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Feb 12

THE BLUEBELLS – “Young At Heart”

Popular78 comments • 8,391 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. 1
    anto on 6 Feb 2012 #

    Excellent review and one which pretty much takes the words out of my mouth. This sounds to me like Too-rye-ay on a budget and yes the lead vocals are off-puttingly stringy, blurry and slurry. His attempt at the high note on the ” Waaaaalk-out-that-door ” part is especially clumsy.
    I didn’t know until a few weeks ago that it was a Bananarama song.
    In which case it is at least the closest (not counting Shakespears Sister) that one the best loved groups not to have a number one came to the top.

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 7 Feb 2012 #

    I always seem to hear this in the background in pubs or on the radio where it has always seemed a fairly pleasant noise with a straightforward hook. I can’t imagine wanting to sit down and listen to it but I don’t feel the animosity or irritation expressed by Tom.
    I had no idea about its Bananarama provenance but I will now go and investigate.

    OK – that’s a bit wan. An incisive telling of the story of the song here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NJBDQYyohs

  3. 3
    thefatgit on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Thank the stars I’m not alone in regarding this as wallpaper. YAH only works as a jukebox tune in The Queen Vic, or background noise on a factory floor, where the machinists only sing along with the chorus and mumble the rest. It’s the wailing violin that makes me want to rush for the exit. That’s my fault rather than Bobby Valentino’s, who by all accounts was something of a character on stage with Hank Wangford. The Bluebells, and Bananarama hit the jackpot with this one, didn’t they? Volkswagen soundtracked their Golf campaign which propelled it to the top of the charts. Score one more for the Suits.

  4. 4
    flahr on 7 Feb 2012 #

    3? 3? Gosh. At least a 6 for this: brimming over with enthusiasm, it’s true that it’s not really a song so much as it is a collection of hooks (the magnificently dizzy violin, “waaaalk out the door”, “you’re soooooo”) but three-and-a-half minutes doesn’t seem too much for it to ask.

    Elsewhere on the CD single: “Cath” sounds, unsurprisingly, a lot more indie, very Aztec Camera, and is less lithe than YAH but still pretty enjoyable. And then for the benefit of Dexy’s-watch, “The Patriot Game” starts “Come all you young rebels”…

  5. 5
    23 Daves on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Eesh, this is a song that never fails to set my teeth on edge, to the point where I’d probably rather not consider it in too much detail for fear it becomes an unlikable earworm. Tom’s criticisms are pretty much spot on, but interestingly it’s a song I can’t remember anyone ever liking – my friends and I spent many long, hard hours thinking about who the hell was buying this record, and couldn’t come up with any answers. I’ve always considered it to be a single that proves that the right tune with the right advert can perform miracles chartwise – The Bluebells sound couldn’t have been more out-of-date for 1993 if it tried, really (short of being a minimalist synth-pop number). It even broke the “old songs from only one decade ago are not cool and should not be revived yet” rule, and even Dexy’s and Rowland had long since moved away from that kind of punchy Celtic noise, and it just stuck out like a sore thumb. An unwelcome sore thumb at that.

    I can’t remember any of The Bluebells other songs, although I was unfortunate enough to be aware of this particular one both times it was released. Did they ever produce anything a bit more bearable?

  6. 6
    weej on 7 Feb 2012 #

    I was ready to defend this, but a re-listen shows Tom to be spot-on. The fairly ok Bananarama song is buried beneath the “YOOOOOOUNG AT HEART” and the fiddly-diddly-dee (the half-arsed solo of which must be the song’s low point).
    The reason this got to number one was surely that it still sounds pretty good in very short bursts. For a jingle I would give it an 8. For a song, yes, 3 seems fair.

  7. 7
    swanstep on 7 Feb 2012 #

    New to me. So is this the closest thing to a Postcard records/OJ/Aztec Cam #1? Or have I forgotten something? Rip it up and start again… (that should squish any YAH earworms).

  8. 8
    Erithian on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Going to have to side with flahr at #4 on this one, and really I find it hard to understand the antagonism many people feel towards it – maybe it derives from the fact it was only a number one after a bit of corporate whoring, having reached number 8 on its own merits in the summer of 1984? (The seven ahead of it: Frankie, neil, Frankie again, Prince, Tina, Cyndi, Grandmaster.) Fairground Attraction’s “Perfect”, a similarly foppish type of sound which was also used as an advert albeit after being No 1, was also panned by many on here, and looking back at that thread I see someone filed it next to “Young At Heart” as a “horrible song” even then.

