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Apr 14

VARIOUS ARTISTS – “Perfect Day”

Popular92 comments • 9,713 views

#777, 29th November 1997

PDay Charity covers as multi-artist jigsaw puzzles were a whiskery idea by this point, so it’s remarkable how startling and beguiling “Perfect Day” sounds. It’s a successful reinvention of the Band Aid concept that also more or less finishes it off: the next time I write about this kind of record, it’ll have explicit nostalgic overtones.

There are several things this record gets right. Firstly, it wasn’t a record. The “Perfect Day” collage was a video first – a promotional film for the BBC justifying its license fee – and it had a huge visual impact. Massive stars, enticingly shot, and – crucially – not collaborating. The point of Band Aid and USA For Africa was that the famine crisis had been big enough to bring all of pop together, but the BBC’s aim on “Perfect Day” was to celebrate its diversity, not its unity.

This made the film superb television – gorgeous, colour-saturated portraits of the musicians, a dramatic shift in tone and look every few seconds, and almost a decade before YouTube you couldn’t quite be sure you’d really seen its many surprises. Wait a minute, that was Shane MacGowan!?

The second right choice it makes is the song. The best reading I’ve seen of “Perfect Day” is from the wonderful Bowiesongs blog: it’s sung by a man whose life is so shot that “the perfect day for him is one that the good and prosperous people of the world would forget about in a week.” Whether it’s about heroin or not, it combines a lovely piano and string setting (courtesy of Mick Ronson – another Bowiesongs tip of the hat needed) and plain, halting vocals that turns out to be ideal for this recording’s purpose. There’s room for strong, dominating readings which take their cue from the orchestration – and there’s room for weaker or more idiosyncratic vocalists to take the song flat, like Lou Reed did. And, in fact, does here.

And that’s the third right choice – the idea on “Perfect Day” seems to have been for every performer to be as much themselves as they could possibly be. So Ian Broudie sounds more scouse than ever, Bowie more Sphinx-like, Heather Small more belting, and Huey from the Fun Lovin’ Criminals (somehow) sounds more of a dick.

It feels like the first time since the original Band Aid that someone has thought about how to make one of these Frankenrecords work aesthetically – instead of trying to smooth the juxtapositions over, revel in them. You can spot several places where the gear-shifts seem joyfully deliberate – Huey into Broudie; Boyzone’s timid harmonies shifting to Lesley Garrett; Tammy Wynette feeding Shane MacGowan the track’s best gag. It’s as good as any record that lets Bono have a go twice can be.

By the time “Perfect Day” finishes, with Tom Jones and Heather Small in an absurd, colossal reap-off, we’ve gone back beyond charity records and are firmly in an older entertainment tradition – the TV Christmas special. There’s a loveable, vaguely tacky pantomime ambience at work here – guest stars galore, in relaxed holiday mode – which overwrites any lingering remnants of the song’s original context or emotional heft, and in fact makes its bombastic arrangement enjoyable kitsch. You might say “Perfect Day”’s drive at the spectacular kills the feeling in the song – the specific line readings are mostly just singers performing themselves. But given how overwrought previous charity pass-the-parcels have been, this feels like a price worth paying.

There is one exception to this: Suede’s Brett Anderson drops his vowelly fruitiness for a grave, beaten-down “You’re going to reap just what you sow” to begin the song’s coda, making it sound more like a warning than Reed ever did. This, more than anything, nudged commentators to consider at the politics behind the record. Of course, the BBC didn’t create this simply to give Dr John and Laurie Anderson a Number One single – this is and remains an advert. The whole piece is an argument for the license fee, explicitly stated at the end: without that, you can’t have things like this. For once – between Blair’s election and the death of David Kelly – the BBC could make this case from a position of confidence, which to an unfriendly eye (and there were still many) might look close to hubris.

But if there’s one thing the BBC really had been proven good at, it was creating unusual and spectacular music juxtapositions. They’d had thirty-three years practise at this point. “Perfect Day” works in the same way Top Of The Pops once did, by taking everything happening in music and jumping around between it, making the contrasts the point of the show. But in 1997 TOTP was in decline, shunted opposite Coronation Street on a Friday and subject to perpetual failed relaunches. The new model of how music worked on the BBC was more cautiously curatorial – Matthew Bannister’s Radio 1, with its brief to serve a smaller audience with more explicit tastemaking and a deeper concern with that was cool.

