"KEEP ON LOOKING AFTER NUMBER ONE."
The 20th of February marks the release of Mel & Kim's fourth single, That’s The Way It Is.
Heralded as a comeback, it was the sisters' first single since F.L.M., some 8 months prior, and it's 1988 release was welcomed by fans and critics alike, despite the ambiguity which still surrounded Mel's ill health and the duo's withdrawal from the public eye.
That’s The Way It Is continued the duo's run of consecutive top ten hits in the UK, reaching #10 in the UK singles chart, and it was also a smash hit throughout Europe. Further afield, the single also charted well in New Zealand and Australia - quite an achievement, given the lack of visual presence from the girls in its video, and in its promotion.
The sound of That’s The Way It Is is more typical of the Stock Aitken & Waterman productions of that time, rather than the Mel & Kim singles that preceded it. However, the energy of the 118 BPM track, the sisters' soulful vocal delivery, and the personality in the lyrics make it an unmistakable 'Mel & Kim song' that stands out from the endless Hit Factory smashes of 1988. Retrospectively, Kim shared, [When we recorded That's The Way It Is], "with all the silly, "Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh ooh" - Mel and I added those, 'cause that wasn't in there originally. It was the same with the, "Ah keep on lookin' after number one". We would really exaggerate everything, and we would put our stamp on it. We'd make it, 'cause you could take that track and give it to any Stock, Aitken & Waterman act and they'd do their own interpretation of it, but it would never be as ballsy as Melanie and I's, because it all felt like it was geared towards us."
The production also includes a nod to the girls' Jamaican heritage, with a steel drum sounding instrumental break, albeit courtesy of a synthesizer. The song's production was less inspired by the Chicago/London House sound which had influenced the duo's previous singles, although the presence of a house piano throughout, maintained the dance direction that the girls had become known for. This shift in sound suggested a clear move to develop the Mel & Kim sound for their second album, and the song is the favorite of many fans. During the That's The Way It Is promotion, Kim said, “We feel we’ve got to move with the times. So, our new single is a different sound. It’s a bit more mature but still up-tempo and not so nursery rhymish!”
SLEEVE DESIGN, PHOTOGRAPHY & EDITIONS
The photographs released to accompany That’s The Way It Is were mainly from two photo shoots, which had taken place months earlier, but were, as yet, mainly unseen. The first was shot by Mike Prior (originally for the July 1987 issue of the UK teen magazine Mizz) and the second by David Levine, with both photographers shooting the girls against white, and wearing the same white blouse/black leggings ensembles, among other outfits. Both sessions perfectly captured Mel & Kim’s beauty, youth and sense of fun, whilst presenting them in the way they wanted to be seen. The sisters had always been in control of their image, and they had had fun experimenting with different styles, but now they were keen to pair down their ‘look’, as they felt it was at odds with their personalities and sense of fun. Kim shared, “It (their look) was too sophisticated for our personalities. In the end our personalities didn’t fit our style or image. We found that some people were taken aback by our bubbliness and loudness when we opened our mouths – and let’s face it, we can be very loud.” Mel added, “I reckon our dress was too demure, we want to wear more fun, casual and young clothes and this time steer away from the classy styles.” Photographer David Levine recalled,“Mel & Kim had input into all aspects of their career (and) were the leaders of their style and their projected image. We made some great pictures between us.”
The sleeve for That’s The Way It Is, features a stunning close-up of Mel & Kim, taken from Mike Prior. As with the other images from this session, which was shot 8 months before the single's release, the girls look beautifully natural. Shot in tight close-up, they lie with their heads side by side, looking straight into the camera, with their honeyed hair extensions spread out under them. The photograph is simple yet incredibly striking, and it has a timeless quality that remains as fresh today as it did on the day that it was taken.
