Jan 14

SPICE GIRLS – “Say You’ll Be There”

Popular72 comments • 9,426 views

#749, 26th October 1996

SYBT You can see why Simon Fuller and the label wanted “Say You’ll Be There” to be the Spice Girls’ launch single. It’s just as bouncy as “Wannabe”, but tighter and perhaps even catchier. It both fits into the mid-90s pop landscape and leapfrogs it – doing the plastic R&B thing Peter Andre does and Take That sometimes tried, but making the boys look laughable, with heaps more swagger and panache. It gives everybody in the group something to do – if this had been first, maybe Mel C would have been seen as more of a focal point, and Victoria less dismissed.

As well as being a brilliant record, “Say You’ll Be There” had another natural advantage for a management team of pop-savvy dudes: its theme. The scenario is a simple one – girl and boy are friends, boy wants more, girl does too but can’t be sure he’ll stick around afterwards. This is the kind of song young women in pop have often sung, from the Shirelles to Gabrielle’s “Give Me A Little More Time” earlier in ’96. It was – and may still be – a genre staple on magazine problem pages, too: should I go all the way? If you’re going to launch a girl group, a slick, on-trend update of this might seem like a solid, safe choice. As a springboard for “girl power” it’s a lot less distinctive.

But release it after said manifesto and the song comes into sharper focus from the very first line. “Last time that we had this conversation / I decided we should be friends”. Which establishes two things – this isn’t the first time lover-boy has tried it on, and it’s not ‘we’ decided: girls make their own choices. What’s changed this time? The boy is bringing “love” into it, and the song is asking – is this sincere or tactical? While it doesn’t exactly subvert its sex/commitment trade-off sub-genre, “Say You’ll Be There” still reframes it in the same terms established on “Wannabe”. Words don’t matter, whether they’re “zig-a-zig-aah” or “I love you”. Victoria gets the key line: a slightly weary “It would be better left unsaid”. Only actions count: prove it or move it.

In my memory this is the single that started to win the critics over to the Spice Girls, but a check of the facts shows “Wannabe” high on music press lists for ’96. What “Say You’ll Be There” did cement was a perception of Mel C as the most talented Spice. (Only talented one, according to grumps.) You can see why – she blasts her way through the final minute of this, shouting and taunting and diving and weaving between the other girls’ harmonies. It’s delirious and infectious and my favourite single bit of any Spice record – but it’s effective because she’s ad-libbing her way around a tight five-woman performance, not showboating. (A nice, coincidental riposte to Boyzone – this is how you do dynamic group singing, lads). It’s also a really necessary performance: the chorus on its own risks feeling slightly supine and Mel’s joyful interventions are a sharp reminder that this song celebrates romance on the girl’s terms.

There’s one other moment that jumps out at me from “Say You’ll Be There”. As we’ll see, their arrangements are rarely the best parts of a Spice Girls record. Here though, as with “Wannabe”, they match the Girls’ raucous delight in owning a pop moment. I love almost everything about the music on “Say You’ll Be There” – from the sinuous, ear-nagging high keyboard lines lifted from West Coast hip-hop to the little skritches of turntablism at the verse line-endings (incongruous scratching will be a signature sound of late-90s pop). Sadly, the S-Funk era promised here won’t last, but it does deliver one great incongruous thrill: the blithe harmonica break dropped in after a group shout of “I want you!”. As a moment in its own right – and that’s maybe all it’s meant as – it’s just a lovely free gift in an already terrific song. In the wider scheme of British pop jaunty harmonica breaks have a certain precedent, though. Selling millions, defying predictions, unnerving interviewers, moving like a gang, about to break America – if there’s a British group with the right to do Beatles callbacks at the end of 1996, it’s not the boys with the Union Jack guitars.



  1. 1
    DanH on 19 Jan 2014 #

    As I said before, this was the first SG song I’d properly heard…by the time it made its rounds to American pop radio in mid 1997, I could no longer live in my self-contained bubble of Beatles Beatles Beatles, as I was entering junior high. I don’t remember hating it a whole lot, and even now, it doesn’t bother me.

  2. 2
    To Mewing! (@tomewing) on 19 Jan 2014 #

    New Popular entry: “Say You’ll Be There” and a shiny new look thanks to @ghostfoodpro http://t.co/Ls36SC6Kjn

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 19 Jan 2014 #

    listening to this again recently I was pleasantly surprised how positive a contribution each Spice Girl makes to the song – even if the two Mels stand out as better than the rest.
    It’s more of a song than Wannabe and musically richer but slightly more generic. Top video too

  4. 4
    col on 19 Jan 2014 #

    At the time I thought it was their best song and still do: it’s held up well. “if there’s a British group with the right to do Beatles callbacks at the end of 1996, it’s not the boys with the Union Jack guitars”: very much otm. a 9 for me.

  5. 5
    taDOW on 19 Jan 2014 #

    lol at ‘s-funk’ – the g-funk touches here are fantastic. in the context you put them they’re not surprising but at the time i remember being deeply amused/surprised/entertained by them, 3 years removed from the onset of gangsta paranoia in the mainstream press (tying in w/ early 90s hysteria over the oncoming any day now wave of criminal youth). in 96 it still seemed unlikely that snoop dogg could end up a friendly beloved figure w/ a ‘lol weed’ wink a la willie nelson but the seeds were clearly there. maybe my fave uptempo spice girls, ‘wannabe’ is the manifesto and anthem and i’m not sure if the spice girls are ‘the spice girls’ w/ this as their first single but it’s more charming and effortless imo. 9.

