This is the 87th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
Vince Clarke left Depeche Mode in 1981, the same year that the band’s debut album “Speak & Spell” was released. Clarke, unsure if he still had a record deal, had wanted to impress the record label and give them sense who he was without Depeche Mode. He wrote the song “Only You,” but had no one to sing it.
Around that same time, Alison Moyet put an ad out in UK music magazine Melody Maker when her band The Screamin’ Ab Dabs broke up. She was hoping to attract blues musicians, but she only got one response: Clarke.
Moyet and Clarke had never met, but they had some acquaintances in common. Clarke was not the type of musician Moyet had wanted to find when she placed the ad, but she thought that if she recorded “Only You” as a demo, it could help build her career. She and Clarke recorded the demo, and not long after, they learned the label not only wanted to release it as a single, but to have Moyet and Clarke record an album. As a duo, Moyet and Clarke became Yazoo, though in the US, they were called Yaz to avoid being sued by Yazoo Records.
Yazoo’s album, “Upstairs At Eric’s,” came out in 1982. It peaked at Number 2 in the UK and Number 92 in the US. The single “Only You” spent 16 weeks on the charts in the UK, peaking at Number 2. In the US, it only reached Number 67.
Yazoo’s second album, “You And Me Both,” reached Number 1 in the UK. Clarke and Moyet parted ways soon after its release. They have each said that they felt overwhelmed by the quick progression from the Melody Maker ad to recording the album. They never gave themselves the chance to get to know each other, such that they had no way to handle the tensions that arose in their professional relationship. In a 2008 interview with The Independent, Moyet said:
We never spoke about anything other than recording – nothing. Suddenly we were in a really successful band but we hadn’t even ever gone for a pint together. It was really weird – almost like an arranged marriage.
I like to be affectionate but I couldn’t make him warm to me. It was frustrating because I knew that he would like me if only he was open to it. He was, I think, sad at the time after leaving Depeche and remote, a bit angry, but it was all internalized. Whereas I was this disaffected, slightly aggressive ex-punk rocker where nothing was internalized. I was probably quite difficult to be around. He didn’t speak until he said, “I don’t want to do this any more.”
Despite “Don’t Go” and “Nobody’s Diary” also reaching the Top 10 in the UK, “Only You” was the duo’s biggest hit. And according to SecondHandSongs, it has been the Yazoo song that’s been covered the most often.
The Flying Pickets’ 1983 a capella cover of “Only You” reached Number 1 on the UK singles chart, faring better than the original version by Yazoo. It spent 12 weeks on the chart, five of which were at Number 1. And one of those weeks was the week of Christmas, making it the prized Christmas Number 1 of 1983. The a capella version of “Only You” introduced some vocalizations that appeared on later covers, mainly the “ba-da, baa-daaa, bada baa-daaaa” part.
Rita Coolidge included a poppy “Only You” on her 1983 album, “Never Let You Go.” There was something country about her bouncy cover of the song, reminiscent of “Islands in the Stream” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.
You could pick up on the parts that sounded like “Islands in the Stream,” yes? Of course you could.
Judy Collins — the same Judy Collins who recorded “Both Sides, Now” and “Send in the Clowns” — covered “Only You” for her 1984 release, “Home Again.” Instrumentally, her version was similar to Yazoo’s original; what stood out here was hearing a living legend covering a contemporary pop song. It might not hold up as the best version of the song, but I will gladly listen to Collins perform any song.
The 1996 compilation “Punk Chartbusters Vol. 2” featured a brief “Only You” cover by German band Kapitulation B.o.N.n., and we mean brief. It was only 1:45 long, the first 20 seconds of which were someone singing the tune of the song over the sound of pouring rain. The guitars and drums then kicked in, giving Kapitulation B.o.N.n. not quite a minute and a half to blitz through the song.
Over the span of two years, English band Smokie released covers albums: “Uncovered” in 2000, and “Uncovered Too” in 2001. The latter album included an “Only You” that recast the ’80s song as a syrupy ballad worthy of ’70s radio.
Gregorian is a group that performs contemporary pop songs in the style of Gregorian chants, and on “Masters of Chant, Chapter III,” Gregorian applied the formula to “Only You.” The song had a drum machine track in the background, and I think that might have only gotten in the way.
Jan Wayne’s 2002 album “Back Again!” has been a boon for this series, as the album included covers of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Because the Night.” Like those covers, Wayne’s “Only You” seemed perfect for a dance club or a gym, and maybe nowhere else. The thumping Eurodance bass would be too distracting in any other context.
Joshua Radin’s stripped-down cover of “Only You” appeared on his 2006 album, “We Were Here.” The folky, earnest sound is reminiscent of the songs featured on Zach Braff’s “Garden State.” And that might be because Braff has featured Radin’s songs in other works, including his film “The Last Kiss” and an episode of “Scrubs.”
German Psychobilly band Thee Flanders covered “Only You” for its 2007 release, “Graverobbing,” which also included covers of Blondie, Billy Idol, The Misfits, Depeche Mode, and Erasure. Thee Flanders’s cover was two and a half minutes of folky wind-up for a climax that never happened. Throughout the song, I expected it to speed up and get loud, but it never did. And I prefer it that way.
