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Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold 26


You guys, I’m a bad blogger. I haven’t really posted much in a while. I know you’re all perfectly nice people, and you can probably forgive me for that. But I don’t know if you can forgive me for being a mean blogger.

You see, I’ve worked so hard to gain your respect, your readership, and most importantly, your readership. And it all ends today, with this edition of Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold. Believe it or not, I AM sorry for this one, and hope you’ll forgive me one day.

Charlene – I’ve Never Been To Me (download)

That sound you just heard was Jeremy sending bomb threats to my ISP.

Let’s get one thing out of the way, right now. This song is very, very mellow. Very smooth, too. Is it traditional “Mellow Gold?” No, not really. Certainly not in the same way as many of our male artists (and yes, we’ve discussed the differences between male and female MG artists, too, with no real definitive answers). But I’m covering it because it’s been requested by a few people, and also because when it was last mentioned here, people seemed to get really angry about it.

I think that’s funny.

If you like “I’ve Never Been To Me,” well, one could say you’re entitled to your own opinion. For my part, I think this song is pretty terrible. It’s sappy in the worst ways imaginable, both lyrically and musically.

I really don’t know much about Charlene, and I’m not convinced that anybody really needs to know that much about Charlene. Quick backstory: Charlene signed with Motown in 1973. In 1976, she recorded “I’ve Never Been To Me” and released it on her album Charlene. However, the song didn’t take off, possibly because of its spoken interlude smack in the middle. (More on this later.) In 1977, the song was re-released without the bridge on her album Songs Of Love. It reached #97, but still, no hit.

In 1982, the famous DJ Scott Shannon was working down at WRBQ in Tampa, and somehow brought the song back to the airwaves. (Here’s where Scott Shannon works now, in case you’d like to send him a thank-you note.) Shannon generated significant interest in the tune. Motown threw Charlene back into the studio, where she re-recorded the song, with the spoken word section intact. “I’ve Never Been To Me” reached #3 in the U.S. in May of 1982, and even hit #1 in the U.K.

“I’ve Never Been To Me” is Charlene’s plea to housewives everywhere who long for the glamorous life: “don’t wish for my life of luxury, ladies, for yes, I’ve done many wonderful things, but I don’t know who I really am. Stick to your dish pan hands.” Never mind the fact that the things that Charlene mentions in her song – such as sipping champagne on a yacht and making love in the sun here on Thunder Island – sound pretty damn good. So what if I wind up never going to me? I’d much rather go to Greece, anyway. Me sucks.

This song establishes its mellow-icity from the first four words: “hey lady, you lady.” Now, we’ve already established that calling a female “lady,” or “woman” is a trait distinctive to Mellow Gold. However, here’s where the gender confuses things: there’s just something that sounds wrong when it’s used by a woman. And “hey lady, you lady” is a phrase I never really want to hear, not even by Jerry Lewis. Unless Charlene says it while wearing a Jerry Lewis costume. (I will accept you either as Nutty Professor Jerry, Charlene, or as Steroids Jerry. Your choice.)

Accompanied by gentle piano and strings, Charlene lays (heh) out her tale for us. She’s a whore who regrets all she’s done in her life, and wants to pass on her worldly advice. And I don’t mean “a whore” in a male misogynistic kind of way: I mean she’s an actual whore. I’m convinced of it. The proof:

Took the hand of a preacher man and we made love in the

(Having sex with preachers? Slutty move.)

I’ve been undressed by kings and I’ve seen some things that a woman ain’t supposed to see

(I’m guessing she’s probably talking about Mel Tormé’s scrotum.)

And, of course there’s THIS line:

I spent my life exploring the subtle whoring that cost too much to be free

Okay, she could be using “whoring” as a symbol for something else, but when you add it up with the previous lines, I’m thinking she’s being pretty direct.

So yes, this song is Charlene’s cautionary tale. And yet, Charlene didn’t bother to warn people about more pressing matters, like her haircut or fashion sense.

Hey, lady! Who picked out your clothes, Stevie Wonder?

Unfortunately, Charlene’s cautionary tale to housewives everywhere fails completely. Instead, Charlene comes off as a spoiled brat who’s been given plenty of wonderful opportunities, but can’t appreciate them. All we get is this whole self-absorbed whine of “but I’ve never been to me!” Listen, I’m an emotional guy, and I’m not saying that therapy is a bad thing. But if anybody ever says to you, “you know what your issue is, Benny? You’ve never been to you,” then I think you should kick ’em in the teeth and run the fuck out of that office.

