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Feb 13

WET WET WET – “Love Is All Around”

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#709, 4th June 1994

I have as you might have noticed a kind of default setting for cover versions, amounting to “you can’t keep a good tune down”. Certain approaches are almost guaranteed to ruin tracks – think “advert pianos” – but in general pop songs are resilient little bastards, able to withstand much greed and deformation. So hearing The Troggs’ “Love Is All Around” for the first time, after years of weathering this other version, was a bit of a shock. Here was a song – a very lovely, surprisingly artless song – that it seemed really had been ruined by the pawings of commerce. Not that Reg Presley saw it that way, and why should he? If memory serves he objected loudly and publically to the eventual decision to withdraw this “Love Is All Around” lest it be number one for ever.

As it was, fifteen weeks seemed quite ever enough. So with the knowledge of the original to make Wet Wet Wet even worse, what exactly goes wrong here? I think the clues are all in the first few seconds. Instead of the heartbeat rhythm of the Troggs, you get a fanfare for string beds and guitar. It’s actually an uncanny glimpse at the gross future of British rock, late 90s edition, with its lazy, gluttonous guitars and its grievous addiction to string arrangements. But what makes it so unpleasant on “Love Is All Around” is that it sets a tone which the record never strays from: one of triumph.

Here’s a vast generalisation: most good love songs aren’t triumphant. They’re doubting, hoping, fearing, bittersweet somehow – even the most unabashed and delighted have a kind of humility to them, and actually the original “Love Is All Around” is a great example of that. There’s nothing of this in Wet Wet Wet’s reading – Pellow acts the lover as winner, all his ad libs and showy additions meant to point us to the fact that he’s got his girl, his happy ending, his full stop. Curtain up, show’s over.

Obviously this is something a soundtrack single can get away with to some extent. Its emotions don’t have to be earned – they can be outsourced, and a recording as bumptious as “Love Is All Around” can work because it’s a payoff for the film’s narrative. But soundtrack singles should also stand on their own – and stripped of context Wet Wet Wet’s “Love Is All Around” feels overblown and empty. When Presley sings that love is all around, he sounds humbled by his sincere discovery of one of the universe’s great principles. When Pellow sings it, he sounds like he means it more tangibly – love is something he’s being showered in, like applause or champagne or confetti or maybe just money.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    punctum on 18 Feb 2013 #

    And a lot of number one albums… :-((((

  2. 32
    Rory on 18 Feb 2013 #

    Confide In Me was indeed a very good number one.</smugaustralian>

    Great comments here (and entry, of course). Punctum’s song-title clue sent me scurrying off to Google Books to satisfy my curiosity:

    “I find myself worrying away at that stuff about pop music again… It would help me to know whether this guy has ever taken it seriously, whether he has ever sat surrounded by thousands and thousands of songs about… about… (say it, man, say it)… well, about love. I would guess that he hasn’t.”

    Maybe you should send him the link to TPL.

  3. 33
    Mark G on 18 Feb 2013 #

    Sympathy!

    Um, well, as this is where we wrap up the wets*3, should add that what did for “Stars in their eyes” TV show was the number of times the Marti Pellow impersonator won the annual final (i.e. twice), which is akin to having a “funny impersonator” TV show where you know the winners would be doing Norman Wisdom and/or Su Pollard…

  4. 34
    tm on 18 Feb 2013 #

    Is it fair to say that this is a song that’s never quite been done justice? The Troggs’ original comes close, but as others have said, just a bit too clunky and leaden to quite come off (compared to Anyway That You Want Me which nails the wide-eyed vulnerability of that song perfectly – Am I right in thinking AWTYWM was written by Chip Taylor of Wild Thing infamy?) while this just sounds like a wedding band having a crack at an old hit (fittingly). I haven’t heard the REM version for years, but I seem to remember not even their fans thought it was much cop. Has anyone else heard covered this?

    And while we’re on the REM/Troggs thread, has anyone heard the Athens-Andover album?

  5. 35
    anto on 18 Feb 2013 #

    re 30: It is quite an enjoyable film. It’s quite touching to watch it now and see the late Charlotte Coleman in one of her few film roles. Also Simon Callow is clearly having a ball as the Bon Viveur and Hugh Grants floppy-haird romantic was still quite a fresh approach even if he went and used it once too often. Let’s not forget it was a surprise hit so certainly not calculated. It was later on that Richard Curtis offered diminishing returns (though not exactly diminishing box office)on similar material.

  6. 36
    MikeMCSG on 18 Feb 2013 #

    This is a difficult one for me. When it first came out I thought it was a creditable version of a good song as recently rehabilitated by REM in their “Unplugged” set. More to the point I thought -despite one or two unheeded warning signs- that my own wedding and a big lifestyle change were just round the corner. By the time its run ended that was all in ashes and a gloom and sourness had settled in which has never entirely lifted. And so the record’s become an unhappy marker which I never want to hear again.

