Mar 16

BLUE – “Too Close”

Popular77 comments • 5,281 views

#907, 8th September 2001

blue close The differences between Blue’s “Too Close” and Next’s “Too Close” don’t seem profound – four years, a few production gewgaws, a mild shift in context between male US R&B group and UK boyband – so why does the original make me smile and the cover make me wince? Might it just be that I don’t like Blue? Simon Cowell, who managed Five, had his fingers all over a pre-incarnation of Blue. But every boyband is pitched a little differently, however similar the origin stories. If Five were a cartoon attempt at the Spice Boys, Blue were All Saints’ younger brothers. A little cooler than the average boyband; a lot more knowing. They owed something to East 17 – the first British boyband to drop the niceties and sing about fucking – but they were a hell of a lot smoother and less awkwardly intriguing than Tony Mortimer’s mob.

In short, Blue had pretensions to sophistication which let them stand out. For a single or so, they fitted the bill – “All Rise”, their courtroom-conceit debut, was a good thrust at moody R&B pop. But their US takeover plans were strangled in the crib, thanks to Lee Ryan’s concern that a mourning nation might forget the lessons of “Earth Song”*. Their sophistication died on the vine. The Blue we meet on Popular are mostly just another boyband, albeit a smugger one than usual.

“Too Close” captures both sides of them. It’s theft with pedigree – “Too Close” was a 1998 summer jam in the USA, a modest hit here, and a single that walked the thin like between goofy and sexy with aplomb. Each of Next’s two lead singers confess their uncontrollable dancefloor excitement in a way that slides from apology to flirtation without a blink. It’s endearing at worst, and it helps that the track’s production gives them space to act, ad lib, and deliver fine R&B performances. There’s a scratchy little guitar line near the start that roots the song, linking old R&B to new – “Too Close” is a New Jack take on the ribald end of soul.

Blue – or producer Ray Ruffin – make several changes, none of which help the single. Most obviously, the track switches from a showcase for solo voices to a group effort, four singers stepping on each other’s lines, with the unison chorus brought higher in the mix. You see this a lot in the boyband era – tracks losing focus when adapted for multiple voices. “Too Close” isn’t nearly as egregious as “Against All Odds” was, but the shift to boyband mode muddles it. The production is more crowded, too – stray burps of vocoder at the beginning, synth washes smothering the verses, the arranger’s equivalent of a good spray of Lynx before Blue head out on the pull.

And that’s the problem, in the end. Blue aren’t strong enough to carry the song, but even if they were better, the shift in context to become a British boyband hit subtly reweights the song, and makes it somehow grimmer. No longer does “Too Close” call to mind steamy encounters in American nightclubs; instead it makes you think of unwanted stiffies at the school disco.



  1. 1
    Tom on 2 Mar 2016 #

    *”Too Close” is our first proper excuse to talk about 9/11. You can talk about it whenever you like, of course, but the main entry touching on it in the blog is still a few posts away.

  2. 2
    Tom on 2 Mar 2016 #

    (And for any readers unaware, Lynx is the British name for teenage boy deodorant megabrand Axe.)

  3. 3
    enitharmon on 2 Mar 2016 #

    Must be galling to have a number one just when nobody was paying attention to it or much else.

    An unseasonably hot Tuesday afternoon. A whisper went round the office; was it true? Not going to get confirmation from the internet anyway; it’s effectively dead. Somebody downstairs had a radio. Nobody got any work done. Phones went unanswered. It wasn’t so much shock that something so appalling had happened; it was the sense of living in a dream: it couldn’t possib;ly be real.

  4. 4
    Tom on 2 Mar 2016 #

    #3 This wasn’t #1 then. That’s the next one! (The dates on Popular entries come from Everyhit, which are very misleading – they are the first Saturday a track is #1, which is often at the END of the run. But I’ve always used them so I’ve stuck with them.)

    The 9/11 connection here is more tenuous: the video for this was filmed in NYC and the band were there when it happened. A month later singer Lee Ryan expressed his disappointment that everyone was worried about people being killed and not about elephants. The effects on their US career were predictable.

  5. 5
    Ricardo on 2 Mar 2016 #

    And with this, it’s two #1 boyband singles reworking (only slightly, mind) two US #1’s from the R&B world which didn’t exactly set the British (and European too, it must be said) charts on fire in their original incarnations. The other one, of course, was Another Level’s take on Silk’s “Freak Me”.hhh
    And yes, both stink to high heavens of PG-rated naughtiness – the remakes, of course!

  6. 6
    Ronnie on 2 Mar 2016 #

    As an American, I can say definitively that without “Love Actually” most Americans would never have heard of Blue at all.

    The easy thing to say is that the translation of black/American to white/British is what kills this but I’m fairly certain I’d hate this if a jackoff like Jason DeRulo or somebody did this too.

  7. 7
    JLucas on 2 Mar 2016 #

    There is an interesting passing of the torch narrative to be drawn between 90s survivors 5ive enjoying their last significant hit just as new kids on the block Blue cemented their status as the next big UK boyband.

    The problem I always had with Blue is that aside from Lee Ryan’s status as one of pop’s most compelling pillocks, they were just no fun whatsoever. Perfectly competent, at least two of them could sing, wildly popular, but when I look at their catalogue of hits, all I feel is complete and total apathy.

    I would actually argue that we’re about to enter one of the worst ever periods for home-grown pop music, typified by Blue, Atomic Kitten and Liberty X being the leading UK-based pop groups of the time. The shiny pop of the 90s was dead, and the new pop was cooler, slicker and less obviously eager to please. But the sounds that would define the 21st century hadn’t arrived yet, so what we were left with was dull, workmanlike fare like this and Eternal Flame – pallid and imagination-free attempts at beating the Americans at their own game.