Still, Charlene needed to let the entire world know that although she spent the better part of a decade with her legs hiiiiigh up in the air, she had never been to her. Oh, thank you, Charlene! How can we ever repay you? In a way that doesn’t involve giving you money for sex, I mean?

I haven’t even started in on the spoken word middle section.

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’re gonna make love to tonight!
That’s truth! That’s love!

Does anybody know if the housewife suicide rate increased in 1982?

I don’t know what possessed the Motown people to reintroduce this oddly insulting middle section into the song. But if they were so insistent on it, why’d they stop there? Speak all over the damn thing! How much more entertaining would the opening verse be if it went alittlesumthin’likethis:

Hey lady,

“uh, me?”
You, lady,
“Oh. You really are talking to me. When was the last time you showered?”
Cursing at your life

And so on. Let’s make this song a full dialogue! Let’s tell Charlene what we think of her, while she’s busy bragging about her bullshit life! And when was the last time a whore sounded this good, anyway? I mean, if she’s really done all the stuff she says she’s done, don’t you think she’d come out a little worse for the wear, maybe sounding like Lunchlady Doris from The Simpsons?

Although I did post an unflattering picture of her above, the truth is that not only did she sound pretty, but she looked pretty, too. Observe:

1982 suspenders on loan from Mork from Ork

So here we have a lady (heh) that looks and sounds appealing, and is regaling us with tales of her “subtle whoring.” I can’t say for sure, but I imagine the male side of the music industry responded with a hearty “hey, fresh meat!” I mean, surely somebody in the biz must have listened to her song – one where she still sounds a little weak-willed – and decided this was a woman worth taking advantage of, right? Right?

“No, when I said ‘you can touch my Oscar…'”

If there’s anybody in the biz who’s gonna respond to “subtle whoring,” it’s good ol’ Stevie Wonder. He’s perhaps the mackin’est blind piano player in the universe, behind Ray Charles (but Ray’s dead, so he’s out of the race). Yes, it’s true: Stevie and Charlene made beautiful music together.

“That’s the last time we let Stevie get final approval on picture singles!”

“Used To Be” was Charlene’s only other successful attempt in the biz: it reached #46 on the charts. Charlene seemingly disappeared from public view, although “I’ve Never Been To Me” enjoyed a resurgence in 1994, when it was used in the film Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert. Recently, Priscilla was turned into a musical, and Charlene went down to Australia to promote it. Here’s a recent clip of her performing her hit. Her voice and looks still hold up relatively well, but you can’t beat the original video.


And according to this LiveJournal entry, Charlene has been guesting on some gigs in the L.A. area. That’s about all I can find. I mean, you can try going to her official website, but the site’s been temporarily disabled. Maybe her webmaster realized he’d never been to him and quit.

To close out this ridiculously snarky Mellow Gold entry, I thought I’d summarize some important facts about this song. Enjoy.

Places Charlene Has Been To

1) Georgia
2) California
3) Nice
4) The Isle Of Greece
5) Planned Parenthood
6) Charlie Sheen

Places Charlene Has Never Been To

1) Talented
2) Sheboygan
3) My Balls

See you next week for another Adventure Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!

  • Look, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole "subtle whoring" line. So what, she’d say "This ain’t turning tricks – these are illusions !" Yeah, yeah, sure, sure. I’ll make it all nice and easy for anyone struggling with the notion: you either bake the cupcakes, sell the cupcakes or eat the cupcakes. Anything else is simply muffins. DwD

  • Michael K

    listening as I type this (at 7:17am), the "subtle whoring" line almost made me spit out my orange juice.
    the spoken word bit in the middle is hilarious.  and so is that line about Mel Torme’s scrotum. 
    well done. 

  • OK, I really need to learn to NOT read these while drinking my morning coffee.
    Once again…coffee everywhere…all because I now know Charlene has never been to Jason’s balls.

  • David

    I first heard this song at age 9, and it scared me. If this is how housewives all felt, fine. If this is how housewives BEHAVED … WTF, Mom?? I remember I used to pray that not only had my mother “been to me” (or herself, or whatever), but that she bought a house there and stayed damn put.

    Those were just the lyrics. Musically, I found this song then as I do now -– the most revolting smear of notes in the history of recorded music. Whenever I hear it, I pictured Charlene vomiting syrup.

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  • woofpop

    Used to Be = the precise moment in time where Stevie Wonder lost it. He never got it back. David – a loud second on your assesment of the "revolting smear" – you got it exactly.

  • woofpop

    Is it traditional "Mellow Gold?" 
    Subtle whoring is a very mellow concept, isn’t it?

