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Jul 15

S CLUB 7 – “Never Had A Dream Come True”

Popular28 comments • 2,189 views

#884, 9th December 2000

sclubnever “Never Had A Dream Come True” is enjoyably drippy, but does nothing to shake my sense that S Club 7 are the blandest proposition of this pop era. Like their other early records, it’s aimed at kids, and it feels aimed at kids: a Fisher-Price heartbreak set, a ballad which is as much a teaching aid for what ballads are like as a track in its own right. It doesn’t do its job at all badly, though. It fills the mulled December ballad gap the Spice Girls left behind, and the decision to drop the band element and give the whole track to Jo O’Meara works, gives the heartache a consistency and intensity the song probably wasn’t strong enough to sustain with a group vocal. There’s an air of innocent sincerity to this despite its functional TV show origins, one that lets it get away with its purely textbook sentiment. It’s an ordinary song done as well as it could have been.

Its lack of features makes “Never Had” a good moment to talk about its plush sponsor, Pudsey Bear, and the BBC’s annual Children In Need telethon. Like the BBC that runs it, Children in Need is an umbrella organisation, essentially redistributive, where eye-catching children’s causes that could probably manage without its support are used to raise skiploads of money; money that can also be funneled to smaller, less photogenic, just as worthy projects. Also like the BBC, Children in Need is respected in its profession and more generally loved by the public. It’s been running since 1980, bear mascot and all, a fixed point in the Autumn schedules. Of course, it didn’t take long to dabble in charity singles.

But unlike Comic Relief, which has scored a bullseye – sometimes two – nearly every year it’s run since 1995, Children In Need’s hitmaking record has a fascinating trace of BBC inefficiency. The year Comic Relief was starting its run, with 1995’s “Love Can Build A Bridge”, Children In Need put forward the number sixty smash “You Better Believe It (Children In Need)” by Patsy Palmer and Sid Owen. It’s not flopped quite as poorly since, though it has a potent record of picking artists just past their peak, backing unloved reunions (”Headlines (Friendship Never Ends)” bore its brand), and few charity records are as dumbfounding as Gary Barlow teaming up with a pop-grime package tour line-up for a version of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”. Only the BBC – and Children In Need – would greenlight that. It struggled to #24.

The nature of Popular is that we’ll meet the times Children In Need get it right, which are mostly less interesting. “Never Had A Dream Come True” is probably the best of them, glutinous in spots – that bloody stardust effect again – but reputable, easy to imagine kids buying and liking in its own right. Hard to object to. Except that, inevitably in a market defined by a tight turnover of release dates – this kind of TV tie-in pop could gradually begin to eat up the chart calendar. First Comic Relief, then Children In Need – why not other charitable moments? And if a charity TV show can get a hit more or less to order, why couldn’t a commercial one? The reality TV era – which would eventually give O’Meara enough rope to end her dreams for good – was well underway by now onscreen, and looms ahead of us on Popular. It would part viewers from money in ways that made telethons seem herbivorous, and the charts would be fully implicated.

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Comments

  1. 1
    JLucas on 6 Jul 2015 #

    If Steps vs S Club was Blur vs Oasis for key-change enthusiasts, I for one fell firmly on the side of Steps. As I believe I’ve mentioned earlier, Steps felt like they were making great pop music that was marketed to children, whereas S Club 7 felt like they were making pop music for children. Consequently, I find that their material has held up for less well than the best Steps moments.

    That said, this is probably my favourite S Club song, and certainly their best ballad. The lyrics and production still mark it out as a little juvenile, but there’s a strong melody here and O’Meara delivers a surprisingly sincere lead vocal. Alongside their next chart topper, it’s probably the closest they come to a song that could stand apart from their brand.

    In America – where their TV show was popular and they sold a few albums, but struggled to find a place on mainstream radio – this was their only singles chart entry and a bona fide hit, peaking at #10 on the Hot 100 in April 2001. The release of Don’t Stop Movin’ was unfortunate enough to coincide with the September 11 attacks, where the song was obviously completely out of step with the national mood and sank without trace.

