Take That release their re-imagined Greatest Hits album, Odyssey, on Friday. It’s expected to be one of the year’s biggest-sellers, with Polydor co-president Tom March predicting it will be the first album of the year to break the 100,000 mark for first week sales.
The song features new and remixed versions of songs from across their three decades as a band, including singles from the band’s first phase, before their split in 1996 and their triumphant return in 2005.
The band appear on the front cover of this week’s Music Week, which celebrates their remarkable career as Britain’s biggest pop phenomenon. And the remaining three band members – Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald – also sat down with Music Week to look back at their early albums. Take this and party…
TAKE THAT & PARTY (1992)
Howard Donald: “Looking back at it, it’s obviously not the sort of record I would buy. But I do believe that’s part of our DNA. Whatever records we made, whatever videos we made, even Do What U Like, smearing jelly and ice cream all over each other, it was part of our experience and growth and knowing what to do and what not to do. I don’t think I’d have it any other way, I wouldn’t change anything from the ‘90s.”
Gary Barlow: “There’s obviously the songs where you go, ‘Fucking hell, why did we do that?’ But when you look into it, half that record was made with Duncan Bridgeman who was a brilliant producer. He really took me under his wing as a writer and as a singer. He used to buy me albums and say, ‘Listen to this guy, listen to the way he’s singing, listen to the way he ends his notes’. He brought me from being a crooner to being a semi-white soul singer. There was such a lot of learning going on at that point. You listen to songs like Why Can’t I Wake Up With You and Never Want To Let You Go and I’m proud of them, because I think, ‘Fuck me, no boy band was doing that’. They’re still not doing it!” They were great songs with great production. He did a brilliant job of those things but then you’ve got the label going, ‘We want some pop music’, which is when we did Promises and It Only Takes A Minute and Ian Levine’s tracks. There’s a load of stuff I didn’t want to do at the time, but I had to do because the label wanted to do it. But there’s also some good music there. Someone was pointing forward and going, ‘Listen everyone, we are actually going here if you stay around…’”
EVERYTHING CHANGES (1993)
GB: “We made Take That & Party with some trepidation but then we gigged it and we knew what we needed to do. When the next set of songs came, we had a better understanding of who we were becoming and who the audience were expecting to see. So there was a direction, definitely. And we were now in the market for a step up in producers, there were people ringing the label saying they’d love to work this band. We got Eliot Kennedy and Steve Jervier, that was a big turning point for us. He wanted to bring New Jack Swing to the UK. I gave him and his brother Paul four or five songs and they sent me a cassette back with Pray done in a New Jack Swing style, they’d changed all the chords, all they’d kept was the lead vocal. That felt like a massive step up to us.”
Mark Owen: “They actually brought in a vocal organiser, Mark Beswick, who’d spend hours saying, ‘This is your harmony’. For many of us, we were completely new to this way of thinking. Harmony? What’s harmony? We’d done it a bit by accident with Take That And Party but…”
GB: “The first album was, ‘There’s the lead vocal, let’s build around it’. The second album was, ‘There’s the lead vocal, let’s sing around it’ and all of a sudden there was a group there, rather than something that could be a solo project. What Mark and Steve did was give the band their moment.”
NOBODY ELSE (1995)
GB: “That record was a little bit of a throwback. I felt like I’d been programming drum machines and listening to what the new beat was and I wanted to write songs again, like I did when I started – but now with a knowledge of how to modernise that old-fashioned kid. So I went back to the piano. I remember physically getting the piano out of a different room and putting it back in the studio rather than the pads. I wanted to write songs again and we were blessed, because we had Chris Porter on that record and he was a big lover of songs. I’d play him things and he’d go, ‘That’s the one there’. He’d always choose the songs. And then [producers] the Brothers In Rhythm would come in and go, ‘Ooh, that’s got a groove, I want it’. So the album almost went into two, we gave the people what they had on the last album, all the groove-based, ‘I’m fucking cool’ stuff. And then we gave them songs as well. We did Sure, all the stuff we knew the audience would love but then the piano stuff, Nobody Else, The Day After Tomorrow, Back For Good.”
MO: “It was playing to our strengths as well because we had that energy and that movement that showed we could perform, but then we could bring it down and sit at a piano and make it more intimate.”
GB: “It was also the first time I’d really asserted myself. We’d always gone along with the label and they wanted to go with Sure first but I was like, ‘We’ve got to go for Back For Good’. It sounds like we’re making this up, because it was obviously a big hit for us, but they wanted to lead with something cooler. Nigel backed me up completely and then we got the BRITs performance. They didn’t want us on, but they heard the song and said, ‘We’re going to give you a slot’. We just knew. Don’t lead up to it, just fucking go with it. This doesn’t need a lead-up song, just release it.”
* For the full, exclusive story of Take That’s three decades together, see this week’s print edition of Music Week or click here and here. To get your hands on the special issue, email Rachael Hampton on firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.