Category: Single of the week

I’ve Never Been to Me (Charlene)

I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a vocation in life, give it go only to find it didn’t work out the way you planned and get so disillusioned that you give it up completely. Then, all of a sudden, by a stroke of luck you’re back in that same business. Well, that’s what happened to the singer who recorded this week’s suggested song. Her name is Charlene.

Charlene Marilynn D’Angelo was born in June 1950 in Los Angeles. She always knew she wanted to be a singer because when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones first came to America, she managed to get seem them and then realised stardom was attractive.

She got a lucky break when she was offered the chance to join Petula Clark’s backing singers at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. There she was spotted singing by Berry Gordy who signed her to his Motown label in 1973. Her first single All That Love Went to Waste did just that. The label billed her as Charlene Duncan which was her married name. In the autumn of 1976, Ken Hirsch and Ron Miller wrote a song called I’ve Never Been to Me and less than two months later she got to record it.

“I’d been signed to Motown for three or four years and I was doing demos for Michael Jackson and Diana Ross,” remember Charlene, “and a gentleman by the name of Ron Miller approached me and said to me, ‘Charlene, I’m Ron Miller and I want to introduce to you a song that I wrote.’ He said, ‘when I heard your voice I wrote the female version for you. He had written the male version after the captain in the movie Jaws. He pushed the button and on came, ‘Hey lady, you lady, cursing at your life, you’re a discontented mother and a regimented wife. I’ve no doubt you dream about the things you’ll never do but I wish someone had a talk to me like I wanna talk to you.’ I just put my head down and I just started to cry because, at the time, I was an abused wife, I was an abused woman who dreamed of being out of my situation. I felt that I would never get out of it.” She concurred to Ian Wishart, “I’d married at 16, had a child to my first husband, and Ron Miller’s song just spoke to me and I just cried and cried. He actually stopped the tape to give me space to cry. It was such a beautiful song. All the pain and the hitting that my husband did at the time, it just sounded like my life. I experienced an abortion with that husband and when that line, ‘Sometimes I’ve been to crying for unborn children, that might have made me complete’ came, it meant everything to me.”

Originally, that latter line caused some controversy because although it wasn’t anything to do with abortion people perceived it that way. It referred to a female who had wished she’d had children but never made the time. Charlene’s original version had a spoken part which said, ‘Hey, you know what paradise is? It’s a lie, a fantasy we created about people and places as we like them to be. But you know what truth is? It’s that little baby you’re holding, and it’s that man you fought with this morning, the same one you are gonna make love to tonight. That’s truth that’s love’ but some people at Motown deemed it to be too feminist and had it deleted from the initial release.

When Motown released the single it went to number 97 on the pop chart and, “I was so sad,” Charlene remembered. I thought to myself if this song isn’t a big hit, then nothing I’m ever going to do is ever going to be. So why waste my time? I was discouraged, I was broken, I was so sad. So, then I got away from the business.” She became a Christian and went on to work with autistic children. Then she moved to England with her new husband, a record producer named Larry Duncan.

In 1981, Scott Shannon, a DJ on a WRBQ-FM in Tampa, Florida, discovered the album and began spinning the track. Charlene continued, “I found out that Scott was good friends with Jay Lasker at Motown and he kept saying, ‘What’s happening with Charlene and I’ve Never Been to Me, I love that song?’ he then said, ‘You know what, I’m doing a contest on my show and I’m going to play two songs and get the listeners to vote for their favourite.'” He put Olivia Newton-John’s Physical up against I’ve Never Been to Me and Charlene explained what happened? “He said my song got thousands and thousands of votes and Olivia got about 150. It went mad and suddenly I was selling 66,000 copies a day. It went over a million in no time.

In the meantime, back in the UK, “I never knew this at the time, I was happy, I was working in a sweetshop in east London when I got a phone call from my mom who said, ‘Charlene, someone from Motown is looking for you, then about a month later I got a call from the president of Motown Records and he said, ‘your song is on the charts in America, you’ve got a double bullet, you’ve got a hit,’ and just like that, my world turned upside down, I was on Concord airlines flying back to America  and my life just turned around.”

