Monday, February 6

‘The original title was Wouldn’t it Be Nice – it felt meaningless’: how Nik Kershaw made Wouldn’t It Be Good | pop and rock

Nik Kershaw, singer-songwriter

I was unemployed and living in a crummy rented farm cottage in the Essex countryside. It was a frustrating period, recording demos and hoicking the demo tape up to London. I’d spent a lot of time not getting a deal. Then Mickey Modern became my manager and got me signed to MCA records.

Wouldn’t It Be Good was written in the knowledge I had a record contract, things were starting to happen and I was heading for world domination. Why was it so melancholy? You’d have to ask my analyst. I had so much confidence, which hadn’t been beaten out of me yet. I spent time on the lyrics but didn’t question where they came from. It’s about envy from two people’s perspectives.

The song came together in the studio. I knew I wanted it to sound aggressive but the distorted guitar chords caused a lot of clashes – it wasn’t a very pleasant sound. I’d been listening to Queen for years – Brian May had been using guitars like that but not as a complete bed to a song or chorus, which gave it a unique quality.

video was shot by Storm Thorgerson. I’ve never completely figured out what it’s about or how the lyrics fit with aliens. This was before green screen and the only way an image could be projected on to something was by covering it in Scotchlite reflective tape. I wore a calico suit with this tape stuck all over it, which kept coming off. We shot the final scene at Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory in Cambridge. It was January, dark and freezing. I was a bit baffled by the video but loved it and knew it would get played. That was Storm’s remit.

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Live Aid felt really special. I don’t remember anything about being on stage other than the fear of having 2 billion people watching and desperately trying not to fuck up, and then fucking up. I forgot the words to Wouldn’t It Be Good. I knew I’d forgotten them about 30 seconds before I was supposed to utter them. I sang the wrong words but did at least sing something.

I was overawed by the company I was in. I remember sitting on the minibus after the finale to go back to Wembley Conference Centre. I suddenly became aware that the bloke behind me was David Bowie. I had two minutes to try to summon up the courage to speak to him but couldn’t do it – I couldn’t think of anything at all to say.

I find it very difficult to explain this period. It’s almost like I wasn’t there but I know I was because it’s on YouTube. My feet didn’t touch the ground for two years. It was like my life was on rails and I couldn’t get off the train. I was doing what I had dreamed of. It was insanely exciting but there was also this underlying fear, and I was by no means the darling of the press. I wasn’t prepared to be a public figure. I certainly wasn’t ready for the negative attention.

Peter CollinsProducer

Charlie Eyre hired me to produce Pass the Dutchie by Musical Youth. It was a big hit and cemented our professional relationship. I heard Nik’s demos and thought he was brilliant. He was fairly different when we met, there was no posing or posturing and we got straight down to the business of making his debut album, Human Racing, at Whitechapel’s Sarm East Studios.

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Nik was the first singer-songwriter I’d produced. I went in with a completely open mind. I knew my taste of him was very commercial and some of his stuff needed more impact to get on the radio.

The original title was Wouldn’t It Be Nice. “Nice” felt meaningless to me and I persuaded Nik to change it. We decided to use real rather than programmed drums, which proved a major breakthrough. The engineer, Julian Mendelsohn, also recommended doubling the guitar solo with horns. Jerry Hey, who worked with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, recorded them in Los Angeles.

It was a complex production with an unusual structure, which was a major part of its appeal. I remember trying to get Nik to put it into a more conventional pop format and he wouldn’t, which I totally accepted. I had no doubt it was going to be a monster. Nik was so committed and dynamic in his performance. The way he delivered the main lyric was unique for the time.

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