We’re #2! – Let Loose’s “Crazy for You”

“I’m crazy, crazy for you, and there’s nothing I won’t do.”

Inspired by Tom Ewing’s “Popular” (which traces the history of UK #1 singles) and Tom Breihan’s “The Number Ones” (which does the same for US #1s), “We’re #2!” looks at the history of those songs which almost but not-quite managed to reach the summit of the UK Singles Chart.  Beginning a quarter century back from this column’s inception (March 2019) up until whenever the Present Day comes about.

008] Let Loose – Crazy for You

Reached #2: 14th August 1994

Weeks at #2: 2

To be completely honest with you folks reading this, I am at the moment writing these entries by the seat of my pants because I needed to start the series up again lest the hiatus which began around “Streets of Philadelphia” accidentally became something more permanent (which is what’s effectively happened with Lost Cels) but failed to take into account my currently excessive workload and inability to time-manage at all halfway decently.  Therefore, when I mentioned at the end of last week’s piece on “I Swear” a minor pet theory based on the songs covered so far that the 90s British pop scene as we typically know it today took a while to reach us, with much of the decade’s first half still musically stuck in the previous decade, I had absolutely no idea how prophetic that would end up being.  At the time, I had not heard “Crazy for You,” the unlikely #2 single by forgotten British boyband and Hanson first-drafts Let Loose.  But now I have and it boggles the mind that a song so obviously and so proudly 1988 or 1989 wasn’t actually recorded until 1993 and didn’t attain any chart success until mid-1994.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  Let Loose were Richie Wermerling (lead vocalist, keyboardist, and principal songwriter), Rob Jeffrey (guitarist and backing vocalist), and Lee Murray (drummer and backing vocalist).  They were formed in 1993 when Wermerling placed an ad in the sacrosanct pillar of the British music press Melody Maker and, after fielding calls from a bunch of grunge and heavy metal musicians, found Jeffrey and Murray.  Contrary to the music they would end up putting out, the two recruits were not particularly into pop music.  Murray would relate in a 2011 interview that he was into “electronic music and late 70s with a bit of punk,” although he did enjoy “a good melody,” but Jeffrey they “had to drag along;” “he’d been far more used to sleeping in ditches at Knebworth,” which presumably means rock acts like Queen and Deep Purple rather than the Greenbelt Festival.

Wemerling, however, was enthralled with pop music and had specifically pitched his band in that Melody Maker ad as being a “Duran Duran-type,” something which tracks pretty much as soon as one presses play on “Crazy for You.”  When I and other writers (music critics or otherwise) describe Let Loose as a “boyband,” that is the important distinction being made.  Let Loose were not a boyband in the sense of contemporaries like Take That (although they would musically resemble them at times) and East 17, or their later successors Boyzone and Backstreet Boys.  Let Loose were a boyband in the vein of Duran Duran and INXS, somewhat accomplished musicians and songwriters who played their own instruments and just happened to all look bred in a laboratory for front covers of Smash Hits the nation over.  Let Loose were a throwback to boybands where both parts of that distinction could be argued to be true, rather than their contemporary and successor boybands who can be more accurately described as vocal groups.

This is very much something that Britain was lacking in 1994.  You could argue that Blur circa Parklife (an era they were in the midst of whilst this was going on) fit the bill far more than they’d perhaps be comfortable admitting, but Blur always carried themselves with an aura of cheeky British cool and had the cred backing of the British music press.  Rather, the mid-90s British pop scene was the era of adult contemporary and our boybands alternated between decaffeinated takes on Stock-Aitkin-Waterman hand-me-downs and ballady soft rock/R&B imitations.  Let Loose stuck out.  Despite their musicianship and commitment to grinding through the live scene, the respected British music press never gave them the time of day.  And despite their label, Mercury, pushing them hard to the Smash Hits subset and their conventionally handsome looks, they were older than most typical boyband members and their debut album musically didn’t fit neatly into either of the usual boyband soundscapes of the time.

Perhaps this is why it took “Crazy for You” time to properly catch on.  Issued as the band’s debut single in ’93, it flopped at #44.  Their next single that year, “The Way I Wanna Be,” bricked even harder than that at #82.  A third single, “Face to Face,” ended up being withdrawn by the label and therefore failed to chart, ultimately not even making the album’s track listing.  Let Loose appeared to be going absolutely nowhere.  Even with co-writing and production duties being handled by Nicky Graham – keyboardist for David Bowie during the Spiders from Mars era who later transitioned into writing #1 hit singles for artists like Bros. and PJ & Duncan, the regrettable rap personas of then-Byker Grove stars Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly – and Nik Kershaw – 80s Brit pop mainstay who spent much of the 90s writing hits for other musicians; Chesney Hawkes’ #1 smash “The One and Only” came from his pen – the songs just wouldn’t hit.  So, Mercury tried one last time to make their signing work.  On the 10th of June 1994, they re-released “Crazy for You.”  It became the band’s first Top 40 hit, debuting at #24, which was already a win comparatively speaking.