  6. 6
    Chelovek na lune on 19 Jan 2014 #

    Best Spice Girls song bar none, I’d say. Funky. Great arrangement – both musically and vocally. And (unlike Wannabe and another reasonably damn fine bunny to come) not a hint of gimmickry. Rather: understatement.

    A 10, even.

  7. 7
    Tom on 19 Jan 2014 #

    My favourite switches between this and “Wannabe” – on other review days, the marks would have flipped over.

  8. 8
    Billy Hicks on 19 Jan 2014 #

    Pleasant enough but nothing spectacular. I think I liked it *slightly* more than Wannabe as it had more of a tune to it while still remaining fairly upbeat, but I was still eight years old, still put off by the simple presence of the word ‘Girls’ in their name and my back remained stubbornly turned away. A perfect 5 for me, the very definition of average with nothing majorly good or bad highlighting it.

  9. 9
    Tom on 19 Jan 2014 #

    Nerdish mark note: I’ve marked the last 8 singles 1-9-3-8-3-9-2-8. I strongly suspect this is the most ping-pong stretch of marks I’ve handed out, everything alternating between very good and pretty terrible (and – without wishing to spoil anything – it may not be over yet).

  10. 10
    thefatgit on 19 Jan 2014 #

    Oooh! You’ve had some work done. I can read the text without my reading glasses! Thumbs up, FT.

    SYBT’s slinky, funky charms make it my favourite SG single. The video smooths out the Girls’ image-wise. Those alter-egos reinforcing their respective “personalities” and the Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! meets Fox Force 5* underlines their pop-culture-aware credentials. At this point, the Spice Girls were all about female empowerment. One guy in the video gets staked out in the desert like Richard Harris from A Man Called Horse and the other guy ends up strapped to the roof of their Plymouth Roadrunner like roadkill. This is of course, a good thing. But the high-kicking crotch-shots still underline it’s The Man’s money paying for this little fantasy. Anyone could see they were only paying lip-service to feminism.

    SYBT brings the funk, that’s for certain. And the Spicies each bring their own vocal talents to the song, even surprisingly, Victoria. Where “Wannabe” was rude and in your face, SYBT was a much friendlier and more persuasive proposition.

    Is this the first bit of harmonica we’ve had on Popular since “Desire”? Props to Judd Lander, almost half as good here as Stevie Wonder which is better than most. I’m inclined to award a 10 for the song alone. Minus a couple of points for the video.

    *from Pulp Fiction.

  11. 11
    Ricardo on 19 Jan 2014 #

    When all is said and done, I think most of us will agree that the Spice Girls were better as a concept (although flawed) and an image than as a musical group per se – unlike a certain other group of bunnyable five ladies who’ll come much later on in this narrative twice. All in all, the Spices are a great case study in cunning marketing and the very timing of such, really. They are probably even the high-water mark of how things used to work back before the Internet (and reality TV) turned things around.
    Sorry to be the downer here, people. But it’s just my two cents on the whole phenomenon.

  12. 12
    Tom on 19 Jan 2014 #

    #11 Since this comes after a sheaf of 9s and 10s for this single I’m not sure where you’re getting “most of us will agree” from!

    The shape of the overall Spice Girls story is interesting and the balance between concept and output is part of why – but I don’t think it’s quite as clear cut as you make out. At THIS point in the story, they’re the best example since Frankie Goes To Hollywood of a high-concept pop group selling the concept with terrific records, I reckon.

  13. 13
    JLucas on 19 Jan 2014 #

    I wouldn’t agree with 11 at all. I think the run from Wannabe to Goodbye is just about as perfect a stretch of pop singles as has ever been produced. Even Holler has aged really, really well. Sadly Headlines completely ruins it, mercifully it seems to have been totally forgotten.

    Anyway I think, contrary to her minimal contribution to Wannabe, Victoria walks away with this one. None of the others could have done justice to her wonderfully imperious purr of “Any fool can see the they’re falling…”

    It really could have gone either way after Wannabe, but this was such a smart followup. They would have made no sense the other way around.

    Disappointed by the mild spoiler that Tom won’t be marking any subsequent Spice Girls singles higher than this. I think three of their subsequent singles easily outclass these two. Though they’re all ballads, and I guess for a lot of people that’s not really what the Spice Girls were ‘about’. God but they’re perfect though. All in good time…

  14. 14
    Izzy on 19 Jan 2014 #

    Fabulous record, this was always my favourite of theirs. 9.

    Two things: the g-funk synths never registered as such until now, amusing how something so obvious can sneak by unnoticed in a different context; and I get that Mel C’s performance is crucial on the outro, but jeez her voice, I just can’t stand it.

    Oh, and the video’s great, come on! Which brazen pop act’s ever got away without being eye candy when required? I do recall chuckling at Victoria’s dancing though, the same lame slinky move in every shot.

