Jan 14

DEEP BLUE SOMETHING – “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”

Popular139 comments • 10,300 views

#746, 5th October 1996

dbs It’s by no means a hard-and-fast rule, but if you’re writing a break-up song it’s often a good idea to try to make your protagonist sympathetic, or at least not a fool. Here we have a guy who knows his girlfriend is going to break up with him and clutches at an Audrey Hepburn-shaped straw as evidence that maybe – just maybe – the two still have a chance. Your judgement may rest on whether you think “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” trades in bathos or pathos. Is it a merciless document of the kind of undignified rhetorical lunges men will make to avoid being dumped – or is it supposed to be touching?

Probably both. “We both kinda liked it –“ – this comes across as baffled politeness from the girl, and establishes only the feeblest of rocks to cling to. The attempt to stall an oncoming end is surely doomed. But the song, for all its conversational pretences, isn’t necessarily happening in the real world. As “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” frames with its title, the track nods to romcomland, a special place where predestined lovers ultimately overcome their differences, however unpromising the start.

The song’s clunking reference fits ever so slightly with the zeitgeist, at least. Outside the charts, we’re in the age of early Tarantino films – mixing stylishly choreographed violence with nerdish dissection of cheeseburgers or Madonna – and more pointedly of High Fidelity, with its seductive (if ultimately doomed) intertwining of music taste and romantic destiny. Both nail particular tropes of what will become “geek culture” and its relationship with consumption and preference. “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” shows one logical extension: if being into the right things is a precondition for love – the geek romantic dream – then breaking up when you both like an old film really is an injustice.

Or the man’s a ridiculous whiner. Anyhow, when I first realised I detested this record – a minute or two after I heard it – the lyrics weren’t my only problem. It mixes ingredients in the same broad way the Cranberries do – light indiepop guitar hooks on a bed of mild post-grunge crunch. Neither element does the other any favours. The song is too self-pitying to have any bite, but the attempt to flex its muscles and telegraph serious feelings just underlines how over-sensitive and entitled our hero sounds. Almost no mid 90s American alt-rock made it successfully to Britain – even the fakiest most corporate examples tended to stall or go unreleased. So it’s hard to know how typical this weak effort was, even of the blandest end of modern rock radio. Probably “Breakfast” was a harmless fluke. But to this day I’m annoyed far more than I should be by its sulky self-importance, its overwrought beating on a very puny chest. Just let her go, man!



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  1. 31
    hardtogethits on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #19. Kinda. The usage of kinda became prevalent in the 90s, didn’t it? Dunno how prevalent, or where it came from, or went to. At one point, in these parts, there seemed to be kind of a division between those who used it, and those who disapproved of it. Kinda like uptalk or whatever it’s called. It led to an amusing moment when a UK football commentator interviewing John Harkes (of Sheffield Wednesday and the USA) tried just that bit too hard and enquired “Your parents* were** kinda Scottish, weren’t*** they****?” He replied, good-naturedly, “They**** were*** Scottish.” Just realised that looks like an expletive-ridden exchange. It wasn’t though.

    There was even a kind-of Estuary English version, where the V was pronounced more than the D? Sounded a bit like “carve”. I recall a friend accidentaly saying it in a meeting with someone who wondered what the word meant. Don’t hear it so much now. Wonder why?

    Anyway, maybe DBS’ singer was being kinda polite – like not wishing to presume she liked it that much?

    * might have been grandfather or grandparents or Mum or Dad. But not grandmother.
    ** might have been was, is or are
    *** see **
    **** might have been he or she

  2. 32
    Ricardo on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #30 And wouldn’t you know it, DBS DID have a follow-up single called “Josey”, which hit #27 in late December of 1996. I dare anyone tell us how it went without looking it up on YouTube!
    Either way, should DBS join the two-hit wonder Pantheon? Or should we look at the fact that a Top 30 hit in 1996 meant almost nothing, as those were the days of fast-moving singles charts and peaking-at-week-of-debut performances?

