Feb 12

THE BLUEBELLS – “Young At Heart”

Popular79 comments • 8,970 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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  1. 31
    Tommy Mack on 7 Feb 2012 #

    How much does a songwriter actually get for licensing a song to an advert? I’d have thought it’s more money than most middle-of-the-afternoon-at-a-festival status bands make in a year, but hardly a retirement fund.

    I bought this on 7″ for about 29p in a Woolworths sale (one of the first singles I ever bought). Wasn’t really one of my favourites at the time. Haven’t really though about it since. Nice enough, nothing remarkanble 4-5 for me.

  2. 32
    wichita lineman on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Re 31: It really varies. I know someone, now a Ghost Box artist, who was paid what I thought was a tiny amount from an Orange ad. I had a co-write on a song used in a L’oreal ad, used for a few weeks, which paid my mortgage for the next three years. It depends if it’s shown locally or internationally, and I imagine the YAH VW ad would only have been shown in the UK.

  3. 33

    The “how much” surely depends on how widely/often/long the ad airs? Initial fee for licensing wil vary (what price yr soul!); then mechanicals relate directly to the number of actual plays; and then of course all the extra sales (and radio-plays) courtesy revived interest…

  4. 34
    wichita lineman on 7 Feb 2012 #

    NOW! watch: We’re onto Now! 24 and YAH gets the prime spot. Sub Sub and Snap are both 8 or 9’s for me that fell one place short of Popular. YAH would be the worst song on an otherwise very consistent and entertaining comp if it wasn’t for the dreadful Hue & Cry (anyone remember why THIS was re-issued?):

    Now! 24, Disc 1

    The Bluebells : “Young at Heart”
    Take That : “Could It Be Magic”
    Sub Sub feat. Melanie Williams : “Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)”
    Snap : “Exterminate!”
    Sister Sledge : “We Are Family”
    Snow : “Informer”
    Shabba Ranks with Chevelle Franklin : “Mr. Loverman”
    Shaggy : “Oh Carolina”
    East 17 : “Deep”
    Stereo MCs : “Step It Up”
    Arrested Development : “Tennessee”
    Robin S : “Show Me Love”
    Lulu : “Independence”
    West End featuring Sybil : “The Love I Lost”
    2 Unlimited : “No Limit”
    Cappella : “U Got 2 Know”
    Sunscreem : “Pressure Us”
    Monie Love : “Born 2 B.R.E.E.D.”
    Hue & Cry : “Labour of Love”

  5. 35
    Steve Mannion on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Weird to have a Now bookended by 80s hits in that way. I’ll take LOL (re-released purely to promote the ‘best of’ compilation?) over YAH tho (and Lulu’s ‘Independence’ just sounded like a lame Lisa Stansfield reject). Everything else there is pretty good to great!

  6. 36
    JLucas on 7 Feb 2012 #

    There’s a sense of forced jollity to this song that I absolutely cannot bear.

    It’s like one of those godawful pub singalongs where half of the participants are secretly thinking of killing themselves.

    I put Perfect in the same bracket.

    Nice that it keeps Bananarama in red wine expensive dinners with Janet Street-Porter and the Pet Shop Boys, but beyond that it’s a no from me.

  7. 37
    Steve Mannion on 7 Feb 2012 #

    I like that you get a violin solo on this at least (altho not sure it’s a particularly pleasant one). “Monster!” as Nigel Kennedy often said for some reason (to annoy Eric Hall? hope so).

  8. 38
    wichita lineman on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Rec 35: Yes, Independence was pretty flat, but I still prefer it to “Winthrop, my bay-beh!” as a friend of mine thought Hue & Cry were singing.

  9. 39
    glue_factory on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Re: 32. That’s made my afternoon! Every time that advert came on I would fume how they’d ripped you off.

  10. 40
    Tom Lawrence on 7 Feb 2012 #

    No particular at-the-time memories of this, I’m afraid – it shows up in my memory as one of those tracks which didn’t seem to need inventing, just an elemental fact.

    Which is not to say that is either good or essential, just that I can’t quite imagine a pop universe in which the words “Young at Heart” would not make me instantly think of that chorus.

    I’m not sure if that ability to claim ownership of a phrase counts as a skill or not. I mean, a terrible record can still become inextricably linked to a word or phrase, but whether there’s a certain genius in spotting these linguistic latch points and exploiting them for maximum brain colonization.

    Come to think, what short idiomatic phrases or cliches aren’t also instantly recognizable as linked to some pop song? I mean, the whole of English phraseology is a broad field so there must be some, but what are some of the obviously uncolonized gaps?

  11. 41
    LondonLee on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Loved ‘Cath’ (still do, terrible rhymes and all) but always found this annoyingly peppy and hearty, like being dragged against your will into a conga line at a family party.

  12. 42
    punctum on 7 Feb 2012 #

    #34: I have to say that track listing is virtually a standard Radio 1 playlist for the time. I think there was a Hue & Cry best of to promote but I’m saying nothing against the Coatbridge pre-post-modernist brothers.

