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Feb 14

GARY BARLOW – “Love Won’t Wait”

Popular79 comments • 6,776 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. 1
    Cumbrian on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Blimey – a free limited edition poster. Sign me up.

    This is, indeed, a lot better than Forever Love but that is not a difficult hurdle to clear. It does seem a bit like a return to TT form – with the crucial point there being that I liked the TT stuff that had other people involved in it, rather than being more pure Barlow productions. So using a song from someone else is going to win him some favours from me. That said, as a return to TT form, it also strikes me as suddenly quite dated – an early 90s sound which seems to have been supplanted by this point in the decade. It’s not a pleasant throwback either, I think.

    I hadn’t noticed the bit Tom mentions in the last paragraph there but I noticed the stuff in the second to last paragraph, because I had a similar problem with Back For Good. He strikes me as someone who would not be an ideal partner judging by those two songs at least – and thus difficult to warm to. All in all, not a one for me.

    I thought that Another Suitcase In Another Hall was performed by Peron’s mistress. What do they do to the story in the movie to have it come out of Evita’s mouth?

  2. 2
    iconoclast on 28 Feb 2014 #

    This glides along inoffensively and mildly catchily, but it’s nothing to get excited about, especially since he doesn’t seem to believe the words he’s singing. More of a B-side than anything else, really. FIVE.

  3. 3
    mapman132 on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Certainly much better than “Forever Love”, even borderline catchy. I’ll go 5/10. Video was mildly interesting. Is it based on a real location? Looks like a low tide road somewhere (Wikipedia says France, but maybe that’s just the soundstage).

    Just like its predecessor, this didn’t chart in the US. But interestingly its followup “So Help Me Girl” made #44. I have no memory of it but apparently it was a remake of a country song by Joe Diffie. I’m not interested enough to seek out either version though…

  4. 4
    Ronny on 1 Mar 2014 #

    @1 Indeed, but “Back to Good” knows it and exploits it, making him sound somewhat desperate and more sympathetic, even though you’re not exactly rooting for him.

    I’ve never heard this song before, and I doubt I’ll be listening to it again. Not interesting enough to really even be called “pleasant.”

  5. 5
    Tom on 1 Mar 2014 #

    Re the sleeve (and ‘featured’ picture) – seeing solo GB without his permascowl and permastubble is rather odd.

  6. 6
    Chelovek na lune on 1 Mar 2014 #

    I am really not convinced it’s better than “Forever Love”: while “Love Won’t Wait” is less sappy, and less incoherent lyrically, and a little less forgettable, than his debut, it is instead overwhelmingly, mindnumbingly bland – Tom’s point about GB appearing to have little feel for his material is an astute one, too. Not surprised Madonna turned it down – it is hardly a classic song in the first place. But in this version, the musical accompaniment and production is characterless, mass-produced, guff. It’s just horrible, seemingly intended to be heard primarily through car-based not-very-loudspeakers. Its chart run (1-6-19-28-37) pretty much puts this in the fanbase buy category too. Although it seems here, just as with its predecessor, GB was looking, prematurely, towards the Radio 2 audience more than Radio 1. But they were not yet ready (or yet Radio 2 listeners), and his material simply wasn’t up to scratch. So double fail. And what was he thinking.

    Apart from the previously much discussed “Open Road”, “For All That You Want” is about the only GB Mark I solo single I’ve any time for, even if that one, too, has it, and its performer’s limitations on open display, it has a certain non-scowling charm, and a certain joie de vivre pretty much absent here.

    Above all, this record serves as a useful reminder that Take That released a lot of rather mediocre singles before they really started to hit the mark. 2

  7. 7
    thefatgit on 1 Mar 2014 #

    Gary turns LWW into the archetypal friendzone record. And that’s the problem, because “friendzone” is indicative of male privilege and entitlement. The woman’s personal preference is secondary to the man’s needs. Awful as it may seem, this assumption didn’t register to most people back in the ’90s as a problem worth addressing. If the internet was worth shit in the 21st Century, as far as I was concerned, it was reading information that broke down just exactly what male privilege meant. Being brought up in a male dominated world with male needs prioritized above all else, meant a great deal of re-education. I can’t accept this song sung from a male perspective now.

    Listening to Madonna’s version sounds like a woman who’s been strung along by a guy who’s either cheating on her or not willing to commit. Classic guy traits both, and you can’t help but sympathise with her. It’s a double standard. It’s how we’re conditioned to react and it’s a trap. One way or another a guy gets found out. There’s no happy ending here if you’re born with the XY chromosome.

