Yazoo – Only You
Certainly, in life it is very important to be in the right place at the right time. As far as pop music is concerned, the right time was the beginning of the 80’s, no doubt about that. The right place was certainly England, probably in a big city, definitely London, perhaps in Covent Garden near the Blitz Club of Steve Strange and Midge Ure, where Boy George was the cloakroom attendant, Tony Hadley played with the Human League and Rusty Egan shut the door on Mick Jagger.
Or maybe in Birmingham, in Broad Street, where Duran Duran’s career began within the walls of the Rum Runner. In short, between Planet Earth and Fade to Grey a new generation of artists was really opening the doors to a new music.
Or maybe the right place was in Basildon, a new town created after World War II by uniting some villages in Essex, about thirty miles east of London, on the north bank of the Thames estuary. Vince Clark, founder of Depeche Mode, was born there, but in the second half of 1981 he had made the decision to leave the group. Actually he had nothing against Gore or Fletcher, but he felt uncomfortable in the musical environment made of tours and great pressure.
However, he just wanted to leave his friends with a gift, which served to not break ties with them and to make sure that the record industry still remembered him. And so he wrote Only You, and took it to Depeche and the record company.
Depeche Mode were looking for a new single for their second album, but decided to use See You, a song written much earlier by Martin Gore. And so Clarke was able to keep the song to himself, but he knew he wasn’t a great singer, and as we know he went looking for a female voice through an ad. When Alison Moyet answered, he was quite pleased: he knew Alison by sight, both because she also lived in Basildon (she was born in Billericay, a few miles north), and because he had noticed her on some evenings in clubs where she was singing.
Alison could have been the right voice to record Only You and bring it to the record company. Alison came from a rhythm and blues group, The Screamin’ Ab Dabs, and didn’t intend to pursue her career in pop, but let’s just say she could take a job like this to earn some money.
Vincent and Alison (or Alf, as everyone called him) recorded the song, and took it to the record company. It seems that the British team at the record company were not so impressed with the song, but before making a judgment they played the song to their Scandinavian colleagues, who were enthusiastic about it. And so, the record company called Vincent back and asked him to re-record the song with Alison, a little more professionally, and make it into a single.
Alison was less and less convinced: not only did she not aspire to enter the world of pop, but not even to form a group with Vince Clarke, although she definitely found him creative and likeable. In any case, if it was for only one song, she could accept. And so the glorious story of Yazoo (Yaz in America) was born, and at the beginning of March 1982 they released their first single, Only You.
By the way, this song would soon become one of the most covered songs in history, starting from the unforgettable a cappella version of The Flying Pickets of Christmas 1983, up to the funny scenes of the film Military Wives with Kristin Scott Thomas in 2019.
It was a super hit, and the record company asked Vincent and Alison to create a full album, and in August, Upstairs at Eric’s, the first big Yazoo album, also came out, which contained other unforgettable songs like Don’t Go and Situation.
Only You had a simple but particular video, in which mannequins come to life and reveal feelings and passions. Vince and Alf unfortunately do not appear, leaving all the space to a primordial computer graphics.
The history of Yazoo was not long, the following summer Vince and Alison broke up to pursue different experiences, and after a while Clark founded Assembly and then Erasure together with Andy Bell. Decades later, reflecting on the reasons for their separation, both acknowledged that in fact they had no real reasons for conflict, but perhaps they had never had the time to get to know and like each other as people, and their partnership had certainly always been professional and sincere, but a bit cold and impersonal.
Vincent Clark recognized that one of his limitations was an excessive shyness, which made it very difficult for him to find topics of conversation with little-known people, and he admitted that he had relational and communicative limitations on a personal level, although he was very good at translating his emotions into music.
And so, despite everything, in the early 80s Basildon had become the capital of England, at least as far as music was concerned.