How I wrote ‘Perfect’ by Fairground Attraction’s Mark Nevin
The songwriter and guitarist behind the 80s pop-folk band’s chart-topping debut single tells the compelling tale of its imperfect inspiration
British folk-pop band Fairground Attraction formed in 1987, combining the singing talents of Eddi Reader with songwriter and guitarist Mark Nevin, along with Roy Dodds on drums and Simon Edwards playing an unusual Mexican guitarrón. The band signed to RCA and released their first single, Perfect, in 1988.
The record was an immediate success, reaching No 1 in the UK – staying on the chart for a total of 13 weeks – and also topping the singles charts in Australia and South Africa. The song went on to win the award for Best British Single at the 1989 BRIT Awards.
Here Mark reveals how the song was inspired by several far-from-perfect relationships, and why he thinks it was so successful…
“I was living with a girlfriend in Cricklewood, London, in a really grotty bedsit, and in the middle of the night I remember lying in bed thinking, ‘She’s got to go, she’s just not the one for me.’ Y’know that horrible, gnawing feeling when you know you’ve got to do the ‘thing’? So I’m lying there, looking at the ceiling and thinking, ‘I don’t want this half-hearted thing. Next time I’m going to get it right, and it’s going to be perfect.’
“I thought that was quite good, so the next morning I went to my notebook and wrote some of the lyrics. I had a melody, but it wasn’t quite right – it was a bit reggae-ish, a bit average and it was never going to amount to much – so I left it there, in the book.
“Shortly after that, I was in America, in an apartment in Akron, Ohio. It was a very similar thing, where I was with another girlfriend and I thought, ‘Oh no, she’s got to be fired as well!’ Then I remembered the song I had in my book, and so I opened it up and this time the melody came straight away – that’s when I finished the song. My girlfriend then was a singer and she did a little demo of it into a cassette player, then shortly after that I went back to England, and I had it hanging around for a while in my box of cassettes.
“Then, when Eddi and I started doing little gigs around London, we were doing quite a lot of jazzy, slow, floaty songs and I thought about how Perfect was so catchy – once you’d heard it, it was in your head all day long! But I didn’t think she would go for it because it was too cheerful and poppy – she liked the more dark, sad songs.
“But I know the best way to get Eddi to do anything was to say the opposite because she always disagreed with everything I said! So I said, ‘I’ve got this song. I don’t think we should do it with the band, but I’ll play it to you just for a laugh.’ And I played it and she said, ‘Why don’t we just do it?’.
“Well, okay, if you insist! So we played it at a gig at a pub on Balls Pond Road in Islington, and I was starting to think it was an old song that I’d accidentally plagiarised because the people went ballistic! By the end of the song, they were singing the chorus as though they’d known it all their lives. Someone came up to me afterwards and said, ‘If you release that, it’s going to be No 1, mate.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah’… but a year later, it was!
“The thing I like about Perfect is that it doesn’t mess around. Right from start, it’s in with ‘I don’t want half-hearted love affairs/I need somebody who really cares’ and the chorus comes in so quick. Women particularly relate to the song: they want to find the right person, no messing about and get it right. And it’s got such an upbeat, triumphant chorus to it as well. It just instantly works.”