Album of the Week, April 16: Voyeur by Kim Carnes

CarnesSanityVoyeurKim Carnes took her time building her star status. The daughter of an attorney and a hospital administrator, she is that rare pop musician who grew up in a non-musical household. She always knew she wanted to be a singer and songwriter, however, and found other connections, like her childhood neighbor and lifelong friend, multi-instrumentalist David Lindley. In her early 20s she spent some time in the New Christy Minstrels where she met her husband, Dave Ellingson, and another musical pal, Kenny Rogers. After a stint writing for others and recording demos, she started recording her own albums. Her breakthrough came in 1980, when Rogers had Carnes and Ellingson write the songs for his concept album Gideon — including the #4 pop hit Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer, a Rogers/Carnes duet. She followed that with a Top 10 remake of Smokey Robinson’s More Love from her fifth album, a more dance-oriented track than her previous folky pop. As she assembled the material for her next disc, Mistaken Identity, she decided to cover a couple of songs written by Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss. One of those, Bette Davis Eyes, became a monster hit, spending nine weeks at #1 in a long chart run and becoming the second-biggest song of the 80s. Putting together the follow-up was a daunting task, but Carnes, Ellingson, and producer Val Garay managed to craft the finest album of her long career.

Title Voyeur
Act Kim Carnes
Label EMI Release Date September 1982
Producer Val Garay
U.S. Chart  #49 U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. Voyeur [#29]
  2. Looker
  3. Say You Don’t Know Me
  4. Does It Make You Remember? [#36]
  5. Breaking Away From Sanity
  6. Undertow
  7. Merc Man
  8. The Arrangement
  9. Thrill of the Grill
  10. Take It On the Chin

The 10 songs on Voyeur look at obsession and disappointment from a variety of angles, tied together with a smart, dark pop-dance style. The title track should have been a worthy chart successor to Bette Davis Eyes. Brooding and energetic at once, it alternates descriptions of the viewer and the viewee in a complicated relationship with no real contact. It’s a wonderful look at alienation and desire — and you can dance to it. Looker picks up the theme of beauty as an end in itself as well as the price that comes with it. The tracks make a smart pair and a strong start.

Say You Don’t Know Me is a creepy song of isolation and separation, a noirish tale with grim musical effects. Carnes smartly pivots to a different kind of separation with Does It Make You Remember?, an exploration of nostalgia and sorrow. It shows off her ability to deliver a heartfelt ballad while retaining the musical flavor of the album. Breaking Away From Sanity wraps up side one nicely, wistfully exploring the themes of the disc with fragile fatalism.

Undertow opens side two with swirling menace and a sinuous groove. Carnes and company then take a humorous turn with the swaggering tale of the Merc Man, an ordinary fellow given confidence by his powerful car. Things get darker again with The Arrangement, the story of a marriage whose foundations have long crumbled but whose habits linger on. It’s a smart bit of sequencing, the jarring nature of which is well suited to the album. Thrill of the Grill is another fun moment, an almost throwaway song about grabbing happiness — however fleeting — where you can find it. Carnes closes the album with one of its strongest moments, the sly kiss-off of Take It On the Chin. With its teasing vocal and light instrumentation, it almost sounds inviting, until it’s clear that the singer is quite done with her paramour.

Mistaken Identity was a hard commercial act to follow, with four weeks at #1 (largely thanks to the monster single), and Voyeur didn’t come close to that level, despite a couple of solid Top 40 hits. It’s a more satisfying listen, however, and benefits from more original compositions, solid sequencing, and a clear musical and thematic tone. In her long, quirky career, Kim Carnes has offered up many musical delights. This album is the highlight.

FURTHER LISTENING: Carnes’ first four albums are all decent folky pop with a few standout songs. Romance Dance — featuring More Love — is far more interesting but much less consistent. The same could be said of Mistaken Identity, which benefits from one magnificent song but is otherwise spotty. After Voyeur, Carnes released two solid albums — Café Racers and Barking At Airplanes — that rival her best disc for consistency but lack similar strongest moments. Since then she’s recorded sporadically, continuing to turn out interesting discs. The compilation Gypsy Honeymoon includes most of her hits but largely overlooks Voyeur, making the pair a solid way to enjoy her career.

Song of the Day, April 3: Take It On the Chin by Kim Carnes

carneschinToday’s song wraps up a veteran singer’s finest album. After getting her start with the New Christy Minstrels, Kim Carnes released a series of decent folk-pop albums. In 1980, she hit the Top 10 twice, writing a duet recorded with Kenny Rogers (Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer) and performing a smart reinvention of Smokey Robinson’s More Love. She followed that up with a monster hit, the charming, infectious Bette Davis Eyes. That success proved hard to follow on the charts, but her next album was an artistic peak.

