Today's Bubbatune - Kim Carnes
Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body. I should know I’ve been smoking for years and I don’t like my body. So there, now you know. Others owe their whole careers to smoking, could you imagine Bette Davis without a smoke in her hand, puffing, waving it and telling you what a shit you were, or Kim Carnes, the singer who gave us “Bette Davis Eyes.” Had she not taken up that first toke and found a love for the whiskey we wouldn’t have the great compilation I have for you today.
KIM CARNES – ROUGH EDGES (bub15)
Album design by Bradley Jacobson
2. Invisible Hands
3. Rough Edges
4. Bette Davis Eyes
5. More Love
7. Does It Make You Remember
8. Crazy In The Night (Barking At Airplanes)
9. Don't Call It Love
10.I'll Be Here Where The Heart Is
12.Draw Of The Cards
15.Still Hold On
16.Take It On The Chin
18.The Arrangement (w/ Martha Davis)
19.You Make My Heart Beat Faster
(And That's All That Matters)
My years in school were not easy. I hated most of it as I became a bit of an outcast as the years went by. The worst part being I went to a very small school so I couldn’t just disappear into the background. Everyone knew everyone and they always had and they always would. It was very depressing to me.
With that in mind, let’s talk about some of those others I knew my whole life. There was a girl I went to school with named Beth Svanda (once again these names are gold and I did not make them up). All through elementary school she had the longest hair of all the girls. She would wear in a long braid and was apparently the envy of many girls. I thought she looked like a piece of hillbilly trash but what did I know.
One winter at recess a bunch of us were standing around the puddles of rain and snow. The puddles had just frozen over but were barely full of ice. We were playing a winter game which has no real name but goes something like this, you put your foot ever so slowly on the top of the ice and watch it break all around your foot. It’s a game of chance really to see if your foot falls into the water and leaves you soppy and upset.
As we played the game it occurred to me it might be downright hysterical if someone were to fall into the puddle as they ever so gently put their little pooty on the puddle. I decided as Beth Svanda lifted her sensible hillbilly shoe that she was the perfect specimen to test out my hilarity theory.
As Beth put her foot on the ice, I pushed her! Poor Beth fell right into the pool braids and all. I laughed, but others were more mortified than anything. I didn’t get it; I thought this was a game of chance. A game some were bound to lose. I decided I had better take action as soon as possible.
I ran to the recess monitor and told her I was sick. I couldn’t go on one more minute without going home to the loving arms of my mommy and her chicken soup. The recess monitor sent me into the principal’s office and we tried to call my mother.
Of course my mother wasn’t home. She was on one of her pilgrimages to the blue light special of Kmart and was obviously oblivious to her son’s latest traumatic experience.
I was forced to head back to class and come up with a new plan.
Luckily, my mother had raised me on soap operas and as I headed up the stairs to my third grade class, it occurred to me. It wasn’t I who pushed Beth Svanda into the puddle of water – it was my evil twin! How brilliant! I knew this plan could not fail.
I walked into the classroom, my blonde head held high knowing I could get through this completely unscathed. By this time the whole school was a buzz with the hillbilly thrown into the lake but I didn’t care for I, Bradley, innocent boy of the world, knew nothing of this horrible thing that happened to sweet innocent Beth Svanda and her outrageous horse tail.
As I sat down and Mrs. McQuen (once again, not made up) looked at me with her tired eyes, I had a feeling I was going to have to make this convincing. I wondered aloud, “Hey what’s happening Mrs. McQ?”
“You pushed Beth into a puddle,” she said. It wasn’t even a question, it was a statement made to make me look like a bad guy. I insisted I hadn’t the foggiest clue as to what she was talking about.
Beth was there to recant the entire story saying she was by the puddle and I was there and everyone saw me push her. I couldn’t believe it, and I couldn’t have been more convincing. I told them all I was not there.
“Maybe it was my twin,” I said.
Mrs. McQuen was suddenly interested. “Your twin?” she asked.
“Yes, my twin, it certainly wasn’t me so maybe it was my twin brother.”
“Maybe it was him,” said Beth coming to my rescue when in fact it was she who should be in disbelief.