The song was released in the UK, but it was the pressing with the spoken passage in and no one had realised until it made the chart. By then it certainly didn’t matter because it reached number one exactly one year after Motown had re-issued Michael Jackson’s One Day in Your Life, the song Charlene had done the demo of. Charlene also recorded a Spanish language version, which interestingly replaced the line ‘I’ve been to Nice, and the isle of Greece’ with ‘I’ve been to Acapulco and Buenos Aires’. By the time the song hit number one in the UK, she was now Charlene Oliver because she had divorced Larry and married an Englishman called Jeff Oliver. Both songs were six years old when they hit the top. In the wake of her new-found success, Motown teamed her up with Stevie Wonder for the duet Used to Be. It failed to make the Top 50 in the US and missed the chart altogether in Britain.

Although Charlene recorded it first, Randy Crawford’s version was released on her album Everything Must Change two months before Charlene’s. Other versions were by the jazz singer, Nancy Wilson the TV entertainer Marti Caine, Mary MacGregor, Motown acts Mary Wells and The Temptations did separate versions in 1982, Howard Keel, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin in 1992 and Jane McDonald in 2014.

The official video was shot at the 17th-century stately home, Blickling Hall near Aylsham in Norfolk and Charlene wore the same dress that she got married in, but we’re not sure which marriage it was.

In 1994, the song was used in the The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Charlene, who was now living in Santa Clarita in California, said, “I got a call from Ron Miller who told me about the movie, I couldn’t wait to see it. OMG, the movie was incredible. I loved it. When the musical opened up in Australia I was asked to come and perform I’ve Never Been to Me for the cast on opening night. It was amazing. I realised then that I was a gay Icon. I totally loved the amazing adventure I went on.”

In an interview with a Dutch Television programme, she was asked if she did ever find her ‘me’ she said, “No, I’m still searching.”

Atomic (Blondie)

The amount of people I have conversations with who think Nena, who had the 1984 chart-topper 99 Red Balloons, is an actual person is unbelievable, I often correct them to explain that it was a group whose lead singer was called Gabrielle Kerner. The same was true of the group who recorded this week’s suggested Single of the Week. So many people though Blondie was Debbie Harry. Granted they acquired that name because, as Debbie recalled, “I had always been called ‘blondie’ by assorted motorists and truck drivers and thought it was a good name, a natural and so easy to remember”. Anyway, now I’ve cleared that up, let’s find out about their first number one of the eighties, Atomic.

Now, be honest, how many times have you sung along to this song and not really understood what you’re singing about? Yes, guilty! Well, the title itself actually doesn’t have any significant meaning within the song, but the focus is more on the line, ‘oooh your hair is beautiful’ and Debbie explained how that came about, “The lyrics, well, a lot of the time I would write while the band were just playing the song and trying to figure it out. I would just be kind of scatting along with them and I would start going, ‘Oooooooh, your hair is beautiful.'” So, basically, she made it up. As for the music, “Jimmy Destri (the keyboard player) who wrote this song,” Debbie continued, “was trying to do something like Heart of Glass, and then somehow or another we gave it the spaghetti western treatment. Before that it was just lying there like a lox.”

The 7″ single is a shortened version of the album version yet both intros owe a nod to different songs. The album version was inspired by the nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice whereas the single borrows heavily from Dean Parrish’s northern Soul hit I’m On My Way from 1975 although originally released in 1967. However, the 12″ is worth checking out as it features a live cover version of David Bowie’s Heroes with some great guitar work by King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. Record Mirror described Atomic as ‘Vapid and irritating’ the best thing about this single is the live version of David Bowie’s Heroes on the B-side.’

Atomic was the debut single from the album Eat to The Beat and was also one of the first ever rock video albums, with a video to accompany each song. Following the success of Blondie’s previous album Parallel Lines, Mike Chapman was asked to take care of production.

Debbie Harry, who had always wanted to be a movie star, decided to pursue acting. She was cast in her first role as Lillian Harlan in Mark Reichert’s Union City. Chris Stein (Debbie’s partner) provided some of the music for the soundtrack and the title track, Union City Blue reached number 13 in the UK.