    I love Bananarama deeply, and always enjoy seeing their girl-gang image forever young and optimistic, but their original was justifiably an album track. The bits weej says bury it are the very strengths of the cover version – the chorus you can bellow along to and the Bobby Valentino hook (and no wonder he pursued a songwriting credit, it wouldn’t have been anything like the hit it was without him). Thanks to lonepilgrim for that One Show clip btw.

    Those intervening years between the original hit and the number one produce a telling contrast in my case – in 1984 I’d just finished finals, hadn’t yet got my results and the summer was a bit of a breeze, by 1993 I was dealing with job, mortgage and the illness of someone close to me. I’d only just turned 30 so “Young At Heart” wasn’t exactly a desperate means of clinging on to youth, but still a reminder of a more carefree time! (Anyone remember them going “Shabba!” on TOTP?)

    Oh, and it looks like I get to be the first to mention the bass player Lawrence Donegan, whose career path is not quite as bizarre as Professor Brian Cox’s but is still remarkable. From the Bluebells to Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, to working as assistant to Brian Wilson (the MP not the Beach Boy of course) and recording an anti-poll tax song with David Hill (later Tony Blair’s press spokesman), then becoming a columnist on the Guardian and now the paper’s golf correspondent. I wonder if Tom and/or the Swede have met him in a professional capacity?

  9. 9
    Billy Smart on 7 Feb 2012 #

    TOTPWatch. The Bluebells performed ‘Young at Heart’ on Top of the Pops on seven occasions. Details of the Christmas 1993 edition shall be provided anon;

    28 June 1984. Also in the studio that week were; The Human League, Alison Moyet and Scritti Politti. Steve Wright & Andy Peebles were the hosts.

    12 July 1984. Also in the studio that week were; Shakatak, Neil, Echo & The Bunnymen and Frankie Goes To Hollywood. John Peel & Tommy Vance were the hosts.

    25 March 1993. Also in the studio that week were; Sybil, Jade, Robin S, Cliff Richard, Lulu & Bobby Womack and Shaggy. Tony Dortie was the host.

    1 April 1993. Also in the studio that week were; Capella, Mica Paris and Barry Manilow, plus a live performance from Glasgow by Bruce Springsteen. Mark Franklin was the host.

    15 April 1993. Also in the studio that week were; East 17, Dr Albarn, Cappella, Terence Trent D’arby, Sonia and World Party. Mark Franklin was the host.

    22 April 1993. Also in the studio that week were: Voice Of The Beehive & Jimmy Somerville, New Order, Sub Sub featuring Melanie Williams, Deacon Blue and Janet Jackson, plus a live performance by satellite from Silk in New York.

  10. 10
    Billy Smart on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Light Entertainment Watch;

    All of The Bluebells’ UK TV appearances on the list date back to their initial period of success;

    THE KRANKIES KLUB: with Bobby Davro, Spare Parts, Al Dean, The Bluebells (1984)

    THE OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST: with The Psychedelic Furs, The Bluebells (1982)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates, Mel Smith, Jimmy Nail, Tona De Brett, Richard Strange, Little Richard, Charles White, Balaam and The Angel, The Bluebells (1985)

    WEEKEND: with Paul Jones (Presenter), David Jason, Sue Robbie (Presenter), The Bluebells, Ted Robbins (Presenter) (1984)

  11. 11
    chelovek na lune on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Afraid I have to join the pack of those who found this a bit…pedestrian, I suppose, and far from classic no 1 material. I thought “Cath” marginally better first time round, and still do, even if rhyming “Cath” with “laugh” verges on being if not actually a shooting offense then at least something one would excuse only of Lisa Stansfield.

