"I CAN SEE BLUE SKIES WHERE OTHERS SEE GREY"
The 29th of June marks the UK release of Mel & Kim's third single, F.L.M.. The 122 BPM title track from Mel & Kim’s début album was released in 1987, and was a smash hit for the sisters all over the globe, reaching #7 in the UK, #4 in Ireland, #7 in New Zealand as well as smashing the charts across Europe.
The official meaning of the abbreviated title F.L.M. was, as the song lyrics state, "Fun, Love & Money", but, secretly the true meaning was the far less innocent ‘Fuckin' Lovely mate’! Pete Waterman shared, "Every three minutes, Mel would come up [and say] 'fuckin' lovely mate'. 'How's this Mel? 'Fuckin' lovely mate!'" Mel also recalled, “When we went into the studio, they had this little computer, telly box fing and we looked up and it had F.L.M. - like the real words! And we went, ‘The song can’t be called that!’ (laughs)” This expression had become a long running joke between the girls and their producers, and was used as a term to signal a good vocal take in the recording studio, or another round at the obligatory pub visit, following the recording sessions. Due to this, the sisters were understandably a little shocked to be told this was to be the title of their prospective future single!
F.L.M. was recorded alongside Respectable, on October 27th 1986, before the latter was chosen as the sisters second single. Kim recalled, “We went into the studio, and they (Stock & Aitken) said ‘Ow’d you think about calling (it) 'F.L.M.'? and we said ‘You can’t, what would we say in interviews ha ha ha?” The humorous double meaning of the title only adds to the feeling of fun that emanates from the uplifting slice of pop which cemented Mel & Kim's place in pop history.
F.L.M. demonstrates Mike Stock's ability to hone his song writing and production talents to truly reflect the artists he created for, and it is an irresistible mash of house music sounds and vocal effects that bubble and bounce under Mel & Kim’s confident vocal delivery. The track has a pop-tastic retro vibe, with a sound that is more Euro beat than Chicago/London House, and the sisters' vocals display a confidence gained from their prior studio sessions to nail System & Showing Out.
F.L.M. celebrates the merits of ‘fun, love and money’, with the sisters waxing lyrical about their need to go out and make their mark on the world as young independent women. During the tracks' middle eight, Mel & Kim’s studio banter has been sampled to drive home the message of the song. During the initial promotion, Mel recalled the spoken line ‘Boyfriends are boring’. “That’s ‘er [Kim's] bleedin’ one, you know? Ha ha! (They asked) ‘Do you 'ave boyfriends?’, and Kim goes ‘Boyfriends are boring’, and they goes, ‘Would you sleep wiv a guy who bought you a fur coat? And I says, ‘Leave it out.... independence!”
This strong and sassy attitude, delivered with lovable humor, was what the public had come to expect from Mel & Kim, and the song was the perfect choice as their third single.
Kim recalled later, “In the early days we functioned like a family at PWL and Pete was dad. We were all in this together and hungry for success. Our cheeky Cockney/London personalities told stories and SAW were having a ball with it!” Pete Waterman recalled his own individual take on the meaning of the song, much to Matt Aitken's confusion. Pete stated that F.L.M. has a kind of Marxist tract, "Saying we can't carry on like this in a society of plastic cards and fripperies". "Was it?" frowned a puzzled Matt Aitken in response.
Whatever the intention of the song, it was 100% Mel & Kim.
SLEEVE DESIGN, PHOTOGRAPHY & EDITIONS
Brian Aris was commissioned to shoot the sleeve for F.L.M., and the styling continued to facilitate a move to a softer aesthetic for Mel & Kim. Though still dressed in their trademark smart jackets and hats combination, the look for the F.L.M. sleeve is far less constrained, when compared to the hi-fashion clothing the girls wore on the Respectable sleeve, and smarter and more expensive than their urban Showing Out ensembles. Here Mel & Kim wore identical, loose fitting, leather suit jackets, Mel in black and Kim in white, and they both wore hats (bought from high street store Miss Selfridge) which had been designed to be open at the crown, allowing Kathleen Bray to tease the sister’s newly attached hair extensions through the top.