There has been plenty of exposure for the song over the years with appearances in the films, When Strangers Appear (2001) and Bend It Like Beckham (2002) as well as various television series’ including Queer as Folk (1999), Cold Case (2006), Who’s Doing the Dishes? (2016), Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 and The Flight Attendant (2020). The song has also been heard in Coca-Cola commercials during the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cup campaigns. In 1996, Sleeper covered it for the Trainspotting soundtrack and appears in the B-side of their single Sale of the Century.

Naturally brunette Deborah, as she now likes to be called, began a new vocation. She was asked to present a three-part documentary on Sky’s Discovery Channel. The series focused on how rock ‘n’ roll music, particularly The Beatles and the worlds of fashion and film, permeated countries outside the Western world. She recalled, “In 1980, I nearly met John Lennon. I was supposed to go and meet him the week after it happened. It was kind of awful. I mean beyond him getting shot I would have really liked to have met him.”

Between 1988 and 1995, five of Blondie’s hit singles were re-mixed and back in the chart for no apparent reason and generally went by unnoticed with Atomic reaching number 19 followed by Heart of Glass which went four places better and these mixes probably haven’t been heard since.

Supermarket Flowers (Ed Sheeran)

In July 2017, the Official Charts Company (OCC) changed the rules surrounding the compilation of the UK Singles chart and all because one of the most popular and successful artists of the 21st century dominated it. The idea was to prevent the heavyweight acts saturating the majority of the charts. So, when Ed Sheeran released his Divide album in the summer of 2017 and every track charted something had to be done. Many will agree that the OCC changed the wrong rules, it really should no longer be called a singles chart when it is populated with any track that is available and not necessarily a single. Either way, it only allowed one lead credited act to have a maximum of three songs in the chart at the same time. This week’s suggestion, Supermarket Flowers was on that very album.

Taking a glance at the lyrics of the song, the last two lines of the first verse are, ‘Dad always told me, don’t you cry when you’re down, but mum, there’s a tear every time that I blink’ whilst the chorus includes the line, ‘You were an angel in the shape of my mum’ which would lead you to think it was about Ed’s mother, but not so, “Supermarket Flowers is about my grandmother,” he explained to Mike Pell. “She [my grandmother] was in a hospital near my house where I was making the album so I saw her quite a lot while making the album and she passed away while I was in the studio. So that’s my first reaction for anything that happens to me, good or bad, pick up a guitar. The song is supposed to really make you cry.”

His grandmother, Anne, along with Ed’s brother Matthew gave Ed the inspiration to follow a career in music. “I just wanted to make a tribute to my gran as she was the musical one in my family. Hopefully I will pass that on to my kids. On the day she passed it was just a knee-jerk reaction. You can be really upset and dwell on something or you can put all the good memories in one song.”

After his grandmother passed it was the after process when the inspiration and the title came to him, “After my gran passed away we were clearing out her hospital room and the supermarket flowers from the window sill and having that moment is when it came to me,” he explained in an interview on Nova FM.

Ed didn’t originally plan to include Supermarket Flowers in the Divide album, so how come it ended up on there? “My grandfather just turned to me at the funeral, he was like you have to put that out, that has to go on the record,” he explained in an interview on CapitalFM, “It’s such a good memory, that’s why it’s ended up on there.” In the same interview he revealed what it was like to write given the circumstances at the time, “It was really hard to write and very easy at the same time in terms of its flow. Because there was no trying to think of poignant lines and being like you know death is this or like life is this. It was just so spot on and the lyric of ‘you are an angel in the shape of my mum’, that could end up in a poignant line but it was the truth.”

The single peaked at number eight and spent 11 weeks on the survey. Had the chart rules been different and only allowed one or two tracks to chart, the song may well have had longevity but because top 40 radio stations were spoilt for choice, it would have limited its airplay.

In 2019, Co-Op Funeralcare published a top 10 list of the most popular funeral songs in the UK and this song was only five places behind the leader on that list which was Frank Sinatra’s My Way.

Ed said of his grandmother, “She was one of the nicest women you’d ever meet and she was my mum’s mum. It was written from my mum’s point of view; it was choosing loads of specific things and then just finishing it as a song.” And that is what Ed is so good at.

