609. ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ / ‘She’s Leaving Home’, by Wet Wet Wet / Billy Bragg with Cara Tivey

Our next #1 is an interesting concept, and (I think) the only chart-topping example of it: a double-‘A’ side with songs by two different artists…

With a Little Help from My Friends / She’s Leaving Home, by Wet Wet Wet (their 1st of three #1s) / Billy Bragg with Cara Tivey (their 1st and only #1s)

4 weeks, from 15th May – 12th June 1988

Actually, the songs on the recent M/A/R/R/S double-‘A’ were by two different bands in all but name, but OK… This definitely is. A fun pop-soul cover by a hot new lad-band (that presumably got most of the airplay at the time), and a more introspective offering on the flip side. Both are Beatles covers – ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ covers, no less – and were recorded for children’s charity Childline.

Which means we have to sound the Charity Record alarm! But, actually, this is one of the best charity singles of the decade. Perhaps ever. There’s no gimmick, nobody is dicking about, there are no misguided attempts at comedy. Just two solid Beatles covers. Wet Wet Wet’s take on ‘With a Little Help…’ is fine, though not a patch on either the original or Joe Cocker’s OTT version. It’s perky, fast-paced, with a soaring organ, and a little bit of over-singing from Marti Pellow… The ‘friends’ in this version are the kind folks at Childline (as the video makes clear). Though I’m not sure they’re the sort you’d ‘get high’ with… No matter, Pellow glides past that line without blinking.

It’s nothing special, but when you think of some of the horrors inflicted on classic rock songs by X Factor alumni in the name of charity then you’ll take ‘nothing special’ all day long. In fact, it’s a pretty low-key intro for a band who will go on to have one of the biggest number one singles of all time. But that particular beast can wait… For now, Wet Wet Wet were a likeable bunch of lads from Clydebank, who’d had a run of Top 10 hits following their 1987 breakthrough ‘Wishing I Was Lucky’ (and who make it two Scottish chart-toppers in a row, following Fairground Attraction’s Eddi Reader).

And on the other side? Well, considering that the charity album this single came from was produced by the NME, and featured covers from The Fall (‘A Day in the Life’) The Wedding Present (‘Getting Better’) and Sonic Youth (‘Within You Without You’), perhaps Wet Wet Wet were actually the surprise inclusion? Billy Bragg is an activist, a left-wing folk-punk songwriter, and possibly the ultimate Pointless answer to ‘Artists with a UK #1 single’.

His take on ‘She’s Leaving Home’ with his long-time collaborator Cara Tivey on piano, is something different – both in terms of the peppy song on the flip-side, and in terms of chart-topping singles in general. Few pop hits can have featured an accent as uncompromising as Bragg’s, for example. Though the kitchen-sink drama in the lyrics… She’s leaving home after living alone for so many years… is very on-brand for him. It’s a pretty take on the original, and another win for ‘80s indie which, after The Housemartins and Fairground Attraction, is actually getting more of a crack at the top spot than I’d have anticipated.

I like the concept, and the contrast between the two songs… but neither comes close to its original. And I say that as someone who doesn’t even rate ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ as much as certain of the Beatles’ other studio albums (at least the two before and the two that followed it…) There now, I feel like I’ve outed myself as a complete Philistine… Up next, perhaps a post on why I’ve always found Bob Dylan overrated… Or maybe not.

7 thoughts on “609. ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ / ‘She’s Leaving Home’, by Wet Wet Wet / Billy Bragg with Cara Tivey

  1. I’d say that if we have to class Wet Wet Wet as a ‘boy band’ then they are the best! A relatively ‘local’ band for Paul and myself. Cant say I remember the B-side of this at all… probably coz it never got played on the radio – least not that I recall.

    • Yeah I wasn’t sure about ‘boy band’ so I invented ‘lad band’. I was too young for this version of Wet Wet Wet – by the time I was aware of them they were someone your mum liked, thanks to ‘that’ film soundtrack…

  2. I never thought Sgt Pepper was their best album…gimme Rubber Soul, Revolver, MMT, and mostly give me The White Album.
    These covers are fine…I like this much better than the Stars on 45 although that single helped put them back in the spotlight again.
    I’m a big Billy Bragg fan but I’ve never heard this….or the Wet Wet Wet version…they both did a good job on both.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s