Guitar on the A-side.
"I remember sitting in the recording studio with Billy and he sang the vocal lines to me, (which hadn't been recorded yet,) without a microphone, over the backing tracks so that I could get a feel for where the guitar might lay. We got on really well and he was enthusiastic and charming and, of course, an absolutely wonderful singer."
An essay by Mike Nelson (no relation):
1982 – 83 had seen a run of hit singles for The Associates. 'Sulk' had been judged Album of the Year in the music press' judgements of 1982 and … the band had promptly self-destructed as its first major US tour approached. Though it was still fairly straightforward for remarkable frontman Billy MacKenzie to acquire a major label recording contract with which to continue his musical career, the challenge was that of creating an album to follow the complex and unique 'Sulk'.
By the beginning of 1985, The Associates 'brand' was in big trouble. The 'Perhaps' album had been recorded in full at least twice, had overrun all cost limits and had gone on to provide disappointing sales. The smooth, funky pop of "Those First Impressions" and "Waiting For The Loveboat" simply didn’t work for the pop-buying public, but, as ever for a commercial artist, that didn't mean that main Associate Billy MacKenzie knew what 'Perhaps' should instead have been. If you don't know what's wrong, what do you do to put it right?
Meanwhile, whenever there were no financial and record label pressures, MacKenzie always preferred to be bold and experimental. Given a now-shaky relationship with the Warners label, where could this fit in to what might happen next? Billy was still performing live and including adventurous unreleased songs such as "This Flame" and "Obsession Magnificent" in his live sets. He had certainly not simply 'sold out' for commercial success.
In June '85, MacKenzie recorded four demos in Edinburgh. Versions of two of these songs would eventually become tracks on 1990's 'Wild and Lonely', the first album he would release under his own name. Another song, "You Never Thought (That You'd Be The One)" seems to have vanished without trace. The fourth was "Take Me To The Girl", and this song, "an upbeat dance track with a loungey Euro-flavoured melody" (as MacKenzie's biographer Tom Doyle describes it) was selected as a possible single, probably to stand alone to remind the British public that The Associates were still out there.
In London, in July or August, the single was recorded at Morgan Studios. Sitting at the recording desk for the sessions was Peter Robinson – known to UK chartwatchers as producer of the immensely successful but MOR-as-can be 'Breakfast In America' by Supertramp, and more recently producer of Rush's more challenging 'Grace Under Pressure'.
The guitarist for "Take Me To The Girl" was none other than Bill Nelson, personally asked to take part by MacKenzie. Bill recounts:
"It's certainly me on the funky, guitar rhythm parts and any e-bow stuff. I just remember Billy singing me the vocal over the backing tracks of some songs. His voice was really strong."
The only definite products of the sessions were four different versions of "Take Me To The Girl": a 7" single version, and extended 12" version, an instrumental and a slowed and stripped-down piano-led alternative entitled "The Girl That Took Me". Bill is to be heard most clearly on the 12" version (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThT0sLihs00) and the instrumental (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=te7OwbrXH9s). The production on both of these and the 7" version now seems so obviously too smooth and syrupy, and there are indications that within weeks, MacKenzie felt uncomfortable about both it and its wood-nymphs-in-the-castle-ruins video. Notably, the only touch of sparky energy and humour audible and visible across the entire single release was a cameo appearance by one of Billy's whippets in the video. But the song is melodic, catchy and lushly romantic. What a pity it missed any chart success whatsoever. Bill Nelson said recently:
“In my opinion, the production really dates the recordings in a big way, even more than my own recordings at that time. Billy's voice should have had far less reverb, been more solidly 'up-front' to show its strengths. But, it was the '80s, the era of Yuppies and power-lunches.”
Of interest to Bill Nelson aficionados is the question of what else was recorded in those sessions. The only other B-side included across the 7" and 12" singles is "Perhaps Perhaps", an alternative take (produced by Heaven 17's Martyn Ware) from the sessions for the 'Perhaps' album, but only weeks later MacKenzie was recording a Radio 1 session including "Take Me To The Girl", "Give", "Obsession Magnificent", and his first broadcast attempt at Blondie's "Heart of Glass". A Bill Nelson newsletter from Autumn '85 says that Bill "played on a couple of tracks from the new Associates album and indeed plays a short guitar part on the new single", and Bill more recently stated that he "played on a couple of tracks, maybe more". And Bill remembers being sung to by Billy, using backing tracks for "some songs so that [Bill] could get a handle on how they would end up". The question really is what other songs were these and where are the recordings to be found? It is likely that one, two or three more Associates songs (almost certainly unreleased ones) include the guitar skills and artistry of Mr Nelson. Any clues, dear readers?
After a few Autumn gigs, Billy MacKenzie travelled to Europe for much of 1986 and half of 1987. Out of these adventures came collaborations with some bold, creative musicians from Switzerland, Germany and Austria, and his working relationship with Yello was particularly productive. His next album, however, 'The Glamour Chase', was a whole new kind of disaster – completed for release in 1989 but shelved until 2002. The next proper release was instead the 'solo' album, 'Wild And Lonely' in 1990.
Tracking what happened to the Bill Nelson 1985 collaboration is fairly difficult, but Bill had a sad postscript to add to the story:
"Later, in the '90s, and not long before Billy sadly committed suicide, he called me up wanting to collaborate with me on songwriting and playing. He had no studio budget but, at that time, I had no proper home studio set-up either, (living in a rented apartment after my divorce,) so had to explain that it was extremely difficult for me to provide him with the right recording facilities. We left it at that, but not so long after, he was gone. A great talent who should have been served, and advised, better."
Billy Mackenzie died on January 22nd, 1997.