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Feb 12

THE BLUEBELLS – “Young At Heart”

Popular • 4,048 views

#687, 3rd April 1993

bluebells Another song where hearing the original changes your perspective on it: as a Bananarama album track, “Young At Heart” is fizzy but unusually thoughtful, a vignette of a kid growing to understand her parents’ choices and compromises. Even at three minutes it runs out of ideas, but it’s a lovely, wise little song and – like all early Bananarama material – it brims with can-do enthusiasm.

Bobby Bluebell co-wrote that song and then worked it up into a hit, making two major changes – one his own, one proven otherwise in court. The bit that’s not his is the violin hook, contributed by Bobby Valentino. It’s immediately recognisable and has the unfortunate effect of pitching the redone “Young At Heart” into an unwinnable comparison with “Come On Eileen” – another fiddle-driven song about coming to terms with your parents’ lives. Even so, Valentino’s wandering violin lines are the best thing about the reworked version – switching from punchy to wistful, corny but at least not leaden.

Which is more than you can say for The Bluebells’ other addition – that lumbering chorus. “YUNG! At heart! You’re so – YU-UNG AT HEART!”. Ken McLuskey is a non-singer in the grand indiepop tradition, but unlike his rough contemporary Edwyn Collins he doesn’t have the clarity, wit, or phrasing to make up for it – he smears his way through the verses, obscuring them in favour of that bellowed refrain.

Together, the fiddle and the chorus were hooky enough to catch Volkswagen’s attention and dredge the song up from 80s limbo to irritate a whole new audience. To be honest, “Young At Heart” sounded OK rubbing shoulders with Cabaret Voltaire and JoBoxers at the fag-end of a cheap compilation tape – it was only weeks in the spotlight that made me come to hate it. But my newfound dislike of the song never faded, and I sometimes wondered why – since some of the things it does (fiddles, fresh-facedness) might be winners in another context. Finally hearing the original doesn’t improve the song, but it at least puts its failures into a kind of focus.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    hilker on 8 Feb 2012 #

    “Have there been many artists who have gone from commercial jingle production into successful recording careers?”

    Barry Manilow is probably the most notable example.

  2. 52
    Mutley on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Re 51. Possibly even more notable was Elvis Presley, who in 1954 apparently (I copied this information from memphis.about.com) performed a jingle for a radio commercial for Southern Maid Donuts. The jingle he sang was, “You can get ‘em piping hot after four p.m., you can get ‘em piping hot. Southern Maid Donuts hit the spot, you can get ‘em piping hot after four p.m.”
    The commercial aired during a broadcast of “Louisiana Hayride” in 1954 and was never re-released. While no copies of this recording are known to exist with any certainty, a couple of individuals over the years have claimed to be in possession of the recording.

  3. 53
    swanstep on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Luther Vandross is another person who started off making jingles.

    The Shangri-las compilation/best of record, The Myrmidons of Melodrama (magnificent title!), includes one of their post-success radio jingles for Revlon.

  4. 54

    There’s a terrific Shirelles radio ad for coca-cola (I think *not* the one on youtube, they did more than one): interesting not least bcz it reminds us that the borderlines between pop and jingles were once much more porous than they afterwards became…

  5. 55
    Cumbrian on 8 Feb 2012 #

    This is all really interesting (at least to me), so thanks for the replies. That Shangri-Las jingle is pretty decent I think – and makes me realise how close to the mark some of The Who Sell Out is – which I hadn’t realised before.

    Also, never listened to Barry Manilow by choice – but his Wiki page section on his commercial work makes me want to seek out his “Very Special Medley” that he used to play in concerts. Seems he was proud of how he’d come up – good for him.

  6. 56
    wichita lineman on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Coca Cola managed to get jingles out of pretty much everyone in the 60s:

    http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7798040ED45961CB

    My favourite is Robin Gibb’s super bleak effort (not on youtube), which is about as close to a conventional Coke advert as Woody Allen’s Interiors:

    “Another cold and windy day
    The birds are homing, too cold to stay
    And now I feel my mind is turning
    And think of times when I would laugh
    I open up some Coke and smile
    And then my mind’s free, for a while”

  7. 57
    Cumbrian on 8 Feb 2012 #

    These are fantastic – personal favourites thus far are the Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin one and the Tom Jones one.

    That Robin Gibb one sounds incredible too – it basically sounds like Coke just said to all of these artists, “do what you like, so long as you mention Coke positively, it’s all good”

  8. 58

    Didn’t know that Golden Earring were originally The Golden Earrings

    (always intrigued by the meaning of this particular nominal evolution: eg Geroge Clinton’s late-doors doowop group The Parliaments became Parliament…)

  9. 59

    and haha VANILLA FUDGE! I love Vanilla Fudge.

  10. 60
    swanstep on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Wow, thanks for that playlist link wichita! Amazing (and a little frightening too – I’d no idea that Coke *so* completely carpet-bombed pop music). Petula Clark’s, 5th Dimension’s, and Boxtops’ jingles are my faves so far.

  11. 61
    swanstep on 8 Feb 2012 #

    And the Vanilla Fudge ad!!! Holy crap that’s great. Must drink more coke….

  12. 62
    wichita lineman on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Twenty thousand disembodied eyes…

  13. 63

    The Man can’t bust our music!!

    Weren’t Coke — slightly later — the first multi-national corporation to help themselves to full-on counter-culture ideals and imagery (viz “I’d like to teach the world to sing…”)?

  14. 64
    LondonLee on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Then there’s Dusty Springfield singing about Mother’s Pride

  15. 65
    Mark M on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Re 63: not if you subscribe to Tom Frank’s version of the relationship between the counterculture and advertising.

