It was the summer of 1986, and playing fairly constantly on my Walkman (when I was allowed to listen during my training weeks at Ft. Benjamin Harrison) were: Big Plans for Everybody by Let’s Active (I played this so much the tape broke), Life’s Rich Pageant by REM, The Big Shot Chronicles and Blaze of Glory by Game Theory (the later was given to me on a cassette tape by Franklin Bruno, who filled up the other side with a collection of home recordings of original songs of his, which I also listened to a lot that summer), Belinda Carlyle’s first solo release and Jane Wiedlin’s first solo release.
Pay attention to the above list. It will come back to haunt us in the future.
Yeah, okay, the last two belong in the guilty pleasure bin. Carlyle and Wiedlin were both members of the Go-Go’s, the Los Angeles punk-turned-pop girl band that set the world on fire a few years earlier with sealed lips and getting the beat. After they broke up, Carlyle got herself all skinny, sang that she was mad about me (well, actually, anybody who was listening), and married a junior official from the Reagan White House. Which, frankly, is what we all expected from Carlyle. After the first solo song collection, I didn’t pay much attention to her career. She was the kind of character I expected to later show up at an Aggrestic PTA meeting.
But Wiedlin was different. A little deeper. Her self-titled first solo album isn’t a great record. There’s too much Yamaha on this collection of songs. It would be a good record were it not for that second song, one of the most awful and self-conscious bits of socio-political commentary ever committed to music, Wiedlin’s achingly bad anthem to hopeful secular humanism, “Goodbye Cruel World,” which features such insightful understanding of the human condition as this:
It’s so naive to believe in love
Why build bombs, we got more than enough?
The planet’s ours to use or destroy
Why rob life when life is joy?
Let’s dream it away, think it away
Put the power back in our hands
Let’s dream it away, think it away
And use the power in the mind of man
To say goodbye, goodbye cruel world
The tragedy of it all is that I can repeat this nonsense from memory. (No, I will not link to this song. Go find it on your own.) John Lennon’s “Imagine” does this sort of thing well, if you’re into believing in the human potential for goodness and progress. And “Imagine” it is not.
Okay, I’ve shaken that from my brain. When Wiedlin writes about the difficulties of human relationships on this record, she doesn’t do that bad a job. And all the Yamaha doesn’t get that much in the way (it’s not as obviously dominated by the DX-7 as a lot of mid-to-late 1980s music was). It’s a reasonably well-made little record. It’s not deep, but it’s not Carlyle singing praises to her wedding ring either. (Though to be fair, “Band of Gold” was a cover song.)
What I like most about “Blue Kiss” is that it’s a song about a last kiss. Not a first kiss. It’s about goodbye, not hello. This is about endings, not beginning. This is a sweet little song about loss, a torch song in F. (And that, friends, is where I was in early 1986.) I can imagine this song done a number of different ways — a lot rawer, a little slower, with a more Nashville sound, a Hammond organ, not so chirpy, but a lot of the production on this song plays to Wiedlin’s strengths. Listen to her sing. She cannot help but be chirpy with that pixie voice of hers. There’s a little too much upbeat in this production, in this recording, which gives the song a hopefulness I’m not entirely sure it merits. But that too helps it work. It’s about a goodbye, but maybe not the last goodbye. It’s about ending, but not the end. Something is wrong in this relationship, but Wiedlin’s hopefulness suggests that all is not lost, even as it might seem that way. The bright keyboards, and the fairly bright key this song was written and recorded in, are hope in the midst of despair. Are color in the midst of the blue.
And I played this song over and over and over again. I know. There’s no accounting for some tastes.
Still, I think it would be interesting to see what someone else would do with this song. What a female singer with a different voice would do — a stronger voice with a wider range — how hope and despair might be differently balanced.
This is an odd little video. It tries to work with the color scheme Wiedlin used on her album cover (it is a nifty color scheme, green and blue and yellow and black with a dab of bright red), uses some out of place images (but what 1980s videos don’t?) and I don’t quite get why she’s in the back of a truck, except maybe because it worked with the color scheme. It isn’t as strange or incongruent a video as “Rush Hour” (the closest thing Wiedlin had to a hit single), which featured images of Jane frolicking with dolphins in a song equating being in love to driving in rush hour traffic (and that apparently is a good thing).
For more of that wonderful 80’s Yamaha feel, check out the extended dance mix of “Blue Kiss.” I didn’t know until a few minutes ago that this existed. Did people really dance to these? Because I don’t feel like dancing. This mix treats her voice better than the album version — it strips the song down a bit, and her voice becomes somewhat thinner and a little more pronounced. I also really, really like the harmonies she sings with herself (beginning at the 1:20 mark) — that’s almost completely obscured in the LP mix. And I’m almost inclined now to say the drums are real (or at least real drums flavored with triggers), as opposed to synth drums or a program. Almost. But you know what? The most annoying thing about this song are the syntho hand claps. And those didn’t need to be played up. They just didn’t.