Celebrando 20 años en la música / Celebrating 20 years in music
Posted 8 febrero, 2010on:
Robbie Williams: The First Twenty Years – Part 1
5 Feb 2010
In the first of this two-parter, Chris Heath, the author of Robbie’s official biography, Feel, takes us on a journey through two decades of the illustrious career of the best-selling British solo artist in history.
This year Robbie celebrates 20 years in music and, ahead of picking up the prestigious Outstanding Contribution to Music award at the BRITs next week, the show’s 30th anniversary, we look back at the spectacular highlights of his career.
Let’s step back to 1990 when Robbie was a 16-year-old lad from Burslem in Stoke-on-Trent auditioning for a certain boy band in Manchester…
Robbie Williams: The First Twenty Years – Part 1
At the age of 16, after a short and disastrous experience selling double-glazing, he auditioned to become the fifth and final member of the teen band Take That. He passed. As their success grew, he settled into downplaying his role: “When all the guys go through all the ideas for the tours I’m probably watching basketball in the next room. I should contribute more, on the side of the artist’s – what’s it called? – vision. But I don’t. So my part is probably – what a cliché – being The Funny One.” Even so, some of his distinctive talent began shining through. In 1992 the first Take That single with a solo Robbie Williams lead vocal, their cover of Barry Manilow’s Could It Be Magic?, became their biggest British hit to date, and the following year the title track of their second album, Everything Changes, would be the first song sung by Robbie Williams to reach No.1. But he didn’t always find this boyband life an easy one. As time passed, his frustration at his role grew, and so did his bandmates’ frustration at his frustration and the ways he chose to deal with it. Eventually his behaviour and desires would diverge from the others’ in ways that became impossible to ignore. In the summer of 1995, three months after the release of Take That’s sixth and best number one, Back For Good, Robbie and Take That parted ways. He was 21.
(First BRIT award, 1993: Best British Single for “Could It Be Magic?” Second and third BRIT awards, 1994: Best British Single and Best British Video for “Pray”)
It took a little time to find his feet, and to find his purpose. His first solo single, an unimaginative cover of George Michael’s Freedom 90 recorded at his record company’s suggestion, was little more than a holding manoeuvre. Meanwhile, he started writing songs: “I didn’t know what I was doing when I started to write these lyrics which would be deemed to be autobiographical – I just tried to write these rhyming couplets that were emotional and not only meant something to me but would mean something to someone else. I suppose I was hoping that what I said would be universal.”
(Fourth BRIT award: Best British single for Take That’s “Back For Good”)
Though it would come to sell well over two million copies just in Britain, his first solo album, Life Thru A Lens, didn’t even reach the top ten of the album chart until after its fourth single was released. That song was Angels. “Angels,” he would explain, “is about spirits and believing in people that can help you that aren’t necessarily around you. It came at a time when I was very unhappy and needed guidance from somewhere. These lyrics came through, and I knew it was a special song.”
A year that would build through his Glastonbury triumph in June to the release of his imperial second album I’ve Been Expecting You in October began with the one performance that really alerted a wider public to what he could do, and also hinted at some of what he would come do in the future: his show-stopping duet with Tom Jones at the BRIT awards. “The catalyst for my career,” he would say later. “That evening was a dream fulfilled for me. It was also terrifying.”
The records kept selling, the concerts got bigger (most memorably his headline show at Slane Castle in Ireland that August), he had his second solo number one (She’s The One, following 1998’s Millennium) and he received his first solo BRIT awards. Three of them in one night. "What can I say?” he mused as he stood at the podium. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes. So many I can’t remember half of them.”
(Fifth, sixth and seventh BRIT awards: Best British Male, Best British Single for Angels and Best British Video for Millennium)
With a third solo album (Sing When You’re Winning) and a third solo number one (Rock DJ) he also took some time to co-write some songs for Kylie Minogue’s comeback album, and to duet with her on Kids. “I’ve had a crush on Kylie,” he explained, “since I saw her in dungarees in Neighbours and she had grease all over her face ’cause she worked in a garage”
(Eight and ninth BRIT awards: Best British Single and Best British Video for She’s The One)
Tune in tomorrow for part two when we look back at Robbie’s celebration of swing at London’s Royal Albert Hall, his mammoth performances at Knebworth and his entry into the Guinness Book Of Records.
