Charlene D’Angelo was born in Hollywood in 1950. She was discovered by the moguls of Motown Records who signed her to the label in 1973 and used her full married surname Charlene Duncan. They teamed her up with the song-writing duo, Ron Richards and Ken Hirsch, but her first single, All That Love Went to Waste did just that.
In 1977 she had dropped her surname altogether and released her first album, Charlene, which confusingly credited her as Charlene Duncan on the sleeve. The first single from it, It Ain’t Easy Comin’ Down, barely scraped into the US chart. Now signed to Prodigal Records, a subsidiary of Motown, she released, I’ve Never Been To Me which again made little impact.
The song was originally written from a male perspective but rewritten by Ron Miller. It was first recorded by Randy Crawford in 1976. Charlene explained her reaction when she first heard the song, “Those lyrics – ‘Hey lady, you lady, cursing at your life, you’re a discontented mother and a regimented wife’ – they hit me hard. I was a battered wife, I’d married at 16, had a child to my first husband, and Ron Miller’s song just spoke to me. I didn’t even know him but I just cried and cried. He actually stopped the tape to give me space to cry. It was such a beautiful song.”
When Charlene’s version was first aired in America there were many misconceptions about this song be about abortion. The spoken bridge in the song was not about or did it mention abortion – it was deemed too feminist and when Charlene’s first album was released in 1977, the spoken bridge had been deleted. When it came to issuing the song in 1982 the edited version could not be found so the version with the spoken bridge intact that was released. It has also been widely reported that the 1982 single was a re-recording, it was not. The line ‘I’ve been to crying for unborn children’ was also not about abortion. It refers to a woman who is at a point in her life that she wished she had taken the time to have children.
When no more hits were forthcoming, she became disillusioned with the music business and decided to call it a day. She married and moved to England where she took a job working in a sweet shop in Ilford.
In 1981 Scott Shannon, a DJ on a WRBQ-FM in Tampa, Florida, discovered the album and began spinning the track. Being an ex-member of Motown staff he swiftly informed the label’s president Jay Lasker who embarked on the task of tracking Charlene down and informing her of her belated success. Once they did, they rushed her into the studio to re-record the track. To enhance the song’s female sentiment she added the narrative passage in the middle. 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’.
The video was recorded at Blicking Hall, in the village of Blicking in Norfolk with Charlene wearing the same dress she got married in.
The song has been recorded by a multitude of people including The Temptations, entertainer Marti Caine, Howard Keel and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. As well as Charlene’s Spanish version, there was also a Japanese language version by Yuki Koyanagi. It has appeared in both film and television; in 1994 Hugo Weaving lip-synched it in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Jack McFarland parodied it in the sitcom Will & Grace and in 2005 the fictional character Edie Britt sang it in Desperate Housewives. Not everyone liked it, in 2006 CNN ran a poll to find the worst songs of all time and Charlene was there at number four. Now you want to know what beat it, don’t you. I’ll tell you at the end.
The song reached number one in the UK exactly one year after Motown had re-issued Michael Jacksons One Day in Your Life. 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. Motown were disappointed with the lack of success and dropped Charlene from the roster. “I was offered Vegas at $50,000 a week,” Charlene recalled, “But I had no band. I just wasn’t ready and wasn’t prepared, so I couldn’t do it.”
Charlene is now living back in California and is still singing under the name Charlene Oliver. He has her own website and has recorded several songs including a dance version of I’ve Never Been To Me. She has written two books; a children’s book called The Life and Tails Of Herman the Worm and her autobiography called I’ve Never Been To Me. She is now working on a new album scheduled for released at the end of this year. The first single from it is going to be called Heard You on the Radio.
So you still want to know what the top three worst songs were. OK, number three was Debby Boone’s 10-week US number one You Light Up My Life, number two was Captain and Tennille’s version of Muskrat Love and topping the pole was Paul Anka’s cheesy You’re Having My Baby, which I must say I agree with. If you haven’t heard it, ‘treat’ yourself by clicking here.
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