Sep 09

PHYLLIS NELSON – “Move Closer”

FT + Popular33 comments • 4,012 views

#549, 4th May 1985

For all that “Move Closer”‘s intro positions the song as a see-what-you’re-giving-up-boy move, on the surface there’s something surprisingly chaste about this record – maybe it’s Nelson’s high-register sweetness, or just the way she calls her lover “my dear”. It’s the sort of song people make Hallmark Card-style videos for, all soft focus and sunsets.

And for the first verse that’s all it is: the percussion does that 80s soul thing of slowly touring all available drum sounds and adding some echo, Nelson herself glides easily into the memorable but low-intensity chorus. But then things get more intriguing. She starts to wander around the melody, and her wavering, joy-distracted singing turns the song from a public declaration into a private moment. The climax – the push from “my dear” into the blissful command of that long “move” – is almost uncomfortably intimate. A second chorus serves as comedown, and then nothing: in true old-school Mills and Boon style the bedroom door is discreetly closed, and the lovers hidden from sight.



  1. 1
    Tom on 23 Sep 2009 #

    Good Lord that’s an unflattering sleeve, considering the song.

  2. 2
    Pete Baran on 23 Sep 2009 #

    And why oh why the chequebook computer text for Move Closer?

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 23 Sep 2009 #

    A great, great song…that aches with longing – definitely last dance at the disco material.

    Wikipedia says this is the first UK number 1 written and performed by a black woman.

  4. 4
    Vic Fluro on 23 Sep 2009 #


  5. 5
    lonepilgrim on 23 Sep 2009 #

    I associate this moodwise with Anita Baker’s Rapture album which I played to death in 1986

  6. 6
    punctum on 23 Sep 2009 #

    Previously a would-be Philly Sound star who never quite made it – she was one-third of the female group Brown Sugar – and in Hi-NRG quarters best known for such records as “Don’t Stop The Train” and “I Like You,” “Move Closer” represented perhaps the only opportunity Phyllis Nelson ever got to sing the music she wanted and loved most deeply. Astonishingly, despite over 32 years of the UK singles chart, “Move Closer” was the first self-penned number one by a black female artist. It was one of its year’s biggest last-dance smoochers, but despite a certain similarity in production and arrangement techniques – etiolated, slow-arching Euroballadry with, again, more than a hint of the slower Art of Noise in its framework – “Move Closer” seems to stretch back to something far deeper. If we are to agree with Dave Godin that the essence of Deep Soul is in the grain of the singer’s voice, then there are moments in Nelson’s love – for instance, her graceful skating across the “sweetest voice sayin’ my pretty lady” section, or her varied approaches to the sundry “ooh”s – which connect her directly to the tradition of Irma Thomas and Bessie Banks.

    Perhaps “Move Closer” moves a little too smoothly to be a true modern soul classic, and Nelson’s arpeggios don’t cut quite so loosely on the same agonising restraint/adrenalin boundary which Minnie Riperton vaulted so effortlessly. But the opening speech of “Hey baby, you go your way, and I’ll go mine – but in the meantime…” suggests a cloistered, illicit affair, the only slightly less dark end of the street, and the clenched fist of throat raging under Nelson’s polite control is now and then very palpable. Like Riperton, Nelson was fated to succumb to breast cancer at too young an age, and after “Move Closer” she never found the same level of freedom in her work. While her eldest son will make an appearance on Popular several years hence, we relish the elegance with which Nelson grasped and sustained her one lovely moment.

  7. 7
    Kat but logged out innit on 23 Sep 2009 #

    At least Phyllis won’t catch cold with that nice snug jumper.

    I like this song quite a lot! At least I do now that the phrase ‘making love’ isn’t quite so hideously embarrassing as it was when I was at school. Though it does make me think of adverts for Sheeba cat food so it only gets a 7 from me.

  8. 8
    Ben on 23 Sep 2009 #

    How am I the first to mention the deodorant advert?

  9. 9
    Conrad on 23 Sep 2009 #

    Always liked this song, it’s dark and lush atmosphere, and gliding arrangement. A little surprised it reached the top, I had it down in my memory as one that hung around at 2 for a while.

    My only criticism it that it has a kind of stately quality which on a good day works for it, but occasionally the groove/tempo can sound a little weary, which makes it hard to get into.

    Still, a solid (as a rock) 7

  10. 10
    wichita lineman on 23 Sep 2009 #

    It felt like an indie soul production – lush and dark, no question, but take out the reverb and its pretty Casiotone – and from memory was on a tuppeny ha’penny label which would explain the basic two-colour sleeve. So Move Closer’s success is all down to Phyllis’s intimate, adult vocal, which is soulful and as close as we’d get to the cooing hurt of Irma Thomas (or Barbara Lewis) in the clattery mid eighties. Anita Baker always seemed more jazz, a little neo-Cleo Laine.

    Didn’t this take an eternity to get to number one, longer than Dead Or Alive? Don’t have the stats to hand, dammit.

    Tom, you’re right, that extended “move…..” is absolutely what makes it, and over rides the cheesy ad usage since. 7 from me.

