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LeBlog’s Cheesetastic Classics: Barbra Streisand vs. Charlene

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Welcome to the next matchup in our continuing search for the most satisfyingly cheesy pop songs of all time! A LeBlog Cheestastic Classic should be both undeniably corny or over-the-top while also possessing some quality that makes some of us grin and pump our fists in gleeful irony. Some people might also use the term “guilty pleasure.” But I’m not going to. For our purposes here, these are “LeBlog’s Cheesetastic Classics.” The skill and talent involved in producing some of these songs may, in fact, be quite impressive and at their core these songs might actually be rather superior to some which are considered cool. But somewhere along the way the songwriter or performer took that wrong turn at Albuquerque and landed themselves in the land of cheese.

This is a touchy one, isn’t it? I’ve paired these two songs quite purposefully because I want to throw myself down this particular chasm and try to walk away without having to face one of them another week. Yes, both songs have thematics based on female sensuality, but I’ll argue that while that does have a hand in making them both cheesy, it’s not judgmental to label them so. After all, it’s the execution here that helps to lay on the gouda heavy and well, if you’re talking judgmental…just get a load of one of our nominees.

Last week’s matchup was pretty interesting in its own right. Once again, we proved that there was a golden age of cheese and Supertramp was a part of it. They were voted in by about 77% of our participants. Meanwhile, “All Star” by Smash Mouth took an odd path off our list. Early in the week, it looked like the song might very well lope easily into Cheesetastic status alongside such luminaries as Dan Hill, Richard Harris, and Harry Nilsson. “All Star” was getting plenty of votes, and then “poof!” The votes Smash Mouth was getting tailed off severely. So much so that they ended up with just 36% approval. Did some person or group of people vote early on and then give up? I’m not sure, but the tide definitely turned at some point. So that’s a total of nine members of our merry group of cheese-peddlers we’ve voted in. Next up are two very big hits by female singers, one by an enormous star of song and film and the other by someone who definitely is a 1-hit wonder.

Barbra Streisand’s “Woman In Love” hung out in the number one spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 for three weeks back in the autumn of 1980. This was back when Streisand was still a pretty huge presence on pop radio. She had already had eight top ten hits by then and was even a very strong presence at the box office, having won multiple Academy Awards, including one for Best Actress…and she had not yet been nominated for her first Razzie. I’m pretty certain that she wore out her welcome with some people and they were very ready to pounce once she slipped up. Those people probably had real problems with “Woman In Love.”

When I first started writing these articles I sat down and made a quick list of possible nominees and I’ve been culling that list ever since as well as taking suggestions from friends and adding to the list as more cheesy songs came to mind. “Woman In Love” has been sitting on that list from the beginning, but I have to admit that it had been quite some time since I had actually listened to the song in its entirety. So before I committed to writing it up I figured I ought to go ahead and do that. It was sort of a weird experience. More than halfway through listening to the song I thought to myself, “shoot. This isn’t all that cheesy. It’s just a pretty darn good song.” But somewhere between thinking that and the end of the song something happened. It wasn’t anything very specific, but somehow I got the feeling that somewhere along the line the Streisand-ness of the song got turned up to fifty…and voila I had one of our nominees for this week. I can’t promise that everyone will have this same response, but that’s the beauty of discussions like this.

The song was a part of the absolute dominance of the Bee Gees that started in the mid ’70s and basically ended right after Barry Gibb wrote and appeared on Streisand’s big hit album “Guilty.”

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This might be a matter of two hugely successful celebrities wearing out their welcome at the same moment that they wrap themselves around one another on a top-selling album cover. Disco died a messy, public and sudden death not long after people realized it was the ’80s, and as the standard-bearers of the once popular musical style, the Bee Gees sales took a nose dive right along with it. Streisand herself only had four more top 40 hits after the collaboration with Gibb ran its course, and her only top 10 hit post-Guilty was a duet with Bryan Adams in 1996 that I don’t remember at all as I’m writing this sentence. Let’s find it on YouTube and see if it then rings a bell.

Nope.

I remember The Mirror Has Two Faces doing pretty tepid box office, though. Many critics expressed affection for the first half of the movie, but voiced annoyance with its hubris as it progressed. Hmmmm…that sounds familiar somehow…

Well, while we ponder that little mystery, let’s take a look and listen at one of the more baffling top ten hits of my lifetime, Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been to Me.”

Is it any surprise that this song was written by a pair of men? What in the actual hell? My memory of the time when this was a big hit song is fixated on the idea that it was a really naughty song, but I didn’t remember the fact that it was a really atrocious slut-shaming anthem. The song actually seems to want it both ways. We’re meant to be titillated by the central character’s list of sexual conquests, but then we’re meant to nod along with perfect twenty-twenty hindsight as she admits that none of it brought her true satisfaction and that she’s alone now. The character is telling her own story to a friend who is disenchanted with her traditional marriage. Now I’m not going to argue in favor of a married woman with a baby blithely leaving her husband because she’s bored, but the way “I’ve Never Been to Me” argues against it by having another woman denigrate her own less traditional choices just feels wrong to me. The already existing ick factor of the recording is taken into truly mind-shattering cheese territory when the character takes a break from the melody and actually delivers a spoken plea to her friend. Charlene isn’t much of an actress in this portion of the song and it comes across as a real platitude because of it.