    I was actually reading “Fever Pitch” at the time and didn’t get round to “High Fidelity” until two years later. I found it comparatively disappointing and haven’t read any Hornby since.

  7. 37
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 18 Feb 2013 #

    rip marmalade atkins :(

    the prop-buyer for the film of fever pitch was/is a very old friend of mine, and actually took polaroids of my flat as it then was to get the ambience correct (wrong film you’d think, since i have zero interest in foopball really) (but of course the film of high fidelity is set in america, and was filmed there)

    i think my actual kettle of the time appears in it (though this may be another film): it was blue and plastic and pretty manky — she bought me a new one as payment in kind for having my very being (very slightly) commodified

  8. 38
    Alan on 18 Feb 2013 #

    Marmalade Atkins – the original manic pixie dream girl

  9. 39
    James BC on 18 Feb 2013 #

    Let’s write up Compliments On Your Kiss as if it had been number one instead of this.

    As the British music-loving public of the early 90s inexplicably bopped and gyrated to imported ragga, there were a fair few more or less undiluted ragga/reggae/dancehall songs that were big hits: Tease Me, Sweat (A La La La La Long), Mr Loverman –Shabba!–, You Don’t Love Me (No No No) all made number 3. But to hit number 1, Jamaican-styled songs needed to mix in a little something else, or so it seemed – a little classic flavour. Oh Carolina interpolated old-time reggae; Twist and Shout was a cover of an older-time song (as was another number one shortly to be discussed); and Compliments On Your Kiss feels like the oldest-time of the lot.

    Where previous ragga number 1 hits had been rumbustious and somewhat louche, Compliments On Your Kiss’s slightly jazzy, barely-reggae-at-all backing gives it a peculiar 1920s or even music hall flavour: you could imagine your gran tapping her toes to it. As a result of this, and the 1950s teenage romance of the chorus, the gruff-voiced Red Dragon can toast about sexy bodies to his heart’s content in the verses and still sound politely endearing. If anything, the gusto and obvious glint in his eye somehow add to the prim and proper charm. Or maybe they make a penetrating point about those same 1950s love songs: for all the golly-gee chastity of the lyrics, the ultimate intent is still much the same – and some of the lyrics weren’t all that chaste anyway.

    Music hall is a much-cited influence in all kinds of music. I’ve seen it mentioned in connection with Chas and Dave, Johnny Rotten, the Beatles (whose ‘You Know My Name’ this sounds oddly like), the Libertines, and many others. Applied to this song, it seems to entail a light-heartedness and inclusivity of approach coupled with a sincerity of intent, and a lightly worn self-confidence that allows the artist to not just ignore but seemingly be unaware of the prevailing musical culture. The fact that the track was produced by Sly and Robbie tells you a lot about the difference between the Jamaican approach to music and the British – would Britain’s most acclaimed producers get involved with a piece of sweet-hearted candyfloss like this?

    Trivia fans remain astounded at how this collaboration between two previously non-charting artists managed to lock down the number 1 spot for 15 weeks in the summer of ’94, confining Wet Wet Wet’s Grant/MacDowell-assisted behemoth to a record 12 weeks at number 2. But what is more astounding is that despite its ubiquity back then, the tune is still a fresh joy on each play. Unlike some of those lines of Curtis dialogue, the whimsical flourishes never sound the wrong side of twee. Unlike Auden’s sadly co-opted elegy, the gasping, goggle-eyed verses hang on to their playfulness. Unlike Hugh Grant’s posh-boy profanity, repetition does nothing to blunt the song’s dignified power.

    [9]

  10. 40
    tm on 18 Feb 2013 #

    Nice!

  11. 41
    23 Daves on 18 Feb 2013 #

    #25 – This reminds me of a very similar situation in my own life. Once, when I was holding down an incredibly boring, low-rung and depressing job for a Local Authority, I was wearing a suit when I chose to wander into a record store after work to buy something quite noisy and relatively alternative (my memory isn’t good enough to recall what). The shop assistant laughed at me and said “Is this a present, then?” When I told him that it was actually for me, he shook his head and laughed again, saying that he wouldn’t have guessed that. I found it really interesting that because I was dressed very formally (if cheaply) he assumed that meant I couldn’t possibly be interested in anything vaguely non-commercial.