But then “Crazy for You” did something that the evolution of music distribution and chart tabulation has largely knocked out nowadays.  It didn’t merely debut at #24 and then quickly fall back down the charts or stagnate in place for an age neither gaining nor losing any real ground.  “Crazy for You” climbed.  Week after week, it rose up that chart reaching all new peaks with each passing seven days.  First #18, then #14, suddenly the trio had a Top 10 hit, then #4, #3, and finally a fortnight at #2, the latest victim of Wet Wet Wet’s seemingly endless conquest.  Even with the might of a last-gasp label push behind it, “Crazy for You” embodies the designator sleeper-hit.

So, why?  And why now?  As mentioned up top, “Crazy for You” proudly situates itself musically several years behind where the British pop scene was otherwise located.  There’s a very INXS bent to that squawking guitar which bursts through the slight fake-out piano intro and starts soloing all over the harmonic vamping outro, or perhaps it would be more accurate to compare its impact and sound to that of EMF’s “Unbelievable” from 1990.  Same processed drum loop pushing the song along riding the line between arena pop’s bombast and trip-hop’s cool, same fuzzed out slight-wah-wah guitar heroics bullishly forcing their way into the top-line whenever the song threatens to turn a touch too pretty, same shockingly catchy chorus melody (although not literally the same melody lines) that don’t seem all that until it’s been three days and you’re still randomly humming along to it.  All the song needs is an interesting audible bassline and it doesn’t sound too out of place when slotted next to cuts from X or Some Friendly.

But, at the same time, it is also defiantly clean and poppy.  You can hear the contrasting musical preferences and philosophies between Wemerling and Jeffrey (even though only Wemerling is credited as a writer) within the opening 20 seconds, as Wemerling’s pretty and peppy piano line is shunted out of the way by Jeffrey’s dirty and funky guitar licks.  One thinks that maybe they’d both heard the tale of how Johnny Greenwood attempted in vain to sabotage Radiohead’s “Creep” and decided to try deliberately writing a pop song around that dichotomy rather than stumbling upon the magic ingredient by accident.  And that dynamic runs throughout the entire song, a cooler groovier verse with a touch of swagger crashing headfirst into the heart-on-sleeve earnestness of a blatantly-boyband chorus which keeps threatening to ascend skyward only to be dragged back down to the club by the verse.  Until the outro, anyway, where both sides sort of learn to get along and the post-final chorus vamp cedes ground for Jeffrey to rip out a Once Upon a Time-era Simple Minds solo as the track fades out.

The first few times I heard “Crazy for You,” I thought it was alright but wasn’t sold on that dynamic.  Both sections were solid on their own, the verses and Jeffrey’s guitar breaks put me in mind of the music to various Magic Crafters levels from the original Spyro the Dragon whilst the chorus is bubbly feel-good pop of the strongest dose, but the switches between the two felt inelegant, as if two separate unfinished demos had been smushed together to save time fleshing each out into its own full song.  And whilst I’m still not entirely convinced that the structure works in practice as well as it does conceptually, by the time I sat down to start penning this write-up I had at least grown into being a fan of the song and all the little moments of greatness that litter it: that initial burst of the guitar after the piano intro, the harmonies in the first chorus that come in like somebody’s belatedly flipped the surround sound option on for home speakers, the interplay between the synth playing the melody and the guitar sustains after the second chorus, how Wemerling goes half a step down with his delivery of the last “look” on the final chorus (an old pop song trick I am damn-near incapable of not popping for).

I can definitely see why it took a while for the song to fully catch on.  Even with its more up-tempo full-force radio-ready production, “Crazy for You” can take a few listens to really click.  But when it does, it clicks and especially compared to the mainstream UK pop scene of the time.  Wemerling theorised a reason for the song’s success was due to it being “a bit prettier than some of my other ones,” but “prettiness” wasn’t exactly lacking in pop radio of 1994.  No, I’d argue that it’s that dichotomy between the pretty chorus and the just-dirty-enough verse combined with the up-tempo backbeat which drove the song to success.  Pretty songs weren’t in short supply – Wet Wet Wet seemed like it was going to break the Bryan Adams record for longest consecutive #1 single by this point, and we just got out of All-4-One’s seven week occupation of the silver medal slot – but they were often cloying and sappy, designed for last-dance kicking-out time at the school disco or the most milquetoast chaste hetero sex-times one could have.  And up-tempo alternatives were available but they often verged on the cheesy (“Let’s Get Ready to Rhumble”) or the novelty (The B-52’s cover of “(Meet) the Flintstones”) or had a bullish swagger which the country as a whole just wasn’t quite ready for yet but would be soon enough (which is to say we have almost reached Britpop).  The very qualities that made Let Loose and “Crazy for You” stand out were exactly what made them a highly desired shot in the arm, at least for a little while.