Beds Are Burning (Midnight Oil)

If you ask virtually anyone who was into music in the 1980s how many hit singles Midnight Oil had, they are likely to say one and that’s purely because they are remembered in the UK for their biggest hit, Beds Are Burning. They actually had half a dozen. Their next biggest being Truganini which scraped into the top 30 in 1993. In their native Australia, they had far more hits although Beds Are Burning is their second biggest reaching the same position down under as here. But what is the song all about? Let’s find out.

The band formed in Sydney as far back as 1972 but took them six years until they scored any success in Oz. They were originally called The Oils but changed their name in 1976 when they amended their line up to comprise singer Peter Garrett, guitarists Jim Moginie Martin Rotsey and drummer Rob Hirst. The only varying member was the bass player: Andrew James originally then Peter Gilford until Bones Hillman became the final permanent member.

Beds Are Burning is a political song as one can understand from the second and third verse where they sing, ‘The time has come to say fair’s fair, to pay the rent, to pay our share. The time has come, a fact’s a fact, it belongs to them, let’s give it back.’ Give what back you might be thinking? Well, I can tell you. A massive rock standing 2,831 feet high and a perimeter of 5.8 miles, its name is Uluru to the locals and Ayers Rock to the rest of the world. I can vouch for its size as I climbed it in 2001, it took me 54 minutes up and 38 minutes to come down and a tiny piece of I still proudly possess.

“Back in 1985, Uluru was handed back to the First Nations people that lived around its base,” Peter Garrett explained to Duncan Haskell at Songwriting. “Around that time, we had become quite popular here in Australia and we had started to get more of an audience in Europe and the United States. We were approached by some folks from out in the desert here who asked if we’d like to submit a song, or songs, to commemorate the handing back of Uluru. We thought, ‘We could have a crack at it but surely there is a First Nations band that should be approached first?’ – We’d gotten to know quite a few of the bands from the desert and elsewhere, bands like the Warumpi Band. They came back and said, ‘We want the message of the handback to go the big cities, and that’s where Midnight Oil is from, so could you have a crack at it?’ So, Jim Moginie (Garrett’s song writing partner) and I got to work. Jim & I got together when we were 15 and almost immediately started writing songs. We actually wrote three songs for this handback and one of them was accepted, a song called The Dead Heart which we’d already recorded.”

After the success of Beds Are Burning, Garrett said to Songfacts, “In retrospect it was the song we were born to record. It’s got all the bits to make it work, strong rhythms, good melody and the lyrics had some punch, while being very Aussie, it took a while to stick. It’s incredible how much it still gets played around the place. Who would have thought an Aboriginal land rights song would travel that far?”

The whole band are credited as songwriters on this track and drummer Rob Hirst explained his part, “I wrote the chorus before we went out into the desert and it was actually translated from Italian. I had been to an art exhibition which featured the story of the fascists during the Second World War, Mussolini and the fightback from the partisans. The guy who put the exhibition on explained to me that there was an expression from Italy about the fightback from those partisans, ‘How could you sleep when beds are burning?’ and I thought we could write a song about the same idea of an ancient Australian community who had so much thrown at it but was still joyfully dancing in the desert, singing their songs and pushing back against all the shocking things that had been visited upon them ever since Europeans had arrived in this country. We had the chorus written and we had the groove but I actually wrote the verse lyrics while travelling around with a friend of ours who was very well known in the desert – a guy called Charlie McMahon from the band Gondwanaland who was playing with us every night and was also a guide. We were still city slickers but were wide-eyed and learning, picking up as much as we could. I travelled around a lot with Charlie in his Toyota Troopcarrier, listening to him explain bits and pieces about the bush. I was jotting all the time in my black Moleskine book, writing things down in case melodies come into your head later on. We hoped the chorus would send a real shiver down the spine and that Pete’s delivery of the verse would sound very Australian. We were very determined that our band would be seen as an Australian band, in an international context. We were determined to put place names and other specific bits and pieces in all our songs.”

