Jul 13

ROBSON AND JEROME – “I Believe”/”Up On The Roof”

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#730, 11th November 1995

robson jeromeA bit of business I need to take care of, here. I owe Frankie Laine – and you – an apology. The review of Frankie’s “I Believe” is from the very early days of Popular – 2003 – and was based on a track which, while certainly Frankie Laine and certainly “I Believe”, is a different, slicker and sicklier recording to the slow-building eye-bulging studio-chewing intensity of Laine’s actual 18-week balladzilla.

I handed the track I had a 3; the actual recording should have got more, and anyway I’m now far fonder of early 50s studio belters than I was when I was reviewing them. Too late, alas! But not too late for you to go and give Frankie a listen. Especially if the alternative is this.

And with that out the way…

As a public pop figure, a TV impresario, Simon Cowell has made one major contribution to criticism: fixing and finessing the idea of “song choice” as part of a performer’s art. If – as has sometimes been reported – the kind of pop Cowell actually likes is the 40s and 50s Big Band era, then presumably one of the things he likes about it is the separation of performer and material: each bandleader and singer getting to select from a songbook the tunes they fancy, or that suit them best. Reality TV pop, as a project, is all about reintroducing this model into pop culture, by means of turning it into a game.

That’s all in the future. But it’s implicit in how Robson And Jerome escaped the one-hit wonder destiny their origins and talents seemed to point towards. “Song choice” in the Cowell sense always has a double meaning. Half of it is about picking songs that suit a particular singer. But the other half is tactical – selecting songs that fit a performer’s narrative, so each contestant on a reality TV show rolls along picking up significance like a light entertainment katamari.

For Robson and Jerome the question of “suiting the singer” is moot: I imagine whatever Cowell gave them he’d have got thin but serviceable karaoke performances back, no more and no less. So song choice is all tactical. The picks on their first single were obvious – “Unchained Melody” because they sang it on the TV show, and “White Cliffs Of Dover” because they were playing soldiers.

So why “I Believe”? There’s a tenuous military link – the song was written as a morale-booster during the Korean War – but I doubt that’s the driver. This single is a pure nostalgic play, a proof of concept for a pre-Beatles oldies market (later exploited by compilation series like Dreamboats And Petticoats), and if you’re going after that market, why not pick the biggest hit of the early 50s? But perhaps “I Believe” is a bit too-old timey – if so, here’s “Up On The Roof”, to show prospective punters that our boys are happy to cross the R&B borderlines.

It worked and then some – another million-selling single, and the biggest album of the year. Throughout the 70s we saw 50s music manifest repeatedly in the charts – sometimes as comforter, sometimes as challenge. But now the 50s is showing up only as finished business. What did they mean, in the end? Presents for grannies and money for Simon.

So what about the record? Surprise – It’s awful! Again it’s a double A-Side in name only: “Up On The Roof”, a brisk coshing of a once-beautiful song, was played far less. The Drifters’ sweet-voiced daydreams are to these fixed-grin strings and canned brass as a stolen afternoon on the roof is to a hurried sandwich at an office desk.

As for “I Believe”, it’s a similar story to “Unchained Melody”: Robson and Jerome take the mission on gamely, end up well out of their depth, and end up needing to call an almighty choral sample airstrike. Meanwhile, the arrangers take the most obvious build-the-track-up route and still fuck it up: who decided to stop the entire song so that one of our heroes can bellow “OR TOUCH A LEAF?”. The idea, of course, is that you can see proof of the divine everywhere you look in life, a theory this record does its level best to scotch.



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  1. 61
    glue_factory on 29 Jul 2013 #

    I guess it’s appropriate that this kept Wonderwall off the top, as both singles came from albums that sold above-and-beyond the usual “lots” by appealing to people who don’t often buy music (I imagine Stars by Simply Red, may also fit into this category). Is this the beginning of CDs for sales in supermarkets, or had that been going for a while at this point?

  2. 62
    mintness on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Tempting though it is to lump them all into the same “1” territory without further thought (and they may indeed all merit it), for me this deserves to be singled out as the worst of their chart-toppers. The others are cack-handed and utterly unnecessary, of course, but there’s something here (particularly on the A-side) that feels downright malevolent, like those involved are trying to see just how far they can push it and still keep the public on-side and buying the thing in their droves.

    Still, at least it’s short.

  3. 63
    23 Daves on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Awful record, this.