    The video just underlines Barlow’s predicament. As the object of his desire loses one button at a time on her shirt, she becomes more distant, more unobtainable, as if she were a prize to be won. Not once are we reminded that she is human and able to make her own choices. Love won’t wait? I see no evidence of love here.

  8. 8
    swanstep on 1 Mar 2014 #

    Haven’t had a chance to listen to Barlow’s version yet, but my understanding (which wiki supports) is that ‘Love won’t wait’ was a 1994 Madonna demo, i.e., a cast off from the sessions for the (excellent) Bedtime Stories album (it even ends with same ‘Goodbye’ cadence as ‘Take a Bow’) not from any scrapped album between Bedtime and Ray of Light. Also the idea that there was anything like decline/decay from Madonna at this point seems wrong. At least in the US, people were very burned out on the over-exposing/Cultural Studies Madonna of Like A Prayer/Vogue/Sex/Erotica (Madge 2.0), but she’d bounced back nicely with Bedtime as a more comfortably adult/middle-aged persona, and by 1997 we’re kind of midway through that middle-aged Madge 3.0 period that climaxes with Ray of Light and Music, and the comeback/transition to middle-age had already been made.

  9. 9
    Ed on 1 Mar 2014 #

    That wasn’t how most of us saw Madonna in Britain, I think. Bedtime Stories did not do great business over here: it peaked at number 2, and none of the singles topped the charts. In particular, Britain *hated* Take A Bow, which I know was a huge hit – her biggest? – in America, but only made it to number 16 in the UK.

    So when she came back with her bunny in 1998, it was seen as a real break from what she’d been doing for the past few years, and a genuine and successful reinvention. One of those often claimed “returns to form” that actually was a return to form.

  10. 10
    Tom on 1 Mar 2014 #

    #8 my understanding is that she started work on the album that became Bedtime Stories with Shep Pettibone, realised it wasn’t working, and junked the song(s) in favour of Babyface and what then became the Bedtime Stories album. So the “scrapped LP” is simply the first incarnation of BS not anything from after it. “Scrapped sessions” would be more accurate, though.

    And Ed’s right – this is one of those entries where the UK ness of the blog unapologetically shows. She was a steady but gently declining presence here and 1998 was seen as a comeback.

  11. 11
    Tom on 1 Mar 2014 #

    Global sales: Like A Prayer 15m, Erotica 6m, Bedtime Stories 7m, Ray Of Light 16m. In between BS and ROL you get Something To Remember (10m but mostly compilation) and Evita which Wikipedia is coy on.

    Which supports Swanstep’s and my positions both – this was indeed a mid-career slump with ROL as a definite comeback, but worldwide there were signs of recovery rather than continued decline.

  12. 12
    Auntie Beryl on 1 Mar 2014 #

    Like A Prayer had gone 4x Platinum in the UK, Erotica double, and Bedtime Stories just single platinum. So the sales awards for albums as well as singles paint a picture of decline.

    The next album ended up hextuple!

    See how we’ve already veered away from discussing Barlow on this thread? Love Won’t Wait is the second consecutive Popular chorus I couldn’t freely call to mind before revisiting on YouTube, and I haven’t been missing much. THREE.

  13. 13
    swanstep on 1 Mar 2014 #

    One of the joys of Popular ’97 so far is seeing lots of classic pop lexemes pop up: we’ve had a “mama” song, an “ain’t no” song, a “don’t” song, and now a “wait” song. ‘Waiting’ is such a succulent topic for pop music; I have at least 60 “wait”-songs in my iTunes including convincing recent entries from Savages – one of their best in my view -, Grimes, London Grammar, and Holychild. And pop is richly contradictory on the topic: there are as many proclamations of willingness to wait (offered perhaps as a criterion for love, e.g., ‘True Love Waits’) as announcements of refusal to wait.

