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Aug 14

B*WITCHED – “To You I Belong”

Popular23 comments • 1,540 views

#807, 19th December 1998

blong The wintry sleeve and video make the game here obvious even if the song doesn’t – B*Witched’s third single is a notional shot at the Christmas Number One. Its chances were ceremonial – as a release date politely ahead of the Spice Girls’ post-Geri blubfest suggests, “To You I Belong” was only ever expecting to be a runner up on the big day. As an unofficial teaser, though, it had the desired commercial effect, nudging Cher aside for a modest week.

So it’s worth pointing out, before we take on the final Spice Christmas event – and since “Goodbye” is interesting in mostly unfestive ways – how the girls had locked down the idea of the Christmas Number One, to the extent that B*Witched putting their first big ballad into the Christmas chart scramble seemed absolutely sensible. It’s not the Spicers’ most notable achievement, spotting a market for mistletoe balladry and playing it straight (no plastering these records with bells, thank goodness), but it worked for them very well.

Like “2 Become 1” and “Goodbye”, “To You I Belong” has nothing to do with Christmas, beyond an inkling that some of the single’s buyers will be hoping for a holiday snog. Instead it’s the B*Witched song where they go full Celtic Moods, taking the “My Heart Will Go On” production blueprint and unabashedly rolling with it. The needles are pushing fully into the emerald here, to an extent even the Ireland Eurovision committee might blanche at. As is becoming traditional with B*Witched, I think it’s rather good. There’s a lot of the same first-romance wistfulness here as in “Viva Forever”, and if the tune isn’t as memorable as Celine’s the performance is better for being less imperious. Only the click-clack unfolding of an utterly standard 90s ballad beat does much to kill the mood. Not for the first time, the ersatz Spice Girls come enjoyably close to stealing big sister’s clothes.

6

Comments

  1. 1
    JLucas on 4 Aug 2014 #

    On the subject of Eurovision, it’s interesting that just during the era that the Celtic ballad fell out of favour in the contest – replaced by hi-NRG Europop from the likes of Dana International and Charlotte Nilsson – they fell back into favour with the mainstream record buying public. It started with Celine and Titanic, and while B*Witched were playing to a slightly younger market there’s no doubt they were influenced by it.

    This does sound very Eurovision indeed, which is no insult coming from me. Classic Irish signifiers are a very easy way to shorthand warmth in a record, and it’s a sound that became wearyingly over-familiar as the likes of Westlife and The Corrs emerged as major chart forces. I think To You I Belong pulls it off though – it’s a fairly slight piece, but it’s constructed and delivered with just enough conviction to avoid the whiff of cynicism.

    A big step up from the underwhelming ‘Rollercoaster’ and their best number one up to this point. But even at their best B*witched were no Spice Girls and To You I Belong is no Viva Forever, so I’ll give it a solid 8.

  2. 2
    mapman132 on 5 Aug 2014 #

    Wow, unusual amount of Bunny-baiting in that review, Tom!

    Anyhow, we finally get to the number one song during the first half of my stay in London (before heading through the Chunnel to Paris), and…it doesn’t ring any bells at all. Reminds me a lot of “2 Become 1″ though. Can’t remember what I gave that, but I figure this is worth 6/10.

    Side note: For some reason finding a US-viewable version of the official TYIB video proved nearly impossible. Lyric and fan-made videos existed but for the official video I finally settled on some barely viewable 144p version on some obscure off-brand site. I was never able to see the UK version of the Rollercoaster video either (I viewed the US version fine). Running into regional video embargoes is rare enough to me that I would’ve never expected it here. Apparently there must be a fear of B*witched videos falling into the wrong hands and being used to nefarious ends by those of us west of the Atlantic! Who knew?

  3. 3
    swanstep on 5 Aug 2014 #

    @mapman132. No play of the official TYIB video down under either. Weird (and almost certainly injurious to B*witched’s ability to play, for example, summer nostalgia/winery tours here – what are they thinking?).

    TYIB strikes me as entirely unmemorable (I’ve already forgotten it). Makes (the in my view poor) Viva Forever seem like a masterpiece:
    3 (but I accept that I’m drifting further and further out of synch with Popular appreciation)

  4. 4
    Martin F. on 5 Aug 2014 #

    The hook to this always felt to me like a pre-chorus build in search of a payoff that never comes. That said, the overall impression is a pleasant one (if – as noted above – squarely aimed at a “2 Become 1-lite” feel, if that isn’t enough to make it float away altogether).

