24
Mar 21

WILL YOUNG – “Leave Right Now”

Popular14 comments • 2,668 views

#966, 6th December 2003

Eg White, the songwriter on “Leave Right Now”, had an intriguing half-career out in the far suburbs of British pop. His album as part of Eg And Alice, 24 Years Of Hunger, has quietly acquired cult status; it’s sophisticated but erratic. Like Daniel Bedingfield, White was a young songwriter trying on his inspirations for size (at one point there’s an unexpected but exciting stab at Remain In Light era David Byrne). Released into a world too earthy and raucous for it, it made no impression – I remember the cassette of it in Our Price sale after sale, forever ignored.

And here White is, winning an Ivor Novello for Will Young’s successful tilt at establishing a career for himself. Talent will out? Maybe, but his story also illustrates how capricious the industry is at rewarding it – what twist of luck makes one awkward bedroom pop act a minor sensation and confines another to the backroom? Come to think of it, what grants one reality TV winner a career as a singer and another a career as a pub quiz answer?

Talented, earnest and likeable, and early enough in the Reality Pop era to still be a novelty, Will Young had a lot of people on his side. The fact he beat what we now know are fearsome odds to have a strong run of as a TV show winner is impressive, but at the time “Leave Right Now” seemed to promise a lot more. 

As a song it’s marvellously suited to its singer – it balances the side of Young which won him Pop Idol (a belting chorus) and the side where his genuine talents lay, the rueful, thoughtful readings he gives the verses. It has the conversational air of some George Michael tracks – “A Different Corner”, for instance – and the comparison hung in the air.

But Will Young is, it turns out, no George Michael, and I doubt he’d want to be, since the biggest point of difference is Michael’s painful articulation of restless unhappiness and self-doubt. “Leave Right Now” shows Young’s strengths and his limits – it’s a song about learning, moving on and refusing to have a settled life disrupted. What makes it different from most “I should leave” songs is that it sounds – to me – like Young actually is going to leave. While the song leaves the outcome ambiguous, most of the emotional oomph in Young’s delivery comes on the break when he’s regretfully explaining that no, this can’t actually work. 

The rarely-kept promise of Reality TV is that it would break pop open and let different kinds of people loose among its glittering machinery. It has, mostly, failed to do this. But with Will Young, that promise was kept in an unexpected way. “If I lose the highs, at least I’m spared the lows”: this is a very relatable sentiment, but it’s also a very unusual one in a pop context, because it’s so regretfully sensible. “Leave Right Now” presents Will Young as a kind of pop centrist, an emotional moderate in a landscape of rampant affect. That charming reasonableness is part of why he won, and “Leave Right Now” sets out a way of building a career from it.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Stephen Emmett + he/him on 24 Mar 2021 #

    To me personally, I’d give this a 9 out of 10 (the second of two 2003 Number Ones I’d award a full 10 out of 10 will come in two bunnies time, but the first being Evanescence in June).

    The week this debuted at Number One saw it go head to head with Shane Richie’s cover of Wham! ‘s “I’m Your Man” (which got to number 2), but amongst the new entries which included Ja Rule, MJ’ s 79th and last UK top 40 hit in his lifetime and Limp Bizkit doing The Who, I’d want to honour the new entry at No. 20 that week – No Doubt (we discussed them in the 1997 Populist) covering Talk Talk and making it far superior, in my opinion, to the original.

    Back to “Leave Right Now” though, and it was not done yet though – Ireland got the brunt of it with it being Ireland’s Christmas Number One for 2003, and returned two Popular Irish years later when Mario Rosenstock – Irish comedian on Today FM – did a Gift Grub parody of it to secure ’05’s Irish Christmas Number One, but I think the original song is actually pretty decent in its own ways.

    (a solid fair) 9

  2. 2
    James BC on 24 Mar 2021 #

    It’s a shame to leave the question of whether he does leave unanswered. Can Eg White really be such a great songwriter if he didn’t take the opportunity to have a final chorus that goes “I’m really glad I left right then…”

  3. 3
    JLucas on 24 Mar 2021 #

    I was mildly surprised when I realised that that this was actually Will Young’s final #1. It certainly feels more like the beginning of his career proper – and in many ways, it is. It certainly allowed him to have a longevity that other TV Talent show winners would kill for.

    On the whole I find his music a bit MOR for my tastes, but given I was 15 when he won Pop Idol, his open and unashamed homosexuality was a big deal for me at the time.

    Shame Jealousy didn’t get a little closer to the top. That was a great one.

  4. 4
    hardtogethits on 24 Mar 2021 #

    It’s lovely to have you back Tom.

    On the subject of whether Will sounds whether he’s likely to leave or not: An elderly acquaintance who is genuinely heard-of-hearing once heard the record, and grew tired of his protestations after about 3 minutes, and remarked “why doesn’t he just bloody go?”

    I thought this was funny, simple as that.