Mrs. McQuen sent me to the principal’s office telling me to think about what I had done while Beth Svanda and the rest of the class were actually wondering what class my twin brother was in and how many times they had confused us with each other.
But should you start to feel sorry for Beth Svanda and think of me as some evil child with cute dimples and frost white hair, let me tell you that wench with the braid got her revenge a few years later.
In the sixth grade, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. Beth Svanda and I had become pretty good friends. We were also hanging out with a gal named Monica Dumonson, who up to that point had been someone I had never talked to. As it would later turn out Mona D (as she was dubbed by me) and I would have a lasting friendship. Longer than that crazy wench Beth… and here’s why.
That year of the middle school, Beth thought she was fancy pants big ass big city for she had done the unthinkable. She cut her braid! She now had a sassy little Dorothy Hamill ‘do.
One day she took out of her back pack a big pack full of make up. She showed all the girls (and me) all the make up she had. She was going to show the girls how a new glamour queen should behave. Also in that little pack she had was a pack of (gasp!) cigarettes! Of course no one ever saw those cigarettes except for me. Otherwise this story wouldn’t have turned out as twisted as it became.
My dad always smoked when I was a kid and I remember running down to the grocery store and buying them for him. Can you imagine something like that? So seeing them wasn’t such a big deal but knowing we were adolescents and probably shouldn’t have them was a whole new thrilling experience.
At lunch break, Beth and I ran down by the dumpster and took the cigarettes out of her bag. I thought I’d be cool and show some of the other kids that we had cigarettes. As it turns out, I showed the wrong kid.
But this is where the story gets even more twisted. I showed those smokes to a kid named Chris, who was the ballsiest, the most brazen little bastard you ever met. If anyone was smoking in the sixth grade it was him.
He told me we were supposed to have cigarettes and couldn’t believe that I would bring them to school. I told him I didn’t bring them to school but he didn’t seem to care. He ran off back to some other kids while I wondered where I had gone wrong. I went to the “cool” kid, I had the “cool” smokes, why wasn’t I in with the crowd?
I went back to Beth with the cigarettes, as I didn’t need them since they obviously weren’t going to get me accepted. She turned on me saying she didn’t want them anymore either. So I threw them away. I walked to the dumpster, threw them in and walked back to school thinking that was the end of that. But I was wrong.
Chris, the little rebel with the heart of steel saw me throw the cigarettes away, pulled them out of the dumpster and ran to the principal’s office telling them I had brought them to school! Can you even believe it!
I was called into the office where the star witness sat there smugly telling them the whole story about how I had showed him the cigarettes – even saying how I had brought them to school. I was stunned; I was shocked, I was in the middle of a fricking daytime soap opera.
I tried to explain that it was not I who brought them to school but Beth Svanda. By then I didn’t care if I had to implicate others, I wasn’t going down for something I didn’t do.
They called sweet innocent, one time pig tailed Beth into the office where she played innocent. For some reason everyone was willing to believe that I, the outcast, would go to great lengths to bring cigarettes into school and then throw them into the trash! What the hell kind of sense did that make?
The powers that be at the Mosinee Middle School did not like my tone and as Chris and Beth were sent back to class I was sent home on a three-day suspension!
“I was framed,” I told my mother but she didn’t seem to believe me. She thought I was watching too much Knots Landing and was trying to incorporate storylines into my real life. “But it’s true, I didn’t do it.”
My father wanted to get to the bottom of the situation. He knew I didn’t take them from him as he had all his cigarettes. He didn’t smoke all that much so it was fairly easy to keep track of your pack of smokes if you only buy one at a time. Either they’re there or they’re not, and his were.
I thought, “Finally, someone believes me.”
But he wanted more proof so we got into the car and drove over to Beth Svanda’s house. I told my dad the whole story about how Beth had come to school, showed me her make up bag and pulled out the pack of cigarettes.
When we got to the house I was forced to tell the whole story again to Beth’s mother. Beth never came to the door and Beth’s mother never opened the door far enough for me to get in there and grab the bitch.