Many of the photographs from this shoot were used in the magazine promotion of F.L.M., including shots with and without the jackets, and some shots from this session were even used to appear as a picture gallery in the official F.L.M. video. A shot from this photo session was also utilized by Supreme Records for the publicity postcards used to promote the F.L.M. single. The majority of the released photographs from this shoot show Kim looking radiant and full of smiles, whilst Mel, though just as beautiful, appears to portray a sadness in her eyes, not seen in many of her promotional photographs prior. However, as melandkim.com exclusively uncovered, there are a number of unreleased shots from the session which show both the sisters' humour still firmly intact (please check the F.L.M. Single II selection in the Galleries to find these amazing shots here).
Unlike their two previous singles, the picture sleeve of the F.L.M. remix 12" edition was altered completely and advertised as a 'Limited Edition New Picture Bag', to alert fans to the F.L.M. - The 2 Groove’s Under 1 Nation Remix . Remixed by Phil Harding and Ian Curnow, the remix samples 70's dance giants Chic (whom Phil and Ian were remixing, through PWL, at the time), and weaves this throughout the track, alongside a host of Chicago house 'jack' samples. The photograph chosen for the remix releases' sleeve was taken from Brian Aris' stunning F.L.M. album shoot, although unlike the album's back-to-back portrait shot, the remix sleeve image shows the sisters (almost) full length, dancing towards the camera and laughing.
In addition to the 7”, 12” and 12” Remix sleeve releases, there was also a 12” picture disc released for F.L.M. which featured the same track listing as the 12" edition. The shot used for the picture disc was another from the F.L.M. album shoot, showing the sisters in a similar back to back pose to their album sleeve image. Inexplicably, a small number of mispressed picture discs made it out of the pressing plant. (These errors are generally caught by quality control before making it out of the plant but, in some cases, the error is not noticed until the records are in the hands of collectors). On first inspection, the F.L.M. picture disc mispress looks identical to the correct pressings... however, on closer inspection the wax stamp on the inner rings of the disc say 'Five Star Picture Disc' - and listeners expecting to hear Mel & Kim may have been disappointed to hear 4 tracks by the British group Five Star (recorded on their Crunchie Tour), instead. This mispress is incredibly rare and definitely one to be sought out by collectors. However, the F.L.M. single release presented, what could be, the rarest of the Mel & Kim releases - an alternative 7" release in a different picture sleeve, and with a different track listing to the main edition. There is little information about this edition, other than it was produced in the UK as a VERY limited run and wasn't made widely available. Confusingly, this edition used the same bar code as the standard UK 7" single, and featured the 7" remix on its A side, backed with an exclusive 3.52 edit of F.L.M. The 2 Grooves Under 1 Nation Remix, (not to be confused with the longer 4.15 edit which was included on the Supreme Records mix album The Cream of Supreme). The sleeve used the same design as the UK remix 12" (but without the word 'Remix' in the upper right corner), and listed the B side to be the instrumental, although the silver label on the vinyl lists the track as 'F.L.M. 2 - Two Grooves Under One Nation Mix'.
A U.K. cassette single was released to promote F.L.M. using the same art work as the regular sleeve releases and this edition featured the F.L.M. The Auto Mix which had only been available as a promo 12” in the UK.
Although there was no official U.K. compact disc single release for F.L.M., it did receive a C.D. release in Europe utilizing an alternative Brian Aris shot from the single sleeve shoot. On the cover Mel and Kim are shot head and bare shoulders with their hair coming through their Miss Selfridge hats. As with the U.K. cassette-single, this C.D. featured F.L.M. – The Auto Mix.
The German Blow Up Release of F.L.M. was printed as a limited edition 7" on red coloured vinyl and limited edition 12", on white & black 'marbled' coloured vinyl, covering both the standard release and the Limited Edition New Picture Bag remix release.