    It’s a 6, I think?

  5. 5
    punctum on 5 Aug 2014 #

    We are now nearly done with 1998, and the video for “To You I Belong” clearly indicates a play for the Christmas number one, which they would have managed had it not been for a familiar group of last-minute seasonal entrants. The introductory Celtic fiddle and tin whistle ruminations briefly put one in doubt about the wisdom of this ballad, and the title must initially have looked disappointing to an audience who might have preferred something along the lines of “To Us You Belong.”

    But, as we have come to expect with the group, there is rather more to the song than meets the casual ear. Its slow motion suggests an attempt at their own “2 Become 1” but the underlying lyrical sentiment, as exemplified by “I cried for you when I hurt my hand…/I called for you, you were there,” reveals “To You I Belong” as their “Mama.” A parental tribute whose multiple water breaking metaphors were far from lost with the young female fans who loved the group – “When the waves broke/I drew a heart for you in the sand/In fields where dreams/Turn to rivers/I ran to you, you were there” – it traces a extremely subtle line charting the typically messy progress of growing up, adolescence, puberty and finally adulthood, and always the most important figure in her life is there for her, whichever storms break. It doesn’t achieve the spacious otherness of “2 Become 1” but its final half-turn into a maternal shoulder of a majestic chord change on the titular line of the chorus is a moment of assured punctum. It offers a direction home. 6 (in honour of Junction 6, the A40 turnoff which, depending on which direction you approach it, leads back to Oxford and leads back to London)

  6. 6
    lonepilgrim on 5 Aug 2014 #

    I love this – the slightly awkward construction of the title, the timeless, mysterious quality of the lyrics (Whenever dark turns to night /And all the dreams sing their song) and the Celtic instrumentation put me in mind of something like ‘She moved through the fair’.

  7. 7
    chelovek na lune on 5 Aug 2014 #

    I think this is rather lovely, and by far their best number one to date (these final two words contributing my joining in with the bunny-baiting). Yes, it’s potentially a bit wallpaperish, and it doesn’t quite get out of second gear (should it? not sure…) but there is a depth and sensitivity and warmth there that is really appealing. 7

  8. 8
    Rory on 5 Aug 2014 #

    Not my cup of Barry’s. 4.

  9. 9
    PurpleKylie on 5 Aug 2014 #

    This was my fave B*Witched song back in the day, I just thought it was so lovely. My older and more musically-trained ears now pick up the massive Celticness of the song which my 10 year-old self didn’t at the time.

    And it’s funny you bring up Eurovision because I was going to comment that this would’ve been an ideal late-90s Irish Eurovision entry (and is better than any of the entries that Ireland DID send in the late 90s in my opinion, when RTE went into full blown My Lovely Horse-mode to avoid winning for the billionth time that decade, and to be honest, are still in My Lovely Horse-mode).

    #1: It certainly helped that 1997-onwards brought in public televoting to decide the outcome of the contest, that caused the shift in musical direction of the winners from then on. Which was likely brought on due to Gina G’s song having massive commercial success but the stuffy Eurovision juries in 1996 were having none of it, and let some pretentious snoozefest that the public couldn’t give two monkeys about win instead.

  10. 10
    Tom on 5 Aug 2014 #

    #9 Oh I think this would have been easily, EASILY, the best Ireland entry I’m aware of even, let alone the best late 90s one. On the Dana thread long ago I put forward the horrible hypothesis that Dana – despite being a pretty woeful record! – is Ireland’s best Eurovision winner, and I’d stand by that. “Rock N Roll Kids” I remember making me particularly furious.

  11. 11
    iconoclast on 5 Aug 2014 #

    The Irish touches – most notably the flattened seventh chord at the end of the chorus – aren’t too bad, but the whole thing sounds rather strained, the musical equivalent of trying to do dance moves to a ballad. It doesn’t really develop into anything, and the backing is over busy, and it’s all quite pretty, but not very distinguished. SIX.

  12. 12
    Another Pete on 5 Aug 2014 #

    I have no recollection of this whatsoever. We use to have the local commercial radio station on in the office, most likely they were too busy playing ‘all the Christmas classics’ to bother with this one.

    That’s not the most flattering photo of Sinead on the cover. It makes her look like Steve Buscemi or Mackenzie Crook overplaying a henchman, secretly pleased the scheme to lure her band-mates to the Fortress of Solitude (albeit the supermarket own brand version) has actually worked.

