The 20th of February marks the anniversary of the release of the sisters' forth single, That’s The Way It Is. Deemed as a comeback, the song was the sisters' first single since the F.L.M. release some 8 months prior and it would be their fourth single as a duo. That's The Way It Is was heralded as the sisters' return in 1988 with the promise of a new album to follow, despite the ambiguity that still surrounded the cause of Mel's ill health and her withdrawal from the public eye.
That’s The Way It Is reached #10 in the UK singles chart and was also a hit all over Europe as well as charting in New Zealand and Australia. Quite an achievement, given the lack of visual presence from the girls in its promotion.
The sound of That’s The Way It Is is more typical of the Stock Aitken & Waterman productions at 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 lyric make it an unmistakable Mel & Kim song that stands out from the endless Hit Factory smashes of 1988. The production also includes a nod to the girls' Jamaican heritage, with a steel drum sounding instrumental break, albeit via a synthesizer. The song's production was less inspired by the Chicago/London House sound that had influenced their 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!”
The photographs released to accompany That’s The Way It Is consisted of shots from two photo shoots which had taken place months earlier but were, as yet, mainly unseen. The first shot by Mike Prior (originally for the September issue of the UK teen magazine Mizz) and the second shot by David Levine. 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 were keen to move forward and that meant not only maturing their sound but pairing down their ‘look’ which they felt was at odds with their personalities and sense of fun. Kim said “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 exclusively to melandkim.com how involved the sisters were in their public image: “They were very much involved as any good act is. They 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 colour shot of Mel & Kim taken from Mike Prior’s photo session which had been commissioned 8 months prior to the single's release. As with the other shots from this session, 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. (Their second attempt following their original darker F.L.M. extensions becoming matted and needing replaced). The photograph is simple yet incredibly striking!
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 and features Mel & Kim 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 girls are wearing crimson coloured 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 in the other shots.
A third 12” release delivered The Acid House Mix of That’s The Way It Is 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 is unusually low-quality 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. The picture disc features the same track listing as the House Mix 12” release and uses a shot from David Levine’s last session and features a tight close up of Mel and Kim who are seated and playfully bending the brims of their hats and pulling funny faces at David’s 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 also 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 CD which states the I'm The One Who Really Loves You US Remix 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 though 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
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. This single sided, one track edition features the 12" Mix (Special Mix) of the song and 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.
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 which continued to inhibit her from making public appearances and Supreme Records issued a 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 release as the ‘1st of ’88 – The Hit You’ve Been Waiting For’ and pronounced 'The Wait Is Over!' and 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 a T.V. interview on the popular UK Saturday morning children’s show – Going Live – albeit also by telephone. All the publicity interviews 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.
The magazine interviews to promote That's The Way It Is were mainly accompanied by beautiful photographs from two photo shoots by Levine & Prior and Mel & Kim’s deal with Atlantic Records in America, which they signed soon after the Showing Out UK single release, provided the opportunity for That’s The Way It Is to feature on the soundtrack to the Eddie Murphy smash movie, Coming To America, and the song was released in the US on a 12” single.
Official Supreme Records 2 page press release to promote the upcoming That's The Way It Is single. Click on each image to expand!
Sadly 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, which the girls had no input into - and disliked – Mel & Kim 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 “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”.
Originally the female lead was to be portrayed by dancer Jane Sturdy. Jane rehearsed with the dancers but was replaced by Stephanie just before shooting took place. 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, which headlines ‘£100,000 Boob Ruins Mel & Kim Video.’ 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'. Kim spent time on the video set, and she kept Mel up to date via phone. Mel said at the time “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”.
There was a second video treatment produced for That's The Way It Is which compiled a montage of clips from Mel & Kim’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' though, and unlike the original video, it does at least feature the girls.
That’s The Way It Is was originally demoed back on the 28th September 1987. Mel was undergoing hospital treatment and was unable to attend the recording session so Kim was required to undertake this difficult task on her own. Initially Mike Stock and Kim began 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 to the sisters' début – F.L.M. Mel did re-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 and I went to PWL late one evening and recorded 'That’s The Way It Is' and 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."
Retrospectively, Kim recalled - "We love the track but we felt detached from it because we hadn't promoted it and the usual procedure hadn't happened. [When we recorded That's The Way It Is], with all the silly "Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh ooh" - Mel and I adde those, 'cause that wasn't in there originally. It was the same with the "Ah keep on lookin' after number one". We would really exagerate 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's and I's because it all felt like it was geared towards us. They were made for us!"
The 7” mix of That’s The Way It Is was produced by Pete Hammond and includes a keyboard break that gives a cheeky 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 threads in this mix to the original Hammond production, the House Mix gives the track a harder sound that works really well. This mix features an alternative drum pattern to the original production though 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 and put 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, all be it with Pete Hammond's support. Ian's version is much sparser than the original and his stripped back production features none of the original instrumentation used and the vibe of the track is altered completely. Inexplicably this remix features a slight variation in it's vocals with Kim's solo recording from the demo being played 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 That’s The Way It Is 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.
As an interesting side line the B-Side tracks across the 12” releases for That's The Way It Is all seem identical other that 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 the renamed 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 of it's tracks. 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.
The master tapes relating to That’s The Way It Is feature variations on all the released mixes including the Acid Pop Radio mix, which was finally released in 2019, in the Singles Box Set. Interestingly The Acid Pop Radio Mix was remixed in August 88, 6 months after the song's original release and possibly for inclusion on the Supreme Records' planned F.L.M. Remix Album which was never completed. The mix itself, as the title suggests, merges the 7" mix with the Acid House Remix to form an alternative radio version. The 2019 Singles Box Set also included the Acid Pop Instrumental alongside the Instrumental and the Original Instrumental.
As with all the released mixes, Pete Hammond prepared all of the demo treatments on the archived master tapes from September 87. These tapes feature various 7” & 12” mixes which use the guide vocal recorded by Kim from 28th September 1987. The Original 12” Demo from the master tapes is similar to the released 12” Mix/Special Mix of the song but features Kim’s solo vocals with slightly different phrasing at times, some of which can be heard fading in and out of the vocal blend during the verses of The Acid House Mix! 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 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.
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 of the track are so appropriate given what the girls had been going through and on top of this the sisters' confidence was obviously growing. The enforced down time that Mel’s condition brought had finally afforded them time to focus and assess where they wanted to take their career. They were taking control of their career & musical direction having taken the first steps to leave Supreme Records and brought in a new management team. As if this wasn’t enough Mel & Kim had discovered they had a 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 from the PWL production team, who were now churning out interchangeable tracks, often for interchangeable acts, two a penny. A situation that sat at odds with the personality lead writing that the team had created for the sisters two years before 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 like 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 powerful and poignant. That’s The Way It is!