Feb 14

GARY BARLOW – “Love Won’t Wait”

Popular82 comments • 8,268 views

#766, 10th May 1997

gblww Few figures from 80s pop could match Michael Jackson for popularity and cultural weight. Perhaps only one, and she had also found the 90s harsher going than anticipated. Madonna’s apparent decline was more respectable than Jackson’s, but less interesting: intriguing grapples with R&B, pleasant soundtrack ballads, sales drifting downwards, and finally a solid, unrevealing, turn on a revived Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. “So what happens now?” her final single from that project asked. The answer, in 1997, was cloudy. Meanwhile one of her demos from a scrapped LP ended up in Gary Barlow’s hands, giving Madonna her first number one song in seven years.

“Love Won’t Wait” is a massive step up from “Forever Love” in quality – but it’s also easy to hear why Madonna ditched it. Listening to her demo version, with co-writer Shep Pettibone producing, doesn’t necessarily tell you what a finished version might have sounded like. But vocally, it feels like a return to the confident pop tourism of True Blue – a shot of unreturned devotion in wide-eyed Brill Building style. There’s not much wrong with it, but not much point to it either: her dips into old styles had shown her mastery of girl-group melodrama, and she’d then gone on to reinvent it. Why go back? So “Love Won’t Wait”, and Pettibone himself, were dumped and Madonna turned to Babyface and contemporary R&B. Gary Barlow saw the song’s potential, and got hold of it.

Gary’s take replaces the tentative pop backing with cruise ship disco presets, speeds it up, and immediately makes it sound like an early Take That track he’s brushing down, not a Madonna one. You can almost see the breathless, fixed-grin hoofing of the other four as Barlow takes the lead. It’s not, by any means, an awful single: it’s unimaginative but pleasant, and it has a tune a milkman might whistle, if his route lasted several years and he’d run through everything else. But in adapting “Love Won’t Wait”, Barlow makes a couple of decisions that I find quite revealing about how he understands and thinks about songs.

The first is choosing a Madonna song in the first place, and giving it a straightforward genderflip. “Love Won’t Wait” is about kicking aside a time-wasting lover, and there’s no reason Gary shouldn’t sing about that. But lyrics about how someone is wasting time, how you won’t wait any longer, how you’re going to leave if you don’t get what you want feel a bit different coming from a male singer. On paper, we’re nudging towards “if you really loved me you’d sleep with me” as a message. Luckily, this isn’t how the song comes across, because Gary Barlow is always going to sound petulant and mealy-mouthed rather than aggressive. Still, the outcome is the same – he’s tough to sympathise with.

The second decision is a tiny one. As she leads into the chorus, Madonna sings “you think I’m not that strong, you know….” on the first two go-rounds. Then on the third, she switches it: “you think I’m not that strong, you’re wrong!”. Barlow, on the other hand, picks “you’re wrong!” every time. If he thinks it’s a tougher, stronger hook, he’s right – but in the original it’s also a payoff. It gives “Love Won’t Wait” a storyline – a woman assessing her situation, then building up the strength to asset herself. Barlow’s version makes the song more static. It’s the slightest of details, but details are what often make a pop song live, and this one makes me suspect that Gary Barlow has no great feel for the material he’s working with. “Love Won’t Wait” is a cast-off that had a shot at being something more: Barlow wastes that chance.



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  1. 31
    Weej on 3 Mar 2014 #

    I can hear there’s a nice enough tune buried down there, but getting past The Barlow and the breakfast television production is too hard. 3.

  2. 32
    Steve Williams on 3 Mar 2014 #

    This song was also responsible for a chart stat I found incredibly pleasing at the time as, post-Take That, Gary Barlow’s first two solo singles both got to number one, Robbie Williams’ first two solo singles both got to number two and Mark Owen’s first two solo singles (the wimpy Child and the rather ace Clementine) both got to number three. I was willing Howard and Jason to release some stuff just to keep that pattern going.

    As for Madonna’s decline, I can’t remember who pointed it out but Human Nature was released in the same week as Country House and Roll With It and someone said that they thought it was amazing there was a new Madonna single out and nobody was that bothered.

  3. 33
    Rory on 3 Mar 2014 #

    I could go a 4 for this if not for the distracting lyrical gender swap, reinforced by the irritating video of Moody Gary glancing at models’ torsos and occasionally faces. The subtexts are all wrong. 3.