Her mother informed my father, “Beth does not have any make-up. Her mother doesn’t allow it.” This just irked me in so many ways. First, Beth did indeed have make up for I saw it and two, why was this wench talking in the third person. Was she not Beth’s mother? Was she just a really big fat imposter trying to wreak havoc on my life? Did Abby Ewing hire her to ruin me?
We left the Svanda’s in worse shape than we had come. My father no longer believed me because an adult had told him all about Beth. She didn’t have make-up, she didn’t bring a make up bag to school and she didn’t frame me.
I was put on suspension with no one in my family or anywhere else believing I was innocent. I figured, “What the heck, at least I can sit around and watch soap operas for three days.”
But my parents had other ideas for me. They decided as punishment I wasn’t going to be lounging around the house; they would put me to work. We had a wood stove in the basement that heated the whole house and we had a ton of wood for it.
This was a long ass struggle where step one was going to my grandfather’s land and cutting down the trees for the wood, then cutting the wood and piling it into the truck, then unloading the truck and piling it up in a pile outside the basement window, then throwing the wood into the basement and piling it up down there. This was a job I hated and the job they gave me when I was on suspension. Okay, I wasn’t going to the woods and all that, but I did have to take the wood from outside, throw it down into the basement and pile it up again. What a bunch of crap. Ever hear of gas heat you motherfu…
But alas I got through those three days piling wood and bitching about the injustice of it all. I realized as I worked my little digits that this was the most horrible punishment you could ever inflict onto a child. I swore, “I will never have a son that I should treat as cruelly as you have treated yours,” or was that Greg Sumner from Knots who said that. Oh yeah, it was, I decided I was taking up smoking.
Like most people, my introduction to Kim Carnes’ music was the mega hit “Bette Davis Eyes.” It was one of the first 45s I ever bought and I used to play it all the time. I loved the synthesized “slaps” through out the song and used to annoy my little brother to no end by pretending to slap him as the song played.
But Kim can’t be tossed off as just a one hit wonder; no you won’t find her next to Toni Basil in the Rock & Roll Museum. Kim had hits prior to and after the “Bette Davis Eyes” she just never had as big of a hit. But that’s fairly understandable, this song was so huge repeating its success was impossible.
By the time “Bette Davis Eyes” was released in April 1981, Kim had been around for more than a decade. She sang with country bands and released a few albums in a more country folk vein that her big hit.
In 1978, her and her husband wrote the album Gideon for Kenny Rogers. It was a concept album of sorts with a cowboy theme. Kenny and Kim sang on “Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer” (not included on this compilation) and it became a hit.
The following year, she was the very first artist signed to EMI America Records on the insistence of the record company’s owner. Her first album on the label, St. Vincent’s Court didn’t do all that well but the following album Romance Dance spawned the top 10 hit “More Love” – a Smokey Robinson cover. Romance Dance also saw Kim moving into a more pop territory.
It was 1981’s Mistaken Identity that put Kim into the stratosphere. The album combined synthesized rock with country pop and it scored big. No doubt thanks to “Bette Davis Eyes” which was also a cover song of Jackie DeShannon’s. The original didn’t have those synthesizers in it and even the initial Kim recording didn’t have them. But after a little retooling they had the song everyone would come to know.
After the smashing success of Mistaken Identity and most notably the single, Kim’s next few albums were synthesized laden. Voyeur and Café Racers took different approaches however. Voyeur (the first full Kim album I had) was synthesized rock, while 1983’s Café Racers was dance pop, set to the tune of all those 1983 synthesizers and drum machines.
In 1985, Kim recorded Barking At Airplanes and took the helm as producer for herself. The album was a fairly big success considering the last two and she actually scored a top 20 hit with “Crazy In The Night.”
By 1986, even her minor hits were drying up, so she switched gears again and went back to her country roots. Kim is still recording and releasing records but it’s those five years on EMI America that makes up Rough Edges. They are my favorite Kim songs and they should be yours too.
I wanted to use all of Kim’s biggest hits and originally thought of doing a full singles compilation but the fact is, this is really a compilation for me to enjoy and to make for other people who aren’t familiar with Kim’s songs, but are probably fairly familiar with the singles. So I decided to do the EMI America catalog of songs I owned and loved. So the “ultimate Kim Carnes singles compilation” still eludes us, but that’s not necessarily the coolest thing to have in your collection anyway, it’s not like Rough Edges!
