People were mad about Paul Gascoigne in 1990 – the term “Gazza-mania” sums it up.
He even won the Best Dressed Man of the Year and BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards in late 1990.
But, during the height of “Gazza-mania”, Gazza ventured into the music industry by releasing three records (in the form of two singles and an album): something that would not just change the way footballers make music, but would also help to influence the rest of his career.
To explain this, some historical context is needed.
In November 1990, Gazza teamed up with Lindisfarne to release a revised version of one of their most famous songs; this time, it was called ‘Fog on the Tyne (Revisited)’.
There was the inevitable wave of press hype, and it was expected to be a breakout hit and immediately reach Number 1 in the UK Singles Chart.
Despite being released over a month before Christmas – and having another single, ‘Geordie Boys (Gazza Rap)’, released by then – ‘Fog on the Tyne (Revisited)’ was installed as the third favourite for the Christmas Number 1 spot, behind Cliff Richard’s ‘Saviour’s Day’ and Partners in Kryme’s ‘Undercover’.
Smash Hits’ Richard Lowe, for instance, wrote:
“So they [Lindisfarne] re-write the words to suit Gazza, stick a big booming house beat behind it and bob’s your uncle, it’ll be No.1 for about six million years. Well, for a bit anyway.”
Bearing in mind these high expectations, it’s fair to say that ‘Fog on the Tyne (Revisited)’ under-performed in the charts.
It was the highest new entry in the UK Singles Chart at Number 11 and the next week it climbed up to Number 2 – as it was kept off the Number 1 spot by the UK’s biggest selling single of 1990, The Righteous Brothers’ re-release of ‘Unchained Melody’.
Despite this, sales quickly dropped as it only spent two weeks in the Top 10 and nine weeks in the Top 75. And, by Christmas, it had slipped to Number 48.
It did not get any better when ‘Geordie Boys (Gazza Rap)’ was released, just seven weeks later, in a rushed attempt to get it out for the Christmas market.
Being released so soon after Gazza’s début single meant that most of press promotion was about Gazza’s music career, rather than one particular single.
Despite airings of the video on ‘Top of the Pops’ and ITV’s Saturday morning children’s programme ‘Motormouth’, the follow-up single performed poorly in the charts: entering at Number 43 a week before the 1990 Christmas chart.
Within two weeks, it peaked at Number 31 but the damage was done and his LP, released under the moniker of Gazza and Friends, also flopped.
The negative press reception towards ‘Fog on the Tyne (Revisited)’ did not help ahead of the release of ‘Geordie Boys (Gazza Rap)’ and neither did the sheer amount of hype attached to the début single.
This led to Mark Moore from S’Express claiming – during an interview for Select in January 1991 – the hero and hype of 1990 was Gazza because of Italia ’90 and “the dance music overkill bandwagon”.
The fact that the release of ‘Geordie Boys (Gazza Rap)’ was pencilled in a week before the music industry’s busiest week was an indicator of its troubled genesis; it may have fared better in the charts if it was released during the quiet New Year period, alongside another press campaign.
Iron Maiden, Wet Wet Wet and D:Ream all reached Number 1 in the UK Singles Chart, during the early-to-mid 1990s, by taking advantage of the fact that few records are released at the start of the year, and doing the same may have saved Gazza’s music career.
Not only was it killed off within seven weeks, but it could also be classed as the first major backlash that the footballer had faced.
The marketing machine
Despite the criticism from music critics, Gazza took his musical recordings seriously.
This was to the extent that he told Lowe he wouldn’t spoof his famous tears in the ‘Fog on the Tyne (Revisited)’ promotional video. He said:
“That would be taking the piss out of something I’d done very seriously. What happened at that moment was something I was really upset about – England got beaten in the World Cup. A lot of other people were upset too and it would be taking the piss out of them if I made a joke of it now.”
In addition, during the interview with Smash Hits, he added:
“I’m taking it seriously. I want it to do well. I don’t want to put no crap in the charts and I want it to do well because of the song, because it’s a good song, not because it’s a Paul Gascoigne song.”
Also, unlike ad-hoc recordings like Kevin Keegan’s ‘Head Over Heels In Love’, there seemed to be an actual strategy in place for a footballer-cum-musician for the first time.
