In 1992, The Wedding Present famously released twelve singles – one a month from January till December. The A-sides are original compositions and amongst their strongest work. The B-sides consist of inspired covers of artfully chosen songs. All twelve singles made the UK Top 30, spawning videos, reviews, appearances on Top of the Pops (TOTP) and other shows. For fans there was the intense pleasure of buying a brand new 45rpm every month, taking it home, dropping the needle and revelling in the sheer sonic and lyrical quality, happy in the knowledge – for most of the year – that you only had to wait a month till the next one appeared.
These records provided a thrilling soundtrack to a large part of my first and second years at university. I read the reviews in NME and Melody Maker, and I listened to these songs repeatedly. Often I took the singles to student parties, slipped them onto turntables amidst blissfully drunken nights full of magic and possibility. At these parties, I heard the songs in the context of so much stunning new music: Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, The Breeders, The Fall, Hole, Pixies, The Lemonheads, Teenage Fanclub, Pavement, Morrissey, The Jesus and Mary Chain, PJ Harvey, Primal Scream, Dinosaur Jr and many, many more. At the end of the night, I’d make sure all my 45s were back in their sleeves, and tucked into a compartment of my rucksack to keep them safe and dry for my walk home.
In 1991, with the release of the album Seamonsters (produced by Steve Albini) it was clear The Wedding Present were evolving a heavier, grungier sound. Increasingly the vocals were submerged beneath guitars (though not quite to the extent of MBV on Loveless). And yet this production somehow had the effect of emphasising the emotions of the voice. If at first you needed to strain to make out the lyrics, they soon burned their way into your heart. Those twelve singles of 1992 continued the sonic trend of Seamonsters. The music is hard, direct, uncompromising. But the heaviness can give way to quiet passages: ‘No Christmas’ is a wonderful example of this. It’s worth paying attention to the words, because the conversational lyrics are by turns funny, anguished, ironic, sarcastic, pissed off, plaintive, romantic and heartbroken, usually half-sung/half-spoken in a Leeds accent by frontman/songwriter David Gedge, who is also capable of some truly beautiful singing – check out the falsetto on ‘Boing!’.
Gedge feels like a man with one main topic: relationships. He’s determined to explore this topic over and again. He digs deep into the hurts (big and small): the things we say and don’t say; the things we say and don’t mean, the miscommunications, mistakes, deceptions, lies and truths. He writes about lust, sex, and transgression. And he writes so intensely about soaring, thrilling euphoric love. Many of his greatest songs are lovers’ pleas. He writes lyrics that chastise, blame or lament. The speakers can admit mistakes – even if their mumbled apologies sound like the words of characters, simply trying to turn a situation to their own advantage. Or more accurately attempting to avoid conflict and hassle. Being lazy. Being human.
At the time of these releases, I was studying English Literature. The literary techniques we examined in novels, stories, plays and poems – such as unreliable narration, ironic self-revelation, voice, allusion, omission, motif, etc – were the techniques so clearly exhibited in these songs. Gedge is essentially a literary songwriter, a storyteller, a creator of conflicted characters. His incredible work now spans several decades and many albums. Some days I think George Best (1987) is my favourite: last week I convinced myself it was Bizarro (1989). At university my favourite was Seamonsters (1991) but Take Fountain (2005), with its melodic joys, is the one I reach for most often now. It could be their best ever. But hang on a minute; if these twelve singles and twelve B-sides from 1992 can be considered one album then that is definitely their finest work.
The twelve singles were actually collected on two albums: Hit Parade 1 (June 1992) and Hit Parade 2 (January 1993), and eventually released as a double CD in 2003. These albums initially disappointed me because I wanted the songs to exist only as limited-edition singles. They looked so great in their imaginatively-designed picture sleeves (featuring explicit and implicit depictions of the numbers 1–12). The designs make it clear that this is a series. The fact they were limited editions of 10,000 copies, deleted the week after release, made them even more precious. Nevertheless, when the albums came out I purchased them and have to concede they work very well as collections.
For the ‘record’, my favourite A-side is ‘Boing!’. My favourite B-side is ‘Let’s Make Some Plans’ (originally by the wonderful Scottish indie band Close Lobsters, whose own version you definitely must hear). Special mentions go to the cover version of Mud’s ‘Rocket’ (very bold) and Neil Young’s ‘Don’t Cry No Tears’, which is majestic. While writing this the first A-side ‘Blue Eyes’ is playing in the background, and god … I’m struck once again by what an absolutely sublime song it is. And I’m reminded of the performance of this on TOTP, with Gedge’s sublimely ‘lazy’ under-singing and his multiple switches in intonation that powerfully emphasise the spoken voice; his half-smiles, surely at the audacity of his own mumbled vocals; him fake-miming the guitar solo, reminding us that TOTP is artificial and that The Wedding Present aren’t. When I re-watch that performance now it still makes me shiver, and it still makes me smile (or half-smile).
If you haven’t heard these twelve singles, you need to seek them out. Try to hunt down the 45s if you can. I still have mine intact – they survived all yesterday’s parties, still very playable. Musically they’re as fresh and relevant as when they were released.
See below for the full list of titles, some favourite quotes from the A-sides, and the names of the artists who recorded the original B-sides (in brackets).
1. Blue Eyes/Cattle and Cane (The Go-Betweens)
‘I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this before
But I couldn’t possibly love you any more’
‘I think you said that when you wrote to me
I’m not as certain as I ought to be’
‘I watched some film round Alexandra’s place
But I kept seeing your blue eyes in her face’
2. Go Go Dancer/Don’t Cry No Tears (Neil Young and Crazy Horse)
‘Here comes my go-go dancer
I called out but she wouldn’t answer’
3. Three/Think That It Might (Altered Images)
But three have a better time’
4. Silver Shorts/Falling (Julee Cruise)
‘She’s not talking to me now
Not since we had our row’
5. Come Play With Me/Pleasant Valley Sunday (The Monkees)
‘Take a look at this note
I can’t throw it away
No please read it
It’s something she wrote
Just to ruin my day
Now do you understand?’
6. California/Let’s Make Some Plans (Close Lobsters)
‘You’re scared you’ll make some big mistake, but I forgive you
This is a risk you have to take, and I’ll be with you’
7. Flying Saucer/Rocket (Mud)
‘And I surrender
I can’t forget her
I still remember
Every word she said’
8. Boing!/Theme From Shaft (Isaac Hayes)
‘I don’t know what to believe
Last night you held me
Today you tell me you’re going to leave’
9. Loveslave/Chant of the Ever-Circling Skeletal Family (David Bowie)
‘I know what you’re going to say
You want to do something scary today’
10. Sticky/Go Wild in the Country (Bow Wow Wow)
‘Well I might be thick-skinned, but I find your presence sickening’
11. The Queen of Outer Space/U.F.O. (Barry Gray)
‘I feel beautiful beside her’
12. No Christmas/Step into Christmas (Elton John)
‘And all those awful things you said at first
Don’t shout, I understand, you’re pretending
To punish me, well I’m listening so do your worst’
Watch the wonderful performance of ‘Blue Eyes’ on TOTP from January 1992.