Like Kylie Minogue, Australian actor and singer Jason Donovan first came to fame through the soap opera, “Neighbours.” And like Minogue, Donovan had some hits with the legendary production team of Stock Aitken Waterman. On his fifth studio album, 2010’s “Soundtrack of the 80s,” Donovan paid tribute to some of the biggest songs of the decade. His “Only You” was faithful to the Yazoo version. Perhaps too faithful, but I’m a sucker for Donovan’s smooth voice, however cheesy and “easy listening” he might be.
“Funny Looking Angels” was a 2011 Christmas album put out by Tom Smith, of the band Editors, and Andy Burrows, of Razorlight and We Are Scientists. The falsetto-led, clap-happy cover of “Only You” felt out of place for no other reason than the fact that it’s not Christmas-themed in the slightest. In a review for AllMusic, Jon O’Brien mused that the song’s inclusion on a Christmas album had more to do with The Flying Pickets’ version being the Christmas Number 1 than anything present in the Yazoo version.
But the Smith & Burrows version was not the only cover of “Only You” on a Christmas album. Kylie Minogue recorded “Only You” as a duet with James Corden for her 2015 album, “Kylie Christmas.” Of all the songs on the album, “Only You” is the only one that does not have an overt reference to winter or Christmas. The inclusion of Corden made the song more milquetoast than the average Minogue song, though the two singing the “baadaa” part from The Flying Pickets’ version was a nice touch.
A haunting cover of “Only You” by Selena Gomez appeared in a 2017 episode of the Netflix series about suicide, “13 Reasons Why.” Gomez, who served as an executive producer on the show, succeeded in making a song as chilling as the series itself. And while it was an impressive cover, Andrew Daniels pointed out in a Billboard post that it was an odd choice for Gomez, saying her cover “gorgeous and haunting, but admittedly an odd move for a pop star at the height of her powers.”
But as weird of a choice as that might have been for Gomez, her version resonated with at least one fan. Singer Evynne Hollens, whose videos have garnered more than 30 million views on YouTube, recorded her own version of “Only You” in 2017. And in the description text for her video, Hollens indicated her cover was inspired by the Gomez version from “13 Reasons Why.”
Alma Thomas, who appeared on Brazil’s version of “The Voice,” recorded a jazz-tinged “Only You” on her 2017 album, “Love Yourself,” which included a cover of the Justin Bieber song of the same name.
That same year, there was another jazz version of “Only You” was released. Singer Indiana Nomma included the cover on her album, “Lessons In Love.” Her sunny take on “Only You” would not garner much comparison to Radin’s version if not for the fact that on the YouTube page for her version, Nomma attributed to the song to both Clarke and Radin. I read that to mean that her version was inspired by Radin’s version, and on subsequent listens, one can hear the similarities in how Radin and Nomma phrased certain words.
In addition to these covers, “Only You” has been covered multiple times in Spanish. Enrique Iglesias’s cover of the song — renamed “Sólo En Ti” — appeared on his 1997 album, “Vivir.” The Spanish lyrics more or less match the English ones:
Se abre una ventana interior
Es una historia de amor
Que se ha ido
Todo fue un momento ayer
Y hoy que quiero volver
Necesito lo que tú me das
Necesito verte un día más
Y solo pienso en ti, solo en ti
Ella ya no cree en el amor
Es solo una diversión
Todo junto a ella es fingir
Y siento ganas de huir
A tus brazos
But even someone who knows no Spanish could recognize this as a cover of “Only You.”
Mexican-American band Alacranes Musical covered “Sólo En Ti” for its 2007 album, “Ahora y Siempre.” Like Iglesias’s version, it had the same structure of Yazoo’s “Only You,” except it sounded like it had been mashed up with the Benny Hill theme song.
Spanish singer Paloma San Basilio recorded a version of “Sólo En Ti” on the 2015 album “Voces Para el Alma.” This cover owed as much to The Flying Pickets as it did Iglesias, as it mimicked the Pickets’ “ba-da, baa-daaa, bada baa-daaaa” part.
When I reviewed covers of Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody,” I pointed out how many British artists covered the song. It made sense to me, as Slade was one of the biggest bands in the UK at one point, and “Merry Xmas Everybody” quickly became a perennial staple. It also made sense to me that a smaller number of the covers came from American artists, as neither the song nor the band had as big an impact in the US.
With that in mind, I find the number and diversity of “Only You” covers remarkable. The Yazoo version reached Number 2 in the UK and, and only Number 67 in the US. As Daniels pointed out in his Billboard post, it’s odd that a younger pop sensation like Gomez would pick a song that had only modest success over here, and three decades ago.
But covers are based on more than the chart success of an original, as we’ve seen in reviews of “Bette Davis Eyes,” “They Don’t Know,” and “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” In Yazoo’s “Only You,” the world got introduced to Moyet’s brilliant vocals and Clarke’s ability to make synthesizers sound warm and emotional. On top of that, it’s just a pretty song, so of course people would want to cover it.
The Flying Pickets probably contributed to the number of covers of “Only You,” given that many of the subsequent covers included the “baa-daaa” part of the a capella cover. But just is notable is the fact that there were covers modeled after the versions by Gomez and Radin.
That any of these covers would appear on Christmas albums still baffles me, because the song has nothing to do with Christmas. Sure, The Flying Pickets’ version was a Christmas Number 1, but then again, so was the Pet Shop Boys’ cover of “Always On My Mind.”
And there’s nothing Christmas-like about that song, except for the fact that it’s gift none of us deserved.