The Song That Changed My Life – Roxette, ‘Dressed For Success’

The Song That Changed My Life is a regular series in which writers and musicians reveal the one track that shifted their own personal tectonic plates. This week, the ever-sardonic Gavin Haynes gets sentimental for an 80s pop track.

In 1989, South Africa was in the throes of violent upheaval. The Cold War was ending, the geopolitical plates were shifting, and that in turn was blowing the lid off of our own long-suppressed national reckoning. In squalid cells, dissidents examined their loosened teeth, and awaited the wet bag, content with knowing that the centre could no longer hold. In the corridors of power, ministers gave orders to shred forests of secret files, as the inconceivable merged necklessly with the inevitable. Every shopping mall was ringed with metal detectors. The post offices all displayed bomb identification charts. It was a great time to be seven years old and in love with Roxette.

Even today, if you listen to Roxette, you are listening to the quintessential pop music of white South Africa. Long after the rest of the world lost interest, they’ve continued to tour there. The bands that have become especially big in SA since – Counting Crows, Nickelback, Dave Matthews – all stand in the vale of the sonic environment they carved out. Bells, whistles, flim-flammery, nods to hip-hop, tinges of electronica: this is not the currency of white South African pop music. The currency of South African pop music is straight up and down guitars with extremely melodic hooks. It is missionary position. It positively revels in being vanilla.

In that context, Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson’s 1988 album, ‘Look Sharp!’, seemed lab-engineered to tick all of the RSA’s boxes. And so it proved. Again and again, they found the bullseye on the national radio playlists. First with the brooding opener ‘The Look’, then with the personal achievement anthem ‘Dressed For Success’, then the poignant ballad ‘It Must Have Been Love’, then the nervy pulse of fourth single ‘Dangerous’. Roxette asserted that you could take pop and rock and combine them.

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