The First Twenty Years – Part 2
9 Feb 2010
In the second half of our look back over the last two decades of Robbie’s music career, we pick up the story in a new millennium with Robbie swinging the Royal Albert Hall, rocking 375,000 revellers at Knebworth and storming into the Guinness Book Of Records in his own inimitable way…
Robbie Williams: The First Twenty Years – Part 2
After recording “Have You Met Miss Jones?” for the soundtrack to the film Bridget Jones’s Diary, he decided to record a whole album of the swing songs he’d grown up loving, and to do so at Capitol studios in Los Angeles where many of Frank Sinatra’s most famous sessions took place. At the time, it seemed an unlikely, and risky, venture. Furthermore, before Swing When You’re Winning’s release, he also committed to performing these songs live at the Royal Albert Hall in London with an orchestra. “It could have potentially been the biggest mistake of my career this far,” he reflected. “The Royal Albert Hall gig did an awful lot for my confidence regarding who I was as an artist and my ability to pull things off. It did turn a corner for me. It went a long way towards seeing myself on screen, looking like I’ve always wanted to look, singing like an angel – well, the best I can sing, anyway – and holding an audience captive by myself.”
(Tenth, eleventh and twelfth BRIT awards: Best British Male, and Best British Single and Best British Video for Rock DJ)
Escapology would be his fifth solo album in six years, a fairly unprecedented run of productivity for a musician in the modern era (and in a year in which he also had a bonus top ten single guesting on 1 Giant Leap’s My Culture). At least two of Escapology’s tracks would become key Robbie Williams songs: Feel and Come Undone. “You know,” he pondered, “I’m quite fortunate that I didn’t start off with my best stuff.” For its sleeve, he kept himself interested by being suspended upside down by his feet from the top of Los Angeles’ tallest building, a pose he would thus find himself obliged to repeat at the opening of each of the following year’s concerts.
(Thirteenth BRIT award: Best British Male)
His biggest tour to date, playing stadiums across Europe, culminated in a feat that had never been achieved by previous visitors (most notably Led Zeppelin and Oasis) and may never be repeated: performing on three consecutive August nights at Knebworth in front of a total of 375,000 people. On the first night he tried to explain to the audience how strange it felt – how, for a moment, it would seem like something he could just enjoy. “And then I just look at you lot, and I look all the way over to the back…and I don’t know what I’ve done.”
(Fourteenth BRIT award: Best British Male)
As he stockpiled songs with a new collaborator, Stephen Duffy, he allowed himself a rare pause, and a moment to look back, with the release of Greatest Hits. “None of it was planned,” he mused. “That’s how my career has been…I’m adlibbing the whole of my career, and I’m adlibbing my life.”
The adlibbing carried on working. On its release in October his new solo album, Intensive Care, achieved the largest weekly British sale of any Robbie Williams album yet (373,832 copies), and the following month he earned an entry in the Guinness Book Of Records for the most concert tickets ever sold in one day (1.6 million) when tickets went on sale for the following year’s Close Encounters tour.
(Fifteenth BRIT award: Best Single Of The Last 25 Years for Angels)
In gaps between shows, and while touring, he recorded another new album, Rudebox, a collection he considered “a gap year record where I had loads of fun with my mates.” (Amongst his other collaborators were Mark Ronson and the Pet Shop Boys.) “I was making a record that would impress a 15-year-old me…” he explained. Meanwhile, this year a list was published of the hundred best selling British albums of all time. Six were his.
Though continually writing and recording songs at home, 2007 was when, for the first time since this whirlwind had first whipped up around him, he finally decided to take some substantial time off: “I disappeared to my house in Los Angeles. I disappeared from public places: nightclubs, bars. Those places never appealed to me anyway. I was just finding somebody to stay in with, and I found her. I also could sense a change in the tide. I’d hammered it for getting on for twenty years: making music, promoting, touring, making music, promoting, touring. I was very fortunate to get my breakthrough when I was really young – a lot of people don’t get that break until they’re 27, 28, maybe 30. In dog years, or in performance years, or musical years, I’m well into my 40s really.”
He was still writing and recording, and still lying low, though briefly broke cover with a documentary on BBC Radio 4 in which he visited a UFO conference in Nevada, one product of free time spent indulging and exploring an interest in the paranormal and alien that has gripped him since childhood. “There’s been other unnatural things have happened,” he reasoned. “Me selling sixty million records is one of them. If I can do that, then the possibility of life on other planets…”
Reinvigorated, he returned triumphantly with the Trevor Horn-produced Reality Killed The Video Star. At the end of the year it was announced that he had sold more albums in Britain this decade than any other artist: “It’s only me, but I’ve managed – by falling upwards, and turning up – to have now a history. To have now a catalogue of stuff. It only seems two minutes ago that we were writing Angels and Ego A Go Go and South Of The Border and Let Me Entertain You…and here I am. Not bad.”
(Sixteenth BRIT award: Outstanding Contribution Award)