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Spandau Ballet - True (1983)

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  • 80's Score80's Score 80's score: 2.3
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“True” is a song by the English new wave band Spandau Ballet. It was released on 15 April 1983 as the third ...

“True” is a song by the English new wave band Spandau Ballet. It was released on 15 April 1983 as the third single from their third studio album of the same name. The song was written by band member Gary Kemp.

The song was a huge worldwide hit, peaking at number one in the UK Singles Chart on 30 April 1983 for four weeks, becoming the sixth-biggest-selling single of the year, and reaching the top ten in the weekly charts of many other countries. It is Spandau Ballet’s biggest hit and their only top ten hit in the U.S., reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100 in the autumn of 1983 and topping the adult contemporary chart for one week. In 2011, it received a BMI award as one of the most played songs in US history with four million airplays.

Background and writing

“True” was composed by group leader Gary Kemp, who wrote the song at his parents’ house while living there. It is a six-minute (in its original album version) song that in part pays tribute to the Motown artist Marvin Gaye, who is mentioned in the lyrics, and the sound he helped to establish. According to Kemp, “I think I wanted to write a song that was a bit like a Marvin Gaye, Al Green song, a blue-eyed soul song. It was at a time when it was me concentrating on melody first rather than the sort of riff and the groove.” Kemp also said, “‘True’ became a song about writing a love song. Why ‘Why do I find it hard to write the next line? I want the truth to be said?’ Because I didn’t want to write it down—because there’s nothing more embarrassing.”

The song was partly about Kemp’s platonic relationship (and unrequited love) with Altered Images singer Clare Grogan. Some phrases in the lyrics (including the much-quoted reference to “seaside arms”) were adapted from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita, a copy of which Grogan had given Kemp. The song is written in the key of G major. It has a tempo of 98 BPM and a chord progression of G, Em, G/C, Bm. The song changes key when it hits the instrumental break. The instrumental break is in the key of E?major.

A notable omission of the recording is that Spandau Ballet bassist Martin Kemp did not perform on the track; a bass synthesiser was used instead. However, Martin Kemp appeared in the music video appearing to play guitar, while the band’s guitarist, songwriter Gary Kemp, sat at a piano. Martin Kemp would play bass on the song in future live performances.

Reception and legacy

In 2009, Tim Rice wrote in The Spectator that the song was “a giant of its time and remains a standard today”. In 2014, Ian Gittins described it in The Guardian as a “juggernaut power ballad”. In 2015, Peter Larsen wrote for the Orange County Register that the band’s formula of mining “a vein of soulfulness tinged with nostalgia and romance” had “reached perfection” on the track, describing it as “the one Spandau Ballet song everyone knows… It’s truly a perfect song, as moving today as ever it was.” It has been characterised as a “karaoke staple”. In 2015, the song was voted by the British public as the nation’s tenth-favourite 1980s number one in a poll for ITV.

On the other hand, Guardian journalist Luke Williams referred to the song as “the biggest load of musical tosh ever”; his colleague Michael Hann described it as “dreadful wine-bar soul”. Sean Daly of the St. Petersburg Times named “True” the worst song of all time, while Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Robert Jamieson selected it as the worst ever love song. It was also featured in the Houston Press article, “10 Songs We Never, Ever Want to Hear Again, Ever”. Luke Williams derided the lyric, “Why do I find it hard to write the next line?”, and NME included the line, “I bought a ticket to the world but now I’ve come back again”, in their “50 worst pop lyrics of all time”.

In 2014, the band’s singer, Tony Hadley, commented on the song and its lyrics:

I don’t think “True” is Spandau’s best song—for me, “Through the Barricades” is. But “True” had some connection, and I really don’t know why. It’s not a specific lyric, is it? “Head over heels when toe to toe”—sometimes you’d be like, “Right, Gary, what’s this about, mate?” Is it “I’m head over heels in love?” “Am I in bed because our feet are touching?” I don’t know. But then, I suppose, we grew up on David Bowie and Roxy Music. “Virginia Plain”—what’s that about? Half of the Bowie songs, I couldn’t tell you what they’re about. With “True”, you have to create the imagery for yourself.

In 1985, the band performed the song during Live Aid.

A new mix by Tony Swain and Gary Kemp was released in 2002 on the compilation album Reformation. On 30 April 2008, the single celebrated its 25th anniversary, and in honour, EMI released a brand new True EP on 5 May 2008, which included the original single, the new mix found on Reformation, and the remastered album version, plus live recordings of “True” and “Gold” from the last show of the group’s 1983 tour at Sadler’s Wells.

The song has been featured in the movies: Pixels, Sausage Party, Sixteen Candles, Charlie’s Angels, Crazy, Stupid, Love, Hot Tub Time Machine, Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, 50 First Dates, and The Wedding Singer, sung by Steve Buscemi’s character. It has been featured in the TV show Ashes to Ashes, and in the video game Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain as a playable cassette track.

P.M. Dawn sampled this song on their 1991 hit “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss”.

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