It’s not just comedy. Timing is also the secret to a lot of the best records.
Between 1995’s Common People & Country House vs Roll With It (the beginning of the end of Britpop’s imperial period) and 1997’s Be Here Now (the actual end) & OK Computer (the beginning of something else), The Spice Girls detonated in the pop atmosphere.
Some pop groups, Pet Shop Boys for one, break when the release of a first single fails to land and succeeds months later when the public are ready for it.
The public were ready for Wannabe from minute one.
It stormed the charts like the French National Guard with its introduction of “Em in the place who likes it in your face”, “G like MC who likes it on a…” …what? just got with it…. “Easy V doesn’t come for free, she’s a real lady and as for me, ha you’ll see.” For all three of you not au fait with the lyrics, the “as for me”, is Mel B (see? it all rhymes) who also starts the song with a full-throated hahahaha guffaw.
It is the first and last time that Melanie C would be referred to as “MC” as the nicknames bestowed on the five soon kicked in.
There was nothing pale, male and stale about it.
Richard “Biff” Stannard, who was smart and intuitive enough to co-write and produce Wannabe, told me for a piece for the BBC’s Entertainment & Arts website that if someone says the words “I Tell You What I Want”, then “they start going into the whole song.”
How many other pop records have that? “One for the money” (two for the show), “I’m just a poor boy” (nobody likes me), “you’re the one that I want” (ooh-ooh-ooh, honey).
Only the really famous, or really good ones. Generally, the definition of pop is that if you’ve got both, you’ve got international superstardom.
Wannabe, followed by the irresistible sucker-punch of Say You’ll Be There and Two Become One led to that. The branded Scooters, the OK! magazine “royal wedding”, the faces of Channel 5 (with Jack Doherty and Kirsty Young), the Heart FM breakfast show with Jamie Theakston, and hosting the twelfth series of Dancing with the Stars Australia all followed.
But nothing was exciting as that video in Kings Cross with the pretend-offended posh people, frightened children and slick choreography. (OK, two of these)
Stannard, whose hand was also involved in Five’s Keep On Movin’, East 17’s It’s Alright and Kylie’s Love At First Sight, understands what made Em in the place, G (like MC), easy V and Melanie C so colossal. “Individually, they weren’t perfect, but collectively they were. They grew up in public like Kylie and people like that.”
The fact Wannabe is being discussed two decades on says much about how it introduced a band to the world. It was pop music, but not as we know it, Jim.
“There was a beautiful freshness to it,” reflects Stannard. “It certainly wasn’t over-thought.”
Like the first time you heard What Time Is Love, Reverend Black Grape, Firestarter or Bad Romance, Wannabe sounds like an undeniable pop smash and yet an oddity at the same time. “There was something quite punk about Wannabe,” Stannard says correctly. “All the best pop music, you’re a little bit frightened.”
He won’t elucidate on what a zig-ah-zig-ah is other than saying “it was a word the girls were using around the studio (Strongroom in Shoreditch) at the time.”
The Spice imperial period was splitting at the seams by the spring of 1998 when Geri left but as Dr Eldon Tyrell says in Blade Runner “the light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.”
Biff Stannard was in the studio when Abs from Five rapped “7-6-5-4-3-2-1, I’m on the microphone, got you hot like the sun.” So he understands what made The Spice Girls work. “It was only three years but they had a lifetime together.”