602. ‘Heaven Is a Place on Earth’, by Belinda Carlisle

1988, then. And the year begins with a bang. And, ooh baby, do you know what that’s worth?

Heaven Is a Place on Earth, by Belinda Carlisle (her 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 10th – 24th January 1988

Oooh heaven is a place on earth… It’s a song that stretches itself across a lot of ‘80s sub-genres. The chords are power pop, the guitars are glam, the soaring vocals are very of-the-moment power ballad. And they all add up to a great pop song, with just enough of an edge to widen its appeal beyond teeny boppers.

In fact, I’d say that ‘Heaven Is a Place on Earth’ represents as a UK #1 a lot of the rock-pop-power ballad fare sung by women – think Heart, think Joan Jett, think Cher in black leather straddling a ship’s cannon – that was slightly more successful across the Atlantic in the mid-to-late eighties.

And Belinda Carlisle did have an authentic rock background, having been singer for punk/new wave band the Go-Gos in the late seventies and early eighties. So I was imagining ripped jeans and spiky hair, a la the aforementioned Joan Jett (another punk alumnus). But Belinda Carlisle has much more of a ‘girl next door’ vibe in the music video – nice lip-gloss and bouncy hair – even when she’s writhing against walls. While she was almost thirty when this was released: pretty old for a girl next door, and for a female pop star in general, so fair play to her.

The song at times does indulge a few too many eighties practices. It’s very glossy – that goes without saying – and while the guitars do snarl they remain pretty restrained, like an angry bulldog shackled to a pole. The break in the middle is meandering, as if they were intending to add a proper solo but forgot. And there’s a gigantic key-change, which has apparently been named as ‘one of the best key-changes in music history’… I don’t quite hear that. A fairly common-or-garden key change, for me.

These are minor quibbles, though, with what is a pretty strong pop-rock song. It’s a positive start to 1988, keeping the lively pace set by Pet Shop Boy’s ‘Always on My Mind’. Actually, we’ve hit of a vein of pop classics, and they’ll keep coming for the next couple of posts. But… As good as ‘Heaven Is a Place on Earth’ is, it doesn’t compare to Carlisle’s best song: the lead-single from her next album, the George Harrison featuring ‘Leave a Light On’. It would make only #4, in 1989…


16 thoughts on “602. ‘Heaven Is a Place on Earth’, by Belinda Carlisle

  1. This was certainly one of the best chart-toppers of its era. Decent song with a memorable hook, snarling guitars to give it bite, and indeed a nifty key change. Some of her follow-ups were better than others, and I agree that ‘Leave a Light On’ was her best ever, thanks partly to one of our most revered guitarists of all time. It’s only just struck me that, after Madonna and Whitney, Belinda was probably the most consistently successful female vocalist of the era – and had also had a pretty strong track record, albeit minimal UK success, as a Go-Go. I’d take her over either of them any time!

    • To be honest, I didn’t know much of her work beyond this and the brilliant ‘Leave a Light On’… ‘I Get Weak’ is a strong one too. She may well be one of the most consistent female vocalists of the era (though are we forgetting a certain Australian, soon to come along with her 1st #1…?)

      • Ah yes, I forgot the Australian one. Very consistent indeed, though to be honest I am hard pressed to name more than a small handful of her hits. Belinda was much more to my taste…

  2. Aaah! Belinda Carlisle. One of very few exceptions to my anti ‘commercial’ sounding popular music of the late ’80s. I can just about justify it because I ‘knew’ her already from the Go- Go’s … and I had a massive crush on her!
    Actually, that side, I really did love her music. I already had Go-Go’s stuff and her first solo album, ‘Belinda.’ I bought the three I think.
    Even went to see her play Glasgow. Seats towards the front. Took my wife …. who said I looked like a pathetic wee, drooling puppy dog. 😀 😀 😀

    • Oh I like that… Good on your wife for keeping you company as you drooled : )

      I’ve just checked out her style in the Go Gos, and her solo image was quite a departure. Very cute and glossy, nothing very punk about it!

  3. I love the Go Go’s much much more as you can imagine. This was glossy and “‘girl next door’ vibe in the music video” is what I didn’t like about it. They did NOT believe in raw edges in the late 80s… producers acted like it was a sin or something.
    It’s not a bad song though…it would have worked with the Go Gos much more.

  4. Pingback: 603. ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’, by Tiffany | The UK Number Ones Blog

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