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Feb 14

GARY BARLOW – “Love Won’t Wait”

Popular76 comments • 4,640 views

#766, 10th May 1997

gblww Few figures from 80s pop could match Michael Jackson for popularity and cultural weight. Perhaps only one, and she had also found the 90s harsher going than anticipated. Madonna’s apparent decline was more respectable than Jackson’s, but less interesting: intriguing grapples with R&B, pleasant soundtrack ballads, sales drifting downwards, and finally a solid, unrevealing, turn on a revived Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. “So what happens now?” her final single from that project asked. The answer, in 1997, was cloudy. Meanwhile one of her demos from a scrapped LP ended up in Gary Barlow’s hands, giving Madonna her first number one song in seven years.

“Love Won’t Wait” is a massive step up from “Forever Love” in quality – but it’s also easy to hear why Madonna ditched it. Listening to her demo version, with co-writer Shep Pettibone producing, doesn’t necessarily tell you what a finished version might have sounded like. But vocally, it feels like a return to the confident pop tourism of True Blue – a shot of unreturned devotion in wide-eyed Brill Building style. There’s not much wrong with it, but not much point to it either: her dips into old styles had shown her mastery of girl-group melodrama, and she’d then gone on to reinvent it. Why go back? So “Love Won’t Wait”, and Pettibone himself, were dumped and Madonna turned to Babyface and contemporary R&B. Gary Barlow saw the song’s potential, and got hold of it.

Gary’s take replaces the tentative pop backing with cruise ship disco presets, speeds it up, and immediately makes it sound like an early Take That track he’s brushing down, not a Madonna one. You can almost see the breathless, fixed-grin hoofing of the other four as Barlow takes the lead. It’s not, by any means, an awful single: it’s unimaginative but pleasant, and it has a tune a milkman might whistle, if his route lasted several years and he’d run through everything else. But in adapting “Love Won’t Wait”, Barlow makes a couple of decisions that I find quite revealing about how he understands and thinks about songs.

The first is choosing a Madonna song in the first place, and giving it a straightforward genderflip. “Love Won’t Wait” is about kicking aside a time-wasting lover, and there’s no reason Gary shouldn’t sing about that. But lyrics about how someone is wasting time, how you won’t wait any longer, how you’re going to leave if you don’t get what you want feel a bit different coming from a male singer. On paper, we’re nudging towards “if you really loved me you’d sleep with me” as a message. Luckily, this isn’t how the song comes across, because Gary Barlow is always going to sound petulant and mealy-mouthed rather than aggressive. Still, the outcome is the same – he’s tough to sympathise with.

The second decision is a tiny one. As she leads into the chorus, Madonna sings “you think I’m not that strong, you know….” on the first two go-rounds. Then on the third, she switches it: “you think I’m not that strong, you’re wrong!”. Barlow, on the other hand, picks “you’re wrong!” every time. If he thinks it’s a tougher, stronger hook, he’s right – but in the original it’s also a payoff. It gives “Love Won’t Wait” a storyline – a woman assessing her situation, then building up the strength to asset herself. Barlow’s version makes the song more static. It’s the slightest of details, but details are what often make a pop song live, and this one makes me suspect that Gary Barlow has no great feel for the material he’s working with. “Love Won’t Wait” is a cast-off that had a shot at being something more: Barlow wastes that chance.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    Ed on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Indie boy bands: The Libertines, Suede, The Beatles.

    (“Indie” here =/= “on an independent label”, obv.)

    And more than any of those, there is a band that played its own instruments, wrote its own songs, and recorded a couple of albums on an independent label. Scroll up to find them.

  2. 52
    iconoclast on 10 Mar 2014 #

    The fact that nobody knows what “indie” really means isn’t a problem here, obviously.

  3. 53
    punctum on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Not “fact” but perspective. I know perfectly well what indie means, as opposed to what other people would like it to mean.