The 1980 hit “More Love” is the only pre- Mistaken Identity I included. I had never heard the song either by Smokey Robinson or Kim until years after this song was a hit. I wasn’t even completely mad about it, but after numerous listenings, it really has a nice little ring to it. Kim gives her all to an almost disco country beat. I have since heard the original version and I hope the Motown gods don’t strike me down, but I actually like Kim’s version better.
When “Bette Davis Eyes” came out, I found a new singer I was loved. I liked how Kim looked like Val (Joan Van Ark) from Knots Landing, I loved her scratchy voice and as I stated before I loved the slapping noises in the song. I have included “Bette Davis Eyes” on this comp as it would just seem wrong not to. The thing about the song is I always think I’m sick of it until those beats of the song begin and I immediately find myself turning the volume up, up, up. Incidentally, the same thing can be said of Blondie’s “The Tide Is High”.
Mistaken Identity sold millions but it’s a fairly strange album. Voyeur was definitely a rock-synthesized effort but Mistaken Identity is a hybrid of country pop and synthesized 80s pop – only they aren’t on the same songs. One song is country in flavor; one is full of rock guitars and keyboards. It’s strange but I like it. I never actually owned the album until years and years after its release and by then I was so entranced by Voyeur, I didn’t think she could ever top it but the big smash album does have its moments, and the album tracks I picked are much more enjoyable than the title track which was a single.
The other songs from that country/hybrid include the country flick of “Don’t Call It Love.” I really like this song and the sentiment is so sweet it almost makes my teeth fall out, but being in such a wonderful relationship as I am, it touches me… “Nobody believes that I really care for you/they don’t think my heart is true/I don’t think you’d agree/you know I’m a life time guarantee/so if they ask you what you mean to me/don’t call it love/heaven’s above/we got a better thing/don’t call it love/that ain’t enough/tell them you’re my everything.” Awww.
“Still Hold On” has always been one of my favorite songs Kim ever wrote. It’s a country rock ballad that is full of powerful lyrics and a kick ass chorus. In 1986, my country girl Tanya Tucker came back from a hiatus of dried up hits to release the album Girls Like Me, and the last song on the album was her version of “Still Hold On.” Tanya’s is just as good as this original version, and on a side note in 1979 Tanya released her Tear Me Apart album featuring the title Chinn/Chapman song, and Kim did her version of the song on her album St. Vincent’s Court. Everything is connected in my little Bradley world...
Anyway, “Still Hold On” opens with a synth (of course) and Kim chiming in, “If I told you tonight that I loved you/would you walk away/would you say/lies that I wanted to hear/if I told you tonight that I need you/would you break my heart/would you start wearing me down again..” before the acoustic guitar kicks in with back vocals adding emphasis to the chorus, “I feel so lonely when I’m with you/but I’m so lonely when you’re gone/I can’t live with you/I can’t live without you/I still hold on…” It’s a sad little number that ends up with a nice sax solo and a big chorus ending. To show how far country had warped into pop by 1986, Tanya’s version is almost identical complete with the sax and the keyboard synthesizers.
Anyone who is a real Kim Carnes fan is usually disappointed to find there are about ten official compilations none of which include all of her hits. The fan favorite is Gypsy Honeymoon, a more recent compilation that includes new songs as well, but the songs on the album from Kim’s hey day were all personally picked by Kim herself and she seems fairly fond of her ballads.
“Voyeur” is a song that comes to mind that is most often overlooked when a compilation is put out. The other song most commonly thrown away is “Draw Of The Cards” – another synthesized heavy ditty that is full of dark images and the is a fairly scary song. It was the follow up single to "Bette Davis Eyes" and hit the top 30. Once again, I recall the video and it kind of frightened me.
The song has male back up singers singing the line, “and it’s all in the draw of the cards..” and if you turn out the lights and listen to the music and the lyrics you might just scare yourself. I’ve never been completely sure what the song is about as the lyrics are fairly ambiguous, “Slight of hand/hand of fate/chance you take/life’s a snake/and it’s all in the draw of the cards.” Umm okay, Miss Carnes. For some reason, though it really captures me, and it is a fairly good representation of the early 80s synth pop.