  4. 34
    Tom on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Excellent brand synergy here. https://twitter.com/ActimelUK/status/440444469020594176

  5. 35
    Cumbrian on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Re: Gary Barlow’s cover of Cuddly Toy on the Not So Popular tumbler. I have listened to it and it raises one pertinent question. Why do I do this stuff to myself?

    As it is, I quite like the Roachford version and he can’t totally ruin it. Still, it’s not much cop; like I expected anything else.

  6. 36
    AMZ1981 on 4 Mar 2014 #

    #32 As we’ll never get a chance to discuss Mark Owen’s solo career on here I don’t think I’m the only one to consider his solo efforts underrated. Had he dodged the 1996 Christmas market (he didn’t have the commercial clout and his album tanked) and launched his solo career with Clementine in the new year things might have played out differently.

  7. 37
    Steve Williams on 4 Mar 2014 #

    #36 Clementine is a great song and did really well for him, though the follow-up to that, I Am What I Am, is virtually the same song. But he did some interesting stuff and is clearly a lovely guy.

    In fact around this period we had a rather curious trend (three records, therefore it’s a trend) of teen pop stars releasing sub-Britpop light indie efforts, as well as Owen you had Ant and Dec releasing the fantastic Shout (with Dec on guitar!) and even boring old Sean Maguire did Today’s The Day which wore its Britpop influences very much on its sleeve, clearly “inspired” by the likes of Country House and Alright (although it was terribly unconvincing and is now best remembered for being the theme to GMTV’s charity appeal). Funny how they all jumped on that bandwagon at once though I suppose it’s fairly common that manufactured pop will leap on any current fad.

    The other thing I remember about Mark Owen’s first album is that he appeared on The Show, the like-Larry-Sanders-but-real show which interspersed “The Bob Mills Show” with footage from behind the scenes, and during his performance it cut to the gallery and someone pointed out there was a bit of a problem with the sound and it was going a bit wobbly, and the director said, “Ah, never mind, they’ll think it’s supposed to sound like that.”

  8. 38
    Tom on 4 Mar 2014 #

    “Four Minute Warning” was a BIG Club Poptimism song for a while.

    Agreed on “Shout” – a very odd record, “everybody wants to see the freaks explode” etc. I dunno if indie/britpop is exactly what they were going for on that as much as a (doomed, probably) attempt to shift the existing matey/lads-together boyband vibe of Ant & Dec into a slightly more evolved place. (You can imagine 5ive releasing it, maybe).

  9. 39
    Kat but logged out innit on 4 Mar 2014 #

    I have just remembered that I MET Little Mark just after 4 Minute Warning came out, during my Island stint. If I achieve nothing else in my life, at least I will have made a cup of tea for Mark Owen (no such luck w/ PJ Harvey who only stayed in the office for 5 minutes before skidaddling).

  10. 40
    Will on 4 Mar 2014 #

    Another vote here for Little Mark’s Clementine. I certainly rate it above anything GB has ever produced, including this.

  11. 41
    Cumbrian on 6 Mar 2014 #

    Gary Barlow now joining such luminaries as Fat Les, Embrace and Ant and Dec in recording an approved England song for the World Cup. How much Latin influence do we reckon there will be on it?

  12. 42
    punctum on 6 Mar 2014 #

    In the distinguished lineage of Simply Red’s “We’re In This Together”? I think it’ll be yet more tankard-banging, banjo-wielding gurners. After last night’s shambles it’s no more or less than what England deserves.

  13. 43
    tm on 6 Mar 2014 #

    #41 wasn’t Fat Les the unofficial single opposite Three Lions?

  14. 44
    Cumbrian on 6 Mar 2014 #

    Got my info from here:


    Fat Les was the official one in 1998 – 3 Lions in 96. The bunnied remake/release was done of their own accord. Two official songs in 98 too – their was the Ian McCulloch/Spice Girls/Space/Ocean Colour Scene collaboration too.

  15. 45
    Andrew Farrell on 6 Mar 2014 #

    Quite disappointed that it’s not actually Barlow + Fat Les + Embrace + Ant and Dec.

