Saturday, May 16, 2015

10: China In your hand - T'Pau

And into the top ten we go with another bland 1980s pop number. And the seeming need for me to explain how I can have two T'Pau tracks in the top forty when there's only one by Pink Floyd and none at all by The Beatles, The Who or Wagner. It's even seen as an easy target for critics (even if it's not) - for example, China is criticised as being "the lowest-selling record to spend five weeks at number one in the 1980s". So how can I justify it? Short answer: It's My List.

And yet, as we talked about with 'Bridge of Spies' up at number 24, it really feels like it's hard to take it seriously because it's mid-80s pop. But when you do look into some of that stuff - the Bangles for instance, or Tears for Fears - there's often a lot of musical depth and talent there wrapped up in a suitable pop package to make it accessible to the teenagers of the time. And as we discussed before, the 'Bridge of Spies' album as a whole is, by luck or judgment, a very well-produced album that stands strong after almost thirty years. And for a while I stopped thinking 'China In Your Hand' was a good track, it was just a typical track on a really good album.

Then I started listening to it again and realized, no, it really DOES stand out even from the Bridge Of Spies crowd. The lyrics for a long time made basically no sense to me (some scheme? told in a foreign land? what?) but it has the nice musical twist of building at the end of the first verse... and back into the verse again, because the verse melody itself is strong enough to take that. Then we soar into the chorus with Carol Decker again on 'Bodyform' vocals - the studio version was largely unprocessed on the album cut, as I understand it - overlays of melody on strong basslines and all the instruments coming together to bring it not just the 'pop package' feel but something any composer would be proud of. No majorly exciting chords there, although the sequence is a little unusual, but it stands up strongly in a lot of circumstances and settings.

For example, there's the original studio version, various live versions, a variety of acoustic versions recently - all of which show the following: no matter how you arrange it, it's flat-out a good song. You can do what you like to it and it stands up, as any good folk song or short classical piece would. Simple structure and it works, at all times and in all places. No great emotional thing going on here between me and this song, it's simply an outstanding song that is a whole lot more than its context of mid-80s packaged pop.

The video here is a live version from Hammersmith in 1988 after Dean Howard joined the band - in my view his guitar solo, in particular how he begins the reprise, is superior to the original sax solo on the studio version; similarly Michael Chetwynd's keyboard takes more prominence and makes the song seem less manufactured.

Oh, and what are the lyrics about? Mary Shelley's story 'Frankenstein'. (Pause. Well yeah, you're right, that DOES make sense now you mention it.)

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