    I think it underlines the “us and them” mentality of a lot of record store workers quite well. These are people who can be so out of touch with workaday lives that they don’t even realise that people on a minimum wage in call centre jobs (for example) might be expected to dress smartly and conservatively. Sadly, the embellished addition of the car keys in Hornby’s novel makes me suspect he was possibly just as clueless at one point in his life, unless he just used the incident you mentioned as a springboard for an idea he wanted to express in the book. Even then, it would actually have been a bit more interesting if he’d left it at the bog-standard “Mr Suit” cliche – that might have begged further questions about how in touch with the rest of the world his character was.

    I have no major issues with Hornby, in fairness. It’s been years since I’ve read “High Fidelity”, but in general I find him to be an engaging writer. He’s no genius, and there are hundreds of writers whose sales I would happily elevate above his if I could, but I’ve never picked up a book of his and felt that reading it was a complete waste of my time. He’s like the literary equivalent of the Lightning Seeds in more ways than the obvious football connection.

  12. 42
    tm on 18 Feb 2013 #

    Re: punctum’s Sonic Death Monkey comments, I don’t think Hornby was neceassarily blanket-deriding any attempt at making new music, more a particular predominantly white, male, middle-class, collegiate sense of indie self-righteousness: the notion that your ear-splitting racket is overlooked only because it’s beyond the ken of the hoi polloi and not because it’s actually fairly unremarkable. That said, the broader accusations of peddling cozy, blokey populism are pretty spot-on.

  13. 43
    Another Pete on 18 Feb 2013 #

    I happen to have the misfortune of Bryan Adams and Wet Wet Wet’s lengthy tenures bookending my early teens (13-16). Pellow’s ad-libbed ‘Yeah’ sounds like he already knew most of the royalties of the record will be going into crop circle research and not his pocket

  14. 44
    heather on 19 Feb 2013 #

    (I can’t abide Nick Hornby, because I’m female and don’t believe hobbies are a childish irrelevance that I’m put on earth to train men out of so he can secretly resent me as we go round IKEA together on a Saturday afternoon)

    “he already knew most of the royalties of the record will be going into crop circle research and not his pocket”

    That’s the thing I love most about covers – the strange and interesting people that it funds. Like Kurt Cobain helping The Vaselines and that man who wrote the Madonna song and didn’t know anything about it until he got a cheque through the door.

  15. 45
    punctum on 19 Feb 2013 #

    #41: I’m pretty sure he just used “me” as a springboard for ideas.

    #42: Unfortunately his subsequent conversion into Mr Neocon Music “Critic” suggests that this was probably in his mind all along. Also it’s a lazy assumption that “ear-splitting racket” is automatically anti-masses given TPL entries #242 and #243, not to mention a good half of TPL 1980.

  16. 46
    tm on 19 Feb 2013 #

    Punctum re: TPL That’s my point, really: anything, no matter how extreme, can gain an audience if it captures their imagination, the masses aren’t just cowardly dullards waiting to be spoon-fed Westlife. “Ear-splitting racket” was the wrong choice of phrase*, what I was getting at was a type of alt.rock bloke who peddles fairly conservative music and puts his lack of mass audience down entirely to his being outside their comprehension and not other factors like quality, luck and graft.

    *I figure you realise this – I don’t anyone would literally describe Adam Ant as Ear-splitting racket!

    PS, am I right in thinking TPL #243 isn’t up yet?

  17. 47
    James BC on 19 Feb 2013 #

    The ending of High Fidelity is basically the same as the deathbed scene in the final chapter of Don Quijote. The knight realises that he was deluded, he was never cut out to be a knight errant, he was making a fool of himself. So he makes his peace with his real identity, recants all the chivalric stuff and leaves existence happy, even if those who remain behind are somewhat nonplussed.

    The Sonic Death Monkey guy is the same – there’s no denying it would be cooler to be in some groundbreaking experimental noise terror collective rather than a covers band, but that just isn’t who he is. He’s a 30ish record shop guy who isn’t destined to change the world.

    Happy ending or sad ending? There have been entire books written about that very question.

  18. 48
    punctum on 19 Feb 2013 #

    #46: yep, that’s the next one up – listened to it last night, now have to think of something to say about it (there’s a lot to say).

    #47: Got to say that anyone seriously wanting to be in a groundbreaking experimental noise terror collective wouldn’t call it Sonic Death Monkey, but maybe that was Hornby’s point.

  19. 49
    tm on 19 Feb 2013 #

    Mind you, I suspect you may be nearer the mark than me: I remember Hornby on Radio 4, reading from his 31 Songs collection about how he used to thrill to Frankie Teardrop by Suicide but now rarely listens to it, preferring, as an example, Teenage Fanclub’s Lay Your Loving Down. His angle, as I recall, was that as a youth he had no experience of life’s pain, fear and anguish and there was an exciting and exotic quality to music which broad to life those frightening possibilities but now he was a man and had lived through his share of tragedy and misfortune, he wanted music that made him feel good.