    The only thing I can actually say in Robson and Jerome’s favour is that they never released their unbelievably weak version of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” as a single, but there again Cowell did have the nerve to get them to record it in the first place. A friend of mine actually borrowed his mother’s R&J CD just so he could play it to me and watch my horrified reaction. At least good old Uncle Simon didn’t get them to cover any Jacques Brel tunes, I suppose, though “Next” would at least have been close to the “Soldier Soldier” concept.

  4. 64
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2013 #

    I can hear them singing “Seasons in the Sun” right now.

    Make it stop!

  5. 65
    fivelongdays on 29 Jul 2013 #


    Then, to be fair, they did us all a favour when, with this poptastic hit, they stopped what has become one of the most loathsome songs of the last 20 years topping the charts.

    Wonderwall is vile. Oasis’ early vigour slurred into a drone. Surrealism turned into duller platitudes that even Livin’ Joy* could manage. Sparkle, shimmering rock beaten down into quasi-acoustic mush. Soul and joy destroyed by the most awful bit of drumming ever, courtesy of Alan ‘I can play just like Ringo’ White. Bowing down before the shrine of The Beatles, repenting for the sin of liking bands other than the Fab Four, this is where Oasis started to lose me. Probably.

    The lyrics – fuck me, it’s a celebration of being thick. It’s everything that’s wrong. It’s the sort of thing that left me feeling disenfranchised from football. And all the people who thought Shakermaker, and Some Might Say, and Cigarettes And Alcohol et al were fucking rock shite were loving it. There was no swing, no groove, no swirling, only a load of leaden, lumpy, wank. Jizzing over the mouldering corpse of John fucking Lennon, and having nothing to say.

    And the constant bloody overplaying of it! Over the last 18 years (18 years!), I have never been in a position where I thought ‘Hmm, you know what? I haven’t heard Wonderwall in far too long.’ I have this shit – this shit that was directly responsible for the nesh mewlings of Travis, Badly Drawn Boy, Coldplay et al – rammed down my throat as a bit of chinstroking ‘rock’ (HA HA BLOODY HA) genius for 18 years (18 fucking years!) now. The sound of flowers from a late-night garage bought after you’ve just beaten up your wife.

    Of course, 13-year-old me (who was a nascent Rocker-with-a-capital-R) rather liked this shite (having bought WTSMG the day it came out), and thought Oasis (and Blur, and Pulp, and Suede, and…ooh, loads of ‘em) were the nuts. However, the bit of me that listened to Metallica, and Slayer, and Therapy?, and AC/DC, and Green Day (but not yet The Wildhearts) had yet to realise that something was rotten…but perhaps I’d better save that. Suffice to say, I was on the lookout (although I didn’t realise it) for a band who would merge loud guitars and intelligence…and wouldn’t it be great if they sang something about, I dunno, how they laughed when Lennon got shot or summat? One would come along…and so will The Bunny if I say anything further!

    I had to listen to the fucking thing twice so I could get this right. But at least R&J did the right thing, so Tom doesn’t have to listen to it at all, ever. Lucky bugger.

    So, yeah, For Services To Stopping Shit Getting To Number One (plus – hey! It’s Up On The Roof!), this gets a four.

    *I dislike Dreamer, and what it stands for, but I loathe Wonderwall, and what it stands for.

  6. 66
    Auntie Beryl on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #61 I think supermarket CD sales are later than 1995; a 2006 Daily Mail article I’m not going to link to claims grocery shares of the albums market were negligible ten years earlier.

    I think we have the bunnied girlband and, a little later, the rise of DVD/death of VHS to thank for supermarkets aggressively entering the entertainment market.

  7. 67
    Tom on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #66 you’re right about timing but my guess is you have the tail wagging the dog, i.e. it’s down to supermarket trends influencing pop not the other way round. My theory: as supermarkets moved out of the high street/shopping centres and into out-of-town retail parks they started filling up space with stuff other than food – so clothes, entertainment, white goods etc all became more important.

  8. 68
    Patrick Mexico on 29 Jul 2013 #

    A strong contender for the most pointless number 1 of all time. I don’t find it painful to listen to like Mr Blobby et al, and future horror children’s novelty records, I just find it an incredibly tedious recording of a spit-and-sawdust pub’s karaoke machine. Unlike the (contrived but understandable) VE-day crossover of the White Cliffs of Dover, there also doesn’t seem any discernible link between Soldier Soldier or whatever else these schmucks starred in whatsoever. 2.

  9. 69
    Patrick Mexico on 29 Jul 2013 #

    By the way, time has not been particularly kind to Wonderwall – Liam’s voice is a little grating and the chorus somewhat underwhelms after those jaunty, twangy, moody little hooks – but man, I feel like listening to that at least, er, four times more than R&J. It’s one of theirs that got the pop charm/winning brutality balance right – you could indeed call it a “charm offensive”. In spirit and execution, in many ways it’s the ultimate Oasis song, and the ultimate pop song. I wouldn’t feel motivated to ever hear it again though. 8.

