I was going to call this series The Underachievers, but that almost felt like it was being critical of someone, be it artist, record company or even the Great British Record-Buying Public. That isn’t what I’m trying to do. It’s meant to be more a celebration of songs I’ve liked over the years, but which, at their initial time of release at least, didn’t capture the hearts and minds of too many other folks.
To qualify, a song must have:
a) been released as a single in the UK
b) failed to make the UK Top 40 Singles chart – ever (unless I make an exception and allow a very low Top 40 placing)
c) been feted by me to various people over the years – with reactions ranging from “I can see why no-one bought it” to “did you know they’re still together – fancy seeing them?”, and most stations in between.
And so to #1…
Around 15 years ago, there was a flurry of 80s Lyric Quiz things flying around the office. These generally had some of the more interesting excerpts of songs from that decade that we were then invited to guess. Obviously most were taken from the well-known material that is still played on retro stations around three times a day (so I’m told – I rely on people who are subjected to this sort of stuff in their workplaces to keep me abreast of such developments. I’m so glad I work from home apart from a couple of days per month).
One lyrical excerpt I’d love to have seen in one of those quizzes was: “and when I die, will you build the Taj Mahal, wear black every day of your life – I doubt it”. It certainly beats the vast majority of the lyrics that did make the cut. But it wasn’t there, because it comes from a ditty that only ever got to #51 in 1989, and that was via a re-recording after two earlier peaks of #87 (1986) and #86 (1987). All of these were released on Chrysalis, but there was an earlier 1986 release on Backs Records. It seems there were others out there who really believed in this one, not just me. Looking at Discogs, I seem to have the 1986 Chrysalis version, which is reassuring, because that’s what my memory was telling me. Wikipedia seems to recall it slightly differently however, noting only the Backs release in 1986, and not the Chrysalis one that I actually have. I know this because the 1987 release had a different sleeve.
The band were formed in Cambridge in 1985 and the name I always associate with them is that of Boo Hewerdine, who wrote the song along with Tony Shepherd. Hewerdine has gone on to have a lengthy solo career, and my recollection is that there has been significant acclaim for his solo output, although I must confess to not having explored it too deeply.
Would that solo career have happened in quite the same way if Graceland and subsequent singles had fared better sales-wise?
For me, Graceland sounded a little Smiths-y, which is probably what drew me to it in the first place – and may well have turned others off it. I think it’s the pick of The Bible’s output prior to their break-up in 1989 (they have reformed twice since then and appear to be an entity at the time of writing). It lags well behind later single, Honey Be Good, in terms of Spotify plays though, which surprised me. Of course mentioning the word Graceland in 1986/7 would have prompted people to mention the then current Paul Simon album of that name, whose global success far eclipsed this humble track. I like both, but given the choice of only playing the one, this wins hands down.
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