The Netherlands RCA release of F.L.M. utilizes the photography from the UK - 2 Grooves Under 1 Nation Remix release, but incorporates a far less sophisticated font style to title the release, with the 'Mel & Kim' and 'F.L.M.' printed in block white letters. The flip side of this sleeve features an advert for the F.L.M. album gate-fold sleeve release, which included the Respectable/Showing Out Combi Mix one sided bonus 12”.
The Australian F.L.M. 12" single, which was released on Liberation Records, comes in the same picture sleeve as the original UK release, and is a four track release with The 2 Grooves Under 1 Nation Remix and The Extended Version on its A-side, and the Club Mix and Dub Mix of F.L.M. on the B-side. In addition, there was also a four-track cassette single of F.L.M. released in Australia which used the 7" remix, along with The 2 Grooves Under 1 Nation Remix, the Extended Version and the Club Mix.
The Danish edition of the F.L.M. - remix release, on the Mega label, utilizes the same design as the UK remix edition but with the addition of a black border around the picture sleeve.
Prior to its official single release in the UK, F.L.M. was released to DJ's on two promotional 12" singles. The first carried The Mega Club Version of the track, alongside the officially unreleased Alternative Version, whilst the 2nd UK promotional 12" single featured The Auto Mix of F.L.M., which would only be officially available in the UK on the upcoming cassette single, backed with The Showing Out/Respectable Combi Mix.
German Magazine Advert
In addition to the Brian Aris sleeve shoot, which also produced the cover shot for the sister’s official 1988 calendar, two other photo sessions were used in the promotion of the F.L.M. single in the UK. The U.K. weekly music magazine – No 1 – commissioned a fun session by Mike Prior, which was shot the week before Mel & Kim flew out to Japan to restart their single promotion. The photographs capture the girls having fun and camping it up with fist full’s of cash which they bite and grasp energetically for Mike's camera. Not to be outdone, rival U.K. music magazine – Smash Hits – also commissioned an amazing shoot by Paul Rider, which claimed to be searching for the sister’s ‘New Look’! Really this was just an opportunity to highlight the FUN in Fun, Love & Money and the girls are pictured in everything from beautiful tailored outfits to men’s pyjama’s, and even 80's rockers – Zodiac Mindwarp’s stage gear!
The pre-release promotion for F.L.M. began just under two months before the singles release, at The Montreux Pop & Rock Festival, at the start of May 1987. Here Mel & Kim showcased the album version of F.L.M. alongside their other 2 singles, on two nights, to a amazing reaction from the crowds.
Their first Montreux performance of F.L.M. was filmed 14/05/87, and aired, as part of the BBC coverage of the event and is mainly lit in blue and appears dark to the viewer.
The second performance, which was filmed 15/05/87, was more colourfully lit, with yellow and purple spotlights, and the sisters are dressed in the outfits they wore for the Levine and Prior shoot’s they had just undertaken, which were used to promote the That’s The Way It Is single release, eight months later. This superior recording went on to be used as part of the official video for the song and, throughout the performance, the girls appear elated and joyous, and can be seen smiling and shooting each other knowing looks and disbelieving glances at the reception they are receiving.
Originally the sisters were booked to perform at all three nights of the famous European festival however this had to be cut short when Mel appeared to slip in a restaurant, where they were celebrating their success, following their second performance and the back pain she had already been experiencing became intolerable. Not that you would guess it from the energetic performances the girls put in.
Returning to London from the festival, Mel followed orders and took a few weeks to slow down promotion duties before the sisters headed to Tokyo to continue, this time to start the ball rolling there with Showing Out which had just had its official release there. Worryingly Mel collapsed during a club P.A. in Tokyo due to the pain she was experiencing in her back and she was unable to move for the rest of the scheduled trip.
Following their return, Supreme Records issued a statement stating that Mel had crushed vertebrae in her back and had slipped a disk which would inhibit her from promoting the F.L.M. single and recently released album.
As Mel underwent tests to diagnosis the cause of her debilitating back pain, Kim briefly (and bravely) continued some promotion on her own, promoting the F.L.M. video on a small number of T.V. shows, such as the UK's The Roxy, on July 7th. Meanwhile, the UK tabloid press began to publish headlines stating that Mel only had 6 months to live.
