Sunday, February 21, 2010

How did I miss The Beautiful South?

carry on up the chartsLate last year when I was thinking about coming up with a 1995 song for my series of “A Song a Year” I was talking with my sister and she mentioned that for her, two of the albums that brought back the 90s were Oasis’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? and The Beautiful South’s Carry on Up the Charts. I looked at her blankly, wondering who was this band The Beautiful South.

My sister during the mid 90s was doing her stint as a good Aussie of living and working in England (something I regret I never did), and the greatest hits collection Carry on Up the Charts hit Number 1 there in December 1994, and also in January 1995. In Australian it didn’t even chart – I don’t know if it was even released. 

This type of thing could happen a lot back in the old pre-internet, pre-itunes age. I can recall in the 80s watching the Grammy Awards and wondering who the hell were half the bands getting awards. Now music travels much quicker, and is thus more homogenised. There are the odd exceptions, but I’d argue now there are less bands that are successful in the UK or US that don’t get a good run here. The UK definitely has a different taste in popular music to Australia – the current number one album there is Paolo Nutini’s Sunny Side Up, which only made it to Number 22 here, and the previous number 1, Florence and the Machine’s Lungs, peaked in Australia at Number 12.

But this aside it is harder now for a band to completely slip past the radar as did The Beautiful South for me in the 1990s. Back then my sister may have mentioned them in a letter but so what? I would have had to go to a record store and buy the CD to find out whether or not I liked them (that’s if I remembered to bother to go looking for it). Now of course, were the same to occur, she could email me a link to some of their songs on youtube, and while sitting at my desk (or wherever if I had an iphone) I would be able to hear their music, and buy it if I so desired.

When she did mention the band to me last year I did go on youtube, I did listen to their songs, and I did download an album from itunes, and all the while I kept wondering how the hell did I miss this band?

For those who were ignorant like me, The Beautiful South was formed in the late 1980s by former member of the band The Housemartins (thank you wikipedia).

The key to their music is songs with wonderful sweet melodies that counter the incredibly sharp and often spiteful lyrics. They were in effect the forerunner to Lilly Allen.

Their lyrics (mostly written by Paul Heaton and Dave Rotheray) are often spectacular and sarcastic. Take this from “A Song for Whoever”:

I love you from the bottom of my pencil case
I love the way you never ask me why
I love to write about each wrinkle on your face
And I love you till my fountain pen runs dry

Deep so deep,
the number one I hope to reap
Depends upon the tears you weep,
so cry, lovey cry, cry, cry, cry

Oh Cathy, Oh Alison, Oh Phillipa, Oh Sue
You made me so much money,
I wrote this song for you
Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
I wrote this song for you
Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
I wrote this song for you

I absolutely love the first line, and melody is such that it sounds like a love song, and it’s only on listening to the words do you realise the cynicism of the song. Similar is their great song about break ups – “A Little Time”. The song is sung by a man and a woman. The man talking about needing a little time, and the woman responding.

I need a little time
To think it over
I need a little space
Just on my own
I need a little time
To find my freedom
I need a little...

Funny how quick the milk turns sour
Isn't it, isn't it
Your face has been looking like that for hours
Hasn't it, hasn't it
Promises, promises turn to dust
Wedding bells just turn to rust
Trust into mistrust

The tune is so sweet that you wonder if some foolish couple has ever thought it a good song to dance to at their wedding reception.

One of my favourite songs of theirs – “Don’t Marry Her” (about a women trying to convince a guy not to marry another woman by describing the horrible life he would have if he did) contained the line:

She'll grab your sweaty bollocks
Then slowly raise her knee

This was deemed too offensive for radio (as was the refrain at the end of each chorus of “Don’t marry her, f--k me”), so they changed it for the radio and video version to “She’ll grab your Sandra Bullocks”. Such humour is the key to The Beautiful South; when they broke up in 2006 they sighted “musical similarities”.

So no, they won’t ever be a band that will bring back memories for me, and I can’t say they changed the face of music. Other bands like The Pixies I missed as well – but mostly because I couldn't stand the people who kept banging on about how great were The Pixies. But The Beautiful South certainly are one band that I discovered late, and am glad I did.

Below are the video clips for “A Little Time” (truly, an amazing representation of a break up) and “Don’t Marry Her”. Enjoy

1 comment:

Robert said...

Hi Greg,

Just read your post about the Beautiful South. As an Aussie who has just discovered this 90s band, I agree with your post. I guess one of the main reasons their music didn't make it here is because it didn't fit the narrow positions of our radio programmers. Not poppy or rock enough for most FM station but not alternative enough for JJJ. Shame we missed out.