EML’s Favorite Songs – “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes

The other night I watched the wonderful classic 1942 film Now, Voyager, starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains on Turner Classic Movies. Seeing Davis in scenes on the cruise ship, her famous eyes luminescent beneath the wide-brimmed white hat, made me think of the 1981 Kim Carnes hit song “Bette Davis Eyes”. It’s my favorite song of 1981, and ranks among my favorite songs of all time.

“Bette Davis Eyes” was written in 1974 by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon, who’d had prior success with her hits “What the World Needs Now is Love” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”. With lyrics about a strong-willed, alluring and precocious woman with “Greta Garbo standoff sighs and Bette Davis eyes“, the song was originally recorded in 1974 by DeShannon for inclusion on her album New Arrangement. Her original recording has more of a country vibe, with twangy guitars and honky tonk piano, but it was Kim Carnes’ more synth-heavy 1981 version that made “Bette Davis Eyes” a massive worldwide hit. It spent nine weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and reached #1 in many countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Spain, Germany, Norway, Switzerland and South Africa. It was ranked the #1 song of 1981 on the Hot 100, and also won Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Record of the Year.

Though she’d been writing and recording music for well over a decade, it wasn’t until 1980 that the raspy-voiced Carnes broke through with two top 10 hits – her duet with Kenny Rogers “Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer”, which she co-wrote with her husband Dave Ellingson, and a terrific cover of the Smokey Robinson song “More Love”. But it was her cover of “Bette Davis Eyes” that shot her to international fame and acclaim.

The song fell into her lap almost by accident during the search for material for her album Mistaken Identity, which she was recording with music producer/engineer Val Garay (who’d previously produced “More Love”). Garay later recalled that songwriter Donna Weiss had contacted him about a song she’d just written with Bruce Roberts that she wanted to play for him and Carnes. “So she came over and played us the song, and Kim and I kind of looked at each other and we thought, ‘Yeah, not bad.’ But it wasn’t what we were looking for. So she said, ‘Well, you know, I have this other song I gave to George Tobin and nothing ever came of it.’ And that was ‘Bette Davis Eyes.’ Kim had actually heard it before, and liked it. So she played the demo for me, and it was totally different than the record. It sounds like a Leon Russell track, with this beer-barrel polka piano part. But I loved the melody and I loved the lyrics.

Garay had keyboardist Bill Cuomo come up with the signature synth riff, using a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 synthesizer, which became a defining element of Carnes’ more sensual and rather mysterious version. The song was recorded in the studio on the first take. (Wikipedia, MIX webzine)

Bette Davis was 73 years old when Carnes’ version of “Bette Davis Eyes” became a hit, and was thrilled to have a song named after her and inspired by her legacy. She wrote letters to Carnes, Weiss, and DeShannon, telling them she loved the song and thanking them for making her “a part of modern times“, also adding that her grandson now looked up to her and told her she had “finally made it”. After their Grammy wins, Davis sent all three of them roses as well. In her 1987 memoir This ‘N’ That, Davis wrote “It was a thrill to become a part of the rock generation” as a result of the song. Carnes and Davis also struck up a special friendship, with Carnes visiting Davis at her home several times before her death in 1989.

Her hair is Harlow gold
Her lips a sweet surprise
Her hands are never cold
She's got Bette Davis eyes
She'll turn her music on you
You won't have to think twice
She's pure as New York snow
She got Bette Davis eyes

And she'll tease you, she'll unease you
All the better just to please you
She's precocious, and she knows just what it
Takes to make a pro blush
She got Greta Garbo's standoff sighs, she's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll let you take her home
It whets her appetite
She'll lay you on a throne
She got Bette Davis eyes
She'll take a tumble on you
Roll you like you were dice
Until you come out blue
She's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll expose you, when she snows you
Off your feet with the crumbs, she throws you
She's ferocious and she knows just what it
Takes to make a pro blush
All the boys think she's a spy, she's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll tease you, she'll unease you
All the better just to please you
She's precocious, and she knows just what it
Takes to make a pro blush
All the boys think she's a spy, she's got Bette Davis eyes
She'll tease you
She'll unease you
Just to please you
She's got Bette Davis eyes
She'll expose you
When she snows you
'Cause she knows you, she's got Bette Davis Eyes
She'll tease you

