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Black – The Big One


Woe betide the sensitive male crooner in 1988. In a pop landscape where lyrical depth didn’t go much further than “Tay tay tay tay tay-tay tay-tay tay tay tay”, any man with a faintly hangdog expression and propensity for introspection was always going to have a bit of a struggle. Yet there was one who smashed through the S/A/W roadblock – for a short while anyway.

Colin Vearncombe, better known as Black, had scored an unlikely pair of top 10 hits in 1987 with The Sweetest Smile and Wonderful Life (which was later used in an advert for Cadbury’s Strollers – they don’t make them any more.) Both were utterly gorgeous and steeped in monochrome European intrigue – music for spies, essentially – but as the press noted at the time, they were a bit ruddy miserable. Nonetheless, their success propelled the parent album to no.3 on the UK chart and a 23 week stay. Black was on his way to being a Priority Artist.

Unfortunately, he was on A&M Records, who I’ve noticed seem to crop up quite a lot on this site. When Colin returned in 1988, considerably cheerier and with an exciting new font, only a fool would have argued against him hitting big once more. Yet with both momentum and public goodwill on their side, A&M managed to throw away the opportunity to consolidate Black‘s position as pop’s potential new alpha male. It certainly wasn’t for the lack of a good product to flog – the cleverly titled album Comedy was packed with ace tunes, some of which (Hey, I Was Right, You Were Wrong!) were refreshingly up-tempo, others (specifically All We Need is the Money) happily evoking John Barry‘s theme from The Persuaders. First single The Big One was a case of love at first listen for me:

That lovely, bendy guitar line. That lovely, melty Hammond organ. That beautiful, relaxed pace. And that rich, Scott Walker-ish voice, singing about potential lifelong romance gone wrong. What’s not to love about The Big One? Did we prefer Colin a bit more miserable than even this? I don’t know. I only remember seeing it once or twice on The Chart Show and I don’t remember hearing it on the radio at all. Maybe at the time it was too sophisticated for Radio 1 and too new for Radio 2, who at that point were still largely reliant on the sixties and seventies for their content. While I marched down to WH Smith in Dumfries on the album’s release date and handed over £5.49 for the cassette, not many others did – it peaked at no.32 on the chart and was gone within a month. But it’s an album I’ve listened to constantly over the last 27 years, so I certainly got my money’s worth.

Pleasingly, a lack of chart “action” hasn’t stopped Colin from continuing to make brilliant music – he’s switched between his proper name and his stage moniker over the years, but it’s back to Black for this year’s ace Blind Faith.

Entered chart: 24/09/1988

Chart peak: 54

Weeks on chart: 4

Who could sing this today and have a hit? Glum faced troubadour du jour Sam Smith of course.

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