Jun 13

TAKE THAT – “Back For Good”

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#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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  1. 1
    Mark G on 18 Jun 2013 #

    Yes, as a fulcrum point, it could only go down from here, “twist of separation” the poetic metaphor manifest in advance,,,

  2. 2
    Kat but logged out innit on 18 Jun 2013 #

    I think this might have been their first TOTP where they were sat on stools then stood up halfway through? I know they did it for [BUNNY REDACTED].

    AHA a look at Youtube suggests they performed this twice, first time with Gary and Jason sat down and the others stood up, then with Robbie and Mark sat down and Gary, Howard and Jason stood up. No-one moves! My memory failes me! Though their outfits smarten up considerably on the second outing.

  3. 3
    Matt DC on 18 Jun 2013 #

    Is there a key-change? You only get up off the stools when there’s a key change.

  4. 4
    weej on 18 Jun 2013 #

    My feeling with this one is that by shifting into AOR-yet-radio-friendly mode, GB caught everyone off-guard – and the turning over of expectations made this look like a better song than it actually is. It’s only a theory though – the truth is that I just can’t connect with it at all, again, and it’s perhaps easiest to go down the ’emperors new clothes’ route when you can’t engage.

  5. 5
    Kat but logged out innit on 18 Jun 2013 #

    By the sullen look on Robbie’s face in performance #2 he would not have got off the stool for love nor money.

  6. 6
    James BC on 18 Jun 2013 #

    Terrible artwork.

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


  8. 8
    anto on 18 Jun 2013 #

    Arriving on Popular astoundingly just a week after I found myself staying in the “Gary Barlow” corridor on the “Take That” floor of the Travel Lodge adjacent to Strangeways prison. I also happened to be skimming through the opening chapters of the Take That leaders autobiography only a few days ago looking for the part of the book where an aquaintance of mine is mentioned. This meant discovering that the young Barlows first synthisizer was purchased at the Rushworths in Chester that I used to go past on my way home from school as well as details about Gary Barlow:The Social Club Years prior to fame which often read as though transcribed from a script for Pheonix Nights. A mention for a group from Liverpool called Fizzy Drinks is especially irresistible.
    As regards his supposed masterpiece I’ve only ever found “Back For Good” mildly confounding. As the review says all very deliberately crafted. The lyrics sound as though they could have done with another draft (“You’ll be right and understood??”). This was where Take That began to be seen less as a boy band and more as pop ambassodors.

  9. 9
    thefatgit on 18 Jun 2013 #

    You know those sausages that look really yummy when they’re cooked on the barbecue; glistening skin, sear-marks from the grill? When you bite into one though, there’s less pork and beef than there is breadcrumbs. You kind of kick yourself for falling for that BOGOF deal at *insert name of supermarket here* and wish you’d have spent a quid or two more at the butcher’s round the corner…

    I get that sense with “Back For Good”. It’s all production and no MEAT. This kind of production would make the ingredients list on the sausage packaging sound good. (I’m hungry by the way, if you hadn’t guessed already).

    What I do like is “whenever I’m wrong/ just tell me the song/ and I’ll sing it” which seems to hark back to Leo Sayer-ish playfulness, but the rest of the lyric suggests that no amount of charm is gonna win this girl back. Whatever he said, whatever he did, he knows it’s too late. No sympathy for the songwriter here, I’m afraid. I’ll have one of those burgers instead.

  10. 10
    Cumbrian on 18 Jun 2013 #

    I have had a bit of a wrestle with this over the years. Very tasteful. Well put together. Musically, it could descend into mawkishness but I think it just about manages to tread that line without veering into that territory too hard. I don’t know what is going on with these lyrics though. The whole thing seems to be a mea culpa but “I guess now it’s time that you came back for good” right at the end seems to undercut this, rather (also, if this is a mea culpa, it’s a problematic one at that – “whatever I said, whatever I did”, ”just tell me the song and I’ll sing it” – this is mockable because it basically shows someone being dumbly passive aggressive instead of being honest about his own failings in a relationship). It is almost like Gary has convinced himself that it would best for all concerned for her to come back – it’s an open question as to whether the object of his affections feels the same way though, especially with his lack of insight into his own role in whatever has gone wrong.

