‘It’s really saying you’re not gorgeous at all’: how Babybird made You’re Gorgeous

<span>‘A bit of an earworm’ … Babybird, with Stephen Jones, centre, in 1997.</span><span>Photograph: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images</span>
‘A bit of an earworm’ … Babybird, with Stephen Jones, centre, in 1997.Photograph: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images

Stephen Jones, songwriter, singer

We’d released five lo-fi albums that had got us noticed in NME and Sounds, but we were yet to be signed to a record label. You’re Gorgeous was one of around 400 demos I’d recorded on a four-track over five years on the dole in Nottingham. I lived above the Victoria Centre and they decided to replace all the windows, which took a year, so I was trying to record while people were pulling out windows.

I wrote the basic skeleton in 30 minutes. The music is very simple and lullaby-esque, a bit of an earworm. The lyrics came quickly because the verses are quite barbed, so I wanted to sweeten them with a chorus to suck people in. The band thought it was a bit of a joke, but the record company thought: “You’re gorgeous – fantastic!” Even though the verses are insidious.

I don’t think a man can call himself a feminist, but it’s meant to be a feminist song. Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, you’d regularly see images of women photographed in bikinis draped over the bonnet of a Ford Capri. I wanted to flip that round and see how the male photographer would feel if he were lying over a car in a thong, to prove how gross it is. I still have people who write to me asking: “Will you sing it at our wedding?” But in it I’m really saying: “You’re not gorgeous at all.”

Years later, living in Manchester, I’d be at a petrol station at 2am and someone would shout: “It’s Gorgeous Man!” I couldn’t go to a bar without people coming up to me. I’ve had waves in my career, so I always assumed something would replace it. Our single The F-Word was used as the theme tune to Gordon Ramsay’s TV show, and when we worked with Johnny Depp, who plays guitar and directed the video to Unloveable with Stephen Graham in it, I thought, “What a relief”, because it took it away from people asking about You’re Gorgeous.

But it always comes back. It still gets played. It was played behind Barack Obama on the BBC. Prince William played it when he was DJing. It was used in an advert for Tesco earlier this year. I’m not so stupid as to want to bash people over the head with a message. I’m happy people enjoy it.

Stephen Power, producer

I’d had a big hit producing Spaceman for Babylon Zoo, for my sins, and had produced Blur’s first single, She’s So High. I’d been offered the Blur album but was already booked to produce this band from Manchester, the Railway Children. I also recorded the original version of Sit Down by James, which has a better groove in my opinion, but couldn’t do their album, either. So they were two big things I’d let slip through my fingers.

I’d read in NME about all these independent albums Stephen had recorded, and thought they were incredible: the mixture of his lyrics with these twee, knowing arrangements. I subsequently found out that all these clever arrangements were just the presets on a Yamaha keyboard. All you do is play C, F and G and it instantly gives you a backing track – a drumbeat and horn parts in different musical styles. But I thought he was a musical genius. I listened to nothing else for months and eventually went to see them play. I was surprised at the look of the band – all dressed in black. The songs were brilliant. I spoke to the A&R man but was told that they’d decided to go with another producer, so I went home without meeting the band.

They recorded a version of You’re Gorgeous and one or two other tracks in a very faithful representation of how the band sounded live, but it didn’t have the quirkiness or character of the stuff Stephen had recorded on his own. When I was brought in, I knew I had to get the band on side. We recorded some tracks with the whole group, including Goodnight, the first single from their 1996 album Ugly Beautiful. But when it came to You’re Gorgeous, I programmed up a version and just got Stephen singing over the top. Everyone loved it. I can remember sitting in a flat in London listening to the chart countdown, thinking: “It’s not No 5 … it’s not No 4 …” It went in at No 3, in spite of how dark the lyrics are.

I think Stephen was OK with it but the rest of band thought it became a bit of an albatross around the neck. I got on very well with them during the recording but then they wouldn’t speak to me for ages because they thought I’d turned them into a one-hit-wonder band.

• Babybird tour the UK 22 to 31 May