The parent album, Diesel and Dust, made the UK top 20 and was produced by the British producer Warne Livesey who had worked extensively with The The, Julian Cope, Deacon Blue and Paul Young. “We had no idea that Beds Are Burning had any particular merit above all the other songs on the album, but, much to our surprise, that song opened up a much larger audience right across the world,” Garrett recalled. “On the back of that song and a few others from Diesel and Dust, we were able to get from a college audience in the States to a larger audience and play some quite big festivals in Europe.”

Beds Are Burning was used in the 1988 TV movie Ladykillers and was featured in the 2007 film The Kite Runner. The band split up in 2003 but reformed in mid-2016. Last year, 2020, was a year of mixed feeling; on the up side they released Gadigal Land, their first single in 18 years which received radio play in Australia but failed to chart, on the down side, Bones Hillman died of cancer in November.

Hey Baby (Bruce Channel)

It often amazes the kids when they sing a song that is in the chart and turn around and find their parents are singing it too and wondering how they know it. Then mum or dad explains that it’s an old song and the offspring is puzzled not realising it’s either a cover version or a sample. This week’s suggestion, which was a number one in the summer of 2001, was recorded by the Austrian DJ Gerry Friedle and did it in his own energetic style that the kids at the time couldn’t possibly imagine Hey Baby being a recorded some 40 years earlier.

Bruce Channel, who was born in Texas in 1940, began singing country music at the Louisiana Hayride where he met the musician Delbert McClinton. Both men were born in the same month in the same year just 24 days apart and began working together. Bruce explained to Bert Herbison how it all began, “My brother worked for a company called Texas Tank, a manufacturer of butane tanks. I went over there, and he talked to his boss and they gave me a job, I was about 17.  I worked there for a while and I met a guy named Buddy Combs. Buddy was a guitar player and we would pick together. He said, ‘I want you to meet my sister, her name is Margaret and she’s a songwriter.’ He took me over to Margaret’s house and I met her. I started going there and hanging out. Buddy would come and play guitar sometimes and I’d do little gigs here and there. Buddy would play guitar with me. He was an excellent guitar player. Margaret and I were trying to write songs, so that’s how our association started.

Bruce’s favourite vocal group were The Platters and wrote a song for them called Dream Girl. It was in 1959 that Bruce and Margaret wrote Hey Baby together which Bruce had performed in various venues for a couple of years before Margaret introduced Bruce to another friend of hers called Marvin Montgomery who suggested they submit some of their song to Bill Smith, a record producer in Fort Worth, Texas. They played Bill Dream Girl and Hey Baby and Bill preferred the latter but didn’t like the guitar intro but suggested a harmonica would sound better at which point Bruce called up Delbert knowing how well he played the instrument.

They laid down the song and Bill took it to a radio convention in Nashville where lot of deals were done. There was a lot of interest but Bill decided to offer it to Mercury records, but they initially showed no interest so Bill pressed copies on his own LeCam label and touted around radio stations. Once it received some airplay, Bill was contacted by Mercury who offered to buy the master tape for $500 and Bill agreed. Unfortunately for both parties, other labels had heard the song on the radio and the owner of Dot records called Bill to offer him money for the master tape of the song, but he was too late, the deal had been done with Mercury and Bill and Bruce lost out on £10,000.

When Bruce and Delbert toured the UK in early 1962, one of the dates took in Liverpool where The Beatles were lower down in the bill and an impressed John Lennon asked Delbert to show him how to play the harmonica. A few months later that inspired sound could be heard on the intro to Love Me Do.

DJ Ötzi was born Gerry Friedle in Tyrol, Austria, the result of a one-night stand. His mother put him up for adoption and he spent two years with foster parents. Then his grandmother discovered his existence and brought him back to her hometown of Seelen-Dorf on Ötz, the place he would later take his name from. At 19 he left his grandmother’s home and ended up living rough on the streets for a few months. One day when he heard a passer-by call him a tramp, he decided enough was enough and became motivated to do something with his life.