“Perfect Day” straddles these two ideas. It’s a carefully compiled mixture of the current and the classic, of obscure and household names, which then rejects tastefulness in favour of delightful spectacle. It’s a marketing triumph and a lovely moment in the spotlight for some mostly deserving acts. But it’s also the BBC poised between its Top Of The Pops past and its Later With Jools Holland future, a future where the role of “the charts” already looks considerably murkier.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    Mark G on 4 Apr 2014 #

    Ferry’s covers from around that time are massively underrated (“The In Crowd” and “Hard Rain” particularly, but there are many others)

  2. 32
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 4 Apr 2014 #

    not by me!

  3. 33
    Billy Hicks on 4 Apr 2014 #

    The bit I’ll always remember – and that which stood out to me the most – was Sir Thomas Allen’s epic ‘YOU JUST KEEEEP ME HAAAANGING ONNNNN!’ baritone following Bono, perhaps more so as it was used as the final line of the shortened BBC trailers that aired once the full-length ones stopped. Characteristically going against most of the crowd, Bowie always irritated me on this (his comedy head-nod on “You made me forget myself” just looked like he was taking the piss) whereas I love Heather Small’s contribution, perhaps because to me her voice basically *is* the mid-1990s given M People’s radio domination from 1993 to 1995. Anything she sings makes me nostalgic and the bigger the better.

    I also, for years, thought Evan Dando was Bob Geldof.

    Definitely worth a look is a pre-Little Britain spoof from Matt Lucas and David Walliams in 2001, which might seem a bit simplistic in places but age 13 I thought it was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsK_DKkkGUE

  4. 34
    MikeMCSG on 4 Apr 2014 #

    Number one when I got married and played as last song at our reception as a consequence. Neither of us particularly liked it but it’s with us come what may.
    At the time I was fizzing at it (and a forthcoming U2 single) for giving Boyzone some credibility. Now I’m grateful you-know-who weren’t on it – perhaps a case of “You stick with your Cell Block H repeats on Channel 5 girls !”

  5. 35
    Cumbrian on 4 Apr 2014 #

    32: You’ve mentioned two of my favourite Ferry covers but I also have a major soft spot for “The Price of Love”, the re-readings of Roxy stuff that’re on “Let’s Stick Together” and his version of “Take Me To The River” (which he might have nicked inspiration from Talking Heads for, or the other way around – if anyone has any ideas as to the line of influence – if any – there, I am all ears).

  6. 36
    anto on 4 Apr 2014 #

    #14 – Good point. I’ve never thought of it as a drugs song either. When I think about it my favourite songs by Lou Reed are the ones like this or ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ or ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ – Never the most melodious singer but he had a real skill for writing non-abrasive tunes.

  7. 37
    wichitalineman on 4 Apr 2014 #

    Re 29: I hear Dr John’s contribution as a Noo Yoiky “poifict day” too – wasn’t coming from New Orleans his whole schtick though? Was he just trying to upstage Huey Morgan?

    Re Ferry: I thought I was sort of my own there… Hard Rain and Price Of Love at least equals the originals, The In Crowd destroys Dobie Gray’s version. These Foolish Things was one of the first albums I ever owned, given to me (along with Davy Graham’s first album, which I thought was boring, and two Tyrannosaurus Rex albums which I loved) by my mum’s workmate Grizelda.

  8. 38
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 4 Apr 2014 #

    Let’s Stick Together came out in Feb 78, More Songs abt B&F in July; but of course Talking Heads were playing in on-stage before they recorded it. I can’t think of a single Ferry cover version of a band or artist that “post-dates” him, however: unlike Bowie he seems neither anxious about nor interested in the current thing.

  9. 39
    glue_factory on 4 Apr 2014 #

    I mistook both Evan Dando (Michael Hutchence) and Dr John (Barry Adamson!)

  10. 40
    punctum on 4 Apr 2014 #

    #38: Let’s Stick Together was summer of ’76. The Bride Stripped Bare was BF’s ’78 album.

