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  • Tony Harris

TOO HIGH



There's not much of a music press these days - some well-researched and largely erudite magazines appeal to those of us clinging on to the importance of such diminishing concepts as album releases (rather than a series of contemporaneous 'tracks') and rock bands.


In the 80s, they covered everything. Kerrang for your smelly metallers... The inkies for the Indies... and Smash Hits for the popsters. All attempting to be the arbiters of taste for their particular genre. This was of course especially true of Smash Hits whose patronage, especially on the front cover, could normally guide you through two top ten singles and a weaker follow-up at least.


Which is what makes the issue of June 23rd 1983 so inexplicable?


Here the cover star was a nineteen year old synth prodigy called Matt Fretton who had all the cheekbones and panache of a late period New Romantic complete with mallen streak. All very "Penthouse And Pavement".


Even by then he had toured with the ailing Boomtown Rats (I had seen him myself at Newcastle City Hall and he was a lot more energetic than the headliners) and would be already booked to support the Eurythmics later in the year and was now on the road supporting Depeche Mode -indeed he would do so again the following year.


This last fact is important because he had just released one of the catchiest singles you could imagine called "It's So High" which seemed to be a precursor to the new-found tougher industrial swagger that the headline act was just starting to adapt post-Vince Clarke with fantastic singles such as "Everything Counts".


His "It's So High" seemed cut from the same cloth and though perhaps too closely modelled on Dave Gahan, he actually came across as more assured than the slightly gawky 1983 version of the Mode's frontman. The single has lots of clanging metallic blasts, thumping bass rhythm and chantable chorus and yet, despite all the wind in its sails, it stalled at #50 on its original release and another go as a re-release the following year, brought no great reward.


Chrysalis Records persevered for two more singles but they rather changed his style to more of a Brit-funk Level 42 type record and frankly his vocal was neither strong enough or distinctive enough to carry it - as a reversal of "It's So High" where its detachment resonated far better. He would be dropped and his album would never see the light of day.


The B-side was a very melancholic number called "Love's Sad Memory" which had a touch of the gloomiest corners of Japan's work. Fretton would quit the industry and become a classical music promoter. Sadly, he took his own life in 2014.


"It's So High" 's lack of impact is a tremendous shame because it's a great pop record. I can only propose that his visual and aural similarity to the new gear change of Basildon's finest neither appealed to their fans (and may have outraged them for such impudence) and as such, attracted few others from outside their franchise. It's certainly more than just a pale imitation.


I suspect the editors of Smash Hits were as amazed as anybody.



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