Bringing you more uncovered gems from my old iTunes library of pop yore every Thursday at midday, this is Pop Essays. This week: the tale of how one cover version derailed carefully laid plans for a promising pop rock outfit…
- Artist: Speedway
- Song: In and Out
- Release Date: 07/06/2004
- Writers: Jill Jackson / Jim Duguid / Guy Chambers
- Producers: Guy Chambers / Richard Flack
- Chart Run: 31 – 59
Pop – or at least, as most people knew it – was at an interesting place come the mid 00s. It was clear that what was coming to overrule it was a lot grittier; either in the form of guitar based bands or in cooler, street led R&B and hip hop. It was the age of authenticity. Sort of.
Even Hugh Goldsmith, the founder of Virgin Records‘ pop division Innocent – home to Atomic Kitten, Billie Piper and Martine McCutcheon in its time – understood this, and could tell which way the wind was blowing when he signed Speedway in late 2002. Hailing from Paisley near Glasgow, and comprising Jill Jackson on lead guitar and vocals, and Jim Duguid on drums and programming, they had initially been signed as a duo, with the aim of finding another guitarist and bass player to join them.
Whilst Tom Swann was the eventual bassist that joined their fold, the fourth guitarist was an ever evolving door throughout their short time together; at one time it was Dan Gillespie Sells (now frontman with The Feeling of course) and at another time it was Chris Leonard (later with Son of Dork, the short lived side project of Busted’s James Bourne).
The idea to sign Speedway was certainly a clever one on paper; this was a time when Busted and Avril Lavigne had just launched and were riding high, putting something a little more edgy into the charts in the process, and when Dido was absolutely massive. They walked the line between the two, and their original material had the same kind of energy that the biggest hits of their fellow countrymen Texas possessed.
But they do say that the best laid plans often go awry, and in this case, it was a cover version of sorts that derailed their carefully executed launch. A year on from Sugababes’ Gary Numan referencing version of ‘Freak Like Me’, another bootleg was doing the rounds, this time called ‘A Stroke of Genius’ by the otherwise unknown The Freelance Hellraiser.
It was a rather good mashup too, of ‘Hard To Explain’ by credible New York indie types The Strokes and ‘Genie In A Bottle’ by Christina Aguilera, and had found popularity on pirate radio and on the alternative music video channels like MTV2.
Clearance issues however, meant it was impossible to get the original mashup released. Enter Innocent Records, who got Speedway to record a cover as ‘Genie In A Bottle’ in the style of the mashup, which was then added to their debut single ‘Save Yourself’ as a double-A-side.
If they’d been hoping for the same magic as Sugababes to rub off on them, they were to be bitterly disappointed; critics everywhere derided how lazy their version was compared to the original bootleg. What should have been lightning in the genie’s bottle was instead the musical equivalent of a fart in a lift, peaking at #10 in September 2003 before rapidly exiting the top 40.
It thus made promoting their own original material more of an uphill battle than might have otherwise been the case. Innocent Records didn’t help matters either; they panicked and ill-advisedly sent them off as support act on the arena tour of their labelmates Blue, the female teenage fans of whom simply wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole (rumours of the time suggest even Blue’s own Simon Webbe was a bit shady about their support slot).
But still they powered on. The rather good ‘Can’t Turn Back’ was their second single in February 2004. Possibly because the ropey version of ‘Genie In A Bottle’ was added as a B-side on that single (to the point of even being mentioned on the sleeve, thus detracting anyone that might have been up for giving them a second hearing. Some people can’t take the hint, clearly), this just narrowly missed the top 10, entering at #12.
The Save Yourself album was released to commercial indifference a couple of weeks later, just missing the top 40 of the album chart. So all things considered, it is a miracle that they made it to a third single at all. And a crying shame that it was actually their best one and the song that should have launched them to begin with. With crashing guitars and an almost hypnotic quality, ‘In and Out’ is a very American sounding slice of radio rock, and is quite simply a glorious beast.
The verses build to an almost frenzied chorus, that become more of an earworm with each replay: ‘In and out of love / I can’t control / I’m so confused / Why should I want you? / Had about enough / I won’t let go / Although I want to / I don’t wanna be the kind of girl who’s falling in and out of love’.
It was teamed with a suitably sunny video shot in Las Vegas, and they’d also landed themselves a far more suitable support slot with Bryan Adams on the UK leg of his tour. Yet for all of that, airplay and promotion was a solid duck for this single. It’s entry point and peak of #31 in June 2004 was enough for Innocent to drop them from the label.
Still, it’s worked out OK for them since – Jill wrote for artists including Melanie C before launching her own country music based solo career. Jim then went onto be drummer for and have a guiding hand in the launch of a former Speedway roadie who went onto be quite massive in his own right (Paolo Nutini). But hearing a song as glorious as ‘In and Out’ again, one can’t help but wonder what might have been had circumstances been different.
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