I was taking part in a music based pub quiz a couple of months ago, when my whole perception of the past changed. Amidst the usual quiz questions involving guessing songs based on opening lines, and lookalikes, there was one particular wringer which caused our entire table in unison to raise brows in quizzical disbelief.
The question was simple: Name five top ten hits from East 17. Easy I thought, too bloody easy. After all, East 17 were one of the most popular bands of the nineties, with countless hits and even more column inches. The lead singer Brian Harvey was a Smash Hits poster boy until an ill-advised comment on recreational drugs wrecked his – and the bands – career.
The other three members were important too. Tony Mortimer was the chief songwriter, who if he had a better singing voice would have been the lead, but instead he was relegated to backing vocals and occasional raps. The other two lads in the band were the token boy band members – dancers who looked appealing to certain demographics and were shoved in the group to fill up the numbers. Usually these members are billed as being able to play actual musical instruments, though there is rarely documented proof.
What you can say about the band though, is that they did look like a product of their environment – Walthamstow in East London, and the period of time they were around in.
Along with Take That, East 17 were the most popular boy band of the early nineties, and though I was only a small child in that period, I was confident I, and the others on the table most of whom were older than me, would be able to snap five answers off in quick time.
How wrong. I knew Deep. I knew House Of Love. Someone else suggested It’s Alright. And of course, the imperious Stay Another Day was mentioned by all. However for the life of us, we could not name a fifth, despite the quiz-master informing us that the band had enjoyed a massive 12 top ten hits in their time together. Brow’s began to sweat, pencils chewed, scratches itched, but the fifth eluded us, and the majority of the other quiz-goers when the results were announced.
What was interesting to me, was the recognition of Stay Another Day from everyone concerned in the quiz. I could see people frantically trying to think of East 17 songs, but all taking the time to appreciate the majesty of Stay Another Day. The song is a masterpiece, an emotional rollercoaster that pop bands at the time just were not making. We were still a year away from Back For Good, for boybands to make music that wasn’t dance oriented just wasn’t the done thing at that time.
Stay Another Day was written by songwriter Tony Mortimer about the suicide of his brother Ollie. This was the first ballad Easy 17 had released, with the majority of their earlier output being fast paced tracks, interspersed with some occasional rapping. In order to garner the song more attention around Christmas, bells were added to the end of the track, while rarely for a pop single, there was barely any drums to be found anywhere in the music, which added to the eerie nature.
The music video is an absolute disgrace, a terrible attempt at art, in gaudy black and white. At the very most you could praise the spinning…
Or this guy falling spectacularly out of shot.
Back at the start of his career with The Smiths, Morrissey expressed a disdain for music videos claiming they took away from the art of songs, and how people would discuss videos before they had discussed the actual song.
When you think about East 17, you can see the point he was making. If the video had been tasteful and subtle, rather than the mess of white parkas on black backgrounds, the song would be thought of more fondly. Alas, instead thoughts instead turn to the images, without fully acknowledging the special sparseness of the music, and the poetry of the lyrics.
Mortimer won a well deserved Ivor Novello award for the composition, while the track was robbed in the 1995 Brit Awards in the best single category, losing out to Parklife by Blur. This was the only number one of East 17’s career, spending five weeks at the top of the charts, keeping the giant that is All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey in the number two position in Christmas week.
A band like this will never get the credit they deserve, whether it be because of the singer running himself over after eating too many baked potatoes, or because in recent time the song has become gimmicked to the extreme, most notably in a Doritors advert turning the masterpiece into a Mariachi mess.
Still though, Mortimer appeared in the video, so clearly the pay packet outweighed the artistic destruction, and who can blame him recently – perhaps this was his Marie Antoinette “let them eat cake moment.” If the public can only appreciate rubbish, then just give it to them.
Honestly, Stay Another Day is one of my favourite songs of all time. I’m not afraid to admit it – and nor should you too.
Listen to the the song, and all the other tracks on the countdown here:
And catch up on the rest of the countdown – just CLICK HERE