    P.S. Just looked ahead and without spoiling anything, Egads what a pair of chart toppers to soundtrack the darkest period of modern history. I don’t associate either of the next two #1s with 9/11 at all, though I suppose it’s true that music wasn’t really on anybody’s minds at the time. In fact I can’t see a single chart topper that could seriously be argued to reflect the prevailing mood at the time until, at a push, the second posthumous chart topper of 2002 and more substantially the #1 that followed it. But we’re a while away from any of that…

  8. 8
    lonepilgrim on 2 Mar 2016 #

    in the original version there’s a sense that the singers understand the ridiculousness of the lyrics and are generous enough to share the joke while remaining faithful to the inherent horniness of the sentiment. Blue play it straight and end up sounding crass, leery and humourless.

  9. 9
    JoeWiz on 2 Mar 2016 #

    I really loved ‘All Rise’. It never goes overboard with boyband emoting, a problem for numerous post Take That groups, and theres an oddly British feel to it, it’s cold, stark almost unforgiving.
    Literally none of that is visible here, and to my mind they never get anywhere near that quality through the rest of their singles.
    At the time I didn’t know this was a cover, but i did know it was pedestrian and uninspiring – it’s only saving grace was the mildly unexpected female vocal chiming in – was this anyone well known?
    Oh, and I loved their Eurovision song.

  10. 10
    AMZ1981 on 2 Mar 2016 #

    We’ll meet Blue two more times including once before 2001 is done. If Too Close had been their only chart topper then it could be treated as a With A Girl Like You. All Rise was the Blue hit that mattered. The courtroom metaphor was rather beaten to death by the end of the song but it made for a comparatively unusual lyric and was quite striking by boy band standards.

    For the sake of context what Lee Ryan actually said was, `What about whales? They are ignoring animals that are more important. This New York thing is more important.` At which point his bandmate Simon Webbe told him to shut up and Lee added, `Who gives a fuck about New York when elephants are being killed.` Duncan James then told him to shut up to which the response was, `I’m not afraid to say this, it has to be said, that’s why I’m the outspoken one in the band.`This was in a BBC interview (and the expletive can’t have been ideal for a band seeking a predominantly underage fanbase. It’s interesting that he more or less got away with it, given that he was hardly so well known that he wasn’t sackable.

    Speaking of 9/11, by way of clarification the next number one along is the record that happened to be number one when it happened followed by the one that was selling most units while we stared at our screens and tried to imagine the horror. The absence of a proper 9/11 record is interesting in itself.

    But none of this could be foreseen as Blue celebrated joining the pantheon of number one hitmakers. Also selling well that week was Uncle Kracker’s Follow Me at three which outsold most of the year’s chart toppers and proved one of the most unusual hits of the years. A place below was Louise’s routine cover of Stuck In The Middle Of You which had one of the year’s most bizarre videos. Even more interestingly Emma Bunton could only make number five with her follow up to What Took You So Long.

    Finally the week Too Close was at number one was a landmark week for me personally. I’ve alluded to my teenage nervous breakdown a few times because the last four years worth of chart toppers formed part of the soundtrack to it. I’d like to think that the years I was 18 and 19 were spent going to gigs and hanging with hot boys on the beach but it was never to be. However on 4th September 2001 I got myself a job working at a local supermarket. Fourteen years later I’m a manager at a convenience store. So from now on the number one singles soundtrack happier times.

  11. 11
    thefatgit on 2 Mar 2016 #

    So we’re here, but I’m not quite ready to talk about September 11th just yet. So I won’t.

    Blue’s “All Rise” was a likeable gimmick, but a gimmick nonetheless. Arriving in the wake of this, Blue covers a minor hit from US R&B group Next. Blue’s “Too Close” has plenty of bump, but lacks any grind to be considered any good. On the whole, it’s a faithful copy. But. There’s something extra in the production that doesn’t necessarily belong there. With Next, there’s a bit of cool piano chord action that plays against some retro synth. With Blue, their synth has to work against processed strings and extra twinkly bits, that end up fighting against the bassline which held the original together so well, throws the whole song out of balance. (3)

  12. 12
    mapman132 on 2 Mar 2016 #

    Another underwhelming cover. Not as comically bad as Another Level’s take on “Freak Me”, but still not very good. Seems like the UK chart was in a bit of a funk at this point. None of the #1’s from “The Way To Your Love” to this had any US impact, and it sounds like we didn’t miss much.

    And knowing nothing about Blue, learning about the 9/11 comment doesn’t exactly endear me to them. Really dumb thing to say, especially for someone who was there when it happened.

  13. 13
    mapman132 on 2 Mar 2016 #

    JLucas’s postscript @7 is kind of what I think of the US number ones at the time too. It’s interesting how any mention of the otherwise forgotten US #1 “I’m Leaving It Up To You” by Dale and Grace will inevitably point out that it was #1 on November 22, 1963, but no one ever comments about Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Real” being #1 on September 11, 2001. For a long time I actually thought Alicia Keys’ “Fallin” was #1. Irregardless, neither “I’m Real” nor “Fallin” fit the mood at the time.

    Plenty more to say about 9/11, but I’m going to hold off for now.

  14. 14
    James BC on 3 Mar 2016 #

    Once again the better debut track (All Rise) misses number 1 because its organically building popularity means its sales are more spread out than the less inspired follow-up (this). A problem that streaming might be solving in the present day?

  15. 15
    Steve Williams on 3 Mar 2016 #

    #7 Blue were mostly quite dull, but I must pay tribute to Antony Costa for his wonderful performance on Never Mind The Buzzcocks in its Amstell-helmed imperial phase. Amstell was at his funniest and Costa laughed heartily at all the jokes about him and Blue – which was virtually the whole show – and was perfectly happy to send himself up throughout. He always did seem the most likeable member of Blue, mostly because he came across as a cheery bloke who couldn’t believe his luck he was in a band.

