Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Carole Bayer Sager - one

I remember watching 'Top of the Pops' in spring 1977 when a wispy female singer appeared, singing all the reasons why she was throwing her boyfriend out of their shared accommodation. I don't remember now whether I was impressed, but I do recall that a friend (Dave F., if we're keeping score) bought the single and I borrowed it from him. The 'a' side still didn't overwhelm me but the 'b' side was interesting, showing a certain vulnerability which was how I felt in those days.

This was my introduction to lyricist turned singer Carole Bayer Sager. The 'a' side of that single was her sole British hit, "You're moving out today", and the 'b' side was called "Aces"; both were tracks from her eponymous debut album. Some time after, I bought this album. My opinions were mixed: there were songs which I very much liked (especially the opener, "Come in from the rain"), there were others which were quite good but a few were very showbiz in style and I didn't appreciate them.

Of course, these were pre-Internet days and the only sources of information available were articles in the music press. If I recall correctly, I had stopped reading "Melody Maker" and was turning my allegiance to "Zigzag"; CBS was hardly the sort of act to be covered in Zigzag before the 'punk takeover' of August 1977; she certainly wouldn't have been covered after this date. So I probably wasn't too aware of the fact that CBS was a lyricist for hire, having written many hits (although maybe the fact that she collaborated with several songwriters might have hinted at this).

When I went to San Francisco in August 1978, I bought a copy of her second album (imaginatively entitled "Too") the first day that I was there. I find it hard to believe now, but I schlepped that record all around America and probably never even heard it once. When I did hear it, I was much less impressed by it than by its predecessor: the vulnerability and 'claustrophobia' which I had heard in some songs had totally disappeared to be replaced by showbiz schmaltz. Some of the songs had reasonably good arrangements, but otherwise this was a disappointment.

A few years later, when I was already living in Israel, a third album appeared, "Sometimes late at night". This was written mainly with husband-to-be (or maybe already-husband) Burt Bacharach, and featured a lush sound in which the songs were linked, forming a suite. I remember some interesting arrangements and tunes, but I also remember feeling that CBS was a professional songwriter and that the words (to which I had attached myself like a limpet at one stage) were not coming from the heart: it was all a show. 

It should be said that CBS was not a professional singer. She wasn't even a good singer; she had a broken voice which could carry a tune, but didn't excite anyone. This kind of voice is suitable for confessional songs but not for big-band arrangements (as were to be found on albums two and three) and certainly not suitable when there were backing vocalists.

With the advent of the cd era, I stopped playing the records. I managed to find a copy of the first album on cd, but the other two simply disappeared.

I want to end here with the opening verses of "Come in from the rain"; I used to imagine that this broken voice was singing to me in the dark and cold days of 1977/8.

Well, hello there
Good old friend of mine
You've been reaching for yourself
For such a long time
There's so much to say
No need to explain
Just an open door for you
To come in from the rain
It's a long road
When you're all alone
And someone like you
Will always take the long way home
There's no right or wrong
I'm not here to blame
I just want to be the one
Who keeps you from the rain

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