Take That, 30 years on – we CAN rule the world!
Who would of thought back in the Summer of 1991 that five young dancers would, eventually, hit the big time and even, yes, become credible pop stars? But perhaps, ultimately, still here thirty years later, in reduced form, still recording and still pleasing thousands at their live shows. Probably not RCA Records, who after three releases, were ready to drop the quintet as a non starter. Perhaps those initial releases were not strong enough and it did take releasing a cover version before things changed for the better and forever more.
Howard Donald (b.1968), Jason Orange (b.1970), Gary Barlow (b.1971), Mark Owen (b.1973) and Robbie Williams (b.1974) were ‘put together’ by manager Nigel Martin-Smith in 1989-1990 in response to the American boy band New Kids On The Block. Britain would have its own teen sensations and they too would enjoy chart success as their US counterparts had done at the end of the 80’s. The only difference being that instead of having their songs written for them, this group already had a talented songwriter amongst them. Gary Barlow. Aged 15, Barlow had written a ballad, “A Million Love Songs”, and Martin-Smith was so impressed, he encouraged the now 19 year old to write more. Dancers Howard and Jason were brought in for the even ‘beefcake’ appeal while Mark and Robbie’s young good looks would appeal to the teen screamers.
After months of promotion and playing small clubs, Take That were launched commercially on 12th July 1991 with the single, “Do What U Like”, co-written by Barlow and Ray Hedges, later to work with the likes of Bryan Adams, Tom Jones and Boyzone. Despite all their efforts, the song failed to chart. Undaunted, work continued on building the profile of the fivesome and in November that same year, a follow up, “Promises”, co-penned by Barlow and Graham Stack, and produced by Pete Hammond, better known for his association with Stock Aitken Waterman, became the ‘prayed’ for big break. It wasn’t. Although it did break the UK top 40, albeit at No.38 before sinking into the bargain bins of record shops with quick haste. By early 1992, Take That and RCA were desperate for something to happen otherwise…well, otherwise! All hope of a future now rested on “Once You’ve Tasted Love”, released in February.
It was more pure-power-pop and Take That, now popular more for taking their clothes off rather than having hit records, once again hoped that third time would be lucky for them as had been the case for other acts in music history. The song failed yet again, reaching No.47 and then doing the usual disappearing act. By now recording for the boys debut album was at an advanced stage and rather than risk losing money spent on recording costs and producers time, decided to release one more recording before cutting the wire for good. This time, for safety, a cover version was recorded, the Tavares 1975 US top ten hit “It Only Takes A Minute”, which was not so big in the UK. Thankfully, all could breathe a sigh of relief as in early June, the song debuted inside the top twenty and climbed to a No.7 high!
With the album complete, there was time for one more song, “I Found Heaven”, to precede it. Written by former Miracles singer Billy Griffin, it took the band back into the top twenty when it peaked at No.15 two months after “It Only Takes A Minute”, although later confessions from band members stated that they absolutely hated the song and as a consequence, do not perform it as part of their live act to this day! The album, “Take That and Party”, followed just a few weeks later and would. eventually, peak at No.2 in the UK and receive two Platinum discs for sales there. The autumn saw the release of Barlow’s now long overdue self-penned track, “A Million Love Songs”. It would give the group their first original top ten hit when it made No.7 in the UK but Take That would surpass that high at the end of the year with a cover of Barry Manilow’s “Could It Be Magic?”, which would not only make No.3 at home, but would become the boys first charting single in Australia and in many parts of Europe.
Now that the group had found chart success it was time to build on that and in early 1993 a brand new song, “Why Can’t I Wake Up With You?” was released, making No.2 in the UK. Less than a year after its release, Take That were back in the studio writing and recording their second album and in June released the second new single, “Pray”. After a number three and a number two, logically came a number one and “Pray” entered the chart at that very position. Take That had finally arrived and proved all the doubters wrong. The song charted in more than twenty countries around the globe and back home was the 18th best seller of the year. Just before the album’s launch in the Autumn. Take That ‘fired’ another scorcher with a cover of Dan Hartman’s 1979 US chart hit “Relight My Fire” which featured chart comeback queen Lulu on guest vocals. The song produced another number one and it seemed the boys were now invincible.
“Everything Changes” was the name of the album that followed just two weeks later in October 1993 and like the two singles, it too entered that UK chart at the very top, becoming the fourth best seller of the year and receiving four Platinum discs for sales in excess of 1.2 million copies. Take That now went for the biggest prize of all and put in a bid for the Christmas number one that year with many fans favourite Mark Owen on lead vocals for the ballad, “Babe”. They did make it three number one’s in a row but not Christmas week. That was given to a man dressed in a pink rubber suit who could only say the word “blobby”, many times over! The boys were also now attracting big audiences across Europe and ‘down under’ with their songs and that continued into 1994 with yet another UK chart topper with the album’s title track although the fifth single, another Barlow ballad, “Love Ain’t Here Anymore”, broke that run when it made No.3 in June, failing to outperform Wet Wet Wet’s chart topper “Love Is All Around” and US band All 4 One’s “I Swear”.
Just as with the “Everything Changes” era, Take That paused for less than a second before moving on and in October 1994 released a brand new song, “Sure”, which put them back at the top of the UK singles chart, although it’s longevity and sales were not on par with previous number ones and “Sure” disappeared almost as quickly as it had arrived. As work began on album number three over the winter of 1994 and 95, the next single was issued as early as March that year, another Gary penned and lead slowey, “Back For Good”. Once again it produced a UK number one as well as in a further ten countries, but more importantly, it broke the US singles chart and the top ten across the Atlantic when it was released towards the end of 1995. Take That could now truly be compared to the Beatles and The Stones as Britian’s biggest music export of the 1990’s. The song went on to sell over three million copies worldwide, their biggest yet but just as fame and fortune were at their very height, a major blow was dealt in the Spring of 1995 that potentially, and inevitably did, bring an end to Take That.
