18
Sep 12

TAKE THAT – “Babe”

Popular45 comments • 1,912 views

#699, 18th December 1993

For their Christmas tearjerker, Take That – now comfortably the country’s biggest band – deployed their secret weapon: Little Mark Owen, a singer so awkwardly earnest he strips a layer of skin off even the hokiest of material. And what he has to work with here is pure melodrama – a song of a long-absent man who tracks down his lover to find not just her but – we presume – his unknown son.

This is material with ancient roots, ballad or folk territory – though a ballad would have granted the lovers more motivation, told some of their backstory too. Here we’re pitched into the middle of things: “I come to your door to see you again / But where you once stood was an old man instead”. The storytelling is clumsy – indeed the whole song is rather clumsy, it meanders through its verses before a squib of a half-written chorus. But these blocky strokes of narrative give “Babe” an urgency that the music exploits. The melody is murky and sad – this is as fog-bound and haunted a number one as we’ve seen since the high Gothic of John Leyton – and the tension gives the story a dignity it probably doesn’t deserve. The swelling optimism as father recognises son is a slightly corny break in the clouds, but the tension creeps back and we’re left with a ringing phone – is he forgiven? Will they get back together?

Behind the atmospherics, and Owen’s puppy-eyed, pleading intensity, this is far from their strongest single. But at a point in their career when they could have done anything, a record as relatively odd as “Babe” is welcome – where most boybands profess ultimate devotion, Take That promise to father your child and abandon you.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    thefatgit on 18 Sep 2012 #

    Returning Hero might scan well visually, but boy! It’s a clunky lyric, which led me to believe the tongue-tied douche angle. I shall view the video when I get home from work.

  2. 27
    Cumbrian on 18 Sep 2012 #

    #25. Maybe there is something in that Narnia video that Kat mentioned at #9

  3. 28
    wichita lineman on 18 Sep 2012 #

    Re 17: Nonono, BABE is low key. Gah! It’s hard to think of anything – River Deep Mountain High? More Than A Feeling? Set You Free? – less low key than Johnny Remember Me.

    (thinks – must be clearer).

    As for the vid, I thought it was going for a Great Expectations thing at first… somewhere in the Thames estuary, with the tower blocks of Grays looming in the distance. Then it went all Scottish Widows. Then Dr Zhivago. Then “LOOK AT HIS FACE! JUST LOOK AT HIS FACE!”

  4. 29
    weej on 18 Sep 2012 #

    Very glad to see another popular entry, but stumped for much to say about the song itself except that the only good bit is the backing track during the chorus*, and the rest is just complete nothing. Not actually bad, but straight-up Magic FM audio wallpaper.

    As for the unusual theme – well, it would be nice to chalk this up to any sort of a plan, but couldn’t it equally be a combination of management inexperience and hacky writing covered by production gloss?

    *and the odd cuts to the group around the piano, where they seem to be doing some kind of completely inappropriate funky dancing.

  5. 30
    pink champale on 18 Sep 2012 #

    #28 – Ah, that’s a relief. Yes, I did wonder if that’s what you meant (even if it didn’t seem to be what you wrote) and did also stretch for something next to which Johnny is low key – Bat out of Hell? I Can’t go to Sleep? Party Hard?

  6. 31
    Izzy on 18 Sep 2012 #

    Oh it’s this one, I remember this. It’s pretty good I reckon, but then I would say so because that subdued stringy elegance always pushes my buttons. I’d bracket this with ‘Jesus To A Child’ as that era’s downbeat hits that are secretly better than their upbeat, more popular cousins.

    And lyrical clunker aside, it’s one of Barlow’s best efforts – one forthcoming smash aside, the man could never write a chorus; but Babe nearly gets there, and with a mood like this, that’s enough.

  7. 32
    thefatgit on 18 Sep 2012 #

    Yup, saw the video and the wintry wanderings of our hero from the wilderness to the fantasy castle left me cold right up until the FANGIRL ON TUMBLR “OH MY FEELS!!!” payoff.

  8. 33
    Another Pete on 18 Sep 2012 #

    The single cover looks like 5 school leaver mates, one of which wants that last photo of the gang together before they go their separate ways in the big wide world. ‘I’ll do it as long as we look cool, right’

  9. 34
    speedwell54 on 18 Sep 2012 #

    I think it’s hard to get away with that vocal on a slow song, sung softly. It’s like trying to stay on a bike without moving; there’s going to be some wobbling. “Additional vocal production” from Mark Beswick, so says the cd; it could have been worse apparently. No chimes or sleigh bells though.

  10. 35
    ciaran10 on 19 Sep 2012 #

    Couldnt recall any of this apart from the chorus which is surprising given that its a year of very memorable number ones (for better or worse).

    The expectaion levels on youtube earlier were low and another listen justified it.forgettable performance from Mark Owen, dodgy harmonising from the rest of the group.the one thing that stands out for me is that its the first video that moves away from the groups ultra-camp image.although fishnets and tight jeans would be frowned upon in the moscow like video setting I would assume. Of course as mentioned here earlier on it would be the blueprint of the festive hit video for the following 6/7 years afterwards.

    I couldnt bear TT at this point and this really seemed like a kick in the balls for the charts.A number one built on the strength of bedroom posters and sticker albums as opposed to quality of material.My disdain is nowhere near as strong now but Babe for me is still the least interesting of the the ‘popular’ TT.nowhere near as good now as Could it be magic for instance.a 4 from me.

