Jul 09


FT + Popular48 comments • 10,316 views

#529, 10th December 1983, video

Aged ten I didn’t have much time for the wounded, crafted dignity of the Flying Pickets. I probably wouldn’t have had time for Yazoo either, if I’d even remembered them. “Only You” was distilled adulthood, and not the kind of adulthood you aspired to, the kind you couldn’t put a name to.

I can put a name to it now though: defeat. Moyet sings “Only You” with flint in her voice and a clarity born of narrowed options: another opportunity for happiness gone, a forced shrug. So what do Brian Hibbard and his gang bring to the song? Sentimentality, a chance at comfort. “Only You” the way the Pickets sing it is a pretty, lulling song.

The way that works isn’t difficult to fathom. What once was mechanical is now human; a steel shoulder to cry on has become a consolatory close-harmony coo. No wonder the (excellent) video takes place in a pub, a place where whiskery men can compare bruises. A big part of it is the shift in attention from the lyrics to what used to be the synth line, now part of the lead vocal. That “ba da da um” is “Only You”‘s intro, and coda, and climactic centre, driving out the specifics of the song’s pain and coddling the memory of its ache.



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  1. 31
    Alan on 22 Jul 2009 #

    mum update. this and joel before it marks a final hurrah for my mum caring about the charts i think.

    the FP were doing the rounds on fringe and left wing cabaret sort of things around this time, and my mum saw them live a lot before this point. and i remember an album getting played a lot, and their (mildly comedic – ie not) version of Summertime is stuck in my head. gah.

    @JimD #12 — i made the connection with the sideburns dude in that Dr Who story for myself, but never checked it was true. how awful for poor stubby kaye.

  2. 32
    MikeMCSG on 27 Jul 2009 #

    Compared with the Yazoo version this is awful but at least it kept that contrived Slade single off the top.

    The Pickets were good value for their brief stint in the limelight. I remember Smash Hits asking the bald bass singer who called himself Red Stripe for a Christmas message to Mrs Thatcher and his reply was “How does it feel to be the mother of a thousand dead ?” (referring to the Falklands).

  3. 33
    Erithian on 27 Jul 2009 #

    Wiki reveals that some of the Pickets had been active in the miners’ strikes of the 70s, and that Brian Hibbard wasn’t the only member to feature in fantasy adventures – David Brett went on to appear in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

    I’d heard of them before, although I couldn’t tell you where from, and enjoyed the novelty aspect – there were many worse candidates for the Christmas number one, although I’d agree with contributors above that Yazoo should have got there first and that Alison Moyet is a national treasure.

    The song takes me back to finals year in the fourth floor of the east wing of Founders Hall (Billy will know what I’m talking about). After the nightmare neighbours of first year and the life-sapping landlady of second year, finals year saw me in with a great bunch of blokes as neighbours. There’d be a competition to play the coolest music you’d hear as you walked down the corridor, but nobody forced theirs down your throat at high volume, and it was just a good atmosphere. One bloke had an early interactive computer game, and I’d wind down from finals revision by playing The Hobbit in his room until the early hours (and a few years later I was best man at his wedding).

    And around Christmas that year there was a fad for singing the intro to “Only You” as you passed people’s doors, making the opening “B” as explosive as possible, i.e. “BBBA-da-da-da, BBBA-da-da-da…” It particularly amused one bloke named Butterworth: I never knew his first name because everybody just called him Lenin, since he was a complete ringer for, well, Lenin. One night he was leaning up against a wall in the hall of residence, pissed out of his head, going “BBBA-da-da-da…” at the top of his voice, and someone peered out of his room to say “Excuse me, could you keep the noise down, I’ve an important exam tomorrow?” Lenin threw a scrunched-up piece of paper in hIs general direction with the immortal words, “SHO ‘AVE I…”

  4. 34
    Billy Smart on 27 Jul 2009 #

    The Flying Pickets always maintain that their career was stopped in its tracks by state censorship because of the political climate once the miners’ strike began in 1984.

    Not though anyone would claim that they were an irritating novelty act with an obviously short shelf life in the first place, mind you.

    Brian Hibbard went on to play a mechanic who had an affair with Denise in Coronation Street in the early nineties. The exposure from this was enough to propel him into one of the leads in a pantomime at the Lewisham Theatre in 1995, a performance which my friend Harry had to see many dozens of times as usher. The memory of Hibbard’s duet with Britain’s olympic gold medal heroine Tessa Sanderson still makes him uneasy after all of the intervening years.

  5. 35
    Erithian on 28 Jul 2009 #

    I always thought their shelf life was shortened by the rather conservative (small “c”) choice of “When You’re Young And In Love” as the follow-up. By the time they released the perky and greatly superior “So Close” people seemed to have lost interest.

  6. 36
    intothefireuk on 7 Aug 2009 #

    A very familiar song which for some reason the pickets thought needed resurrecting within a year of it charting. I’m not convinced they cared too much for the song more about making a statement (look what we did there !). It’s mildly impressive on first hearing but doesn’t bear too much close inspection. I disliked it intensely at the time preferring (as I generally tend to do) the original. Their image also made me feel uneasy – not sure why although a few of them looked as though they might have a bag of sweets to hand. As my Mum would say they had something of the night about them. Christmas 1983 wasn’t one of my better ones (two relationships had gone west this year) and the FP’s inappropriate Xmas no1 certainly didn’t help matters.

  7. 37
    David Belbin on 12 Aug 2009 #

    This was a hit about the miner’s strike, in my opinion, and the version doesn’t warrant revisiting but the song does, one of a handful of fantastic Yazoo songs. A superb, seminal duo, as anyone who saw their reunion tour last year will testify, and this song was their finest moment.

