Do you remember a few weeks back when I highlighted that The Fall had just one entry in the Peel Festive 60 (as was) of 1982, and that none of the tracks from Hex Enduction Hour had gathered enough votes? Well, 1983 was significantly better in that both of the year’s 45s, The Man Whose Head Expanded and Kicker Conspiracy, along with its b-side, Wings, were prominent, but pride of place went to a Peel Session version of Eat Y’Self Fitter, the track which had opened the album, Perverted By Language, with it being voted in at #8, headed only by songs from Billy Bragg, The Smiths, Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil and New Order.
MES, however, was disillusioned at Rough Trade, and he began 1984 on the look-out for a new home. Some major labels were taking notice of the increasingly positive press coming the way of The Fall, and, let’s not pretend otherwise, the addition of an attractive female member made the band a much more marketable proposition. The music weeklies, in the first week of May 1984, announced that the band had signed a deal with Beggars Banquet, and were currently holed up in a studio with producer John Leckie who had brought success to a number of other bands including Magazine, Simple Minds, XTC, The Skids and Public Image Limited.
One month later, and the first fruits of the new labour were unleashed on the listening public.
It was The Fall, but not as we, or indeed anyone, knew them.
It was a pop song, one which would have sat easily alongside those that were being released on a regular basis by Rough Trade. I’m sure that Geoff Travis would have been scratching his head and wondering just what he had ever done to upset MES to the extent that the thrawn bastard continuously refused to contemplate anything akin to radio friendly songs, only for him to come up with this absolute monster once he’d moved to a major label.
Right away, the music press suggested that it was the pop sensibilities of Brix Smith that had led the band down this particular path. After all, the line-up was still the same as it had been since the departure of Marc Riley, but with the addition of this American guitarist and vocalist who might have been a fan but had not been part of the rough and ready apprenticeship going back what was now six studio albums, an EP, ten singles and many hundreds of gigs in toilets all across the UK and further afield.
But……why let the facts get in the way of a good story? It turned out that Oh! Brother, or at least a version of it, dated back to 1977/78, and had been resurrected as being a tune that Brix Smith could quickly get to grips with in the live setting and in the studio. The person who was really most responsible for bringing about this change in sound and dynamics was John Leckie as his production techniques and fingerprints are all over the 45.
Suffice to say, some fans were horrified. But at the same time, the Leckie name being attached to the band likely opened The Fall up to a whole new audience – I can vouch for that as, not withstanding the home recording of Hex Enduction Hour in advance of the 1982 gig in Glasgow, this was the first single of The Fall that I bought at the time of its actual release. On 12″ vinyl, and I was completely unaware that this was the first single by the band that had been issued on that format, with everything previous being on 7″ only. My copy from back in 1984 didn’t survive being constantly played on record players with needles in less than perfect condition, nor a few moves across student and workplace flats across the remainder of the decade. But I’m pleased to say I’ve since picked up a second-hand copy in decent nick:-
God-Box was the first song on which Brix Smith received a writing credit for The Fall. In fact, it goes well beyond that with the lyrics attributed jointly to Mark E Smith and Brix Smith, but with the music and arrangement being solely in the hand of Brix. It was almost as if MES was announcing that she was here to stay, and far from being just a pretty face, was going to bring something concrete and meaningful to bring to the band.
Oh! Brother did what no other previous single had done in that entered the mainstream singles chart at #93. Thanks to it being on a major label, it didn’t qualify for the indie singles chart.