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…