The sleeve design was treated with a pinky/purple toned filter, to alert fans to the alternative Remix edition, which featured The House Mix, and this release also included a free colour poster. The shot for the poster was taken from the same session as the sleeve image, and features a full length shot of the girls laughing. Kim is holding her sister's hand and jubilantly jumping into the air as Mel lifts her knee up while playfully biting her own tongue. Unusually, the shot on the poster has been altered to appear as if the duo are wearing pink blouses, instead of the white blouses they wear on the cover. However, this was adjusted in post-production, and the original shot features the sisters in the same white blouses they wore throughout Mike's session.
A third 12” release delivered The Acid House Mix, and this was the version used in the Coming To America movie. This edition features the same photo and sleeve design as the others but, this time, the photo is printed in black and white and the writing on the sleeve is red and black. The printing of this edition appears unusually low-quality when compared to the original and House Mix editions and the shot, which should look beautiful in black and white, appears overly dark in print.
In addition to the 7” and three 12” releases for That’s The Way It Is, there was also a 12” picture disc, and a Compact Disk released in the UK. The picture disc features the same track listing as the House Mix 12” release, and features a tight close up of Mel and Kim (by David Levine), who are seated and playfully bending the brims of their hats and pulling funny faces at the lens. The styling of Levine & Prior’s shoots are very similar, and both mainly feature Mel & Kim photographed before a white backdrop, styled in the same outfits, but with the addition of hats, and then high, spiky ponytails for the Levine shoot. The Levine shoot also included a complete outfit change for the sisters, who were captured with their hair down and dressed much more casually in jeans and loose fitting tops and trainers - a look that seemed a million miles away from the more sophisticated styles they had been photographed in to that point.
That’s The Way It Is produced Mel & Kim's first CD single release in the UK, and the sleeve utilises the same design as the original UK 7” & 12” sleeves, with an identical labeled track listing to the UK 12" release. However, the I'm The One Who Really Loves You US Remix on the CD, actually utilises The Kick N Live Mix in place of The Stardom Groove Club Mix, held on the original UK 12" release. There were also CD releases of That's The Way It Is across Europe, including Mini & Maxi CD editions, on the Blow Up label. The Mini CD includes From A Whisper To A Scream, alongside the 7" Mix of the title track and You Changed My Life, while the Maxi CD repeats the track listing from the UK CD single. The track listing for the French CD release comprises of the title track in 7" and Extended Mix formats, alongside the 7" Mix of Respectable. This release, on the Polydor label, is a picture CD, featuring the Brian Aris shot used inside the gatefold F.L.M. album, and comes in a card sleeve.
Following their trend, the German Blow Up label released That's The Way It Is as a limited edition on coloured vinyl, across the 7" and three 12" formats. The 7" and original 12" was available on red coloured vinyl, and was housed in the original colour picture sleeve, with some of the 12" singles also including the free colour poster, which accompanied the UK House Remix edition. The House Remix release was produced on clear vinyl, and housed in the same pinky/purple toned filter sleeve design as its UK counterpart. The third 12" release, for The Acid House Remix, was also produced on clear vinyl and, just like the UK, it was housed in the black & white version of the picture sleeve, with the addition of a photo credit to the UK magazine - Mizz - for the cover shot. Just like the red vinyl release, this edition also included the free colour poster which accompanied the UK House Remix edition.
The French release of That's The Way It Is, on the Polydor label, utilises the same design, but with the addition of a thin red border around the picture sleeve.
Limited edition poster included with some pressings, featuring the colour of the girls' blouses changed, in post-production, from white to pink.
Sadly, the U.S. and Canadian releases of That's The Way It Is don't feature a shot of Mel & Kim on the front of their sleeves, but utilise instead a publicity shot of Eddie Murphy, from the Coming To America movie, which included the song on its soundtrack. However, the back of the sleeve uses the same shot of the sisters from the US single release of Showing Out, and the track listing features three mixes of That's The Way It Is - The Acid House Mix, Club Mix and the Special Mix. A promotional 12" single was released with an identical track listing but with a generic industry sleeve.
