Monday, 9 March 2009

1982 Charlene: I've Never Been To Me

In which a one time good time girl retires from a life of putting it about and ruminates on what it is she has got from it all. Charlene Marilynn Oliver was a white Californian R&B singer who signed to Motown in 1973 and neither the singer nor the song are exactly representative of what Motown was all about; this is less the sound of young America and more the sound of an embittered old whore.

A strange subject matter for a pop song perhaps, you can imagine Jaques Brel writing something similar for an Edith Piaf to break down over (and which probably would have ended with the narrator chucking herself in the Seine), but whereas Piaf famously had no regrets, Charlene has them by the bucketful:

"I moved liked Harlow in Monte Carlo and showed 'em what I've got
I've been undressed by kings and I've seen some things
That a woman ain't supposed to see
I've been to paradise
But I've never been to me"

Well bless.

The problem is though that Charlene has none of the emotional rawness or honesty of a Piaf to pull it off. She was just 32 when she recorded this and her breathless, goody goody tones sound like they'd be more at home coming out of the back of a Barbie doll rather than a mature woman expressing regrets over a wasted life. Instead of bitter, she comes across like an airhead whining about a bad hair day.

So what's the message here? Well it seems that hedonism and pleasing yourself is all very well but it won't fulfil your life the way getting married and having kids will:

"Hey, you know what paradise is?

It's a lie, a fantasy we create about people and places as we'd like them to be
But you know what truth is?
It's that little baby your holding
And it's that man you fought with this morning
The same one you're going to make love with tonight
That's truth, that's love "

Charlene speaks these words in a golly gosh tone that sounds all rather patronising. Rather than regret, she sounds like she's telling her mates that when she 'sipped champagne on a yacht' she'd have much rather having been cooking dinner for her bloke whilst up to her elbows in shitty nappies and that she'd swap placed with them anytime. Rather than express sympathy, I don't personally know too many women who wouldn't want to stick a knife in her after delivering that little bon mot of wisdom. And maybe somebody did because Charlene never troubled the charts again.

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