Understandably, when Mel received her cancer diagnosis, Kim also withdrew from the public eye to care for her sister privately, and single promotions for F.L.M. stopped.
Supreme Records Publicity Postcard used to promote F.L.M.
Simon West, the director of the girls' first two video clips, was originally hired to direct the F.L.M. video. The locations had been scouted and the storyboards of what promised to be a mega-production had all been agreed, when Mel shockingly found herself unable to promote. With the single pressed and promotions already underway, Supreme Records was sent into crisis. To buy everyone some much needed time, the label quickly acquired the rights to use footage of Mel & Kim's second Montreux performance of F.L.M. (filmed at The Montreux Pop & Rock Festival in May 15/05/87), and this footage was hastily sent out as an in-store promotional video to advertise the pending single release.
It was at this time, with Mel's plight still unknown to the public, that the girls received a scathing blow from press via the UK's You Magazine. The feature was promoted by The Mail on Sunday as an 'exclusive interview', but the features' content was scathing in its reportage, labelling Mel & Kim as 'Pop Puppets' with questionable talent and intelligence. The article also included quotes from the girls' disgruntled ex-manager Alan Whitehead, and read more like a sensationalized tabloid exposé than an authentic profile.
In an attempt to clap back at this potentially damaging PR disaster, and with Mel unable to film, Supreme made the questionable decision to commission another treatment for the F.L.M. video, which combined the Montreux performance with a bizarre story line involving a private investigator (With the initials F.L.M.) played by Derek Hoxby and two string puppets representing the girls. Mel & Kim had no say in the video treatment, which was not directed by Simon West, and they understandably objected to the use of puppets to represent them, however ironically it was intended. Kim later recalled, “I hated it. They can turn it around and say it was a dig at the press calling us puppets [but] the whole thing is soulless. Mel and I, to put it lightly, were pissed off. We had no idea a video was being made or what the concept would be, and we didn’t get to see it until it aired on TV. We were horrified when we saw it! Let’s just say the puppets didn’t go down too well, and we couldn’t understand why they didn’t just use the whole footage of us dancing at The Montreux Pop festival.” The girls' fans were equally were also left mystified by the clip, with many preferring the raw Montreux performance footage.
Despite this, the performance only video of F.L.M. was never officially released, although the version using the puppets was coupled with the Respectable video and released as a video single by the Wienerworld company, in the UK.
THE OFFICIAL MIXES
On Its initial release, there were already six mixes of F.L.M. commercially available, although promotional 12” singles released prior to the official release also included The Auto Mix & The Alternative Version, taking the available mixes up to 8.
Pete Hammond's original Album Mix, which was produced in the last months of 1986, was the first to be made available, via the F.L.M. album, and its production includes far less of the house music-styled keyboard progressions and vocal locs, evident in the tracks eventual single remix. In their place, the album mix utilises hard, electric guitar progressions weaved through its production. Other than this, the album mix of F.L.M. does not differ hugely from the 7" remix.
The talents of Pete Hammond were once again called upon to remix F.L.M. for its single release. The 7” Remix sees Pete replace the electric guitars from the Album Mix, with a set of keyboard chord progressions, similar in sound to keyboards used on the sisters previous two singles.
With or without the electric guitar, F.L.M. is an amazing and multi-layered soundbite. Mostly keyboard based, the low sounding baseline progression bounces underneath a higher pitched shimmering keyboard sound which lifts and drops then lifts again. This is best displayed in the Extended Mix, which slowly builds, adding each layer as it goes, before the sister’s vocals kick in. Mixed by Pete Hammond, this mix is a straight extended version of the 7” remix. Like the single, it utilises the girls' vocals, stuttered through the Publison and pitch altered to create additional musical layers.
The F.L.M. – Club Mix follows, although this is simply an alternative edit of The Extended Mix.
F.L.M. receives a sparser treatment by Phil Harding & The Extra Beat Boys, for the Dub Mix, which is also referred to as The Sonic Mix. This production is stripped back and the sound is less commercial than the other remixes, although it still maintains many of the layers from the other mixes, including the all the main vocals which, for a dub Mix, is unusual.
