503. ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’, by Charlene

Slowing things down considerably, after the e-numbers overdose of Madness and Adam Ant, Charlene has some life advice, some pearls of wisdom, some preaching to do…

I’ve Never Been to Me, by Charlene (her 1st and only #1)

1 week, 20th – 27th June 1982

Hey lady, she intros, You lady, Cursin’ at your life… She’s a discontented mother, this lady, and a regimented wife. It’s a bit of a harsh opening verse. Alright, Charlene, take it down a notch! Meanwhile the music is very easy listening, the softest of country lilts.

Who the ‘lady’ is is never specified. Whether she wants Charlene’s advice is neither here nor there. She’s getting it. This is a sanctimonious, humble-brag of a song. Charlene lists all the things she’s done – guzzling champagne on yachts, gambling in Monte Carlo, making love in the sun – before trying to pretend that it wasn’t all that fun. I’ve been to paradise, But I’ve never been to me… (honest!)

Some of the rhymes are true clankers: Oh I’ve been to Nice, And the isles of Greece… I’ve been undressed by kings, And I’ve seen some things, That a women should never see… At this point I’m rating this record as ‘iffy’ at best, ‘pretty crap’ at worst. Until Charlene starts talking, that is, sending this song into the realms of the truly awful.

I won’t quote the spoken word section verbatim. The gist is: paradise is actually soothing your screaming baby and arguing with your husband. Paradise is duty. Paradise is definitely not champagne and casinos. Who wrote this? It sounds as if it were commissioned by a mega-church, in order to promote Christian values through the radio-waves. I’m sure you can claim that the song is an argument for taking pleasure in the small things, in accepting happiness wherever you can find it, but I’m not having it. For a start, as Charlene lists all her escapades, she does not sound like she regrets any of it. No way has she cried for the unborn children that might have made me complete. She was too busy shagging her way around the south of France… Whoever the ‘lady’ in the song is, I hope she told Chaz to piss off after she’d finished her sermon.

Of course, ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’ was a giant hit around the world, because people will always gobble this sort of nonsense up. Though it took a while for the song to take off. Originally released in 1977, it took a DJ in Tampa to start its second wind. Charlene was in semi-retirement, and took some convincing to come back and promote the song. And imagine my surprise when I discovered that this was a Motown release! The label that sent The Supremes and The Four Tops, and ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ to the top of the charts is also responsible for this… It was the label’s first big hit featuring a white female vocalist.

‘I’ve Never Been to Me’ has been recorded in Czech and German, Cantonese, Korean and several times in Japanese. It has also been re-claimed as a camp classic in the decades that have followed, beloved of drag queens and cabaret shows. It’s a silver lining, I suppose, that not everyone is taking this song seriously. But it’s still a terrible record. Next please!

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13 thoughts on “503. ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’, by Charlene

  1. Oh yes indeed this is awful. Motown needed a slap. They couldnt make Kiki Dee a hit but they dtruck hold with this nauseating dirge. Its followed me for decades like a bad smell you cant shake off, it just never quietly dies, and Charlene used to crop up in small clubs and the like doing her one hit. Good for her getting a good living out of it, but i will continue to turn it off given the choice when it turns up again…

    • At least when it returns, which it does, it seems to be taken tongue in cheek. Not many are taking it seriously… There seems to have been a strange taste for preachy, sanctimonious hits in the late 70s, early 80s… ‘No Charge’, ‘One Day at a Time’, this…

  2. Yeah, this is pretty stupid from the title to the preachy message to the very laughable spoken word bridge. For 1982, you can already tell the age on “I’ve Never Been to Me” with the sleepy ballad sound to Charlene’s almost Karen Carpenter like singing to the spoken word bridge being a very ’70s Philly Soul touch. It actually did chart on Billboard upon its original 1977 release only peaking at #97 though before its big breakthough in 1982 helped it reach #3 in May and June 1982 behind “Ebony and Ivory” and Rick Springfield’s “Don’t Talk To Strangers.” For some reasons, radio DJs in the US were very big on reviving boring ballad songs from the recent past in the ’80s. In a way, this song’s success in the midst of MTV’s asencion could be a case of people having very recent nostalgia for an era before new wave and synthpop. Plus, gloopy ballads from the likes of Air Supply and Lionel Richie were still big in the early-’80s so in a way “I’ve Never Been to Me” was still able to fit in on the charts after five years.

    There’s also this funny performance of the song on an early Will & Grace episode

    • Ooh, that comparison to Karen Carpenter is almost sacrilegious, lol… Yes, the Will & Grace clip is an example of the one redeeming quality of this song: that nobody seems to be taking it seriously, and how it’s been reclaimed as a camp novelty only to be performed by drag queens, (and deluded cabaret singers…)

      • Maybe not perfect but Karen Carpenter came to mind the most listening to Charlene with her soft singing voice over while also understanding how dated this type of singing and song from 1977 sounded by 1982. I guess what makes this song’s delayed success so weird to look at today for me is how DJs were really digging deep for ballads to revive like they were looking for the next hot jam when ballads don’t make much chart impact now unless you’re Ed Sheeran and now we have streaming to allow all of us to pick what old songs we want to see get big.

        Speaking of Motown, there’s also a pretty good yacht rock/soul cover by the Temptations which replaces much of the lyrics to make it suitable for a guy to sing and even for past-peak Temptations, they manage to make it better than Charlene’s take

      • I know what you mean with the Karen Carpenter comparison… but it still jars : )

        That Temptations version is OK – better than the original, but the production is a bit too ‘slick eighties’ for my tastes. And no version of ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’ ever needs to be 6 minutes long!

      • LOL…no America has some bad taste at times… It could have played but it’s just not memorable…. I looked it up…looks like we almost had as bad taste as the UK…it peaked at #3 here. I do NOT remember it.
        It sounds like a b-side.

  3. Pingback: Recap: #481 – #510 | The UK Number Ones Blog

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