    Nothing wrong with that per se; I suspect it mirrors the development of a lot of people’s listening habits as they age but he went on to imply that his teenage love of Suicide’s edge was a youthful mistep, useful only in that it allowed him to mature into a Teenage Fanclub loving man and that furthermore, confrontational music like Suicide was critically acclaimed because music critics were mostly men living the lives of teenage boys, locked away in their rooms away from life and danger, scribbling about emotions they’d only experienced through music. I’m exaggerating a bit here, but I did think he was a knob even back then.

  20. 50
    Mark G on 19 Feb 2013 #

    “Later on, Suicide definitely mellowed out. Their last few gigs had Frankie Teardrop win the lottery, and the last ten minutes of the song were about taking his family to the canadian rockies on holiday.”

    Just something that I thought of this morning, so. ~ (not factual…)

  21. 51
    tm on 19 Feb 2013 #

    …and then it went into a jaunty bluegrass number about Frankie’s adventures with some friendly bears. That would be genuinely avant garde!

  22. 52
    Mark G on 19 Feb 2013 #

    “.. We’re all Frankie.. We’re all going down to the woods today!….”

  23. 53
    tm on 19 Feb 2013 #

    ..and then he got bummed by a bear: that was the big suprise. It was a sad song after all: fooled you Hahahahahahahah…

    Actually, that’s more Whitehouse than Suicide.

  24. 54
    punctum on 19 Feb 2013 #

    #49: up to him if that’s how he wants things in his life, but he has no basis to make it into an ideal or commandment by which everyone ought to live.

    The trouble with Hornby is I suspect that he’s not very good at watching people, or listening to them, or making sense out of them.

  25. 55
    Mark G on 19 Feb 2013 #

    The one ‘failing’ I had with NHo, was that his conversation(s) with his partner seemed wayyyyy too long and huge. In the book, nobody interrupts or concludes too early. If there are any misunderstandings, it comes where the subtext(s) are taken too literally or to their logical conclusions. (This was mainly Fever Pitch)

  26. 56
    23 Daves on 19 Feb 2013 #

    #44 – Hmmm – I haven’t read “High Fidelity” in years, but far from preventing Rob from indulging his passions, isn’t Laura trying to give his life some kind of structure? She goes to the trouble of setting up a night for him to DJ at, which is hardly denying him his hobbies, she’s just trying to make him happy again and get him to poke his head out of the record store door now and then. It’s an amazing gesture, and one he’s not really worthy of.

  27. 57
    punctum on 19 Feb 2013 #

    In return for which he cheats on her, borrows money off her and causes her to have an abortion. Nice guy for sure.

  28. 58
    Lazarus on 19 Feb 2013 #

    Hmmm … when you come across a two-day old thread with 57 posts it can be hard to think of anything worthwhile to add, however –

    #13 All-4-One may have been disappointed with their seven weeks at Number Two, one more even than Right Said Fred I believe, but they had the considerable consolation of an 11 week run on top of the US Hot 100, which at the time had been exceeded only by Whitney (IWALY) and Boyz II Men, both from 1992. Marathon runners were to feature in the Billboard chart throughout the next 20 years though, with another chart behemoth, Mariah Carey following suit.

    #7 Actually I once knew someone who was a big Wets fan. He didn’t seem to be into music generally though, which was maybe telling, but he’d seen them several times. I worked with this individual for 2 or 3 years and throughout that time he was going through what was clearly an acrimonious divorce; indeed it seemed his divorce must have lasted longer than the marriage. I don’t recall hearing his view on ‘Four Weddings.’

    #10 I wasn’t that familiar with the Troggs version either; although I knew they’d done the original there must have been many buyers of this who didn’t know it, and maybe didn’t even know it was an old song. At least not until we started getting those news reports on old Reg and his new-found riches. I don’t mind this, I prefer it to some of the 90s covers that were just note-for-note copies of the originals. I could stretch to a 5 I think.

  29. 59
    Another Pete on 19 Feb 2013 #

    #44 I only knew this as it was mentioned in recently deceased Reg Presley’s obituary. Yet it ties in quite nicely with 1994 when the X-Files was at its height.

  30. 60
    Men on 20 Feb 2013 #

    Off topic but Your Arsenal, if I really had to choose, is probably my favourite album ever… Vauxhall and I is too sombre in places and has a couple of duds. Still a good listen mind.

    I read High Fidelity way into my youth at school. I think even before my “Franz Ferdinand-fuelled awakening” to tonnes of music past and present (yes you mock I am young…). I do remember enjoying HF then, must read it again soon….

    P.s Wet Wet Wet are pish.

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