So….you happen to be high up on Island Records in the early 90s and you’ve just won a bidding war to sign one of the hottest new and likely unique talents to emerge from the British music scene in many a year. A trio, fronted by a strong-willed 21-year old woman who, going by the interviews in the music press, has her head screwed-on the right way and well aware of the pitfalls which have ruined the hopes and dreams of many who had preceded her. A woman who had taken her time to select your label on the basis that you were offering that best combination of financial backing while conceding a fair degree of artistic control.
The debut album, on the indie label, has received universally good reviews. The sales are impressive. John Peel has given his approval. Nothing can go wrong can it?
You try to ignore the whispers that the star of the trio – the one whose name is intertwined with that of the band, the one of whom all the media focusses its attention and the one who, let’s face it was the reason the label went in so hard – those scary whispers that she’s not doing so well from the break-up of a relationship and the songs she’s penning have a lot of pent-up anger and frustration in them. This isn’t what you gambled on is it?
You await, with a degree of trepidation, on the first new single.
Oh my…..it proves to be an ugly and tough record. It sounds quite insane and you can just picture the fanboys in the music press doing the about-turn and declaring it the ravings of a crazy lady. One second she’s screaming that she’s king of world and then she’s whispering things about bent-over Casanovas and making no sense whatsoever…there’s no way this will get any airplay and nobody will buy it. Time to write off your investment as a huge mistake….
mp3 : PJ Harvey – 50ft Queenie
Except, of course, it didn’t turn out that way. I’m not even sure if the folk at Island were ever really that bothered about it – I’ve just generalised on the basis of how almost every major music label has treated its female signings throughout history – conform or get out.
50ft Queenie was a single unlike any other back in 1992. It was the perfect launch pad for the album Rid Of Me, a work of art which fused punk, blues and the avant-garde strangeness of Captain Beefheart and his ilk. Polly Jean Harvey had been held up as someone who would be massive in the world of indie-pop and here she was, making a record that was certainly not pop and didn’t fit comfortably into any description of indie, no matter how wide you defined the genre.
The single reached #27 in April 1993. It remains, outside of A Perfect Day Elise (which reached #25 in 1998), the highest chart position for any of the 45s.
I was surprised by that too…..
Here’s yer b-sides from the CD single:-
mp3 : PJ Harvey – Reeling
mp3 : PJ Harvey – Man-Size (demo)
mp3 : PJ Harvey – Hook (demo)