The song’s official video, which shows Kim Carnes singing in front of her support band before an audience of oddly-costumed people doing bizarre dance moves and symbolically slapping one another in sync with the percussive synths, is deeply unsatisfying to me. I think it would have been far more effective to have Carnes sing the song against a visual backdrop of scenes of Bette Davis from some of her most iconic film roles, but my guess is that it would have been prohibitively expensive or a lengthy legal process, or both, to obtain the rights to be able to include such scenes.

Here’s a simple audio of the song, which has much better sound quality:

Top 30 Songs for June 19-25, 2022

One of my best new finds of 2022 is the young British singer-songwriter Charley Hullah, who goes by just his last name, stylized as HULLAH. I learned about the handsome and talented London-based artist as a result of being a guest moderator for the BBC Music weekly song competition Fresh On The Net, for which he’d entered his single “Chasing Trains”. I loved the beautiful song the moment I heard it, and chose it as one of my five top picks out of the 170 entries. (Three others of those top five have also appeared on my Weekly Top 30: “Deception” by Hannah Reem & Noodle Beard, which reached #1 in late April, “The Hurt Within” by Holy Coves and “La Cienega” by Chief Springs, which is still on this list.) Now in its 15th week on my list, I’m thrilled to finally place “Chasing Trains” at the top. HULLAH’s compelling lyrics, haunting melody, sparkling atmospheric synths and ethereal vocals are gorgeous, and I love this song more with every listen.

In other chart developments, Two Feet moves up three spots to #3 with his smoldering song of desire “Tell Me The Truth”, and Florence + the Machine, The Black Keys, Harry Styles, Spoon, Sam Fender and Bob Moses continue to dominate the top 10. Caamp climbs three spots to #9 with their lovely “Believe”, Weezer‘s optimistic “A Little Bit of Love” also moves up three to #11, and Lizzo‘s delightful “About Damn Time” leaps 14 spots to #12. Making their debut this week are “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)” by Arcade Fire, and the brilliant “Lin Manuel” by New York-based indie rock band Onism E.

  1. CHASING TRAINS – HULLAH (2)
  2. MY LOVE – Florence + the Machine (1)
  3. TELL ME THE TRUTH – Two Feet (6)
  4. WILD CHILD – The Black Keys (3)
  5. AS IT WAS – Harry Styles (4)
  6. WILD – Spoon (5)
  7. SEVENTEEN GOING UNDER – Sam Fender (8)
  8. BLOODRUSH – The Amazons (10)
  9. BELIEVE – Caamp (12)
  10. LOVE BRAND NEW – Bob Moses (9)
  11. A LITTLE BIT OF LOVE – Weezer (14)
  12. ABOUT DAMN TIME – Lizzo (26)
  13. 2am – Foals (15)
  14. SLEEP – Gooseberry (7)
  15. SYNCHRONIZE – Milky Chance (17)
  16. THAT’S WHERE I AM – Maggie Rogers (18)
  17. LA CIENEGA – Chief Springs (11)
  18. VIRGINIA (WIND IN THE NIGHT) – The Head and the Heart (13)
  19. SHUT OFF THE LIGHTS – Bastille (16)
  20. CLOSER – The Frontier (22)
  21. LONELY – Sea Girls (23)
  22. BEDS ARE BURNING – AWOLNATION feat. Tim McIlrath (24)
  23. THE FOUNDATIONS OF DECAY – My Chemical Romance (25)
  24. ON MY KNEES – RÜFÜS DU SOL (19)
  25. IN THE MIRROR – The Interrupters (28)
  26. WARNING SIGNS – Band of Horses (29)
  27. DISTANCE – Mount Famine (20)
  28. DESPERATELY WANTING – Brian Lambert & Marc Schuster (30)
  29. UNCONDITIONAL I (LOOKOUT KID) – Arcade Fire (N)
  30. LIN MANUEL – Onism E (N)