  10. 70
    Patrick Mexico on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Re 65: I don’t agree that much – Oasis might have been unoriginal and trampling more intelligent or vital British music underfoot, but the post-Oasis bands you mention arguably did far more damage than them by refusing to break with the past and diluting their (controversially blunt) messages (if they even had a constant unifying ‘message’) into ever-decreasing circles of mediocrity for the masses. The Constantly Mentioned Welsh Bunnied Band should have stepped up to that plate, but in the late nineties it was their most accessible, least nihilistic phase..

    Quite brilliant review, mind. To be honest, the obsessive rhyming and melody being shoved down your throat (as well as being overplayed) makes it the “when Oasis woz good” song I’m not really that keen on. I’ll give it a 6. For genuine effort to create the “best song ever”, unlike the song actually called that. But sometimes in pop, people try far too hard.

  11. 71
    Pink champale on 29 Jul 2013 #

    Re Oasis and the Stones, Noel G chose We Love You on Tracks of my Years or similar. His (I think not bad) argument being that everyone says Satanic Magesties is shit, but it’s actually great, whereas everyone says Exile on Main Street is great, but it’s actually shit.

  12. 72
    Another Pete on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #54 Crouch End Broadway mix

  13. 73
    hardtogethits on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #61, #66, #67. The answer to the supermarket question must be out there somewhere (at the very least, by examining copies of the BPI Statistical Yearbook / Handbook). I recall CDs being sold in supermarkets when CDs were still quite new-fangled, and I was surprised to learn that supermarkets only accounted for 2% of CD album sales by 1988 – and still more surprised that by 1994 the supermarkets still hadn’t grabbed a major stake (methodologies and sources compete, but all say <5%). By 2005, however, the big 4 supermarkets were responsible for more than 25% of CD album sales.

    So – in the absence of someone researching the answer properly – yes, maybe this was roughly the time the supermarkets started to wield their influence. Don't be totally misled though, they had been present in the marketplace for a few years before then.

    NB: ISTR also that when Now 29, in late 1994, ditched the fatbox (eh? – ed) it did so because supermarkets were keen to sell it, and the non-fat-box helped drive down the price (for all) and get more copies on supermarket shelves. Result? Best selling Now! Album up to that point. Some bits of that are definitely, wholly true; some may be falsely remembered.

    Hope this helps.

  14. 74
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2013 #

    #71, I’ve said the same myself

  15. 75
    weej on 30 Jul 2013 #

    #73 I remember Tesco having CDs in the mid 90s, but they always seemed to be at full price, like in service stations, or in the bargain bin of shame with re-recorded greatest hits compilations. That’s why the audio-visual department was always the most lucrative section to go for on Supermarket Sweep.

  16. 76
    James BC on 30 Jul 2013 #

    #65 Which Beatles song or songs do you think Wonderwall sounds like, or is copying?

  17. 77
    Ed on 30 Jul 2013 #

    And now supermarkets seem to be pretty well out of the CD business, like everyone else.

    Up until quite recently, our local mega-Tesco used to have a whole aisle of CDs, near the entrance to the store. Now there’s only a couple of racks, tucked away in literally the most remote corner, upstairs.

  18. 78
    Mark G on 30 Jul 2013 #

    #65, you know, Therapy? would have got to number one, if eight other acts hadn’t released singles in that time period…

  19. 79
    Auntie Beryl sans login on 30 Jul 2013 #

    #77 That might be the perception, but 44% of CDs sold last week in the UK were through supermarkets, even in a world where Amazon has such dominance/market penetration. I suppose HMV’s decline – if not fall – has played a part in that.

    Even when you factor in iTunes, the total market (physical & digital) albums share for supermarkets was 28%.

    (Can’t link to numbers unfortunately, but ’tis true.)

  20. 80
    Chelovek na lune on 30 Jul 2013 #

    Of course this all ties in not only with the (rather later) coming of mammoth-sized Tesco Extras et al, but the ceasing of other high street stores to sell singles (Even before the much later collapse of various chain record stores).

    Woolworths of course held on to much later, but at the cost of (circa 1992) severely reducing the range that they stocked (to be more banally commercial: perhaps preempting the supermarkets, in fact), but WHSmith and Boots opted out at some point (very early 90s?) too….