    A high 7 for this.

  2. 2
    Phil on 6 Jul 2015 #

    key-change enthusiasts

    Thesis: the ubiquitous key-change – which can make a song genuinely hard to play & makes the simplest chord sequence at least mildly challenging* – represents an unconscious reaction by chart-oriented pop mass-producers against the ironed-flat blandness of the music they were turning out: as if to say, let’s get something in there…

    Antithesis: actually you’ll hear a lot more ironed-flat blandness, musically speaking, in the work of Lou Reed (say) than that of SAW; Matt Aitken was never one to rest content with a I-V-IV progression if he thought the song was asking for I-vi-IV-ii-V7-vi, or something equally fancy. (And he was going to be playing the thing, so no skin off anyone’s nose.)

    Synthesis: a lot of thought often (usually? always??) goes into purpose-built chart pop, which means that it’s more complicated than it sounds – purposely so, as a lot of work goes into keeping the complicated stuff below decks where it won’t scare anyone away. So: yes to fiddly chords, no to fiddly tunes and a definite no to fiddly words or ideas (unless you’re Pete Sinfield writing for Bucks Fizz, that is). And jacking everything up by a full tone – turning a user-friendly D/G/A chord progression into a more thought-provoking E/A/B – is a perfect example of musical sophistication which doesn’t sound it.

    *Unless you (a) play guitar and (b) play absolutely everything with barre chords, as Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle (and probably many others) used to. Vini Reilly said once that when he saw the Pistols (presumably at the Free Trade Hall) this was the main thing that struck him: not Rotten’s attitude but Steve Jones’s barre chords. Even on the sandpaper album I don’t think that was all he was playing, though.

  3. 3
    thefatgit on 6 Jul 2015 #

    Not feeling this one at all. If it’s perceived that kids need to be led gently by the hand into ballad territory, what does it say about the adults guiding them? I think kids find out for themselves what ballads are for, to be honest. Kids have quite an instinctive ear for what works for them and what doesn’t. Seeing some young adults getting up to hi-jinks on TV, suddenly slowing the pace is either going to be accepted for what it is, or the kids will go out and kick piles of leaves to relieve the boredom. I for one, sympathise with the kids out in the garden. (3)

  4. 4
    AMZ1981 on 6 Jul 2015 #

    I suppose the most remarkable thing about this song is that we’re discussing it at all. After Bring It All Back S Club 7 managed a hat trick of number two hits (including their most enduring song) and a number three I’d completely forgotten about. So Never Had A Dream Come True did at least restore their chart fortunes and kicked off theior most fertile phase chartwise – their biggest hit at the time comes next.

    There is something else interesting about this one; according to Wikipedia it made number 10 in the US charts; their only hit over there. Given that America scarcely needed rather limp balladry performed by British stage school kids I’m at a loss to explain why this one song of theirs took off so strongly there.

  5. 5
    Chelovek na lune on 6 Jul 2015 #

    S Club 7 (while indeed being too blatantly aimed at kids, with that tiresome Disney wholesomeness shopping mall conventionality consumerism thing going on too) were generally much better on faster tracks, sometimes really good, (as we shall see again…although I maintain that nearly-but-not-quite-a-bunny “You” is their best single), and at best, approaching emotionless tedium on ballads. Like here.

    Not horrible, cute melody, cute sentiment, but, gah, leave this kind of thing to the stage, this is real Bonnie Langford stuff. 5

  6. 6
    flahr on 6 Jul 2015 #

    See even though I don’t remember “Independent Women Part 1” at all I do remember this from the time, which I guess means it’s objectively better by the Rules Of Pop or some su

  7. 7
    Andrew Farrell on 6 Jul 2015 #

    I think their most enduring song is probably the next one we’ll meet, but time enough for that when it appears.

  8. 8
    Mark G on 7 Jul 2015 #

    So, what this means, is that they never had a dream, if you apply the “Happy Talk” dictum.

