Like many of their contemporaries and indeed, predecessors, Wet Wet Wet’s huge commercial success from the release of their debut single, ‘Wishing I Was Lucky’ in 1987, has seen the band largely overlooked or seen as an uncomfortable sideshow in histories of Scottish pop. The conventional narrative focuses on cheesy grins, tabloid tales of drug addiction, saccharine cover versions that outstayed their welcome in the charts or late period dabblings with musical theatre and the rewind / nostalgia circuit.
Yet all of this belies some considerable achievements and a notable backstory.
In a brief period spanning not much more than three years, the band signed one of the biggest recording contracts of their era (giving unprecedented artistic control in the process) with Phonogram, went travelled from their hometown of Clydebank to work with Memphis soul legends at Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios, re-recorded many of the same songs and yielded an album, ‘Popped In, Souled Out’ that sold over 1.5 million copies in the UK alone with 4 hit singles.
In its wake came arena shows in the UK, regular Top of the Pops appearances, a US tour with Elton John, screaming teenage girls, a number 1 Beatles’ cover and some of the less desirable trappings of rapid and unexpected stardom. Nevertheless, within five years of their debut single, the band had released 3 top 3 albums (four if you count ‘The Memphis Sessions’ – the original Memphis recordings released in 1988), culminating in the number 1, ‘High on the Happy Side’ in 1992.
It was an unprecedented run of success for a Glasgow based band, made more remarkable at the time by the decision not to follow the well-worn path to London and retain their based and label / management company in Glasgow. Few pop careers have emerged and been orchestrated from an old stableyard in Maryhill. A free concert at Glasgow Green in 1989 attracted not only a huge turnout (estimated at more than 75000) but also reflected their oft-repeated mantra of wanting to give something back to the city.
From the dole to millionaires, Wet Wet Wet are undoubtedly a complex and contradictory product of the post-industrial city, Thatcherite economics and the entrepreneurial ambitions it encouraged. But this should not detract from a fleeting brilliance based around a great batch of songs (mostly written pre-success), a totally unencumbered white soul voice and grounded but unlimited ambition.
What could possibly go wrong?