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Jul 13

ROBSON AND JEROME – “I Believe”/”Up On The Roof”

Popular120 comments • 3,726 views

#730, 11th November 1995

robson jeromeA bit of business I need to take care of, here. I owe Frankie Laine – and you – an apology. The review of Frankie’s “I Believe” is from the very early days of Popular – 2003 – and was based on a track which, while certainly Frankie Laine and certainly “I Believe”, is a different, slicker and sicklier recording to the slow-building eye-bulging studio-chewing intensity of Laine’s actual 18-week balladzilla.

I handed the track I had a 3; the actual recording should have got more, and anyway I’m now far fonder of early 50s studio belters than I was when I was reviewing them. Too late, alas! But not too late for you to go and give Frankie a listen. Especially if the alternative is this.

And with that out the way…

As a public pop figure, a TV impresario, Simon Cowell has made one major contribution to criticism: fixing and finessing the idea of “song choice” as part of a performer’s art. If – as has sometimes been reported – the kind of pop Cowell actually likes is the 40s and 50s Big Band era, then presumably one of the things he likes about it is the separation of performer and material: each bandleader and singer getting to select from a songbook the tunes they fancy, or that suit them best. Reality TV pop, as a project, is all about reintroducing this model into pop culture, by means of turning it into a game.

That’s all in the future. But it’s implicit in how Robson And Jerome escaped the one-hit wonder destiny their origins and talents seemed to point towards. “Song choice” in the Cowell sense always has a double meaning. Half of it is about picking songs that suit a particular singer. But the other half is tactical – selecting songs that fit a performer’s narrative, so each contestant on a reality TV show rolls along picking up significance like a light entertainment katamari.

For Robson and Jerome the question of “suiting the singer” is moot: I imagine whatever Cowell gave them he’d have got thin but serviceable karaoke performances back, no more and no less. So song choice is all tactical. The picks on their first single were obvious – “Unchained Melody” because they sang it on the TV show, and “White Cliffs Of Dover” because they were playing soldiers.

So why “I Believe”? There’s a tenuous military link – the song was written as a morale-booster during the Korean War – but I doubt that’s the driver. This single is a pure nostalgic play, a proof of concept for a pre-Beatles oldies market (later exploited by compilation series like Dreamboats And Petticoats), and if you’re going after that market, why not pick the biggest hit of the early 50s? But perhaps “I Believe” is a bit too-old timey – if so, here’s “Up On The Roof”, to show prospective punters that our boys are happy to cross the R&B borderlines.

It worked and then some – another million-selling single, and the biggest album of the year. Throughout the 70s we saw 50s music manifest repeatedly in the charts – sometimes as comforter, sometimes as challenge. But now the 50s is showing up only as finished business. What did they mean, in the end? Presents for grannies and money for Simon.

So what about the record? Surprise – It’s awful! Again it’s a double A-Side in name only: “Up On The Roof”, a brisk coshing of a once-beautiful song, was played far less. The Drifters’ sweet-voiced daydreams are to these fixed-grin strings and canned brass as a stolen afternoon on the roof is to a hurried sandwich at an office desk.

As for “I Believe”, it’s a similar story to “Unchained Melody”: Robson and Jerome take the mission on gamely, end up well out of their depth, and end up needing to call an almighty choral sample airstrike. Meanwhile, the arrangers take the most obvious build-the-track-up route and still fuck it up: who decided to stop the entire song so that one of our heroes can bellow “OR TOUCH A LEAF?”. The idea, of course, is that you can see proof of the divine everywhere you look in life, a theory this record does its level best to scotch.

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Comments

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  1. 101
    Izzy on 30 Jul 2013 #

    95 & c.: ha, I get it now – here was me thinking we were talking about groove though.

    I can’t buy the Stones unBritishness I’m afraid, for reason that I once made the same proposition to some Americans and was laughed out of town. Take away the staginess and I still thought there was something in it.

