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30 August 2010 @ 06:56 am
Bp's Song of the Week #92: Belinda Carlisle "Leave a Light On"  
It was a normal scanning of friends’ status updates on Facebook when I saw Greg’s update about waking up with the song “Mad About You” by Belinda Carlisle in his head. Almost immediately that very infectious chorus started running through my head. So I headed off to You Tube to pull up the video so I could hear it in full. Earlier this year I pulled my CD of Belinda’s Greatest Hits off the shelf and enjoyed a spin, somewhat surprised at how much I enjoyed some of the songs that had not caught my attention before. After “Mad About You” ended I needed something more…I needed the more mature vocal of “Circle in the Sand.” Carlisle wouldn’t make my list of favorite female vocalists, but she has that unique quality that makes me need to listen to a couple of songs before turning back to my music of the day. As “Circle…” played in my headphones I heard something more than just a great melody and catchy pop song, I HEARD Belinda, “Baby can you hear me? Can you hear me calling?...Baby anywhere you go, we are bound together, I begin baby where you end…” Ok, I need more. “I Get Weak” I clicked to next and suddenly I was (damn that spell-casting Diane Warren and her pop songs). She’s explaining falling under a lover’s spell, while she’s casting it on the listener (oh, the trickery). Her vocal performance on this song (especially when done live) is entrancing. Saving the best for last, I needed to hear “Leave a Light On” and then it was going to be back to the CDs I had planned (David Gray, Iron Maiden, Editors, and the Dollyrots).

This is my favorite Belinda song. Maybe it was the slide guitar solo by The Beatles’ George Harrison, but I don’t think so. While it’s a great, tasteful little guitar solo (which totally embodies George’s sound and style in 30 seconds), it’s Belinda’s vocal that pulls me in right from the first line, “Take my hand…” It’s the ‘You had me at hello’ feeling as she starts with just a faint hint of rasp to her voice and that brief pause – THE pause – between “take” and “my hand,” it’s so short, so subtle, but you’re drawn in and rendered defenseless. “Tell me what you are feeling, understand this is just the beginning…”

It worked back in the Go-Go days, and throughout her first four solo albums as well, the wall of backing vocals to help support the chorus – a Belinda song staple – and while it’s exactly what makes you tired of hearing “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” it’s what makes other songs, this one included, sound so good.

"Darling leave a light on for me
I'll be there before you close the door
To give you all the love that you need
Darling leave a light on for me
'Cause when the world takes me away
You are still the air that I breathe"

By the time the first chorus ends with “I can’t explain, I don’t know, just how far I have to go, but darling I’ll keep the key, just leave a light on for me,” she’s only asking you to leave the light on, but you’d be willing to rob a bank if needed. She has you that drawn in, that spellbound.

While the keyboards date the song in time, they don’t make it sound too dated (as many key-heavy ‘80s-‘90s songs are). She was in a pop world, but she comes close to some vocal deliveries of a modern day singer-songwriter at times. In almost every Carlisle song you can hear the point when her raspy voice comes out reaching and yearning, almost coming to the singer-songwriter threshold where you’re bleeding out the lyrics on stage. But this is ‘80s and ‘90s pop, you can’t do that and expect to sell records and singles so she’s reigned in.

It’s the little vocal growl in “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” (“but I’m not afraid, anymore…”), the emotion of “Vision of You” (“nobody’s touch feels like your touch…”), the post chorus declaration of “I get weak…” in the song of the same name, the pleading of “Half the World” (“every time you leave, my heart breaks in two…”), the searching and frustration of “Where Love Hides” (“why do we hurt the ones we trust? Is that all that’s become of us, why are we so alone…”).

Sometimes it’s difficult to strip away the nostalgia of songs from your youth to evaluate them as real songs. Not all songs were written as ‘hit singles’ and even those one hit wonders were created and born from a magical spark, then nurtured into a record. Most weren’t written to be ‘hit singles’ and recorded as such. Dexy’s Midnight Runners weren’t writing and recording “Come On Eileen” to crack the Top 40 and MTV regulars – it was a magical spark that created an insanely catchy song. It’s easy to dismiss it today as an ‘80s pop song and the band as a ‘one-hit wonder,’ but that’s selling them short. We’ve attached such a dirty connotation to that term – oh, they weren’t a real band or artist, they were just a ‘one-hit wonder.’ Well, in most cases, that’s one more ‘hit’ than you’ve ever had, isn’t it?! Just because one song caught on but others didn’t, doesn’t mean that the other material wasn’t worthy of attention or it was somehow less important. Sometimes it’s the album tracks, the non-singles, that are the best cuts from a band or artist.

That was a little tangent, but the point is, I listened to Belinda without the trappings of the ‘hit single’ and as I listened to the songs in the playlist – some familiar, some not – I kept hearing these vocal moments that made me appreciate her voice. I spent a couple of days on a non-stop Belinda marathon. There was some concern among fiends during this period of discovery as one expressed his worry on Facebook to me: “dude...stop this belinda bender before it's too late! two days in a row, that's a lot. I'm worried for you…friends don't let friends do belinda benders.”

More Belinda Carlisle:
Inside the recording studio – really interesting as they decide which vocal takes to use: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCbEOi7S95k
Where Loves Hides: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkBNyWtdu5M
Circle in the Sand: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MO6H7c8lYc&NR=1
Half the World: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nLPJdeXAdI