    #4 “The Patriot Game”?! Good Lord. That Irish Republican classic. In real life I was named after its author, and think it is, by far, the best thing he ever wrote (“McAlpine’s Fusiliers” being second almost by default). Do they really sing the lyrics about joining the IRA (Ok technically not the same one that was bombing and murdering its way across England in the eary 80s, but, still). Presumably they omit some of the other lyrics omitted all by the more hardliners? I have no desire to listen to this, but am kind of intrigued.It’s not as if the Bluebells were alone among pop stars in holding questionable political judgement…

  12. 12
    Rory on 7 Feb 2012 #

    I’d never heard this before, or the Bananarama original, and find both of them utterly pedestrian. Not hateful, but nothing I’d want to hear again, so 3 sounds about right.

  13. 13
    will on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Young At Heart is a cheery bit of fluff that sounded great blasting out of car radios both during the warm summer of ’84 and the unusually warm April we had in ’93. It’s no classic, but few could have begrudged the way the band dealt with their 15 minutes back in the spotlight. They obviously had a lot of fun doing those TOTP appearances and once it was over promptly disappeared again, without bothering us with a tour, new material or even another re-release as a follow up.

    But yes, it does grate after a while doesn’t it? For me, I’m Falling was their best single, an absolute classic that I’m surprised hasn’t yet been used prominently in a film or TV series.

  14. 14
    JonnyB on 7 Feb 2012 #

    I’m siding with the ‘can’t understand the particular antipathy’ party on this one. Pleasant and jaunty enough; not something I’d buy, but not something I’d switch off in exasperation.

    I see the comparison (#8) with Fairground Attraction. Perhaps there is something a bit calculatedly ‘let’s tick the boxes’ about both productions, and I can see that being irritating. But this one, methinks, has a little more soul to it. Higher than a 3 for me.

  15. 15
    punctum on 7 Feb 2012 #

    The singer was Ken McCluskey, whom I used to know, not Bobby Bluebell.

    When criticising a record it’s helpful to get the facts right.

  16. 16
    Tom on 7 Feb 2012 #

    When correcting it’s helpful to be gracious. But thankyou!

  17. 17
    Kat but logged out innit on 7 Feb 2012 #

    This song was MASSIVELY IMPORTANT/HEARTBREAKING to me in 1993, because at the end of year disco it was the only song where N1cky H4yd3n danced with me, which I took to be a sign that he obviously fancied me too, only to subsequently discover he thought I was completely mental. Fair enough but STILL ;_;

  18. 18
    Erithian on 7 Feb 2012 #

    B-b-but that’s what we like about you!

  19. 19
    ace inhibitor on 7 Feb 2012 #

    I can see the Dexys comparision, but in my head something about this tune always blends with / morphs into Radio Gaga

    Which is another reason not to like it very much (right-wing folkie-indie-jangle panto not being my thing)

  20. 20
    Cumbrian on 7 Feb 2012 #

    I think it’s got an undeniably strong violin hook, inasmuch as having heard the track it has been going round and round in my head for days and I can’t shift it. There is a skill to that I reckon. Much of what I had to say has been hit though and I’m not going to cover old ground.

    Unfortunately, I don’t like it going round and round in my head for days on end and, as such, I’m piling in and calling this pretty irritating. Not as irritating as some of the real clunkers that have been covered here – but still pretty bad. I recognise I am not being all that fair but I don’t think there is much you can do when something just sticks to the point of driving you to distraction. My Dad’s earworm was Fur Elise and as a result, he couldn’t stand that either.

    Other observations.

    #3: “Score one for the suits”. Given what many of our pop stars wear nowadays, I’d bet “the suits” at the creative agency are more likely to be dressed on the bleeding edge of fashion/in hipster tat – especially if my dealings with ad agencies are any indication.

    #5: “I’ve always considered it to be a single that proves that the right tune with the right advert can perform miracles chartwise” – spolier bunnies obviously abound here but I think providing music for ads/jingles for ads is a neglected musical skill. Producing pieces of music that are simple, short, memorable, identifiable, etc, should, you’d think, provide a grounding in producing successful/popular songs. Have there been many artists who have gone from commercial jingle production into successful recording careers? The only one I can think of is Justin Hawkins from The Darkness (who funded the recording of their first record out of his earnings from an Ikea commercial if the internet is to be believed).