  3. 33
    Tim Byron on 13 Jan 2014 #

    I have a memory of seeing this debut on Rage (the ABC in Australia used to televise the singles on Saturday mornings) and fairly quickly ascend to the top 5, and of never having heard the song before that. I listened to rock radio/alternative radio at the time, and would have heard it if it was playlisted, so I think I assumed it was being played on the chart pop stations.

    My memory of this at the time (as a 14 year old) was that it was okay, but pretty slight; I didn’t mind it existing but I definitely wasn’t going to go out of my way to hear it (I appear to feel this way about most landfill alt-rock of the time…memories). It was definitely catchy though, which was why it was successful; it’s a difficult art to make the kind of song where the lyrics are part of what’s catchy rather than just the rhythm or melody, and BAT does this pretty well (and I’m assuming that it was a fluke on DBS’s behalf judging by its one-hit-wonder status).

    In Australia we got a fair bit more landfill alt-rock like this than the UK must have (judging by the comments here) but bypassed lots of stuff that was big in the US (Blues Traveler never made it to Australia, for instance). In my mind, this stuff has often lasted better than the more serious and well-respected alt-rock stuff of the time, because shorn from the now-irrelevant arguments about selling out etc, at least stuff like this was well-crafted. But then I listen to Hootie & The Blowfish or Matchbox 20 and reconsider…

  4. 34
    weej on 13 Jan 2014 #

    British resistance to post-grunge / mainstream-indie-rock was always patchy, and back in 1993 I’d been happy to listen to 4 Non Blondes and The Spin Doctors. Three years later seems like an age, though, Britpop had happened and The Spice Girls were here – for me at least this seemed like the new natural order, but of course this had no relevance at all on the other side of the Atlantic, and if it was getting made, some of it would get through. A few years later we have Semisonic and then Nickleback (thankfully no bunnies here) and Radio 1 and the charts were more than happy to accommodate them too. Deep Blue Something are a polished-up sample more than a highlight of US alt-rock, but the song was fairly catchy, enough people liked it, and here we are in that gap between big summer hits and Christmas where minority interests can rise to the top. I’m not a fan, but it’s hardly incomprehensible.

    Thanks for this thread for reminding me of the Gin Blossoms – from all the groups listed above ‘Hey Jealousy’ is the only thing that I would still listen to. There’s something about that kind of upbeat pop with something unspeakably sad underlying it that just gets me, though I may just be projecting what I know about the songwriter. Anyway, it’s a useful contrast with Breakfast at Tiffany’s – in some ways quite similar songs, but in reality worlds apart.

    My Semisonic memory; we used to sing “Nobody knows it, but she’s got a wet-look perm” at uni. God they were awful, A.V. Club still talk about them as if they were some great lost act though.

  5. 35
    MikeMCSG on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Reading this thread is like headbutting a stone wall. Every other post is giving me and my tastes a kicking. DBS are kinda what I liked but not a particularly good example of it ( neither were Hootie and the Blowfish ).

  6. 36
    Jon (@octojon) on 13 Jan 2014 #

    One of the first CD singles I owned; I played it to death, both B-sides too. RT @tomewing: Deep Blue Something http://t.co/bc7NFYawpe

  7. 37
    James BC on 13 Jan 2014 #

    The high point of Atlantic 252 must have been around now. Although they mainly followed the chart quite closely, they had a habit of latching on to quite minor hits in the soft rock vein and playing them to death – Soul Asylum, the Connells, Third Eye Blind, Sophie B Hawkins and Roll To Me by Del Amitri are a few that spring to mind. They never had much chart impact but I got to know them very well.

    This song must be that genre’s defining moment – the one effort that unaccountably broke through and became more than a minor hit. I wonder how much of a part Atlantic 252 played in its popularity.

  8. 38
    anto on 13 Jan 2014 #

    This is a song that really belongs at number three. Nothing much to take hold of but I can think of worse.

  9. 39
    Auntie Beryl on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #32 The follow up charted solely due to having “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” as one of the additional tracks on the CD single. The label deleted the BAT CD single a couple of weeks before “Josey” was released.