    This might be harsh but listening to this perhaps its not surprising that Mark Owens post-that solo career never got off the ground.

  11. 36
    Paulito on 19 Sep 2012 #

    I couldn’t recall any of this at all. Probably the least memorable of all the That’s big hits, rounding off what was surely the most lamentable year yet for #1s. Yet, along with “Mr. Vain”, “Boom Shake The Room” and other inanities, it gets a quite unfathomably generous appraisal from Tom. This alarming grade inflation must stop! Having said that, welcome back Tom – we’ve missed you…

  12. 37
    Erithian on 19 Sep 2012 #

    Like those above who could only think of the pig movie, I had trouble recalling this, indeed on trying to replay the song in memory it kept turning into the (superior) Styx song of the same name – and thence to the Half Man Half Biscuit title “(Seen By My Mates Coming Out Of A) Styx Gig”… On YouTubing, it’s apparent that I barely remember anything about it beyond the chorus – perhaps Blobby blanked out everything about that Christmas! But oh my god yes, it’s a clunker all right.

    The video definitely shouts “returning hero” – there’s shades of “Nikita” in that whereas the Elton vid depicts the height of the Cold War, “Babe” suggests the Soviet Union’s death throes: the deserted church recalls St Basil’s, and it occurs to me the single came out a couple of months after Yeltsin’s showdown with the Russian parliament. But – nice video, shame about the song – the lyrics don’t reflect this, and it’s more like the deserting dad scenario mentioned above.

    And what lyrics! “Number” twice in consecutive lines, “voice” as we’ve said, “not sure to put it down or speak” (if you can’t make the word “whether” scan, Gary, rewrite the line!); “was you gonna tell me in time?”; “can’t keep the feeling in inside”; that “answered in a sweet voice” again in the second verse. It’s as if McCartney had left the lyric of “Scrambled Eggs” without reworking it into “Yesterday”.

    You know what – I’m reminded of my extremely amateurish attempt aged 16 to write a song along these lines. Some school friends had a band so I tried to write something for them. The song was never performed and the band got nowhere beyond a couple of gigs in Droylsden – but I can still remember the lyric. “Loneliness is a station at quarter to three in the morning / … that skyline I thought I was never gonna see again / … the moment daylight arrives I’ll make a beeline for your door “ [and then when the narrator discovers he’s been replaced] “that taunting skyline keeps telling me a soldier must be brave / but now that I’m a nonentity it’s me who must be saved”. Not that I’m comparing myself to Gary Barlow as a lyricist, but I reckon that’s got a bit more atmosphere!!

  13. 38
    Alan not logged in on 19 Sep 2012 #

    @ciaran “perhaps its not surprising that Mark Owens post-that solo career never got off the ground”

    i put it down to collaborating with shonky indie guitar bores ;-)

  14. 39
    Jimmy the Swede on 19 Sep 2012 #

    Great to see The Nabob back. Nothing at all to say about this record.

  15. 40
    enitharmon on 21 Sep 2012 #

    What what what? Oh, you’re not dead Tom, I was dreaming. Did you say you were just having a shower?

    Sorry, no recollection of this one at all. It was an interesting Christmas though, my last one in London where I was engaged until Christmas Eve tidying up the affairs of a small outpost of the Prudential in Southwark Bridge Road which was being wound up by the parent. A pity really as it was quite the nicest place I ever contracted at, but maybe that was because they were demob happy. I outlasted most of the permanent staff. Also the Christmas of a brief and baffling fling with an Islington Bubble I did some work for, which all ended in tears and the small claims court. And of plans to bail out of London and move to Bristol.

  16. 41
    abaffledrepublic on 22 Sep 2012 #

    Welcome back Tom!

    ‘Babe’ the song was the usual wet drivel, and the record can be held at least partly responsible for the charts becoming such a predictable place during a time when there was a lot of exciting music being produced. The record company thought it would need a week to climb to the top, but after the group’s fanbase all bought it in the first week, there wasn’t enough wider interest to keep it there. Other record labels must have twigged that this was the way to do things, and while it took another couple of years for the marketing people to nail it, we would eventually reach a point where it seemed as though everyone had a No1 with every release.

  17. 42
    Lazarus on 22 Sep 2012 #

    It seems appropriate here to offer congratulations to Robbie Williams who became a father for the first time this week – young Theodora’s appearance being somewhat less unexpected than the supposed son of the singer in ‘Babe.’

  18. 43
    Alex on 26 Sep 2012 #

    Although I pretty much despised them, I know most of their songs word for word thanks to R1, but this one? couldn’t hum it.

  19. 44
    Billy Smart on 8 Oct 2012 #

    TOTPWatch: Take That twice performed ‘Babe’ on Top of the Pops:

    2 December 1993: Also in the studio that week were M People and East 17, plus a live performance by satellite from Bjork in Renne. Tony Dortie was the host. This edition was broadcast in 3D for Children in Need.

    16 December 1993. Also in the studio that week were; East 17 and Chaka Demus & Pliers, plus two live performances via satellite from Diana Ross in Paris and Haddaway from Disneyworld, Florida. Tony Dortie was the host.

  20. 45
    Wizi on 9 Oct 2012 #

    As regards this being a ‘bastard’ track, unlike the norm for boy bands, the way I always saw it is that tracks like this were actually quite seductive for the girls listening. Who could be easier to forgive than the desirable hunk singing? You are in fact eager to forgive.

    I always thought that this was one of the secrets of Barry Manilow’s success (Mandy) and it was emulated by Take That perfectly.

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