25 Years of So Hard

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TallThinMan
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25 Years of So Hard

#1 Post by TallThinMan » Thu 24 Sep 2015, 7:41 pm

I can't quite believe it's a quarter of a century today since So Hard was released. It was the first record I ever bought. Actually, my Dad bought it for me on 7" vinyl because I was in sixth form college and unable to go into town to buy it myself on the day. My family didn't have a CD player until I got one for Christmas the same year, so the CD single purchase came later.

So Hard, with its unforgettable orchestral hit riff, was the most bombastic lead single since It's a Sin and nothing like the rest of the Behaviour album it came from. It would be three years until Can You Forgive Her? trumped it in the over-the-topness stakes.

Musically, So Hard is really three tracks in one. There's the ascending four chord change of the intro and bridge in F minor which is a direct homage to the chorus (if you can call it that) of I Feel Love. Then there's the "tough electronic groove" (Harold Faltermeyer's words) in C minor with the amazing filtered synth bassline that somehow seems to get sucked in on itself. Finally there's a pop song with a big C major chorus that's only one chord removed from Suburbia. Somehow Pet Shop Boys and their producers and programmers managed to skillfully weld all these disparate elements together into a cohesive whole of just under four minutes of pop perfection, allowing the excellent variety of So Hard mixes and remixes to separately explore each of these three musical directions.

So Hard is very strong both lyrically and melodically, featuring the timeless amusing Tennant lyric: "We've both given up smoking/'cause it's fatal/so whose matches are those?" The song is quite low within Neil's range. The melody of the "I will give up mine" line that ends the middle eight always reminded me of the "keep me satisfied" line from The Beatle's From Me To You; it's straight out of a 1960's pop song.

Sonically there's plenty going on in So Hard to sustain interest. In fact there's pretty much something for everyone. There are various bleeps, bloops and weird samples throughout, electric guitar power chords from the second chorus onwards, synth bells and a weird Theremin-like wailing sound near the end that sounds like it's from a rap record. There's even a porn star sample breathily expressing the song's title! The production is immaculate and the drum programming in particular is superb. I remember playing the extended and dub mixes on 12" vinyl deliberately slowly at 33 1/3 RPM on my parents' crappy Amstrad record player so I could hear all the parts more clearly, that's how obsessed I was by this record.

The sleeve for So Hard was a striking red and black affair and was the public premiere of Neil's short haircut; like number one hits his forthy perm gone forever. Dressed in black, Neil looked quite hard himself actually, whilst Chris nonchantly eats an apple in a slightly dirty-looking (but presumably expensive) Chevignon ensemble.

The promo video for So Hard is a classic Eric Watson scenario: lots going on with Neil and Chris in the background as observers and commentators, flanked by Dainton and another gentleman of similar wouldn't-want-to-mess-with-him-in-a-dark-alleyway build (wasn't he called something like "Strugger"?) The video is a pretty literal depiction of the song's lyrics and thrillingly, as with Domino Dancing, there's also a 12" edit of the video.

The BBC Wogan chat show saw the first television performance of So Hard, I seem to recall it was on the Friday night following the Monday the single came out. It was a memorable performance with Neil dressed in a sharp suit and Chris playing a Korg M1 and Emulator rig in a blow-up Michiko Koshino jacket. There was some sort of power failure at the start of the show, leading to Terry Wogan asking "have we got the boys lit?". We later found out that behind the bonhomie Neil and Chris were fuming because they'd been promised an interview which was reneged on, leading Chris to run off the stage at the end in protest.

The first time I saw So Hard performed live was on the Performance tour at the Birmingham NEC in 1991. It was even more OTT with additional orchestral hits and visually stunning with the twirling question mark umbrellas. It sounded fantastic.

So Hard got to number four in the UK singles chart, which I remember being pretty pleased with at the time. Of course that was a mere two years after the end of the imperial phase, not like nowadays!

I must also quickly mention the B-side It Must Be Obvious which is just brilliant and really deserves a post in its own right. The whole So Hard package is pretty much flawless for me. Where did the time go?

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DJ Pat
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Re: 25 Years of So Hard

#2 Post by DJ Pat » Thu 24 Sep 2015, 7:50 pm

The video is a lot of fun, Gazza's sister is the blonde woman who looks out the window at those blokes.

How many times can you spot Dainton?
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Luke Colorado
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Re: 25 Years of So Hard

#3 Post by Luke Colorado » Thu 24 Sep 2015, 11:33 pm

The KLF mix is one of my all-time favorites. Great song.
I sincerely *love* Disco 2 and listen to it straight through regularly.