    This sort of thing was fairly standard practice at the time, and not something that can happen with download-era charts.

    As for the hit itself, it’s not hugely offensive or inept, just bland. The sort of thing that makes my soft spot for Crowded House (of whom I hear a slight echo in BAT) more difficult to defend. 5.

  10. 40
    Tom on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Re. “Hey Jealousy!” – sorry, hated it too (though all I can remember is the chorus). Maybe it’s just a power-pop thing. Maybe there’s a vocal style I just can’t deal with.

    For late-90s AOR, I was happy with the two or three most famous Sheryl Crow songs, I think, and that’s all I needed.

  11. 41
    Tom on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #39 BAT is the kind of song that would be in a download only chart for 80 weeks running, I fear, bumping around the lower 30s.

  12. 42
    JLucas on 13 Jan 2014 #

    I’m always surprised when I’m reminded that this came out in late 1996. I sort of retrospectively assume it was a hit around the 92-94 period, such is its status as a sort of deathless but never particularly attention grabbing radio staple. It seems to have always just been *there*. For the same reason it’s a slightly curious number one, as it feels more like the thing that floats about in the top twenty for ages but never had people dashing to the record stores for it. A spiritual number five, if you will.

    Because it’s so ubiquitous (and not very interesting) I’ve also never *really* listened to the lyrics. Reading this review was a revelation to me, I always assumed it was about a guy grasping for common ground with a girl on a first date, not trying to save a dying relationship.

  13. 43
    Cumbrian on 13 Jan 2014 #

    So, I’m sat in Physics in early 1996, around a table with a few of my mates. The teacher was an absolute waster – we were the top set and he wasn’t pushing us at all, just setting us away with an experiment (some pendulum thing) whilst he buggered off into a separate lab to work on something of his own design. As you’re bound to do, you stop paying attention to your measurements and start talking about music. One of my mates had just come back from Dubai, visiting an uncle, and said – very confidently I might add – “there’s this song – it’s called Breakfast at Tiffanys – if it ever gets released over here it will be massive, it was on all the expat radio stations there all the time”. Fast forward 10 months and he had a very smug look on his face.

    As a result of this, I (probably wrongly) bracketed this as a slow burning Macarena, positing that people went on holiday, heard this song and then brought it back to the UK, via requests on radio – but fewer people go to the US than Spain, hence a lower number of requests meant that it required more time to build to critical mass. I could be talking out of my hat on this, as regards the general public of course – I usually do – but that’s where I always thought this came from.

    You’ve obviously got Friends and, later, stuff like Dawson’s Creek which probably helped some of these bands mentioned up thread gain some familiarity in the UK. Again, perhaps wrongly, it doesn’t surprise me that many of them are getting a bit of a kicking and this hasn’t done well either with Tom or below the line. They don’t strike me as the kind of music that people who come here will be that into but also, and crucially, much of it isn’t very good. My girlfriend is from the USA and consequently a lot of this stuff is in her CD collection and reminds her of growing up. I find most of it incredibly turgid. Dave Matthews, in particular, is a musician that I cannot find any redeeming features for, even after repeated exposure.

    The only one of these bands I’ll stick up for is Semisonic – yes, Closing Time is over-exposed but some of their stuff is what I would class as proper Power Pop (with pep in some cases or, as with Secret Smile, a good woozy quality), as opposed to this which, whilst the chorus is catchy, is too mopey and a bit too polite for its own good (leading into the last chorus there’s some scratchy guitar ticks cribbed from Creep by Radiohead but whereas Jonny Greenwood is raising a massive middle finger, these guys are just clearing their throats). As I said, I’m not surprised that it’s taken a bit of a kicking – but then it’s also not very good, so it probably deserves it.

    Semisonic also miles better than Dave Matthews, Goo Goo Dolls, Spin Doctors and many of the other US guitar bands that we mostly avoided post Grunge (bar the odd big song) in favour of Shed Seven, Kula Shaker and Ocean Colour Scene. Ahem.