  15. 15
    JLucas on 19 Jan 2014 #

    Also, a note on the vocal issue. I’ll discuss this again, probably at length, on future entries, but the ‘Only Mel C could really sing’ fallacy must really rankle on Emma Bunton. It’s less obvious on the uptempos where they very much have an equal share, but on almost any of their ballads, if you really listen to them, she’s basically the lead singer, with Mel B trading lines with her on the verses and Mel C responsible for the more showy ad-libbing.

    For my money, she’s by far the most natural and easy-on-the-ear vocalist in the group. In the marvellous ‘Wannabe’ book by David Sinclair, pretty much all of the Spice Girls producers, including Jam & Lewis from the ill-fated Holler sessions, single her out for the highest praise. A lovely and underrated voice.

  16. 16
    Tom on 19 Jan 2014 #

    #13 Sorry for the spoiler! The marks are decided on review day after writing the review – so who knows. Ballads in particular seem to get me hard when I sit and pay attention – “Jesus To A Child” being a good example.

  17. 17
    Ricardo on 19 Jan 2014 #

    #12 OK, so you’re right on that front. Still, as this story develops, I think you’ll find more people agreeing with me. In many ways, musically speaking – and forgetting “Headlines” -, I think their biggest flaw is that they’re too much of extremes. Spice feels underproduced at most times, and out of the singles “Say You’ll Be There” is probably the worst offender, as it sounds so much like a low budget version of what already sounded throwback in the American R&B universe by 1996. Spiceworld, on the other hand, is the exact opposite: overproduced to the tilt – but that was to be expected, as they were by then world-beating mega superstars with all the budget an old school record contract could afford.
    But I do agree with the view that “Say You’ll Be There” is most probably their best song. I even gave it a 6, and won’t mark it higher for the reasons I’ve already explained. It’s just that the song is strong enough on its own to withstand these failures, something which, for me, doesn’t nearly half happen most of the time with the rest of their output.

  18. 18
    23 Daves on 19 Jan 2014 #

    Their best single by far, so far as I’m concerned – from the very first moment you heard it you knew that there was no way on earth they were going to be one hit wonders (which many of my friends had already decided was the most likely outcome). The power of the video and the single’s hooks combined just meant this couldn’t lose.

  19. 19
    Mark G on 19 Jan 2014 #

    You know, up to now I always thought this was one girl talking to another.

    Anyone else?

  20. 20
    mapman132 on 19 Jan 2014 #

    Hmm, things are looking a bit different here….guess I’ll get used to it :)

    Just as “Wannabe” was released about 1/2 year later in America, so too was “Say You’ll Be There”. Thus we experienced it in the summer of 1997 when it peaked at #3. Although “Wannabe” was the bigger hit and more memorable song overall, this song seems to have the definitive Spice Girls video for some of the reasons previously mentioned. BTW, this would not be the last music video to take inspiration from Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (see: Killers, 2005).

    6/10 for me. My own Spice Girls favorite is yet to come.

  21. 21
    Kat but logged out innit on 19 Jan 2014 #

    In the late 1980s the Girl Guide movement gave themselves a post-capitalism image makeover – new uniforms by him off the Clothes Show, letting Snowy Owl do her hair like she was in Strawberry Switchblade (she was a hairdresser, so fair enough) and of course revamping the Brownie Guide Handbook (last updated in 1968!) so it had cosy pictures and an Identifiable Protagonist: blonde, blue-eyed, gormless Emily. The reader would follow Emily on her journey from day 1 until she buggered off to Proper Guides at the end, along with her supporting character chums.

    My friends and I took merciless pleasure in ripping do-gooder everygirl Emily to shreds, scribbling all over her face and writing thought bubbles for her, e.g. “Who farted? ME”. One section involved explaining to the six-year-old audience what a ‘promise’ meant and how important it was in terms of being a Proper Brownie (it was a big deal). The convoluted set-up is that Emily wants someone to wait for her after Brownies, for no explicable reason at all. Linda, the oldest chum, is distracted (possibly by lipstick and nylons) and says to Emily that she ‘might’ wait. Helen, the sporty one who does cartwheels says she will ‘maybe’ wait. Crafty textiles queen Karen says she will ‘probably’ wait. It’s only drippy babyish Sue, whose superpower is Being Nice, who ‘promises’ she’ll wait and thus Emily is satisfied she’s telling the truth. All that she wants from Sue, is a promise Sue will be there.

    Though of course I crossed that out and made it look like Sue was telling Emily to ‘go away you smell of poo’.

  22. 22
    flahr on 19 Jan 2014 #

    I looked at the title and thought “I know I must know this one, but I can’t remember for the life of me how it goes.” And of course I did remember for the life of me, but even now I’ve just listened to it – well, I can still remember how it goes just fine, it’s not a Barry Garlow song – but I can’t connect it to the title. I know they sang “say you’ll be there” during it. I can even remember them saying it. But it doesn’t seem like the title. If this had been called “I’ve Given You Everything” (but is that not imperative, too subservient for grrl power?) or, I dunno, something else, it would make more sense in my head. As it is it would be like “Don’t Look Back in Anger” being called “She’s Walking On By”.

    As it happens I think “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Say You’ll Be There” are exactly as good as each other. What a convenient segue. I can’t remember how good that is, though, so no mark from me yet (/ever???).