That's The Way It Is was originally released in the UK as a one sided promotional 12" single, featuring the 12" Mix (Special Mix) of the song, and it was issued to DJ's at the start of February 1988, to coincide with the singles promotional release to radio stations. Whilst the House Remix of That's The Way It Is was not available as a UK promo, The Acid House Remix was issued as a three track promotional 12". This edition comes as a 'white label' release (although the label has a pinkish tone rather than white) complete with a sticker stating 'M & K That's The Way It Is Acid House Remix'. As with the official UK Acid Remix release, this promo also includes The Acid Dub and You Changed My Life.
Creating a Timeless Image
[That's The Way It Is single sleeve, by Mike Prior)
“I thought [the shot used for the That's The Way It Is single sleeve] was fantastic...
It was fired off really quickly - maximum 2 rolls (24 frames) - using my trusty Hasselblad, and I still remember leaning over my mezzanine floor, which was 9ft high, to get it. It made a fantastic portrait shot though, to be honest, it was very difficult to take a bad picture of Mel & Kim. They always responded well to my direction and they knew what angles looked best. Ultimate pros! The two of them were so close and therefore, so in sync, which allowed them to be very honest with each other. If something didn’t look quite right then they were the ones who would change it until they both agreed.
With Mel & Kim, the atmosphere was always up and it was always a laugh! They were having such a good time and whatever it was they were doing, they enjoyed it to the full – and they always appreciated my jokes (laughs). As a photographer, it was a great benefit to know that they’d always be super-easy to photograph, because I had to factor in 3-4 hours in the make-up chair - not that they needed it. They just enjoyed looking good! If I was lucky, I’d get an hour and a half of shooting, but we would always sit and chat whilst they were getting their hair and make-up done, and the banter was endless. Mel had an innocence about her, and she was super- friendly! She would always give everyone a big hug, and it felt like you’d known her for ages. Kim was more wary, which I put down to her being protective, as older siblings tend to be, but once she got to know you, she was relaxed and super-lovely. I did three shoots with the girls and it was always great fun - and every shot was a winner”.
Mike Prior 2021.
At the time of the single's release, the official story regarding Mel’s health was that she was still in recovery from a slipped disk and crushed vertebrae. However, the tabloid press intrusion was reaching fever pitch, as they speculated about the true nature of Mel's sudden disappearance, which had occurred at the height of the duo's fame, forcing Supreme Records to issue an unusually highly detailed Official Press Statement to accompanied the release of That's The Way It Is. The carefully worded script begins, "Rumours have been rampant of the pop duo's destiny, which is why they have decided to rush release the single and issue a more explicit press statement concerning Mel's health." The statement goes on to outline Mel's hospital treatment for a slipped disc as well as the girls' plans to record a new album with Stock, Aitken & Waterman in the coming months.
The initial magazine adverts for That’s The Way It is announced the ‘1st of ’88 – The Hit You’ve Been Waiting For’, and pronounced 'The Wait Is Over!', although what would normally have been a heavy promotions schedule had to be paired down to consist almost entirely of telephone interviews with magazines. The girls did complete one T.V. interview, to promote the single, on the popular UK Saturday morning children’s show – Going Live – albeit also by telephone, but, for obvious reasons, there were no performances of the song. All the publicity interviews that Mel & Kim undertook in the singles promotion were filled with optimism about their future. The sister’s plans suggested a clearer focus and determination, and it was obvious that the break from their hectic promotions schedule had allowed them time to assess their position and where they wanted to go as a duo.
That's The Way It Is also received some heavy duty promotion in America, courtesy of the smash hit Eddie Murphy movie Coming To America, which featured the track on it's soundtrack.
Official Supreme Records 2 page press release to promote the upcoming That's The Way It Is single. Click on each image to expand!
