I’ll cop to it – I watch American Idol here and there. I mean, it’s not like there’s any aggressive counter-programming going on, and I can only watch my Kath & Kim DVDs so many times. But each time one of the female contestants gets up to screech and wail (Hey! If you get near a melody, sing it!), I can’t help but time travel in my mind back to 1981 and think that a 17-year old Rachel Sweet would absolutely demolish them all.
…Then He Kissed Me was Sweet’s third album and her first for major label Columbia Records after releasing two albums on legendary UK New Wave label Stiff Records. Sweet’s Stiff releases started out with a country twang and veered more towards guitar-based New Wave near the end, all wrapped in a Lolita Jailbait presentation, but …Then He Kissed Me blended current Top 40 sounds with classic 60s girl group trappings. This came to a head with the album’s big hit single, a remake of “Everlasting Love”, re-imagined as a duet with Rex Smith (urgh). Columbia’s plan to break Sweet in America was reaching its shmaltzy fruition.
Things were much more pleasing on the follow-up single – hey, if a remake worked, let’s release TWO of them as a medley! – a melding of the Phil Spector classics “Then He Kissed Me/Be My Baby”. Imagine seeing this on “American Idol”:
Simon would be arrested for statutory rape within minutes. Unfortunately, the second single didn’t match the success of “Everlasting Love”, even with the Rex factor removed. Columbia must have had faith in those heady days of artist development, when a label would work an album even if a single flopped, since a third single was sent to radio stations, this one an original composition by D.L. Byron (Rachel gets a co-writing credit here that I haven’t seen anywhere else) – a little Jim Steinman-eque ditty called “Shadows Of The Night”.
Yes, that “Shadows Of The Night”. A full year before Pat Benatar made it a huge hit and it won the 1982 Grammy for Best Song.
Sweet’s version of “Shadows Of The Night” (subtle, but telling lyric difference – in Sweet’s version, she and her lover are running “thru the shadows of the night”, not “with” them as in Benatar’s version) is nowhere near as bombastic and overblown as Benatar’s, and maybe that’s why it didn’t click with Top 40. It is, however, a bit more honest and heart-rending than Pat’s, and definitely stands on its own merits. The rest of the album is a keeper, too.
Sweet went on to record a final album for Columbia, which we’ll get to at some point. These days, she’s behind the scenes, working as a producer for television shows like “The George Lopez Show”. But just imagine if “Idol” was around in 1981…
Neither song charted.
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