  23. 23
    Tom on 19 Jan 2014 #

    #19 it works as a reading! It feels like a stretch but maybe that’s just me as a het dude imagining dude-centricity. I think it would still work better as about romantic/sexual love than not – it would also be a bit of a shift from “friendship never ends” to policing the conditions for friendship.

  24. 24
    Rory on 19 Jan 2014 #

    Nice new design. But (there’s always a but) I’ve noticed a few teething troubles:

    – The ‘Setting Sun’ entry notes 100 comments at the moment, but when you click through to them shows only 25 – numbered 1-25, but they seem to be comments 76-100 – with no way to see older ones. On the Boyzone entry I notice that there are links back to early pages of comments at the bottom of each page, in batches of 25, but each page numbers its batch of comments 1-25 (when again they might be 26-50, 51-75, etc). This won’t do our references to each other’s comments any good.

    – Having commenters’ names in all-caps is going to mess with commenters doing tricksy things with capitalisation (taDOW springs to mind).

    – Could we retain the link to On Marks Out of 10 in the sidebar? I refer to that all the time to make sure there’s some consistency to my own scores. I’ve retrieved it from my history and bookmarked it, but new commenters won’t necessarily know about it unless it’s prominently posted somewhere.

    – I can’t spot the Log In link. I had to pretend to Register and then follow the tiny log-in link at the bottom of that page. I notice that when I do, the comments numbers are doubling up – the one above this is 23 23 (the first in a blue circle, the second in text). And in ‘Setting Sun’… aha, now the comments there are numbered 76 to 100, but in text only (without the blue circle numbers), and now I’m getting the links back to earlier pages of comments.

  25. 25
    Tom on 19 Jan 2014 #

    Thanks Rory – useful to know about glitches. I know the comments are being worked on as a priority.

  26. 26
    flahr on 19 Jan 2014 #

    #9 – anyone would have thought you were in your 20s and hearing everything as either THE BEST THING EVER or THE WORST THING EVER at the time or something ;-)

  27. 27
    Rory on 19 Jan 2014 #

    The “Latest Comments on Popular” sidebar loses a lot by hiding the names of the relevant thread in the link title tag, requiring mouseovers to see them. Being able to follow thread activity at a glance has fuelled many a comments marathon, I’m sure.

    (I’ll comment properly on “Say You’ll be There” eventually! I’ve only heard it once so far. Liked it, though. Starting from a 6, and may move up with repeated exposure.)

  28. 28
    Steve Mannion on 19 Jan 2014 #

    Thanks for redesign-related comments. It might be good to add any further ones to the recent ‘reader question’ post to avoid going off-topic on Popular itself. I’ll pick feedback up from there. Cheers!


  29. 29
    Another Pete on 19 Jan 2014 #

    The brief harmonica solo has a touch of Morecambe and Wise’ not now, Arthur! skit about it. That’s a terrible faded print job on the single’s cover. I just thought it was the one Tom used but just image searched it and they were all like that.

  30. 30
    mintness on 19 Jan 2014 #

    “Throwing far too much emotions at me”.

    Why? For pity’s sake, WHY?

  31. 31
    Tom on 19 Jan 2014 #

    #29 haha yes I looked for ages for the ‘real’ one. That said a couple of years later when I started doing powerpoint presentations I thought such effects were hot shit and used them a lot

  32. 32
    Kinitawowi on 19 Jan 2014 #

    After Wannabe’s in-your-face abrasiveness, clearly intended to sell the Spices to somebody that wasn’t me, it was time to let the music sell itself – and in that regard, SYBT was as good as could be wished for. But I still always preferred their ballads, and in later life I’ll prefer Northern Star to Goin’ Down (not to mention the bunnies), so I’m not going past a 7.

  33. 33
    James BC on 19 Jan 2014 #

    I thought the girl in this song was giving the guy the brush-off.

  34. 34
    mapman132 on 20 Jan 2014 #

    #26 Another theory for the conversation currently happening in the FT Top/Bottom 100 thread: Lots of commenters here were in their 20’s in the 1990’s when everything that’s popular must suck simply because it’s popular.

    Of course, I’m not saying this was true for Tom (or me) ;)

  35. 35
    Brendan F on 20 Jan 2014 #

    I think that would be true if you were asking the me of the time at which these were hits, but the me of today is seeing all of this with the hindsight that it really doesn’t get any better as time goes on so I’m inclined to look more fairly on those that have any merit. Obviously, that isn’t gonna include many of the boyband #1s and I know I won’t be alone in that.

  36. 36
    Doctor Casino on 20 Jan 2014 #

    Forgot this one completely – based on the title, I figured it was one that didn’t make it in the US, but then when I put it on I remembered it immediately. I have to say it still feels forgettable and generic though. Maybe that’s just because it slots so completely into its genre and its time – half the radio sounded like this in the mid-90s, to my memory.

    Actually, what it reminds me of more than anything is the fake music in dance/pop video games like Bust-a-Groove, or the CD of English-language songs ginned up for Sailor Moon’s North American release. Maybe it’s the general thin-ness of the vocals versus the rest of the mix, and the dinky canned percussion – makes it feel it could be anybody’s turn at a demo, session people called in to produce “party” tracks. Where are those oil drums from “You Win Again” when you need them? Never thought I’d look back at that, or something like “China in Your Hand” and go, “ahhh, yes, 1987 – when pop had muscle!” But here we are. As an album track this is probably a 5, as a Number One I want to be contrary and give it a 2 or 3.