  16. 16
    Chelovek na lune on 3 Mar 2016 #

    Hmm, I didn’t *mind* early period Blue, overall – I think they put out a number of pretty decent, if not overly remarkable or noteworthy, pop-dance tracks, even if several of them seemed to be treading the same rather narrow groove. As passable radio-wallpaper music, some of them (one of them yet to be discussed here) were perfectly tolerable, and pretty much a model for a decidedly 2000s update of the boy band model.

    This though…..maybe demonstrated why they were better off treading that narrow groove. (I don’t recall hearing this at the time at all, too.) Really forgettable in comparison with most of their other early singles, and vaguely cringeworthy in its earnestness when it attempts to be “sexy”. Too straight a reading by far. (4)

  17. 17
    Kinitawowi on 3 Mar 2016 #

    #15 I thought it was actually pretty obvious that he was hating the whole thing from start to finish, desperately clinging on for any moment of respect he could find (allowing himself to concede to enjoying one joke about Blue’s writers) while trying not to stoop to the Preston level of actually walking out. By “so when WAS the last time you had the city on lockdown?” he clearly just wanted to go and hide in a hole somewhere.

  18. 18
    AuntieBeryl on patrol on 3 Mar 2016 #

    Whilst I’m disappointed we don’t get any sort of visibility upon the TVs for the chart these days, I don’t miss Buzzcocks. What a bucket that was. Yay, satire from 2004.

  19. 19
    wichitalineman on 4 Mar 2016 #

    Re 18: Has Never Mind The Buzzcocks finally gone? It seemed to have hung around since the Britpop/Loaded era. Always one token female guest. Awful.

    As for Too Close, I didn’t mind it half as much as most commenters. The slickness of the strings reminded me of ersatz Philly, or Barry White if you like, dressed up for the spray-tan beige-pop early 00s era. And the way the chorus shifts up midway through the second line is quite inspired (granted, I’ve never heard the original).

    From memory, Lee Ryan’s September 11th comments were no more idiotic than Stockhausen’s, so I don’t want to kick him too hard.

  20. 20
    Kinitawowi on 4 Mar 2016 #

    #19: The BBC have mandated one token female on every episode of all their panel shows now (it’s probably at least part of the reason why Stephen Fry is quitting QI).

    Buzzcocks finally died last year – consensus was that the meanness was starting to get on top of it.

  21. 21
    Mark G on 4 Mar 2016 #

    Consensus (round our way, anyway) was that it was a little bit better under Rhod Gilbert, but it was well past its best and was basically somewhere for Noel Fielding’s mates to hang out. Whether or not they had any knowledge of pop music or no.

  22. 22
    James BC on 4 Mar 2016 #

    Buzzcocks was sometimes pretty great, especially with Amstell, and sometimes a hot bucket of bumwash.

    My most consistent complaint, which applies to a lot of other newer panel shows, was that no-one was very interested in the quiz element. A panel show only works if you can buy into the fiction that everyone is there to compete in a quiz, since a lot of the humour comes from subverting or working against the restrictions of that format, or from competition between the contestants. Take away the quiz element and all that’s left is a bunch of people sitting there amorphously trying to be funny – a much less appealing prospect.

  23. 23
    Tom on 4 Mar 2016 #

    TBH I only watched it a couple of times. It was one of those things, like High Fidelity, which people assumed you’d like once you’d identified yourself as a “music fan”. But it did nothing for me at all.

  24. 24
    Pink champale on 4 Mar 2016 #

    ha! yes. It’s awful trying to think of a polite way to say ‘no, actually I’m much better than that’.
    I do think it briefly got good during the Amstell interregnum, but was otherwise solidly horrible, even if you discount them giving Phil Jupitus employment for nearly 20 years. Which I can’t.
    Mind you has anyone seen that Ricky KeiserChief programme on Sky??? Christ.

  25. 25
    wichitalineman on 4 Mar 2016 #

    Re 23: I feel the same way about 6Music. Too close to what I actually want to be something I use. And the trailers – “the best music you’ve never heard” etc, in a creamy, patronising voice – make me want to smash my radio.

  26. 26
    wichitalineman on 4 Mar 2016 #

    That wasn’t very clear. Let me rephrase that… 6Music is close to what I actually want from a radio station, but is so confident that it’s *exactly* what I want that I’m completely put off. Does that make sense to anyone else?

  27. 27
    Pink champ ale on 4 Mar 2016 #

    Yes, that’s exactly how I’ve always felt about it. Whenever I’ve listened I’ve heard a couple of old things I like and something new that sounds quite interesting, which should be great in theory, but I just somehow find it all really offputting. Plus, they gave Phil Jupitus employment for years….

  28. 28
    Pink champ ale on 4 Mar 2016 #

    Also their late night line up featuring a parade of stuff that sounds exactly like Jojn Peel used to play when I was a teenager interspersed with stuff that WAS played by Peel 25 years ago just makes me feel depressed.

  29. 29
    Tom on 4 Mar 2016 #

    I’m similar – I know it plays a lot more than the music of my youth, but it plays enough of it that I feel like it’s pandering to me, trying to make me feel validated for liking The Wedding Present, Ride, The Sundays, Kenickie, Pulp, Underworld, etc. I feel like I can make my own decisions about the late 80s and the 90s and what’s worth hearing now, to be honest.

    I want a station that plays the newest stuff on 6 and the newest stuff on 1Xtra mixed together and doesn’t try to make me feel special for being born when I was. But the honest truth is I probably wouldn’t listen to that either, so whatever, keep on keeping on, 6 Music!

  30. 30
    Steve Williams on 4 Mar 2016 #

    Well, I enjoyed Costa on Buzzcocks and I reckon he took it in absolutely wonderful spirit, he’s not so good an actor that he can look like he’s having fun when he isn’t. It always seemed fun on Amstell-era Buzzcocks because Amstell was always the first to take the piss out of himself and the show, which he did frequently, and I never found any of it anywhere near as unpleasant as towards the end of Lamarr’s reign, his encounter with Gail Porter was extremely unpleasant.