The bridge closes with a fairly fun guitar solo and the last verse suddenly incorporates a saxophone. In fact, the last verse and through to the end of the song is what makes “Draw Of The Cards” a must have. Kim begins, “Boulevard/small café” and the sax does a little back up, “cavaliers pass the day” and more sax, “joker laughs/from the street” and that sax makes a laughing sound that is creepy and fun all at the same time, “he weaves his web/bittersweet” and the back up boy singers, “bittersweet/bittersweet/bittersweet”
Kim kicks in, “aces high/deuces low/take the first/the rest should go/and it’s all in the draw of the cards,” and those boys, “of the cards/of the cards/of the cards” with Kim chiming in with a scary little “joker” laugh, the music gets quiet and then loud, loud, the sax kicking in, loud, loud, LOUD, LOUD, SYNTHESIZER, HORNS, GUITARS, and a BIG SCARY JOKER LAUGH, before fading out. One of the most original songs to come out of this time period I think.
From Kim’s 1982 album Voyeur, I ended up using quite a few songs. “Voyeur” opens up Rough Edges and it is one of my all time favorite Kim tracks. I recall the video gained a lot of controversy as it was filled with violence and sex. Set to a synthesized rock beat, the story of the woman and her obsessions come shining through, “when voices through the thin walls/speak of abhorrent behavior/and the video’s her only savior…” Kim’s smoke filled voice adds to the eerie effect of the song, “Voyeur, voyeur/are you hot tonight? /dance dance dance/til it makes you feel good.”
The song was the opening number on the original album as well. I used to listen to that album over and over again. I loved that album, it had everything plus I loved the cover - a black and white photo of Kim in a mini skirt, jacket and high heels standing in front of some kind of factory looking building. It was so industrial, so dark. For the music inside there was rock guitars, synthesizers, keyboards, Kim’s rugged voice and some really good lyrics – plus Martha Davis of the Motels even showing up to sing along on one of the songs…
From that 1982 favorite I’ve included a few other songs including the pseudo duet with Martha – “The Arrangement.” It’s one of my favorites from that album. This track doesn’t bother using the keyboards or synthesizers of some of the others but it doesn’t go into country territory either. It’s pretty much a balls out rock song telling the tale of a very vain and selfish woman and her “arrangement” with her man. “He drives her all day long/to fancy bars and restaurants/she acts like nothings wrong/she satisfies his needs and wants/He will drive her/she will drive him crazy with demands/until he takes all he can stand" and that my friends is the arrangement.
The song has some of my favorite lines, “She believes in gold/and he believes he's lost his soul/she knows she's getting old/she's lost her vision and her goals..." What a crack up and just as good is the second verse's, "He watns a single lover/she wants a cou-cou-cou-couple more/he would like to change her life/but she does not know what for/he knows its time to leave her/she knows she broke his heart/he kind of fell in love/she kind of fell apart..."
The second single from Voyeur, was the rock ballad “Does It Make You Remember”. I’m not sure if there was a single version released or if the album version was the single. The album version is over five minutes and this is rare for a single, however listening to the song, I can’t imagine where or how they could’ve edited it down for a single version. If Kim weren’t a performer she would be (and was) a songwriter and it’s her lyrics that always affect me. If not a fan of 80s music or Kim’s voice, one would have to admit she writes some damn good stories.
“I’ve heard talk going round about you/they say you’ve taken up with someone new/they say you’re still crazy/but I’m still crazy bout you/and do you remember? /the heart amused/or the heart abused/when it’s all said and done/you know what I’d choose/so why did you run to her/is she just an excuse/to help you remember/make you forget?” I love it. Kim can be so soulful and even without the 80s rock sound, this could probably be done as a country song and be just as powerful.
