Alison Moyet – Ordinary Girl
I think we’re all quite used now to the notion that pop stars and their employers often don’t enjoy an easy working relationship, and in many cases it appears to be a straight-up fight. In the red corner, you may find an artist who, flushed with success, decides they want complete creative control over their work (often this translates as a jazz album for some reason) and in the blue corner there’s invariably someone with a degree in accountancy who wants more of the same stuff that’s easily peddled to a mass audience.
The loser in all of this is neither one of the competitors – it’s you and me. When pop star wins the fight, exciting jangly tunes are usually the first thing to go (see: My December by Kelly Clarkson) swiftly followed by respectable chart positions. When accountant wins, repetition sets in (see: everything by Kelly Clarkson after My December), and an eventual slide in popularity. I guess what I’m saying is that the dumper awaits everyone eventually, but how you get there is the interesting part.
Alison Moyet has never been less than interesting, but by gosh has she been in that boxing ring a few times. By 1987 she was arguably Britain’s top female pop star, having segued successfully from spooky-lady-from-out-of-Yazoo (or Yaz for our U.S. readers) into the colossal-haired purveyor of several jolly chart-friendly, hook-filled numbers. And for the pop fan of the day this was no bad thing – Love Resurrection, All Cried Out, Invisible, Is This Love? and Weak in the Presence of Beauty were all absolute belters, produced to within an inch of their lives and so glossy that if you slipped on one you wouldn’t be getting back up again in a hurry. Teamed with hitmakers du jour Jolley and Swain, as well as Lamont Dozier and an incognito Dave Stewart, CBS Records had created an international, establishment hitmaker in just a couple of years.
This would all have sat very nicely with someone who was just in it for the money – for example David Van Day – but Alison was essentially a bit of a gobby punk from Billericay, and there’s no getting away from that, however much eyeshadow you slap on. The tipping point, I think, came with Ordinary Girl, the third single from 1987’s Raindancing album. It was the first time I thought “ooh, this is a bit different”, given that it’s actually a bit miserable, and while it’s still nice and shiny, it doesn’t pose the risk of a broken hip should you fall. An Alison co-write, I suspect the lyrics are entirely personal: “Don’t you worry this will all make sense tomorrow / Don’t be sorry that everything we shared will fade away / There’s so much more to see in each new day / And now I understand she’s just an ordinary girl.” If that isn’t the sound of someone feeling strait-jacketed and ready to walk away, I don’t know what is.
Did Alison endure a battle to get this released as a single? I don’t know. But I do recall noticing that Ordinary Girl received nothing like the level of promotion of its two predecessors, both of which made the top 10. But it was easily my favourite single from the album, and is the still the song I wheel out when I want to do my terrible Alison impression because it contains a bit of everything that is brilliant about her – and the vocal is absolutely, 100% quintessential Moyet – it couldn’t be anyone else on the planet.
You only have to look at the laughable video to understand the disconnect between artist and record company here. What you have is a really quite moving song about the desire to escape, the pressures of conformity and the bonds of friendship, and some visionary hears a jaunty tempo and says “let’s put her in a swing!” A swing, I ask you. Alison, contractually obliged as she was, rocks back and forth with a rictus grin on her face while someone sticks a rubbish hairdryer in her face just out of shot. There are jugglers. And a washing machine. Oh, the indignity of it all.
So who triumphed in this particular battle in the end? Both sides, as it turns out. Alison eventually won her creative freedom, and enjoys top ten albums to this day – no hit singles, but at least she’s never lost her ear for a tune. And the accountants got a back catalogue they can milk for the rest of time. So for once we’re all winners. Hurrah!
Entered chart: 30/05/1987
Chart peak: 43
Weeks on chart: 4
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Birdy seems to be having a bit of a moment doesn’t she? She could do a nice gentle version of this. In a swing, obviously.