  9. 9
    mapman132 on 7 Jul 2015 #

    Their token US hit: peaked at #10 on the Hot 100. Duller than I remember. 4/10 sounds about right.

  10. 10
    flahr on 7 Jul 2015 #

    “Given that America scarcely needed rather limp balladry performed by British stage school kids…”

    I would suggest that the crop of current British ‘pop’ successes in America somewhat give the lie to that statement – but ‘fortunately’ for us there’s a lot of bunnying involved in discussing that further :(

  11. 11
    Phil on 7 Jul 2015 #

    Just listened to this, or part of it, and remembered it instantly. The arrangement is both syrupy and plasticky, but the lead vocal is passable verging on quite good. I’d go as high as 5 or 6, particularly for the chorus – which has a nice, memorable shape to it – but knock it back to 4 for the nagging suspicion that it’s a shameless ripoff of something by David Gates or Neil Diamond. Put it this way, you can just hear Westlife covering this song…

  12. 12

    vini reilly wasn’t at the free trade hall

  13. 13
    lonepilgrim on 7 Jul 2015 #

    the video manages to reduce each band member’s skin tone to a bland peach so that they look like a bunch of pastel oompa-loompas in a whiteout. The music and lyrics are equally bland. Not one for the ages, nor a moment of thrill-power either.
    I am no fan of Children in Need – a self congratulatory PR stunt for the celebs with the sums it raises no substitute for properly funded health and social care. Since Band Aid pop stars have been willing participants in these charidee events but the sums they raise are a fig leaf for the iniquities of neoliberalism.

  14. 14
    wichitalineman on 7 Jul 2015 #

    Re 13: We’ve reached the shiny peach/brown era, hair and skin exactly the same colour and all sort of greasy. Rachel Stevens and a bunch of Feline Bunnies were exemplars of the look. It made me feel physically ill at the time, like they’d been dipped in Sunny Delight that had gone off; now it looks like a particularly bad fake tan.

    This is, for me, their best song by a distance. Yes, it could have been Westlife; it could also have been a melismatic nightmare in the hands of a “better” singer. But, as has been said, it was aimed at children who didn’t want or need gymnastics, just a memorable tune, and that’s to the record’s advantage. Racist Jo plays it very well and doesn’t sound like she’s talking down to anyone – it’s a sincere performance.

    The leap up to “I pretend…” on the chorus is an exemplary bit of songwriting, perfectly handled by Jo with a slight crack in her voice, barely detectable, yet just enough to make the chorus hit home.

    (As for its lack of endurance, they really underplayed the production. It’s no less Christmassy than Stay Another Day – given a few sleigh bells and chimes on the last chorus it could still be a TOTP2 regular. Were there two videos, or do I have a shameful false memory of S Club in eskimo outfits?)

  15. 15
    enitharmon on 7 Jul 2015 #

    FatGit @3 If it’s perceived that kids need to be led gently by the hand into ballad territory, what does it say about the adults guiding them?

    A ballad is properly something that tells a story in verse. I’m not quite sure when it degenerated into a slow, sentimental song (‘sentimental’ became degraded itself somewhere between Laurence Sterne’s Sentimental Journey and Doris Day’s – a sentimental ballad from the 18th century would be a different and altogether more exciting thing) but the rot had already set in before I was borne. I’m not sure that the audience for S Club 7 had much need for the modern, self-pitying form but I can’t help thinking that a Sterneian sentimental ballad would go down a storm with a pre-pubescent audience.

    Do ballads in the original sense feature much in popular music? Of those we’ve met on our journey I think Ernie the Milkman certainly qualifies as a comic ballad, and probably the death songs Wuthering Heights and Johnny Remember Me. Amongst the not-quites I can reach back to my earliest pop memories and Big Bad John but I’m really struggling. Perhaps it’s time for a revival of the Romantic (yet another debased term) Ballad!

