Wreckless Eric: Whole Wide World (Stiff Records)

Having already featured Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and Nick Lowe in this series, it’s now time for another artist from the Stiff stable.

October 1977 saw many exciting acts booked to take to the stage of the Glasgow Apollo. Dr Feelgood would play together with Mink DeVille; The Stranglers were pencilled in to make their Apollo debut backed by The Rezillos; The Clash were coming too and so were The Suburban Studs, although they were only a support act and the headliners for their show held no appeal for me. I’m still not an AC/DC fan. Then there was the Live Stiffs package tour featuring five different acts that were each playing twenty minute sets before coming together onstage to end the evening with a rambunctious rendition of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.

I wanted to see all five shows but there was a problem – I was a schoolboy and money was tight. I could only afford two tickets at most if I wanted to continue being able to buy a few records and have the odd night out at the dancing.

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. Although The Clash was a definite.

Suffering from a touch of lazyitis, taking on a part time job was something I’d always found easy to avoid. Most of the girls in my class put in a few hours in shops at weekends to supplement their pocket money; many boys delivered newspapers, but there were no rounds on the go at this point. A guy that sat next to me in Geography said he could get me a job as a milk boy. This would entail getting up at five in the morning and then jumping on and off an electric milk float, lugging heavy crates of milk around housing schemes even in the most hellish of weather so households could drink a pinta milka day.

No thanks.

My pal would come into school knackered each and every morning and would remain knackered for most of the day. Half my time in that class was spent nudging him as our teacher attempted to teach us about the tributaries of the Amazon or tell us what the capital city of Yugoslavia was.

One day, on the cusp of becoming sixteen, I bunked off geography and all my other classes with another pal, jumped on an appropriately named 77 bus, and joined a queue in Renfield Street outside the Apollo. Back then, the best way to get your hands on a ticket was at the venue’s box office, waiting patiently while (in our case) attempting to appear much more adult than our years by affecting an air of nonchalance while all the time half expecting to be hauled out the line by some truant officer, whose daily duty might include visiting hotspots such as this where teenagers would regularly skip school.

We’d decided to attend The Stranglers’ date, although if that had sold out, plan B was to spend our cash on the Stiff night. I’m still not entirely sure that we made the right decision but, hey, since then I have managed to see four of those Live Stiffs acts, although not Larry Wallis even though I did like his single of the time Police Car. Here it is accompanied initially by some footage of Larry’s old stomping ground of Portobello Road in Notting Hill from the 1968 film Otley:

Another minimal production job by Nick Lowe, Whole Wide World is utterly wonderful from the two chord Telecaster strum that introduces the song through to Eric Goulden’s impassioned ‘Yeah’ and Nick Lowe’s Duane Eddy-ish outro. The reverb on that guitar is magnificent. The bass is magnificent and even those simple drum thuds but best of all is Eric’s reedy rasp which grows increasingly manic as the song reaches its climax, as he insists that to find his perfect partner he’d go the whole wide wirld, go the whole wide wirld just to find her.

Timeless, perfect pop.

Okay, some smart-arses might complain about the geographical blunder in the lyrics, the Bahamas being technically situated in the Atlantic, outside the Caribbean rim but I like to think that the lyrics reflect the viewpoint of a character who is fictional – and who maybe had a long milk round meaning he could never properly concentrate on his geography lessons. You don’t automatically assume that Mrs Goulden ever advised the young Wreckless that the only girl for him probably lived in an island in the Pacific, do you? Or for that matter that Larry Wallis was actually a police car?

The story of how Eric was signed to Stiff is an unusual one and I wouldn’t necessarily advise young musicians to copy it today if they’re on the lookout for a deal.

The singer got boozed up before handing in a demo to the Stiff offices in London, announcing his arrival by kicking open the door. A tall guy with a beard and a shaggy haircut asked if he could help and Eric informed him that he was ‘one of those cunts that brings tapes into record companies.’ The bearded guy incidentally was Huey Lewis whose terrible band The News went mega in America in the 1980s with tracks like Hip to be Square and The Power of Love. The tape was passed on.

Once outside the office, Eric immediately wanted to forget the way he’d acted. Before too long, Jake Riviera of Stiff phoned and a pessimistic Eric explained that they could re-use the cassette tape rather than going to the trouble of sending it back. Riviera, of course, loved the tape and the punkish bravado displayed by Eric. He asked him if he could make his way back to the office ASAP before trooping over to Pathway Studios to record Whole Wide World.

Nick Lowe on bass as well as guitar. Steve Goulding of The Rumour on drums. Bish bash bosh. Two takes before bouncing the handclaps together with some tambourines. A few days later Wreckless was back to put down his vocal. And then a very long wait before the song was paired with Semaphore Signals to become Buy 16.

Amazingly, the song failed to chart in Britain and only ever sold a tiny fraction of Huey Lewis’s output but in the forty odd years since its release it has endured and arguably grew steadily more popular.

Ten years after its release, The Monkees covered it on their Pool It! album. Twenty years after that The Proclaimers recorded a version for Life with You. Marilyn Manson has performed the song live and Will Ferrell sang it in a film I have never seen. Earlier this year, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day had a go at Whole Wide World too. Not that I have any desire to ever hear any of these.

I have, though, seen and enjoyed Eric perform the song live onstage with singer-songwriter Amy Rigby. And if you don’t know, Amy, who hails from Pittsburgh, P.A. rather than Tahiti or the Bahamas, turned out to be the one for Wreckless with the pair marrying in 2008.

For more on Wreckless Eric click here.

  • Up next, a 1979 British film with one of my favourite ever soundtracks – which includes Whole Wide World.