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Jul 13

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

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#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. 1
    hardtogethits on 28 Jul 2013 #

    Straight in at number one. Some had to work hard at it, crafting and grafting until they had a record worthy of the occasion, even keeping an eye on others’ release schedules, and picking their moment precisely. As someone pointed out earlier, these two didn’t even have to complete the vocals on their recordings. I cannot believe a record so nondescript ever merited attention. I’d love for this to turn up on Popmaster without any leading clues, to see if anyone might be able to identify it – given its complete lack of distinguishing features, I doubt it.

  2. 2
    Billy Hicks on 28 Jul 2013 #

    Is it just coincidence that, just one week after this, some anonymous dance act called the Happy Clappers re-released an unrelated song they’d first got to #21 earlier in the year also called “I Believe”?

    This time it got to #7, and while it’s a fun dance track I can’t help thinking some of those sales were people buying it in error thinking it was the same song, or at least a remix of it.

  3. 3
    Steve Mannion on 28 Jul 2013 #

    #2 watch: ‘Wonderwall’ which despite always finding a dreary affair I’ve become somewhat fascinated with in terms of what inspired its intro. Namely the sequence of singles over the previous two years heavily influenced by Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Bonnie & Clyde’. MC Solaar’s ‘Nouveau Western’ sampled it directly in ’93 (loved this and its Gondry video so much I bought the 12″ but never actually bothered to try and translate his lyrics). The following year both Saint Etienne’s ‘Hug My Soul’ b-side ‘I Buy American Records’ and Renegade Soundwave’s eponymous single both seem to wittingly homage SG’s stirring string chords with an acoustic guitar equivalent. I strongly suspect Noel was familiar with all four songs and in the process made one far less interesting (they actually do go in descending order chronologically). But by that point it seemed different enough that Travis were subsequently accused of ripping off Oasis with ‘Writing To Reach You’ – absurd given NG’s own magpieyes.

    #2 ‘I Believe’ may be the most popular song title ever tho or at least of the 90s (around a dozen different songs with that title made the top 75 that decade).

  4. 4
    Tom on 28 Jul 2013 #

    I’d forgotten this blocked “Wonderwall”! No friend of Oasis, but that was a harsh outcome for what’s surely their best-remembered song (though, like Steve M, I don’t like it much – more about it in a future entry I expect).

  5. 5
    Billy Hicks on 28 Jul 2013 #

    True, and having a closer look it seems the same thing happened in March 1994 when both Marcella Detroit and Sounds of Blackness got top 20 hits in the space of a couple of weeks with two more unrelated ‘I Believe’ songs. Remarkable though that there’s none from 1964 (The Bachelors covering the Laine song) to 1991 (EMF’s unrelated one), then one almost every year up to 2000 when there hasn’t been any since.

    Wonderwall, for me, I simply have never got. Oasis have made much better songs in my book and I’ve forever failed to understand why this one track of theirs is hailed as a masterpiece above all else. At the age of 7 I much preferred the Mike Flowers Pops version, taking him as a real person making a genuine attempt at a better cover.

  6. 6
    Auntie Beryl on 28 Jul 2013 #

    I don’t see it referenced as often as the Shaddup You Face / Vienna incident, but this nonsense kept Wonderwall at number two. Suspect that may get a little more Popmaster recognition.

    EDIT: you have to be quick on the draw round here, don’t you?

  7. 7
    lonepilgrim on 28 Jul 2013 #

    the ‘I believe’ video looks like it was filmed by David Lynch with Robson Green reminding me of Dean Stockwell singing ‘In Dreams’ in Blue Velvet – musically the pair come nowhere near re-imagining the song and their version of ‘Up on the Roof’ would make me want to throw myself off

  8. 8
    Mark G on 28 Jul 2013 #

    I Believe (when I fall in love it will be forever)

    a collision of two song titles without being any/either of the Popular qualifiers.

