Oh, as the heavens shudder, baby
I belong to you
Oh, they said you get what you deserve
and all they said was true
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The Sundays were an English folk-rock/dreampop band formed in London in 1987. The band consisted of vocalist Harriet Wheeler, guitarist David Gavurin, bassist Paul Brindley and drummer Patrick Hannan. Wheeler and Gavurin were attending University of Bristol when they met, started dating, and formed The Sundays. Neither had any formal musical training or experience, although Wheeler was briefly a backing vocalist for the little-known quasi-twee outfit Jim Jiminee, but that didn't last long. Leaving Bristol and its University behind, they headed for London to seek their fortune.
Initially, the band lacked a name. After much discussion and disagreement, they settled on "The Sundays" only after failing to come up with anything else that all four members could agree on. The name is fitting—for lack of a better description, their music has a dark, Sunday-ish feeling to it—the good parts, anyway, "Summertime" (their most successful single, released in 1997, just before the band ceased to exist) notwithstanding.
The Sundays began gigging regularly around London and released a number of demo tapes after enthusiastic responses to their live shows. After beating back reportedly quite a number of record labels eager to sign them, they signed to Rough Trade Records and arranged distribution of their material in North America via the David Geffen Company. They spent 1989 recording their debut album, entitled Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, which was released to critical acclaim in early 1990. Its lead single, "Can't Be Sure", was released in January 1989, over a year in advance of the album, which took longer than anticipated to produce. "Can't Be Sure" hit #1 on the British indie chart and was regarded as one of the highlights of 1989 by the British music press. Additional singles from WR&A included "I Won", "Here's Where The Story Ends" (one of The Sundays' most famous songs) and "Joy", all of which also preceded the release of WRA. Rough Trade and DGC put the band on a world tour for most of 1990 to promote the album.
During the time between the release of WR&A, their first tour, and the release of their second album, 1992's Blind, the band kept a low profile. Ever hungry for rumours, the music press bandied about outlandish claims of infighting and imminent break-up. Unfortunately for the music press, their silence was caused by marathon songwriting sessions punctuated by Wheeler and Gavurin's relentless perfectionism and recovering from their exhausting 1990 world tour. Rough Trade went bankrupt in 1991, which caused WR&A to go out of print just a year after it was released. This contributed to the music press' idea that the band was history. But upon signing to Parlophone Records after Rough Trade bit the dust, The Sundays re-emerged with a new single, the amazingly beautiful "Goodbye", in mid-1992.
The appearance of "Goodbye" heralded the arrival of The Sundays' second album, the dark, introspective Blind, which was released in October 1992. Another tour followed its release, but this one was shorter and more abbreviated, with only a handful of gigs in the UK and a slightly larger handful of gigs in North America. Each was greeted by enthusiastic fans and sold-out venues, but exhaustion and homesickness lead to the Blind tour lasting just long enough build a decent following for the album. I remember television commercials for Blind on American TV around the time of its release. Nowadays all the big bands make commercials for their new albums, but in 1992, it was unheard of for a band like The Sundays to make one.
Upon the completion of the Blind tour, another single was released—"Love"—but that was the extent of the singles to come from Blind. A lushly acoustic, sublime cover of The Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses", which appeared on Blind, was used in an American car commercial in 1994, long after the hype surrounding the album had died down. This was also a bit of a coup, as again, it's now commonplace to hear indie music in any commercial, but in the early-to-mid 1990s, it was rare.
Another long hiatus then ensued. Wheeler and Gavurin got married in 1994. Their daughter, Billie, was born in 1995 and a son, Frank, was born in 1999. There was some doubt that another Sundays record would be made, but in 1997, one appeared: Static and Silence. It produced three singles: "Summertime", which did extraordinarily well, though its upbeat tone and clichéd imagery disappointed some fans; "Cry", which did alright but was largely unnoticed by the mainstream music media; and "When I'm Thinking About You", which seems to have been noticed by no one at all (other than fans). Anyway, "Summertime" received by far the most airtime on radio and TV than any of their previous singles. It's probably my least-favourite Sundays song, and not just because it was popular. The lyrics are alright and the concept is airy and light, but the melody is the kind of thing that worms its way into your ears and won't leave as you constantly replay it in your head despite a desperate desire to sleep.