  37. 37
    swanstep on 20 Jan 2014 #

    Don’t get the love for this at all. SYBT strikes me as seriously inferior to the big Four Tops, Jackson 5, MJ ‘Be There’ records (hell, Frank Ocean had another pretty great one on one of his early mixtapes). I think I’m thrown off slightly by all the ersatz Dre and Stevie Wonder backing, which nonetheless seems much more memorable than the (little more than serviceable surely) lyrics and vocals going on in front of it. E.g., there’s an honorable and raucous tradition of math-y and chemical-y metaphors in relationships songs (with Spilt Enz’s Another Great Divide being a personal favorite), and Verse 2 here doesn’t contribute anything to it! Instead perfunctoriness rules; a real missed opportunity in my view. The rhythm of the chorus – mostly falling away from the one – is its most interesting feature – it lopes along – but it also makes that chorus hard to remember I find. This record is to my ears slick but not really single-worthy, hence a ‘Must Try Harder’ grade from me:

  38. 38
    Ed on 20 Jan 2014 #

    Like Flahr @22 and Doctor Casino @36, I couldn’t remember this one at all, and like Swanstep @37 I am a bit mystified by the love for it. Yes, the incidentals like Mel C cutting loose and the harmonica solo are great, and the groove is nicely propulsive, but the central melody is just a bit anaemic. After the knockout punch of Wannabe, this feels like a feeble slap.

    It’s interesting that there was a debate over whether to release this or Wannabe first. I remember thinking when it came out that this felt like evidence that they had been taken by surprise by Wannabe’s success, and did not have a strong song lined up for a follow-up.

    Am I right in thinking that it was sometimes a deliberate strategy when launching a new act to release one of their weaker songs – or at least not their absolute best song – first? The idea being that the first single is used to begin to build a bit of buzz in the press, on the radio, etc, but will probably not be heard by many people because the band is still unknown. Viz the classic case of this from the Beatles, releasing the dull Love Me Do before the scorching Please Please Me. In that context, SYBT would have sounded like a much more natural first single.

    As Tom says, though, releasing Wannabe first was a master stroke, not only because it was such a great song that it made the world sit up and pay attention, but also because it provided a context for all the songs that came after.

    That is particularly important for my favourite Spice Girls track, which is…. But I had better leave it at that for now.

  39. 39
    Tom on 20 Jan 2014 #

    #38 I know that’s one of the strategies for a new album from a returning act, but I dunno about launching an act – of course, even if it was a strategy, it’s one that’s coming to an end around this point: in the 00s and 10s, first-single performance becomes a lot more critical and relative flops are harder to recover from.

  40. 40
    Tom on 20 Jan 2014 #

    #37 Here’s what I think is going on in the maths verse.

    “If you put two and two together you can see what our friendship is for / If you can’t work this equation then I guess I’ll have to show you the door”

    So we have a) slightly feeble pun (“two and two… for”)

    b) rather better joke – if the guy (I’m still reading it as a guy) can’t add 2+2 then, indeed, the relationship is probably not a keeper.

    c) meaning tweaked by context of the song – the song is about (in my reading) suspicion that this guy is spinning her a line. So “what our friendship is for” is highly ambiguous. Does he think (has he thought all along?) the entire point of the friendship was to get to romance, or was the friendship actually authentic? The “2+2” i.e. obvious answer might well be very different from either perspective, making the equation rather trickier than it initially seems.

  41. 41
    Cumbrian on 20 Jan 2014 #

    On Wannabe, I said that I quite liked it but marked it down because of the “introducing the band” section, which is an affectation I just can’t get behind by anyone. SYBT is also pretty decent and gives the lie to the idea that there’s only one or two of them that can sing (Emma gets us off to a nice start and kudos to whoever pointed out that Victoria’s lines are also delivered well, as well as the Mels doing their thing) but again I feel I have to mark down due to a bit in the middle. Geri’s verse is just awful. I’m not hugely for competence as a total marker of quality (you can get away with not being able to sing if something else is offered) but that said, her inability to get somewhere near the notes really makes me cringe. 7ish.

    10: Not only is The Man paying for the video with its questionable high kicking, it’s also interesting how they dole out new nicknames to each of the group for it and settle on a variant of Zulu for Mel B. Maybe it’s the early 10s PC part of me saying this but I don’t think this would go unremarked upon if it were a fresh video being produced today.

    15: I think Emma Bunton suffers in my memory because her post-Spice career comprises only one memorable song (a bunny) and a cover of What I Am with Tin Tin Out plus a whole load of stuff I don’t think I have ever heard (or if I can then can’t remember it). Doubtless she’ll be discussed more in the fullness of time but you’re right, I think, in that she has a decent enough voice – my problem is it’s just not that memorable for me (I can’t even remember how she sounds on SYBT – and I have just finished listening to it again and remarked that it was a nice start at the beginning of this entry, so I wonder why I can’t recall it now?? – because the other members of the group do stuff that stands out more).

