Nope, Not a 1-Hit Wonder: ‘Til Tuesday
‘Til Tuesday’s top 10 hit “Voices Carry” is one of the most iconic songs of the era, stuttering and strutting while expressing sorrow and resentment. Despite delivering a patently lousy performance, even the actor playing Mann’s oppressive boyfriend in the heavy rotation video lives on with me as a symbol of upper class masculine dickery. Oddly enough, Aimee Mann’s first and biggest hit to date was originally written as if she was singing it to another woman. The story of the song’s writing has always been that it was inspired by Mann’s breakup with ‘Til Tuesday bandmate Michael Hausman, so maybe she invented the same sex story in an attempt to make the song less autobiographical. It’s an interesting exercise, however, to listen to the lyrics from the point of view of a lesbian couple of the time. It certainly makes the requests for silence more understandable. Even today in some locales, gay couples are safer if they maintain a low profile. It sure might help them get served in a restaurant in Indiana.
Instead, the band’s record label recognized the commercial potential of the song and insisted that they rewrite it as a woman singing about her relationship with a man. The move paid off, with “Voices Carry” hitting #8 on the Billboard singles chart in May of 1985. Can you think of the band’s other top40 hit? We know there’s another hit here somewhere, because…see the name of this series.
‘Til Tuesday came together as a group in Boston in 1983, with guitarist Robert Holmes and keyboardist Joey Pesce joining the boyfriend/girlfriend team of drummer Michael Hausman and lead singer/songwriter Aimee Mann, who had dropped out of the Berklee College of Music and had a stint with the punk group The Young Snakes.
Yeah, that definitely has an early Talking Heads sort of vibe.
The more New Wave-influenced ‘Til Tuesday enjoyed local success, winning a radio station’s battle of the bands competition and signing a deal with Epic Records not much later. Their eventual debut record was full of songs that, like “Voices Carry,” were inspired by Mann and Hausman’s split. When it came time to choose a first single from the album to release, the re-recording of the local hit “Love in a Vacuum,” was strongly considered.
It’s a bouncy, angular song, and the radio play it had already enjoyed in the Boston area would have made it an understandable choice.
The label, however, preferred “Voices Carry,” and Cyndi Lauper had expressed interest in recording the song if ‘Til Tuesday didn’t. A memorable video was shot for “Voices Carry,” with the final image of Mann shouting in a crowded classical concert inspired by a combination of Alfred Hitchcock’s two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much. The colors in the scene and Mann’s pillbox hat were cribbed from the 1956 remake with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day, while her position seated in the audience more closely resembled the heroine’s location in the original 1934 version. Aside from an initial establishing shot showing the exterior of Carnegie Hall in New York City, the rest of this symphony scene was shot in Boston’s Dorchester’s Strand Theater.
The video was widely lauded and credited with the song’s quick rise up the charts, winning Best New Artist in 1986’s MTV Video Music Awards, but that would underrate “Voices Carry.” The song and Mann’s performance earn their spot in 80s lore all on their own with a whisper to shout dynamic, memorable refrain, and grounding bass line. Not long after “Voices Carry” was released, Mann began a romance with successful pop songwriter Jules Shear (“All Through the Night” “If She Knew What She Wants”).
‘Til Tuesday’s follow-up to “Voices Carry” was the mid-tempo and ultimately forgettable “Looking Over My Shoulder.”
Why did so many people seem to think that it was a good idea to remind MTV audiences who they were watching by playing a little of their previous hit at the beginning of the next video? Did that ever really work? So far we’ve seen less successful sequels to Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” a-ha’s “Take on Me,” and now ‘Til Tuesday. The video for “Looking Over My Shoulder” commits the additional sin of telling us all how hard life is once you’re successful. Then it apes The Wizard of Oz really awkwardly. No wonder this is not ‘Til Tuesday’s second top40 hit, stalling at #61. By the time they released “Love in a Vacuum,” their momentum was gone, and it didn’t chart at all.
Within a year, the band had recorded and released its second album, which could easily be seen as a rush job, but “Welcome Home” is an overall step up artistically from their first. Mann contributed to the songwriting on each track and delivered some of her most heartfelt performances yet. The production was less reliant on the new wave keyboards which populated “Voices Carry,” while maintaining a full, lush sound that could be compared to the “big” 80s style of Tears For Fears, but incorporating folk influences that give it a significantly more mature sound. Critical reaction was generally strong and Mann picked up fans amongst other songwriters. The first single was the moody “What About Love” (not the Heart song).
Okay, so after all of my gushing, that was a pretty straightforward mid 80s recording, wasn’t it? Well guess what? “What About Love” is actually ‘Til Tuesday’s second top40 hit, climbing up as far as #26 in November of 1986. Okay, so there’s really not much suspense involved with this one, but there’s still a lot we can find out about ‘Til Tuesday and Aimee Mann. For example, if you want to hear the sort of recording that garnered so much admiration, check out “Coming up Close.”
