Everything I Do, pt. 3: How to change your life in 45 minutes [July 21, 1991]
Plus: C&C Music Factory, Frankie Knuckles, and The Jam
This week’s Number 1 :
‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ — Bryan Adams
Where does genius come from?
We all have this image of artists feeling the breath of divine inspiration. We imagine them sitting in the moonlight, a quill in their hand, trembling as bodies become a vessel for greatness.
But when you look at the genesis of any masterpiece, you see that this is rarely true. Origin stories of great works generally fall into two categories:
“I ground it out with months of hard work, during which I hated myself and everyone else.”
“I had a deadline so I scribbled down the first thing that came to mind.”
A surprising number of pop hits fall into the latter category. John Lennon came up with the lyrics to ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ in the back of a taxi on the way to the studio. Keith Richards wrote ‘Satisfaction’ in half an hour before falling asleep. ‘Losing My Religion’ was composed in a ten-minute period, most of which was just Pete Buck trying to figure out how to play the mandolin.
The story behind ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ is about as uneventful as any other day in the office. Adams was approached to write a big power ballad for the upcoming Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He went to London and hooked up with superproducer Mutt Lange (who’ll we be discussing in depth later on) and together they listened to the soundtrack by Michael Kamen. Then, Mutt and Bryan started working.
45 minutes later, they recorded a full demo of ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’.
This behemoth of a song, a single that sold 15 million copies worldwide and dominated the charts for 16 weeks, was created over the course of a lunch break.
Less, in fact. They still had 15 minutes left to get a sandwich.
These days, the internet means that people can have an even bigger impact with even less work.
Sometimes, when I’m bored, I’ll watch compilations of classic Vines (as in, videos from Vine, the precursor of TikTok that was popular in the mid-2010s). Most of these six-second videos were recorded off the cuff by kids who weren’t even trying to get famous. They had an idea, they shot it, they got billions of views, and that six-second slice of their life continues in YouTube compilations, many years after Vine itself was shut down.
Some of these Viners went on to have entire careers based on the popularity of these short videos. Jake and Logan Paul, for example, started out as terrible Viners before they became dreadful YouTubers and even worse boxers.
I’m quite fond of a comedian/streamer called Drew Gooden. He makes some really enjoyable YouTube content (example here). His entire career stems from a six-second clip where he points at a ROAD WORKS AHEAD sign and says, “uh, I sure hope it does.”
There’s a lesson here about craft and creativity. The idea of divine inspiration is, for the most part, romantic nonsense. Creative success is usually the result of a lot of hard graft, and a huge helping of dumb luck.
Elsewhere in the charts
Number 4 (↑7): ‘Things That Make You Go Hmmm’ — C&C Music Factory feat. Freedom Williams
The lyrics of this are inspired by an Arsenio Hall joke. That means that there’s an alternative universe where this song is called ‘To Me, To You’ and the lyrics are inspired by the Chuckle Brothers.
Number 10 (↑ 15): ‘Love and Understanding’ — Cher
Definitive ranking of Chers:
Insane auntie on Twitter Cher
Number 26 (New Entry): ‘The Whistle Song’ — Frankie Knuckles
Genuine house music royalty here. I doubt anyone would describe ‘The Whistle Song’ as his finest moment but it’s nice that he got himself a Top 20 hit. He died in 2014 from diabetes-related complications.
Number 27 (↑ 38): ‘Monsters and Angels’ — Voice Of The Beehive
There were a lot of adult-contemporary pop-rock bands around at the time like Voice of the Beehive and Deacon Blue. I’m still not 100% who their audience was, but this is a pretty good song.
Number 28 (↑ 40): ‘Infiltrate 202’ — Altern 8
Those masks really prove that Altern 8 were ahead of their time.
Album of the Week
Greatest Hits — The Jam
The album charts are utterly dominated by greatest hits compilations at this moment in 1991, with no fewer than 10 in the top 40 (plus a James Last album of pop covers.) Greatest hits albums were big business until, almost overnight, Alan Partridge ruined them.
Greatest hits compilations were also in demand around 1991 because so many people were making the leap to the CD format. CD albums were pretty expensive, so there was a big market for discs with a low killer/filler ratio, especially if you already had most of the back catalogue on tape or vinyl.
It was also a way for kids like me to familiarise ourselves with an artist’s body of work, especially in the days before Spotify. Personally, I had a pirated cassette copy of Changesbowie that changed my life, and probably changed it more than any individual Bowie studio album would have.
The other contenders for Greatest Hits Album of the Week were Pavarotti, Eurythmics, Madonna, Bob Marley, The Stranglers, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Marc Almond, Anthrax, and Elton John. The Jam win by virtue of being Number 2 in the chart and having good songs.
Other notable new entries:
Unforgettable… With Love, Natalie Cole
The Heat, Dan Reed Network
Two Sides, Mock Turtles
Inside Life, Incognito