  2. 102
    Ed on 30 Jul 2013 #

    @99 – With a similar record of bad-boy antics, too!

  3. 103
    Mark M on 30 Jul 2013 #

    Re 98 (etc): Hang on… There seem to be two things going on here:

    1) Do the Stones’ attempts at American genres (blues, rock’n’roll, country and the various hybrids and mutations of these) read as English (in the way that Manfred Mann’s, say, did?) Up for debate – I’d say not as much as some other British bands, but still yes.

    and

    2) did the Stones ever make avowedly English records the way The Kinks and The Small Faces did? Blatantly yes, in the mid-into-late 1960s Behind The Buttons/Aftermath era with songs like Lady Jane and Ruby Tuesday.

  4. 104
    Mark G on 30 Jul 2013 #

    I’d play you “Something happened to me yesterday” from “Between the Buttons”, and “On with the show good health to yough” from “Satanic”, as evidence of the stones’ Music-Hall leanings.

    Oh, and if “Back Street Girl” has anything to do with the US musics, um, well, yeah, that one.

    There may be others…

  5. 105
    Rory on 30 Jul 2013 #

    Why stop at “Welsh Bunnied Band” and “Bignosed Northern Bunnies”? Surely any band which is still a going concern but hasn’t yet had a number one single should be bunnied on the grounds that they could someday have one. Bunnies all round!

    (Cue collapse of Popular discussions under massed weight of bunnies.)

  6. 106
    enitharmon on 30 Jul 2013 #

    Ed @ 100 I’d always thought of it as less of a misreading as a new interpretation. The American black music came in to Liverpool as ballast on the ships – the mainly agricultural goods coming east weighed less than the manufactured goods going west – mainly because on the US east coast at least the docks were the preserve of the white man and barring an enlightened minority the white folks just didn’t listen to black music (and vice versa no doubt). Those discarded records were much sought after on Merseyside and found their way into the repertoire of all those scratch post-skiffle bands earning their beer money in the Cavern and other dank places in surplus warehouse space (and pissing it away in the Grapes across the road of course). What the so-called “British Invasion” did was to play back to white audiences in the US the black music they scorned, but in a way that was palatable to them.

    Mark @ 103 I’d agree that the Stones did make steps in that direction with Aftermath/Satanic Majesties, and I’m inclined to think those are terrific albums, but they seem to have abandoned that track quickly to concentrate on what they did best (which I’d disagree with because I think they did that suburban cynicism very well indeed) or more likely what went down best with their core audiences, who wanted Jumping Jack Flash.

  7. 107
    wichita lineman on 31 Jul 2013 #

    It’s Andrew Oldham, isn’t it? Take him away and the Stones revert to being a (very good) band from Kent trying to sound American. Which, as Rosie says, is what the majority audience wanted, rather than the unique otherness of Paint It Black.

    The Drifters was a picture clue answer in the pop quiz I went to tonight, the picture being a couple of chocolate covered wafer biscuits. Matter in hand, and all that.

    As for I Believe, this Frankie Laine 45 trumps any version soundly. It sounds like David Lynch and Ed Wood got together with the Star Trek lady to create the ultimate Frankie Laine record… behold, Swamp Girl: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCEI-IY86zA

    Apologies if I posted it elsewhere on Popular a while ago. I’m getting very old and forgetful.

  8. 108
    swanstep on 31 Jul 2013 #

    @ wichita, 107. But but but, that post-Oldham ‘return to the blues’ period for the Stones in 1968-1971 feels so qualitatively different from the Stones’ early blues recordings – I mean it’s absurdly better – that it doesn’t seem quite right to say that the Stones were just giving people what they knew they wanted in that period. Nobody knew that Richards had Gimme Shelter’s guitar inside him ready to pour out, or that Jagger would take to playing the Devil quite as well as he did, or that Mick Taylor would click and that Moonlight Mile would result, or that any of that any of it would really find an audience. I guess what I’m saying is that while one could possibly have thought that the Stones were stripping things ‘back to basics’ in that late ’60s period, by some sort of miracle of maturation/transfiguration they weren’t and *really* headed out into all sorts of fresh territory (blues remained an important inspiration for them, but crucially the Stones no longer sounded like avid, schoolboy Chess records collectors). Perhaps Rosie can confirm, but my sense is that it came as shock to people at the time just how good and interesting the Stones got in 1968-1971.