    For what it’s worth, I think there were two good periods of Buzzcocks, from around about 1998 to 2000, when it had settled in and before Lamarr started phoning it in, and then the Amstell era because it was so funny. What I liked about it under Amstell was that it seemed to replicate Smash Hits in imperial phase and actually have opinions. The bit I always mention is when there was a joke about Chris Moyles and then Amstell said “Other Radio 1 DJs include Fearne Cotton and Jo Whiley. It’s not good enough, is it?” It was just great to see a show that seemed to be on the viewers’ side. Also as well what I liked about Amstell on Popworld and Buzzcocks is that it wasn’t about who was cool but who was funny and wanted to join in, so on Popworld McFly would be welcomed because they joined in, but Girls Aloud didn’t.

    After Amstell left it lost all that was good about it. I thought Rhod Gilbert was a mistake, not just because I don’t particularly like him, but because it meant all three regulars were over forty, while all the guests were fifteen, so it wasn’t really satisfying anyone. It should have either aged with the audience and not bothered with modern music at all, or replaced the whole cast with younger people who knew and liked current music and so could satirise it from within, like Amstell did.

  31. 31
    JoeWiz on 4 Mar 2016 #

    I agree that Amstell’s Buzzcocks was its absolute peak, it’s blokey Mojo reading smugness of the Lamarr years always put me off massively. It helped that Amstell was in the chair during a period where pop was throwing up some of the decades more interesting stars, it’s tough to excited by a bloke from Apollo 440.

  32. 32
    weej on 5 Mar 2016 #

    I think the problem with 6music, as with many radio stations, is that there are some good individual shows, but too many space-filling presenters and producers who are happy just to go with the playlist and the alternative canon. I get that they want to appeal to a demographic which includes me, but their playlist is basically comfort food, and that just isn’t what I want from the radio, I want to hear something new and exciting from time to time, and I can’t be alone in this, surely.

  33. 33
    Tommy Mack on 5 Mar 2016 #

    Problem with 6music to my ears is that about half the records sound like they’re written specifically to get played on 6Music. I’m just about young enough to enjoy the aged-indie kid stuff as a voyage of discovery but I’ve no desire to listen through hours of wilfully ahedonic indie-folk bashed out in the hope an OMM journo will lazily describe it as ‘intelligent’. Same thing as others have said, if you think something’s pandering to you it becomes annoying. Or not even pandering to you but to a marketing man’s idea of you as a demographic.

    Don’t think I’ve ever heard Too Close in either incarnation. I was still on my New York adventure which would be coming to an abrupt and shocking end very soon. Christ, when this charted I would have been picking up a few last minute souvenirs in the shadow of the twin towers, blissfully unaware…

  34. 34
    flahr on 5 Mar 2016 #

    My problem with 6music is that although it sometimes plays good music, it sometimes plays bad music. I don’t know why they do that.

  35. 35
    Tommy Mack on 5 Mar 2016 #

    #34 Hahahahahahahahahaha.

  36. 36
    Pink chample on 5 Mar 2016 #

    This inspired me to listen to the 6 music breakfast show today. I mean, there’s clearly something to be said for a radio station that plays Sonic Youth covering Rowche Rumble at 8am and I can’t deny I quite enjoyed it all, but I did wonder just who it was serving (me, I guess) and whether it was a demographic that should be served (since I don’t really listen, probably not). And while I did appreciate that it wasn’t just old indie the eclecticism dos seem a bit token – Rowche Rumble was followed by a reggae song, which is great. Except that it was off Legend. And their funk selection was Jungle Boogie. It’s no doubt unfair to judge based on half an hour, but I think they could probably have followed through a bit more.

  37. 37
    Phil on 5 Mar 2016 #

    The Next song was stupid and grindingly(!) limited to its single bass riff, but it didn’t aspire to be anything else. Bonus points for a video featuring some startlingly sexual dance moves and a fairly chaste sequence shot in a nightclub toilet cubicle, complete with toilet (seat up).

    This cover version is stuck between pointless fidelity to the original (is the chorus even sung by Blue?) and trying to add something to it but failing. And the video consists mainly of the various Bluesters grabbing their own crotches, a move I’ve never understood, let alone appreciated. Worthless tat – 2.

  38. 38
    Tommy Mack on 6 Mar 2016 #

    #36 and the rest: I find nearly every song that piques my interest on 6music is either a ‘token’ track that you wouldn’t expect them to play or turns out to be an old session track etc. Most of the new stuff they play seems like it’s getting on because it ticked the right boxes rather than because it’s truly of outstanding quality (notwithstanding the undisputed high watermark of music radio when Steve Lamacq played our demo: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01r2nbh )

  39. 39
    lonepilgrim on 6 Mar 2016 #

    I’ve always assumed 6 Music to be wall to wall Elbow – in spirit if not in reality.
    IIRC when John Peel was interviewed for the ‘invisible jukebox’ feature in The Wire magazine, he was asked whether he thought the records he played ‘stood the test of time’ to which he replied of course not, that wasn’t the point. Since his death his tastes have become set in stone. Unlike Flair at 34 my problem is that they don’t play enough ‘bad’ music.

  40. 40
    weej on 6 Mar 2016 #

    The thing I liked about listening to Peel was that he’d throw in some speedcore or thrash metal from time to time and make no apology for it whatsoever, though sure it was making some people turn off. The whole concept of catering to target audiences is flawed, no escaping it.

  41. 41
    Adam Puke on 6 Mar 2016 #

    #38 Maybe cynical of me, but presenting an eclectic past alongside a generic present seems to have been a favoured BBC strategy for anything targeted towards the (!) middle aged listener for a while now.