  11. 11
    anto on 23 Sep 2009 #

    I like this. As far as I know there was no official video (or am I wrong about that?) which might explain why it’s one of the few number ones of this period which hasn’t been over-played. It’s possibly the most under-rated from the mid-eigties too.
    Her voice is sumptious and finds just the right tone of just-for-tonight intimacy. I’m not usually that keen on “bedroom” records, but I think ” Move Closer ” is really good.
    Shame she never had another hit.

  12. 12
    Billy Smart on 23 Sep 2009 #

    Despite the annoying fump-click-boom period production, I really really like this, and the slightly sanctified sense of intimacy and yearning that I find within it.

    (A parallel 1985 hit might be Amii Stewart’s astonishing soft electro ‘Friends’, though that’s become more painful to listen to since I started – through a mishearing – to imagine that it was being sung by a woman who’s only going to get a one-night stand with the love of her life.)

    Obviously, I didn’t like this when I was 12, unironic songs about “making love” sung by ordinary-looking grown-ups being slightly scary and intimidating.

    This song is used in a very funny scene in the Comic Strip film ‘The Supergrass’ when its being played in a Village Hall disco to an appreciative floor of smooching teenagers, and is then taken off for the appearance of a local heavy metal duo, to everyone else’s displeasure.

  13. 13
    MikeMCSG on 23 Sep 2009 #

    This was only the second self-penned chart topper for a woman after Kate Bush seven years (and another age) previously.

    It did take a long time to get there and can recall listening to the Tuesday rundown and being first relieved that its predecessor had been dethroned and then surprised when this was announced as I had completely forgotten it was still around.

    Listening to it again I’m struck by a strange melodic resemblance to Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero” which came out a few months later. I wonder if anyone pointed it out to Phyllis at the time.

    Not my cup of tea really but good of its kind.

  14. 14
    LondonLee on 23 Sep 2009 #

    I’d give this a 9 easy though I am still surprised it got to #1. What I loved was how restrained and slooooow it was and stays that way throughout, it never reaches a climax (so to speak) and is all about anticipation which makes it very hot – and perfect for a slow dance with some young lady when you had a similar anticipation in mind.

    Love the minimal production too, it has the airy space of a Delfonics record.

  15. 15
    Steve Mannion on 23 Sep 2009 #

    #10 I had a look last week but I think this took 11 weeks to DoA’s 15

  16. 16
    Steve Mannion on 23 Sep 2009 #

    Tom Jones covered this at some point iirc. Nein danke.

  17. 17
    swanstep on 23 Sep 2009 #

    Let’s face it, Whitney H. could have this as her comeback single today and it would be massive. Ditto for any other established diva. As others have said, however, the song does feel a little stately/immobile (esp. compared with Madonna’s ‘Crazy for you’ from around the same time with its similar but better drums, similar but much better bassline, etc. which just moves), so it does seem that this shouldn’t have had quite enough juice to put an unknown over the top. And yet here we are. A nice surprise #1, which has me at ‘scootching and swaying’…. superb:
    7 (nearly an 8… it’s growing on me as I type this)

  18. 18
    TomLane on 24 Sep 2009 #

    A non-charter in the U.S., not even on our R&B charts. In fact, this song has never charted in any version on our charts. A good song, let’s say this is one we missed. Sometimes these things happen. And btw- I like the Tom Jones version.

  19. 19
    MikeMCSG on 24 Sep 2009 #

    # 6

    “While her eldest son will make an appearance on Popular several years hence, we relish the elegance with which Nelson grasped and sustained her one lovely moment.”

    That’s incorrect. He’d left the line up before they recorded that song.

  20. 20
    Rory on 24 Sep 2009 #

    I only knew this from those snippets in UK adverts, so was intrigued to hear the whole thing; it starts off a little too ’80s smooth, but soon becomes something pretty special, thanks to Nelson’s delivery and the underlying song. I can think of a lot worse one hit wonders to be remembered for. On first impressions I’ll give it 7, but I’m tempted to go to 8, just because it feels so much warmer than other ’80s diva tracks that come to mind. (Perhaps because of that jumper.)

  21. 21
    Matthew H on 24 Sep 2009 #

    Amazing song, definitely an 8 or 9 for me, but I’ll echo that it’s the prolonged slide from “my dear” to “move” that really makes it – and then of course the new harmonies on the chorus straight after. Gives me shivers.

    #12 I link it with ‘Friends’ as well, which would’ve peaked a month or so before this. It’s another r&b beauty dusted with deft touches.

  22. 22
    pink champale on 24 Sep 2009 #

    hmm. i really, really hated this at the time. apart from a, mercifully short-lived, indie absolutist phase it’s pretty rare for me not to think pretty much everything is at least all right, even when i can’t work up any enthusiasm or know that something is objectively not much good. even when terribly concerned about whether the frank and walters were better than cud, i spent a lot more time pretending to hate things than i did actually hating them. so, while i can’t believe i ever liked ‘we are the world’ even a little bit, this is the first no.1 we’ve got to that i have a clear memory of absolutely loathing. as others have said, i think it was a lot to do with feeling uncomfortable with having a kind of ordinary grown up spending a long time telling you that they, you know, *do it*. i remember a vaguely mortifying car journey with an older cousin driving me somewhere in her car while signing along to this on the radio.

    and now? i’ve certainly mellowed a bit, helped no doubt by the fact that you practically never hear it, but i’m still not sure i approve of this sort of thing. 80s soul/r&b in general is still a patch where i tread very gingerly and i’m afraid phyllis is not doing much to change my mind.