Details of Gazza’s LP and his follow-up single ‘Geordie Boys (Gazza Rap)’, for instance, were announced during promotion for ‘Fog on the Tyne (Revisited)’, which suggests that there were plans to turn the player into a fully-fledged pop star.
Although it is unknown whether this was a short-term plan – in order to milk Gazza’s boom in popularity, during the later months of 1990 – there was an attempt to tailor the music towards Gazza’s personality and brand.
Instead of making money out of one single, BMG Records, who used the subsidiary label Best for Gazza’s records, tried to make as much money as possible by releasing a series of records within a space of a few months; thus, further developing the concept of musicians releasing music.
This is in stark contrast to the approach taken when Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle’s ‘Diamonds Lights’ was released in 1987.
The idea to release a single started off as a bit of fun at an budget car rental awards party and, while ‘Diamond Lights’ was eventually picked up by minor label Record Shack, it was never taken too seriously by either footballer and no long-term plan was apparent.
In fact, considering that the release of ‘Diamond Lights’ coincided with the 1987 FA Cup final, it could be cynically suggested that the single was marketing ploy for Tottenham Hotspur’s appearance in the aforementioned final.
A follow-up, ‘It’s Goodbye’, was released but failed to reached the UK Top 100 Singles Chart, partly due to Hoddle’s move to Monaco and his inability to promote the record.
While Gazza’s music career was equally short-lived, his earnest approach has similarities with other footballers-cum-musicians.
Perhaps the one of the most notable is Neil Danns, who released his debut single, ‘Survive’, in March 2010.
Although he has decided to concentrate on his career as a footballer, the fact that he has uploaded several tracks on his website, and completed a course in video editing and production at the London Academy, suggests that Danns could have plans of becoming a professional musician upon retirement.
Footballers seeing music as a long-term career goal, however, is becoming more prominent and is a natural development in how musicians make music.
The most successful of these plans is Dion Dublin’s musical instrument, The Dube, which was commercially released in October 2010.
Dublin first credited June 1975 as the first date in the history of his invention, which is a percussion instrument in the shape of a cube, and veteran musicians – such as Courtney Pine and Carl McGregor – are now using it.
The creative changes
But it is just not the business side of footballers making music that Gazza changed: its creative side also changed.
Keegan’s ‘Head Over Heels In Love’ would not have sounded out-of-place on a David Cassidy or David Essex LP and, while Hoddle and Waddle’s had recorded their début single prior to it being snapped up by Record Shack, ‘Diamond Lights’ was undoubtedly influenced by the new romantic genre.
Prior to Gazza’s recording career, not only were these records largely ad-hoc but there were also jumping on any old bandwagon to give it maximum exposure.
And, judging from ‘Fog on the Tyne (Revisited)’ and ‘Geordie Boys (Gazza Rap)’, this wasn’t going to change.
This was mainly because it combined the emerging rap genre with the novelty genre that had been re-popularised by several artists; most notably, Timmy Mallet’s collaboration with Bombalurina – whose cover of ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ reached the Number 1 spot in August 1990.
However, it was Gazza’s LP, ‘Let’s Have a Party’, that really changed how footballers recorded music.
Although it contained both of his singles, the album also had four medleys – based on Elvis Presley, Motown, 1970s disco and Gilbert O’Sullivan – and a cover of The Beatles’ ‘All You Need is Love’ that featured Gazza’s sister, Kenny Lynch and Danny Baker.
Essentially, on paper, it was Black Lace meets Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers.
Again, the LP was based on Gazza’s persona and it appeared in interviews that he also had a large input in making of the album.
Although Q’s Tom Hibbert needed to explain the concept of ‘Desert Island Discs’ to Gazza, the midfielder eventually said: “If you want me on your Desert Island Discs, it’s got to be lot of tracks off Elvis.” In addition, he told Lowe:
“I used to dance like him [Elvis], well, try to anyway. When I was a young kid I used to dance and bop and all that. I used to really like it. That’s why I’ve got the Elvis medley on the LP. It’s going to be very good – it’s a 17 minute mix of Elvis songs, there’s never been one of them before.”
‘Let’s Have a Party’, unsurprisingly, failed to reach the UK Top 100 Album Charts and was largely mocked by critics, but it was perhaps the first record that allowed a footballer to experiment with their own musical tastes and indulgences.
