Inarguable Pop Classic #42: Shakespears Sister – Hello

Inarguable Pop Classic #42: Shakespears Sister – Hello

I had it in mind to feature Shakespears Sister’s song ‘Stay’ in this article simply because Marcella Detroit managed to reach and sustain a High F (F6 for the technically minded) on it without the aid of auto tune, which didn’t exist commercially then.

But then I concluded that ‘Hello’ is even better. But for anyone who feels short changed I’ve attached the video of what is claimed to be the final live performance of ‘Stay’ at the end, as a bonus, and in which she astonishingly gets that note, live.

There have been lots of songs titled ‘Hello’ including Lionel Richie’s and one released a few years ago by a North London hopeful called Adele Adkins which you might have heard. As good as they are I reckon this song, from the often-maligned 1990s, tops both of them.

Firstly some background on Shakespears Sister.

Siobhan Fahey established her credentials as a songwriter during her nine years with Bananarama, during which she co-wrote many of its hits, such as ‘Robert de Niro’s Waiting’, ‘I Heard a Rumour’, ‘Love in the First Degree’ and ‘Cruel Summer’.

Marcella Detroit is (still) less well known here in the UK. Originally Marcella Levy, but actually of Detroit, she was performing as a solo singer/guitarist and providing backing vocals for many Top 20 US hits, and had released a solo album before she met Siobhan Fahey, who had quit Bananarama over a difference of opinion on its future direction (and a row over a pizza) and set up Shakespears Sister on her own as a solo project.

The name came as an adaptation of a Smiths song, ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’ which was accidentally misspelt but Fahey chose to keep the misspelling as a statement of her own identity.

It would appear that Fahey sought both greater musical and lyrical sophistication than she could achieve with Bananarama, and  a darker, almost goth-like persona; the one she presents in the official video for ‘Stay’, when she vampishly sings the bridge (appearing as the Angel of Death) while Detroit falsettos her way through the verses. That in itself was unusual as Fahey usually took the vocal lead despite Detroit evidently being the better singer. ‘Stay’ was #1 in the UK charts for eight weeks, possibly the longest period of time ever achieved by a female duo.

Shakespears Sister was nominated for a number of awards but was short-lived, managing just two albums – ‘Sacred Heart’ and ‘Hormonally Yours’, both of which got into the UK Top 10 – and nine singles before a serious difference of opinions and a falling out (some of it reputedly prompted by Fahey’s angst at Detroit’s prominent position in the ‘Stay’ video) led to Marcella quitting the band in 1993, distressed by the way it had ended. ‘Stay’ reached #1 in the UK, Ireland and Sweden and managed #4 in the US but ‘Hello’ could only manage #14 in the UK and #43 in the US. Its highest chart position – #9 – was in Switzerland. Both singles were taken from ‘Hormonally Yours’.

Fahey continued Shakespears Sister again as a solo project until closing it in 1996, while releasing other work in her own name throughout the late 1990s and 2000s but with limited success. Within the last couple of years she has toured in a re-formed Bananarama, which just this week released a new album, ‘In Stereo’.

Detroit went in the same direction, i.e. back to being a solo performer, with perhaps a little more success, before forming her own blues band, the Marcy Levy Band, while also writing for other artists (who through her career have ranged from Eric Clapton to Charlotte Church) and almost winning the ITV reality TV show Popstar to Operastar. Her most recent album, ‘Gray Matterz’ was released in 2015.

The reunion of Bananarama didn’t occur in the case of Shakespears Sister, though it actually continued issuing compilation albums and re-releases of live albums right up to 2013 and one of them, a 20th anniversary edition of ‘Hormonally Yours’, contained liner notes from both Fahey and Detroit. But that’s as far as it goes, folks.

Could they still get back together?  Never say never, but the Shakespears Sister website is now a dead link, and Siobhan is 60 now; Marcella 66. 22 years is a long time for two adults not to speak to each other, when their creative output was so highly regarded and when ‘dark’ and ‘ethereal’ is now so much in demand. Apparently they did meet, briefly but cordially, last year but nothing came out of it to suggest they will perform or record together again.

And so, to the Classic song itself. Firstly, let us give it its correct title, which is ‘Hello (Turn Your Radio On)’ As good as ‘Stay’ is I can’t get my head around why ‘Hello’ didn’t achieve the same chart rankings. The hook isn’t quite as memorable but it eats into your soul and it has one of the simplest, sweetest and most apt guitar solos (from Marcella Detroit) that you’ll ever hear together with choice application of a harpsichord.

As I mentioned earlier Siobhan Fahey had established her bona fides as a lyricist in Bananarama and the words she uses in ‘Hello’ are extremely prescient.

“La, la, la, life is a strange thing.
Just when you think you learned how to use it,
It’s gone.

And as I stumbled through last night’s drunken debris
The paperboy screamed out the headlines in the street.
Another war, and now the pound is looking weak…

Hello, hello, turn your radio on
Is there anybody out there?
Tell me what went wrong.

…A brave new world has dawned upon the human race,
Where words are meaning less,* and everything’s surreal

Gonna have to reach my friends to find out how I feel” **

(*A brilliant ‘double meaning’ in my opinion/** written 12 years before the advent of social media).

The trouble is that they could easily be hijacked for political purposes. Trump, Brexit, fake news… they are all there for the taking. I can only hope that never happens. The song is simply too good to be sullied in that fashion.

Incidentally the acting in this clever little flatlining video directed by Sophie Muller is very good, from both of them.  It won both the BRIT Award for Best Video and also The Music Week Award for Best Video at both of the ceremonies’ 1993 Awards. It’s greatest claim to fame though was probably to be spoofed by French and Saunders.

I’m still undecided about the pigs.

What could these two ladies have done had they “stayed” together for another couple of albums or so? What a waste.

Final performance of Stay as promised:

4 thoughts on “Inarguable Pop Classic #42: Shakespears Sister – Hello

  1. Official Shakespears Sister site is certainly not a dead link – you might want to check out http://www.shakespearssisterofficial.com

    Also the official Instagram and Facebook pages which would suggest the reference that” Apparently they did meet, briefly but cordially, last year but nothing came out of it to suggest they will perform or record together again” is far from the case! Thankfully!

  2. Fair enough, Sisterstein. I did Google for an official website previously but nothing came up. The source for my ‘nothing coming out of it’ comment was a press article which reported on their meeting but it was also influenced by Siobhan Fahey’s touring and recording with Bananarama. However, conscious of how keen Fahey became to reform Banarama “before it was too late,” and in the light of your comment, I’ve modified that opinion as that touring and recording is now done. So perhaps, just perhaps, Shakespears Sister is next on her list because her old oppo seems to be up for it. I do hope so. Cheers.

  3. Thank you for this!
    TIL that 1/2 of Shakespeare’s Sister was in Bananarama! She looks and sounds so very different!!
    Who would have thunk it?

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