The Wedding Present, My Favourite Dress (1987)

wedding george best

Artist: The Wedding Present
Title: My Favourite Dress
Description: single; album track, George Best
Label: Reception
Release date: 1987
First heard: 1987

That was my favourite dress you know
That was my favourite dress
Ohhh

I feel fairly certain that the first song by The Wedding Present I ever heard was their rumbustious cover of Felicity, which must have been the version from their first Peel session in 1986, when I was still at college. I know I sat up by the stereo and taped the songs I didn’t already have from his Festive Fifty at the end of that year and counted Felicity (number 36) and Once More (number 16) among numerous other cherishable gems on that live-paused cassette, like This Is Motortown by the Very Things, Kiss by Age Of Chance and Truck Train Tractor by The Pastels. In another year dominated by The Smiths – indeed, in an era dominated by The Smiths, Jesus & Mary Chain and New Order, the three Colossi of Indie – The Wedding Present felt like young, short-trousered pretenders, and were all the more thrilling for it. (Though of course they, too, would come to dominate the Peelscape, and with perhaps more purchase on Peel’s soul, a possession more akin to that exerted by The Fall.)

Remember that feeling of suddenly being overcome by the need to commit? I don’t mean to a girl in a favourite dress. I mean to a band. You’ve heard them on Peel, you’ve taped them off the radio, you’ve read about them in the NME; now it’s time to buy the album. You don’t have bottomless pockets; to fork out for an LP is a major declaration of love. Remember how stung you felt when you spent that week’s allowance from your grant on Dali’s Car by Dali’s Car because it was Pete Murphy and Mick Kahn from pre-accredited bands and you’d found the single hooky on Max Headroom or some other video show? An LP you wished you’d never bought was a shot through the heart. A waste of money. When I bought George Best on the strength of all those Peel tracks I knew it would be a sound investment. Well, if I didn’t like the record, I would always want that sleeve in my collection.

I loved the record as much as I loved the sleeve. I loved it more. Its locomotive guitar and drums combined under Chris Allison’s sympathetic, heads-down production to provide a new way to travel for the grown-up indie kid. There was something so right about David Gedge’s lovesick northern ballads, set to he and Peter Solowka’s never-ending riffs which were as raw and plaintive as the woes of the songs’ packed-in protagonists, whom we all suspected were Gedge himself, a man near-permanently let down, finished with, betrayed or two-timed by girls. Gedge was a few years older than me, but I identified with his struggle. Being single is the great leveller. I was newly single when I bought George Best and would soon be living in my first one-room studio flat, the perfect cell in which to lose myself in The Wedding Present’s breakneck melancholia.

My Favourite Dress is my favourite Wedding Present song. I think of it as definitive, and for all the constant pleasures Gedge has supplied since, as The Wedding Present and Cinerama, it remains unassailable. It pretty much breaks my heart each time I listen to it. Gedge’s pained recollection of uneaten meals, a lonely star, a long walk home, the pouring rain and a six-hour wait, leads inexorably up to this image of an ex’s dress. We who have fallen under Gedge’s spell have all imagined what that dress might look like. My first imagining – a floral print dress, maybe Oxfam, perhaps worn under a cardigan – is hard to shake.

There are two reasons why this song is magic. One is the decisive moan Gedge delivers after the last line. There are a lot of important “oh”s in pop music, but this is one to bruise your ribs from the inside. The second is the one minute and 24 seconds of outro, which rises and falls from that thousand-words “Ohhh” to the final, undressed jangle. I wouldn’t mind if it lasted a bit longer. It’s not even the end of the album, merely the end of side one.

When I finally met Gedge and interviewed the band in 1991 in snowbound Minnesota where they were recording their third album Seamonsters, he and I agreed to disagree that George Best was a classic album because it wasn’t perfect; he felt it could be improved. I don’t have that copy of the NME to hand, but if you do, look it up.

George Best and its zenith My Favourite Dress could not be improved.

The Elgins, Put Yourself In My Place (1966)

Elgins-put-yourself-in-my-place

Artist: The Elgins
Title: Put Yourself In My Place
Description: B-side of Darling Baby; reissued as A-side
Label: Tamla-Motown
Release date: 1965; 1971
First heard: circa 1988

I would dearly love to tell you that the label above is from my own original 1966 UK copy of Put Yourself In My Place by the Elgins. It isn’t. It’s borrowed from the rather excellent 45cat website, which sells old vinyl. I do not own it as a single. I own it via the also rather excellent 3CD set Capital Gold Motown Classics (it’s on CD2). But I do know this: I fell in love with it instantly, and I’m almost positive I first heard it on the radio in the 80s, without even knowing who sang it. The possibility hangs over this entry that the version I first heard was by the Supremes. But for me, the first recording, by the Elgins, is by far the best – and how often do you get to say that about a tune also sung by Diana Ross?

There will be other Motown singles in The 143, so let’s get this said. Put Yourself In My Place is a perfect example of a Motown song that came off the conveyor belt, machine-tooled if you like for the newly-minted young pop audience. (Swiss architect Le Corbusier called a house “a machine for living”; these records are “machines for dancing.”)

There lingers a cloud of rock snobbery about “manufactured” bands, about artists who get their songs written for them, but classic songwriting – and classic song-making – cannot be faked. And in any case, to use the qualification of writing your own songs as a stamp of authenticity would discount Elvis, Bing and Frank, not to mention a large proportion of the artists on Motown, the greatest pop label in history. (Also, to discount the “production line” methodology of Motown or dismiss Hitsville as a “factory” would be to deny the skilled and intuitive musicianship of the house band – collectively, the Funk Brothers – and the angelic singers themselves.)

With that on the contextual statute books, what’s on the record? I won’t lift the Elgins’ biography from Wikipedia; suffice to say, they came and they went, with only one LP to their name (and even their name changed about three times), but what this single tells us is that they could sing, and that lead vocalist Saundra Edwards was a match for any other in Detroit, and in fact sounds a little like Smokey Robinson. Written and produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland, whose conjoined genius needs no further eulogy from me, it runs on an ascending, somersaulting piano riff that lends an edgy urgency to Edwards’ plea for empathy after sour times (“Put yourself in my place/You’d learn to treat me right/And you wouldn’t stay out late at night”).

It was first issued on the flip of Darling Baby at the end of 1965, before my first birthday, but issued in the UK in 1966, through a licensing agreement with EMI. A reissue in 1971 made it a hit here, too, having gone Top 10 in the R&B charts over there.

A saccharine, heady, insistent tune that grips your heart, even in that moment of instant summer you can feel the author’s pain. Bittersweet, I think they call it.