  4. 54
    iconoclast on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Perhaps you could explain what it means then, and see how many people agree with you? Or is this going to devolve into the meaning of “meaning”? :-)

  5. 55
    punctum on 10 Mar 2014 #

    It’s a really nice day. Sunny and reasonably warm.

  6. 56
    Tommy Mack on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Not here it’s not. I put some shorts on and then it got cold as fuck. Or is that your definition of indie? Covers a lot of the key bands but leaves lots of others out, literally in the cold!

  7. 57
    Tom on 10 Mar 2014 #

    The clouds have gathered over central London too, as if in anticipation of a fruitless debate on the meaning of indie….

  8. 58
    iconoclast on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Do I detect the merest hint of a suggestion that, just maybe, Popular might have trod these paths at least once before before my time?

  9. 59
    Tom on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Nah, I think Popular has been pretty free of it – but the debate itself is a greybeard. When I started reading the NME the cover story was about whether the Darling Buds and the Wonder Stuff had SOLD OUT by signing to a major and you turned the page to find “AHHHH but what is indie anyway?”. Despite Punctum’s suggestion that the issue has been settled I suspect yr post at #52 is still largely right – or it’s not quite “nobody knows” more “nobody can be bothered to agree”.

  10. 60
    iconclast on 10 Mar 2014 #

    @59: Ha, I remember reading the NME a few years before that and getting the very definite impression that there were thick black lines between “indie” and “non-indie”, and anyone who gave the slightest impression that he or she regarded anything on the “non-indie” side with anything other than the requisite amount of contempt had no right to expect his or her opinions on anything to ever be taken remotely seriously again. And it’s not that long ago that I can remember encountering people who expressed the opinion that you were similarly irrevocably tainted if you made music for a living and expected to earn any money at all from it.

    Anyway, clearly there’s little to be gained from reviving the debate, although I can’t let it go without saying that any context in which “indie” and “boyband” have any significant overlap requires too much simultaneous stretching of both concepts for either of them to be of any meaningful use.

  11. 61
    Ed on 11 Mar 2014 #

    Notes on Indie, in three parts:

    1. ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    2. ‘The problem is that there is no property common to all games, so that the most usual kinds of definition fail. Not every game has a ball, nor two competing teams; even, sometimes, there is no notion of “winning.” In my view, the explanation is that a word like “game” points to a somewhat diffuse “system” of prototype frames, among which some frame-shifts are easy, but others involve more strain.’

    3. “I know it when I see it”

  12. 62
    punctum on 11 Mar 2014 #

    1. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.
    2. What has Wittgenstein got to do with indie?
    3. Nah, that’s a Daily Express level of thinking.

    I didn’t say the issue had been settled. I said I knew perfectly well what indie was. Think about it.

  13. 63
    Mark G on 11 Mar 2014 #

    Indie is as indie does, and thinks about it.

  14. 64
    Ed on 11 Mar 2014 #

    On the Wittgenstein, try this: ‘The problem is that there is no property common to all indie, so that the most usual kinds of definition fail. Not every band is influenced by the Velvet Underground, or composed of serious young men, or on an independent label. They sometimes don’t even play guitars. In my view, the explanation is that a word like “indie” points to a somewhat diffuse “system” of prototype frames, among which some frame-shifts are easy, but others involve more strain.’

    I guess by the time the NME was covering the Darling Buds and the Wonder Stuff, you no longer needed to have read Wittgenstein to work there, which was why they got into that kind of philosophical confusion.

  15. 65
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 11 Mar 2014 #

    wittgenstein is indie bcz of the deck chair thing

  16. 66
    weej on 11 Mar 2014 #

    Anyone for backgammon?

  17. 67
    Tommy Mack on 11 Mar 2014 #

    Do you think indie is harder to define than any other genre of popular music? Sub-genres are easy enough because you can get into specifics: I could have a stab at rock, reggae and dance but I’d struggle to come up with a satisfying definition of pop or jazz or maybe even soul.

