Liza Minnelli – So Sorry, I Said
Where, I ask you, would pop be without the Anthem of Low Self Esteem? It seems the question ‘how am I supposed to live without you?’ is one that has never been satisfactorily answered, for the list of songs sung by people who would do anything for love is a long one. Thank goodness Kelly Clarkson came along and empowered us all, eh?
In 1989 Kelly was but a seven year old, so we still had a good fourteen years to wait before we could learn the value of fearless independence – and thus You’ll Never Stop Me From Loving You and Miss You Like Crazy – songs whose lyrics make you want to scream “just get over it!” – were among the year’s biggest hits. But it’s to one of the year’s smallest hits that we turn today, and it is the greatest Anthem of Low Self Esteem of all time: So Sorry, I Said by Liza Minnelli.
Or IS IT? On the face of things, we’re dealing with a downtrodden woman, who’s been in a bad relationship for so long that all she can do is continually apologise because it’s the easiest thing to do: “I meant to walk out / After all the tears we’d shed / I should have stalked out / Gone and painted the town bright red / But instead / So sorry, I said.” Liza, of course, completely sells it as such, because that is her job. But things look slightly different when you find out the song was originally intended to be a duet with Frank Sinatra, and if you take a second to imagine the pair of them trading apologies it becomes something quite different – just two old lovers with bad habits who can’t quit each other, and probably don’t really want to. “If this is a ghetto / I’m in it with you / If it’s just a prison / I’m locked in it too” becomes a bit romantic in that context. There would still be zero self-esteem, but at least it would be equal ops.
The production on this is sublime – beautifully simple, with warm synthesiser washes and just a little piano underpinning the melody. The vocal is, obviously, just as it should be – unshowy, calm and measured, and just about the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s matched by a quite incredible video – Sinead O’Connor may have received all the attention for crying on cue during Nothing Compares 2 U in 1990, but Liza got there first and it’s stunning. The last few seconds – where she has a quick intake of breath and smiles pathetically in a ‘I still love him and I know I shouldn’t but what can you do’ sort of a way – contain the best acting I’ve ever seen from a pop star – and I’ve seen Spice World. I also rather liked that this incredibly simple video followed directly on from the insanity of the clip for Don’t Drop Bombs where, rocking the Magenta Devine look, she shattered a wine bottle at twenty paces by pointing her toe. You can do that sort of thing when you have an Oscar and Tony Award winner to play with.
Looking back from 2016 it seems nothing short of miraculous that in the peak S/A/W year of 1989 a 43 year old Broadway legend could score a top 10 UK hit with a Stephen Sondheim song, but with a just-slipping-out-of-their-imperial-phase Pet Shop Boys in charge of the Results* album, that’s just what happened. I wasn’t even particularly aware of Liza Minnelli when Losing My Mind appeared (I was seventeen and hadn’t even seen Cabaret), but you can be sure I got myself up to speed quickly. Results was a top 10 album – and is one of my top ten albums of all time – but another hit single proved impossible: So Sorry, I Said, which Parlophone must have had at least some confidence in because they produced a promotional hooded top to mark its release, peaked at no.62.
I still think, though, that this is a song biding its time. As possibly the greatest ever Tennant/Lowe ballad, I remain confident that one day it will become the showstopper it was born to be – on the stage or in the hands of a contestant on the Voice, I don’t care. It’s a Legendary Showbiz Moment just waiting to happen.
* Results got its title from something Janet Street Porter said to Neil Tennant in Tokyo during their MCMLXXXIX tour when he complimented on her clothes. “I call it my results wear. ’cause when I wear them, I always get results”.
Entered chart: 25/11/1989
Chart peak: 62
Weeks on chart: 2
Who could sing this today and have a hit? A man, because it would work just as well. And Will Young could make us all cry with this.