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!