Revisiting all the hits from the year Google was founded, and when Jackie Brown and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels hit the big screen, this is The Story of Pop: 1998. And here comes another big hit from 25 years ago – which was also the biggest single for this band…
- Artist: Lighthouse Family
- Song: High
- Released: 29/12/1997
- Writers / Producers: Paul Tucker / Mike Peden
- Highest UK Chart Position: #4
- Weeks on Chart: 15
For a band who became so ubiquitous a soundtrack of the late 90s, it is strange to relate that Paul Tucker and Tunde Baiyewu – otherwise known as Lighthouse Family – started off their career from a place where they could barely get arrested.
Formed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1993, Tucker had met Baiyewu after they both studied at the same university and worked at the same bar. Signed to Polydor Records on the strength of the demo of a song Paul had written some years before, it was not an easy ride to get to where they did.
When a six track sampler was recorded with former Kane Gang and Simply Red members Martin Brammer and Tim Kellett, and then rejected outright by their then head of A&R, Lucian Grainge, who wasn’t exactly backward in coming forward about his views on the demos that sounded like “they were made for his mates”, they returned to Newcastle, dejected at first, but then with a renewed purpose.
On their debut album Ocean Drive two years later, in 1995, their spiritual sounding yet uplifting gospel pop with Tunde’s soulful vocals hit a chord with both record buyers and radio programmers alike, as songs like “Ocean Drive”, “Lifted” (which was released twice before it was a hit) and “Goodbye Heartbreak” propelled them into the charts and to album sales of 1.8 million in the UK alone.
Come 1997, it was time for the follow-up, Postcards From Heaven, which consolidated their sound and provided them with further success. “Raincloud” had been the first single from it in October of that year, giving them another top 10 hit when it peaked at #6. But it was undoubtedly the second single, “High” which propelled the album into the stratosphere.
Speaking to the Official Charts website in 2021, Paul said he first had the idea for the song from a very personal and sad experience; his wife had lost a baby on New Year’s Eve in 1996, and he wanted to write a song which encapsulated the feeling of hope, however small, in times of sadness and despair that things can be better again. But it was understandably not an easy song for him to write.
“It took about eight months to write the song. When we did Ocean Drive there was no pressure, we hadn’t sold any records so nobody was expecting anything, whereas when we got to the second album which is what this was, there were a lot of people who were saying, ‘this is huge, this is massive, this is the hit on the record.’ And I hadn’t even finished writing it, so immediately I’m under this enormous pressure.”
It therefore ended up being one of the last songs to be recorded for the album, and the night before Tunde was due to record his vocals for it, Paul said “I just wrote down what I was thinking, which was, ‘When you’re close to tears remember / Someday it’ll all be over’. It was how I felt, I just wanted to get this song over and done with … So in truth, “High” is actually a description of a very uncomfortable situation.”
But it was the sentiment of the gospel tinged song which captured the hearts of music lovers, and undoubtedly helped it become far and away the biggest hit Lighthouse Family would have in their career. On release in January 1998, it peaked at #4 and spent an impressive four months inside the UK chart, helping the Postcards From Heaven album to reach sales of over 1 million copies.
It was also amongst the most played songs on UK radio in 1998, further establishing them as a band who knew how to produce great music that appealed to all. Further singles from the album followed, including “Lost In Space” (#6 in June), “Question of Faith” (#21 in October) and the title track which peaked at #24 exactly one year later in 1999. But none had quite the impact that “High” had, and is proof that a lot of the struggle for it to come to being and become part of so many people’s lives was ultimately worth it.
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