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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. 31
    Steve Mannion on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #25 iirc The Charlatans ‘Just When You’re Thinking Things Over’ picked up a lot of Stones comparisons, but then they started sounding more like Oasis (‘How High’).

  2. 32
    wichitalineman on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Re 25: The Charlatans wanted to be the Faces, who wanted to be the Stones.

    Primal Scream, as has been said.

    Most significantly a bunnied act who sampled the Stones so heavily they had to give up 100% of their royalties.

    And if it’s just an absence of nastiness you’re referring to, Blur had it by the spiteful truckload! Pulp were generally insular and non-communal – even Common People is, essentially, one long dig at a hapless cultural tourist. Elastica had the Stones aloofness (which worked extremely well for them).

    Wonderwall’s “…and maybe” is one of those moments where a melody, or chord, stays static when you expect it to move. It’s a very powerful songwriting trick if you can pull it off, one that can almost physically tug your heart. Plus there’s the cello, and the supple drumming. None of these ingredients turn up on any other Oasis song as far as I’m aware.

  3. 33
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2013 #

    mmm, maybe “Whatever” has some of that suttle drumming, Tony McCarroll, gawdbless’im

  4. 34
    swanstep on 29 Jul 2013 #

    The great mash-up of Wonderwall and We’ve Only Just Begun only keeps Ww’s verses. In general, re-listening to the whole Carpenters tune, written by Paul Williams I believe, puts Noel Gallagher’s (and Albarn’s and….) melodic gifts in pretty harsh perspective.

  5. 35
    wichitalineman on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Re 33: …and cellos, you’re right. I’m a twit.

    Re 34: Paul Williams is a fucking genius! I was so glad he was beatified by Daft Punk. His first solo album, Someday Man, is like a humanist guide on how to live.

  6. 36
    James BC on 29 Jul 2013 #

    If you want nastiness, Luke Haines might have been your man although he got a bit left behind when Britpop took off.

    I don’t know if the nastiness is key, though. To me what the Stones had that the Beatles didn’t was groove – a sound-led approach contrasting with the Beatles’ song-led one. On that basis, if all Oasis’s songs had been like Roll With It then they would have been in the Stones role with Blur as the Beatles. But they weren’t.

    I suppose by 1995 people had dance music for dancing and looked to bands for something else. With baggy all but forgotten.

  7. 37
    wichitalineman on 29 Jul 2013 #

    The Charlatans were an interesting, and now overlooked, link here. One of the earliest significant Chemical Brothers remixes was their Nine Acre Dust (at least I think it was called that).

    They were a big deal at the Heavenly Social, and had their very own venn diagram segment – baggy, indie, Britrock, big beat.

  8. 38
    Steve Mannion on 29 Jul 2013 #

    I was gonna say The Charlatans were probably first on the big beat bandwagon thanks to the Chemical Brothers connection (including the ‘One To Another’ intro). Primal Scream too despite the throwback of GOBDGU.

    By contrast Oasis and their similarly conservative peers avoided remixes even tho they surely would’ve benefitted from them (I think there was a DJ edit of ‘Wonderwall’ at the time with the break from NWA’s ‘Express Yourself’ stuck under it).

  9. 39
    glue_factory on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Re: 37, you’re correct about the name (the one that went “Naaaa/Naa, naa, naa”…)

  10. 40
    Izzy on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #36: groove, yes; and also using blues as their foundation.

    Britpop doesn’t have much of either – see eg Shaker Maker, which has a 12-bar structure, but is about as ungroovy as music gets. Instead its jumping-off point is straight pop, in a lineage stretching back to music hall in one direction and folk in another, with nods to particular kinds of classics like Bacharach or Tom Jones. Some bands started out looser – Suede, Mansun, Oasis themselves – but my feeling is that generally the form got more restricted as time went by.

    I’d nominate Supergrass and The Verve as exceptions, which I suspect is largely down to the quality of those two rhythm sections above all.

    (which raises the thought: is the Stone Roses’ second generally considered britpop? Because it doesn’t have much in common with any of what I’ve tried to trace out.)

  11. 41
    mapman132 on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Wonderwall is a 10 from me – maybe not for everyone, but Oasis’ best work in my mind. As was stated by a previous poster, it was far and away their biggest US hit (#8 Hot 100, and #1 for a then-record 10 weeks on the Modern Rock chart). Oasis was never nearly as big in the US and in the UK, but Wonderwall is the one Oasis track every American knows.

    Apparently, there’s a mass delusion that two actors that sing as about as well as I do recorded extremely weak versions of a song I don’t particularly care for (I Believe), and a song I actually like when recorded properly (Up On The Roof) that somehow outsold Wonderwall and prevented it from reaching #1. As this notion is totally ridiculous, I’m going to reject this reality and replace it with my own.

  12. 42
    Cumbrian on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #38: If Oasis had used remixes on their B-Sides, they would have stockpiled more of their songs – but I think people were probably going to get tired of them anyway. It would have just been continuing to give people the same stuff as before (and dependent on when it was recorded, with worse production).

    That said, they did have a mighty remix on their last single – Amorphous Androgynous did a 20 odd minute remix of Falling Down, which takes Oasis into a bit of a different space. I think Noel is probably a bit worried about that track right now actually – letting on that the same guys produced his “other album” had people thinking that it would finally be the record where he took himself out of his musical comfort zone. He has been busy trying to row back from those expectations and it’s interesting that, if it is finished, it hasn’t been released yet.

