The Oldie

MARK ELLEN

STEVE HARLEY’S REVENGE

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Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) was back on the radio a few weeks ago. I fell through a wormhole in time and found myself in 1975 when it was part of the glorious soundtrack of college life.

We dialled it up non-stop on our pub jukebox, assuming it was an optimistic love song written after a rough patch – an impression backed by its brisk, freewheeli­ng pace and almost jaunty, gut-stringed guitar solo. It seemed to belong beneath cloudless skies playing in cafés in the Algarve.

But, as I found out later, this masked its dark heart and dour, rather Gothic inception – one of those fascinatin­g tracks that would never have been on the radio in the first place without a magical transforma­tion in the studio.

It arrived at Abbey Road in the winter of 1974 as a vengeful, finger-pointing dirge about betrayal and desertion. Steve Harley, who wrote it – and sadly died in March, hence its reappearan­ce amid affectiona­te tributes – had fallen out catastroph­ically with his band, Cockney Rebel.

He felt he’d given them a generous break by hiring them to back him; they resented his press attention and thought they should be writing songs too and getting a hefty whack of the royalties. When he refused, they mutinied and walked out en masse, a move reflected in various lines of the lyric – ‘You’ve broken every code’, ‘You spoiled the game’ – most of which was bitterly dashed off in a cab on the way to the recording.

Harley played his dreary, pedestrian lament to producer Alan Parsons, who politely suggested he ramp up the speed and shift its emphasis from the caustic mid-section to the line ‘Come up and see me, make me smile’. This went down well. He then brought in four top-end singers (Linda Lewis and Tina Charles among them) to add the relentless­ly breezy and propulsive backing vocals – another huge commercial draw.

‘Suddenly it was swinging and ooh-la-la,’ Harley remembered. ‘We saw a hit record being built here.’

Instead of the intended sax break, Parsons opted for an exotic Spanish guitar, painstakin­gly piecing the solo together note by note from three separate takes. He then added a string section and five crucial moments of heart-stopping silence by cutting in precisely measured lengths of blank tape – now a few seconds’ work on a computer – and the alchemy was complete.

It would galvanise dance floors. Packed concert halls would swell its uplifting chorus. Radio DJS would find its stop-starts irresistib­le, either leaving t them as thrilling ‘dead air’ o or filling them with i irksome waffle.

And, most of all, the s song – which belonged a alongside such vicious ta take-downs as Bob Dylan’s Positively 4th Street and Jo John Lennon’s How Do You Sl Sleep?, a direct message to th the rebels who’d doubted hi his capacity to write hits an and insisted he let them do it f for him – went on to sell ov over a million copies, largely to people who hadn’t the faintest idea it wasn’t a charming romantic invitation.

How sweet that must have felt for Steve Harley. Revenge is a dish best served by 50 years of radio playlists.

 ?? ?? Rebel song
Rebel song

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