    Not sure I’m in the right headspace to appreciate Swamp Girl! (I’m currently in more of a Scouse Girl mood.)

  9. 109
    flahr on 31 Jul 2013 #

    I have no clue who Bignosed Northern Bunnies refers to but it sounds like a band name already.

  10. 110
    Mark G on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Well, the Stones had now been through that phase, and could not unlearn it..

  11. 111
    weej on 31 Jul 2013 #

    I believe lyrics this have to be performed as a breathless mystical revelation or not at all.
    I believe that the music video demonstrates contempt for the record-buying public.

    I believe that “and after all….” is the moment I realised I now actually hated Oasis.
    I believe that Mike Flowers version of this line is one of the one of most on-the-nose piss-takes of all time.

  12. 112
    Rory on 31 Jul 2013 #

    @109, meet @97.

  13. 113
    enitharmon on 31 Jul 2013 #

    swanstep @ 108 – what I recall is Jumping Jack Flash coming right out of left field, sorry, blistering in from deep midwicket, after a lull in their output, and it was mind-blowing. But it was still American R&B again.

  14. 114
    Elmtree on 6 Aug 2013 #

    I’d completely missed this fun detail: apparently they had help. Stock hired other singers to patch their vocals. Reputedly neither Cowell nor R&J realised this until it hit the papers.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1098841/The-fake-factor-Robson-Jerome-Cowells—needed-help-hold-tune.html

  15. 115
    hardtogethits on 6 Aug 2013 #

    re #114. Spookily it was at entry #114 of R&J’s last number one that Scott M linked to that article. I thought I was experiencing deja vu. This whole “they had help” issue is what I was (too subtly?) referring to in #1 upthread. Take away the characterless vocal, and what’s left?

    I once had to give a lecture on the extent to which consumer behaviour is determined by the perceptible, intrinsic characteristics of a(ny) product – and the extent of other influences (the imperceptible and extrinsic). Nothing new there (although it’s not a topic that continues to fascinate).

    I’d LOVE to know what anybody likes about this record ‘intrinsically’, and ‘perceptibly’. It’s not that it’s the worst number one – although, for me, it actually is very close indeed; no, it’s the idea that even the worse ones (say, the 11 ranked below it by FT readers) all have obvious qualities in the groove that make us (ie FT readers voting as a population) dislike them intensely, but which at the time of the records’ release must have appealed to many.

    Anyone?
    Does anyone recall a friend/acquaintance/colleague saying about IB/UOTR “I like it because of the way he sings the first line”, or anything remotely like that?

  16. 116
    roof Schingels on 25 Nov 2013 #

    If you are in Roofing you may already know that there is a large amount of recourses which might be complete junk, luckily your site is not one of these websites, i enjoy your articles very much, continue the good work

  17. 117
    Cumbrian on 25 Nov 2013 #

    This might be the greatest spambot comment on FT. If only Robson and Jerome had gone into Roofing.

  18. 118
    lonepilgrim on 25 Nov 2013 #

    wasn’t Ralf ‘roof’ Schingels briefly in Einstürzende Neubauten?

  19. 119
    Mark G on 25 Nov 2013 #

    Briefly *on* Einstürzende Neubauten…

    (bit of german humour for you there.,..)

  20. 120
    Erithian on 28 Mar 2014 #

    Belated reply to HTGH #115 – I suppose what got it to number one was the popularity of the programme they were starring in, and the fact that not even R&J can totally balls up two such massive songs – having Goffin and King at number one can’t be a bad thing. At the time of course you couldn’t turn to Spotify or YouTube for the original versions.

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