Voyeur is a consistent, cohesive set of songs, dark and brooding but essentially human. The final track is Carnes’ composition Take It On the Chin. A delightful kiss-off song, it shows off the singer’s wit and sass. She turns in a sharp vocal, making the most of her trademark rasp as she dissects a disappointing lover. As she bids him farewell, she doubts he can even live up to her expectations in departure.

Enjoy this fun song today.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending November 3, 1984

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 Caribbean Queen (No More Love On the Run) Billy Ocean 1
R & B I Feel For You Chaka Khan 1
Country City of New Orleans Willie Nelson 1
Adult Contemporary What About Me? Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes, and James Ingram 1
Rock I Can’t Hold Back Survivor 2
Album Purple Rain Prince and the Revolution 14

WhatAboutMeTrioThis week sees a chart oddity reach its peak. Duets by successful solo artists are fairly common. Before the age of the hip-hop “featuring” phenomenon, however, singles featuring more than two solo stars were very rare. One example, the debut single from Kenny Rogers’ album What About Me?, notches its first week at #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart this week, featuring vocals by Rogers, Kim Carnes, and James Ingram.

All three singers have had hits with other artists. Ingram’s first hits were credited to Quincy Jones featuring James Ingram, and his first chart-topper was the duet with Patti Austin Baby, Come to Me. Carnes had duets with Gene Cotton and Kenny Rogers. Rogers was a duet veteran, hitting the pop Top 20 in hits with Dottie West, Dolly Parton and Sheena Easton as well as Carnes.

Curiously, this trio was the also the third try at recording the song. Rogers originally had Barbra Streisand and Lionel Richie on tap for the project. When that fell through, Olivia Newton-John and Jeffrey Osborne stepped in, but another project sidelined Newton-John.

Fittingly, What About Me? is a song about a love triangle, penned by three writers. Rogers worked with superstar writer and producer David Foster and then-unknown Richard Marx to create the lush heartbreak ballad. Going one better than three, the song also made it onto four charts, reaching #1 on Adult Contemporary, #15 on the Hot 100, #57 on the R&B, and #70 on the Country charts.

Song of the Day, July 20: Breaking Away From Sanity by Kim Carnes

Today’s song is Breaking Away From Sanity by Kim Carnes. Penned by Carnes with Craig Kampf, it is the standout song on her seventh solo album, 1982’s Voyeur. That album had the unenviable task of following her biggest recordings, the #1 album Mistaken Identity which included the massive #1 hit (and Grammy winner) Bette Davis Eyes. All in all, Voyeur is a stronger disc with more consistent songs and a real view of Carnes’ diversity as a singer and writer. It performed well, but naturally had trouble coming close to its monster predecessor.

Breaking Away From Sanity fits perfectly in a set of songs that deal with obsession and states of mind. Much more personal than the other tracks, it reflects on the natural tension between embracing a relationship and fearing the loss that may come, perhaps even opting for loss because of that fear.

Nearly every night I stay awake
And I don’t understand it myself
Living on the edge–it’s almost real
You can’t depend on me
I’m breaking away from sanity
Showing the ghost inside of me
I’m running away
From you and me
Breaking away from sanity

Carnes’ voice is perfect for the haunting song; it’s my favorite of her recordings. Today is Kim Carnes’ 67th birthday. Let’s wish her many happy returns and enjoy this great song.

Billboard #1’s for the Week Ending May 16, 1981

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Song Act Weeks
Hot 100 Bette Davis Eyes Kim Carnes 1
R & B A Woman Needs Love
(Just Like You Do)
Ray Parker, Jr. and Raydio 1
Country I Loved ‘Em Every One T.G. Sheppard 1
Adult Contemporary Sukiyaki A Taste of Honey 1
Rock The Waiting Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 2
Album Hi Infidelity REO Speedwagon 10

This week sees one of the biggest hits of the 80’s vault to #1. Inspired by the screen legend, Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss wrote the song Bette Davis Eyes. Kim Carnes, who had been in the music business writing and singing for over 20 years, recorded the song on her album Mistaken Identity. Her smoky vocals and sneaky delivery perfectly matched the lyrics and caught America’s attention. On May 16, 1981, the recording jumped from #5 to #1, where it would reign for nine of the next ten weeks.

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