My favorite song from Voyeur has always been “Looker.” It’s a song written by outside writers but it could’ve been one of Kim’s. Heavily laden synthesizers start out the song with Kim singing, “A pretty face reflected in a mirror/so perfect in every way/with every move the picture’s getting clearer/she’s got it all/she’s got it made,” and more synthesizers come in “when she smiles/is she really smiling/she’s the only one who really knows/but in the night/I hear a young girl crying/emerald eyes so cool and so inviting/hide the side/she never shows” then the drums and guitars kick in, “She’s a Looker/that’s what they say/she’s got it all/ yeah she’s got it made/she’s a Looker/ with a beautiful face/always on display.” I can totally relate to this song as I too am quite a looker and it’s not so easy being pretty!
The kick to this little comp is including my favorite Kim songs that were just album cuts and probably never thought about. One of the all time best lyrics Kim ever wrote occurs in “Take It On The Chin” from Voyeur. The song is pretty simplistic, incorporating the mandatory Voyeur synths and some guitar but Kim is full of acid in this one while singing in a slightly higher register than normal, “you’re looking right/you’re walking tiiight/you think everybody wants you/cause you can do it all night..” I love it, and it was quite scandalous to me when I was a kid. Now I know exaclty where Kim is coming from. The song continues on as Kim tells her deadbeat man that she is through “don’t think you heard me the first time/goodbye goodbye goodbye/is it a shock to you/that I’m not standing in line?/well take it one the chin baby/if you’re tough enough.”
In the fall of 1982, a little movie known as Flashdance took the world and this little Bradley by storm. It was the first R rated movie I ever got to see. I could not stop talking about, whining and crying until my mother could take no more and brought me to the theater.
I don’t know why parents are always so uptight about what their kids see because I didn’t understand half of the crap going on in it. The jokes and all the drama went right over my head. Of course I could figure out the boob-flashing scene, but it was the music I loved the most. Years later, it would be Jennifer Beals taking her shoe off and massaging her dinner date’s penis with her foot under the table that became my favorite part, but that’s what happens when you grow up.
Anyway, Kim contributed to the soundtrack with her ballad, “I’ll Be Here Where The Heart Is.” To this day, it’s still one of my favorite songs, not just by Kim, and not just from the soundtrack but in general. Like I’ve said, Kim has a very clever of writing a lyric, then with her scratchy voice, I somehow am able to empathize with whatever she’s saying.
Set to that big synthesizer sound she was doing at the time, the song begins, “it’s the song that just keeps playing on the radio/and you know I haven’t seen you for awhile/I lie awake at night and wonder how you are/and I wish I could see you again…” then the drum rolls and a great guitar lick that will run through the rest of the song, “Is it fate or is it luck that brings us back/or is it just a common point of view/time has put on a spell on you that never seems to change/and I wish I could see you again…” to the chorus:
“I’ll be here where the heart is/where the dreams that we’ve been after all come true/you will find me here where the heart is/I’ll wait for you/I’ll wait for you…” Sure, it’s sentimental slop to some, but the song always puts me into a mood. I feel like crying when I hear it and wonder where I put that Prozac.
“I’ll Be Here Where The Heart Is” was never released as a single but Kim did put in on her next album, 1983’s Café Racers, and it was the B-side to that albums first single Invisible Hands.
For Café Racers, Kim hired Keith Olsen (Pat Benatar, Fleetwood Mac, and co-producer of the soundtrack to that flashy trashy strip movie we were just talking about) to produce and they came up with something she had never done before. A full blown synthesized dance oriented album. Full of drum machines, fake guitars, and Kim’s vocals…it’s not as bad as you would think.
There are a few highlights from the album including “Invisible Hands.” Sounding like a hybrid of Olivia Newton-John’s “Twist Of Fate” and Madonna’s “Burning Up”, the song might as well have “1983” as a subtitle. Needless to say I love it.
Opening with a faint “aaaah” backing vocal, Kim comes in more hoarse than normal and the backing vocals added to the chorus, “Reaching out my Invisible Hands to touch you/Aaaah reaching out my Invisible Hands to free you.” Again, the lyrics are that 1980s “what are they really talking about?” type, “You make the evening news/you never had an alibi/your evidence may be the truth/but they won’t read my lies..” What? Okay reach out your invisible hands then.