    I guess there is an alternative interpretation – he’s just sat there daydreaming about getting back with his ex; the middle eight hinting at floating away into the dream. This is perhaps more charitable but he’s still coming across to me as someone who isn’t willing to admit any sort of fault at all. It leads me to question what sort of boyfriend he actually is. Probably a crap one, lacking any sort of self awareness. It just feels a bit “I’m a nice guy, why won’t women go out with me?” which is not an attractive look.

    This is not the high water mark of Take That in my book – we’re still yet to get to that – and it’s not better than some of their other #1s (I’d have Pray and Relight My Fire ahead of this – and possibly Babe as well, which is a worse song but isn’t saddled with BFG’s lyrics). I blame Gary Barlow ultimately. He doesn’t convince me as a singer, unfortunately, and in someone else’s hands I might rate this a bit higher, even with the problems I have with the lyrics.

    Also, rapped knuckles for Robbie and his subsequent “punk” cover version of this, once he’d gone solo. I dare say that there have been plenty of examples prior to it, but Robbie’s irreverent version is the first I can remember of “real men” having a go at covers of pop songs. A most unwelcome development.

  11. 11
    Chelovek na lune on 18 Jun 2013 #

    7 sounds about right, a high seven though.

    Definitely a transformative moment: not just the first time that Take That sounded…almost “adult”, or at any rate, not just too “adolescent”, but also the first time that they came close to justifying the immense marketing push (which had largely seemed to comprise hype, given how very disappointing and poor well over half of their singles up to this point had been). Yes, on closer inspection, the pieces (and the lyrics) don’t stack up quite so well, but still, it does the job well. The first, but not the last, of their number 1’s I’d not just happily, but even just willingly, listen to.

  12. 12
    lonepilgrim on 18 Jun 2013 #

    I try to avoid paying much attention to lyrics whenever possible so it is a shame that Gary Barlow foregrounds them so strongly at the start of the song – the lipstick/coffee cup line is particularly clunky. Fortunately once the chorus, backing vocals and strings kick in the vocal becomes another part of the musical whole and I can enjoy the song much more. I don’t know who arranged the song but it definitely lifts it to a more polished level than previous number ones by the group. It’s a little bland, with little if anything that makes it unique – unlike the E17 song based on a dying friend, so a 7 seems about right.

  13. 13
    MikeMCSG on 18 Jun 2013 #

    #12 The lipstick/ coffee cup line is a blatant steal from “Good Year For The Roses” so you can add plagiarism to the list of Barlow’s crimes.

  14. 14
    Auntie Beryl on 18 Jun 2013 #

    There was a strong rumour for many years that Barry Gibb had written this in secret, the logic running that the Bee Gees releasing this in 1995 would not have had as great an impact.

    That may be true, but the Gibbs were hardly on their uppers at the time – “Alone” came out a couple of years later and reached the top 5. And unless [LATER COMEBACK BUNNY SINGLE] was penned by somebody else as well, Barlow appears to know how to knock an MOR single together.

    The story went that allegedly money changed hands to allocate sole songwriting credit to Barlow and thus move him, and by extension Take That, forward in terms of public perception and career progression into a future Radio 2 paradise. An upcoming related bunny was somehow a part of this clandestine deal.

    The story persisted for quite a few years after TT split up and Robbie became the successful solo artist.

    I happily remember receiving dozens of these singles the Friday before release and subtly displaying them behind the counter at the shop poking out from other stuff, out of reach of the TT fanbase. I could be a prat for that sort of thing.

  15. 15
    punctum on 18 Jun 2013 #

    My views on this record, along with several others, are under a Then Play Long embargo, but wasn’t this the first single to get to number one purely on advance orders?

  16. 16
    Auntie Beryl on 18 Jun 2013 #

    Question for our American commenters: are Take That considered one hit wonders over there?

  17. 17
    Patrick Mexico on 18 Jun 2013 #


    Oh, it’s not that? Coulda fooled me from the opening chords.

    Anyway, agree with a (high) 7. A song of real charm, warmth and urgency light years ahead of TT’s previous tiresome cod-erotic preening. Sometimes it’s hard to suppress a few giggles listening to it – but it’s a similar romantic bombast to Purple Rain (song) which is no bad thing.

    Plus I consider the lipstick/coffee cup analogy songwriting genius – in the charts at the same time was a Duran Duran-sampling hip-hop ditty that went a little like “A rich man lives on a yacht / A poor man lives in the doorway of a :brief pause: shop!” How very meta, how very :cough: Nineties.

