Feb 12

THE BLUEBELLS – “Young At Heart”

Popular80 comments • 10,472 views

#687, 3rd April 1993

bluebells Another song where hearing the original changes your perspective on it: as a Bananarama album track, “Young At Heart” is fizzy but unusually thoughtful, a vignette of a kid growing to understand her parents’ choices and compromises. Even at three minutes it runs out of ideas, but it’s a lovely, wise little song and – like all early Bananarama material – it brims with can-do enthusiasm.

Bobby Bluebell co-wrote that song and then worked it up into a hit, making two major changes – one his own, one proven otherwise in court. The bit that’s not his is the violin hook, contributed by Bobby Valentino. It’s immediately recognisable and has the unfortunate effect of pitching the redone “Young At Heart” into an unwinnable comparison with “Come On Eileen” – another fiddle-driven song about coming to terms with your parents’ lives. Even so, Valentino’s wandering violin lines are the best thing about the reworked version – switching from punchy to wistful, corny but at least not leaden.

Which is more than you can say for The Bluebells’ other addition – that lumbering chorus. “YUNG! At heart! You’re so – YU-UNG AT HEART!”. Ken McLuskey is a non-singer in the grand indiepop tradition, but unlike his rough contemporary Edwyn Collins he doesn’t have the clarity, wit, or phrasing to make up for it – he smears his way through the verses, obscuring them in favour of that bellowed refrain.

Together, the fiddle and the chorus were hooky enough to catch Volkswagen’s attention and dredge the song up from 80s limbo to irritate a whole new audience. To be honest, “Young At Heart” sounded OK rubbing shoulders with Cabaret Voltaire and JoBoxers at the fag-end of a cheap compilation tape – it was only weeks in the spotlight that made me come to hate it. But my newfound dislike of the song never faded, and I sometimes wondered why – since some of the things it does (fiddles, fresh-facedness) might be winners in another context. Finally hearing the original doesn’t improve the song, but it at least puts its failures into a kind of focus.



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  1. 61
    swanstep on 8 Feb 2012 #

    And the Vanilla Fudge ad!!! Holy crap that’s great. Must drink more coke….

  2. 62
    wichita lineman on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Twenty thousand disembodied eyes…

  3. 63

    The Man can’t bust our music!!

    Weren’t Coke — slightly later — the first multi-national corporation to help themselves to full-on counter-culture ideals and imagery (viz “I’d like to teach the world to sing…”)?

  4. 64
    LondonLee on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Then there’s Dusty Springfield singing about Mother’s Pride

  5. 65
    Mark M on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Re 63: not if you subscribe to Tom Frank’s version of the relationship between the counterculture and advertising.

  6. 66

    Yes, I wasn’t adverting (ha!) to that: hence “full-on” (also to be truthful I’d forgotten about it)… the counterculture I meant was largescale utopian hippie rather than micro-niche hipster, ie the genuinely popular EVERYONE UNITE stuff that almost immediately became UNcool again, to later hipsters.

    (of course Frank may deal with this: I’ve really only encountered his ideas second or third hand, in which I form I always want to smush them up as being smugly over-simplistic — which may well be the fault of elements of his fan-club)

  7. 67
    JLucas on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Oh God I thought this was just me, but Mama Cass’s radio jingles for US Burger chain Hardees are almost as much fun as her hits. There’s a key change and everything!


    “Who needs cocktail parties?
    Baby you need Hardees!

    Hurry on down to Hardees
    You get a real good feeling inside
    You can taste that charcoal flavour
    In a burger that’s broiled not fried
    With all the things you’ve got to do
    Why not relax and just be you
    Hurry on down to Hardees
    You get a real good feelin’ inside!”

  8. 68
    Mark M on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Re 66: I rate him, and in the case of The Conquest Of Cool he’s (literally*) done his homework – it’s full of detail rather than sweeping claims. Although you argue he’s much more interested in advertising than the counterculture itself worked.

    *As in the book is based on his PhD work.

  9. 69

    Probably I should read him, as it’s entirely stuff I’m fascinated by. At this distance I’m fairly unimpressed by the word “conquest”, since it appears to assume an initial claim — about vanguard art’s former imperishable purity, whether as “is” or “ought” — which I think is deeply silly*: but again, he may well explore this at length.

    *Bohemians were never not in an ambiguous zone: and this is why what they make and do is interesting.

  10. 70
    Mark M on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Re 69: I think you misunderstand the title – cool is conquering Madison Av and by way of this American mass culture, not Mad Av conquering cool.

    But also:

    ‘If we really want to understand American culture in the sixties, we must acknowledge at least the possibility that the co-opters had it right, that Madison Avenue’s vision of the counterculture was in some ways correct.’

  11. 71

    s/b “The Conquest BY Cool” then :p

    ^^^SPOILERS: Spain won

  12. 72

    yikes that was 20 times bigger than intended :(

    update: ok that’s a bit better

  13. 73
    swanstep on 8 Feb 2012 #

    Perhaps Frank had Hollywood in mind.