  13. 43
    Cumbrian on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #40: The Verve definitely had groove. But were they Britpop? I think Richard Ashcroft had pretensions to something like it, but the band sounded pretty shoegazey to me.

  14. 44
    wichitalineman on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Tom’s term Britrock covers Second Coming/The V***e neatly. Their success seeme like a consequence of Britpop, or at least Britain’s fresh appreciation of guitar acts.

  15. 45
    Tom on 29 Jul 2013 #

    The vogue for Britrock remixes (such as it was) was partly a response to formatting trends – if your standard single release involves 2 separate CD singles, then you either need twice the number of B-sides (a stretch even for the most fecund of bandS) or you need to do something else with CD2. Live tracks are one option, but remixes open up your single to potentially different fans entirely – I definitely bought a few singles I’d otherwise have skipped because of particular remixers.

  16. 46
    wichitalineman on 29 Jul 2013 #

    That was certainly Creation’s logic at the time, Oasis aside.

  17. 47
    Tom on 29 Jul 2013 #

    A lot of the remixes, even by name dudes, were pretty ropey though. A bunnied Welsh band issued some particularly iffy mixes (tho their B-Sides were above-par, to balance it.)

    As well as the Britpop Nuggets (WEEJ I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN THIS SO SORRY!) you could do an 90s Remixes Bonus Disc. “Jailbird (Chemical Brothers Remix)”, the Motiv8 “Common People”… what else?

  18. 48
    James BC on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #42 That Amorphous Androgynous remix of Falling Down is really quite something. I bought the 12″ on a whim and have no regrets.

    Noel always had at least a minor interest in dance music. He had a handful of guest appearances with big beat-type acts (and didn’t Liam do a song with Death in Vegas?) but they kept Oasis well away from all that.

    I think Noel said of What A Life from his High Flying Birds album that as much as he loved the Hacienda, it had taken him until that song to make a track that could have been played there. But I believe the AA full album collaboration has been put to one side or wandered away from, so he won’t be going full dance any time soon.

  19. 49
    James BC on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #47 Kenickie – I Would Fix You – Mint Royale mix.

  20. 50

    Has anyone ever seen the film Wonderwall is named for?

    (I have the Harrison s/t on er, well, I came across it somewhere: mostly tablas and sitars, certainly not Beatley in the Gallaghoid sense… I like it, but I’ve always been a sucker for Harrison’s sitar stuff.)

  21. 51
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2013 #

    I think “Bunnied Welsh Band” have been mentioned so often, I’m beginning to think that’s their real name!

    #50, I have, the way it was described it would seem like a pretty lousy film. Actually, I quite enjoyed it. From the soundtrack, “Party Seacombe” is very like “Flying” from MMT…

  22. 52
    tm on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Wonderwall is a textbook lesson in the importance of key: it’s played in F#m with a capo on the guitar’s second fret: play it without the capo in Em and you end up thinking ‘what’s all the fuss about’, dig the capo out and play it in the proper key and it sounds like a hit. With the capo any further up the neck, it starts sounding like jingly jangly nu folk.

  23. 53
    lockedintheattic on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #47 Blur – Girls & Boys – Pet Shop Boys mix

  24. 54
    tm on 29 Jul 2013 #

    What’s the big beat remix of Blur’s On Your Own from The Beach soundtrack?

  25. 55
    Rory on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Re 90s Remixes Bonus Disc: you need this.

  26. 56
    Cumbrian on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #48: Well, we’re going to get to Noel goes Big Beat eventually. The Liam/DiV track (Scorpio Rising) sounds like late 60s trad-rock though – as indeed does the cover of “So You Say You Lost Your Baby” that they did with Paul Weller on the same album.

    Using my lunch time productively, I found a link to HuffPo claiming that Noel may well scrap the AA album as he is not happy with the mixes. A shame if true. He doesn’t strike me as someone who gives a damn if he gets a load of brickbats for an experiment gone wrong but I fear he may have lost his nerve (or maybe it really isn’t that different from what has gone before).

  27. 57
    swanstep on 29 Jul 2013 #

    @50, Mark. Yes, I just watched the Wonderwall (1968) film on youtube (at the link I provided above). It’s pretty tedious really: a straight-laced professor-type has his mind blown when he finds he can peep through the wall in on the wild life led by the fashion model next door (Jane Birkin); gradually he drills out lots of holes, pulls out bricks, and so on, and it becomes clear that the wall’s principally a metaphor… Vague druginess and psychedlia ensues. If you like the soundtrack album, well, apparently that’s less than half of the music that’s in the film. Anyhow, worth seeing as a 1967/1968 artifact (I’m sort of glad to have seen it) but it’s no Blow Out or even Girl On A Motorcycle that’s for sure. Wonderwall (1968) did slightly remind me of Koralnik’s Anna (1967) and also of Gondry’s Science of Sleep (200?) but both of the latter are a lot more fun, so keep your expectations very low.

  28. 58
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 29 Jul 2013 #

    mea culpa SW — of course I didn’t click through that link :(

  29. 59
    swanstep on 29 Jul 2013 #

    @57, whoops that should be Blow Up (the Antonioni one), not Blow Out (the very fun De Palma one).

  30. 60
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #55 I got the cassette edition of that. Massively disappointed in that the cassette inside looked nothing like the cassette on the front (usual ink-printed thing)

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