  14. 44
    JLucas on 13 Jan 2014 #

    I wonder if this wasn’t another slipstream number one -nabbing a week on top because The Fugees (themselves only really getting to the top via momentum from their previous single) just happened to collapse faster? There wasn’t much else going on in the top ten this week; Celine Dion has the highest new entry at #6 with It’s All Coming Back To Me Now, Donna Lewis was reaching the peak of a particularly gradual ascent for a pop song at the time. Other than that, the top ten is largely forgettable.

    Looking at the charts around this period really makes you realise how vital the Spice Girls actually were. Some interesting songs managed to get to #1, but only because on the whole the charts were completely stagnant between Spice releases.

  15. 45
    Steve Williams on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #15 I completely associate this song with the Reverend Mayo as well, he was certainly its most vocal supporter on Radio 1. But then he did have some fave raves from left-field as well because I remember around this time he also offered his enthusiastic patronage to What’s In The Box by The Boo Radleys.

    Mayo used to play Hootie and The Blowfish occasionally but never enough to get them proper hits, and not as much as Danny Baker who was probably responsible for the majority of their plays on Radio 1.

  16. 46
    ciaran on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Not much fondness for this one here but I’ve always enjoyed it.A 3 (the same as ‘Flava’ fer gawd sakes!) is very harsh. A 6 from me.

    At the time of spice mania and peter andre this was far from the worst thing on the radio in 1996. Considering the in-yer-face teen pop sensations, football hysteria, britpop chest beating and almost extra terrestrial singles that make up popular 96 BAT appears to be the most normal/down-to-earth no.1 we have had for a while.

    This was very popular in Ireland where we seemed to like this slightly old fashioned easy on the ear american sound despite not being number 1 over here.

    As Jlucas points out it’s still played often.More as a combination of obvious 90’s nostalgia and one-hit-wonder. Josey scraped the uk top 30 around november that year. A very bleak chart at that time without giving too much away.

    It only dawned on me of its one-hit-wonder status in 1999 when one of those late night commercials had a ‘hits of the 90s’ CD on sale which oddly was made up almost entirely of one hit wonders’ more than anything else.A bunny from early 1997 featured aswell.Paul King used to flog an 80s compilation on the same station.

    I still enjoy BAT to this day despite hearing it so often.

  17. 47
    Rory on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Re Auntie Beryl @ 39, “the sort of thing that makes my soft spot for Crowded House … more difficult to defend” – if anyone here starts dissing Neil Finn, there will be blood. (Or, um, loud protestations from yours truly, to the extent that typing a comment into a thread can be “loud”.)

    Meanwhile, the dissing of Semisonic is well and truly under way, so I’d better do as promised above and go into bat for them. And also meanwhile, I notice the Divine Comedy being dissed by proxy here, so I may end up having to go into bat for them – which is an apt metaphor, given Neil Hannon’s side-project of recent years – and I’m sure there will be other personal favourites dissed here, given what a huge part of my musical life this broad genre has been. MikeMCSG @35, I feel your pain, even though I’ve given a 4 to this specific example. My lack of enthusiasm for “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” is because it strikes me as a flawed example of a style whose best examples I love, not because I would dismiss the entire style.

    So, reasons I like Semisonic, which will probably convince nobody to change their mind:

    I’ve never personally heard “Closing Time” played to clear people out of a pub, in the UK or anywhere else. I didn’t set foot in many pubs between its release in 1999 and around 2003, when I first started pub quizzing with friends, so I missed its heyday in that role, I suppose. Instead, I first heard it as the opening track on the album I picked up on spec during a visit to San Francisco in 1999. The band felt like a personal discovery rather than something forced on me by pubs or radio, which I’m sure affected how I listened to them. Their first album, which I bought a month later, was similarly unknown to me, and when their third album came out in 2001, I wasn’t really surprised by the indifference it met, even though I thought it was great.