The only thing I like in a song better than a bridge is what I call a “breakdown” where most of the music drops away and there is a line from the song repeated(usually the bridge or chorus). Pat Benatar does it a lot, Swivek did it on “Spastic Valentino” and Kim does it on this song with the bridge “Is it a lie when you’re asking me why? /is it a lie when you’re asking me why?”
The first time the bridge appears, we hear it and then a chorus repeat with a synth solo that sounds like it came from a Human League song, then her “breakdown." Oh how I love this song! Kim took the song to #40 on the pop charts; meanwhile Olivia hit #3 with “Twist Of Fate” and Madonna was yet to “conquer the world.”
“You Make My Heart Beat Faster (And That’s All That Matters)” was the long-winded second single from Café Racers. Done in a very similar vein as “Invisible Hands” it’s a fun little piece of synth pop, but nowhere near as enjoyable as the first single.
I love “story songs” and “Young Love” happens to be the one chosen here. You know the type of songs I’m talking about, Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” comes to mind with its story of the guitar player and his girlfriend. Usually these stories involve a guy named Johnny or John. I’m not sure why but that’s the way it is – perhaps there’s an unwritten law in pop music that says you have to use Johnny as your protagonist in story songs.
John shows up in “Young Love”, “Jenny loves John/ but he doesn’t care/ Now that he loves another/I know he’s been getting his share/sometimes I want to tell her/but I wouldn’t dare/cause tonight when she calls/she won’t know that I’m there…” That’s right, Kim is a slutting ho sleeping with her friend Jenny’s boyfriend John! I love it. The song would’ve been better if someone got killed at the end but I guess that’s Tanya Tucker’s department, not Kim’s.
The final single chosen from Café Racers was “I Pretend.” The song only hit in the upper 70s of the top 100 but it’s totally Kim Carnes. In fact it probably fits better on Mistaken Identity or one of her more recent albums than it did on the Café album.
I had to exclude a song from Barking At Airplanes (“One Kiss”) in order to include this song but I felt I had to include it since it did actually chart and once again I like the sentiment of the song.
Set to a contemporary adult radio beat, “I Pretend” is all about Kim’s obsession with her ex, “I still wish I was there was with you/she’s got the man I can never have…” But Kim has found a way to get through those nights of heartbreak; “How it hurts to be second best/ooh let me tell you what I have to do/to get through the night/I pretend that you love me after dark/pretend that you’re holding me next to your heart/pretend that you wanted me right from the start/ooo I’m lost in the fantasy/I pretend that you’re valentine is for me/pretend I’m the only one that you need/pretend that we’re making love in my dreams/ooo I’m lost in the fantasy.” How tragic, yet how many of us have been there? Well not me of course, but how many of you?
Kim hadn’t had a bona fide hit in a few years when she decided to take over as her own producer for her next album. 1985’s Barking At Airplanes came out in the summer, and I remember hearing the first single “Crazy In The Night (Barking At Airplanes)” on the radio. I loved it and so did others as it hit #15 on the pop charts giving Kim another hit.
Starting with footsteps banging up stairs and a knock on the door, a small child whispers, “Who’s there?” before the synthesizers kick in and Kim and her B-Boys (Background vocals) sing the chorus, “Sometimes I really think I’m going Crazy In The Night/When I hide under the covers/and I won’t turn out the light/I think nothing’s gonna get to me/but then again it might/what can I do to keep from Crazy In The Night?”
In an interesting diversion from typical pop formula, the first verse continues as just the synthesized keyboard loop with only one little drum beat added, “I need a drink of water/but I swallow hard instead/it’s hard to move a muscle when you’re frozen in your bed/if I could make it to the phone before I die of fright/what can I do to keep from going Crazy In The Night.”
Then the chorus kicks in but it’s not Kim singing it, it has those B boys all over it while the guitar and drums kick, “sometimes she really thinks she’s going crazy in the night…” with a bunch of high pitched, “doo doo doo doos” in the background. It’s infectious. It also reminds me of my Grandmother Ferlie, who swore she too was going crazy in the night working the night shift at the post office.
If Voyeur was my favorite Kim album to this point, Barking At Airplanes had the makings of taking over the title. All of the songs were either clever little ballads that pulled at my heartstrings or synthesized pop confections like “Crazy In The Night.”
