Sunday, July 22, 2018

Belinda Takes Britain (AKA The Belinda Invasion)

While they may have been America's Sweethearts, the Go-Go's never exactly "made it" in the U.K. Despite the Terry Hall connection, their version of "Our Lips are Sealed" peaked at #47, a chart placing which was easily surpassed by that of the Fun Boy Three's own version two years later (#7). Vacation, the album, hit #75, aaaaand ... that was about it. Don't ask me to come up with an explanation. Maybe the nation that had produced the Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the X-Ray Spex expected their female rockers to be a little more ... rockier? Maybe the Brits had gotten their fill of retro '60s girl group revivalism from Blondie? Maybe, as I partially suspect, I.R.S. Records lacked strong overseas distribution infrastructure? Poor international distribution is, after all, the reason why R.E.M. ultimately left I.R.S. in 1987 to sign with Warner Brothers, and how did that decision go? Hold on, let me take a quick glance at their international discography page on Wikipedia, and ... yup, I'd say that decision worked out fairly well for them.

Perhaps the most amusing aspect of Belinda Carlisle's solo career, then, is that, to Europeans, she seemingly arrived out of "nowhere" in early 1988 with "Heaven is a Place on Earth," and suddenly created an entirely new fan base that possessed virtually no familiarity with her former band, or her former image. Talk to anyone today in the U.S., and they would probably think of Belinda as the lead singer of the Go-Go's, who also happened to have had a few big solo hits in the late '80s, but whose main claim to fame was the band she fronted. Talk to anyone today in the U.K., and they would almost exclusively think of Belinda as a solo singer, and they might be dimly aware of Belinda having once been in some all-girl band, in the sense that most Americans might be dimly aware that Billy Idol had once been in some punk band. I'm serious!

And once Belinda took Britain by storm, she never looked back.

Allow me to demonstrate, if I may, the seismic force that Belinda brought to her invasion of the Commonwealth by showing you this clip of Belinda performing "Heaven is a Place on Earth" at the 1987 Prince's Trust concert. For several years, this clip was the single most-viewed Belinda Carlisle clip on YouTube (since surpassed by the proper, Vevo-endorsed "Heaven" music video itself). The Prince's Trust, according to my sources, is a charity founded by Prince Charles for the purpose of "helping young people." Kind of a vague mission, no? Well, who am I to judge? The Prince's Trust began holding a series of all-star concerts in the late '80s. Now, who better to "help young people" - young men in particular - than Belinda Carlisle in her smokin' hot prime, amirite? The YouTube user who posted the video adds the qualifier, "This is definitely not her best performance because she was sick, but I still think she did a great job :)". So what I want to know is: if this is what she sounded like on a sick day, then how unfathomably rip-roarin'-rockin' would she have sounded if she'd been healthy? Sure, there are a couple of bum notes - her voice cracks awkwardly at both 1:56 and 2:58 ("Baby ey-ah was afraid before") - but ... it's kind of hot! All that means is just that she's too fired up to let smooth technique get her way, you know? I also catch a mic feedback squeal here and there, but I feel this merely adds to the compelling chaos. Belinda wasn't some manufactured studio concoction, my friends. Belinda could walk the walk, and she could talk the talk.

Indeed, one aspect of Belinda as a performing artist that may have gone unnoticed by the casual observer is that she ... hated lip-syncing. Hated it. Couldn't stand it. Tried to avoid doing it whenever possible. It's funny that Belinda pursued a musical style that couldn't have gotten further away from punk if it had hopped on a rocket ship to Mars, and yet, somehow, some way, some stray, leftover bits of punk attitude must have remained behind that Revlon-smothered facade. In other words, no matter how tame the material, she always tried to show up on that stage and give the crowd a performance that was real.