    A few things made me feel they were good. I liked Dan Wilson’s voice, and I’m a sucker for backing harmonies in the family tree of Beatles. The band played well, and I’m fond of that particular combination of pop-rock textures. Wilson’s lyrics were mostly teen-angst-free and middle-aged-angst free, the lyrics of a happy man in his thirties, and in hindsight that mattered too: the late nineties (my late twenties/early thirties) were some of the happiest years of my life, so I had less time for downbeat music. (Not no time, as this was also the era of OK Computer and Kid A, but it was about the overall balance.) For me, Semisonic were the soundtrack of the Web boom years, years which shaped everything I do today.

    Wilson’s work struck me as being worth mention alongside some of the great practitioners of the power-pop form (Neil Finn among them, most definitely, although that was never all he did). He was never my prime example – none of the Semisonic albums matched Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend or (unjustly overlooked) In Reverse for me – but he was a solid one.

    What can I mention that isn’t “Closing Time”… okay. “Singing in My Sleep” is nice. It sounds nice. Its lyrics include the words “nice”. “All Worked Out” is one of their best singing-in-the-shower singalongs, with air-guitar-worthy solo to boot. “Chemistry” should have been the number one that BAT was. “Get a Grip” is one of the funniest, catchiest songs about masturbation ever written. Any of those work much better for me than Deep Blue Something’s brief moment in the something.

    Wilson has been more of a songwriter in recent years than a performer in his own right, for acts I haven’t really followed myself, like the Dixie Chicks and Josh Groban, and in that context we’ll get a chance to discuss him again whenever Popular reaches 2011. But for now, he and his band were much more than a convenient PA device for last orders.

  18. 48
    Rory on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Cumbrian @43: yay!

  19. 49
    thefatgit on 13 Jan 2014 #

    The sticker on the sleeve: “The US Top Ten Hit”. You might as well have a sticker saying: “Vaguely Popular in America”. Surely this is a superfluous addition, ie. how much kudos does anything (specifically “American” or attributed as “mainstream” or “Rock”) have if it hasn’t already got to #1 on the Billboard Chart in the 90s? This marketing strategy, I suspect, would have been used as an indicator of quality 40 Popular years ago.

  20. 50
    swanstep on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Very surprised (from an American perspective) that this was a UK #1. Is there no advertizing tie-in that explains its momentary popularity? (I’m trying to remember, was there a wave of Audrey H. nostalgia around 1996?) I don’t remember hearing it much stateside, and certainly hardly at all compared to Goo Goo Dolls, Semisonic, Third Eye Blind, Better Than Ezra, Spacehog, and the like. (I agree with 42,Jlucas that BAT in fact sounds a little dated, and low tech, and perhaps like a holdover from the early ’90s Lemonheads/Juliana Hatfield wave.)

    BAT feels like at bottom the same song as, say, ‘Closing Time’ or ‘Name’ or The Sundays’ ‘Summertime’ or even Alanis’s ‘Ironic’ (and behind them all is I suppose Big Star’s ‘Ballad of El Goodo’ which everybody loves) just a relatively uninspired version of it, with a duff main lyrical idea as Tom has described. A tepid 4 from me.

    Checking the US Modern Rock #1s for 1996 there were definitely some keepers such as ’1979′ and ‘In The Meantime’ and ‘Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand’. Oh well.

  21. 51
    Tom on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Where did the band name come from BTW? Like everything else, it hasn’t aged well – caricature gen x half-arsedness – not that any of their peers were great namers (is this the era when “all the good names have been taken” began as an idea)

  22. 52
    ciaran on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #51 – Texas I think.

  23. 53
    Rory on 13 Jan 2014 #

    swanstep @50, Hepburn died in January 1993, so there must have been a wave of TV screenings of her movies that year, which could then have inspired BAT’s songwriter. BAT was recorded in 1994, says Wikipedia. That all fits with this song feeling like a holdover from a few years earlier. Doesn’t really explain why the UK public took to the song when they did, though.

  24. 54
    Rory on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Tom @51…

    “What was that movie from the 1950s we saw the other day on cable?”

    “The Deep Blue… something?”

    “No, not Vivien Leigh, the Audrey Hepburn one.”

    “Roman Holiday?”

    “Yeah, that was it. Let’s write a song about that. And then change the title to her other one. And then call our band the one you first said.”

