18
Jun 13

TAKE THAT – “Back For Good”

Popular46 comments • 4,010 views

#719, 8th April 1995

Hello Guardian referrals! The rumour you are looking for is in comments #14 and #30 – but stick around and explore our UK No.1s blog if you like…

To open your pop record with acoustic guitars can signal a certain seriousness of purpose. To arrange your pop song with the help of a string section, ditto. Begin, like “Back For Good”, with both at once and the message seems unavoidable: this is the big one. This time, we’re Doing It Properly.

Or maybe it just looks that way with hindsight. “Back For Good” seems an awfully self-conscious record to me: a deliberate, almost overthought shot at classicism. It’s an unctuous record, with a naked craving for respect. But perhaps it only looks that way because, well, it worked. This is the point at which Gary Barlow stopped being the entrepreneurial leader of Britain’s biggest boy band and started getting himself fitted for his Statesman Of Pop robes. It’s the moment he became a talking point – of course, he’s always been a great songwriter – by squeezing his typical, meandering songs into an airtight pop structure and throwing strings and harmonies at it.

Great songwriter or not, he really has always been a canny businessman – if he bet the farm production-wise on this one, it’s probably because he realised you don’t uncover choruses as fantastic as “Back For Good” very often. It’s their most famous song because it’s their best hook – when it hits, your doubts about the record slip away. He’s also giving it his best as a vocalist too – if the “fist of pure emotion” is ridiculous, his pained, tender “can’t you find a little room inside for me?” is the perfect lead in for that hug of a chorus.

The song’s subject and its vibe align nicely, too – if this is the neediest of pop songs on a meta level, well, the lyrics are all to do with confused, desperate, pleading: that much-mocked (and mockable) “whatever I did, whatever I said” is also its most naturalistic moment, genuine if awful male confusion, much better than the hand-me-down pop poetics of lipstick on coffee cups or whatever.

Later, the song’s canonisation was joined by another inevitability. This was Take That “maturing”, and what happened to boy bands when they mature? They split up. The reality was doubtless muddier, and later events made it messier still – but at the time, the brief rest of their career felt processional, a coda to “Back For Good”’s deliberate, slightly laboured greatness.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    swanstep on 19 Jun 2013 #

    @17, Patrick. Excellent pick on the ‘Free Falling’ opening. It had been driving me mad how familiar those strums were (Wonderwall? More Than Words? Unpretty? Love is All Around?)…and you’ve nailed it. Thanks.

  2. 27
    Mark G on 19 Jun 2013 #

    #10, I absolutely agree with all your analyses, and yet I do feel Gary Barlow did all that on purpose. It’s meant to be passive-aggressive. In fact, the final line is the Columbo moment where he’s telling you he had it all worked out from the beginning..

  3. 28
    Cumbrian on 19 Jun 2013 #

    #27 Quite possibly! I didn’t like Columbo though either :(

    I think, unlike the majority here, who have focused on the strengths of the music, I’ve revealed myself to have a bit of a problem with dodgy lyrics. To be clear, I like the tune for BFG. I guess my position can be best described as Good Tune, Meaningless Lyrics = tick, Good Tune, Decent Lyrics = tick, Good Tune, Lyrics That Make Me Feel No Sympathy/Raise Issues For Me With The Vocalist = Cross.

    The tune comes first. If this tune were rubbish, I probably wouldn’t have listened to it enough to start thinking about how I don’t like the lyrics.

  4. 29
    mapman132 on 19 Jun 2013 #

    #16 & #24: Yep, Take That’s one and only US hit single. Actually a decent sized hit too: #7 on the Hot 100 and it got all the way to #2 on the Adult Contemporary chart. I seem to remember a bit of a lag between its UK and US success, and I wonder if there would have been more US hits if not for TT’s soon to come hiatus.

  5. 30
    wichita lineman on 20 Jun 2013 #

    Re the Bee Gees yarn. The lyrics may not be everyone’s idea of poetry but “twist of separation” is very Barry Gibb (see “life is a moment in space” etc). And it’s easy to imagine the Gibbs singing the staccato bv’s on the chorus (“want-you-back, want-you-back…”).

    They didn’t need to be “on their uppers” – the Gibbs were professional songwriters. Thatt was their business and it was also Gary Barlow’s business. The rumour was that the bunnied farewell single was recorded in exchange. All quite plausible.

    I think there’s a strong chance all of this was a smokescreen. The Bee Gees didn’t write it, but (possibly) nor did Gary Barlow. Anonymous back room boys doing him a favour is what I reckon. BFG stands out SO much from his collected works; surely he couldn’t have resisted a key change or an I Will Always Love You “DOOF!”. Back For Good is all the more impressive and affecting without them.

    In other words, this is in a different league to every other first wave Take That no.1. I still love it.

  6. 31
    Mark G on 20 Jun 2013 #

    Well, being a (very am) songwriter in years past, I tend to laugh off things where people say “Oh, they couldn’t have written that, must have been …” e.g. Arctic Monkeys were supposedly written by Dan Treacy of Television Personalities fame.. But something like “twist of separation” is a phrase that at least was noted down in someone’s notebook for future use, or could even be that grain of sand that generated the pearl that is this song.

    For instance, two examples: There was a nature prog where the comentator noted “A butterfly drinks a turtles tears” while that very thing was happening on-screen. I noted it but forgot about it. Elvis Costello did the same noticing, but actually used the line in a fairly avant-styled song.. Anyway, Gary’s a songwriter, he has written tons of them that never will se the light of day, because that’s what songwriters do.