  9. 9
    Izzy on 28 Jul 2013 #

    Wonderwall’s a marvellous thing. Terrific, stark arrangement; great vocal; singalong up to here. Only the stupid title marks it down. I never got why Noel insisted on stealing from the Beatles, even when it was to no purpose. There are stupider examples, but to my mind this one’s actually a little harmful. (9)

  10. 10
    Cumbrian on 28 Jul 2013 #

    Bearing in mind, as I have said here repeatedly on other threads, that a good rule of thumb is that I know nothing, I was surprised to find myself listening to the Robson and Jerome “I Believe” and thinking to myself “there’s definitely a good song in there”. It’s just not the version that presents itself here. So I went and found the Frankie Laine version (I think it’s the right one – having never heard it before) and, yep, it’s quite good. That the song itself pokes out from behind Bronn and McNair’s vocals and the trademark Cowell ramping up of the production towards the climax was a surprise. I had been prepared to write this one off. I’d have even given the R&J version, 3 if that were it. Unfortunately, “Up On The Roof” has all the charm of a sucking chest wound – so 2 is probably right, averaging out the 3 and the (very low) 1 for the two songs.

    Re: Wonderwall – it seemed to hang around for ages in the charts and must have managed to tap some general nerve – I seem to remember that Oasis tended to land heavily and be gone after 3 or 4 weeks, so it was a rarity for them to stick around. Part of it might be that word of mouth/radio play got out on (what I have now found to be a bit over-rated) The Masterplan on the B-Side and it sucked in a few more people to buy it. On the other hand, Wonderwall is likely a lot friendlier than RWI and SMS, as the guitars are dialled back, so it might well just be that. Weird old video for that one too – in the very brief period where Scott Mcleod was the bassist, you start to see that Oasis have had more members than you’d perhaps expect. They had to get someone to fill in on guitar during the tour for their 4th album because Noel did one too (I think it was Matt Deighton from memory).

    Re: 3. Travis did rip it off Wonderwall though – they even mention Wonderwall in the lyrics of WTRY. Noel might have nicked it from elsewhere but it seems pretty plain where Fran Healy nicked it from himself. I don’t think there were accusations flying though – certainly not amongst my circle of friends. Turnabout seemed fair play (and memorably Noel himself would say just that when a future reality bunny seemed to lift one of “his” melodies).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIUyVeDsHfs

    I leave with this from Bronn/Jerome. About his best bit of singing I think – best to save it for the taverns, I think.

  11. 11
    Scott M on 28 Jul 2013 #

    ‘I Believe’ is probably the most (only) enduring R&J waxing due to its long-time (and continued?) use in adverts for Ibuleve. That is literally all I can think of to say about this single.

  12. 12
    thefatgit on 28 Jul 2013 #

    “Wonderwall” was the last physical single I ever bought. And naturally, I was rooting for it to topple R&J. I was to be disappointed, of course. The last time I had a vested interest in the charts, coincided with the beginning of an 18 year (ongoing) stint in the same job with an insurance company. And I prefer to remember Oasis’ possibly finest moment as its marker than these two karaoke singers.

    The video is something else. Our 2 heroes are dying on-stage in their gold lame jackets and are close to shuffling off-stage, but then they break out “I Believe”. The miserable mall Santa and the barfly ignore their drinks and pause, transfixed as R&J belt out the song. From out of nowhere a gospel choir emerges to help elevate our boys to dizzying new heights. You could spread this schmaltz on crackers.

    But nothing can hide how terrible this performance is. Thankfully, the song clocks in the very right side of 3 minutes. We can all move on from this without further mention. The real perpetrator of this atrocity however still looms large, inescapable in our Popular future.

  13. 13
    Chelovek na lune on 28 Jul 2013 #

    I didn’t hear this at the time. Nor ever by chance following my return to the UK (and “by choice”?. Only in preparation for this.). I think it less objectionable than their slaughtering of Unchained Melody, but really, that is not saying very much, and, still, it’s pretty horrible.

    “Wonderwall”, on the other hand, despite encouraging my students at the time to ask me (a) what the word meant and (b) how to translate it into Russian (perhaps less bad than a shot at a vodka-fuelled Old New Year’s Party in the outskirts of Odessa attempting to translate “Nails In My Feel” by Crowded House, line by line: “Circle round in a strange hypnotic state” and so on), was more as less as good as Oasis got. I recall the Bank of Scotland, I think north of the border only, using the word subsequently, in adverts as a synonym for what they had previously only called Autotellers. But there is an obvious future occasion to discuss this.

  14. 14
    wichitalineman on 28 Jul 2013 #

    There was a Liverpool goalkeeper in the early seventies called Frankie Lane. His real name. Only two appearances. On his debut he caught a cross, then stepped backwards over the goal line, poor soul.