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DJ Pat
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Re: 25 Years of So Hard

#4 Post by DJ Pat » Fri 25 Sep 2015, 12:42 am

I recall Simon Bates playing it on Radio 1 when it just came out, and mentioned the ''you make it so hard'' lyric as being ''rather risque for daytime radio''

During the outro he quipped ''Oo-er Neil, thanks''
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tottenhammattspurs
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Re: 25 Years of So Hard

#5 Post by tottenhammattspurs » Fri 25 Sep 2015, 11:19 am

25 years since they've had a self-penned song in the UK top 5 then.......
is is and isnt isnt

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Re: 25 Years of So Hard

#6 Post by Tom Angel » Fri 25 Sep 2015, 1:42 pm

what a great post! thanks very much. Thoroughly enjoyed this, So Hard is somehow overlooked - as you say it should make all the compilations, as it's another side.

Here's to more analogue synths for the new album!
in suits or sequins/or twin sets and pearls

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DJ Pat
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Re: 25 Years of So Hard

#7 Post by DJ Pat » Fri 25 Sep 2015, 4:37 pm

A beefed up version would have been excellent on the Electric tour, with a long intro.....
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y3potential
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Re: 25 Years of So Hard

#8 Post by y3potential » Fri 25 Sep 2015, 6:42 pm

DJ Pat wrote:A beefed up version would have been excellent on the Electric tour, with a long intro.....
:up: :up: :up:
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Re: 25 Years of So Hard

#9 Post by nickname » Fri 25 Sep 2015, 7:50 pm

I always thought this song was one of the most obvious choice for the "Electric Tour".

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DJ Pat
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Re: 25 Years of So Hard

#10 Post by DJ Pat » Fri 25 Sep 2015, 10:37 pm

Axis could have merged into it nicely for the opening song
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PopArt
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Re: 25 Years of So Hard

#11 Post by PopArt » Sun 27 Sep 2015, 6:24 pm

A great song and brilliant lead single for Behaviour. Musically as the most Hi-NRG track on the album it acted as a brilliant bridge from the Introspective era to the Behaviour era.

I was in my first term at boarding school. We weren't allowed radios or tv (!) so I never heard it until I came home for a weekend. I didn't even know they had a new song out until I got home. My sister had recorded the 12" version from Capital Radio and so for quite a while I thought that was the 'single' version. I still love the 12" mix and it's probably my favourite version of the song. Seems crazy now, looking back, that a commercial radio station was playing a six and a half minute track. Would never happen now... I played it over and over again all weekend and then on the Sunday evening listened to the charts before going back to school. I seem to recall it was on its second week in the chart- so fell from its peak position of number 4. But that was the first time I heard the 7" mix and I thought it was just a radio edit. There was a real sense that this was a different PSB- Neil's new short hair, the slightly brutal looking black and white photography. They were, and not for the last time, doing the opposite of what people expected from them. And it was unexpected and exciting.

I love So hard. For me it's a very atmospheric record. Whenever I hear it I can see autumn leaves, mists and the smell of bonfires.
I'm always waiting...

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MikeyC
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Re: 25 Years of So Hard

#12 Post by MikeyC » Sun 27 Sep 2015, 10:36 pm

PopArt wrote:A great song and brilliant lead single for Behaviour. Musically as the most Hi-NRG track on the album it acted as a brilliant bridge from the Introspective era to the Behaviour era.

I was in my first term at boarding school. We weren't allowed radios or tv (!) so I never heard it until I came home for a weekend. I didn't even know they had a new song out until I got home. My sister had recorded the 12" version from Capital Radio and so for quite a while I thought that was the 'single' version. I still love the 12" mix and it's probably my favourite version of the song. Seems crazy now, looking back, that a commercial radio station was playing a six and a half minute track. Would never happen now... I played it over and over again all weekend and then on the Sunday evening listened to the charts before going back to school. I seem to recall it was on its second week in the chart- so fell from its peak position of number 4. But that was the first time I heard the 7" mix and I thought it was just a radio edit. There was a real sense that this was a different PSB- Neil's new short hair, the slightly brutal looking black and white photography. They were, and not for the last time, doing the opposite of what people expected from them. And it was unexpected and exciting.

I love So hard. For me it's a very atmospheric record. Whenever I hear it I can see autumn leaves, mists and the smell of bonfires.

I loved reading that... Thank you! 8)

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