  8. 38
    Pete Baran on 12 Aug 2009 #

    It may be about the miners strike (and it may have become about it in memory) but considering it went to number one four months before the strike started, its unlikely to be the case. About previous and potential miners strikes, well that comes with the name of the band.

  9. 39
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 22 Aug 2009 #

    maybe it’s because i was in a succession of choirs as a kid, and actually spent time listening to choir competitions and the like — radio 3 used to broadcast them, esp. from eastern europe — and part of the art was effectiveness of arrangement, given the relative paucity of means (nothing but voice) — but i think everyone’s been quite harsh here: one of the things acapella is “about” is capturing a feel *just using voices*, and i think the FPs’ arrangement achieves machinic coldness pretty effectively (it’s the lead that’s weak)– i don’t even slightly buy that this was a sneery gag at yazoo’s expense, having just taken a peek at the huge range of songs they’ve covered down the years (“smells like teen spirit!”)

  10. 40
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 30 Aug 2009 #

    The FP cover of ”smells like teen spirit” is kind of terrific, in a kronos quartet howdya-do-guitar-chords-AHA way: also fun that they very deliberately rhyme “albino” with beano instead of rhino…

  11. 41
    Billy Smart on 24 Sep 2009 #

    NMEWatch: Gavin Martin, 3 December 1983;

    “Scrupulously fashioned and very clever accapella arrangement for the Yazoo classic. The textures are smooth as ice, the harmonies crystal clear inspired by The Beach Boys and The Bee Gees, I’d say. The lead vocal’s a bit on the nasal side but perhaps the song’s current chart-slog status will leave the way clear for the group to fire some of the pithy political pellets I’m assured they have in their live act.”

    No single of the week was awarded. Also reviewed;

    Culture Club – Victims
    UB40 – Many Rivers To Cross
    Robert Plant – In The Mood
    Adam Ant – Strip
    Billy Joel – Tell Her About It
    Nick Heyward – On A Sunday
    Def Leppard – Too Late For Love
    Elton John – Cold As Christmas
    Status Quo – Marguerita Time

  12. 42
    DV on 28 Dec 2009 #

    I agree with the comments on this song’s coldness. Which is odd, as you would think that what is basically a novelty hit would be a bit more endearing.

  13. 43
    Chelovek na lune on 10 Sep 2010 #

    I have to agree with everyone who has said this is not a patch on the Yazoo version. The FPs version just seems too – insincere, showy, surface rather than substance. Alison Moyet, conversely, sang it like she meant it, (wo)man. Her gloriously husky voice, and the minimal – but not too minimal instrumentation suit the song well. The ba-ba-bas here are superfluous and annoying.

    #6 – that made me laugh. I’m beginning to think I had a sheltered life (but: council estate, really rather rough state school, in Dagenham, with skinheads, NF types, mods, all that stuff) – never heard anything even remotely like that in the junior school playground, aged 9 as I was in 1984 too. Mind you first time I recall ever being sworn at was in ’84, some rough girl in a playground in one of the three then remaining mining villages in Kent: a group of us had gone down to “offer support” to the striking miners (listen to their brass band and all that – a bit of Yorkshire – or possibly Wales – I can’t remember where the first miners there migrated from – really weird places rather out of place in England’s Garden County), and I was told in no uncertain terms that I was a c— and I should f— off back to the city. Nice. Which is pretty much what the Flying Pickets said implicitly to Yazoo. End of the pier semi-acapella dross, alas.

  14. 44
    Erithian on 18 Jun 2012 #

    Brian Hibbard RIP.

  15. 45
    Duro on 3 Sep 2014 #

    Surprised given that this was a yuletide number one that seemingly no-one has commented on the fact that the Yazoo version soundtracked the richly satisfying denouement of the Office Christmas Special twenty years later, which ensured I retained some affinity with Ricky Gervais and Martin Freeman until I was absolutely convinced that they were pretty awful people.

  16. 46
    mapman132 on 5 Dec 2014 #

    This was never a hit in the US, but I am familiar with it, and for that matter the UK’s other a capella #1, thanks to a friend who’s heavily into a capella. I’ve generally found a capella more enjoyable via live performance rather than recording, perhaps because it’s easier for me to appreciate the complexity of vocal arrangements when it’s being done right in front of me. That being said, I think I do like the FP recording more than most commenters here, but maybe it’s because I’m not really familiar with the Yaz(oo) original.

    Also the discussion on the merits/motivations of a capella version of electronica/synth-pop is interesting particularly because it happens to be the primary MO of America’s most popular a capella group of the moment, Pentatonix. They first gained prominence on a TV competition where they started off with a version of Katy Perry’s “ET”, a song that’s not an obvious contender for all-vocal treatment. They’ve also done stuff originally by Daft Punk, David Guetta, and Clean Bandit, among others. I can’t speak to the Flying Pickets’ motivations but I think in Pentatonix’s case their love of electronic music is sincere.

  17. 47
    Ospero on 15 Nov 2019 #

    This entry is my personal candidate for “most dissonance between tone of the review and final mark”. This so doesn’t sound like a writeup for a mediocre-to-average song. I’ve gotten pretty good over reading this entire blog at recognizing what the mark is even before seeing it, but this entry completely threw me. This sounds more like a light 7 than a 5.

  18. 48
    Gareth Parker on 17 May 2021 #

    I think Tom’s right with the 5/10 here. Not really in Yazoo’s league, but I feel the Pickets do an Okay-ish job with the song.

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