  42. 42
    Tom on 20 Jan 2014 #

    #41 Emma made an innocuous sixties-influenced pop album which got praised to the skies by some (and is, to be fair, probably the best solo Spice LP, but it sounded pretty anaemic compared to the other stuff happening in pop when she put it out)

  43. 43
    Cumbrian on 20 Jan 2014 #

    #42: Is that Free Me? I am currently doing a Wiki run and it’s the one that “looks” like you’ve described, given Emma looks a bit like Twiggy on the front cover. (It’s also not available on Spotify, I have just discovered – so much for catching up on it).

  44. 44
    Jon (@octojon) on 20 Jan 2014 #

    what a belter. the @MelanieCmusic adlibs 😻 RT @tomewing: A morning repost for the “Say You’ll Be There” Popular entry http://t.co/tKsNfJq7sQ

  45. 45
    whatever on 20 Jan 2014 #

    Melanie C’s last pop CD (‘The Sea’, not that with musical showtunes ‘Stages’) is ana amazing album. Loving it even over 2 years since it’s release.

  46. 46
    Andrew on 20 Jan 2014 #

    #43, here it is; she was going under the mononym of “Emma” for a short while, it didn’t catch on but Spotify lists it as such.


  47. 47
    Cumbrian on 20 Jan 2014 #

    Cheers Andrew.

    There’s definitely some weird quirks to Spotify. I tried to listen to the original Professional Widow earlier today on Boys for Pele via Spotify but it’s been replaced on the album by the bunnied version (though I might be revealing that I know nothing about Tori Amos there – the remix wasn’t included on the album right?)

  48. 48
    anto on 20 Jan 2014 #

    Bright and brash and tight, A stronger track than ‘Wannabe’ even if it is less personalised. I think maybe a lot of people were in two minds at this point – some days it was ‘oh no, not this lot again’ on other days it was ‘well, they are quite fun’.

  49. 49
    Brendan F on 20 Jan 2014 #

    #46 – both versions are on my CD – I guess it’s a reissue

  50. 50
    Tom on 20 Jan 2014 #

    Re comments upthread on the thin-ness of the production on this – there is one thing I hate about it, which is the “twinkly” effect they plonk over the verses a couple of times, the kind of absolutely stock sound that makes me think everything else I like about the track might be a happy accident on the part of the producers.

  51. 51
    leveret on 20 Jan 2014 #

    As a 16 year old indie-loving schoolboy at this time, I was teetering on the brink of developing a loathing of the Spice Girls after Wannabe, but this track was enough to placate me. It still sounds pretty good as an R&B-flavoured pop tune, especially the (almost) Dre-like synths, but as others have noted the production is a bit cheap-sounding. Still preferrable to the mega-saturated contemporary sound though. A solid (7).

    This was probably the high point of my ability to tolerate the Spice Girls. After this, media over-exposure took its toll. Although it was nice in a way to have a big pop act with a bit of personality, it soon became a bit of overbearing.

  52. 52
    Rory on 20 Jan 2014 #

    As I mentioned, I had only listened to this once until today, but the tune ran through my head off and on throughout the weekend (in a good way), which is a sign that it’s firmly better than a 5 for me. Listening to it without watching the video, so that I barely register who’s singing what, it works well. The harmonica break reads as a teensy bit 1985-Eurythmics to me, but that’s okay. I suspect I’m going to end up doing the same as I did with Kylie, and pick up the Spice Girls albums many years after the fact to hear everything I missed.

    Referring to our handy marks-out-of-10 guidlines: definitely enjoyable; no problem hearing it regularly; might want to own it. Highlight of the charts at the time? I dunno, there’s some stiff competition in 1996. So it’s on the border of 6 and 7. I agree with Tom about the twinkly effect, though, which I never like much; it always feels as if the producers are trying to wave fairydust over the track to convince us that the singers are magical pixies. Echoes of Disney princesses and the pinkification of everything. Six it is, then.

    (Shiny new gravatar! Sadly I have no picture of myself covered in gravy, as the word would seem to require.)

  53. 53
    Gavin Wright on 20 Jan 2014 #

    Re: “the sinuous, ear-nagging high keyboard lines lifted from West Coast hip-hop”, I’m glad you mentioned this – I heard ‘SYBT’ for the first time in ages late last year (at a club where most of the music was ’80s/90s r&b) and my immediate reaction to the intro was “Which Dr. Dre song is this?” I’d never made that connection before but it seems obvious now.

    I have to say this is probably the only Spice Girls single I’ve ever really liked. A (7) from me.

  54. 54
    thefatgit on 20 Jan 2014 #

    I’m sure the producers of this, as well as Dr. Dre were aware of “The Funky Worm”. Rather than sample it, use the same keyboard setting (I believe there’s somebody among the comments crew who is something of an expert in determining which synth/organ made which sound) to get your funk on, so to speak.

  55. 55
    weej on 20 Jan 2014 #

    Agreed entirely with JLucas at #15 – I always thought Emma had the best voice and we’ll be seeing how great it can be on their next number one. Disagree with same @ #13 though – Victoria’s part on here just sounds like she’s been protooled into complete anonymity. As for Mel C, I can admire her voice in terms of range, but it just seems too shrill and unsubtle to really love, and I have a suspicion that much of the praise she received was from people who didn’t like The Spice Girls.

    This is my least favourite single from the first album – it’s not bad, there’s just nothing that really grabs me about it. Still worth a 6 though.

