I’m a fan of sweeping statements regarding where and when we are in popular music history, so here’s another one: ‘Respectable’, by Mel and Kim is an era-defining record.
Respectable, by Mel & Kim (their 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 22nd – 29th March 1987
Tay-tay-tay-tay-tay-t-t-t-t-tay-tay, Take or leave us… The hook that runs through this hi-NRG, trash-pop hit is jarring. It’s obnoxious, confrontational, and completely intentional – designed to be played at ear-splitting volume by thirteen year old girls across the country, as their parents bang angrily on the walls. Whether or not you can, forgive me, take or leave this song is a good indicator of how much, or how little, you’ll enjoy this blog for the next few months…
For me personally…? When I first listened to it a few days ago, I enjoyed its in-your-face brassiness. When it comes to pop, for me, the trashier and more disposable the better. In the few days since, though, I’ve caught a cold and, let me tell you, ‘Respectable’s pounding beat and constant, jabbing synths wear thinner when you’ve got a stuffy nose and a high temperature. (And if you think the single edit is jarring, try the six-minute extended mix…)
But it’s the sound of the future, both immediate and a little further off. Immediate, because it was produced by Stock-Aitken-Waterman, whose blend of hi-NRG, disco and Europop will be the sound of the late-eighties. They’ve already had one #1: Dead or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round’, which is probably their best, and between March ’87 and January 1990 they will score a whopping twelve more!
In terms of a further-off future, ‘Respectable’s lyrics put me in mind of a certain girl group still a decade hence. Take or leave us, Only please believe us, We ain’t never gonna be respectable… Like us, Hate us, But you’ll never change us… They don’t care if you think they’re out of line, they’re just out for a good time. Again, these are simple sentiments aimed at tweens, rather than a new feminist manifesto, but when the Spice Girls did it there were theses published on ‘Girl Power’.
Mel and Kim were sisters, and this was their second of four Top 10 hits. They would presumably have had a few more, but tragically Mel died aged just twenty-three in 1990. The cancer that would kill her had been re-diagnosed shortly after ‘Respectable’ made #1. Kim went solo after that, and scored a handful of hits in the early nineties.
A very heavy footnote, then, to what has been one of the lightest number ones for quite some time. It’s tunes like this which have me thinking that, while nobody is claiming the late-eighties to be a classic era for pop music, I will enjoy it more than the decade’s soft and gloopy middle years…