Despite their one-hit wonder status, Let Loose did manage to parlay “Crazy for You”’s big success into a respectable short-term career rather than immediately fading away like our last four entries. The single enabled them to be the musical guest on the last-ever Jim’ll Fix It – a fact I imagine Wemerling is probably less likely to boast about now than he was in 2009 – and they issued four more singles from their self-titled debut and all managed to land in the upper echelons of the Top 20, “Best in Me” even broke into the Top 10.  The problems set in once it was time to put out the album, an enjoyable if largely-derivative and not all that exciting set of pop rock tunes with nothing anywhere near as good as the big hit: debuting at #33 upon its release and only managing to top out at #20 which it took a full six months to achieve.  Wemerling later laid the blame at the feet of the band and the label waiting too long to get the album out which, for as inoffensive as I find the record, is hard for me to argue with.  “Crazy for You” hit in mid-August, whilst Let Loose wasn’t released until mid-November and by then had dropped 4 of its 12 tracks as singles (some multiple times) which is standard practice in today’s stream-based economy but back then was not a particularly smart move.

Still, the trio tried valiantly to strike whilst the iron was hot and returned, after a string of pre-release singles dropping in the meantime, two years later with the leaden Rollercoaster.  One-half pompous faux-edgy late-80s arena rock of the kind practiced by somebody we’ll come to in a few weeks and which by 1996 had been (temporarily) killed off by Britpop, one-half really desperate Take That takeoffs right at the time when Take That themselves had broken up for the first-time, and all-parts horrendously produced and consistently clipping mess of the kind that plagued pop music post-Morning Glory – my TV has an inbuilt EQ feature I can’t turn off and the difference between listening to songs from Let Loose and Rollercoaster through it is astonishing and awful, the audio constantly dipping in and out on tracks from the latter as the TV tries not to blow its levels.  Aside from a cover of Bread’s “Make it With You,” everything from that record was an out-and-out flop, Rollercoaster didn’t even chart in the Top 40, and Let Loose disbanded before 1996 was out with their music fading into obscurity.  A 1998 Best Of, the only way you can listen to their music on Spotify at time of writing, failed to chart.

But obscurity comes in many different levels, as our modern nostalgia-based pop cultural landscape will have you know, and Let Loose held a few fans that refuse to let them be entirely forgotten.  Chief amongst them: Take That’s Gary Barlow.  In 2008, whilst being interviewed by The Sun ahead of The Circus, he shouted out the band and expressed a desire to see them reunite and open for the British institution’s new stadium tour, something he’d also done at that year’s Ivor Novello Awards.  That didn’t end up happening (Take That’s support acts were already locked in place and read like a who’s who of the next decade of the UK pop scene), but it got Wemerling and Murray talking again and they ended up playing a few shows and writing some songs together – Jeffrey declined the reunion invitation and instead retired from his work as a session guitarist to run a B&B.  Wemerling, who had kept active within the music industry during the breakup including releasing a solo album, would then hire a bunch of ringers to record a third Let Loose album, 2009’s Paint it in Gold, which the new group took on tour.  It did not chart.

Five years later, in 2014, the original power trio of Richie Wemerling, Lee Murray and Rob Jeffrey were all set to reunite as part of the Another Time Another Place arena tour, which would unite a whole mess of 90s and early 00s B/C-tier pop groups into one super-bill of concentrated underappreciated nostalgia: the reunited Let Loose, Jenny Breggren of Ace of Base, a reduced East 17, Big Brovaz, the Liz-Kerry-Natasha line-up of Atomic Kitten, and the no-qualifiers-necessary All Saints.  The tour, however, was cancelled less than two weeks after it was announced due to a suspiciously vague “unforeseen circumstances” and the Let Loose reunion died along with it.

Bonus Beats: That opening piano line of “Crazy for You” wound up being sampled as the foundation for obscure 1994 jungle jam “Piano Madness” by Sensi Crew.  In doing so, they managed to make it sound like a low-rent soap opera jingle before the breakbeats cut in, but according to WhoSampled nobody else has ever covered or used this song in a piece of media so we take what we can get.

The #1: Wet Wet Wet were still going strong at the top spot for both of the weeks “Crazy for You” spent at #2 with their vanilla cheesy wedding band take on “Love is All Around.”  I remain so glad that they didn’t try to apply this template to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” it would have set the gay nightclub scene back at least four decades.  “Love is All Around” is still a 2.

Five-Star Flops: Debuting at and remaining in the #10 slot for both weeks covered here was the soaringly perfect “Live Forever” by Oasis.  The final single released ahead of their record-breaking debut album, Definitely Maybe, at the end of the month, every part of this song is just utterly perfect.  Liam Gallagher’s best-ever vocal turn, two gorgeous guitar solos by brother Noel, a fantastic low-end bassline from Guigsy, easily the best-sounding song on the album, and a textbook example of Noel’s optimistic working-class dreamer escapist lyricism, it’s one of my favourite songs of all-time.  And it’s still not even the best song on Definitely Maybe (that would be “Slide Away”)!  Maybe I don’t really wanna know how your garden grows, cos this song is a 5.

[Oasis would go on to spend 14 years without an official single failing to land in the UK Top 10, scoring eight #1s and six #2s in the process, the latter of which we will be covering in due course.]

A new entry of We’re #2! will be posted every Saturday.

Callie Petch feels the pain of everyone and then they feel nothing.

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