    There was still a relatively healthy independent record shop market, certainly in the early 90s (certainly in even far-flung suburbs & exurbs of London). When exactly did that cease to exist….

  21. 81
    Ed on 30 Jul 2013 #

    @25, @32 etc – Back to the Stones. I had forgotten about the Bunnied act with their sample – and wholesale melody lift, in fact – but I think you’d want more from “the Rolling Stones of the 90s” than simple homage / appropriation. The same way Primal Scream don’t get to qualify just by trying to write songs that sound like ‘Brown Sugar’.

    James BC @36 is right, I think: groove is the key, and as has been discussed already, that was a quality in short supply in Britpop, and Britrock.

    The most convincing contenders, I think, are an act that had groove, and nastiness, aplenty. But I am pleased to say they are also heavily Bunnied, and we will come to them soon enough.

  22. 82
    Ed on 30 Jul 2013 #

    @79, @80 Thanks for that. A ton of anecdote is worth less than an ounce of data. It seems somehow unimaginable now that Boots – Boots! – sold records as recently as two decades ago.

  23. 83
    Izzy on 30 Jul 2013 #

    81: Come on, it’s not the act that’s bunnied, it’s discussion of the song in question. I don’t actually know who you’re referring to there, which rather kills this discussion.

  24. 84
    fivelongdays on 30 Jul 2013 #

    Of course, it depends on what you mean by ‘Britrock’. For me, Britrock is Therapy?, Wildhearts, Terrorvision, Skunk Anansie, Bunnied Welsh Band, Symposium et al, rather than Second Coming Era Stone Roses/OCS/Bignosed Northern Bunnies, which is merely the ‘rockier’ (IF YOU’VE NEVER ACTUALLY HEARD A ROCK RECORD) side of Britpop, aka Noelrock.

    The powers of a great subgenre name and no agreed definition, eh?

    (#78 Even now, the idea that T? managed to get into the Top Ten is something that makes me need to have a sit down and a cup of tea. Or a cup of T?)

  25. 85
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 30 Jul 2013 #

    In the mid-70s, Boots was actually a pretty good bet. iirc I used to trek round three places in Shrewsbury — except now (as great age falls) I can only remember two of them: Boots and Durrants, the non-chain purposed-for-records shop at the top of Wyle Cop. Can’t now recall if any of the purposed-for-records chains ever landed in the western marches — Our Price or whatever. I got a lot of my records second-hand by mail order, from Cob in Porthmadog (which does still exist).

  26. 86
    Auntie Beryl sans login on 30 Jul 2013 #

    #80 WH Smiths were definitely still selling CDs as recently as five years ago – albeit in small quantities. Around this time Woolworths falling over, and taking Zavvi with it via the disappearance of its distribution arm, shook the music retail landscape up a great deal and I think Smiths just gave up at this point.

    As for the indie sector, huge changes took place from the late 90s onwards. Firstly the supermarkets got involved and changed the general price perception of a CD down from £15 (remember that?) nearer to £10. Amazon/Play/CDWow/Ebay started offering online alternatives. Then a little later iTunes happened along, a legal alternative to the LimeWire/Napster/AudioGalaxy naughty options that had been available for a few years by that point.

    All of the above made life very difficult for most indie stores, mine no exception. I left at the end of 2001 convinced the end was nigh for music retail and I should get a job doing something else.
    The store itself closed a couple of years later.

  27. 87
    Mark G on 30 Jul 2013 #

    Oh yeah, “Audio Boots”, fond memories of this in Reading.

    And then they had a closing down fire-sale (first one I’d ever seen), and I got “Sandinista” cassette set for £1.50. OK, so I’d already (just) bought the 3LP version when it came out, but hey. And now I have all formats! (inc the Minidisc)

  28. 88
    James BC on 30 Jul 2013 #

    In around 1995-96, the writers of Channel 4 teletext (which was brilliant and where I got almost all my music coverage) insisted that the term “britrock” was a silly categorisation that applied to Radiohead and no other bands.

    I don’t think I agreed but I couldn’t suggest who it did apply to. The Wildhearts and Terrorvision were just rock, not “Britrock”.

  29. 89
    Ed on 30 Jul 2013 #

    I remember havering over a rack full of marked-down copies of ”The Name of This Band is Talking Heads’ in Boots on Epsom High Street. The downtown scene still a bit edgy for suburban Surrey in those days.

  30. 90
    Izzy on 30 Jul 2013 #

    81: okay I’ve looked through the rest of the 90s and I still don’t know who you mean, unless it’s Jamiroquai. But I’m guessing it won’t be, as: i) they’re not a very nasty band; and ii) they never get enough praise.

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