    So, what does Gary Barlow have to offer (even relative say to the 3 previous Popular items on the theme from Diana Ross, George M. & Aretha, and, especially, The Kinks)? Not much as it happens. The track burbles inoffensively along without ever quite making the case for its own existence, and losing some of tenderness and winning tentativeness of Madonna’s demo. I appreciate some of Barlow’s departures from Madonna’s template, esp. the exciting repetition of the ‘Don’t wait too long/or I’ll be gone’ couplet at the end of the second chorus. It’s as though the massed vocal of ‘Never Forget’ (which retrospectively is sounding better and better) is going to burst through through the surface of LWW and kick things into another gear. Alas not. I guess it has to be said that Madonna’s lyrics aren’t her strong-point. At their best they’re optimized for her particular voice and personality, so they’re actable by *her*, which often poses real problems for other interpretations unless the interpreter leads with some banzai new arrangement. Barlow hasn’t done the latter here and the underlying song just doesn’t do him many favors, so, yes, agree:
    4

  14. 14
    lonepilgrim on 1 Mar 2014 #

    I began to feel somewhat uncomfortable that much of the appeal of Blood on the Dancefloor was interpreting to it as evidence of MJs pathology and wondered whether I should be more charitable towards everyman Gary Barlow. The problem is that GB wants to present himself as a wounded soul in this song and fails – as nothing about it speaks of any depth of feeling. The vocal is laboured and the music sounds like a bedroom demo – all preset rhythms and tones. More money and imagination seems to have been spent on the video – although its undercutting of an illusion of depth serves as an unconscious(?) commentary on the song itself.

  15. 15
    mapman132 on 1 Mar 2014 #

    #9 In terms of chart performance (7 weeks at #1), “Take a Bow” was technically Madonna’s biggest US hit. However, this is severely skewed by the Hot 100 methodology switching to Soundscan in 1991, yielding much longer stays at #1 that we still see today. Certainly, her two “Like A” hits as well as “Vogue” and many others had a much bigger US impact overall.

    As to the larger point, I’m going to disagree with #8. I can’t say how far Madonna’s star fell in the UK vs. the US, but she still seemed at a low ebb in the US in 1997, at least in my mind. There might have been slight rumblings of a comeback but it really didn’t happen until the following year.

  16. 16
    taDOW on 1 Mar 2014 #

    she had been omnipresent in that second imperial phase after like a prayer in a way she hadn’t been even during the madonna wannabe era – there was a cultural importance afforded to her that hadn’t been in 84 and she didn’t have mj/prince/springsteen stealing the spotlight. there was also a political aspect to her being that wasn’t there in 84 either, and this probably played a part in the backlash circa sex/erotica/body of evidence (a kind of negative synergy at work there) and erotica in particular underperforming. adult contemporary had always been a huge component of her success and survival past initial bellybutton phase when alot of ppl assumed surely she was a flash in the pan and bedtime stories allowed her to regroup via that aspect of her work and she managed to not capitulate entirely to the reactionaries (she wasn’t sorry as she let us know) by mixing it w/ r&b and aligning her self w/ the dominant hit formula in the us during the 90s – r&b/ac crossover. bedtime stories did well, better than erotica but really ‘take a bow’ did phenomenally and the other singles performed comparably to the erotica singles. by 97 there was definitely a sense that she might be over as an interesting pop figure – the courtney love incident at the vmas made her seem a bit old guard and the cw was that she would become a straight up ac artist if she wasn’t one already. alot of ‘the kids don’t even listen to madonna yknow’ pieces and when ray of light came out spin did a jukebox jury w/ ‘the youth’: http://bit.ly/ME2sJF. anyhow r&b has never done particularly well in the uk, marginally better than gary barlow has done in the us, so it’s predictable that it wouldn’t work as a way of stabilizing her chart presence there. as for the actual record here 4 seems fair.

  17. 17
    flahr on 1 Mar 2014 #

    Hasn’t R&B been the dominant musical paradigm in the UK for at least the past ten years?

  18. 18
    taDOW on 1 Mar 2014 #

    has it? can’t find a top chart artists of the decade lists for the uk for the 2000s but looking at the best selling albums there isn’t a single r&b album in the top 25 (vs robbie williams albums) and only one r&b single (maybe two – have no idea who alexandra burke is) in the top 25 best selling singles. that could be misleading though cuz looking at best selling albums for the us for the 2000s there’s only one r&b album in the top ten and on a year by year basis generally only one or two r&b albums in the top ten. in billboard’s decade end top artists list however you have four r&b artists in the top ten. the top singles (us) of the decade has four r&b in the top ten (vs six in the top ten for the 90s). ftr nearly halfway thru this decade there is only one r&b single in the top ten (guess who), and that single is almost perfectly engineered to be the exception that proves the rule in terms of the general vanishing of r&b from the charts in the us this decade. my impression is that the pop model currently dominant on us charts/radio has been the dominant model in the uk for awhile but i’m not nearly as familiar w/ the data as some of you.