Wonderful! Unfortunately, radio programmers and the record buying public in general were less enthused and “Coming Up Close” only hit #59 on the hot 100. The performance of these two singles had to be disappointing to the label considering that the band had scored a top 10 hit last time out and a top 20 album. In comparison, “Welcome Home” only hit #49 on the album charts and neither single had reached above #26, so the decision was made not to release any more singles.
This relative failure came with upheaval in the band, as founding member Joey Pesce left the group, perhaps sensing that the group’s sound was veering away from the sort of keyboard style he was known for. At the same time, Mann’s relationship with Jules Shear came to an end. This all appeared to take the steam out of ‘Til Tuesday, and by the time their next album, “Everything’s Different Now,” was released in 1988 all of the heat around the group had dissipated. The record was informed by the split, with the song “J for Jules” in particular referencing the relationship. The entire album is a bit of a question mark, with the opening title track co-written by Shear and Matthew Sweet and an overall flatness in the production muting some still strong work from Mann. Check out the first (and only) single from the album, “(Believed You Were) Lucky,” written by Shear and Mann.
If that was just an album track, it might be a favorite, but in the “grab me quick” world of pop radio and MTV “Lucky” was a little too murky and unfocused. The video’s director didn’t even seem to know what to do with it, and the band looks uncomfortable through most of it. “Lucky” barely scratched the Hot 100, peaking at #95 and the album crept on to #124 on the album charts.
The one bit of good news (at least for good ol’ Daffystardust) was the presence of a Mann collaboration with the great Elvis Costello called “The Other End (of the Telescope)” which sported some of the best lyrics and the best refrain on the album. Of course I’m biased.
We even get the treat of Costello singing backup on the track. To my ears “The Other End (of the Telescope)” sparkles like nothing else on the album, but couldn’t save it from its dreary fate. Costello would re-record it with some new lyrics for his 1996 release “All This Useless Beauty.”
As can be clearly heard over the course of the videos included here, ‘Til Tuesday had developed into a very different animal than the one which had strode onto the scene with “Voice Carry.” Aimee Mann was more than just the face and voice of the group both in practice and perception, and decreasing returns with each album must have made the band’s breakup inevitable. As a solo artist, Mann would be able to follow her musical impulses without having to worry that she was going to end up under-utilizing one of her band members’ talents. Unfortunately, her career was put on hold due to legal wrangling with the record label.
Was this a good thing or a bad thing? A quick solo release the next year might have retained some continuity for her fans, but it could also be argued that the five year gap between ‘Til Tuesday’s last album and Mann’s first allowed for a clearer delineation between the projects and for her to pursue more mature content and musical approaches. Whichever is true, Mann appeared to settle in nicely to a role as a mildly successful and respected singer-songwriter, never breaking out again with a big hit, but always managing to release another record. Her 1993 debut “Whatever” crunched in spots the way it should have and was critically lauded, helping her go in the directions she wished.
One of her most memorable solo songs appeared on her second album “I’m With Stupid,” the very 1995-sounding “That’s Just What You Are.” I think I remember it so well because my girlfriend at the time owned the album. No cruel jokes, please.
In 1997 Mann married songwriter Michael Penn, best known for his 1989 hit single “No Myth,” and for being the brother of actors Sean and Chris Penn. He is, in fact, an actual 1-hit wonder so far.
A couple of years later, Mann’s music was claimed as the inspiration for Paul Thomas Anderson’s widely acclaimed film Magnolia, with a memorable scene featuring characters from throughout the movie spontaneously singing her song “Wise Up.”
The Magnolia soundtrack was primarily made up of recordings by Mann, with additional songs by Harry Nilsson, Supertramp, and others filling out its length. Mann was nominated for an Oscar for her original song “Save Me, ” with its video being directed by Anderson and shot on the set of the film, with its stars staying in place after completing scenes. No CGI was used to put Mann on screen with Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, or any of the other actors from Magnolia.
The song lost the Oscar to Phil Collins’ “You’ll be in my Heart” from Disney’s Tarzan and Mann has often introduced “Save Me” in concert by dedicating it in jest to Collins.
Since the turn of the century, Mann has released seven more well-regarded albums, never making a huge splash, but maintaining a loyal fan base despite recording for four different labels.
In 2012, an unscrupulous director tricked Mann into reshooting the “Voices Carry” video for her new song “Labrador.” It really is an interesting achievement.
Hopefully everyone here is in on the joke.
Posted on March 30, 2015, in Music, Nope, Not a 1-Hit Wonder, Oscars and tagged 'Til Tuesday, Aimee Mann, magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson, Save Me, Voices Carry, What About Love. Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.