Top 30 Songs for June 12-18, 2022

No matter how often I listen to “My Love” by Florence + the Machine, my love for it (no pun intended) only grows stronger, and the gorgeous song maintains a firm grip on the #1 spot for a third week. Moving up two notches to #2 is “Chasing Trains” by London singer songwriter HULLAH, another beautiful song I never tire of hearing. In other notable chart movements, my favorite artist Two Feet jumps six spots to #6 with his darkly sexy “Tell Me The Truth”, and Ohio band Caamp leaps 10 spots with their lovely song “Believe”.

Three new songs make their debut this week: “About Damn Time” by Lizzo, her first ever appearance on my chart, enters at #26. I know she’s one of the most popular artists around today, but none of her previous songs have really appealed to me until “About Damn Time”, and I can’t resist its infectious 70s dance groove. At #29 is “Warning Signs” by the wonderful Band of Horses, whose songs never disappoint. And bringing up the rear is “Desperately Wanting”, a haunting collaboration by prolific and talented singer-songwriters Brian Lambert and Marc Schuster.

  1. MY LOVE – Florence + the Machine (1)
  2. CHASING TRAINS – HULLAH (4)
  3. WILD CHILD – The Black Keys (2)
  4. AS IT WAS – Harry Styles (5)
  5. WILD – Spoon (6)
  6. TELL ME THE TRUTH – Two Feet (12)
  7. SLEEP – Gooseberry (3)
  8. SEVENTEEN GOING UNDER – Sam Fender (9)
  9. LOVE BRAND NEW – Bob Moses (7)
  10. BLOODRUSH – The Amazons (11)
  11. LA CIENEGA – Chief Springs (8)
  12. BELIEVE – Caamp (22)
  13. VIRGINIA (WIND IN THE NIGHT) – The Head and the Heart (10)
  14. A LITTLE BIT OF LOVE – Weezer (16)
  15. 2am – Foals (17)
  16. SHUT OFF THE LIGHTS – Bastille (18)
  17. SYNCHRONIZE – Milky Chance (19)
  18. THAT’S WHERE I AM – Maggie Rogers (20)
  19. ON MY KNEES – RÜFÜS DU SOL (13)
  20. DISTANCE – Mount Famine (15)
  21. THE HURT WITHIN – Holy Coves (14)
  22. CLOSER – The Frontier (24)
  23. LONELY – Sea Girls (25)
  24. BEDS ARE BURNING – AWOLNATION feat. Tim McIlrath (26)
  25. THE FOUNDATIONS OF DECAY – My Chemical Romance (29)
  26. ABOUT DAMN TIME – Lizzo (N)
  27. DECEPTION – Hannah Reem & Noodle Beard (21)
  28. IN THE MIRROR – The Interrupters (30)
  29. WARNING SIGNS – Band of Horses (N)
  30. DESPERATELY WANTING – Brian Lambert & Marc Schuster (N)

Top 30 Songs for June 5-11, 2022

Florence + the Machine‘s cinematic “My Love” holds the #1 spot for a second week, while The Black Keys‘ “Wild Child” remains at #2. Brooklyn band Gooseberry climbs a notch to #3 with their wonderful “Sleep”, and London artist HULLAH moves up to #4 with his ethereal and moody “Chasing Trains”. British band The Amazons‘ “Bloodrush” climbs four spots to #11, Two Feet jumps seven spots to #12 with his smoldering “Tell Me The Truth”, and Caamp’s “Believe” leaps eight spots to #22. Two songs make their debut this week – the epic “The Foundations of Decay” by My Chemical Romance, their first new music in eight years, and the buoyant “In The Mirror” by Los Angeles ska punk band The Interrupters, entering at #29 and 30, respectively.

