Love etc.Beautiful People

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2009
Original album - Yes
Producer - Brian Higgins, Xenomania
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - single (in Germany only)

Neil and Chris wrote this song with a view toward it serving as the theme song for the 2008 British TV comedy series with the same title, but the show's producers decided against using it, preferring something more "upbeat." Despite its strong sixties sound—Chris has said that they wanted it to sound like the Mamas and the Papas, of whom both he and Neil consider themselves fans—lyrically it's very much an artifact of contemporary "celebrity culture."

In a wry commentary on (and implicit criticism of) that very phenomenon, Neil assumes the role of one of the millions of "ordinary people" whose mundane but stressful workaday worlds leave them longing for more glamorous and exciting lives, dreaming "about a perfect me." As Neil told interviewer Lawrence Ferber: "I'm imagining I'm a woman waiting at the bus stop in the rain in London thinking about how shit life is and looking around and seeing a newsstand with magazines like Heat and OK and Hello with Victoria Beckham on the cover, thinking, 'Yes, I would like to live like that.'"

This, in fact, is a very large part of the function that celebrities serve in the modern world: they provide vicarious escape for those of us who wish we were like them. It even drives much of the popularity of such contemporary TV shows as Pop Idol (and its various international spinoffs, such as American Idol) and X-Factor. But the Boys can't help but comment backhandedly on how unrealistic this whole notion is, such as when Neil sings, "Now I can see myself without a care in the world"—as if anyone, even the rich and famous, is truly free of care. (It's just that they have different cares. As F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, "The rich are different from you and me," to which Ernest Hemingway just as famously replied, "Yes, they have more money.")

"Beautiful People" features orchestral arrangements by Canadian violinist/singer Owen Pallett of the band (but virtual solo project) Final Fantasy. It also includes both guitar and harmonica played by Johnny Marr. I could well be overlooking something, but "Young Offender" and "Postscript" are the only previous PSB songs I can think of that use harmonica-like sounds, but those are generated by a synth-harp and a keyboard sampler, respectively. Neil has confirmed, however, that this and another Yes track, "Pandemonium," are the first instances of actual harmonica in a PSB recording.

In fact, it's Johnny's harmonica that underscores the basic thrust of "Beautiful People." Toward the end of the track, a string ensemble takes over, playing a "beautiful" passage that smacks of upper-crust elitism. But then that harmonica—the archetypal instrument of the proletarian lower classes, much beloved by folksingers everywhere—interrupts the proceedings, putting an end to it all. As beautiful as those fantasies might be, reality always comes crashing back for the vast majority of us who lead more ordinary, humdrum lives.

Surprisingly (at least to many fans), the decision was made to release "Beautiful People" in early October 2009 as a single—but only in Germany. This single release was specifically requested by EMI Germany, which felt strongly that it had an excellent chance of being a major hit there. As it turns out, it did hit the German singles chart, but made it only up to #64.



Officially released

List cross-references