  13. 13
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Aug 2014 #

    I’d forgotten quite how successful we’d been – by the time of the 1998 Eurovision, we’d won 4 of the last six, and come 2nd on one of the others. In fact, we’d come in the top three in half of the contests we’d appeared in since 1977.

    I wouldn’t say this is _better_ than Irlande Douze Pointe, but they’re playing a different game.

  14. 14
    chelovek na lune on 5 Aug 2014 #

    Oh, no doubt this is better than “Irlande Douze Pointe” (oh, the dispute about referring to “Macedoine” without “l’ex Republique Yougoslave” that got the Greeks so worked up and forced the lyrics to be reworked is just too much.) But then again I still have a soft spot for Niamh Kavanagh’s “In Your Eyes”….

  15. 15
    Kinitawowi on 6 Aug 2014 #

    That sucker in me that fell hook, line, sinker, rod and copy of Angling Times for the Spice Girls’ better ballads completely went for this, too. The Oirish lilts are just wistful enough to be effective, it’s sweet, it’s slight in the best possible way (B*Witched doing a power ballad would have failed miserably), and in keeping with a recurring theme I’ve noticed over the last few entries, it’s the last single I ever bought. Technically that’s cheating – I bought it a few weeks after the fact, and I picked up another one before then that I sold when I got its parent album for Christmas (and yes, the bunny is watching), but this is definitely the last one I still own.

    And I wish it had been Christmas Number One, but ultimately I think they were savvy enough to know that the Spice Girls could have released a turd on a stick and they’d have got there instead.

    9.

  16. 16
    thefatgit on 6 Aug 2014 #

    This is a perfectly fine and well executed Irish pop ballad by B*Witched. Shame I just can’t get excited about it.

  17. 17
    James BC on 7 Aug 2014 #

    This marks a crumbling of venerable chart records. For a long time the only acts whose first three singles got to number one were Gerry and the Pacemakers and Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

    Then Robson and Jerome did it – but they could easily be considered a one-off that didn’t conform to the usual rules.

    Then the Spice Girls did it – but they were a legitimate phenomenon.

    Then B*witched did it and I had to concede that the old records, and number one hits in general, weren’t going to mean as much from now on.

    The song itself is probably OK but I much preferred their chirpy ones. No matter how well executed, no one needs a B*witched ballad.

  18. 18
    punctum on 7 Aug 2014 #

    You missed out Jive Bunny.

  19. 19
    wichitalineman on 7 Aug 2014 #

    Gerry & the Pacemakers, I’d argue, have no more pop cultural heft than Aqua or B*witched.˚ I own records by all three. None of them are the Beatles, but you can’t take the three number ones stat away from them. This is effectively B*witched’s You’ll Never Walk Alone – now there’s a thought.

    I’m happy to agree with the consensus on this – underplayed rather than slight. I admire the way B*witched – and the team behind them – both knew their limitations and played up to their endearing gaucheness. So, they are more than capable of delivering a ballad, but not with the castanets and extra ornamentation of Viva Forever, or the “put it on” bluntness of 2 Become 1. To You I Belong is perfectly weighted, and sweet without ever being cloying. Even the Spice Girls occasionally suffered on that front.

    ˚Kop appropriation aside, though that’s more down to Rodgers & Hammerstein than Marsden, Marsden, Chadwick & Maguire.

  20. 20
    jim5et on 7 Aug 2014 #

    I can’t help hearing Sandcastles in the Sand when I hear this. It’s the slight air of Early Madonna Ballad in the bass, as much as anything. None of this is supposed to be negative: 6

  21. 21
    James BC on 7 Aug 2014 #

    Oh yeah, Jive Bunny as well.

    Oh yeah, Aqua as well.

    Not sure why it was B*Witched doing it that I found particularly annoying. Probably because I was 16.

  22. 22
    Billy Hicks on 11 Aug 2014 #

    I can log in again!! Just in time to review the only B*Witched #1 I’m not immediately familiar with, so it’s a Spotify check for this one. And I’m disappointingly underwhelmed – ‘C’est La Vie’, ‘Rollercoaster’ and Blame It On The Bunny are all so strong this feels distinctly lacking in comparison. Bored already and I’m only halfway through it.

  23. 23
    ciaran on 18 Aug 2014 #

    Not a bad effort considering the letdown that was Rollercoaster.

    Inevitable that they would go down the ballad route and although more upbeat stuff would be more suited to them they dont do a bad job of this.

    One listen is pleasant enough. Agree with Toms score.

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