  1. MY LOVE – Florence + the Machine (1)
  2. WILD CHILD – The Black Keys (2)
  3. SLEEP – Gooseberry (4)
  4. CHASING TRAINS – HULLAH (5)
  5. AS IT WAS – Harry Styles (3)
  6. WILD – Spoon (6)
  7. LOVE BRAND NEW – Bob Moses (7)
  8. LA CIENEGA – Chief Springs (8)
  9. SEVENTEEN GOING UNDER – Sam Fender (10)
  10. VIRGINIA (WIND IN THE NIGHT) – The Head and the Heart (9)
  11. BLOODRUSH – The Amazons (15)
  12. TELL ME THE TRUTH – Two Feet (19)
  13. ON MY KNEES – RÜFÜS DU SOL (11)
  14. THE HURT WITHIN – Holy Coves (13)
  15. DISTANCE – Mount Famine (14)
  16. A LITTLE BIT OF LOVE – Weezer (17)
  17. 2am – Foals (18)
  18. SHUT OFF THE LIGHTS – Bastille (20)
  19. SYNCHRONIZE – Milky Chance (21)
  20. THAT’S WHERE I AM – Maggie Rogers (22)
  21. DECEPTION – Hannah Reem & Noodle Beard (12)
  22. BELIEVE – Caamp (30)
  23. ANIMAL – Partisan (25)
  24. CLOSER – The Frontier (27)
  25. LONELY – Sea Girls (28)
  26. BEDS ARE BURNING – AWOLNATION feat. Tim McIlrath (29)
  27. I LOVE YOU – Fontaines D.C. (16)
  28. WHAT, ME WORRY? – Portugal. The Man (23)
  29. THE FOUNDATIONS OF DECAY – My Chemical Romance (N)
  30. IN THE MIRROR – The Interrupters (N)

VULTURE PARTY – Single Review: “Blood Wolf Moon”

Vulture Party is a Scottish three-piece who, in their own words, play “disquieting Alt Pop for the socially conscious“. Based in Falkirk, a smallish city located roughly halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the band consists of Louise Ward, David King and Dickson Telfer. Having both a male and female vocalist deliver their thought-provoking lyrics also gives their already fascinating sound even greater nuance and depth.

They released their debut single “New Humans” in 2019, followed a few months later with “Sun Dance”, then dropped their eponymous debut album Vulture Party in April 2020, just as the pandemic turned the world upside down and brought everything to a crashing halt. Undeterred, they began writing and recording songs for their second album Archipelago, and in July 2021, they released “Afterlife”, the first of a series of singles to be included on Archipelago. They followed up with “Iso Disco” this past January, and now return with “Blood Wolf Moon“, the third single off the forthcoming album, to be released later this summer on the not-for-profit independent record label Last Night From Glasgow.

About the song, the band explains “‘Blood Wolf Moon’ is a contemporary take on European werewolf folklore where, through isolation and lack of human connection, people were labelled as outcasts, leading to their basic need for love not being met. Our theme for the song and music video is a werewolf searching for human contact and finding love through music and dance. Despite the subject matter, the tune is upbeat and buoyant, influenced in part by European dance and pop.”

Musically, the song calls to mind some of the great European dance-pop songs of the 80s, with its deep, pulsating bass and drum-fueled beat, overlain with sweeping, almost psychedelic synths, sparkling keyboards, edgy guitar notes and crisp percussion. Louise and David’s intertwining vocal harmonies are really marvelous too. I love this type of synth-heavy dance music, and “Blood Wolf Moon” fills the bill quite nicely.

The delightfully silly video, filmed, directed and edited by Neil McKenzie of Keep it Creative, shows Louise as a campy werewolf who’s also a big Dolly Parton fan, sneaking around and trying to take part in a line dancing society event where David and Dickson are participating. She finally succeeds in the end, fitting in with the other dancers.

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Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp