Spotlight: Take That – ‘Everything Changes’

Gary Barlow on the pop titans' greatest album...

Spotlight is Clash’s series looking at classic albums. You’ll find it in every issue of Clash magazine, and there are regular special features on records celebrating key anniversaries on this very website. Check our Spotlight index page for more like this. Here, we’ve an edit of the Spotlight feature from our current Pop Issue, focusing on one of the ‘90s’ very biggest chart smashes, released in October 1993…

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In 1993, it was very difficult to avoid the Take That phenomenon. They dominated Saturday morning TV and Top Of The Pops, and the combination of their effervescent northern humour and infectious singles meant that, whether you admitted it or not, you knew every member and every song.

The quintet was formed in 1990 around the songwriting nucleus of Gary Barlow under manager Nigel Martin-Smith, collecting fellow singers and dancers through auditions in and around Manchester – the final line-up, of course, was Mark Owen, Howard Donald, Robbie Williams and Jason Orange alongside Barlow.

Their first years together were filled with an exhausting schedule of live appearances up and down the country. “The amount of live stuff we used to do!” Gary Barlow tells Clash, incredulously. “Three or four shows a night at different venues, sometimes with an hour’s drive in between! Even though we’re not a live band – we don’t play instruments – this, and our audience, started from our live [shows]. It was nothing but live performances for at least the first three years.”

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Take That feat. Lulu, ‘Relight My Fire’

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Their first album, ‘Take That & Party’, was released in August 1992. Its singles, with the exception of ‘A Million Love Songs’, were high-energy dance numbers with a full injection of camp disco and readymade choreography. Naturally, it exploded, reaching number two domestically and staying in the charts for over a year. By the time it came to think about its follow-up, the group were already displaying more mature musical tastes.

Besides the car stereo favourites 808 State and Extreme, and Gary’s love for Seal and George Michael, there was a distinct American influence taking shape. “New Jack Swing was big at the time – you had your Blackstreets and R Kelly – that was the flavour coming from the States,” Gary says, “and so we got a UK producer to give it that New Jack Swing feel, so it was kind of cutting edge for us at that time.”

Barlow wrote the new batch of songs within a specially designated two-week gap in their schedule, a fast-paced deadline he thrived in: “It was moving so quick! It was active, it was spontaneous; it was just great. But we didn’t have the time to play with for it not to be, you know?”

‘Everything Changes’ captures Take That at the height of their fame. Six singles were released from the Mercury Prize-nominated album, and four hit number one. The first was ‘Pray’ – “The best song on that record,” according to Gary, which demonstrated their recent R&B leanings. ‘Relight My Fire’, a lively cover of Dan Hartman’s 1979 disco track, followed, and featured a guest vocal from Lulu, at the insistence of Martin-Smith. “I was a bit unsure, if I’m honest,” says Gary of the suggestion. “But once we got in the studio it was just amazing. It worked brilliantly.”

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Take That, ‘Babe’

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“We had ‘Babe’ for years,” he says of their next hit. “We had that from the first album, I think, and we used to sing it a lot on the road for vocal practice. Jason was learning guitar, so he’d learnt it on guitar, and Mark used to sing it, so by the time we’d come to record it he just knew it off by heart.”

The fourth single, the album’s title track, almost never was. Upon delivering what was the finished album to the label, Gary realised Robbie had no lead vocals on any song. “I thought, ‘Right, I’ve got to do something quick!’ So I went to see my friend Eliot Kennedy – he’s got a studio in Sheffield – and he had a little team of writers with him. I said: ‘We need a song for Rob,’ and so we wrote ‘Everything Changes’ within about an hour. We sent a car for Rob, drove him across from Stoke, and got the vocal on it. It was the last song to be delivered.”

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Take That, ‘Everything Changes’

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Eighteen months later, Take That’s third album ‘Nobody Else’ was released – and two months after that, Robbie Williams left, and Take That began a slow slide towards their eventual split, which came in 1996.

Though they’d reunite nine years later, achieving even greater success, respect and adoration, ‘Everything Changes’ stands as the pinnacle of pre-Britpop pop and the peak of Take That mark I, when five young guys with one big dream aimed directly for the big time, and won.

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Words: Simon Harper

Get more pop – Clash’s Pop Issue, with Lorde, Pharrell, Boy George, John Newman and more, is out now. More information right here

Listen to 'Everything Changes' in full via Deezer, below…

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