    But I think there is some intended irony in the lyric. Phrases like”I think I better leave” or “That’s my cue to hit the road” or “I’ll get my coat” might be pleas-for-help, conversation openers in spite of their face value. “I think I better leave right now” doesn’t have that everyday usage. It expresses a much greater intensity and immediacy which the singer contradicts by sticking around for a while, in spite of a lack of objection from anyone else. I think the world of Eg White, I really do – he’s a really nice, humble guy who has a beautifully thoughtful approach to songwriting -so much so that it’s hard to believe he could make it in this business. But I don’t think this irony works quite as well as it might.

  5. 5
    Lee Saunders on 26 Mar 2021 #

    For me, a 10, and one of the most effortlessly great number ones. In its own way evoking the English baroque sound of the late 60s/early 70s, or even Peter Skellern or Clifford T Ward (and I can imagine Skellern singing something like this), it eventually becomes so panoramic I can visualise the vast greenery Will’s larking about in on the Friday’s Child sleeve, the place maybe you figure he’ll return to once he’s actually left right now. The hesitation that Hardtogethis doesn’t think works very much does for me – reminds me of being in awkward situations in times past where I’d say ‘I better go’ unprotested a few times and then don’t. The verses fill it in as a song about a breakup but from the choruses (and repetition thereof) alone he could be a shy person in a social setting too big for him where he still can’t rule out the tiny possibility things could suddenly turn around, something I can cling to at least.

    For all his unsureness the track itself *sounds* assured of its role as a classicist, future standard in a way we perhaps haven’t seen since Whole Again. Yet both songs were essentially make or break, Atomic Kitten fighting off a perhaps final break for them and Will fighting against dropping a ‘Sunshine’ and thus ensuring with any luck he’ll keep sticking around. It’s here to prove to you he is ‘leaving right now’, ditching Pop Idol Will for the Will which releases Great Songs, whether they’re slowies or – in time – Switch It Ons, and he sold it. For better or worse I can hear its influence on at least a few songs in later years – You Give Me Something, Warwick Avenue.

    Love the shoutout to 24 Years of Hunger, in a certain band of turn-of-the-90s minor cult classics to me that (to sound daft) has a profound quietude and acerbic humbleness, too modest to be the Beautiful South but too irreverent to be the Blue Nile. See also It’s Immaterial’s Song or Frazier Chorus’ Sue.

  6. 6
    James Masterton on 26 Mar 2021 #

    There were some sweaty arses at the record label the week this came out. They had calculated that Will’s popularity had dropped off to such an extent that the single only had prospects for the Top 5 and had pressed copies accordingly, only to see most stores sell out almost their entire supplied stock in a single day. Leave Right Now sold 40,000 copies on the Monday but was down the 100s by Wednesday as shops ran out of stock, leading to the distinct possibility that it would be overhauled by the Shane Richie charity record below. They frantically moved up orders and got more copies to the shops by the weekend but the battle was tighter than it should have been. Will sold 117,000 with Richie just behind on 112,000.

    We can’t go without mentioning the one-take video (directed by Kevin Godley) which is as compelling today as it was back then. I’ve spent 18 years trying to lip-read the dialogue to work out what Will’s friends are saying to both him and the unfortunate subject of his attentions.

  7. 7
    AMZ1981 on 26 Mar 2021 #

    With hindsight this actually bookends the first series of Pop Idol as far as Popular is concerned – in a period spanning roughly eighteen months it spawned eight number one singles (3 Will, 3 Gareth, 1 duet and 1 Darius) with Will Young responsible for both the first and last in the sequence.

    It actually makes for quite an interesting story in that Gareth was the favourite and, even after Will’s unexpected victory, was expected to become the bigger star and indeed seemed to hold the advantage after the follow up singles. Perhaps more oddly Gareth had actually come out of the second album trap first so it was hardly as if Will caught him napping. It’s easy to say that this was simply a case of the better singer coming out with a superior song but we know that it hardly follows that this will automatically result in chart success. Following my own thought through; it’s possible that Gareth was being considered the de facto winner (at least by Cowell) which meant that Will Young was still the series underdog with something to prove.

    It’s also worth noting that Leave Right Now also marks another reality TV trope that we’ll see again; namely the winner dutifully doing what’s expected of them for the first album and then striking out in their own style for the follow up. From memory the next good example of this is actually Will’s international counterpart who was going through her victory parade at the time prior to scoring a breakout hit in 2004 (although her bunny doesn’t come until 2009).

    I liked Leave Right Now at the time, I thought it was a decent sung well sung and easy enough on the ear. However I was disappointed when I invested in the album (maybe because it just wasn’t my thing) and haven’t kept up with his subsequent career – the magnificent Jealousy aside (and even then I risked buying the album and was underwhelmed).

  8. 8
    ThePensmith on 26 Mar 2021 #

    As you point out Tom, ‘Leave Right Now’ had a lot of odds against it, and it defied those odds. Apart from his appearance at the Brits to collect his Best British Breakthrough trophy at the start of the year, and a summertime “homecoming” gig at his old uni base of Exeter (from which a live track, ‘Ticket to Love’, an unreleased demo from the first album, was the B-side for this single), 2003 had largely been a very quiet year for Will.

