White Label Wednesday: Bryan Ferry, “Kiss and Tell”

Written by Music, Popdose, White Label

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You don’t get much more ‘right place, right time’ than Bryan Ferry and his sole Top 40 entry, “Kiss and Tell.” Despite his superstar status in his native England – 16 Top 40 singles as a member of Roxy Music, 16 Top 40 singles as a solo artist – Ferry couldn’t buy a hit in America. He did have one thing working in his favor, though: MTV. They loved Ferry, putting several of his songs into much higher rotation than his chart success would suggest they deserved. In return, he gave the network the perception of good taste and hipster cool, something that came in handy between the videos for “Tarzan Boy” and “Kyrie.”

In 1987, Ferry went for the brass ring on Bête Noire, using Madonna’s producer (Patrick Leonard), a discarded Smiths song (Johnny Marr gave “Love Changes Everything” to Ferry, who christened it “The Right Stuff”), and, as always, David Gilmour. The album featured Ferry’s trademark sultry lounge cool, but was a decidedly more upbeat affair in comparison to his 1985 solo album Boys & Girls and Roxy Music’s swan song Avalon. That newfound enthusiasm was apparently contagious: Reprise placed the album’s second single, “Kiss and Tell” (download), on the soundtrack for Bright Lights, Big City, where it rubbed shoulders with Depeche Mode, New Order, Prince and M/A/R/R/S. The movie was a crashing bore, but the soundtrack, home to two recent Top 40 hits (New Order’s “True Faith” and M/A/R/R/S’ “Pump Up the Volume”), was a modest hit out of the box. That modest success lent itself to Ferry, propelling the song to #31 on the US charts, which is ten spots better than it did on the UK charts, strangely enough.

Now for the tough love: the lyrics to “Kiss and Tell” are pretty damn bad, even for a Ferry song. (Hey, I love Ferry as much as anyone, but he was prone to some purple-ass prose.) Ten cents a dance, love for sale, Adam and Eve, faded magazine, flash photograph. Wowzers. Those are not deep thoughts, though feel free to insert your own ‘vapid late-‘80s radio’ joke here. What the song lacked in lyrical prowess, though, it made up for with a catchy chorus and, once mixer Alan Meyerson was finished with it, a monster rhythm section, featuring a typewriter percussion track that predates the score for Atonement by 20 years. Meyerson’s mix is pure muscle, putting a huge flange over the guitar solo and fleshing the rhythm section out with about a dozen percussion tracks. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Meyerson’s 12” mix is that the edit work by the splice-happy Latin Rascals – making their third but by no means last WLW appearance – is more low-key than usual, only flashing their wares after the first chorus. They are, however, given carte blanche on the dub mix (download), and the Rascals waste no time hacking Ferry to bits.

MTV’s love affair with Ferry would end soon after the success of “Kiss and Tell.” The third single from Bête Noire, “Limbo,” received only mild interest, and by the time the ‘90s hit, Ferry was out of the picture completely. And one suspects that Ferry was perfectly fine with that, knowing that the success of “Kiss and Tell” owed more to good fortune than anything. Like most artists’ biggest hits, it is by no means Ferry’s best song, but it’s not an embarrassment, either.

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