A current example is Danns’ brand of, what he calls, acoustic indie-urban music, and he has also written and produced several tracks.
There has, subsequently, been a recent wave of footballers that have recently records, which could be classed as self-indulgent.
This, however, creates a dilemma: while it boosts their own ego and allows them creative freedom, it has the risk of alienating potential listeners and not being commercially viable.
Former Nigeria Under-23 international Emmanuel Babayaro is one such example.
It was also well-received in Nigeria, as the album had three official press launches that has attended by several Nigerian celebrities including Chief Rochas Okorocha and former Everton striker Daniel Amokachi.
Gazza’s music critics
Perhaps the most lasting and defining legacy of Gazza’s music career was the possible influence that its press coverage had on Gazza himself.
You could say that, during the period between Italia ’90 and the release of ‘Fog on the Tyne (Revisited)’ Gazza was a hero, the everyday man of working class Northern England.
And Gazza was generally well liked before Italia ’90 as Steve Sutherland, during an interview with Gazza in Melody Maker, wrote:
“Paul Gascoigne hasn’t had that much “bad stuff” to content with yet – not really that bad, crawl away in a dark hole and die stuff like Boy George had. The best bad stuff the press have come up with so far was some half-cocked story about witnessing the death of a childhood friend which, according to some hack, accounted for Gascoigne’s apparently weird psychological make-up. No one’s yet accused him of silencing his Rottweilers by cutting their vocal chords or saving up for a sex change.”
A backlash, inevitably, had to come from somewhere: the music press.
Kylie Minogue was also suffering from a backlash as her sexualised image, during the release of ‘Step Back in Time’, was criticised by readers of teenage magazines like Smash Hits.
She won a number of “worst” awards in the 1990 and 1991 Smash Hits Poll Winners Party, and her ‘Rhythm of Love’ LP, which was released in November 1990, just scraped into the UK Top 10 Album Charts. Furthermore, her next album, ‘Let’s Get To It’ fared even worse as it peaked at Number 15 in October 1991.
But, with Gazza, it was different: the coverage of ‘Fog on the Tyne’ from the music press could be considered as more vicious and, to a certain extent, cruel.
The scale of the coverage that ‘Fog on the Tyne’ got from various music magazines was probably the root of the problem. Both Smash Hits and Melody Maker featured Gazza on the front page of their editions in late October 1990.
Even considering the extent of “Gazza-mania”, this could be considering as a surprise; Gazza was featured ahead of Pet Shop Boys, Northside and Ride on the Melody Maker’s front cover, and he was chosen ahead of features about Madonna and Jimmy Somerville’s greatest hits LPs on Smash Hits’ cover.
Having Gazza on the front covers would have undoubtedly sold many copies, but there was probably also pressure from BMG Records to include the footballer on these covers.
Therefore, the standards of these magazines had to be compromised: they loathed ‘Fog on the Tyne (Revisited)’ but, at the same time, they needed to sell copies.
To the Melody Maker’s credit, they conducted an intelligent interview with Gazza, mostly about his media image and struggle to settle in London, but Smash Hits and Q did not spare any punches.
A troubling indicator of Smash Hits’ interview with Gazza was on the front page, which had the caption: “Gazza! The Man! The Myth! The ‘Music’!!”
And things didn’t get better during Lowe’s feature, as the most scathing remarking was “[h]onestly, it’s the most tragic LP ever made”.
Lowe and Hibbert also seemed intent on showing Gazza up, by making him look as stupid as possible, normally by accenting his quotes.
Describing Gazza’s primary musical influences, for instance, Hibbert wrote:
“Yur. Gazza,” he [Gazza] goes. “Hurr…” And he [Gazza] starts to sing. “I’ve got a brand new combine harvester and I’ll give you the key… Dee deedle dee deedle dee. D’you remember it? It was really good. It was by the Wurzels, weren’t it? That’s right. And I love Elvis. I like Elvis. Jailhouse Rock. But I’ve just really got into GI Blues. He’s got you, you know, with GI Blues, like, he’s got…” And he [Gazza] starts to sing again. “You ever you ever get you ever get one you ever get one of them days you ever get one of those days boys… I can’t remember the words. Dum-di-dum-di-dum. Two two. Er…”
Before these interviews, Gazza was reluctant to participate.
