36. Holding On To You – Terence Trent D’Arby

For all the music that we hear, it’s very rare for a song to actually stop you in your tracks. Yet that’s what happened to me when I first heard Terence Trent D’Arby’s Holding On To You in early 1995.

Album cover of Terence Trent D'Arby's Vibrator

I would have been living up in Edinburgh in those days, and vividly remember this coming on the radio as I was setting off one morning, presumably to lectures or perhaps a spot of busking in Rose Street. I just stood there motionless until the song had played through, before wandering out into the Scottish cold in a mild daze.

I left the east side for a west coast beauty
A girl who burned my thoughts like kisses
She was down by street decree
She swore she’d pull my best years out of me

I may not have even realised this was Terence Trent D’Arby, an artist some might have all but dismissed in those days. His huge chart success in the 80s, and seemingly unavoidable presence in every bloomin’ issue of Smash Hits magazine, would see him lumped together with the intolerable mainstream pop dross of that era. Not for me, that stuff: I was into far cooler things. Like Bon Jovi and Europe.

In retrospect, TTD was a cut above the ubiquitous Stock Aitken Waterman-produced bubblegum of that era. I mean, the boy sure could sing, for a start.

Almost a decade later, on Holding On To You, that voice is in scintillating form too, as Tel channels his inner Otis Redding or Sam Cooke to tell us all about his “tangerine girl” with “tambourine eyes” and a “chamomile smile”. I have no idea what any of those things are, but she does sound nice.

Why me of all the tough-talking boys?
I guess she heard my heartbeat through the noise

Her face was my favourite magazine
Her body was my favourite book to read

The lyrics are sheer poetry. Which raises issues for Terence since:

All poets must have an unrequited love
As all lovers must have thought-provoking fears

But the redemption is there, if only Terence will allow it:

Holding on to you means letting go of pain
Means letting go of tears
Means letting go of rain
Holding on to you
Means letting sorrows heal
Means letting go of what’s not real

He’s pretty much nailed what it’s like though, hasn’t he.

The entire piece is written, arranged and produced by TTD himself, but unlike many tracks on Vibrator, he does let other musicians have a go at performing it, at least. Which is perhaps for the best, because the arrangements are worth it. The horns are straight out of 1960s Memphis, and layered with fuzz-wah soaked guitar melodies. The voice is front and centre, of course, and it all combines into something unique and quite special.

By 1995 the name “Terence Trent D’Arby” was not long for this world, the artist formerly known thereas soon renaming himself Sananda Maitreya due to, I don’t know, a three-headed octopus Buddha ordering him to do so in a dream, probably. It’s hard to be certain whether anyone noticed, either way. But he’s still out there, plying his own completely bonkers furrow.

The jury is perhaps still out on much of the more recent stuff, but there’s plenty of it to explore. I’ll stick some of examples on the playlist, along with some of the earlier stuff, and one or two things from Stax—that label clearly being a big influence in the making of this song.

Artist: Terence Trent D’Arby
Album: Vibrator
Writer: Terence Trent D’Arby
Producer: Terence Trent D’Arby
Released: Columbia, 1995

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