    Reminds me of when TOTP2 first hit our screens- an eclectic selection of goodies from the 60s-80s then the token ‘current’ track at the end was invariably new country/Americana. Like you’ve had your fun but this is what your demographic ‘should’ be listening to now.

  42. 42
    wichitalineman on 7 Mar 2016 #

    Re 41: against the odds, Brian Matthew’s Sounds Of The 60s plays things like Wild Thing or Everlasting Love while also playing several records I’ve never heard before every single week. I realise this is eclectic past and familiar past mixed up, rather than blending it with the present, but the whole decade can seemed played out x20 so that’s still quite a feat.

    Re 36: that’s exactly how it strikes me. Occasionally people have told me I should listen to Craig Charles’s show, but when I do it sounds like a Dale Winton playlist – Feel The Need In Me, Rock Your Baby, as deep as that. It isn’t hard to find a good varied selection of obscure old soul and funk.

    Re Peel: I think he’d be depressed beyond belief that his perceived taste has been reduced to Teenage Kicks, the Fall and the Wedding Present. eg I remember taping this off his show in 1985, but what are the chances of 6Music playing it?


  43. 43
    Tommy Mack on 7 Mar 2016 #

    #38: to be fair to TOTP2 and 6Music, with old stuff, they’re probably allowed a free choice whereas new stuff is presumably influenced if not dictated by what pluggers are bringing them that week.

    1xtra has more better music, certainly more good new music but a lot of the presenters are really irritating (most 6Music DJs are only quite irritating) Also if you listen to 1xtra long enough you hit an interminable session of RnB slow jamz which you will be amazed to learn aren’t really my cup of tea.

    Cheshire, where I grew up and my folks still live, has The Cat local radio, notable for two things:

    1. Staffed entirely by volunteers, meaning that nearly all the DJs are middle-aged dads who listened to ILR a few times and thought ‘I could do that’. Sample banter: “Did you see the Natwich-Holmes Chapel match at the weekend” “Aye, it were quite good”

    2. Bizarre, joyously eclectic playlist. One show, i heard them play Betty Boo, The Pistols (Problems, not even one of the hits), Chaka Khan, Radiohead and David Bowie back to back.

    Re: Peel, yeah, he was one of the first DJs playing Reggae, Hip Hop and Drum&Bass on mainstream radio, not just a slightly more leftfield Lamacq, I imagine he’d have little time for much of 6Music. To be honest I disliked about 90% of what he played (to be fair, the late 90s when I was listening was what he would have called a fallow period) but I never got the impression he had any sort of snobbery about the records he played. I think what erks me most about much indie radio/journalism is the presentation of the conservative as avant-garde or at least leftfield.

  44. 44
    Mark G on 7 Mar 2016 #

    I used to apply the “Silicone Chip” test to those “alternate” radio stations/shows..

    The idea being, what is the chance that whoever it is, would play “Silicone Chip” by Basement 5. I’m not saying it’s the best record ever, but it deserves to be played at some point to interested audients. I would say, for a while Xfm did pass that test: Not because they did, but because they might. (Since those days, according to Viv’s book it seems that the B5 had something to do with The Slits getting dropped from Island, so do I care about them anymore? Jury’s out..).

    I guess the “Jungle Boogie” is the clincher, it’s like how “Teenage Kicks” will get plenty airing, but you’ll never hear “Where were you?” by The Mekons, which is easily as good.

  45. 45
    James BC on 7 Mar 2016 #

    At 33 I might be a little on the young side to be squarely in 6 Music’s target audience, but I’m probably the kind of person they want to appeal to. (I like the Fall.) For all its flaws, though, I find Radio 1 much better for introducing me to new music. No doubt there’s lots of good stuff on 6 that R1 would never play, but the same applies in reverse as well. The difference is that the music on R1 has much wider cultural relevance – I’m fine with not knowing about The National or Spoon or whoever, but imagine not knowing about Uptown Funk!

  46. 46
    punctum on 7 Mar 2016 #

    #45: Agreed, and I’d listen to it a lot more if they didn’t keep shouting at their listeners as though they were all four years old and at nursery school with goldfish levels of memory.

    The thing that scuppers 6Music is this ball and chain of “heritage.” If they concentrated on what was happening now, they’d be far more listenable. But when continually buried under a decomposing heap of nearly 50-year-old Led Zeppelin chestnuts – I mean, who tunes in to listen to this stuff, who gives a toss except sad old men who have been collecting vinyl for the last thirty years? But they doubtless think that’s their target audience.

    Even when they do play “new” music it’s like, huh? Dismal new offerings from nineties Britpop hasbeens and/or – that most dreaded of radio phrases – “friends of the station.” Or any old crap that automatically gets on the airwaves because it’s on Bella Fucking Union. That’s exactly the problem with radio right now; every presenter wants to be your fucking friend. And genuine new music, whether it’s bentcousin or the new Kendrick, doesn’t get an airing because, look what this morning’s earworm is, it’s the fucking O’Jays.

    Whereas I enjoy listening to R1 presenters like Annie Mac and Daniel P Carter because they’re living in the present tense and playing me music that I don’t know too much about – yet – and so I can learn as well as enjoy. But it gets to the point when, when you hear “Work” by the Blue Orchids for the sixth time that week, you think, weren’t things better when only Peel was playing this stuff, when you had to go out and FIND this music?

    (tags: when radio was radio, kids today, Geoff Boycott)

  47. 47
    thefatgit on 7 Mar 2016 #

    Bobby Friction sitting in for Jarvis on Sunday Service yesterday. Big tick! Not that I listen to 6Music very often, but I get quite excited hearing stuff that’s hardly ever played (Flaming Lips “Lucy In The Sky…”, Arabic version of “White Rabbit” from American Hustle, some dub and bhangra thrown in among others). Not just your Elbow and The National every other song, which was my impression of 6Music for a very long time.