  • When Motown/Universal releases: STEVIE WONDER: THE BEST OF THE DUETS 1969-1989, I have a feeling the Charlene track will be missing.

  • Cripes Jason! My ears! My eyes!
    How was this a hit in 1982? This song screams 1976, and should have been left there. The music-listening public had it right the first two times–what went wrong in the 80’s?
    The original video just sealed it for me: this song is totally the soundtrack to some soft-core exploitation film of the 70’s starring Sybill Danning, or someone of her ilk, about a good-girl gone bad who ends up "falling" and sleeping with every guy around her with the exception of one or two members of the Village People. The fact that she’s doing all of this complaining while alone with a freaking castle, though?! Well, boo freaking hoo Charlene.
    I don’t know what it means that this has become a gay camp "classic", especially one that seems so conservative in it’s message. I’d try to parce through the layers of irony perhaps involved here, but I think my head would explode.

  • woofpop

    This song always gave me a creepy-religious vibe back in the day, and it certainly would have to make the short list of any "worst song in the world" discussion. Reviewing it now – my first thought was "there’s no way that this was written by a woman", and sure enough, it was written by one Ron Miller, who was a Motown staff writer. His other big hits were "For Once In My Life" and "Touch Me in The Morning". "I’ve Never Been To Me" was his last big hit – go figure!

  • I’m pretty sure Ron Miller also wrote "Used To Be."

  • heather

    Thank you Jason! That was a wonderful deconstruction of a childhood favorite. (In my defense I was in 6th grade! 6th grade!)

  • woofpop

    Yeah, "Used to Be" has the mark of kwality, too… That one’s not listed on the brief resume that I saw!!

  • Hey, you know where paradise is? / ‘Cause I Don’t! / A fantasy created by the people at MapQuest! / People?! Hah! / You know what the truth is? / People-eating-morlocks making fake maps / Getting you lost! / Out on the shoulder lanes of interstates! / And while you’re reading faulty print-outs / They’re mixing up giant vats of tartar sauce! / For YOU!! / It’s TRUE!! (munch, munch)

  • woofpop

    Dw, That was in the version of the song that was a hit in Nice, and the Isle of Greece, right?

  • Doggone it, Woofpop! You heard that one too? I still don’t think they should have subtitled it "I’ve Never Smashed No Plates", but those funky Zorbas can’t help it.  DwD

  • Tim

    If I am not mistaken…I believe there is a version of this song from a guy’s point of view…doing manly things like busting out of a jail, and so forth. 

  • You’re forgetting the great way Charlene sings "a woman ain’t s’pos’to see."I never caught the "subtle whoring" line until now. 

  • Don’t feel bad, Mike. The reason you never caught it was because it was "subtle". CHARLENE WAS A FRICKIN’  GENIUESSE!!

  • For me, the funniest line in this edition of Mellow Gold was the following:
    I’ve been undressed by kings and I’ve seen some things that a woman ain’t supposed to see
    (I’m guessing she’s probably talking about Mel Tormé’s scrotum.)

  • You regular readers always crack up when Jason makes a joke about a body part or bodily function south of the equator. And much like Robert Hays’s character in “Airplane!,” you have a drinking problem that prevents you from doing various spit takes on your computers when you read Jason’s naughty remarks. SHAME ON ALL OF YOU.

    But I’ll be damned if that Mel Torme line didn’t make me laugh out loud at work this morning. I wasn’t ROTFL, mind you, but I did LOL. I blame you, Jason “Hardy-Har-Har” Hare.

    When I was in first grade in ’82-’83 I stayed home sick one day and listened to the radio all day long. There was one song that seemed to be on every hour, and I remembered it being sung by a woman who went by only her first name. But I didn’t know what that name was, and when I looked up Sylvia’s name in Billboard’s 1982 edition of the “Top 40 Hits” book, none of her song titles rang a bell.

    But now I’m almost certain “I’ve Never Been to Me” is the song I heard over and over again that day. Eleven years ago I wrote a comedy screenplay with a friend, and a random frat boy’s line in the script was “I’ve been to Fort Lauderdale, but I’ve never been to me.” I probably nicked the line from “The Simpsons” or somewhere else subconsciously, but I was happy when it came to me. It seemed like something a weak-minded character would say.

  • Old Davy

    I must now listen to Aretha sing "RESPECT" 100 times to get the bad noise out of my head.

  • BD

    This featured heavily in 50 Worst Rock Records of All Time. I believe they said one of the things a woman ain’t supposed to see is the secret man handshake.Made a good Simpsons reference, though. In a moonbounce, no less …"Homer, you’ve been in space!""And yet, I’ve never been to me."