The best ballad Kim has ever done in my opinion is the title track to this compilation, “Rough Edges.” The music is very minimalist and the song is mostly just Kim singing her misery but it’s so chilling, leaving me awestruck every time I hear it. For some reason, it’s the song I turn on every time I break up with some bastard.
Chosen as the third single from Barking At Airplanes, the song never had a chance on the radio, but Kim performed it around the TV circuit and I caught a live performance on some award show and I immediately fell in love with it.
Beginning in a similar vein to Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”, there’s a bongo playing and then some clever guitar loops for Kim to come in, “We learn to hold it in/hide our hearts/don’t let it show/so scared we forget to say/all the words when we need them most/rough edges take time/understanding/never losing/our rough edges/take time/holding on/and I still want you…”
My favorite verse is the next one, “sometimes people change/sometimes I don’t know you/it runs by/ we stumble through/ round and round/ cause we know our/ rough edges…” It’s so pretty and thought provoking. I mean who doesn’t have their own rough edges? The song fades out with “na na na’s” and guest vocalists singing their little “aahs” and “da da das.”
“Rough Edges” came out about six months before Cyndi’s “True Colors” and this song really should’ve been just as popular as Cyndi’s ballad.
The second single from Barking was the synth laden “Abadabadango”. Abadaba what o? I know, it sounds silly and it is silly but like “Crazy In The Night” which isn’t exactly poetry, this song is fun. And it’s done for fun’s sake.
The song begins almost identical to “Crazy” with synthesizers and the chorus. Using the silly word as a metaphor of sorts for love and all it’s mystical powers. The lyrics begin, “Abadabadango/can you hear/it’s the rhythm of the heart/that beats for a million years,” and the verse begins, “We all have to use some kind of magic some of the time/between the laughter and the tears/a place to draw the line/when you say that you can’t/say that you won’t/so don’t even give it a try/when the heart as it seems/to take all the dreams/and give it just one more try…” and the chorus with an added line, “Abadabadango/getting loud and clear/if you listen close/to the voice inside that you wait to hear.”
If I were to analyze this song, I would say "abadabadango" is the moment when you hear that inner voice telling you how stupid you’ve been acting, how you need to realize what you have right in front of you. But I’m not Kim Carnes so what the hell do I know about abadabadango?
“Divided Hearts” is the final song of Kim’s EMI America catalog chosen for Rough Edges. The song comes from Kim’s 1986 album Lighthouse. The album went back to Mistaken Identity territory, not only in musical styles (mixing country pop with rock pop) but also reuniting Kim with producer Val Garay. It would be her last EMI album and her last contemporary pop album. But what a way to go.
I remember seeing her perform “Divided Hearts” on Johnny Carson and I loved it. I had to run out and get it. Unfortunately there was other music more important and I never did buy the Lighthouse album or the single.
Years of searching finally got the song into my hot little hands and I was ecstatic. It really is one of my all time favorite Kim Carnes tracks.
As much as I love “Rough Edges” I think “Divided Hearts” is the close runner up to being my favorite in Kim’s ballad type of songs. The song itself is actually very close to being a clone of “Rough Edges” but hey if you’ve got a formula that works for you, you might as well stick with it.
Working not so much as a ballad as a soft rock confection, there is a guitar riff running quietly through the song and endless background vocals chime in behind her and the drum machine.
“You look out of your window/into the neon light/you try to forget him/but the feeling keeps you up all night/flashback/flashback/flashback/it comes from the abstract mind”
“One, divided heart/two, divided hearts/why do they break? /we watch them fall to pieces on the ground/one, divided heart/two, divided hearts/why do they break? /and we are left with our divided hearts/oh…”
“Standing conversation/down at the pink café/you telling me you’ve got reasons/but I just can’t hear a single word you say…”
The best part of the song is almost every line is repeated or sung along with back up vocalists in almost choir like atmosphere. It really is a clever little ballad and one of my favs.
So now you know the songs and stories of that smoky voiced Kim Carnes. Perhaps you too can share some of her rough edges and see beyond those Bette Davis Eyes. It’s all in the draw of the cards, but choosing Kim will give you an ace every time.