  16. 66

    Yes, I wasn’t adverting (ha!) to that: hence “full-on” (also to be truthful I’d forgotten about it)… the counterculture I meant was largescale utopian hippie rather than micro-niche hipster, ie the genuinely popular EVERYONE UNITE stuff that almost immediately became UNcool again, to later hipsters.

    (of course Frank may deal with this: I’ve really only encountered his ideas second or third hand, in which I form I always want to smush them up as being smugly over-simplistic — which may well be the fault of elements of his fan-club)

  17. 67
    JLucas on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Oh God I thought this was just me, but Mama Cass’s radio jingles for US Burger chain Hardees are almost as much fun as her hits. There’s a key change and everything!

    http://youtu.be/ki-rFMWbK8I

    “Who needs cocktail parties?
    Baby you need Hardees!

    Hurry on down to Hardees
    You get a real good feeling inside
    You can taste that charcoal flavour
    In a burger that’s broiled not fried
    With all the things you’ve got to do
    Why not relax and just be you
    Hurry on down to Hardees
    You get a real good feelin’ inside!”

  18. 68
    Mark M on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Re 66: I rate him, and in the case of The Conquest Of Cool he’s (literally*) done his homework – it’s full of detail rather than sweeping claims. Although you argue he’s much more interested in advertising than the counterculture itself worked.

    *As in the book is based on his PhD work.

  19. 69

    Probably I should read him, as it’s entirely stuff I’m fascinated by. At this distance I’m fairly unimpressed by the word “conquest”, since it appears to assume an initial claim — about vanguard art’s former imperishable purity, whether as “is” or “ought” — which I think is deeply silly*: but again, he may well explore this at length.

    *Bohemians were never not in an ambiguous zone: and this is why what they make and do is interesting.

  20. 70
    Mark M on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Re 69: I think you misunderstand the title – cool is conquering Madison Av and by way of this American mass culture, not Mad Av conquering cool.

    But also:

    ‘If we really want to understand American culture in the sixties, we must acknowledge at least the possibility that the co-opters had it right, that Madison Avenue’s vision of the counterculture was in some ways correct.’

  21. 71

    s/b “The Conquest BY Cool” then :p

    ^^^SPOILERS: Spain won

  22. 72

    yikes that was 20 times bigger than intended :(

    update: ok that’s a bit better

  23. 73
    swanstep on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Perhaps Frank had Hollywood in mind.

  24. 74
    ace inhibitor on 10 Feb 2012 #

    just picking up on tomlawrence@40, and the way pop uses/colonises the idioms of everyday language – Simon Frith writes somewhere or other about songs ‘working on ordinary language’ – in the double sense of deriving some of their effect and connection from that apparent everydayness, but also that they rework the language, making the familiar strange again. (Personally I can forgive SAW a lot for the way they smuggled such middle-aged geezerish phrases as ‘i should be so lucky’ and ‘better the devil you know’ into kylie’s ouvre.)

    And thinking on that there IS something strange going on in YAH isnt there? As a phrase or claim ‘You’re so young at heart’ implies precisely that you are not young, anymore, and I’d always assumed that the audience hailed by this song was the nostalgic no-longer-young listening to new CDs of their teenage singles on the stereo of their new Golf. (not least because I was a version of that person myself,in 1993, just with an older car and different records). But then whats going on in the verses? Genuine question as they don’t make a lot of sense to me, but ‘young at heart / yet what a start / old before their time /they married young / yet not a chance / to be a child at all’ and so on feels vaguely like we’re in Too Much Too Young territory. And there’s a whole confusion of ‘us’(they told us lies) ‘them’ and ‘you’ in the lyrics that makes the singers position in relation to this narrative ambiguous to say the least.

    So, 2 possibilities: 1) the lyrics were written in half an hour, back of a fag packet stylee, cobbled together from loosely connotative phrases, and my attempts to make sense of them are ridiculous, or 2) my preferred reading obviously, they are making oblique references to some of the tensions around ‘youth’ encoded in pop from the start: given that pop has very often been a matter of 40/50somethings producing songs sung by 20/30somethings pretending to be teenagers, and was by the early 90s approaching its own 40th birthday and increasingly consumed by 20/30/40somethings remembering their own youth through the medium; and also given that the singer/musician living the bohemian/teenage promise of pop music on behalf of their audience (but also in implied critique of their safe compromises) has been a popular cultural trope since at least the 1830s.

    At which point the bellowed communal singalong chorus that has so sharply divided opinions here can be seen as either desperately drowning out the tensions alluded to in the verses; or as a vehicle to smuggle them in, depending on your preferences.

  25. 75
    Mark G on 10 Feb 2012 #

    Their parents married young, had to be old before their time, but now they are relaxed in each others company now that the kids have left. The kid, in this case, sees them now as likeable, loveable, whereas when they were living in the parental home the kid resented the parental control limitations too much to love them unconditionally. Now that they have a distance, and the parents have that space also, they have a warmer relationship. And a jaunty violin.

  26. 76
    Kit on 11 Feb 2012 #

    occasionally the crossover would go the other way, with people who’d skilled up on hacking jingles deciding to have a swing at pop music, and connecting – eg: The Firm, of Arthur Daley (E’s Alright) and Star Trekkin’, and the Beatmasters, of Cookie Crew / Betty Boo / MC Merlin / JC 001 collabo singles.

  27. 77
    Auntie Beryl on 7 Jan 2013 #

    Digging up this conversation after the best part of a year as I work my way backwards through posts, I’m slightly surprised no-one drew a link from Young At Heart forward to Mumford & Sons, early Noah And The Whale, and similar corporo-raggle-pop merchants. It’s more of a feel than a direct sonic lift, for sure. But what an appalling feel it is.

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