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 sun
(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:
“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
4) The Isle Of Greece
5) Planned Parenthood
6) Charlie Sheen
Places Charlene Has Never Been To
3) My Balls
See you next week for another Adventure Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!