    The McCluskey brothers, a.k.a. Ken on vocals and Dave on drums, I knew as “Stan” and “Aber” respectively from their time in Raw Deal, Bothwell’s number one punk band (well, where was the competition, some cruel people might ask but I retort GAH!). They used to do things like “Bothwell’s Burning” (i.e. the Clash’s “London’s Burning” with altered lyrics) and “I’m Gonna Pogo All Over Your Head,” which began life as an improvisation on Emerson Lake & Palmer’s cover of “Nut Rocker.” Many’s the time I witnessed their fulsome rehearsals in “Storky’s Garage” and I even joined in on a couple of numbers, e.g. “White Riot” and “Mongoloid” (a lot of spectators were impressed by the fact that I knew the lyrics of “White Riot”!). Then everything and everyone moved on as things and people do but the McCluskey boys eventually hooked up with Bobby Bluebell and the rest you know (a fertile period, the early eighties; Friends Again were also from Bothwell and a year above me at school – they eventually bisected into the Bathers [Chris Thomson] and Love & Money [everybody else plus James Grant]. “Honey At The Core” – what a record).

    “Young At Heart” was a bit too eighties for me, production-wise (I probably did prefer the Bananarama variant), but I begrudged them none of their success and was very pleased and proud when it eventually went to number one, allowing Ken to go on TOTP in white tuxedo and chant “TECHNO TECHNO TECHNO TECHNO!” during the fiddle break. Magnificent stuff.

    Also Ken and Dave were still saying hello to me in the street in ’84 while “I’m Falling” was climbing the charts – that has stuck with me and I’ll always stand by them. Their subsequent militant folk-indie work as the McCluskey Brothers is feverishly underrated.

    N.B.: the other two members of Raw Deal were Dixie Deans on bass and Leon Trotsky on guitar.

    (It occurred to me that this was roughly parallel with the East Kilbride movement – Reid bros, B Gillespie, Roddy Frame – but since I didn’t grow up in EK I can’t comment on the parallels.)

  13. 43
    Another Pete on 7 Feb 2012 #

    34: Seeing “We are family” in addition to YAH and Hue & Cry on that Now CD reminded me that 1993 was the year to release your greatest hits, for the first time on CD. With this in mind, perhaps YAH wasn’t as stark a comparison to the overall sound of 1993 as we might think. Most of these albums had a track that was a ’93 remix’ of their classic which usually meant shoehorning in a ‘Eurodance’ beat to sound , now.

    One thing is for certain some 10 years after the advert was made the VW Golf used wouldn’t of had Young at Heart blaring out of its speakers. Not that its speakers then would of been the same, nor the elaborate paintwork and body kit.

  14. 44
    AndyPandy on 7 Feb 2012 #

    @40 – but for an earlier generation/those not up on 90s chart pop/those outside the UK and if it makes them think of any song at all it would probably be the ‘Young At Heart’ made famous by Frank Sinatra and covered by many others (Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Barry Manilow, The Cure (!) etc).

  15. 45
    Billy Hicks on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Sorry, but I love this and always have. The violin hook, the epic singalong chorus, the demented middle 8 when the violin goes everywhere…it’s just an awesome feel-good song. I’d give it an 8.

    Out of the Now 23 list, an underrated classic is Sunscreem’s pounding rave anthem “Pressure Us”, which although amazing sounded a year or two out of date by now (the heavy piano mutating into synthy Eurodance) and so stalled at number 19.

  16. 46
    Peter on 7 Feb 2012 #

    I thought you might like to know that Bobby Valentino received very little in the way of royalties. Both the publishers and PRS (Performing Right Society) claim that they failed to collect any royalties and there is less than 10% of the expected performance royalties for “Young at Heart”on the statements.

    Amazingly, there are quite a lot of documents contradicting the claims of PRS and some people have begun calling them the Publisher’s Rip-off Society.

  17. 47
    Alan not logged in on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Kat to thread

  18. 48
    Rob M on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Regarding PRS… I read an interview with Dave Clarke in which he was asked how much influence John Peel’s patronage was worth and he replied to the effect that Peel sorted out his PRS for him, in that PRS claimed he wasn’t played on the radio but Peel provided data on when Clarke’s songs were played and passed it to PRS who then had to start paying him. Sorry to digress.

    Always preferred “Cath”. Was it about being seduced by a teacher?

  19. 49
    enitharmon on 7 Feb 2012 #

    The title meant nothing to me so I tracked it down on YouTube. Hey, it’s not earth-shattering or anything but 3 seems very harsh. For me it’s worth at least a 6. I might change my mind in 24 hours however because I suspect it has severe earworm potential.

    I don’t know that comparisons with Dexys are entirely fair. The ceilidh is surely not that far away but in any case I thought there was something almost primeval (in pop terms): it wouldn’t be entirely out of place in the immediate pre-beatles charts. One can almost sense it fading in and out of Radio Luxembourg under the bedsheets,

  20. 50
    chelovek na lune on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Hmm, having just tracked down their version of “The Patriot Game”…I really can’t be polite about it. They certainly watered down the lyrics – very much so – and apart from one reference to the IRA (“old” rather than “bold”, too) – did their best to remove anything contentious at all elsewhere, changing “Quislings” to “rebels” and omitting entirely more controversial verses…..in which case, I say, why bother? Complete mismash, musically not inoffensive, yeah yeah, somewhere between Orange Juice, Lloyd Cole, Friends Again, but really….why start performing such a song if you are going to almost completely remove its meaning? They didn’t have to mean it, but they could have sounded like they did…

    I see the first comment on one of the Youtube postings of “Cath” is “Bay City Rollers of the 80s”….. harsh, but not that unfair….

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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…

  25. 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.

  26. 56
    wichita lineman on 8 Feb 2012 #

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


    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”

  27. 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”

  28. 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…)

  29. 59

    and haha VANILLA FUDGE! I love Vanilla Fudge.

  30. 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.

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