  48. 48
    Cumbrian on 7 Mar 2016 #

    #46: One of the things about Boycott though is that his is an authority well earned. He’s seen and played in countless games of cricket, of all formats, around the world. He’s probably seen everything that can reasonably be expected to be seen in Test and ODI cricket and is racking up the knowledge on T20 as the game develops. When Boycott talks about cricket, it pays to listen, because he knows what he is talking about. And if he says, this was better in my day*, he’s probably right because he’s seen it and thought about it.

    How this fits in with what I am looking for from radio is probably at odds with what the current fashion is. I get the sense that there is an assumption that, because you can get almost any type of music you want at the drop of a hat, discovery is the job of the listener to an extent. Meanwhile, I look at the bewildering range of choice that is on offer on the internet and wouldn’t half appreciate learned voices, who have listened widely, offer recommendations. I can work out whether I trust them myself, but this sort of filter is useful. I’m not looking for the radio to be my mate with the exception of the type of mate that offers me the benefit of their knowledge, rather than always being on for several beers and kebab. Just like Boycott helps me think more cogently about the game of cricket.

    This is why, for me, the FT yearly run down of music, though I never get involved in voting for it, is interesting and helpful in pushing me into areas I wouldn’t otherwise explore.

    *He actually does not do this often nowadays at all. In point of fact, regularly on TMS, he’s one of the guys giggling when a Test match turns into a shootout with weird shots being played all over. If someone gives his wicket away, he’ll let him have it. If someone exhibits long term technical failings, he’ll let him have it. But he does usually recognise that there’s a time and place for everything and if everyone played like him, England would lose more often than not. He knows the game has moved on. Faced with new information, he has changed his opinion.

  49. 49
    Mark M on 7 Mar 2016 #

    In the interest of, well, introducing evidence to the debate, I’ve picked a day at random (3 March). Here are the final 20 tracks that Lauren Laverne played that morning:

    Morrissey: Suedehead
    New Order: Singularity
    M83: Do It, Try It
    Groove Armada: I See You Baby
    Poliça: Wedding

    Lush: Out of Control
    Cody Chestnutt: That’s Still Mama
    Steve Mason: Planet Sizes
    Barry Louis Polisar: All I Want Is You
    Joni Mitchell: Little Green

    Tom Waits: You Can Never Hold Back Spring
    Donna Summer: Spring Affair
    Biz Markie: Spring Again
    Electric Light Orchestra: Mr Blue Sky
    Curtis Mayfield: Freddie’s Dead

    Tricky: Beijing To Berlin
    NZCA Lines: Chemical Is Obvious
    The “5” Royales: Don’t Give More Than You Can
    James: Nothing But Love
    Bird Dog: The Ocean & The Sea

    Some obvious records there, and some that I think you’d have a tough time arguing are overplayed. I do suspect, however, that if you did the same process with Steve Lamacq’s show, it would be a narrower selection.

  50. 50
    wichitalineman on 8 Mar 2016 #

    Re 49: Not as narrow a selection as Steve Lamacq is the slenderest of get-outs, of course! Freddie’s Dead fits Punctum’s O’Jays crack upthread, but I’ve never even heard of that 5 Royales track, so it’s not all “Top 5 hit from 1972” token black music. James, on the other hand… who the fuck wants to hear James in 2016?

    I’m depressed that the Blue Orchids’ Work might be considered overplayed, while simultaneously thrilled that younger generations (must be two since it came out) will know it.

    Maybe the oddest and most depressing thing for me about 6Music is that it has such a narrow timeframe of “oldies” (because that’s what they are, whether hits, or flops, or freak zone material or whatever). Radio 2 has an impressive self awareness – something for everyone, no fear of seeming uncool, and I think I’m just as likely to hear something great and unknown to me on Claire Teal’s show as I am on Lauren Laverne’s. The difference being that when I hear it, Radio 2 won’t bang on about how clever they are for playing it.

  51. 51
    lonepilgrim on 8 Mar 2016 #

    I usually enjoy Desmond Carrington on Radio 2. His themed programmes allow him to pick and choose from in and outside of the familiar playlists and timeframes that prove so deathly

  52. 52
    Mark M on 8 Mar 2016 #

    Re50 etc: All things being affected by context, I think I’ve come to think more kindly of 6 Music because the designers at work have Absolute 90s on, and the subs desk used to have 6 Music, and given that choice… Also, I think it would be easy to bash 6 Music simultaneously for playing and not playing the obvious stuff (and in the case of Curtis Mayfield, when ‘the obvious stuff’ is far more than one song, playing one of them is hardly a crime. Whereas, for instance, at this stage in history, Teenage Kicks and Another Girl Another Planet, say, should be avoided by the thoughtful DJ).

    Re42: Yes, Sounds Of The 60s is extraordinary and exemplary in the way it takes in pretty anything released in the English-speaking world during that decade (with probably the occasional bit of French stuff as well) .

  53. 53
    punctum on 8 Mar 2016 #

    Most of that Laverne playlist is playlist crap and Mr Blue Sky, which gets played 2000 times an hour on Radio 2? Why should licence payers subsidise two radio stations playing the same music?

  54. 54
    Adam Puke on 8 Mar 2016 #

    Re: 50: A scarily large number of people want to hear James in 2016. They were a key band for many early 40somethings (easily as popular as the Roses or Mondays despite being written out of official BBC4 musical/social history) and I’ve met plenty who’ve largely stuck by them and speak of them in hallowed terms. Their forthcoming tour consists of Brixton Academy/Colston Hall size venues with the Glasgow date at the massive Hydro- usually host to the Princes, Mariahs and Rods of this world.

    Still baffles me completely.

  55. 55
    punctum on 8 Mar 2016 #

    I don’t know I need to hear any of these people in 2016.