    Having said all that, I have also known some of those ‘back-room’ people, paid next to nowt for the privilege of working in fine studios with lovely instruments, and tasked with making songs in the current idiom, whatever that may be, I was more surprised it was still happening as recently as 1978 or thereabouts. In fact I’m sure it’s happening now too! This ex-colleague said he wrote “X XXXX” which was pretty big but doesn’t get played much now, and “XXXXXX XX XXXXXXX” which does feature on oldies shows and the occasional advert.

  7. 32
    Tom on 20 Jun 2013 #

    #32 it’s definitely happening now in the advertising world – “in the style of [popular indie combo]” is very much a thing.

  8. 33
    Tom on 20 Jun 2013 #

    Though you might say it was ever thus, cf Stiltskin.

  9. 34
    ciaran on 20 Jun 2013 #

    Their best popular moment by far.I despised Take That before this was released but I have to admit this was a winner from the first time I heard it, a surefire no. 1 and unlike the 80% or so of the previous chart-toppers this was completely justified.The video got it spot on too. The other 5 up to now were a mix of underwhelming material and poor visuals – no such worries here.

    The new George Michael predictions seemed to begin here for Barlow so its in part why the arrangement and tone reminds me of ‘careless whisper’- lovely intro,barlow holding back in the verse but going all out in the chorus, the others pitching in at just the right time and not as annoying as previously and the regret towards the end.

    It did seem like the end even back then. An enormous and unexpected artistic peak that felt impossible to follow.

    TT would not have been any of my friends favourite band at the time but BFG was one no one was embarrassed to admit they liked.The late night love radio slot was theirs for the next few years with this.

    Worthy of an 8.

  10. 35
    Lazarus on 22 Jun 2013 #

    A site called lyricsondemand.com also has them down as one hit wonders, it seems …

    I recall reading a piece in Music Week (an occasional purchase, mainly to get my chart fix once Record Mirror had folded) in which the song was described as ‘Wet Wet Wet-ish’ – which was sniffily countered by the manager of the said Wets, who said that he preferred his charges to be compared to a band that played their own instruments. There is an obvious similarity with some of the stuff on their ‘Picture This’ album that was out at that time though. I like some of the Mark II TT stuff as well – though we won’t be coming to that for some time yet – but this is far and away my favourite of theirs. I remember it playing on the office radio at work and various women coming in and swooning dreamily. It almost had that effect on me as well. A high 8.

  11. 36
    Alan Connor on 24 Jun 2013 #

    The Bee Gees story was a good ‘un but what interests me about it now is How We Heard It. We all know how we hear such rumours now – we’re talking in the comments section of a blog ferkrissakes – but it worries me that I genuinely can’t remember where I heard the Gibb tale. Student bar? Insinuation in print? There sure were no podcasts then…

  12. 37
    punctum on 25 Jun 2013 #

    The Bee Gees story is unfounded and potentially actionable so I’d prefer hard music criticism to science fiction.

    It is interesting that nobody appears to have noted that the only declared influence on the song (declared by Barlow himself) was “Whatever” by Oasis.

  13. 38
    fivelongdays on 25 Jun 2013 #

    #37 I certainly hinted at it.

  14. 39
    Tomtoms on 18 Jul 2013 #

    “Life is a moment in space”…I presume this refers to “Woman in Love”? It’s quite interesting that, although Barry is an all-around producer who demoed and guided Streisand through the Guilty album, in addition to being a genius songwriter, both Robin (who co-wrote about half of the album with Barry) and his son Spencer have publicly insisted the signature hit “Woman in Love” originated from Robin. So much backstage drama.

  15. 40
    Winker on 19 Jul 2013 #

    Two words: Clive Davis. PS: Take That’s next single was a Bee Gees cover and Barry’s boys got a lifetime achievement award @ the following year’s Brit Awards. Coincidence? Wheels within wheels?

  16. 41
    punctum on 19 Jul 2013 #

    I don’t think that adds to the gaiety of anyone’s nation. Why not read this excellent piece (which I note mentions and links to this thread!) instead?

  17. 42
    Mark G on 19 Jul 2013 #

    Shall do!

  18. 44
    Mark G on 19 Jul 2013 #

    Excellent, yes. Also, he puts the rumour to bed…

    As I say (to general yawns), the whole ‘songwriting’ process seems to be bound up in so much mysticism that I simply do not get. Possibly having written stuff myself, it seems such a simple process. And yet, if Gary Barlow wrote something that’s a bit Bee Gees-ish, it must have been Barry Gibb wot done it. It’s dense and very insulting. (oh, and Justine couldn’t have written those Elastica songs, no it must have been that man she lives with, etc)

    Yeah, Barry always seemed to be an OK bloke, never liked the Bee Gees much apart from a couple of the 60s hits, “Run to me” etc.

    But that Clive Anderson interview was the stuff of “drunk bloke thinks he’s witty’ ..

  19. 45
    James Gimpeau on 20 Jul 2013 #

    @Anto (#8). That reference to Barlow and Liverpool social club band Fizzy Drinks – Blimey. I bought a Fender Strat from the guitarist of the latter in 1986. Still have it. Could it have been touched by the hand of Gaz?

  20. 46
    Erithian on 14 Sep 2013 #

    Yes, a more than competent song and comfortably Take That’s biggest – in the Channel 4 2002 rundown of physical sales it was the UK’s 98th best selling single of the chart era with 959k, in the 2012 list including downloads it was in 92nd place with 1.07m. Clearly their shot at a standard and still delivers despite the abovementioned lyrical oddnesses (what I call the Scrambled Egg stage). Mind you the video with them dicking around is a bit distracting.

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