Matt Bianco – Whose Side Are You On?
When I was at school – and perhaps someone can tell me if it’s still the same today – your social standing was, to quite a large degree, determined by which pop stars you liked. I’ve touched on this many times before, but when you chose a favourite you were basically pledging allegiance to a particular tribe, and you announced your loyalty by wearing a badge on your blazer or perhaps putting a sticker on your pencil case, or in extreme cases, covering your jotter with a poster from the pages of Smash Hits. That seems fairly simple, but of course you couldn’t always admit to liking who you really liked for fear of playground reprisals. I have no doubt that both the Madness and The Jam tribes’ numbers were artificially swelled by boys too afraid to admit their love for Bucks Fizz and the Nolans. I certainly fell into that camp.
With your best friends you could of course discuss your actual favourites, and as primary school gave way to secondary and you started to be a bit more confident, badges and tribes didn’t seem to matter quite as much. By 1987 you could openly admit to loving Pet Shop Boys and Erasure without experiencing any unpleasantness. The worst thing that happened to me was that someone ripped the head off the life-size Madonna You Can Dance-era poster I’d put up in the Sixth Year common room – but that may have been a comment on it being two years out of date at the time.
The big groups of my school era – also including Bananarama, the Human League, Depeche Mode, Culture Club, New Order, OMD, Simple Minds, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet – all had their devotees, but I don’t remember a single person I knew ever expressing a fondness – open or otherwise – for Matt Bianco.
This strikes me as a little odd now, given that I listen to them quite a bit these days, but in their brief heyday, Mark Reilly, Danny White and Basia made absolutely no impression whatsoever on me or, it appears, any of my classmates. I’m trying get in touch with my thirteen year old self to figure out why, and all I can come up with was that a) they sounded a bit too grown-up and b) they seemed awfully pleased with themselves. Both are terrible reasons for discounting some fairly top-notch pop, but at that point we favoured wine gums over wine bars, for the very obvious reasons that a) we were too young to drink and b) as far as we knew, wine bars only existed in London. I imagine Matt Bianco sold very well in London and not very well anywhere else, which perhaps explained why they never quite managed a top 10 hit, despite coming agonisingly close a couple of times.
The tune of theirs that I most regret paying no attention to is 1984’s Whose Side Are You On?, which was the third (fourth if you count a double A side) single from their debut album of the same name.
This was the slinky, sophisticated side of the Cold War pop I was in love with at the time, and minus the implied nuclear annihilation and horrible fiery death it makes it all seem jolly exciting – drugged coffee and microdots in glamorous European locations. I could have done with this counterpoint at the time to be honest – anything to tell me that in addition to protecting and surviving there might also be partying. But it was not to be, and anyway, we were all far too busy being fascinated, terrified and mildly turned on by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (whose Two Tribes was out at the same time) to notice it.
To my thirteen year old self, Whose Side Are You On? would surely have seemed quite exotic and unique. I was only dimly aware of jazz, and only then as something my father would put on specifically (I thought) to annoy me. Yet here it was, sounding new-fangled as well as old-fashioned. I should have loved it, but I barely noticed it. In fact the first time I got a nagging feeling in my brain about it was 1990, when I heard Now I’m Following You Part II from Madonna’s I’m Breathless album and a familiarity klaxon went off.
Obviously I missed out on the album as well, which means my proper introduction to Latin rhythms would also have to wait a bit longer and for quite a while I remained under the impression that Ay Ay Ay Ay Moosey by Modern Romance was as good as they got, i.e. not very. Foolish me.
These days I really really like a lot of Matt Bianco stuff, and am also rather fond of Basia’s subsequent solo career. If they’d appeared in late 1986 or early 1987 I’m pretty sure I would have become a huge fan, because by then I was having my first delusions of sophistication. But that’s my fault, not theirs, so all I can really say is it’s better late than never, and also thank goodness for deluxe 21st century re-issues. A lovely shiny new edition of the Whose Side Are You On? album has just come out, enabling us all to party like we never did in 1984. Hooray!
Entered chart: 21/07/1984
Chart peak: 83
Weeks on chart: 5
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Let’s be honest, the way things stand with the singles chart at the moment, it’s Drake for everything.