    Some might say this was, if not calculated, an extremely fortuitous move. Perhaps this is what made his return with his second album an unexpected one, insofar as it reminded people of that voice which, OK, maybe isn’t George Michael, but as you say it doesn’t need to be. I’ve always said on other Popular entries of Will’s that one of his greatest strengths is how his voice is just the same live as it is on record, which has happily been a continuity across his career. It’s at its most anguished and believable here, you can identify the pain he’s feeling, especially on the middle 8 section and the final ad-libbed chorus.

    I remember him delivering the single to Radio 1’s breakfast show at the end of that October, at a time when Pop Idol was in something of a deep crisis on all fronts. Gareth was well into his slide down the dumper as we’ve discussed, most of the other class of ’02 graduates had been dropped or, if they were Darius, a year or two away from it. And it became apparent that the crop of hopefuls on the then currently airing second series were nowhere near the standard of the first, as we’ll see with the two bunnies to come from it.

    In their misjudged error, RCA made sure there were just enough copies of the single available on its release to deliver a top 5 hit as James highlighted above, as they reasoned that what was true of everyone else connected to Pop Idol – a downward curve – would also be true of Will. Except for one small thing: it wasn’t. He was still as well loved as he’d always been, meaning that by midweek of release most shops’ copies of ‘Leave Right Now’ were exhausted. They fortunately managed to get more copies shipped out in time before the end of the week, which helped it to become the year’s fifth biggest seller in just a few short weeks.

    I think other contributing factors with this single and ‘Friday’s Child’ as an album helped seal the deal on him having a longer term career. The weekend before the single’s release he appeared as a guest – interview and performance – on Parkinson, then still the big chat show of the time, which reminded people of how missed he’d actually been in terms of personality and charm on his year away. He still had that same plummy, likeable humour that had helped him win and subsequently win everyone over.

    The album itself was a delight too, and although we don’t meet any other singles from it (or indeed any other Will bunnies) the Brit winning second single ‘Your Game’ and the title track remain some of Will’s best work to date, as does the proposed but sadly cancelled fourth single ‘Love Is A Matter of Distance’. It won immediate praise from all corners, including the broadsheets, a marker if anything of how attitudes were changing in terms of how pop music was viewed.

    In fact, Will’s only bunnies after this time are strictly in the album sense, which is a shame. 2011’s ‘Echoes’ – produced with Richard X – is for me his best album, marrying his wistful, yearning vocals to the cool, slightly ambient electronica that Richard has always done so well. It was the album that had ‘Jealousy’ on it and I agree with JLucas that that’s one of his finest singles. They did try capturing lightning in a bottle again with his ‘Lexicon’ album in 2019, but it just wasn’t the same. But back to ‘Leave Right Now’, and for me it’s a solid 9.

    #2 watch – Week 1. The very near miss from RCA’s stocking cock up discussed above means that we are spared a cheapo Casio keyboard run through of Wham’s ‘I’m Your Man’, read here by Shane Richie, then enjoying a purple patch playing Alfie Moon, loveable rogue landlord of the Queen Vic in EastEnders. It was that year’s BBC Children in Need single but otherwise crucially lacked a point.

    Week 2: Black Eyed Peas following up their six week behemoth with the radically different ‘Shut Up’. I made the observation on the entry for ‘Where Is The Love?’ that Fergie, who had just joined at this point, barely registered on that single. Here, she is front and centre, howling at each of the male Peas in turn about them being crap boyfriends. She doesn’t put in the most endearing performance, put it that way. The way she sings ‘I never been a quittah’ in particular always sets my teeth on edge.

  9. 9
    Coagulopath on 28 Mar 2021 #

    3/10. I don’t get it. I don’t understand how to get it. By what metric is this song any more interesting than Ronan Keating or Daniel Bedingfield? I’m lost here.

    I’ll admit I don’t enjoy the style in general, nor do I watch Britain’s Got Sob Stories or whatever this was on.

  10. 10
    all the way! on 29 Mar 2021 #

    Haha ok. How many chapters babe?

  11. 11
    Steve Milligan on 2 Apr 2021 #

    A poised and professional vocal performance from Will. Eg White is a top notch songwriter. Doesn’t thrill me, but nicely done nonetheless. 6/10.

  12. 12
    David Angel on 9 Apr 2021 #

    Eg And Alice’s 24 Years Of Hunger is my favourite album of the 1990s.

  13. 13
    Gareth Parker on 3 Jun 2021 #

    I can’t quite take to Will’s voice personally. However, this seems very polished and tasteful though, and I would go up to a 6/10 here.

  14. 14
    Sausagebrain on 12 Jul 2021 #

    Well, I suppose that a song with the chorus ‘I think I’d better leave right now’, would be an apt final entry for this blog. But I hope that this isn’t the last one!

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