  16. 16
    Mark M on 7 Jul 2015 #

    Re15: There’s an imminent bunny that is definitely a story, and indeed like a lot of traditional ballads, something of a cautionary tale (and also, for that matter, uses a literary device favoured by many of Sterne’s contemporaries).

  17. 17
    Mark M on 7 Jul 2015 #

    [Accidental double post – sorry]

  18. 18
    wichitalineman on 7 Jul 2015 #

    Re 15: Billy Don’t Be a Hero and (possibly) Seasons in the Sun were consecutive death ballad number ones. 1971 had a pair of murder ballads – Indiana Wants Me and I Did What I Did For Maria – both covered on Lena’s MSBWT.

    That’s a very good question about the changing meaning of ‘ballad’. I feel I should know, but I haven’t a clue. One for Lord Sukrat?

  19. 19

    charting 60s ballads with the word “ballad” in the title including “the ballad of the green berets” (1966) and “the ballad of john and yoko” (1969), which i think fit rosie’s (and the traditional) definition

    working from the other direction, the earliest song in emi’s compilation the best rock ballads… ever! is 1964’s “house of the rising sun”, by the animals (which also kinda sorta fits the old definition), and the three that i know of the next five are joe cocker’s version “with a little help from my friends” (1969), deep purple’s “child in time” (1970), then lou reed’s “perfect day” (1972), none of which do (actually it’s quite a weird selection by any reckoning)

    (wikipedia suggests that tin pan alley songwriters were already using the terminology implying sentimentality back in the 1920s, so i imagine it’s crept out into the rest of the world via variety and billboard etc — and jazzers have definitely been using “ballad” to mean something in a slow tempo, for emoting rather than pyrotechnics (or dance), since the 40s

  20. 20
    wichitalineman on 7 Jul 2015 #

    Thanks Mark. Yes, Tin Pan Alley must be responsible. Maudlin songs from the 1890s like After the Ball fit both definitions.

  21. 21
    Phil on 7 Jul 2015 #

    Traditionally the narrative ‘voice’ of a ballad would do one of three things:
    – tell a story (usually a gruesome one) in the first person, generally ending with the narrator about to be hanged, bleed to death or die of the clap
    – ‘overhear’ a quarrel between two lovers, ending with parting, reconciliation or both, sometimes followed by a bit of “what happened next” narration
    – or just go straight in and tell a story in the third person (“An outlandish knight came from the North land…”).
    Sometimes in the ‘overheard’ category the narrator would turn out to be one of the main characters (Plains of Waterloo et al).

    HOTRS is a traditional ballad, deathbed/gallows variety. Of the others, “Big John” fits the third person narrative style pretty well (as does “Davy Crockett”); “I did what I did” fits the gallows type (same goes for “Delilah”); and “Billy” is a rare example of the overheard-conversation type.

    “Seasons in the Sun” is 100 times better in the original – a clever, witty song with a superb punchline in the penultimate verse & a genuinely moving final verse. Not sure it belongs in this list either way. “John and Yoko” is a bit feeble, dramatically speaking (no actual death), and I’m not sure about “Johnny Remember Me” et al – they’d fit the template much better if he’d killed her…

  22. 22
    Shiny Dave on 7 Jul 2015 #

    The moment Jo O’Meara became to S Club 7 as Gary Barlow was to Take That, only without the songwriting.

    I think it’s fair to say that O’Meara was the only one of the seven who’d have been a serious contender in the pop game shows that were to start soon after this, but after the split it was (ex-model) Rachel Stevens who got the quality material and the hits (though they’re all unbunnied). This is an interesting counterpoint to the Destiny’s Child discussion – for all that the lyrics might be forthright and independent in at least some bits of pop (like millennial R&B), was it coincidence that the women singing them were nearly always conventionally attractive with obvious male-gaze appeal?

    (Giving the solo career to the ex-model rather than the best singer was just the beginning in that department for the S Club brand. S Club begat S Club Juniors, if memory serves a larger posse comprised of stage-school types from the show’s target demographic, and we will meet some of its members in the distant future.)

