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Strawberry Switchblade – Let Her Go

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We’ve talked a little before about the problems caused by having your career-defining hit straight away – despite what Yazz would have you believe, the only is way is most definitely not up. Strawberry Switchblade represent quite an extreme version of this story, enjoying a massive hit with their first major single (the sublime Since Yesterday) and nabbing the cover of Smash Hits in the week that Band Aid happened. They might reasonably have expected to linger in the public’s affections long enough to bag at least a couple more hits, but their maiden chart voyage was to be their last one. Strawberry Switchblade: the Titanic of the top 40.

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Rose McDowall and Jill Bryson, who described themselves as “scabby witches from Glasgow” had released their first single, Trees and Flowers, on indie label 92 Happy Customers in the summer of 1983. A fairly dark song about Jill’s agoraphobia, it made John Peel‘s Festive 50 for the year and caused enough of a stir to attract the majors. Signing to Warner subsidiary Korova, work began on their debut album, a process which saw Strawberry Switchblade lose some of their rougher edges but gain a pop sensibility that actually suited them very well. They arrived – quite literally – with a fanfare, the opening of Since Yesterday being nabbed from Symphony No.5 by Sibelius. It’s one of the finest pop songs of the entire decade, packed with regret, fizzing synths, Glaswegian accents and that glorious classical motif. And it really makes you wait for the chorus, which is always a good thing. With their distinctive look and performance style (stop-motion animated peg dolls, essentially) the music press seized gleefully upon them, and during the winter of 1984 they were everywhere.

Let’s turn now to March of 1985 – the album is finished and the ‘blade are gearing up to release the follow-up, Let Her Go. Perhaps unwisely, it doesn’t stray too far from the formula of their debut hit – but minus both the surprise and Sibelius factors, it stalls at an undeserved no.59 on the UK chart. And it really is undeserved, because taken on its own Let Her Go is actually rather lovely:

One of those classic girls-giving-advice-to-other-girls records, (a formula Mel & Kim would later base their entire career on) Let Her Go sounds almost like someone has written down an awkward conversation and then sung it. The words are kind of squeezed in to fit the melody (“sheeeeeee…doesnotwant to beee with youuuu“) but it all adds to the faintly shambolic, breathless charm of the song. It has a fantastically revved up middle bit which always gives me a vision of the ‘blade overtaking me on the M8, waving as they go, plus an angelic “ba ba ba ba ba-ba ba ba ba ba” vocal in the chorus, and has a general air of what Lesley Gore would sound like had she grown up in Glasgow in the seventies.

Things took a sadly predictable turn after this. Following the classic pop rule of two up-tempos then a slowie, the next single was dreamy ballad Who Knows What Love Is. It also bombed, necessitating deployment of the Emergency Cover Version. Dolly Parton‘s Jolene was an odd choice to make considering it was a last throw of the dice, but it brought them closer to the top 40 than anything since their debut hit. It was a fairly radical – and actually rather brilliant – electropop reworking, but in peaking at no.53 it effectively popped a tin lid on their career. By this point Jill and Rose were barely on speaking terms anyway, and so the beautiful, brutal – but always polka-dotted – era of Strawberry Switchblade drew to a close.

strawberryswitchbladeEntered chart: 17/03/1985

Chart peak: 59

Weeks on chart: 5

Who could sing this today and have a hit? I’m thinking Cher LLoyd could have fun with it.

For much more on Strawberry Switchblade please visit the rather brilliant http://www.strawberryswitchblade.net

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