(New to the countdown? Catch up here.)
Adam Curry returns to introduce “Terence Trent D’Arby, with the first number-one hit of his career.” At the time, “first” seemed an entirely reasonable adjective in that sentence, although “last” or “only” would prove just as accurate. Curry continues, “It’s from an album that he claimed was the most brilliant debut from any artist this decade and it was better than the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album.” Ah, the things people used to say to get attention in the British music press.
Curry throws to another clip from the same D’Arby interview we saw before “Sign Your Name” a few hours back at #71. D’Arby is still being filmed in the hallway of an awards show; there’s more people in the background now and he has to speak louder, with an accent more British than American: “The reason that I’m sharp, if I could use that, is because I’ve got rough edges. If I would sand those edges down, I would no longer be sharp, I wouldn’t be cutting.” D’Arby pulls a few braids out of his face; he probably had to do that a lot. “Which is more important?” he asks. “Selling lots and lots of records or being respected as a viable serious artist?”
If D’Arby has an answer, we don’t hear it, because we cut to the video for “Wishing Well,” and see him in black and white, walking through a public park, wearing sunglasses and a big puffy hat. He passes by a beautiful brunette girl sitting on a bench; she looks up at him.
Cut to color footage of a set draped with a large copper cloth. In the foreground is an antique microphone; in the background are three guys in the band, all wearing sunglasses and slapping their instruments in time with the drumbeat. D’Arby slides into the frame as if somebody greased the floor. He overshoots the microphone and sings “Kissing like a bandit, stealing time” as if he’s barely aware of where the mic is. The effect is cool rather than confused. For the next line, he looks into the camera, apparently wanting to emphasize “underneath the sycamore tree” as if it were an important clue in a million-dollar scavenger hunt.
Closeup: the silver sheriff’s star on the left breast pocket of D’Arby’s jacket. D’Arby keeps singing, letting us observe that he appears to be wearing a mock turtleneck.
Back to the park: D’Arby sits down on the same bench as the brunette. She is reading a newspaper; he unfolds one too.
In color on the set: D’Arby shimmying his shoulders, bobbing in time to the music, and attempting to seduce the microphone. On the line “I’m falling in love with you,” he strikes a pose, extending his leg in one of those diagonal postures Bob Fosse loved so much. There’s a quick flash of D’Arby in front of eight black-clad dancers, all striking the same pose. If this were a movie, a vignette like that would be a sign that D’Arby was cracking up under the pressure. In other words: can D’Arby play the Black Swan?
Quick scene in the park, D’Arby is flirting with the brunette, who just wants to read her newspaper–which is the Paris daily, Le Monde. (She might be the same model who played “Frenchie” in the “Sign Your Name” video; at the very least, we can tell D’Arby has a thing for beautiful Frenchwomen. The two videos form a nice diptych of seduction and separation.)
On the set, D’Arby flips his braids around. The semi-coherent lyrics are “A wishing well of crocodile cheers / Sing”–and when he gets to “sing,” he flips his hands up and gives a comic look into the camera, a rare moment where he punctures his own self-importance.
Park: D’Arby keeps macking on the brunette. She purses her lips and looks away, bored. Given that she’s reading a French newspaper, there’s no guarantee she understands anything he’s saying.
Set: D’Arby snaps his fingers up by his cheekbones, as serious and precise as if he were doing open-heart surgery. “Wishing Well” can be precisely carbon-dated by its production, especially the drums and the synthesizers. As a song, it’s a catchy piece of nonsense. But as a single, it’s still a marvel, mostly because of D’Arby’s voice: rough but sweet, capable of sliding elegantly from conversational tones to upper-register squealing.
Park: D’Arby keeps jabbering, and finally, the girl laughs.
Set: D’Arby does a little stuttering dance. When he gets to the “riverboat gambler” line, he mimes the tossing of dice. Overliteral acting out of lyrics: never a good idea.
Black and white: D’Arby has convinced the brunette to leave the park and get a drink with him at a café. We can see now that she’s wearing a leather jacket, and generally, looks tougher than he does. In a fight, the smart money’s on her. To make the cameraman’s life easier, they’re sitting side by side.
“So you want to be a midnight rambler,” D’Arby sings, with twitchy fingertips and a knowing grin. Um, wasn’t the midnight rambler of Stones fame a rapist-murderer? Emphasizing the D’Arby-grows-unhinged subtext, we get another Bob Fosse/Black Swan flash. The camera tracks in for a close-up as D’Arby bobs in time to the music.
Breaking news from black-and-white land! D’Arby is doing very well with the brunette, and has progressed to whispering in her ear and nuzzling her neck.
Back to color. Damn, D’Arby looks skinny. More intense finger-snapping, and then some herky-jerky choreography. It’s mimicked by the backup singers, in sunglasses and white turtlenecks, and it’s sufficiently odd that I wonder if they’re deliberately mocking D’Arby.
Clips of the (interracial, but mostly white) band: the drummer has a minimal kit; the two guitarists and the bassist swivel back and forth in the rhythm of the song. D’Arby reappears to throw his hair back and say “on the beat now, unh,” as if he were a junior James Brown, leading a bunch of white British guys and a drum machine. The white-turtleneck pair make minimal pointing gestures. Okay, they’re definitely taking the piss.
We interrupt this video for a black-and-white news flash: D’Arby has gotten the brunette into bed. He is lying shirtless, reading a book. She has her clothes on and is looking at the same book.
A saxophonist emerges from behind D’Arby, honking away, doubling the bassline. D’Arby responds by pulling out every dance move he knows, pivoting, grabbing, vibrating, leaning, flipping. He kicks the microphone stand away, pulls it back, kicks it behind him, pulls it back one more time, and does a split. D’Arby’s been paying attention to Prince. (And somewhere in England, Roachford is paying attention to D’Arby.)
Meanwhile, in black-and-white, D’Arby and the girl are naked under their bedsheets, kissing each other gently. For those of you keeping score at home, D’Arby got her into bed in under three and a half minutes. Then we switch back to color: D’Arby does another split, just in case you missed the first one.
“Wishing Well” hit #1 on the Billboard singles charts (for one week). You can watch the video here.