The band is best known for their biting wit and mastery of Lyrical Dissonance: Heaton and guitarist Dave Rotheray often wrote pleasant-sounding pop tunes paired with lyrics that were dark, satirical, political or otherwise atypical in some fashion. Depending on who you listen to, they were almost equally lauded and derided for this deployment of what was most frequently called "irony" under the cover of sweet melodies, leading to a not insubstantial Hate Dom as well as huge success.
With two lead singers, the Beautiful South emphasized vocal harmonies, especially between male and female vocalists. The first of these female co-leads was Northern Irish singer Briana Corrigan, who left after their third album, 0898 Beautiful South. Jacqui Abbott sang on the next four albums, while Alison Wheeler was a member for the final three. With three-part vocal harmonies and smooth playing from the band, the Beautiful South exhibited a honeyed sound that could mask very barbed lyrics.
The band scored big early successes with the likes of their Heaton-sung debut No.2 single "Song For Whoever", "You Keep It All In" (both 1989) and the chart-topping duet "A Little Time" (1990) sung by Hemingway and Corrigan. Their commercial fortunes thereafter seemed to be on the gradual wane however, until the late-1994 release of Greatest Hits Album Carry On up the Charts: The Best of the Beautiful South unexpectedly went stratospheric — it became the second-best selling album of the year, and with eventual 6x platinum status it has often been claimed that 1 in 7 UK households owned a copy. With the simultaneous rise of Brit Pop also bringing guitar-bass-drums music back into the chart mainstream, subsequently the group had its first Top 10 singles in over half a decade with the Abbott-fronted "Rotterdam" and "Don't Marry Her" then their biggest hit in 8 years with the Heaton-Abbott duet "Perfect 10", along with two more multi-platinum Number One albums, before slipping oddly quickly and quietly from million-selling ubiquity into becoming a fan-only act around the turn of the millennium.
The band broke up amiably in 2007, wittily subversive to the end by citing the cause as "musical similarities." Since then, members Hemingway, Wheeler and Dave Stead have toured with other musicians as The South and the New Beautiful South, Heaton has recorded several solo albums and also reconvened with Jacqui Abbott, leading to the pair recording and touring again as a duo.
- 1989 - Welcome to the Beautiful South (UK #2)
- 1990 - Choke (#2)
- 1992 - 0898 Beautiful South (#4)
- 1994 - Miaow (#6)
- 1994 - Carry On up the Charts: The Best of (#1)
- 1996 - Blue is the Colour (#1)
- 1998 - Quench (#1)
- 2000 - Painting It Red (#2)
- 2001 - Solid Bronze: Great Hits (#10)
- 2003 - Gaze (#14)
- 2004 - Golddiggas, Headnodders and Pholk Songs (#11)
- 2006 - Superbi (#6)
- 2007 - Soup (#15) — combined Housemartins and Beautiful South compilation
I love you from the bottom of my troping case...
- The Alcoholic: "Old Red Eyes Is Back" is a song about poorly disguised alcoholism. Also, most of the denizens of "Liar's Bar".
- Animated Music Video: "How Long's A Tear Take To Dry", courtesy of none other than Hanna-Barbera.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When they released their debut album, Woolworth's refused to stock it due to the album's cover, which depicted a woman with a gun in her mouth next to a man smoking. The band replied in typical fashion saying the store wanted to:"Prevent the hordes of impressionable young fans from blowing their heads off in a gun-gobbling frenzy. Or taking up smoking."
- Big Beautiful Woman: "Perfect 10": "She's a perfect ten/But she wears a twelve/Baby, keep a little two for me."
- Bigger Is Better in Bed: The other half of "Perfect 10", although the singer notes that there's a range of size that she can tolerate and too large might cause some problems. "Well if he's XXL, well what the hell/Every penny don't fit the slot."
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The female vocalists. They started out with Briana Corrigan (redhead), later drafted Jacqui Abbott (brunette), and finally Alison Wheeler (blonde).
- Bowdlerization: The single "Don't Marry Her" changed the rather unsubtle line "don't marry her, fuck me" to "don't marry her, have me". It also changed the line "sweaty bollocks" to "Sandra Bullocks".
- Break-Up Song: "A Little Time": He left her, he regrets it, she's decided she's okay with it.
- Cover Version: Their covers include Pebbles' "Girlfriend" and Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'", already Covered Up by Harry Nilsson. Eventually the band released Golddiggas, Headnodders and Pholk Songs, an (almost)note all-covers album, which featured songs by Willie Nelson ("Valentine"), Rufus Wainwright ("Rebel Prince"), The Ramones ("Blitzkrieg Bop") and Blue Öyster Cult ("Don't Fear the Reaper")!
- Cross-Referenced Titles: "I Love You (But You're Boring)" and "I Hate You (But You're Interesting)".
- Grow Old with Me: "Prettiest Eyes" tells a story of an old man looking proudly back on the years he had spent with his partner:Let's take a look at these crows' feet, just look,
Sitting on the prettiest eyes.
Sixty 25th of Decembers,
Fifty-nine 4th of Julys
- Lyrical Dissonance: A hallmark of the band's work.
- Early hit "You Keep It All In" was a pleasant-sounding ditty with the lyrics "Last night, the conversation we had last night/When all I wanted to do was stab you in the heart..."
- "A Little Time", the band's sole UK Number One single, is a warm, soft 'love song' sung from the point of a man and a woman whose relationship is crumbling.
- Muse Abuse: "Song For Whoever" is about a songwriter who cynically sees his lover's grief as inspiration, and either doesn't even remember her name or has used so many lovers as fodder for his musical career that he struggles to recall them all.Deep, so deep
The number-one I hope to reap
Depends upon the tears you weep
So cry, lover, cry
- Noble Bird of Prey: A falcon stares into the camera on the cover of Gaze.
- Ode to Sobriety: "Liar's Bar" is the "subverted drinking song" version; the bar's regulars are such a terrible example that they'd discourage anyone from drinking, or at least from drinking there.
- One-Woman Song: Parodied to hell and back in "Song For Whoever":Oh Cathy, Oh Alison, Oh Phillipa, Oh Sue
You made me so much money, I wrote this song for you
Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too...
- Retraux: The "How Long's a Tear Take to Dry?" video is done in the style of a Hanna-Barbera Band Toon. The studio itself provided the animation.
- Seduction Lyric: "Don't Marry Her" is a completely open, NSFW offer of sex to someone who seems intent on taking a different, less appealing option.Think of you with pipe and slippers
Think of her in Bed
Laying there just watching telly
Then think of me instead...
- Self-Deprecation: The band's second Greatest Hits Album was entitled the deliberately underwhelming-sounding Solid Bronze.
- Self-Titled Album: Semi-examples with Welcome to the Beautiful South and 0898 Beautiful South.
- Take That!: A hallmark of Paul's writing, even back in his Housemartins days.
- Unusual Euphemism: "Sandra Bullocks", for "sweaty bollocks", in the bowdlerised radio version of "Don't Marry Her".