Bucks Fizz – Heart of Stone
I love it when a band’s last record turns out to be their greatest. Pop being it what it is, it rarely happens that way – obviously Abba managed it with The Day Before You Came (the last thing they recorded, though their second-to-last proper single) – but so did one of Britain’s greatest pop groups, Bucks Fizz. But in 1988 they were as likely to have a hit single as Pet Shop Boys are today. Of course nowadays you can argue (and I do) that acts who’ve been around for a long time have ‘graduated’ from the top 40 and no longer need a hit to sell an album (*waves at All Saints*). Back then, however, you were basically turfed out, and for no apparent reason. As with the playground, as with pop: one day it was cool to wear Grolsch bottle tops on your shoes, the next it wasn’t – and no-one announced it, you were just supposed to know. If a moment was over, it didn’t matter what you came up with. You were, as Smash Hits put it, down the dumper – and there you would stay.
For Bucks Fizz that moment came immediately after the success of New Beginning (Mamba Seyra). The replacement of Jay Aston with Shelley Preston had been a bit of a promotional godsend and sent the group back into the top 10, but it turned out to be something of a false dawn. Subsequent singles fell short of the top 40, so by the time the brand new track Heart of Stone appeared in October 1988 it felt to me like a last throw of the dice – and just maybe, a goodbye. This was quite a big deal for me, because as one of the first groups that I truly became a fan of without interference from anyone else, Bucks Fizz were special to me. Abba were already in the house and belonged to everyone. The Fizz were mine.
I really loved the direction the group was heading in here. For all their bubbliness, I always liked Bucks Fizz best when they went a bit wistful and off-pop-piste, which they did quite a bit. Now Those Days Are Gone was strange and still and beautiful, and When We Were Young saw Jay Aston turn in a fantastically odd Lene Lovich-ish performance. Heart of Stone wasn’t particularly strange, but it did introduce a new and lovely kind of mature sadness to the group’s sound, while obviously still being an absolute corker of a tune. Aside from the vocals (Bobby’s lead is glorious, and he also does some stellar eyebrow work in the video) it’s guitars and a muscular drum beat that drive the song, and it’s a style that I think could have secured them a chart renaissance had they been given more time and more of a push.
Listening to Heart of Stone now, something about it does feel rather final – the lyrics are certainly preoccupied with endings, speaking of “peak season in lonely town” and being “knocked out of the ring by love”. My favourite lyric is “how long is love supposed to shine?” (which comes paired with the genius backing vocal response “in a dream diamonds are forever”) because you can just as easily apply it to a pop career as you can a relationship.
The answer to that question appeared to be “seven years, give or take.” Bucks Fizz had only been around since 1981 but already it felt like they were from another generation entirely. To give that some perspective, Lady Gaga is currently eight years into her pop career, but she still – just – feels current. And while the group may have started out at an older age than most manufactured acts, the three remaining original members were still only in their early thirties in 1988. Shelley was only 24 at this point, and only she successfully defied the stylist who dressed Cheryl, Mike and Bobby in an array of sensible raincoats, flat caps and scarves for the video. They spend most of it having a wander around what looks like a National Trust property but is in fact Robin Gibb’s house. Nonetheless, I like to think that after they finished filming they stopped off for a scone and a pot of tea and a wander round a gift shop which strangely only sold Bee Gees memorabilia.
By the end of the video they’ve all dressed for dinner and are having a little dance around the fireplace, wearing the rictus grins of people bracing themselves for bad news. Am I reading too much into it? Possibly, possessed as I am with the knowledge that Heart of Stone – for me their best song – would sputter to a no.50 UK chart placing, after which it would end up on a licensed hits-but-not-all-of-them-here’s-a-few-album-tracks-as-well album on the budget label Stylus Music, who were awfully good at getting their releases into petrol stations but proper shops not so much.
If there’s a thing this blog proves it’s that often you can keep a good song down, but Heart of Stone turned out to be one of the luckier ones. Pop magpie Cher swooped in the following year, recorded a remarkably similar (but to my ears not quite as good) version and had a US no.20 hit with it. When it eventually became a UK single in 1990 it charted seven places higher than the original – which means that the immortal – and so much fun to sing along to at home – line “Mercy mercy wish your heart was made of stone” has never seen the inside of the British top 40. Yet.
Chart peak: 50
Weeks on chart: 3
Who could sing this today and have a hit? I have a P!nk strategy all worked out for this. Once she’s gotten her shouty singles from her new album out of the way, this could be the miserable one that just misses the top 10 but satisfies her need for angst.