Just like their previous single F.L.M., Mel & Kim were unable to perform in the video for That’s the Way It Is, as Mel was privately undergoing medical treatment, with the slipped disk story being offered as the official reason for their absence. Unlike the F.L.M. video though, which the girls had no input into, and disliked, they were involved in all aspects of video for That’s the Way It Is, from set and story line approval to auditioning the lead dancers – Jeremy and Stephanie. Mel said at the time of the songs' release, “Instead of making do with what the video company could come up with, we wrote our own story line. Luckily, everyone seems happy with the end result, including us, this time”.
Directed by Dario Polini, the video was originally shot in East London, at the Beckton Coal Bunker, and the productions set designer Ged Clarke shared that the production had it's challenges from the very outset. Firstly, being shot mid-winter, Ged explained that the set became so cold that the paint being used actually froze, creating a major delay in filming. Then, as filming finally got underway, it became apparent that the back-projection, which features so prominently in the story line, wasn’t powerful enough to work as planned, so the entire set had to be rebuilt and the video re-shot a week later, this time at Grip House (Middlesex, London). Having to move the entire production forward by a week also resulted in Jane Strudy, who had portrayed the female lead during the original filming, having to be replaced by Stephanie, right before filming restarted. However, spirits were high on set, buoyed by Kim's presence throughout, and she kept Mel up to date, via phone. Mel shared, “Kim kept phoning me with a blow by blow account of how things were going. It’s been almost as exciting as appearing in it ourselves”.
That's The Way It Is On-Set Production Photographs, Beckton Coal Bunker - melandkim.com Exclusive!
The video treatment features a story line about a girl and boy (played by Jeremy & Stephanie) who sneak into a studio where there is a ‘Mel & Kim shoot in progress’. They are holding a copy of the UK tabloid newspaper The Sun, which is open at the Bizarre page headline - ‘£100,000 Boob Ruins Mel & Kim Video’ (referencing the video needing to be re-shot). The studio is dark and empty when they enter, so they switch on the power and start dancing to the track. Dancers appear projected onto a giant screen behind the two as they dance together and, as the video progresses, the projections and ‘real’ dancers intermingle. The video ends with Jeremy joining the projections and leaving Stephanie behind. He looks at her from the screen and shrugs before the power cuts out, leaving her in the studio alone.
There are two edits of the That’s the Way It Is video, although there is little difference, other than a few alternative shots of the dancers. The original video ends with Jeremy now appearing in an on-set photo, in a frame on the wall. Stephanie sees this as she leaves, and she shrugs her shoulders to camera. The second edit ends with a longer shot of the Stephanie’s reaction to seeing Jeremy become a projection, only for him to vanish when the film cuts, to be replaced by the shot of Mel & Kim (from the poster given away free with the That's The Way It Is remix 12"). Mel's laugh from Respectable is then heard and the video finishes'.
In response to the disappointment that Mel & Kim didn't perform in the That's The Way It Is video, a second video treatment was produced, which compiled a montage of clips from the duo's Showing Out & Respectable videos, as well as the Montreux Pop Festival performance clips that were cut into the original F.L.M. video. The editing in this compilation is heavy with post production ‘special’ effects' although, unlike the original video, it does at least feature the girls.
