Bringing you the only musical time traveling experience that doesn’t require a flux capacitor, every Thursday at midday, this is Pop Essays. This week: what happens when major record labels choose paralysis by analysis…
- Artist: David Jordan
- Song: Place In My Heart
- Release Date: 22/10/2007
- Writers: Dave McCracken / David Jordan / Tim Hutton
- Producers: Trevor Horn / Steve Lipson / Dave McCracken / Tim Hutton
- Chart Run: Release Cancelled – Did Not Chart
We once watched an interview with former Epic Records, now Capitol boss Nick Raphael (if you don’t know who he is, Google him immediately) talking about artist development. His exact words when asked about the three most important factors when signing an artist to a label weren’t exactly minced.
One that we chiefly remember is him ensuring the artist was likeable. He said “You can be the most talented, ambitious f***er on the planet. If you are unlikeable, the public are going to hate you.” It’s a loaded answer, especially when pop music is built on first impressions, and what some may perceive as unlikeable, may not be by others.
It’s a particularly tricky one if you’re heavily involved in launching a brand new act, as Mercury Records were to discover to their chagrin in the mid 00s. The year was 2007. Mika, newly signed to sister label Island, had just exploded onto the charts with ‘Grace Kelly’, a sort of 70s Freddie Mercury / Queen-esque stomp through the kind of pop record that just wasn’t made anymore. It promptly set up camp at number one for five weeks.
Suddenly, the vogue for slightly outlandish solo male popstars was in again. Into the richness of all this came David Jordan. Like Tyler James who we discussed in an earlier essay, this Barnet born gent, with heritage from Calcutta and Montserrat, had been one of a batch of young solo artists in development by Simon Fuller’s 19 Management stable, but for some reason his option wasn’t taken up. So it was back to side hustling a music career whilst working behind the counter in Starbucks.
But it was a chance discovery by ZTT label head Jill Sinclair, that led to an introduction to her husband, the legendary record producer Trevor Horn, that resulted in David landng his first major record deal between ZTT and Mercury. My first sighting of him was when the pair did a cover interview for the Observer Music Monthly magazine that October. Rare was the time they put anybody on its cover who hadn’t at least had an album out, so the hype machine was obviously in full effect.
There was a lot of reference being made to the amalgamation of influences at play; David Bowie, Michael Jackson, and most importantly in the case of Mr Jordan, his main idol, Prince, whose 80s soul funk informed a lot of the sound of his debut album Set the Mood, but not in a reductive way. Horn rather enthusiastically declared that his new protege ‘could sing paint off the walls’.
It would be incredibly easy to think that the hype was just a load of hot air at this point, but on the planned first single, ‘Place In My Heart’, it was obvious that from the praise being lavished on by the label, by his producer and by the press, it wasn’t.
The confidence is absolutely supreme, and it’s the thing that struck me the most when I heard it for the first time and when listening to it again for this blog. Sung almost exclusively in falsetto, it packs a punch and demonstrates what charisma he had: ‘Don’t be telling me I owe you something / Don’t be making something out of nothing / First of all it’s one thing, then another thing / So no you won’t get a place in my heart / So no you won’t get a place in my heart’.
It was this conviction and obvious talent that, with this kind of hype behind it, should have at least got the project off with flying colours. But then something rather odd happened; the planned single release for ‘Place In My Heart’ came and went, but without event. I only discovered it was finally out when it was given away as a free download on a newspaper website about a week after its cancelled release.
Surely, I remember thinking to myself, they can’t be abandoning the project that swiftly? But no, it was instead cast into the murky territories that we now commonly refer to as a ‘buzz single’. Which is basically – and I’m sure if David himself is reading this would agree – industry shorthand for “We cocked this one up big time lads, excuse us whilst we go away for a rethink”.
One showstopping appearance in front of The Queen on the Royal Variety Performance that Christmas of his planned second single, ‘Sun Goes Down’ later, and suddenly things took off like a rocket, with that single hitting the top 5 in January 2008 (despite sounding a tad like the theme from 80s kids show Wizbit. Once you hear it, you can’t unhear it), with the Set the Mood album also finally breaking the top 20.
However, the project didn’t appear to have legs beyond even that; third single ‘Move On’ was barely promoted, and tanked out at #68 that May, and that appeared to be that. It was almost as if the public had misjudged where David was coming from through no fault of his own and made their minds up.
Reading that Observer launch interview again, it was obvious that billowing David in a cloud of smoke was superfluous as it was unnecessary. He was sure of himself, but not stuck halfway up his own backside, which maybe the marketing machine failed to get across properly.
Furthermore, the sheer talent and delivery on ‘Place In My Heart’ should have been enough on its own to convince most people that they were witnessing the arrival of something special. Alas, not choosing to play it cool and overblowing an otherwise promising launch was the fatal error that Mercury made here. They had the perfect launch all along if they’d stopped overthinking it. Facts still remain however; this is a blinding song from a truly gifted performer.
Don’t forget to follow our brand new Pop Essays playlist on Spotify, which includes all the songs we’ve written about. What are your memories of this week’s featured song or band? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or message us on our Instagram.