  56. 56
    flahr on 8 Mar 2016 #

    In an ideal world of course there would only be one radio station and it would play “Too Close” by Blue on loop permanently. I share the general disgust on this thread that we don’t live in this ideal world.

    Interesting Blue fact which I don’t think anyone has mentioned: all four of the band have since gone bankrupt. I say ‘interesting’.

  57. 57
    Adam Puke on 8 Mar 2016 #

    Bankrupt? That’d explain the need to subject themselves to ITV2’s faintly disturbing Truman Show-esque “Blue Go Mad In Ibiza” a couple of years back.

  58. 58
    Phil on 9 Mar 2016 #

    What baffles me about James isn’t that they inspired crawl-over-broken-glass, give-your-baby-their-surnames-as-middle-names levels of devotion – when they were good, they were very good. What baffles me is that people stuck with them beyond 1990 (1993 if I’m really generous).

    Re #48, I think Peel was a more complex figure than we realised at the time. Certainly he represented a kind of connoisseurship – he’d been around forever, he’d got into punk early on, he’d played dub reggae alongside the Fall, he’d spotted Teenage Kicks, and so on. But it wasn’t a case of connoisseurship being the opposite of just randomly hearing everything – in the public mind Peel could do what he did because he randomly heard everything (all those demo tapes). In reality there was expertise and discrimination there, but he kept it well hidden. I guess it’s the public face of Peel that 6 Music are trying to reproduce, rather than getting in people with his levels of knowledge and taste. Or, for that matter, with his breadth of interest – heard any June Tabor on 6 Music recently? How about Tony Capstick?

  59. 59
    Rory on 9 Mar 2016 #

    @50, @54, re who’d want to hear James in 2016: Erm, me? At least, I’ve got their forthcoming album in my Amazon wishlist. I discovered them properly (apart from hearing a lot of “Sit Down” during my year in England in 1991-92) with 1999’s Millionaires, which along with Pleased to Meet You is still my favourite of their albums. No coincidence that they were both Eno productions. Pleased to Meet You is the first album I associate with moving to the UK in mid-2001.

    I’m under no illusion that they’re terribly important in pop terms in 2016, but they’re at least as significant as the Manics for me: i.e., not quite a focus for fanatical devotion, but with a rich back catalogue that repays revisiting.

  60. 60
    Kinitawowi on 9 Mar 2016 #

    @50, 54, 58, 59 et al; yep, I’m still in full James mode too (Girl At The End Of The World is on pre-order). They’re never going to be as big as they were pre the 2001-07 hiatus of course (or pre-Black Thursday, or pre-whichever other flag day), but then that’s pretty much always been their story – hovering near the edges of a theme, a scene, a time without ever quite latching in to it.

    I still maintain a petulant yet visceral loathing of Chesney Hawkes.

  61. 61
    Pink champale on 9 Mar 2016 #

    I’m with Phil on this one, I still love Stutter and One Man Clapping, and was massively into them at the time of their 89/90 breakthrough (though in retrospect Gold Mother was the start of the decline and I have a memory of Mr Lineman writing a where did it all go wrong review of their 1990 tour that I was indignant about then, but was probably spot on in fact).
    But by the time of the next album I’d lost all interest and I find it baffling that they actually had all their success in the 90s and even on into the 00s. Presumably most fans don’t even know or care about their 80s – viewing it like Bowie’s 60s, with Sit Down the Space Oddity exception.

  62. 62
    Phil on 9 Mar 2016 #

    If Sit Down is Space Oddity, Johnny Yen must be the Laughing Gnome – and presumably the Factory singles were recorded by Tim Booth and the Lower Third!

    Weirdly, I think James were at their best when Tim didn’t quite know what he was singing about. When Reagan bombed Libya in 1986 James did an impromptu free gig in Manchester city centre, at which they played the slow version of Fire So Close for (I think) the first time. I remember thinking “gosh, it’s not a wild James thrash any more – it’s serious and political and meaningful and serious!”.

    It was all downhill from there, really.

  63. 63
    punctum on 10 Mar 2016 #

    #58: 6Music’s for people who liked Peel on Home Truths rather than on Radio 1.

    June Tabor gets played quite regularly on Marc Riley and Gideon Coe’s shows.

    Pick Of The Pops and Forgotten ’80s like to pretend that Tony Capstick never existed.

  64. 64
    glue_factory on 10 Mar 2016 #

    #63, isn’t the problem for Tony Capstick on Forgotten 80s that Capstick Comes Home could fall foul of the “no novelty records” rule? Obviously that’s a pretty arbitrary decision, but one I can imagine a lot of people agreeing with.

  65. 65
    punctum on 10 Mar 2016 #

    Not to be confused with the “no charity records” rule, the “no football records” rule, the “no TV themes” rule, the “no left wing politics” rule or the “no fun ever” rule. No wonder I stopped listening to it.

  66. 66
    glue_factory on 10 Mar 2016 #

    Shame – you and Lena pick some good Didn’t We Almost Have It Alls.

  67. 67
    Phil on 10 Mar 2016 #

    #63 – did not know that about June Tabor. But on Tony Capstick, I was thinking of the earlier, *un*-funny Capstick, who did four sessions for Peel in the early 1970s. I guess his career as a folkie was a victim of his later success – like Billy Connolly or to a lesser extent Jasper Carrott – and his later success was a victim of him not being as funny as he thought he was. (“Capstick comes home” is brilliant, but most of his material was nowhere near that standard.) Which is a shame, because he was a really good folksinger.