  • Wait a second — that “Simpsons” episode you mentioned is from 2004; I wrote that screenplay with my friend that referenced “I’ve Never Been to Me” in 1996. “The Simpsons” stole from me! What a glorious day for my fevered ego.

  • David

    I just noticed – at exactly the 2:00 mark in that video, she IS Steve Perry.

    And Matthew, you’re so right. This song couldn’t reek of 1976 more if it was wearing a “Jaws” t-shirt.

  • Here is the “male lyric” for the song:

    Hey mister, hey mister
    I just want a dime
    ‘Cause I need a cup of coffee and a moment of your time
    I can tell your raising hell the way I used to do
    But I wish someone woulda’ talked to me
    Like I wanna talk to you

    I’ve been to Georgia and California
    Anywhere I could run
    I stole a woman in Tennessee
    and we made love in the sun
    But I ran out of places and friendly faces
    Because I had to be free
    I’ve been to paradise but I’ve never been to me

    Thanks mister, thanks mister
    But please don’t walk away
    ‘Cause I have this need to tell you
    Why I’m all alone today
    I can see so much of me still living in your eyes
    Won’t you share a part of an old mans heart
    On the day before he dies

    I’ve been to China & Asia Minor
    On any ship that would sail
    I made some noise with some good old boys
    We wrecked a southern jail

    I’ve seen the best men crawl and some teardrops fall
    There ain’t nothing I ain’t seen
    I’ve been to paradise but I’ve never been to me

    I’ve even been to marriage
    Where children cry for someone they couldn’t find
    Never knowing that I was searching
    For things I left behind

    I thought my heart could wait
    but I learned too late
    Only love can make people free
    I’ve been to paradise but I’ve never been to me

  • !!!

    What a find!

  • Bob

    Fantastic as always, Jason.

    This song seemed strangely out of place during its chart run in the New Wave era. But then again, I can’t think of any era when it wouldn’t seem strangely out of place. It’s creepy, nonsensical, and just plain bad.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to it again.

  • Joel, there’s only one thing truly missing from the male "I’ve Never Been…" but it is awful hard to rhyme "reoccurring genital herpes".

  • Elaine

    I always wondered which kind of kings had she been undressed by? The cheatin’, pompous white-haired old European kind, or the harem-style spoiled Sultan of Brunei kind?

    Was this song written as an Ode to Jackie Kennedy or somethin’? Is Charlene supposed to be a female James Bond? What things ain’t a woman s’posed to see? Mafia dons whacking people in the Nevada desert? (Besides Mel’s scrotum…) So many questions.

    I’ve never heard “Used to Be.” (I don’t think.) Who wants to share 30 seconds of it? (I’m sure that will be enough.)

  • You should really read this thread. It has a funny twist, and it’s Stephen Bishop referring to I’ve Never Been To Me. I need another mellow adventure on Stephen Bishop soon – preferably involving the "tromblone".

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  • Ray

    Some of you might also be familiar with another tune that Charlene scraped into the lower regions of the charts (somewhere in the 90s, I believe) and can be heard during the movie THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN ("It Ain’t Easy Comin’ Down").

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  • Shawn

    You can check out the super rare male demo of "I’ve Never Been To Me" performed by none other than the late Ron Miller here:

  • D’oh!  That link’s not working, and now you have me all excited.

  • Shawn

    Whew….  sorry about that.  Here try this link, it is to my blog.

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  • i still listen to those sweet melodies now and then and feel like i am traveling in time

  • Cynthia

    Great blog and very funny…but I could have done without the “places Charlene has and has not been to!” That wasn’t quite as funny to me. :-0
    Love the album covers…you put a lot of work into this blog…awesome,,thanks! :)

  • mpembina

    My God, I laughed so hard at this entry that tears came to my eyes! Love the theory about her Webmaster.

  • Joe Nelson

    Six years ago Matthew asked “why couldn’t this song have stayed in 1976?” I have no proof of this, but I always connected its anti-feminist message to the fact that the Equal Rights Amendment was reaching its deadline for ratification around the time the song was reissued. We all know the rest: the song became a huge hit and the ERA was resigned to the scrap bin of US history (up to then it looked like it’d be the other way around).
    Aside from that, a minor detail: Charlene was NOT sent back to the studio in 1982 to recut the track. I have both the 1982 Motown single and the original 1976 LP on Prodigal (Motown’s revamped version of Rare Earth after the namesake act bit the dust), and they are identical recordings.