  56. 56
    Will on 20 Jan 2014 #

    Re 51: Interesting you mention that. I think for most non-out and out pop-lovers this is the Spice single they like best. Certainly it is around that time that friends of mine that loathed Wannabe came out and said ‘actually they’re not bad, are they?’ or words to that effect. As you say, at this point over-exposure hadn’t yet sullied their appeal.

    Myself, I loved SYBT; a very relaxed-sounding record that doesn’t wear its influences too heavily (as some of their later Number Ones had a tendency to). For me, an easy 8.

  57. 57
    iconoclast on 20 Jan 2014 #

    Next to its predecessor, SYBT is solider and – necessarily, in a very U-rated way – funkier. It’s also less frenetic, more prosaic, and lacks charm. Parts of it are quite good; the bridge (“Any fool…”), thanks to the absence of the annoying keyboards which disfigure the rest of the arrangement, is nice, and the harmonica solo is the undoubted highpoint. The strange two bars of fast chanting seem to have come from a different song entirely, however, and at the end it just drifts mechanically off into an uninspired fade. Ultimately it’s not worth much more than a ho-hum and a resigned sigh as impressionable preadolescent girls up and down the country are once again successfully bilked of their pocket money. Moreover, any claims to “girl power” in the verses – already questionable next to the not-at-all-fetishistic-honestly costumes in the video – are rendered null and void by the reaffirmation of traditional patriarchial values in the chorus: all he has to do is be there, and she swears she’ll give him “everything – all that joy can bring”. SIX.

  58. 58
    iconoclast on 20 Jan 2014 #

    ouch – double post!

  59. 59
    tm on 21 Jan 2014 #

    When girl pop singers flaunt their charms, they’re never trying to sell records to the boys are they? I remember, around about this time asking rhetorically ‘who the hell is buying Robson and Jerome records?’ To which a female friend replied ‘Maybe all the girls who think they’re really fit’ My reply I think was ‘I think the Spice Girls are fit but it wouldn’t make me buy their shit music’ (I was heavily into my shit Britrock at the time…oh dear)

    Is it a fair assumption that when boybands get their pecs out, they’re enticing their female (and gay male) fan base but generally for girl bands, it’s more that they have to be sexy to be seen as cool by the girls who are going to buy their stuff? I don’t know any man who ever bought a record because he fancied the singer but it’s a generally culturally accepted criterion for young women. Or is it more that men (again, very sweeping statement, I realise) are more likely to cite some other reason (“Polly Harvey has a great voice”, “Louise Werner is a great songwriter” etc) to save face?

    When a teenage boy has a pop crush, he’s far less likely to buy or listen to the music. Is that a reasonable assumption and if so, why should it be so?

  60. 60
    Tim Byron on 21 Jan 2014 #

    My recollection of my feelings about ‘Say You’ll Be There’ at the time was that it was a bit of a disappointment after ‘Wannabe’ – it was missing some of the punk/spunk/sense of fun of that, and instead was a more run of the mill pop song. It wasn’t terrible, I thought at the time, but it was a bit out-of-date R&B-wise, and it seemed like a safe song, whereas there was something anarchic-seeming about ‘Wannabe’ (I think ‘Wannabe’ as the first single was the right move – it probably got the Spices noticed by a wider demographic than ‘Say You’ll Be There’ would have, whereas ‘Say You’ll Be There’ maybe was the song that solidified the fandom).

    Nowadays, I’ve warmed to ‘Say You’ll Be There’ – things like the Dr Dre and Stevie Wonder bits show me that the production team knew what they were doing, had a good sense of pop history, etc (I’m still actually surprised that it’s possible to play harmonica like that and not actually be Stevie Wonder). It’s catchy. So I guess it’s a 6-7 for me now?

  61. 61
    Tom on 21 Jan 2014 #

    #59 Gosh, lots of possible points to make here, some of which are certainly better made by someone with a stronger grounding in feminist ideas than me. Still, here’s my basic understanding:

    Re. presentation of girl pop stars as sexy: the people buying the records may or may not be men but there are an awful lot of men involved in the decisions that get the records in front of those people. Who do I sign? Which records do I stock? Which do I promote? Which do I play? All of these gates are kept well before a band gets in front of the public to any meaningful degree.

    Plus “buying the records” may have little to do with it – we’re not yet at the point where the consumption of images and videos happens on an unbundled, individual level – if you encounter a pop video you’re encountering it on a video channel or bundled show like TOTP, and the audiences for those are assumed to be mixed-gender. So the question then becomes “are men more likely to switch off a woman performer than women are a man?” – I don’t know, but a look at the history of male reactions to female representation in other media suggests they might be. So you should probably look at the presentation of women in pop videos (at least pre-YouTube) in terms of male eyeballs not just female sales.

    All that said, the Spice Girls made the repeated point in early interviews that they aren’t models, they’re relatively ordinary looking women (and certainly among the men I knew (me included, unfortunately) they were continually judged on looks as well as anything else – it’s just about possible men don’t buy pop records because of how the singer looks but this lofty impartiality certainly doesn’t carry over into ANY OTHER aspect of how men act towards or speak about women in the public eye).

    The Spice Girls’ POV would be that the presentation wasn’t for men in the first place – being high-kicking action girls in a Russ Meyer B-Movie pastiche is awesome fun, quite as much as drinking cocktails underwater or dressing up as a dandy highwayman. It’s not about looking good, it’s about feeling good.