The Remix 12” presented The 2 Grooves Under 1 Nation Mix (also referred to as The Chic Le Freak Mix). This Phil Harding & The Funky Sisters production enhances the retro disco feel of the song, and borrows heavily from the 1978 track Le Freak by Chic, utilising its baseline, along with some of the vocals from the original ‘Le Freak’ chorus. This mix was accompanied by The 2 Grooves Under 1 Nation Dub Mix, also referred to as The Jack Dub. There were also 2 different edits of this remix which were used to promote F.L.M. - one of which was included on the Supreme Records mix album The Cream Of Supreme, and the other on the very rare alternative UK 7" release. Phil Harding and Ian Curnow had access to the original Chic DAT tapes, which provided the samples for the F.L.M. The 2 Grooves Mix, as they were also producing a remix of Le Freak, titled Jack Le Freak for the album - Freak Out - Greatest Hits of Chic and Sister Sledge at the time. Harding's Jack Le Freak, which also went on to appear as an additional track on the MegaChic single release in 1990, uses much the same instrumentation as F.L.M. The 2 Grooves remix under the Le Freak vocal track but, more importantly, it also contains some un-credited vocal samples from Showing Out and Respectable alongside the first verse and other sampled lines from F.L.M.
One of the UK promotional 12” singles released for F.L.M. includes the Alternative Version. Like many of the PWL produced mixes, this is more of a re-edit than a remix, which starts with the sung letters “F.L.M.” from the 7” remix, before bursting into a shorter edit of the Extended Mix.
An F.L.M. cassette single was also released, and this includes The Auto Mix which, until then, had only been available on one of the UK promo 12”s for the track. Unfortunately, just like the Alternative Version, The Auto Mix is nothing more than an edited version of the F.L.M. Extended Mix, although the production and editing here is clumsy and uninspired.
Previously unreleased mixes of F.L.M. were released as part of the 2019 Singles Box Set, released by Cherry Red. These included The Beat Boys Mix, The Beat Boys Dub Mix and The Phil Harding Mix, although sadly these are just differing edits of the mixes that were originally released.
The master tapes for F.L.M. triumphantly proclaim ‘Mel & Kim – the Return!’, and feature a slew of attempts to perfect the final club mixes for release. Included is The 2 Grooves Under One Nation Remix, though this is referred to as the Chic Le Freak Mix, and what appears to be The Auto Mix, referred to as The Cassette Single Edit! Also included on the master tapes for F.L.M. are additional mixes and re-edits, courtesy of PWL's many engineers. These include the 12" Remix (Jamie & Yoyo), which, at almost 10 minutes long, provides a more polished mash of the final mixes than some of the officially released remixes (re-edits). Mark MaGuire provided the team with a 7" edit, which included an extended 'timbal break' before the mix leads to the spoken middle eight, and there was also the Original 12" Master which, at 9.15 long, is an interesting mash-up of the Sonic and Club mixes.
Any acts third single release can be the source of concern, especially when the song is already available on a recently released smash hit album but any worry about how the song would perform was obliterated with F.L.M. charting well across the globe. Today, Kim says that, "F.L.M. is one of my favourite tracks. I find [it] quite soulful and I love it from a lyrical point of view. It's quite melancholy in the verses, and then it gets to the chorus [where] the sun comes out and everything is brilliant! 'F.L.M.' is a cool track, I really like it"! F.L.M. also remains a much-loved track from the sisters with the fun back story around it's abbreviated title only adding to its popularity. However, amongst the joyful memories the song evokes, the release of the F.L.M. single will be forever linked with memories of the sisters sudden disappearance from public view and the following revelations about Mel’s health.
Despite this the track remains a buoyant and happy recording with all the trademarks we would expect from a Mel & Kim release. The house sound, singalong lyrics, great beat and the sampled banter between the girls are all in evidence but what remains the most poignant are the optimistic lyrics which are sung in the first person: ‘So tired, watching the world go by. Seeing the time fly, running away. Sometimes I can fly so high. I can see blue skies where others see grey.’