  23. 23
    Erithian on 24 Sep 2009 #

    Put me down in the “pro” camp too – this is lovely, warm and sensuous, with a really classy delivery, and has the desired effect of making you just want to snuggle. Yes it’s slow, but like “Paris, Texas” which I also saw for the first time round about this point, it just demands to be taken at its own leisurely pace, and once you accept that the quality shines through.

    It isn’t one that comes easily out of the 1985 memory bank, though, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it when the thread was posted. Re its steady progression up the chart – I only have the details of its top 40 run, but it went 28-19-14-8-4-3-1-2-2-4-6-17-25-29-39. Taking its time, like the lovers in the song!

    This was in the middle of my brief and not entirely happy period working in the advertising department of a financial magazine, much the best bit of which was the buzz of passing Wembley Stadium on the way into town from Harrow. Rory commented on the “I Know Him So Well” thread that this was the heyday of Thatcherism: what comes to mind from that job is the edition of the magazine bearing the front-page headline “Financial liberalisation: our game, our rules”. The Big Bang was less than a year away, and the people who stood to get even richer were SO looking forward to it. I guess we’re all living with the consequences of that episode. (Oh yes, on that subject – whenever any 80s clips programme covers the Big Bang etc, they always show this one hugely punchable yuppie fingering the wad of notes in his shirt pocket while looking lasciviously at the camera. I’d love to know who he was and what he’s doing now…)

  24. 24
    Ben Jones on 25 Sep 2009 #

    This was the most hyped record ever. In the book Last Shop Standing (Whatever Happened To Record Shops) it tells how this record cheated it’s away into the charts.One shop in Scotland was given over 200 copies free copies as thousands of free copies were given to record shops.
    It was a pity as I am sure it would have been a hit anyway.The real loser was Phylis Nelson as the book points out that Phylis Nelson would have the cost of giving all the records away deducted from her royalties.

  25. 25
    Billy Smart on 27 Sep 2009 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Just the one UK TV appearance for Phyllis;

    WOGAN: with Simon Entwhistle, Gorden Kaye, George Melly, Phyllis Nelson, Loretta Swit (1985)

  26. 26
    Billy Smart on 28 Sep 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Phyllis Nelson performed ‘Move Closer’ on Top Of The Pops on three occasions;

    4 April 1985. Also in the studio that week were; Glenn Frey, The CoolNotes and David Grant & Jaki Graham. Simon Bates and Richard Skinner were the hosts.

    18 April 1985. Also in the studio that week were; Dead Or Alive, Howard Jones and China Crisis. Mike Smith and Peter Powell were the hosts.

    2 May 1985. Also in the studio that week were; Eurythmics, Chris Rea and New Model Army. Mike Smith and Richard Skinner were the hosts.

  27. 27
    adam on 28 Sep 2009 #

    In ‘Lost in Music: A Pop Odyssey’ Giles Smith tells the story of somebody he knew who got her boyfriend to drop everything and drive miles to be with her just by playing this song down the phone at him. I find that entirely believable, it really is that sort of song.

  28. 28
    swanstep on 19 Feb 2010 #

    Just noticed that this song was one of (Sir) Michael Caine’s desert island discs recently. Exploring a little further, Caine curated this chill out mix disc (great cover image!) a few years back, and, sure enough, Move Closer was its last track.

    Not all of Caine’s choices inspired. He picked _The Fountainhead_ for his reading matter. (I think I feel a screenplay – an Aguirre-like Caine on a desert island reads Rand to himself while My Way blares, haw haw! – or at least a skit, coming on).

  29. 29
    Paul Reddington on 14 Nov 2010 #

    One of my favourite records as when it came out, I’d split from the love of my life and was seeing another girl, whilst she was with another guy.

    We started up an illicit affair, so the “Hey baby, you go your way, and I’ll go mine – but in the meantime…” was written for us ;-)

    Still takes me back to the dancefloor with her when I hear it.

    10/10 for me.

  30. 30
    Kevin's Cousin on 28 Jul 2011 #

    I had a slow dance to this at a New Year’s Eve party with a girl who had once snogged Steve Bould, the Arsenal centre-back. I’m still not sure if I like it more or less because of those associations.

  31. 31
    Jimmy the Swede on 28 Jul 2011 #

    If she said she’d snogged Luke Chadwick this would be one of your lifetime tracks, I fancy.

  32. 32
    thefatgit on 28 Jul 2011 #

    Luke Chadwick should have been prime Half Man Half Biscuit fodder, should he not?

  33. 33
    Gareth Parker on 2 Jun 2021 #

    I think Tom’s 6/10 is on the money. Tasteful stuff from Phyllis imho.

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