  18. 68
    punctum on 11 Mar 2014 #

    #64: I like the Darling Buds, who initially were championed by and featured in Melody Maker rather than the NME (the New Blonde and all that), and incidentally were signed to Epic Records. I don’t see what indie has to do with MGM recording artists the Velvet Underground.

  19. 69
    Izzy on 11 Mar 2014 #

    It’s almost as if the word has more than one meaning

  20. 70
    Lazarus on 11 Mar 2014 #

    Didn’t the old Indie Chart, as published in Record Mirror, use to feature the likes of Renee and Renato? If you released a record on an independent label and it charted, you were in, whatever genre.

    “Save your love my Darling Buds, save your love … “

  21. 71
    iconoclast on 11 Mar 2014 #

    I remember seeing “I Should Be So Lucky” in the NME’s Indie Chart, too.

  22. 72
    Tom on 12 Mar 2014 #

    Kylie being Indie was (as far as I knew) the source of the great schism between “it’s an aesthetic” and “it’s a distribution method”

  23. 73
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 12 Mar 2014 #

    The (often bitter and exhausting) editorial squabbling at NME in 1987-88, about who to cover and how much to cover them (and who got ON the cover), was as much as anything an argument about HOW you urged who mattered, when straight sales were plainly misleading (no inkie simply covered the most successful chart acts and no others: the entire argument was that value in rock or pop was to often be found in the music that hadn’t quite hit). The independent charts were a metric of this for some (of local hits as opposed to global hits, if you like): stringers would routinely be dispatched to cover bands that jumped to the top of it. But, its purpose thus co-opted, the means of its compilation (as it appeared on the charts pages of the paper) quickly became a gameable bone of contention, the debate merely fuelled by Pete Waterman’s deft trolling (viz “Roadblock” as a white-label cratedigger find for the Rare Groove crowd).

    Essentially the ruinous dynamic of the argument — I’d suggest that its effect was still being felt in rock-press squabbles a decade later, especially in the arguments pro and con Brit Pop — derived from the fact that the entrenched ideologues at both extremes actually refused to accept the values of their opponents. And so both sides — each every time attracting and expecting a barrage of scornful challenge, to justify whatever new item was to be heavily featured — felt continually under pressure to reach for killer justifications for space, interest, excitement. Utterly split on who mattered right now and why, utterly intransigent, we relentlessly contributed to (i) the nostalgic (and I suspect false) belief that once upon a time our sub-world had at least shared some political or aesthetic perspectives, and (ii) the angry insistence that this comity was now entirely splintered and dispersed (because of THOSE TWITS OVER THERE ect ect). One effect was certainly that any term that found itself thrown around in these quarrels was quickly forced to take not just two meanings (one for each camp) but two seemingly incommensurable meanings. Naturally “indie” was one of these words.

  24. 74
    iconoclast on 12 Mar 2014 #

    #73: Most enlightening!

  25. 75
    swanstep on 18 Mar 2014 #

    This track was basically new to me when it Popular-ed up a few weeks ago, and I gave it a 4 (agreeing with Tom). Well, I want to report it’s strange behavior in my consciousness since then. I find the melody hasn’t consciously stuck with me in that I can’t, right now say, recall how it goes (indeed when I try to actively recall it I always find myself sliding into M’s ‘Take A Bow’). Yet, on multiple occasions I’ve found myself humming something, wondered what the heck it is, only a few seconds later to recognize that it’s LWW. So the damn thing’s unconsciously catchy, or an unconscious earworm, at least for me. That’s an interesting phenomenon and achievement. Maybe I can and should stretch for a:
    5

  26. 76
    Another Pete on 22 Mar 2014 #

    Just heard his World Cup song on a tinny bedside radio first thing this morning. Even if England’s only highlight this year is a scrappy draw against Costa Rica they still wouldn’t be as gutless as that. Gary it’s for the World Cup not a John Lewis ad.

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