  19. 19
    taDOW on 1 Mar 2014 #

    and obv in the us where there has been a strong r&b presence on the charts from ray charles/sam cooke until somewhat recently r&b tracks generally required some degree of pop compromise to crossover hence erykah badu’s greatest pop success coming when she briefly crossed over to ac, rick james being a giant in r&b but a one or two hit wonder viewed thru a pop prism, and the gulf between james brown’s success on the r&b chart and the pop chart. when madonna ‘went r&b’ she was meeting something halfway that had already met pop halfway to begin with.

  20. 20
    AMZ1981 on 1 Mar 2014 #

    I must admit I’d forgotten the context of Madonna’s involvement; namely that she was coming out of an artistic slump but her 1998 rebirth wasn’t yet obvious; but it was obvious then that the great hope of British pop was relying on a Madonna hand me down. Still, at least it got to number one, it would have beaten Old Before I Die in a head to head and had the highest sales for a number one since WDYTYA’s second week. There was a fanbase which dissipated shortly after – was this the last time Take That fans rallied around their hero?

    A few stats. The 1-6 drop has been mentioned; Love Won’t Wait was the second number one in a row to drop out of the top five after a week, the third in four number ones to do so and the fifth in 1997. It was the eighth one week wonder in 1997 from eleven chart toppers. I mention this because, after this – against all odds – the chart stabilises. There are only four one weekers left in 1997; all otherwise strong crossover records and a year would elapse until the next record to drop straight out of the top five.

    Also the chart when LWW was at the top set what I think is a new record thus far; the top three were all new entries. All were fanbase records; George Michael (still Barlow’s closest comparison point) was at two with Star People and John Squire’s new band the Seahorses were at three with Love Is The Law.

  21. 21
    Izzy on 2 Mar 2014 #

    Oof, The Seahorses.

    Is George Michael really a fan base artist? I’ve never thought of him as such; rather I’d’ve said he transcended fanbase by the sheer scale of his success with Faith. Certainly I couldn’t think of what a group of ‘George Michael fans’ might look like – whereas with Barlow and Squire it’s easy.

  22. 22
    Paulito on 2 Mar 2014 #

    @9 “Britain *hated* Take A Bow” is a rather dramatic way of saying that the single was only a moderate success, no?

  23. 23
    flahr on 2 Mar 2014 #

    18 surely ‘pop’ is the dominant musical paradigm in uk pop music by definition!

    (actually i suspect this is a purism thing – you are actually informed and therefore go ‘what do you mean emeli sandé fool she is NEO-SOUL not R&B’, but i used the word ‘paradigm’ deliberately: for at least the last decade most pop music has been influenced by R&B* even if perhaps little of it fits the strict definition of R&B)

    *moreso than by boyz-wif-guitarz or, uh, germanz-wif-synthz

  24. 24
    swanstep on 2 Mar 2014 #

    Interesting for me to hear others’ perspectives on mid-’90s Madonna. I thought her putting out a solid album with four pretty good singles (mainly top ten- and specialty-chart bothering rather than #1 smasheroos) wasn’t a decline or a retreat as such, but a good long-run move to be (at least for a period) a less culturally commanding/exhausting, more sustainable presence. I tend to think that having ascended so quickly to “cultural studies Madonna 2.0”-type commanding heights of the cultural economy, Gaga now needs her own Bedtime Stories-type detox/relaxation/austerity period, but maybe my sense of the ebbs and flows of these matters is eccentric.

  25. 25
    Carpenter Studios on 2 Mar 2014 #

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  26. 26
    AMZ1981 on 2 Mar 2014 #

    #21 George Michael hadn’t been a fanbase artist up to that point but Star People’s 2-14-32 chart run suggests it wasn’t bringing in many new fans.

  27. 27
    Mark G on 2 Mar 2014 #

    Well, I don’t recall it at all, it would presumably render as a ‘pointless answer’ to all but the fanbase.

  28. 28
    wichitalineman on 2 Mar 2014 #

    When I heard the bridge I thought “Ahh, I remember this…” but then realised it sounded exactly like the Coca Cola “Holidays are coming” jingle, which is what I actually remembered.

    I’m still humming it to myself ten minutes after listening to it. The definition of a 4.5, if such a mark existed.

  29. 29
    Rich on 3 Mar 2014 #

    #20 Possibly worth noting the week after this one (17/5/97) saw 20 new entries in the top 40, which I do not recall being matched or beaten.

  30. 30
    Mark G on 3 Mar 2014 #

    #27, for clarity’s sake I should add I mean “Star People” not Gary’s tune which I do recall but am unmoved by.

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