    As for the matter in hand… the waxy skin, the cold, dead eyes, the leaf-touching… nothing much to add. Piss-weak.

    The Bachelors 1964 hit version put the “touch a leaf” emphasis on the next line – “or see the sky” – which doesn’t really suit the bombast underneath their yowling vocals. It’s overblown, teary emerald isle tat. Yes, the Bachelors version is arguably worse than Robson & Jerome’s.

  15. 15
    Billy Hicks on 28 Jul 2013 #

    Now I’m imagining a sort of super-version of the song with Laine’s delivery, R&J’s “Touch a leaf” followed immediately by The Bachelors “Or SEE! THE! SKY!”, and ending with R&J’s choir. It would either be the greatest or worst version ever made.

  16. 16
    AMZ1981 on 28 Jul 2013 #

    Following up on the number 2 watch, in a parrallel universe where all else stayed the same except no I Believe, Wonderwall would have entered at number one for a solitary week before Coolio returned for a further three week run.

    The other record trending big around this time was Missing by Everything But The Girl which wound up the biggest selling record of the year not to get to number one. I always found it pretty dreary myself.

  17. 17
    Izzy on 28 Jul 2013 #

    Ha! For all the budding heartbreak about Wonderwall being another Vienna, it’s amusing to think of it as just a blip in Coolio’s reign.

  18. 18
    Ed on 28 Jul 2013 #

    @13 That’s a great fact about the BoS ad!

    Q: “What is a Wonderwall?”

    A: “Well, it’s a cashpoint, isn’t it?”

  19. 19
    Will on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Wonderwall was the point where Oasis crossed over decisively to the UK public as a whole. Everyone I know loved it, from dance fans who wouldn’t have normally touched an ‘indie’ record with a bargepole to older friends who had lost touch with the charts. And yeah even I bought it too.

  20. 20
    swanstep on 29 Jul 2013 #

    @3, Steve Mannion. Thanks for all those apparent anticipations of much of Wonderwall’s main pattern. But when did NG write (most of) Wonderwall? I’m pretty sure Alan McGee’s said it was in Noel’s original cache of material that made him sign Oasis, so maybe only the Gainsbourg can be a direct antecedent. (Sarah Cracknell is rather fetching in St Et’s Hug My Soul vid.. Blimey. For a b-side? That’s pop-star service for you.) Will return later for Bronn Season 3. He and the Hound – Yarp! – should grab one of the young Game of Thrones lovelies and mount a concerted attack on the charts next year (get in there Cowell).

  21. 21
    Kinitawowi on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Pretty sure this is about where my peculiar addiction to VH-1 started to take hold; I went through a three-year period of watching virtually nothing but. They were strange times, but perhaps the strangest thing is that Up On The Roof seemed to get more vidspace than I Believe.

    They were both shite.

    Never got Wonderwall to be honest, although I still find the Mike Flowers version hilarious (its time as second best will come) and we can’t forget Girls Aloud’s brazen robbery of it for Life Got Cold. As for the Writing To Reach You / Wonderwall mishmash… a couple of my uni mates were always more amused by their comparisons between Driftwood and Blur’s The Universal. Equal opportunity Britpop theft for the post-Britpop miseryfest, I guess.

  22. 22
    swanstep on 29 Jul 2013 #

    So, ‘I Believe’: the Laine original doesn’t do much for me. The underlying song’s just not quite good enough to warrant all the bluster is the problem I think. And while the track shrewdly doesn’t overstay its welcome and ends before it has a chance to get truly irritating, there’s something wrong/unbalanced mildly hilarious with getting to a big bellowing crescendo so quickly and then just ending.

    Anyhow, the cover’s perfunctory/functional – Tom’s made about the best possible effort to anatomize its arrangement; I’m finding it hard to find the will to add to that analysis. Has anyone opined in either of the previous Robson and Jerome entries that the (re-)discovery of the pre-Beatles nostalgia market is probably connected with the 50th anniv. of D-day/mid-’90s ‘Greatest Generation’ palaver that ran from 1994 through to the release of Saving Private Ryan in 1998? ‘I believe’ may not have much actual martial meaning, but it’s got ‘reconnecting with greatest grandad’ written all over it.