  21. 21
    thefatgit on 7 Feb 2012 #

    #20 Of course you’re right Cumbrian. I’m sure the creative poppets at (insert agency here…) are wearing anything but suits. I like “suits” as shorthand for the faceless corporate entities who have on various occasions, occupied the top of the charts, whether it’s representatives for Levi’s or Coca-Cola or Volkswagen as is the case with The Bluebells here. Judging by the picture accompanying Tom’s piece, it would seem London Records were in cahoots with the Suits, so to speak.

    Big Business encroaching into the charts was covered by Tom in his “1987 What The F**k Is Going On” essay, a while back.

  22. 22
    Mark G on 7 Feb 2012 #

    #20 as per usul, it depends on what you call a “successful” career. David Dundas had a bunch of hits after “Jeans On” for instance..

  23. 23
    23 Daves on 7 Feb 2012 #

    #22 David Dundas also went on to compose most of the score for “Withnail and I”, a fact I suspect is probably quite well known, but I never tire of repeating it.

  24. 24
    Steve Mannion on 7 Feb 2012 #

    I kinda wish they’d modified the car bumper sign on the sleeve so it said “TOP HIT IN ENGLAND”.

    The singer himself made more of an unexpected and brighter second day in the sun by dropping words from other hits of the time into the end of YAH performances on TOTP including a brogue-tastic “TECHNO TECHNO…” and “SHABBAA”.

    Thus, McCLuskey accrues partial blame for Chris Martin AND George Lamb >:[

    With the early 90s charts having been festooned with re-releases from only 10-15 years before (tho they seemed practically medieval to me then – long past vs short past and all that) AND ad-exposed older songs this was an inevitable double whammy. But can you imagine a modern equivalent in which Alien Ant Farm’s ‘Movies’ or Aqualung’s ‘Strange And Beautiful’ or Love Inc’s ‘You’re A Superstar’ tops the charts off the back of a heartstring-yanking ad for being confused about operatic meerkats buying any car? Not quite.

  25. 25
    Matt DC on 7 Feb 2012 #

    This a terrible record and I hated it at the time, I’m pretty sure this is the first time I can remember hearing a record and thinking “this isn’t what the 90s was supposed to be about”. It did seem ancient at the time.

  26. 26
    will on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Didn’t that Aqualung song become a hit from being featured in an ad in the first place?

  27. 27
    Steve Mannion on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Indeed Will. But we’re long into the age where a song bumped by use in one ad ends up featuring in another for a completely different product a few years later, as has happened recently with an old song that already topped the charts in remixed form off the back of an ad (AND film soundtrack iirc) 10 years before. “Well it worked before/people remember this and it’s cheap” seems to be the lazy stupid thinking.

  28. 28
    Alan not logged in on 7 Feb 2012 #

    I think the music and the vocal are miles better than the bananarama original, which feels limp by comparison. My mum loved this version (I don’t think we realised it was a cover) when it was first out (84 did someone say, sounds right). She had the album, and may even have been to an gig. I found it enjoyable enough – as much as a 15 yr old could find his mum’s music – and was rather baffled by the ad-based resurrection years later. For some reason I associate it with gay rights – i have no idea why. Maybe it was a mid-80s geordie lefties thing.

  29. 29
    thefatgit on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Aqualung’s was VW as well IIRC. And 1993 is the year Mazzy Star’s “Into Dust” is released. That song alone probably represents David and Hope’s pension fund in Ad revenue, I expect.

  30. 30
    wichita lineman on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Had no idea this was written by all three members of Bananarama PLUS Bobby Bluebell (and, ahem, Bobby Valentino). I remember Edwyn Collins thinking the Bluebells were a bunch of usurpers and the ‘Nanas version does sound reminiscent of Orange Juice’s Holiday Hymn.

    As for Glen Ponder-lookalike Valentino, though… it’s a hook, but it’s also the most irritating part of the song. And he was doing session work – have some dignity and roll with the punches, man! Did anyone ask you for their £75 back on all the flops you worked on?

    I wonder if anyone ever chased a writing credit after doing remix work? Anyone know?

    The verse and bridge of YAH are perfectly pleasant. The chorus is bellowed and awful. The 1983 single Cath, possibly their best song, had a similar, unnecessary terrace chant production on the chorus. As did the less good follow-up Sugar Bridge. I wonder if this was the group’s idea or the producer’s? Who DID produce the Bluebells anyway?

    I’m all questions today.

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