His initial ambition was to be a farmer, but then discovered he had a fear of cows. After singing karaoke in local bars, he became a DJ. Taking the moniker DJ Ötzi he moved to Mallorca where he was well received. In 1998 he discovered he had testicular cancer, but after a short spell of chemotherapy, he made a full recovery. One day in his DJ set, the tall, bleached-blond Ötzi was winding the crowd up into a frenzy by playing Bruce’s Hey Baby and adding his own Uuh Aah’s and the crowd were copying. So, he recorded it and it was released by EMI’s subsidiary label, Liberty across Europe. It went to number one in Austria and Ireland, number two in Germany, Holland, Italy, Poland and Switzerland and number three in Belgium and Denmark. On import it reached number 45 in the UK, but such was its popularity that import copies ran short and EMI were forced to bring its UK release date forward. It was released the following week and sold over 90,000 copies. The song rocketed from 45 to number one but because the UK release carried the same catalogue number as the import, its leap to the top was not considered a new entry. At the time, it held the record for the biggest climb to number one in chart history with Ötzi insisting, “I know I am no Mozart, but I am the guy who can make any party rock. I’m successful because I am who I am and not a manufactured personality. The biggest leap to number one feat has been achieved a further six times and the current record holder is Pixie Lott whose song Boys and Girls sprang from number 73 to the top in September 2009.

“I loved DJ Ötzi’s version very much,” said Bruce Channel in 2004. “It went platinum, so not only did it make me a whole heap of money, it brought the song to a whole audience and I’m very grateful to him for that. It also shows how it has stood the test of time.”

(Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard (Cat Stevens)

 

 

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about a Cat Stevens song, in fact, it’s the third. The prolific singer songwriter crops up a few times but always with different songs. This week’s choice features what for years was his last UK chart hit. I say for years that was until 2007 when his 1970 song Wild World finally made the chart after it was performed twice at the Live Earth concerts by Stevens himself in Germany and James Blunt in London. It peaked at number 52. The song this week is (Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard which just missed the top 40 in 1977, but what is it about? Let’s find out.

Stevens was born in Central London and lived above his parent’s shop and attended St. Joseph Roman Catholic Primary School in Macklin Street in London which was close to his father’s business on Drury Lane. It was his days of playing in that playground that inspired the song where he spends time reminiscing about the fun and innocent times; ‘We used to laugh a lot, oh don’t you?’ and ‘When we had simplicity and we had warm toast for tea and we laughed’. Even at a young age, he remembers a special person who held his affection because in the third verse he remembers, ‘You were my sweet love, my first sweet love my lovey dove, my love lovey dove’ and ‘I still see your face, your smiling face, in childish dreams, inside my dreams’.

Who was the first love? Who knows? He’s never said. Maybe it was Linda Ann Fredericks who is two years his junior and later became Linda Lewis. It’s unlikely as she grew up in West Ham and became a child actor even appearing as a screaming fan in the Beatles’ 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night. The reason I mentioned her is because Cat wrote the song for her and she was the first to record it. She had been a backing singer for Cat appearing on his 1972 album Catch Bull at Four and toured with him on his Bamboozle World tour in 1974.

It was recorded for her 1975 album Not A Little Girl Anymore. Clive Davis at Arista records signed her on the strength of hearing her version of the song and her album was released on Arista’s subsidiary label Bell. The song was released as a single by her but it failed to chart.

Cat’s version was released as a single in June 1977 and featured former Sly & The Family Stone drummer Andy Newmark. Andy later became a session drummer and has played on songs by Pink Floyd, Roxy Music and David Bowie. There are two female backing singers on the song one of which is the New Zealand singer Suzanne Lynch and the other is the more prominently heard Elkie Brooks. The track was lifted from the album Izitso which, for the first time for Stevens, features a synthesizer, a Polymoog synthesizer played by Jean Roussel.

The accompanying video begins with the musicians in the studio and then changes to a playground scene with lots of young children innocently playing together. At the start of the third verse you see Cat and Linda singing together as if indeed remembering those days.

Lewis went on to have four hits in the 1970s including her version It’s In his Kiss which made the top 10. She has a five-octave vocal range and has been compared to Minnie Riperton and Mariah Carey. She is still active and revealed on Robert Elms’ BBC London show last year that she is working on a new album.

After this hit, Cat changed his name and religion and moved away from the spotlight, however he did occasionally perform at various charity events and he was steadfast about not returning to music, but in 2015, he did return still under the name Yusef Islam and when he did, one of the songs he began performing was this song because it was innocent and made no reference to politics nor religion.