The third album, “Nobody Else” was released in May 1995 and went to No.1 in eleven countries as well as peaking at No.69 on the US album chart but just before the third single, “Never Forget”, was released in July, Robbie Williams announced his was quitting the band after disagreements with the other band members and with increasing concern over his own public appearance and the direction his own life was taking. “Never Forget” was duly launched and topped the UK chart once more but unlike previous album, this would become the final release from “Nobody Else” as the remaining members went on tour for the rest of 1995 as a quartet. But perhaps feeling the loss of one band member as well as each individuals desire to do something different, the boys called a press conference on 13th February 1996 and announced they were splitting up. But not before releasing a cover of the Bee Gees number one “How Deep Is Your Love?” and a greatest hit album, both of which went to number one in multiple countries and raked in a few more Platinum discs.
And that was that.
Or was it?…
After the band finished promoting the “Greatest Hits” album, the various members embarked on their own solo careers. Gary was first off the mark with his single “Forever Love” and the album “Open Road” both topping the charts while Mark followed later in 1996 with his top three hit, “Child”. For Robbie, it was an unsure start with a cover of George Michael’s “Freedom“. He was mocked and made a laughing stock by many, but when he played his killer ace, “Angels”, the world took a different opinion. Robbie could do no wrong as multiple Platinum discs rained down him as well as sell out concerts and critical adulation. In 2005, a new best off was released, “Never Forget – The Ultimate Collection”, which confirmed interest in the band as it went 8 times Platinum at home. But the big news was that Take That were coming back! Well, at least four of them were.
Refreshed and regrouped, Gary, Mark, Howard and Jason set about writing new material and regaining their crown as Britain’s biggest boy band. Fans only had to wait another year before a brand new single, “Patience”, arrived in late 2006 and it quickly found its way to the top of the charts around the world. Their first original song for eleven years set the second coming of Take That perfectly as their studio album, “Beautiful World”, was follow suit and shift more than 2.8 million copies at home and a further two million globally. The album spawned the much used TV advert ‘hymn’, “Shine” (UK No.1) and the sublime “I’d Wait For Life” as they played live to hundreds of thousands of delighted fans, they really were on top of the world. You could almost say they ‘ruled the world’! And they did in December 2007 when they recorded “Rule The World” for the film ‘Stardust’. The song represented the zenith of the comeback and would register their biggest hit since “Back For Good” and only their second single to date to gain a double Platinum certification in the UK for sales of more than 1.2 million copies.
If 2007 Take That ruled the world then 2008 would be the ‘greatest day’. That was the title of their new song and it put them back on top of the charts for an eleventh time, as was the album that followed, “The Circus”, which would sell millions more records and feature two further important hit singles, “Up All Night” and “Said It All”. But perhaps the biggest news of all came the following year, 2010. A reconciliation and a regrouping as it was announced that Robbie would join the band after an absence of fifteen years to record their next long player. With the lead single, “The Flood”, giving the band their biggest hit since “Rule The World”, the complete Take That, as it once was and will always be remembered, delighted sold out stadiums with their final and most complete comeback. Supporting the album, “Progress”, which had sold over six million copies, this rebooted fivesome made it clear that old rifts had been healed and they all looked far more at ease with each other both in public and on stage.
“Progress” was a one off and it was made clear that after recording and touring with the album, Robbie would seek to return to his own solo career. What was perhaps not expected was there would be another departure taking the That from five down to three! In the aftermath of “Progress” and the singles “Kidz” and “Love Love”, Jason Orange announced his retirement from the group. So what would that do? Another split or a permanent end to the band? After some time for reflection and rest with eight years of non-stop writing, recording and touring, the remaining three members decided to continue as a trio and in 2014 delivered their first number one single since “Greatest Day”.
“These Days” was pure, joyous Take That at their very best and any fears that the magic would be gone for good were quickly swept away. The aptly titled “III” album would give the ‘boys’ a sixth consecutive number one studio album in the UK as they took to the road once more, in depleted form, and give a show to end all shows with the Take That Live experience. There was no rest either as 2017 saw yet another album launched together with another big single, “Giants”. “Wonderland” and the Wonderland tour saw yet more elaborate sets as well as live streaming of the tour to cinema screens across the UK.
With thirteen years now behind them since the return, Gary, Mark and Howard set about packaging everything in one album as well joining the culture of the time, ‘reimagining’ of old classics, re-recorded and given a different feel. Take That would release their ultimate, ultimate greatest hits, “Odyssey“, at the end of 2018 along with the swinging 60’s sounding new track, “Out Of Our Heads”. The album quickly planted itself at number one and was Platinum in no time while they took to the road in 2019 to play football stadiums and concert areas across Europe that would see them perform to more than 600,000 people. The extravaganza would also feature some very special guests with 80’s pop icon Rick Astley doing the warm up and veteran singer Lulu ‘coming out’ for “Relight My Fire”. With the advent of global lockdowns in 2020, Take That’s numbers improved as Robbie rejoined for some online performances much to the delight of restricted homebound fans. And what of the future? As each member still pursues their own individual avenues, they collectively have not ruled out new music or playing live. And who knows, Jason could always make a comeback as well…stranger things have been known to happen!