  11. 41
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 4 Apr 2014 #

    yes sorry, BSB is what I meant — it’s the one his version of “Take Me to the River” is on. I even looked it up to check and promptly forgot!

  12. 42
    Cumbrian on 4 Apr 2014 #

    #37: The One Week One Band on Ferry’s cover versions is pretty good, I think, if you’ve not read it.

  13. 43
    lonepilgrim on 4 Apr 2014 #

    I liked this at the time – it’s a gorgeous tune which most of the performers are unable to destroy and which a few do well. Bono is surprisingly acceptable and Brett Anderson and Emmylou Harris the standouts IMO. I don’t hate Heather Small’s voice as much as some do here although I can imagine that a whole albums worth of her might push me over the edge.

  14. 44
    weej on 4 Apr 2014 #

    I really can’t remember how impressed I was with it at first, but I remember pointing people out to my parents – “that’s Brett Anderson” “she’s in Morcheeba” and so on, and watching it again it’s nothing but a pleasant memory which even Boyzone can’t completely spoil. I wish the BBC had the confidence to make something like it again. Would it even be possible now, though? Music seems to have also moved on in some ways that might make it difficult.

    I remember being pleasantly surprised by it popping up at number one again after Christmas, making it one the few #1s to have runs in different years, don’t think that’s been mentioned yet.

  15. 45
    Another Pete on 4 Apr 2014 #

    #9 wrong Burning Spear. That was the name of a track by S.O.U.L. not this chap.

    One of the better charity singles that actually works thanks to the fact original is so flat, compared this to the forgettable 1999 VA charity offering ‘It’s only rock n’ roll’. Where clearly almost everyone on it at some point in their youth has pretended to be Mick Jagger in front of the mirror, and have finally been given the chance to do so on record.

  16. 46
    tonya on 4 Apr 2014 #

    I can’t imagine wanting to actually listen to this, all the different vocal styles are jarring. Maybe if you’d never heard the song, as in there’s no version of Do they know it’s Christmas where Paul Young sings everything and therefore Band-Aid sounds normal. As someone who knows the song (and likes my pop music sung by pop singers), I’d say it’s a nice tv ad that I would never want to hear on the radio.

  17. 47
    thefatgit on 4 Apr 2014 #

    I have a massive soft spot for Lou Reed. And I had plenty of goodwill towards “Perfect Day” being used in Trainspotting. Like Tarantino, Boyle has a finely tuned sense of which songs would be effective in his movie soundtracks.

    When the BBC appropriated PD for their promo, it was definitely a water-cooler moment with all the stars present, covering a multitude of genres. And there was Lou & Laurie smiling benignly on a vastly bloated and wasteful BBC arguing for its own existence, as if it mattered in the slightest to them. Huey. Evan Dando. Dr John. Emmylou Harris. Yeah, they all love the BBC so much, don’t they? (OK, Huey’s on the payroll these days). Oh, and please keep paying your licence fee, because all this wonderful musical diversity is only possible due to the unique way the BBC is funded. I wasn’t buying it for a second, but we were on the cusp of something, with cable and satellite pulling greater numbers of subscribers, many people were asking if “dear old Auntie Beeb” was relevant, or at all necessary. Even as a Sky subscriber, there were certain programmes on BBC that I felt a strong bond with. I was still a regular watcher of Eastenders in 1997 as well as Men Behaving Badly. The wealth of channels still didn’t dim my enthusiasm for long-running shows like Mastermind. Ground Force had just started as well with Earth Mother Charlie Dimmock and her water features (I could also mention a certain children’s programme, but Bunny is watching).

    But despite all this, I felt the licence fee on top of my Sky subscription was a bit cheeky. And it still is a bit cheeky, with the inflated salaries of its in-house talent and superfluous executives, lurching from one controversy to the next. PD being pulled into service to “save” an institution doesn’t deserve #1 status. Children In Need adds a sheen of respectability. In my mind, it’s still an advert.

  18. 48
    Andrew Farrell on 4 Apr 2014 #

    Some of the subtext here is presumably also “Sorry for that whole Received Pronunciation business”

  19. 49
    Andrew Farrell on 4 Apr 2014 #

    #46 I briefly misread you to mean that there was such a version, and you’d heard it before the Band-Aid version.