According to Lowe, he was treated badly by a few newspapers and had also been wary of reports because “he [Gazza] thinks they’re all out to finding something bad about him.” He added:
“And it’s a very different Gazza who warily sits down to answer a few questions from Smash Hits. Gone is the confident, life and soul of the party bravado, gone is the big “isn’t it all a laugh” grin. He sits and fidgets with the zipper of his tracksuit. He won’t look you in the eye. He flicks through a paper while he’s talking. He’s nervous and uncomfortable, but he answers the questions politely enough in his quickfire two-thousand-words-a-second Geordie babble.”
For someone who was showing signs of emotional frailness and wishing he had “got the police onto it”, regarding an author who, according to Gazza, “went round telling loads of lies and he’s writing a book about Paul Gascoigne”, Lowe and Hibbert’s interviews could be classed as tactless.
The strains on Gazza
‘Fog on the Tyne (Revisited)’ may have been musically questionable, but being mocked for not knowing what ‘Desert Island Discs’ was may have worsened his psychological state.
Tony Dorigo, for instance, told ghostwriter Robin McGibbon, in his 1990 book ‘Gazza! A Biography’, of Gazza’s state of mind during the Italia ’90 semi-final. He added:
“Dave Beasant was the first to spot Gazza crying and told us to keep our eyes on him. Sure enough, his face was all serious, as he fought to get the ball, but then he would suddenly stop and start crying again. It was like an on and off switch. He was running around, trying to tackle and close players down. Once, he sprinted at Matthäus and we thought has was going to tackle him, but Matthäus dropped his shoulder and passed him. Gazza stood there, his face scrunched up, and he started crying again. At that point, all the boys were looking at each other laughing. Gazza would compose himself and try another tackle and when he missed that he would cry again. And we would laugh” (p.197).
Also, after Italia ’90, the strains of “Gazza-mania” were starting to show.
During Tottenham Hotspur’s pre-season tour of Norway, the midfielder got booked and substituted within 30 minutes of the first match and, in a friendly against Hearts, he was booked within the first 12 minutes.
On Monday 3 September 1990, Gazza’s business advisers, on the advice of Terry Venables, had cancelled six personal appearances and announced that they would not book any more appearances.
The former Italian football correspondent for Shoot and World Soccer, Jane Nottage, provided further light on the impact of Gazza’s records in her 1993 biography, ‘Paul Gascoigne: The Inside Story’. She wrote:
“One of the more controversial stunts was the recording of the Gazza LP, with hits ‘Fog on the Tyne’, an old Lindisfarne record that went to number one [sic] in the charts, and ‘Geordie Boys’, written by Mel Stein. Gazza suffered hell in the dressing room, and although used to give as good as he got, it was yet more pressure and it was all getting rather wearing for him” (p.43)
Furthermore, The Charlatans’ frontman Tim Burgess was wary of the impact of Gazza’s music career. In October 1990, he told Smash Hits:
“I think he’s being manipulated. I think it’s a real shame. Would you risk your character, your individualism for that? The press are manipulating him to a massive degree and I think that’s diabolical. I feel really sorry for him, I can’t be doing with that. I think it sucks. He should stick to doing his own bloody thing. It’s stupid, you know, it- (sniiiip!)”
Less than a year later, he ruptured a crucial ligament when he recklessly fouled Gary Charles in the 1991 FA Cup final.
And, during his time at Lazio and Glasgow Rangers in the 1990s, he was involved in numerous controversies including telling Norway to “f**k off” prior to an England international match, his infamous flute incident towards Glasgow Celtic, and his escalating problems with mental health, alcohol addiction and weight-related issues.
The interviews with Lowe and Hibbert were not the cause of these problems but they did not help and may have escalated them even further; it’s no coincidence because they were exploiting a vulnerable man for a few laughs and cheap digs.
His charity work for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, for instance, was largely ignored, while newspaper columns about his groin injuries and transfer links would’ve unsettled Gazza even more.
There may have been worse things written about Gascoigne since 1990 but – at the very best – the music press’ response to Gazza’s music career escalated a slowly emerging trend of bringing Gazza down at his career peak.
Beneath the surface, it’s certainly a depressing legacy.
This feature was self-published in November 2011.
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