  18. 18
    speedwell54 on 18 Jun 2013 #

    I was working in a shop that at the time only sold albums, but such was the demand for BFG, we stocked the single and shifted loads. Rather like Auntie Beryl, I remember it coming in the Saturday before release and playing it on heavy rotation, but obviously not allowing any sales until the Monday.

    The demand I think came from their Brits performance which was quite a few weeks before the release, and then I seem to recall heavy radio play. Always a dead cert No1.

    On to the song. It stuffs anything they/he did before. Lyrically ‘Babe’ was written by a fist using a crayon; ‘Back For Good’ was a half decent pen.

    This comparison, this sudden improvement, leads to a general feeling of it being a great song. It is a bit like watching the X factor and the audience are going wild for something which you think is just good. The difference being they have just sat through twenty poor acts (un televised) so anything half decent sounds totally amazing.

    I did like it a lot at the time, and I am still pretty happy to hear it. Not great but very good. 8.

  19. 19
    Mark M on 18 Jun 2013 #

    I’ve never liked Barlow’s voice, I hadn’t really warmed to Take That generally, and when I first heard it, the opening made me think of Oasis, which was (still is) a terrible thing as far as I was concerned. And yet, I decided pretty quickly I loved this song, and still do.

  20. 20
    Andrew Hickey on 18 Jun 2013 #

    “wasn’t this the first single to get to number one purely on advance orders?”

    Just off the top of my head, Can’t Buy Me Love sold a million copies in the UK in advance. It’s Now Or Never got to number one on pre-orders too, and I *think* that was the first one. I have a feeling that I’m A Believer did as well — I know it did in the US, but I don’t know about over here…

  21. 21
    hardtogethits on 18 Jun 2013 #

    Back in January, on the subject of Everything Changes, I wrote “I find it frustrating that Barlow … plunders other people’s better work for specific imagery, and the phraseology of emotion – the best two other examples I’d use are from bunnyable number ones.”

    This is the first of the two, and yes, as mentioned above it’s the lipstick/coffee cup image that niggles. By the time he gets around to the second of the bunnies, Barlow’s even copying lyrical gaffes from other songs.

    The feelings I get when I hear or read Gary Barlow’s lyrics are similar to the feelings I get when I see a mistake on a poster/banner etc advertising an expensive property development; a development which, if successful, is clearly going to bring forward the retirement date of the property developer.

  22. 22
    fivelongdays on 19 Jun 2013 #

    As a 13-year-old boy, I didn’t like Take That AT ALL…but even the young me could see that this song was the nuts. I can’t be more eloquent than that, but I seem to be really rather impressed that he seemed to be ripping off Oasis.

    Easily the best thing The That ever did, and undoubtedly a 8.

  23. 23
    pootle on 19 Jun 2013 #

    I bought this, semi-ironically when I was at university. Take That, even among indie faithful were never toooo bad a boyband. They even managed to write cool ballads (unlike the Irish Destroyers of Future Christmasses).

    It’s really no different to a standard over-produced cheesy boyband balland – just better. Mostly due to the high-quality acting/emoting in the verses and a kind of hushed grey bready quality instead of the usual sugar.

  24. 24
    cmmmbase on 19 Jun 2013 #

    #16 Yes, in the US, Take That is a one hit wonder. The only other single they released here (that I know of) was It Only Takes A Minute.

  25. 25
    swanstep on 19 Jun 2013 #

    @auntieberyl, 16. Take That are considered one-hit-wonders in NZ: only Back For Good charted, spending 16 weeks in the charts, peaking at #6 for one week.

    Anyhow, BFG always strikes me as pretty good when I hear it out somewhere (in the supermarket, say), but giving it my full attention now, it’s more of a wan beast than I remembered (and not up with the soppy best of this period from my gals TLC, Alison Krauss, and Trisha Yearwood). Still, wobbly lyrics notwithstanding, BFG’s a lovely enough arrangement so that One Direction would kill for it; it’d be a sizeable hit if it were released tomorrow; unlike most boy band productions it feels like a record for everyone not just the fanbase; and so on. I was expecting to give an 8 (which is what it sounds like in the supermarket!), but on reflection I think Tom’s pegged it right:

  26. 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.

  27. 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..

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

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    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.

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