RECORDING & OFFICIAL MIXES
That’s The Way It Is was originally demoed on the 28th September 1987. Mel was undergoing hospital treatment, and was unable to attend, so Kim undertook the recording session on her own. Initially, Mike Stock and Kim had begun working on a different track, which Mike had put together but, despite their efforts, something wasn’t quite working with the song. After several attempts, Mike decided to scrap the original track and try something new. He kept the backing track they were working on, though completely changed the melody and lyrics to create That’s The Way It Is. Kim sang it through and the song was mastered as a demo, with some initial mixes produced. The plan was to re-record the track when Mel was strong enough, and for That’s The Way It Is to be the lead single from the planned 2nd album. Mel did indeed record the track with Kim, although this didn’t take place until January 26th 1988. Because of the secrecy that still surrounded Mel’s condition, she had to be smuggled into the studio, to avoid the press. The recording session went long into the early hours and produced two tracks - That’s The Way It Is, and a second song titled You Changed My Life, which Mel & Kim had written themselves. Kim recalled, "Mel loved every minute of it. It felt great being back in the studio. Mel was starting to feel a little better and wanted to get back into the studio to record. I loved the idea, as I thought it was exactly the tonic she needed. Psychologically it did wonders for her”. Pete Waterman also reflected on the recording session, saying, "I remember when we did 'That's The Way It Is' , after Mel had had a lot of chemotherapy. At this stage, no one knew she had cancer. We recorded the track at 10.30pm, with no staff around except for myself and a couple of others. Mel arrived, and the shock knocked us sideways. The whole thing was awesome, but she knew it, so the first thing she did was make us laugh and put us all at our ease. She was only supposed to be there for a couple of hours but, at 6.30 in the morning, we had to send her home. Otherwise, as I said at the time, we'd all end up in hospital. She never stopped laughing, she had us in hysterics."
The 7” mix was produced by Pete Hammond, and includes a keyboard break that gives a knowing nod to the sisters' #1 smash - Respectable. However, the Chicago House sound is less evident and there is a noticeable lack of pitch and vocal triggers that were used so heavily on the duo’s previous three singles. In fact, it is only as the track begins to fade out that a simple stutter effect is utilised, almost suggesting a poignant farewell to the effect heavy sound that had made the sisters so famous, to make way for a new, more mature musical direction.
The 12” Mix by Pete Hammond, also referred to as The Special Mix, is a straight forward extended version of the 7” Mix, and does not utilise any additional samples or vocal effects. However the simple stutter, “Tha, tha, tha, tha, tha, tha, that’s…”, used to fade the 7” mix, plays on a little longer on the 12” Mix.
After the release of the 7” and 12” mixes, That’s The Way It Is received the Pete Hammond remix treatment, in the form of The House Mix, which is also referred to as The Club Mix, on some releases. Though there are similar sonic-threads in this mix to the original Hammond production, the House Mix gives the track a harder sound which works really well. This version features an alternative drum pattern to the original production, although it still maintains much of the original instrumentation, with the addition of house samples. Mel & Kim’s vocals are more extensively sampled and fed through the Publison to produce stuttering, pitch altered effects which place the production firmly back in the celebrated Mel & Kim sound territory.
A second remix 12”, featuring the That’s The Way It Is Acid House Mix, soon followed. Pete Hammond is credited on the sleeve notes as producing this treatment, however, it was actually Ian Curnow who created The Acid House Mix. Ian's version is much sparser than Phil's mixes, and his stripped back production features none of his instrumentation, altering the tracks vibe completely. Inexplicably, this remix also features an interesting variation in it's vocals, with Kim's solo demo recording being used alongside both sisters duel vocal take, and then cross faded at the ends of some of the verse lines. (See the section of the That's The Way It Is master tapes below for more information.) The Acid House release also includes The Acid Dub, which maintains all the house samples from The Acid House Mix, though is almost completely senza voce, until the track nears its end. It is only then that Mel & Kim’s vocals from the chorus repeat to the track's end.
Ian Curnow reused a lot of his instrumentation from the That’s The Way It Is - Acid House Mix, for his Extended Remix of Jermaine Stewart's Don't Talk Dirty To Me, which was released in September 1988.