    As for why boys don’t buy records purely on looks – assuming they don’t! – I can think of a couple of reasons. One is that they don’t need to – boys grow up in a world where they are constantly being presented with (and sold to by) images of attractive women, where part of being the hero is getting the girl, etc. The other is that the kind of fantasies boybands promote – not just sex but devotion, commitment, etc. – aren’t ones boys are encouraged to have. Socially mainstream boy fantasies generally involve power, independence, exertion, etc. Which plenty of music also fuels – in ways that are just as ‘unrealistic’ but often more critically acceptable.

  62. 62
    Steve Mannion on 21 Jan 2014 #

    On a related note this is around the time I think I had my first crushes on a woman primarily known as a DJ/producer (DJ Rap) and a woman based on the sound of her voice alone (India who’d worked with Masters At Work for a few years but hadn’t been particularly visible until their Nu-Yorican Soul project emerged around this time). DJ Rap had a foray into a more pop sound herself but it wasn’t a patch on her ardkore anthem ‘Spiritual Aura’.

  63. 63
    tm on 21 Jan 2014 #

    #61 I’m not suggesting men or even most men are buying records from a position of lofty impartiality. When I said No man I know ever bought a record because he fancied the singer, I meant it literally and honestly, not as Clarksonesque rhetoric. I can accept that, going to Comprehensive school and then the male-dominated Imperial College, my sphere of friends may be blokier than average. Perhaps it’s truer to say I can’t imagine any man I know ADMITTING to buying a record because they fancied the singer. Actually ammend that again …any straight man… I’ve got gay mates who I can recall noting attraction as a factor. To be honest, what I’m probably describing is the dreaded Rockism, the need for a certain type of music fan, generally male and straight, to define themselves as A Person Of Impeccable Taste, refusing to admit that such trivialities as attraction or sexuality could influence their listening. I’m certainly not celebrating this mode of listening though obviously, the 15 year old me would and did. The fact that I chose the lamest corporate bloke-indie to express this I think neatly underscores how wrong I was and within even a couple of years I’d be embarrassed at how wrong-headed I once was (while holding equally wrong headed but different opinions.

  64. 64
    tm on 21 Jan 2014 #

    Also, I’d never suggest girls or women buy records purely on looks but it’s taken as a given that it’s a factor in how girls and women relate to pop but I honestly think you’d have a hard time getting men to admit to it (generally speaking I would agree that this is because of the reasons you describe above) and as I’ve said, I realise these are sweeping statements and it’s of limited use to say ‘men do this, women do that’.

  65. 65
    Cumbrian on 21 Jan 2014 #

    I could be well off base here but isn’t there a pretty long tradition of males buying music based on the appearance of the performers – just that it’s usually men that they’re buying not women? Examples – The Who dress as mods, mods recognise The Who as belonging to their tribe, go out and buy records. Similar with The Jam. Baggy as a genre is named after the clothes that the performers wore (isn’t it?) and the image of The Roses and The Mondays seemed to be just as important as the music to some listeners. The clothes, haircuts and image of Blur and Oasis were also important to some listeners.

    So image is likely important for some male listeners, just as it is for some female listeners. Is the point then that image is dealt with in different ways/imposed on female performers in different ways due to the male-centric set up of the music business?

  66. 66
    tm on 21 Jan 2014 #

    I’d definitely agree with that: I was just about to say it’s not that looks overall are irrelevant to men but that most wouldn’t admit to buying a record because they fancied the singer. I doubt Oasis, The Who, The Jam etc would have sold nearly so many records had they been pot bellied guys in stained t-shirts.

    Being Cool is Important (capital I) in pop but I reiterate my original point that there’s an imbalance in that it’s still (in 1996 and now) easier for men to do cool without having to do sexy. Not that sexy is bad (As Nigel Tufnell would point out…) but obviously it should be a choice, for performers and audiences and as Charlotte Church complained in her keynote speech it’s often just the industry’s default mode to sell a female artist whether she wants it or not.

    That said, I’m inclined to agree with Tom that no one was pushing the Spice Girls around and the high kicks and catsuits where as likely their idea as The Man paying for the video.

  67. 67
    tm on 21 Jan 2014 #

    And even by 1996 there WERE plenty of women doing cool without having to do sexy (at least not sexy on the industry’s terms)

  68. 68
    Kat but logged out innit on 22 Jan 2014 #

    #67 Everything comes back to Skunk Anansie in the end.

  69. 69
    tm on 22 Jan 2014 #

    Had they hit by 1996? I remember 97 as the year people got sick of soppy bawling britrock and everything went a bit punky but then I remembered Fat Of The Land as 97 too so it’s possible I was playing catch up as I emerged from my shameful britrock torpor.

  70. 70
    Tom on 22 Jan 2014 #

    FOTL is 97! The gap between Firestarter and its LP release was enormous – Breathe is basically the start of the actual album campaign.

  71. 71
    Alfred on 23 Jan 2014 #

    This is at least as good as “Wannabe” and might’ve been as huge in the States if released first; it sounds like En Vogue in 1996 w/out the harmonica solo.

  72. 72
    Gareth Parker on 31 May 2021 #

    One of their better singles imho, but still only a 5/10 for me.

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