  25. 55
    23 Daves on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #37 I think a lot of the artists you’ve mentioned tended to get heavy airplay on Radio One as well, it’s just we tend to forget that as the mid-nineties playlists have since become falsely regarded as wall-to-wall indie and dance. Certainly once you got past the breakfast show and into the mid-morning and afternoon output, this kind of record got played often (largely, as I’ve already pointed out, thanks to Father Simon Mayo). “Roll With Me” holds a particular memory for me in that it was the first song I heard on the radio the morning after breaking up with a girlfriend, the alarm clock catching it midway through. Not really an appropriate tune under the circumstances, but that’s always stuck in my head ever since, in much the same way that “Closing Time” reminds me of nineties British licensing laws.

    #50 “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” film posters tended to be quite a common sight in student accommodation around this time, but so far as I know there wasn’t a cinema reissue or major DVD campaign which would have given this song more of a lift (Or was there? I wish I could remember).

    Meanwhile, I promise to reinvestigate Semisonic at some point. I’ve a feeling I may have been sent their CD for review and didn’t rate it at all, actually, but very few specific memories stick out in my mind so I could be wrong.

  26. 56
    Query on 13 Jan 2014 #

    For a long period I was only familiar with the Olde English sketch group parody of this, which at the time I thought was an original song, until I discovered the Deep Blue Something version. For what it’s worth I think the parody captures a relationship’s final throws rather more aptly.

  27. 57
    Cumbrian on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #55: This Audrey Hepburn love in for students was still going on by the time I went to uni in 1999 and was even still in evidence by the time I left. I’ve never seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s – indeed I don’t think that I have ever seen a film with AH in it – but there’s obviously still something about her image that is appealing to some. It doesn’t hurt I guess that she is/was an exceptionally good looking woman.

  28. 58
    ciaran on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Some of ye have mentioned how BAT was 3-4 years too late.I disagree slightly with this as if anything it was 2-3 years too early. In many ways it was a forerunner for the post britpop quirky U.S slacker or post-grunge sound that took hold in 1999.

    The summer of that year was something else. Every second song on the radio at that time seemed to be quirky laid back Americana. ‘Lullaby’ by Shaun Mullins, Semisonic ‘Secret Smile’, Barnaked ‘Ladies ‘One Week’, New Radicals ‘You get what you give’ and the monstrous in the US ‘Iris’ by Goo Goo Dolls, that on top of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers ‘Californication’ comeback. And with the like of Len’s ‘Steal my Sunshine’ still to come.I would have included the sublime ‘Drinking in LA’ by Bran Van 3000 but they were Canadian werent they.(No bunnies in that lot dont worry.)

    That it was around the time that ‘Napster’ was about to get going I always have associated alternative U.S rock of the late 90’s with the beginning of the MP3.Having such a hold of the airwaves in 99 I think I was fairly bored of it for a finish.

    Perhaps Breakfast at Tiffany’s was more influential than we realized!

    ‘Iris’ is interesting as it only charted at no. 26. A very low position for such a widely played song.

  29. 59
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Jan 2014 #

    the film is a very unsatisfactory rendering of truman capote’s book: audrey hepburn — despite many virtues — is not really the right actress to play capote’s manic pixie dreamgirl mary sue of aspects of himself then hard to discuss in mainstream literature, let alone cinema; george peppard is george peppard (his destiny was wisecracking TV beefcake, which suited him), and andy rooney (of all people) was cast to play a spectacularly ill-judged racial caricature of a japanese man, in terrible make-up (the last problem tending to overshadow the others, to modern eyes)

    verdict: of its time (and not in a good way)

  30. 60
    Tim on 13 Jan 2014 #

    When “The Wrestler” came out a few years ago I remember repeatedly hearing on the radio how it was a great return to form for Mickey Rourke which, in my head, clearly meant it was a great return to form for Mickey Rooney. I’ve never seen “The Wrestler” because obviously any version not featuring Mickey Rooney in the central role would be a gross disappointment

    Now I want to see BAT with Andy Rooney.

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