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“I’ve Never Been to Me” took a circuitous route to the number three spot on the top40 in 1982, with the song originally having been recorded in 1976 and stopped dead at #97 on the Billboard charts the following year. In most cases this would have been the end of the story, but a radio DJ in Tampa, Florida started playing the song at the behest of his girlfriend and his audience responded really well to it. This was five years after the original release, but the song was re-released rather quickly and became a runaway hit. Meanwhile, Charlene’s life had in fact gone on  outside of the life of the song. When it began to get airplay again, she was making her paycheck working at a candy store in England, having lost her recording contract when her previous records hadn’t sold well. What was the American singer doing in Ilford, England? That is, aside from working in retail? Well, contrary to the advice given in her now hit single, she had divorced her first husband and married an Englishman, then moved there with him. I was just 12 at the time “I’ve Never Been to Me” was enjoying heavy radio play, but I don’t remember this part of Charlene’s story being widely disseminated. Why undermine a perfectly good backlash against the sexual revolution, after all? If there’s a joke to the song that makes it as cheesy as it is, it doesn’t seem from here that anybody making or selling “I’ve Never Been to Me” was in on it.

Okay, so that’s some slightly uncomfortable territory there, isn’t it? What do you think? Is “Woman In Love” too good to be a Cheesetastic Classic? Is the ick factor behind “I’ve Never Been to Me” too egregious for you to consider its undeniably cheesy spoken word portion? Vote here and let’s see if we can broach these subjects in the comments section.

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Posted on August 31, 2016, in Cheesetastic Classics, Music, poll and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I went “no” on both for reasons you outlined. “Woman In Love” is a relic of the tail end of the disco era which will make it sound cheesy to many and I suspect votes will reflect that. But it’s actually a really good song. So says the guy who thinks Barry Gibb is an underrated genius. I recognized the song, but like you I haven’t heard it in ages. When it was getting radio play, I had no idea who sang or wrote the song. Gibb’s fingerprints are all over it. I’m less sure about Streisand. Is this song indicative of her pop library?

    Your comments regarding her hubris reminded me of the Joe Queenan article that ran here a couple weeks ago. The fact that the video contained clips of movies Queenan made fun of reinforced that. I’m a little disappointed WP didn’t display that article as “related”. Which reminds me… Since Friday is staring me in the face, my kids started singing it the other day. Thanks, YouTube.

    I don’t think I have ever actually heard “I’ve Never Been To Me”. I remember it being a punchline on some 80’s sitcoms. From the context, I had always assumed it was some kind of feel-good feminist anthem. Now that I have actually heard the song, ick. Cheesy? Undeniably. Classic? No. I don’t want to hear it again.

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  2. Both are definitely cheesy classics. “Woman in Love” is a song I actually really like, but it is definitely cheesy. “I’ve Never Been to Me” is a terrible song, but it’s one of those train wreck songs where I can’t help but listen to it when it’s playing, so it’s definitely cheesy.

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  3. Lebeau – Maybe seeing this cheesy video will change your mind about whether or not “I’ve Never Been to Me” is cheesy.

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    • It’s not that I don’t find the song cheesy enough for inclusion. It definitely is. It’s that I don’t find it to be a classic.

      I’m being very conservative with my votes. For me to designate a song as a cheesetastic classic, it has to be cheesy which to my mind means it can’t be too good. I’m also resisting the urge to consider all songs of a bygone era to be cheesy because I think that’s a trap we can fall into. But the song also has to be good enough to be considered a classic. At a minimum, I have to want to listen to it again. Ideally, to me, a cheesetastic classic is a song that has me reaching to turn up the volume while also feeling a little guilty that I know all the words.

      I may be using too narrow of a definition, but on the whole I feel like I am offsetting other voters who are quick to vote in favor of inclusion. Hopefully, it will all come out in the end.

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  4. I’m going to agree that Woman In Love is actually a really good pop song. Since it’s part of the disco movement and it was taking its last gasps on Top 40 radio at that time (though 1980 still had a fair number of disco hits) I could see why those who hate disco would just automatically dislike it. But that would be unfair to what is a really good song. Ironically it’s one of the few Barbra Streisand song that I like.

    And yes, it has Barry Gibb’s fingerprints all over it. Which is a good thing. I’m with Lebeau that Barry Gibb was a musical genius. The Bee Gees took a dive off a cliff commercially as soon as the 80’s began but Barry continued racking up numerous pop hits as a songwriter/producer with Streisand (Woman In Love, Guilty), Dionne Warwick (Heartbreaker), Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton (Islands In The Stream) as a few early 80’s Top 10 hits for example.

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  5. I haven’t heard “Woman in Love” in years, and never knew who sang it or anything. I like it, but not in a Cheesetastic Classics way. I just think of it as a song, and it has that feel to it of any good 1970’s song (which is probably part of the backlash, since people wanted to move away from 1970’s stylings). An aside: I like the Bee Gees & Barry Gibb. The material is before my time (which probably help), but I like “Night Fever”, “Stayn’ Alive” & “How Deep Is Your Love”.
    I’m kind of blah on “I’ve Never Been to Me”; I’ve never heard of it, and don’t like it or hate it, although I could’ve done without that monologue towards the end of the song, which makes the song feel even preachier to me.
    For the first time for me, I vote “no” on both counts (sad day for me).

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  6. Important update!
    Last night I won a “Cheezy Karaoke” contest by singing “I’ve Never Been to Me.”
    Took home a big trophy and everything!

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