After that, well... the story ended, as it were. No new material has been released by The Sundays since Static and Silence (and its attendant singles) in 1997. Harriet Wheeler and David Gavurin have settled down and are raising a family. Patrick Hannan has become a session drummer and occasional record producer. Bassist Paul Brindley is the CEO and a co-founder of Music Ally, a "[...] London-based company that explores and implements ways in which music and technology can co-evolve".
However, you can still purchase their albums just about anywhere, and the music they made ("Summertime" excepted, of course!) is still a joy to hear. Do yourself a favour and at least listen to "Goodbye", "Medicine", "Here's Where The Story Ends", "Cry" and "I Kicked A Boy", if you haven't heard them before. If you have, listen to them again! They're just as good as you remember.
"Goodbye", in particular, is without a doubt one of the finest songs I've ever heard. The last minute or so never fails to make me shiver. In fact, it's so good, I'm surprised that it was released as a single. Usually the best songs on an album (and "Goodbye" is certainly the best song on Blind) aren't released as singles. It's almost always just the catchiest songs that get single releases. "Goodbye" defies that convention. Righteously so. "Oh well... just give me an easy life and a peaceful death..."
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It's that little souvenir of a terrible year
Which makes me smile inside
So I cynically, cynically say the world is that way
Surprise, surprise, surprise, surprise, surprise
Here's where the story ends
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Unlike a lot of the bands I write about for E2, The Sundays did have some mainstream success, particularly in the United States, where "Here's Where The Story Ends" spent some time at #1 on the US Modern Rock chart, "Love" was #2, "Goodbye" #11 and "Summertime" #10. The highest chart-ranking any Sundays single received in their native UK was #15 with "Summertime" in 1997. "Can't Be Sure" (#45), "Goodbye" (#27) and "Cry" (#43) also charted in the UK but weren't big hits there. On the other hand, Sundays albums charted significantly higher in the UK than they did in America: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic hit #4 in the UK and #39 in America; Blind #15 (UK) and #103 (US); and Static and Silence peaked at #10 in the UK but only at #33 in the US. WR&A and Blind each sold in excess of 500,000 copies and S&S sold 250,000 in America. WR&A and S&S sold 250,000 each in the UK.
Blind seems to be a "desert island disc" for many people I've met. It was discovered at a time of some great crisis or high point for a surprisingly large number of people I know. For me, I discovered it in 1999, a year of desolation and anticipation of what would come next while I toiled away crunching electricity usage numbers for a utilities monitoring company in Red Bank, getting over being dumped, and waiting for the lease on my small, grey apartment in South River to expire so I could move to New Orleans. I still listen to it regularly and "Goodbye" (track 2) never fails to slay me.
Some have compared The Sundays' music to that of The Smiths, but I disagree. The Smiths are more or less incomparable—and so are The Sundays, but the music of each band is too different and too unique to make that comparison. That doesn't mean I can't suggest similar bands, if you please: Aberdeen, Autumn's Grey Solace, The Field Mice, Mazzy Star and early Mojave 3 come to mind, as do Rachel Goswell's solo works.
If your only exposure to The Sundays has been "Summertime", I implore you to give them another chance. Listen to any other song they made and you're almost certain to enjoy it, if this is a style of music you prefer.
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And don't go imagining that time is medicine
Mark those days and swallow your pills
Proud of my wise head on young shoulders
Too bad there was nothing there at all
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UPDATE 2014: Dear me! There was an interview with Harriet and David in an in-flight magazine, of all places, in April, 2014. In it, they discuss a possible reunion tour and state that they've been writing new music! Well! I guess no band is immune to the wave of reunions that have been happening over the past ten years or so. Not even one that was notoriously media-shy and rarely gave interviews in the first place. I can't wait to see where this goes!
UPDATE 2020: It ended up going nowhere.
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WP: The Sundays
Discogs.com: The Sundays
AMG: The Sundays
Not to be confused with The Saturdays or The Happy Mondays, or, for that matter, Taking Back Sunday.