    Also of course Paul Young was thrown onto the opening lines at a moderately late point after they had originally been written for… David Bowie.

  20. 50
    iconoclast on 4 Apr 2014 #

    This is pleasant enough in its own way and generally the variety of voices works pretty well, although I agree with Punctum that it eventually loses its way. Starts out an 8, ends up a 6, therefore SEVEN.

    (Bunny alert: were the actual bunnies in the video serendipitously prophetic?)

  21. 51
    flahr on 4 Apr 2014 #

    “(This record is GREAT for pub imitations, too.)” OTM: 7.

  22. 52
    Pink champale on 4 Apr 2014 #

    I agree wholeheartedly on the brilliance of Ferry’s Hard Rain. One of the very few covers that is successful in giving the song a completely different meaning – while in doing so shining a light on something that was clearly in there from the start even if no one realised it. And not just by slower is more meaningful either. He really made it his own, as Louis would say

  23. 53
    Alfred on 4 Apr 2014 #

    sw00ds of Rockcritics.com and I recorded a 12-hour podcast on every Roxy/Ferry project through 2007. Ned Raggett joins us for a coda devoted to The Jazz Age: http://rockcriticsarchives.com/audiovisual/index-roxy.html

    I’m with sw00ds: the first Ferry covers album is a work of genius, and at a certain age eye-opening. A must read: http://oneweekoneband.tumblr.com/tagged/bryan_ferry_covers/chrono

  24. 54
    PurpleKylie on 4 Apr 2014 #

    As a 9 year-old pop fan at the time, this was naturally my first introduction to “Perfect Day” many years before I came across the original. I didn’t know who most of the artists involved were, I think I only recognised that M People woman, the Lightning Seeds bloke, Elton obviously and (puke) Boyzone (I hated them even back then).

    As for Adult Me now, I actually think this is one of the few (and probably the last) charity records that didn’t suck. And this is coming from someone who is veryyyyyy wary of cover versions. Obviously it doesn’t shine the shoes of the original but I still like it mainly for nostalgia. Thank you BBC!

  25. 55
    Pink champale on 4 Apr 2014 #

    Wow, that OWOB is fabulous. Haven’t yet started on the nine hour podcast though

  26. 56
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 4 Apr 2014 #

    not even indirectly, scott woods is the whole reason i know tom and am on freaky trigger: i posted something on rockcritics.com in 1999 or 2000 — about the paul morley “review of the top ten” that’s been linked several times — and tom sent me an email inviting me over to early-days ILM

    (i knew of scott via frank kogan: we were both contributors for frank’s why music sucks)

  27. 57
    swanstep on 5 Apr 2014 #

    @42, 53. Thanks for the OWOB Ferry Covers reference. Skimming through now, it looks very nice. A whole weekend’s reading and listening ahead perhaps: just a perfect day, Ferry covers in the park…

  28. 58
    wichitalineman on 5 Apr 2014 #

    Re 42: Thanks, I haven’t seen that, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

  29. 59
    Ed on 5 Apr 2014 #

    @25 Yep. The NME’s 1985 “99 best albums of all time” list has the first three Velvets albums, in chronological order, at #16, #35 and #60, and ‘Berlin’ as the only solo Lou at #70.

    That was the first proper written-down canon that I ever encountered, and if I’m being honest is still what I think of as the only true one.

  30. 60
    Ed on 5 Apr 2014 #

    Also in defence of Heather Small, surely you have to love her forever for the fantastic popist coup of winning the 1994 Mercury Prize over ‘Parklife’, that terrible Primal Scream album, and Ian sodding McNabb. (Admittedly, maybe The Prodigy had a right to feel aggrieved, but if ‘Music for the Jilted Generation’ had won they would have been given the prize for the wrong album.)

    Also @38, etc, on ‘Take Me to the River’: internet legend has it that Eno heard the Ferry version and decided to nick it for TH. Don’t know if it’s true, but it’s exactly the sort of thing he would have done.

    The definitive version of TMTTR, though, is of course this one:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXVq7VNUPx0

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