    As for Wonderwall: #1 in both NZ and Australia, a big hit in the US (apparently got to #8 but it felt bigger and led directly to this Rolling Stone cover image early in ’96), and I guess in my view it’s easily Oasis’s best record. The supple drumming makes it – lovely jazzy fills, similar to those that had pushed Smashing Pumpkins over the top in 1993, make all the loudness and attitude lighter than air for a change (Oasis ditched their original drummer to find someone who could do justice to this song is the basic story, right? Too bad that they never seemed to let Alan White off the leash again after this), and the general top tune means even the lyrics charm this time. I didn’t buy the single but, like millions of others, I picked up the album pretty darned soon – within 48 hours – after hearing this one.

  23. 23
    hardtogethits on 29 Jul 2013 #

    And with this record R and J set and broke new chart records …
    They became the first act to
    They were the last act to
    They remain the only act to

  24. 24
    swanstep on 29 Jul 2013 #

    The Wonderwall (1968) film to which George Harrison provided the s/track is up on youtube (in ten 7 minute bits) starting here. Jerome Flynn as awesome Bronn here.

  25. 25
    Tom on 29 Jul 2013 #

    I remember the first time I heard “Wonderwall” quite strongly, listening to the radio while playing Civilization on my Dad’s PC (rock n roll!), thinking immediately how good the verses were – the song exploits dynamics in a way Oasis often didn’t bother with (their early stuff just crackles throughout, the later ones often just go from big to bigger, or are sludgey all through). There’s a tension and threat in “Wonderwall” that’s quite un-Oasislike – for all that they were perceived (see the SMS thread) as thugs etc that sense of menace very rarely seeped into the music, Noel isn’t a nasty songwriter*, he’s too into affirmation and communal vibes.

    Anyway “Wonderwall” stays good – the “And maybe…” but is the redemptive payoff the verses are looking for, switching the song back into standard Oasis uplifting territory – and then the “After all, you’re my wonderwall” blows it for me. It’s not even the w-word, which is clunky before you know the reference and clunky and annoying after, but don’t spoil the idea – it’s the way the chorus seems to just flatten out and end on a shrug. (“After all”, that weirdly chummy qualifier, doesn’t help, especially as it’s just in there to service a rhyme) I don’t know if anyone else feels that way about it – obviously it’s a well-loved song, but the way the chorus ends has always annoyed me.

    *The Problem With Britpop/Britrock in a nutshell: it’s a version of the 60s without the Stones! In fact, have either of the Gallaghers ever talked much about the Rolling Stones?

  26. 26
    James BC on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #23 I can guess at what those records are. I do know that I, as a 13-year-old fan of the Guinness Book of Hit Singles, rather resented Robson and Jerome breaking or matching certain records with their totally unearned success. They weren’t the last case of this either – a couple of Irish acts from a few years later spring to mind.

  27. 27
    Ed on 29 Jul 2013 #

    “A version of the 60s without the Stones!”

    There’s a bit of ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ / ’19th Nervous Breakdown’ era Stones in Blur. ‘The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man’, too.

    Many Pulp songs feel like ‘Live With Me’ relocated to suburban Sheffield.

    And there’s Primal Scream….

    So yes, I guess you’re right.

  28. 28
    anto on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Excellent review. If nothing else let’s just be grateful they didn’t turn ‘I Believe’ into a spoken word piece. They are thespians after all. I agree the original ‘Up On The Roof’ is rather special. Actually The Drifters are one of those groups who rarely receive as much kudos as they deserve. Being covered by Robson & Jerome is hardly high praise.

  29. 29
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Is there a worse version of “I Believe” ?

    Well..

    I would say, the version that the Osmonds did, where they would medley-mix “Are you up there” (an excellent song of their own) into the “every time I hear a new born baby cry” and back again, as some sort of ‘complete’ suite.. is horrendous and stomps over subtlety…

  30. 30
    Rory on 29 Jul 2013 #

    After this second encounter with Robson & Jerome I’m starting to think of these as double B-sides. “Up On the Roof” is every bit as awful as Cumbrian suggests. “I Believe” is just… pointless. A 2 overall, for sure.

    “Wonderwall” was number one for a week in Australia (in February 1996) – their only number one single there. As part of Morning Glory I loved it, but listening to it now I’m finding Liam’s vocals more grating than I remember. Uh-oh.

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