The master tapes relating to That’s The Way It Is, feature variations on all the released mixes. Pete Hammond prepared all of the demo treatments on the archived master tapes, from September 87, and these tapes feature various 7” & 12” mixes which use the guide vocal recorded by Kim. Some of these versions were included on Cherry Red's 2019 Singles Box Set - including the Acid Pop Radio Mix - which was remixed in August 88, 6 months after the song's original release (possibly for inclusion on Supreme Records' shelved F.L.M. Remix Album). This mix, as the title suggests, merges the 7" Radio Mix of That’s The Way It Is with the Acid House Remix, to form an alternative radio version, to great success. This mix retains much of the 7" Radio Mix's instrumentation, although it replaces the drum pattern with the beats from Ian Curnow's Acid House Mix, along with some of its samples. However, unlike Ian's Acid House Mix - which fuses Kim's solo demo vocal with the girls' shared vocal take, this version solely features the sisters' vocals, as they are heard on the 7" Radio Mix.
The Original 12” Demo from the master tapes (titled Original 12" Mix on the 2019 Singles Box Set), is similar to the released 12” Mix/Special Mix of the song, but features Kim’s solo vocals, with slightly different phrasing at times. There is also some different instrumentation on the demo track, with a slightly different bass line and more prominent piano chords. This version displays more of an input into maintaining the vocal effects the girls were known for with the line “Keep on looking after number one” receiving the 'Publison' treatment. Kim sounds great, and she sings the track in the plural, rather than singular, i.e. “Take our advice!” The Original 12” Demo does not include the “Ah, ah ah – ah, ah, ah” backing vocal, which the sisters recorded together, during the January 88 recording session.
The 2019 Singles Box Set also included the Acid Pop Instrumental, alongside the Instrumental, and the Original Instrumental.
As an interesting side line, the B-Side tracks across the 12” releases for That's The Way It Is, all seem identical (other than The Acid House Mix release, with features The Acid Dub in place of I'm the One Who Really Loves You) but the mixes used across these editions vary. The original 12” and the House Remix releases are both listed as including the I'm The One Who Really Loves You (U.S. Remix), by Robert Clivilles, followed by You Changed My Life. However, The U.S. Remix on the original 12” is in fact the Stardom Groove Club Mix, and You Changed My Life is the version that features on the deluxe release of the F.L.M. album. The B-side of the That's the Way It Is House Remix edition is listed as presenting an identical flip side track list to the original 12" release, but it actually offers different versions. Whilst still titled as 'The U.S. Remix', The House Remix 12” actually features The Kick N Live Mix of I'm The One Who Really Loves You, followed by You Changed My Life, with an alternative intro to the version on the original releases. This mix of You Changed My Life featuring the alternative intro is then repeated on The Acid House Remix Release.
That’s The Way It Is is a brilliant slice of pop, yet it is bittersweet for Mel & Kim’s many fans who cannot help but wonder what if…
The optimistic lyrics are so appropriate, given what the girls had been going through, and their confidence was evidently growing, despite the many challenges they were facing together. Mel’s condition, for all it's difficulties, had afforded them time to focus and assess their career, and they had taken the first steps to leave Supreme Records, and had brought in a new management team. As if this wasn’t enough, the girls had also discovered that they had a real gift for writing songs, as well as singing them, and they were excited to have their compositions heard. There were plans for the second album, and even hints of a forthcoming tour. There was even talk about a move away from the PWL production team, who were now churning out interchangeable tracks, often for interchangeable acts. A situation that sat at odds with the personality-lead writing that the team had created for the sisters, back when the studio was referred to as 'PWL', and not ‘The Hit Factory’. Kim recalled, in 1990,“The sad thing with ‘Mel & Kim’ was we never really got to show what Melanie and Kim could do. It was two East End girls having a laugh – cheeky Cockneys. Don’t they dance good? Oh, and they dress nice… and it kind of stopped there. We were lovable, but there was so much more to Mel and myself. We could actually go out and sing live. When we were talking about touring, we were talking Wembley, arenas and stuff like that, and I think that it was just sad that we never got to show people what we could really do. There was so much more to us than laughing and giggling and talking Cockney.”
So many plans that sadly would never be achieved by the duo, but the legacy of promise their last single left was both powerful and poignant.
That’s The Way It is!