“Perfect” was the UK Number One record 30 years ago this week. Written by Fairground Attraction member Mark E. Nevin, it wasn’t an obvious candidate for a Number One song in the late 1980s.
Not a synthesiser in sight…no sequins anywhere…no elaborate hairstyles…how could it possibly have got to the top of the charts in 1988?
It was an eclectic time for pop music. The year had started with the Pet Shop Boys and “Always On My Mind” at Number One. We cycled through Kylie (“I Should Be So Lucky”), The Timelords (“Doctorin’ The Tardis”…don’t ask…), Bros (“I Owe You Nothing”…don’t ask to the power of don’t ask…) and the very underappreciated S-Express with “The Theme From S-Express”, before ending the year with Cliff Richard and “Mistletoe And Wine”.
Truly the year there was something for everyone…
In amongst all this madness, a folkie song with a bohemian feel came along in May of 1988. It felt like a troupe of wandering street minstrels might have put the song together. It could have been sung pretty much as it was on a street corner somewhere without amplification and lost very little of its radio feel.
The way “Perfect” was put together, it stood out against Kylie’s slick Stock-Aitken-Waterman production, the frankly bizarre (and not in a good way) “Doctorin’ The Tardis” and the sophisticated sound of S-Express.
And, like all good songs, “Perfect” explores a timeless theme. Fairground Attraction guitarist Mark E. Nevin wrote it about someone who was tired of just drifting through life and settling for second best in their romantic relationships.
You know the sort of thing. You start going out with someone and almost without realising it, you’ve found yourself in some sort of relationship. You drift along for months, perhaps years, before you realise you’ve convinced yourself to be happy with second best all this time and what you should really do is start again and find someone special.
Someone who cares about you as much as you want to care about them.
Someone you want to share your life with, not just pass the time with.
That’s a difficult decision to take…and a harder one to implement…but in the long run, it’s the only way to achieve lasting happiness.
As Fairground Attraction put it…
I don’t want half-hearted love affairs
I need someone who really cares
Life is too short to play silly games
I’ve promised myself I won’t do that again
If you’re anything like me, you’ll make that promise to yourself more than once and break it many times over. Like the New Year resolution to join a gym, go on a diet and lose weight which doesn’t make it into February, promises like that are easy to make and hard to keep.
But Mark E. Nevin pretty much got the sentiment right when he wrote…
It’s got to be perfect, it’s got to be worth it, yeah
Too many people take second best
But I won’t take anything less
It’s got to be, yeah, perfect
Too many people do take second best. For large parts of my life, second best seemed an over-ambitious aspiration from my perspective well down in double figures somewhere.
Second best can become a tempting place to stay. Even if you know it’s not perfect, you console yourself with your track record of much worse decisions in the past and become reluctant to move on. You convince yourself that things will get better, change will happen and you’ll keep moving in the direction of perfect over time.
But mostly you’re fooling yourself. Most experiences never get better than the way they start off.
That first bite of chocolate cake is heavenly. By the 100th you’re feeling distinctly queezy.
The first sip of a cold beer on a hot day is refreshing. Several bottles later, you wish you’d never started.
And someone you take up with who isn’t the love of your life at that very moment never will be.
Love isn’t something you grow into, like the school clothes your mother bought you. It’s there or it isn’t right from the off.
And 30 years ago this week, I fell in love right from the off when my daughter was born.
I remember her first smile, the way her little hand grabbed my finger and the way she snuggled against me when I fed her and I could breathe in that lovely “baby hair” smell.
If you want a working definition of perfect, that does it for me.
So it seems entirely appropriate that 30 years ago this week, when my perfect little girl came into the world, the song at the top of the UK charts was Fairground Attraction with “Perfect”…
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”. You can also follow me on Medium (here)to get new articles as soon as they’re published. And why not check out my book “No Words, No Song”, where I write about more great songs like this one, available in the Kindle Bookstore (here).