  16. 46
    AMZ1981 on 7 Mar 2014 #

    Firstly – my thoughts on Mark Owen’s solo career http://amz1981.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/mark-owen-the-return-of-the-king/

    #37 In the nineties I’d be very surprised if most pin up pop stars actually listened to the type of music they were being asked to sing. Being lads in their late teens/ twenties they would have listened to Britpop and having reached a stage where they had a bit more control over their output it’s not surprising their late songs were Britpop influenced. Of the acts you mention `Good Day` was Sean Maguire’s last single before he went back to doing what he was actually good act and Ant and Dec would only have one more release during their pop star phase (a later single would follow, just to save somebody mentioning it) before focusing on their TV work.

    I think the standard here was already Robbie Williams whose three pre Angels singles (Old Before I Die, Lazy Days, South Of The Border) were all Britpop lite. Mulling it over there’s never really been a market for an indie boy band; the girls seem to prefer their boys sitting on stools crooning some well worn cover. Which is of course a disgustingly sexist thing to say and not true either as plenty of young women do enjoy indie/ rock and the scene that goes with it; however a bridge between the two never translates into record sales we will shortly be meeting one of the most anodyne boy bands of them all who killed their career with a really good guitar record.

  17. 47
    Tom on 7 Mar 2014 #

    “Mulling it over there’s never really been a market for an indie boy band”

    Maybe we’ll have to wait until THE YEAR 3000.

  18. 48
    Rory on 7 Mar 2014 #

    Here’s yer indie boy band. Six UK top 20 singles to date, three of them top 5.

  19. 49
    Steve Williams on 7 Mar 2014 #

    #44 Fat Les wasn’t the official song in 1998, that was On Top Of The World by England United. However their pointless cover of Jerusalem was the official England song for Euro 2000.

    And of course We’re In This Together was the official song for the whole Euro 96 tournament.

  20. 50
    AMZ1981 on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Just to clarify – by an indie boy band I meant a group that an indie band would recognise (albeit grudgingly) as one of their own and which draws fans more or less equally from both camps.

  21. 51
    Ed on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Indie boy bands: The Libertines, Suede, The Beatles.

    (“Indie” here =/= “on an independent label”, obv.)

    And more than any of those, there is a band that played its own instruments, wrote its own songs, and recorded a couple of albums on an independent label. Scroll up to find them.

  22. 52
    iconoclast on 10 Mar 2014 #

    The fact that nobody knows what “indie” really means isn’t a problem here, obviously.

  23. 53
    punctum on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Not “fact” but perspective. I know perfectly well what indie means, as opposed to what other people would like it to mean.

  24. 54
    iconoclast on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Perhaps you could explain what it means then, and see how many people agree with you? Or is this going to devolve into the meaning of “meaning”? :-)

  25. 55
    punctum on 10 Mar 2014 #

    It’s a really nice day. Sunny and reasonably warm.

  26. 56
    Tommy Mack on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Not here it’s not. I put some shorts on and then it got cold as fuck. Or is that your definition of indie? Covers a lot of the key bands but leaves lots of others out, literally in the cold!

  27. 57
    Tom on 10 Mar 2014 #

    The clouds have gathered over central London too, as if in anticipation of a fruitless debate on the meaning of indie….

  28. 58
    iconoclast on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Do I detect the merest hint of a suggestion that, just maybe, Popular might have trod these paths at least once before before my time?

  29. 59
    Tom on 10 Mar 2014 #

    Nah, I think Popular has been pretty free of it – but the debate itself is a greybeard. When I started reading the NME the cover story was about whether the Darling Buds and the Wonder Stuff had SOLD OUT by signing to a major and you turned the page to find “AHHHH but what is indie anyway?”. Despite Punctum’s suggestion that the issue has been settled I suspect yr post at #52 is still largely right – or it’s not quite “nobody knows” more “nobody can be bothered to agree”.

  30. 60
    iconclast on 10 Mar 2014 #

    @59: Ha, I remember reading the NME a few years before that and getting the very definite impression that there were thick black lines between “indie” and “non-indie”, and anyone who gave the slightest impression that he or she regarded anything on the “non-indie” side with anything other than the requisite amount of contempt had no right to expect his or her opinions on anything to ever be taken remotely seriously again. And it’s not that long ago that I can remember encountering people who expressed the opinion that you were similarly irrevocably tainted if you made music for a living and expected to earn any money at all from it.

    Anyway, clearly there’s little to be gained from reviving the debate, although I can’t let it go without saying that any context in which “indie” and “boyband” have any significant overlap requires too much simultaneous stretching of both concepts for either of them to be of any meaningful use.

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