  68. 68
    lonepilgrim on 25 Mar 2016 #

    my artist friend Trevor Pitt now has a weekly show called ‘Sleeve Notes’ on Brum Radio which is part of his socially engaged art practice and which aims to play “an eclectic mix of alternative, art rock, avant garde and queer pop with special guests who will talk art/music/life”
    some tracks are more familiar than others but I find it a lot more interesting than most mainstream radio. You can listen to the latest show here: https://www.mixcloud.com/BrumRadio/sleeve-note-sessions-with-trevor-pitt-24032016/

  69. 69
    enitharmon on 1 Apr 2016 #

    Just thought I’d mention in passing that, as I was on a bus passing the Kings Theatre in Glasgow in the late afternoon the other day, I noticed a bevy of youngish women, probably of an age to have been fans of boy bands around the turn of the century, surrounding a tall youngish man, sporting that most preposterous of titfers the backwards-facing baseball cap, outside the stage door. He was signing autographs and generally joshing with his admirers. Further enquiries established that this was Duncan James, formerly of the boy-band Blue, currently starring in a stage musical version of Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Kings. Glasgow is presumably a bit of a step-up from Prestatyn.

    On the subject of reversed baseball caps, there was a time in the 1990s when I affected a fedora: to my mind the most stylish headgear ever devised for either (any?) sex. As I was walking down Park Street in Bristol a posse of young lads decided to take the piss. I thought this wonderfully ironic given that they were all wearing the aforesaid backwards-facing caps.

  70. 70
    Adam Puke on 1 Apr 2016 #

    I agree on the fedora- such a pity its (I once thought) timeless stylishness has been tarnished in recent years via adoption by the more conservative/misogynist Ayn Rand-devouring elements of millennial blokedom. Couldn’t they have picked shite headgear instead?

  71. 71
    Kinitawowi on 2 Apr 2016 #

    #62 et al; so, fanbase mobilisation was nearly enough to get James to the top of the albums tree for the first time since their ’98 Best Of (they were top in the midweeks), but they were pipped at the last and had to settle for matching the number 2 slot of ’99’s Millionaires, a spot they hadn’t got close to since (Hey Ma reached number 10 in ’08). Back down to number 19 this week though.

  72. 72
    Patrick Mexico on 3 Apr 2016 #

    Re 65: I’m slowly but surely trying to work on a Forgotten 90s radio show with a friend. Don’t worry, it will be less Lighthouse Family and Embrace and more Language of Violence and Pulstar (plus Let A Boy Cry and Be My Lover, but hey, I ooze Eurodance more than Ian Levine oozes Northern Soul (just that I don’t rip off the labels of my vinyls so nobody knows who they’re by ;) )

  73. 73
    Erithian on 5 Apr 2016 #

    Not a frequent listener to 6 Music, and when I do catch it it’s usually Radcliffe and Maconie (whose humour I’ll always enjoy although I know it grates on many here) or Cerys of a Sunday lunchtime (more eclectic music than most on the station, and I’ve been warmly disposed to her ever since I was within touching distance of Catatonia’s drumkit for their debut on Later).

    I have a great deal of time for Lauren Laverne, and her show on the morning of Bowie’s death, sharing listeners’ thoughts on what was personal to them about Bowie, was superb radio. The woman who emailed in saying “My autistic son is better off living in a world where Bowie existed and embraced ‘different’” – as the parent of a child on the spectrum, I was deeply touched.

    I’m sure I heard this one while it was out, but certainly never paid much attention to the lyrics – a stiffie at the school disco indeed. The most interesting thing about Blue for me was the fact that my hairdresser had been at school with Lee Ryan. True story. The song is meh, but not aimed at me in the first place so I’ll live with that.

  74. 74
    weej on 15 Jan 2017 #

    I’ve been accidentally without a TV and listening to the radio every day for the last 8 months or so, and every time I listen to 6 music I think about the discussion here and where it was on the money and where it was missing the point a bit. To sum up my accidental research, it really does depend when you listen.

    Steve Lamacq / Liz Kershaw – Cannot stand either of these people churning out the same boring old indie rock, will not listen at all. No idea what Liz Kershaw in particular is doing on this station.

    Mary Anne Hobbs / Shaun Keaveny – A bit better than the above, but very much fitting the description of classic canon + new indie music, always end up tuning out (disappointingly for MAH, who was sometimes very good on Radio 1)

    Guy Garvey – Like a better version of Steve Lamacq, but ultimately not *that* much better. Everything he enthuses about ends up being a bit meh

    Lauren Laverne / Radcliffe & Maconie – Fairly reliable, but still mainly canon + new indie. Basically I like them, so it stays on, It’s daytime radio and probably would be silly to expect anything else.

    Huey / Craig Charles – Always a let-down, same old selection of funk & soul records everyone has heard a thousand times before

    Marc Riley – Always a pleasant surprise, lots of good new music, even if it is mainly indie-ish. Clearly invests a lot of time & passion.

    Jarvis Cocker / Various others filling in – bit of a risk, but can be be the best things on.

    Tom Robinson – Let’s assemble music on a theme! But let’s pick the most pedestrian choices possible! Nope.

    Cerys – I was never a fan of Catatonia, so surprised to say this is maybe the best thing on here. Genuinely left-field, genuinely wonderful discoveries throughout

    Freakzone – Should be my favourite as it matches my tastes 95%, guess I’m a bit burnt out on it right now, but still, A-grade radio on the whole.

    Live Hour – Anyone want to hear Oasis at Knebworth? Yes, apparently there are some people who want to hear that. But not me.

    Gideon Coe – This looks ok, but never heard it as it starts at 10pm on weeknights

  75. 75
    MUSICALITY on 24 Apr 2017 #

    Blue followed by Busted were supposed to be the boyband saviours who would finally bring Westlife to their knees and out of the charts.

    Both more dangerous, slick and super cool (if you’re young and impressionable) with more edge… however no they just co-existed together…. great.

  76. 76
    Gareth Parker on 6 Jun 2021 #

    Not familiar with the original, but I rather enjoyed this. 6/10 imho.

  77. 77
    Gareth Parker on 26 Oct 2021 #

    Having checked out the earlier version by Next, I do prefer that marginally.

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)

If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page