Sunday, April 08, 2007

song of the week: bette davis eyes (for monkey 2)

Bette Davis Eyes has to be one of the most underrated pop songs of the ‘80s. Whenever people ask me what my favourite song is, the answer varies from Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart to Madonna’s Like A Prayer or even the song I am currently obsessed with (this week; Big Time Sensuality). But in all honesty, standing heads and shoulders above those admittedly far better songs, is Kim Carnes’s Bette Davis Eyes.

Originally penned with a distinctly country-vibe in the ‘70s, Kim Carnes’s definitive version has a warm, hushed, blurry-eyed keyboard riff that sweeps me back to childhood, through my adolescence and into my twenties in a matter of seconds. All I need is that sleepy keyboard riff and steady heartbeat percussion, overlaid with gentle synth-strings and joined by that raspy, seductive voice, the aural equivalent of nails on a blackboard shot through with molasses and suddenly my entire life trips before my eyes.

The lyrics are a kind of sixth-form poem on the most gorgeous, sensual, enigmatic and terrifying woman to walk the planet, a woman who, like Bette Davis, could handle a cigarette, a man and a gun. She is a veritable femme-fatale, and if ever a song could be called the same, it's this alluring tease of a tune.

The song drifts dreamily through its moody opening verse, backed by muffled drums throbbing an anthemic beat beneath the tingling keyboard riff that restrains the song from ever really taking flight into a true disco track. Chiming jingle-jangle guitars are dogmatically strummed on the beat, kept in place all the way through the chorus, before stubbornly returning to the same opening riff. The distant clashing of the electro-drums and rippling guitars of the second verse are similarly kept in check by the same overpowering lullaby, the entire song built around the grip of those persistent keyboards, pop music’s equivalent of tinnitus. As the song progresses, gradually more instruments are permitted to join the party, until with the final chorus, Kim Carnes finally lets loose in a series of screams, sighs and rasps as those glittering guitars and flashy drums threaten to swallow the dominant opener.

And then, just when you feel the song may have escaped from those keyboards, the entire song shrinks and pulls back, leaving that crafty little riff, wispy strings, and that blasted crashing drum kit again, hammering the song into your soul. Everything in this tune conspires to fix that riff in your head, like a delicate yet vicious siren’s call, trapping you in its insipid prettiness until it steals all the good taste in your music collection and leaves you whirling around your bedroom to the dark witch of ‘80s pop.

Anyone who’s heard Mylo’s fantastically groovalicious In My Arms will testify to the hypnotic power of that alluring riff. The genius of Mylo’s mix is in the way he takes the cheesily exuberant Boy Meets Girl’s Waiting for a Star, whipping it up into a frothy, sugary repetition of the song’s climax before slamming the keyboard riff from Bette Davis Eyes right up against the vocal. And then, like the cruel trickster he is, Mylo fractures the riff of Bette Davis Eyes, breaking it against the echoing, distant repetition of that gooey, blissful ‘in my arms, baby yeah’ segment of Boy Meets Girl. Standing with my wonderful little sister in the dance tent at Glastonbury, exhausted and sunburned in a crowd of similarly sweaty daytime clubbers, we grooved our little hearts out as these two 80's classics traded punches, Mylo keeping the two apart for well over 2 minutes in a jerky mash-up. As the sun hammered down on us, life didn’t feel like it could get much better, and then it happened.

Mylo stopped screwing around and there it was, that timeless Bette Davis Eyes keyboard riff, and suddenly, all you could see were several thousand hands flung impulsively into the air as the crowd squealed, whooped and roared their appreciation.

Now, I don’t take requests, but my sister, Blonde Monkey 2 has been asking when I’m going to finally give Bette Davis Eyes SOTW status. So this week’s song is for her, as a ma-hu-sive thank you for getting Glastonbury tickets, and for all the car journeys where she’s been ‘treated’ to Bette Davis Eyes.


At 10 April, 2007 18:36 , Blogger paddington said...

I will be back home soon, so I ought to start being irritating again so you can give me a slap. So let`s start with A Pedant Writes:

"Big Time Sensuality" is not, never has been, and never will be from the 80s.

At 10 April, 2007 18:37 , Blogger paddington said...

Oops - jerking my knee back again, I realise you never claim that BTS is from the 80s. Isn`t my face red...


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