#9 Sarah McLachlan – Possession

#9 Sarah McLachlan – Possession

“Listen as the wind blows

From across the great divide”

The inaugural two decades of Some of the Best are heavily populated by soundtracks. Foremost among which is, “Due South: The Original Television Soundtrack”. For those of you who don’t know of this standout winner of the “1990s Mountie-meets-Chicago-Cop Television Miniseries” category, shame on you. It’s the kind of show that would undoubtedly be a Top 10 Netflix/Prime/iPlayer nostalgia banger but for its heavily populated soundtrack of songs which probably can’t be cleared for eye-watering streaming platform royalties. At least, not without bankrupting the successor to Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc. Its creator Paul Haggis later became known for little indie movies such as Million Dollar Baby, Casino Royale and Crash, but we all know that Due South remains the indisputable peak of his creative output. Mostly for its birthing of my hero, life mentor, etiquette-coach, peacoat model and all-time man-crush Benton “it only takes an extra second to be courteous” Fraser.  

Due South first aired in the UK on BBC1 on Tuesday May 9, 1995 and became an instant favourite in the Worthley household. Seasons 1 & 2 (the only strict canon in our family) have enjoyed rewatching in their entirety on numerous occasions since. Most recently by me in the still-small hours of newborn parental awakedness, where only a fictional mountie’s homespun wisdom can bring soothing balm to the existential dread of an exhausted mind. Fraser’s escapades as a liaison officer in Canadian consulate, teamed with buddy-cop local Ray Vecchio saw them often careening around the snowy streets of Chicago accompanied by a soundtrack of 90s emo-pop and original instrumental work of the great Jay Semko. Foremost amongst the musical contributors was Canada’s emerging 90s megastar Sarah McLachlan, whose 1993 album Fumbling Towards Ecstasy had recently propelled her onto the international stage. The opening track from that record was Possession, a big emo ballad replete with gratuitous electric guitars, organs, layered vocals and (according to Youtube contributor MOBROOKS at least) a bassline that “deserves a Nobel prize”.

However, it was the stripped back reworking of this track that found its way onto Due South episode ‘Victoria’s Secret’, and subsequently into the hallowed annals of Some of the Best 9. This episode (the first of a perfect two-parter) marked the zenith of the Due South canon, penned as it was by Paul Haggis and David Shore, and carrying an emotional heft that sadly dissipated in later screwball seasons. This is the pair of episodes featuring the only woman Fraser ever loved – the bank robber Victoria Metcalf – whose entrance was marked by the sparse haunting vocals of Sarah McLachlan’s piano version of Possession, and later by the full album version. I was hooked from the first time of hearing it, and rewatched/relistened to it dozens of times on our flickering home-recorded VHS. The 90s being a luddite decade of pre-Shazam and pre-Spotify wilderness, I had to order and await the arrival of the soundtrack on CD in HMV before even discovering who the singer was, in the wildly optimistic hope that the track would even be selected for an appearance.

The CD was indeed worth waiting for (waiting until the tail end of 1996 in fact). Possession was by far the stand-out track, along with Jay Semko’s original piano score for that particular episode (spolier alert). I later found out it was also a secret track (ha, secret tracks, remember those!?) on Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. The song was apparently inspired by McLachlan’s reaction to two deranged ‘fans’ (read, stalkers), both of whom had concocted a fantasy in which they were already in a relationship with her. Or as she put it to Jools Holland, “I sort of wrote it from the point of view of someone who is so obsessed with somebody else that they might … do something violent.”. To which Jools of course replied, “Cool.” Nice one Jools.

IMHO, McLachlaclan has never bettered this haunting track. It has an effortless, smoky aching presence, fragile and yet pulsing with melancholic desire. The muted piano weaves in and out of the plaintive melody with a cushioned Nihls Frahm-like grace. The poetry of the understated lyrics is ephemeral and yet also relatable. Stripped of its bombastic nineties trappings, this version allows McLachlan’s vocals to take centre stage with devastating ease. It is an ageless triumph. Thank you kindly Sarah.

Honourable Mentions

Little Star Stina Nordenstam

Stone in my Shoe Alisha’s Attic

Lovefool The Cardigans