Here in this clip we see a Belinda that's raw, that's sloppy, that's going on feel, rather than meticulous tonal perfection. Not every note's flawless? She doesn't give a damn. That's rock and roll, baby. I have seen more live Belinda Carlisle clips than a reasonable person would care to admit, but I am amazed at how rarely she has phoned it in - no matter how drunk, no matter how high, no matter how disoriented. She would just grab that audience by the throat and say, "Fuck you! I'm a star!" Even if she felt like shit that night, she got up onto that stage and she gave it all she had. Some performers know no other way.

Fashion-wise, the clip finds Belinda in her Geena Davis phase, wearing some type of tight black dress/bodysuit (?), with a light green skirt that she had apparently borrowed from ... Wilma Flintstone? Why would she be wearing the green skirt if she was already wearing the black thing? Because. I wonder if the bass player behind her in polka dot shirt and tight leather pants might be in the wrong band. Astute viewers might also recognize Charlotte Caffey singing backup, alongside the infamous Donna DeLory (the brunette of the three), who would spend a much lengthier stint (20 years?) singing backup in Madonna's touring band. They're barely audible, but Belinda doesn't sound like she needs 'em anyway. I think they were mostly there to keep Belinda entertained; check out the conspiratorial glance she gives them at 3:37. Indeed, "Heaven" seems to rock harder overall in this stripped-down live context, with the keyboard carrying almost the entire melody, and the substitution of actual drums for what I believe was a drum machine on the original adding particular oomph. The muted backing certainly creates a different vibe from the massive wall of ethereal vocal overdubs and assorted Rick Nowels tchotchkes featured on the studio recording. Favorite YouTube comments:
Belinda is off key here a bit and her skirt is ridiculous but I'd still do her.

i like that she is wearing clothes unlike today's popstars! cough miley cough

I love it that by todays (pop star) standards Belinda is FAT here. 

Belinda's career ended way too soon. There were so many more faps to've been had. 

The prince is fapping up in the balcony omg did I just say that ( : o

Watch Belinda Carlisle as she delivers her hit song, while dressed in a black leotard and a kitchen apron.

Belinda - dump the 80s and come to me...

dangity dang belinda

The bass player's using a Steinberger! You don't see that anymore...

Wow... if this is the type of performance that needs a "She was sick" disclaimer that that says a whole lot about the quality of live performers we have these days. Even when she's not at her best, Belinda is lightyears better than most of the live shit I have heard for quite some time now. Rock the fuck on, girl.

I would give my left nut just to jam with Belinda for half an hour.

man känner bara för att sjunga med hela tiden =)
How much did Belinda hate lip-syncing? Belinda hated lip-syncing so much that when she went on Top of the Pops to bask in her British triumph ("Heaven is a Place on Earth" peaked at #1 in the U.K. for two weeks in January 1988), she actually performed the vocals ... live. Live? On Top of the Pops? Talk about a rebel. The thing is, she sounds so effortlessly on top of this particular piece of pop, I'll bet most viewers hardly even noticed - also, they possibly didn't notice because the rest of the instrumentation is not live. Her back-up band certainly seems to be having fun with the prerequisite TOTP miming, particularly the two guitarists at 2:31, right before the key change, who bang their heads as if they were miming to Def Leppard - and perhaps, in a way, they might as well have been. Remarkably (disturbingly?), Belinda somehow looks a bit thinner here than she did at the Prince's Trust concert, even though this clip had ostensibly been filmed only a short while afterward. Here she's rocking some sort of female power suit, complete with blazer, skirt, and bow on the lapel. It's her "Sexy CEO" look. Hey, I'd buy stock in that company, you know what I'm saying? Let us stop, for a moment, if we may, to admire the absolute perfection of her hair. Seriously, that might be the most perfect hair I've ever seen. It's so perfect, it's almost a pity she had to perform in it. Millions of impressionable young Britons must have sat in front of the telly and said to themselves, "Blimey, who's the American bird with the catchy tune? And when does the next clip of her come on, please?" As one viewer put it in the YouTube comments section years ago (I think the comment is long gone by now), "This is back when Belinda was an 11." Yes indeed. To paraphrase Spinal Tap, this Belinda does go up to 11.

1 comment:

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