We hear the story behind a classic pop song of the 90s, one that was a “killer” for its writer
The return of Lighthouse Family, the duo of Paul Tucker and Tunde Baiyewu, was one of 2019’s most pleasant surprises, especially as their new material was an instant reminder of the soulful and uplifting pop music they’d made back in the mid-90s. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the fact that their style seemed out of step with a music scene dominated by boy/girl bands and Britpop, the strength of their material meant that they were more than able to hold their own.
Their first two albums Ocean Drive and Postcards From Heaven contained hit singles such as Lifted, Raincloud and Lost In Space, classics of their time which continue to be heard on the radio more than two decades after their release. Another such song is High, a platinum-selling release in the UK that also reached the top of the Australian charts. Here, Tucker explains how his most successful song was anything but easy to write…
“High was a hard song to write, a killer of a song. I started working on it in January 1997. When you’re working on your first album you’ve got all the time in the world, there’s no expectation. Then Ocean Drive had been a hit, Lifted had been a hit and the album was flying. Suddenly everyone was on our back wanting the next hit.
“We had the blueprint of High and it was like, ‘This is a hit, this is a smash.’ I had bits of the lyrics, I had, ‘One day we’re going to get so high,’ and I had ‘Always keep it flying high,’ but I didn’t have the rest of it. I was trying to write the lyrics while we were recording Postcards From Heaven and I didn’t finish them until August 1997. There was so much pressure for that record to be a hit, it was almost impossible. I had a blank sheet of paper for months and I spent mornings and days, day in, day out, just trying to write High. Finally, it was the day before the very last recording day of the session and I think it was almost a description of that pressure… ‘When you’re close to tears remember / Someday it’ll all be over.’ Sometimes you just write what is going on.
“It’s funny, I’ve got a real thing about chord progressions. I’ve got a thing about progressions and a thing about the way a verse moves into a bridge or a chorus and I’ve got a thing about how that move should happen, the way it changes. I just knew that it was a tune, there had been a couple in the past where I’d known that, where I felt like I’d actually got there. There is a particular kind of song which is my Holy Grail and I’m always trying to write that song. High was that song, Ocean Drive was that song, Lost In Space was that song. I think off the new record, Who’s Gonna Save Me Now is that song, and Clouds… maybe Live Again as well.
“There’s a couple that I’ve got in my pocket that I haven’t finished yet that I think are great tunes and beautiful melodies, but I just haven’t got a song to go with them to do it justice. I’m a bit of an obsessive about this stuff. When I finished writing the lyrics to High I knew I’d nailed it. To me, it’s almost like it could not be anything else. There isn’t anything that could be different. That’s it, it’s like, ‘That is exactly what the song is supposed to say.’ That’s the thing that drives me mad, getting to that point, where you go, ‘That’s the one.’
“It’s interesting because when we first started out one of the first songs was Ocean Drive and I remember when Tunde started singing that song in the studio, we just looked at each other and there was a really magical charm about it, listening to him. We recently did some acoustic recordings of some of those songs and it was almost like being back in 1997 – just Tunde and a guitar and a little bit of piano, and it was great. I’ve always got total faith in Tunde to do the song 100% justice. There’s an element to it that you have to get inside his skin, know what works for him and where to put him to make him shine.
“A lot of the songs that I write, particularly High and Ocean Drive, I wrote for myself. When you’re at a low point in your life you can write music that makes you feel better, that gets you through tough situations. That’s what those two songs were, they’re songs that put blue sky in your head. Every time I write a song that’s what I try to do, I try to write a High or an Ocean Drive. You just can’t always get there.”
Interview: Duncan Haskell