    Abiding pop memory of this one is from my university, and surprisingly enough I’m not talking about my beloved karaoke at the student union pub on a Thursday night. (I went to university from 2006 to 2009, and the 2006 freshers’ cohort were mostly – I was an exception! – Year 8 or 9 depending on the presence or absence of a gap year when this came out, so if they weren’t in S Club territory the next two cohorts certainly were, but I only ever remember “Reach” being done there. Though I imagine this and the next bunny got the odd spin too.)

    The music department at Southampton – and, I presume, counterparts elsewhere – have an end-of-year recital programme, whereby students’ performance examinations are open to the public, free and unticketed. Southampton specifically had a semi-permeable divide between classical and “jazz and pop” within the department; the former group would perform at the campus concert hall, the latter would usually perform at a live music pub in the student quarter but one year it had to move to one of the union venues, and in amongst the latter in that particular year was an already-active touring singer-songwriter, Luke Leighfield, throwing himself into touring tiny venues around the country with his Christian-left piano pop.

    And in his examination set was a cover of this. Irony or otherwise, I think it worked. Which I think is something I could generalise to most of the set, which combined covers with his own material. It was certainly a change from the very technical material of most of the jazz and pop vocal recitals of that era, about 90% of which contained a Regina Spektor song. (The other 10% were by male performers.) In fact, this context for the song rather nicely illustrated how flamboyant it isn’t.

    It also showed it was a pretty excellent recipient of a quasi-ironic revival treatment, come to think of it, given its melodic strength and lyrical blandness – like others, I can imagine it as a Westlife song, but it’d be comfortably in the top tier of them. Considered a 5, bumped up to a 6 for avoiding most of the vocal tropes of this style even if it avoids absolutely none of the lyrical ones.

  23. 23
    thefatgit on 7 Jul 2015 #

    Thanks to Rosie and Lord Sukrat for expanding the ballad definition. I suppose it has become shorthand for slow tempo romanticism, as opposed to the western folk tradition and its ilk.

  24. 24
    Ed on 8 Jul 2015 #

    I’m pretty sure The Ballad of Reading Gaol has never made it onto any of those compilation albums, although the Celine Dion version would be a thing to hear.

  25. 25
    Phil on 8 Jul 2015 #

    Go on, tell us about the original version of Seasons in the Sun, said nobody. Well, if you insist. It’s by Jacques Brel (“Clanger” Brel we called him). Guy on deathbed, saying goodbye (“Goodbye Émile, I always liked you”; “Goodbye Father [i.e. the priest], I always liked you”), and he ends each verse with “I know you’ll take care of my wife”. Third verse: “Goodbye Antoine, I never liked you … but since you’re her lover, I know you’ll take care of my wife”. The last verse is addressed to his wife; he reminds her he’s been looking the other way all this time, and asks her to pray for his soul. It’s beautifully done. Probably not bunnyable, though.

  26. 26
    Inanimate Carbon God on 8 Jul 2015 #

    Zzzzzchhhhhhhhrrrrrnnnnnbazoingazoingaboomtishplonkzzzzzzzzzzzzz. 3.

    At least it’s not the Changing Rooms team claiming “It’s fun to stay at the YMDF.”

  27. 27
    PI on 9 Jul 2015 #

    I think this one’s rather good actually, almost everyone I know has a soft spot for this song, so quite surprised to see the underwhelming response.

    It’s no “Stay Another Day” but I think it’s a high 6 – low 7.

  28. 28
    MikeMCSG on 20 Aug 2015 #

    # 4 There was some buzz at the time about Jo sounding like Karen Carpenter which helped push the single. Richard Carpenter was interested in working with her after S Club split but she was too sunk in depression to take up the offer which leads on to …
    # 14 Jo was clearly not in a fit mental state to be on the programme at all – as Davina McCall acknowledged later though not at the time – and her poor behaviour should be viewed in that light.

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