  14. 74
    ace inhibitor on 10 Feb 2012 #

    just picking up on tomlawrence@40, and the way pop uses/colonises the idioms of everyday language – Simon Frith writes somewhere or other about songs ‘working on ordinary language’ – in the double sense of deriving some of their effect and connection from that apparent everydayness, but also that they rework the language, making the familiar strange again. (Personally I can forgive SAW a lot for the way they smuggled such middle-aged geezerish phrases as ‘i should be so lucky’ and ‘better the devil you know’ into kylie’s ouvre.)

    And thinking on that there IS something strange going on in YAH isnt there? As a phrase or claim ‘You’re so young at heart’ implies precisely that you are not young, anymore, and I’d always assumed that the audience hailed by this song was the nostalgic no-longer-young listening to new CDs of their teenage singles on the stereo of their new Golf. (not least because I was a version of that person myself,in 1993, just with an older car and different records). But then whats going on in the verses? Genuine question as they don’t make a lot of sense to me, but ‘young at heart / yet what a start / old before their time /they married young / yet not a chance / to be a child at all’ and so on feels vaguely like we’re in Too Much Too Young territory. And there’s a whole confusion of ‘us'(they told us lies) ‘them’ and ‘you’ in the lyrics that makes the singers position in relation to this narrative ambiguous to say the least.

    So, 2 possibilities: 1) the lyrics were written in half an hour, back of a fag packet stylee, cobbled together from loosely connotative phrases, and my attempts to make sense of them are ridiculous, or 2) my preferred reading obviously, they are making oblique references to some of the tensions around ‘youth’ encoded in pop from the start: given that pop has very often been a matter of 40/50somethings producing songs sung by 20/30somethings pretending to be teenagers, and was by the early 90s approaching its own 40th birthday and increasingly consumed by 20/30/40somethings remembering their own youth through the medium; and also given that the singer/musician living the bohemian/teenage promise of pop music on behalf of their audience (but also in implied critique of their safe compromises) has been a popular cultural trope since at least the 1830s.

    At which point the bellowed communal singalong chorus that has so sharply divided opinions here can be seen as either desperately drowning out the tensions alluded to in the verses; or as a vehicle to smuggle them in, depending on your preferences.

  15. 75
    Mark G on 10 Feb 2012 #

    Their parents married young, had to be old before their time, but now they are relaxed in each others company now that the kids have left. The kid, in this case, sees them now as likeable, loveable, whereas when they were living in the parental home the kid resented the parental control limitations too much to love them unconditionally. Now that they have a distance, and the parents have that space also, they have a warmer relationship. And a jaunty violin.

  16. 76
    Kit on 11 Feb 2012 #

    occasionally the crossover would go the other way, with people who’d skilled up on hacking jingles deciding to have a swing at pop music, and connecting – eg: The Firm, of Arthur Daley (E’s Alright) and Star Trekkin’, and the Beatmasters, of Cookie Crew / Betty Boo / MC Merlin / JC 001 collabo singles.

  17. 77
    Auntie Beryl on 7 Jan 2013 #

    Digging up this conversation after the best part of a year as I work my way backwards through posts, I’m slightly surprised no-one drew a link from Young At Heart forward to Mumford & Sons, early Noah And The Whale, and similar corporo-raggle-pop merchants. It’s more of a feel than a direct sonic lift, for sure. But what an appalling feel it is.

  18. 78
    Lee Saunders on 16 Jun 2019 #

    Re:Now 24 CD1 track list. That’s one of the best ever Now discs for me, and one of the only ones where I’d skip nothing (Now 17 CD2 is another). CD2 is also quite good but not as much, and it probably would have made more sense for Young at Heart and Labour of Love to go on CD2 in exchange for Sweet Harmony and I Feel You, but either is good for me. If CD1 is a standard Radio 1 playlist for its time as Marcello suggests then its a damn good one, because the 1992 Nows, often good though they are, seem like a missed opportunity to me, the generally not very vivacious adult pop throughout Now 23 in particular exemplifying what I’d have expected Radio 1 to be like in 1992.

    The comments about greatest hits-propelled reissues appearing has got me thinking about how well hit albums at the time fared on the track list. The albums chart in early 1993 is a rather odd place, with The The, the Beloved and Belly all bagging number 2 albums though only the Beloved featuring on Now 24. And though the Sister Sledge/Hue and Cry/Ultravox best of reissue hits turn up on the track list, the re-release of the Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary doesn’t despite trawling a number 1 greatest hits album. Despite being on Warner Bros, R.E.M.’s inclusion on Now 25 and 26 suggests that something like Man on the Moon would have fit nicely. Also overlooked and fortunately so is the existence of Little Angels, whose Jam is a contender for the most forgotten number one album of the last 30 years. Of course, no Animal Nitrate on there either.

  19. 79
    Tom R. on 1 May 2020 #

    In re: Mark G.’s comment (#75, 10 feb 2012)

    This is the absolute best description of the Bluebells version that I have seen. Perfectly and succinctly captures the emotional drive of their version. Thanks.

  20. 80
    Gareth Parker on 23 May 2021 #

    I rather like the bounciness to this, so I’ve gone for a 7/10 here.

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