered after it, like the drums are having to prop his wounded frame up. And then he dies, and it’s almost pretty again, or perhaps I’m just glad it’s ending.
Play 14: This time watching the video, a treat I’ve so far denied myself. The denim! Goodness me, I’d forgotten what a poster boy for denim he was. Bryan looks exhausted before it even starts, grizzled and baffled, a very un-starry sort of star. Most compelling is the bassist uncomfortably squatting up and down before the solo.
Play 15: My wife, who was 15 at the time of EID’s chart reign, went to a Bryan Adams gig in Summer ’92 – supported by Extreme. I asked her if there was any particular reaction when “Everything I Do” was played, but no – it was lighters aloft the whole time of course, but no great excitement. “He was a nice man who’d made a nice song and the whole thing was very nice” was her – not damning – verdict. “Everything I Do” is forceful, sweeping, and suchlike – and memorable too – but also rather unshowy and straightforward. A denimish sort of a song. You can imagine it not wearing out its welcome among its constituency, in the way that something more kitschy – a Jim Steinman jam, perhaps – might make fans feel uncomfortable or awkward after a while. It’s a low-calorie type of a power ballad.
Play 16: “Last play!” I announce to the family. “Good!” says my four year old. “Let’s see if the song’s getting better or worser.” I press play. “It’s getting worser.” Too right. Though actually it hit bottom a few plays ago, and now – just as then – a sort of acceptance has set in. By the sixteenth week, everyone knew it was absurd that this laboured but harmless thing had been at number one for so long, but there was amusement at that absurdity. Which isn’t to say I wasn’t grateful when the spell was finally broken – far happier with the band responsible than I’ve ever been before or since.
So sixteen plays later, what have I learned? Weirdly, I still find it quite hard to get a grip on. For all its bluster there’s an amiable space at the centre of “Everything I Do”, a knack of fading into the background which probably stood it in good stead. I boggled at it in 1991 but I don’t think I hated it, and I can’t really hate it now.