Thirty years ago: a retrospective review of Belinda Carlisle’s 1989 album “Runaway Horses”
With the global success of the “Heaven On Earth” album and all its singles, Belinda Carlisle began 1989 guesting on British group Then Jerico’s top 40 hit “What Does It Take?”. She recorded her part of the song in late 1988 whilst at the same time preparing her own, third solo album. Rick Nowels and Ellen Shipley had crafted exactly what people wanted to hear with massive hit singles like “Circle In The Sand” and “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” and with two hits written by Diane Warren, Belinda’s follow up to her 1986 self-titled debut was a guaranteed big seller. Belinda spent most of the first half of 1989 in the studio with the same hit making team, some special guests and the force to release something even bigger and better.
And this is what we got…
1. Leave A Light On
Nowels and Shipley delivered an absolute classic of a lead single for this period in Belinda’s career, and with ex-Beatle George Harrison playing guitar over the middle-eight, Belinda1989 was off to a flying start. “Leave A Light On” is pure Shipley/Nowels magic, with sophistication and Belinda’s vocal projecting high over each chorus, it became and remains one of her best loved recordings. The two-part chorus is also brilliantly written, just when you think it’s all over, in comes Belinda with “I can’t explain, I don’t know…” It makes the song ride out longer in anticipation of Harrison’s moment yet to come and Belinda introduces that with “Just like a spark lights up the dark, baby that’s your heart, baby that’s your heart, baby that’s your heart”. “Leave A Light On” was released in September 1989 and went straight into the top ten across the world from the UK to Australia, Europe to Japan, yet when it seemed so presumptive that it would follow “Heaven” to the top of the US singles chart, it failed miserably. Quite why the song stopped at No.11 is a mystery. Perhaps someone from The States could write in and let us know… Either way, “Leave A Light On” provided a welcome return from Bel and, with its everlasting appeal, gave an insight into what album number three would sound like.
2. Runaway Horses
The next track, with its gradual build up and harder, rockier feel, would eventually become the title track of the album. “Runaway Horses” begins gently and, like the horses in its narrative, pounds and pounds across the plains to the exciting chorus that lays ahead as Belinda whales “you and I are runaway horses”. She asks us to “hold on tight” and that’s what you need to do with this superb number with its long spells of almost calm as the beat builds and rebuilds all the way to the final fade away. “Runaway Horses” was released in the UK as the third single in February 1990 and peaked at No.40, it fared better in Sweden where it peaked at No.13, but was a no-show in her home country. Today, Belinda usual begins her live shows with this song, just to make sure everyone is paying attention!
3. Vision Of You
After the furore of the first two tracks, Belinda takes things down with the gorgeous and delicate “Vision Of You”, demonstrating her softer and sensual vocals for each verse and chorus. “Nobody’s kiss moves me inside, and I have no place left to hide” she affirms, as she realises she has fallen for her man, hook line and sinker, but not before asking “tell me what can I do? With this vision of you?”! The song was released as the fourth single in the Spring of 1990 but just missed the UK chart ending up at No.41. However, following the success of “The Same Thing” (see track 6), the song was remixed and re-released a year later and eighteen months after “Leave A Light On”! This time, it could only manage No.71 in the UK, but I have to say I am a big fan of both the album version and the slightly more uptempo 1991 version in equal measures. Just a shame it never went higher or did anything in The States(!)
4. Summer Rain
Robbie Seidman and Maria “Body Rock” Vidal provide the next track, the dark and haunting “Summer Rain”, in which Belinda’s fast-paced vocals stick to the atmospheric backing track like glue (have you tried doing this one at karaoke?!). “Summer Rain” tells the story of a soldier who leaves his wife to go to war and in the line “it was the last time that I saw him, in the summer rain”, the outcome is not good. Once again the song builds and builds, as does Belinda’s vocal, to the heartbreaking chorus; “Oh my love it’s you that I dream of” and as she wonders if she will ever see her love again, she consoles herself that “somewhere in my heart I am always dancing with you in the summer rain”. This is first class Belinda and, as it would turn out, her personal all time favourite recording. The song was released as the third single in America in early 1990 and made No.30, the second and last single from the album to chart Stateside. Internationally it was released as the fifth single a year later, gaining its biggest success in Australia, where it peaked at No.6. The song made No.22 in Canada and No.23 in the UK and remains a firm fan favourite and an irrefutable standout on this album and any Belinda greatest hits collection that has since been released.
5. La Luna
With a twist of Spanish guitar and some sublime lyrics, Belinda remembers the night that she fell, under the spell of the moon – la luna. This has enough rhythm to echo the best that Gloria Estefan was churning out at the same time and should have anyone that listens to it, up on their feet with some castanets in hand, working their feet and their hips in time to the music. “La Luna” offers something different, not previously heard on a Belinda album, not taking itself too seriously, yet with an air of class and style all of its own. It was released as the second single from the album in the run up to Christmas 1989 and thus, was Belinda’s last hard format output of the 1980’s. It reached the top twenty in Switzerland and Germany, No.21 in Australia and No.38 in the UK, although once again, the song failed to chart at all in America. A sad and sorry affair, but as a new decade dawned, it became clearer that Belinda’s success was now to be had internationally and not in her home country.
6. (We Want) The Same Thing
More rousing, anthemic rock now as Belinda chants “Hey, hey, hey, hey” amid throbbing drums that introduce the loudest and most stirring track on this album. “(We Want) The Same Thing” is full of life and drama as we parade through a mixture of Belinda’s deep and gritty verse rock vocals to her choral preach of “we dream the same dream, we want the same thing, oooooh”. Like “Runaway Horses”, the rock guitars dominate this action piece and it was hardly surprising that it would be selected for single release, in the Autumn of 1990. Given an even more stadium feel facelift, the re-energised “(We Want) The Same Thing” became a huge hit and catapulted the album back up the chart internationally. The song peaked at No.6 in the UK and No.9 in Sweden and would gain further exposure when it was used in a Peugeot car commercial the following year. Once again, despite its world class appeal, the single did nothing Stateside, and yet it has all the attributes of a long-stay top five hit, worthy or rivalling anything Bruce Springsteen offered in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The song remains one of Belinda’s most recognisable and biggest numbers always welcome at any live event, for now, for love, forever and amen to that!
7. Deep Deep Ocean
Back to more gentle, country-esque style Belinda pop now with the gorgeous “Deep Deep Ocean” that could easily pass as “Leave A Light On” part two. If Belinda had wanted to release more singles from this album, I’m sure this would of been number seven or number eight, particularly with its Summery, effervescent feel and Belinda’s passionate vocals, it’s probably best we don’t go ‘overboard’ with singles, “one of us might drown in this deep deep ocean”!
Here comes another one! “Valentine” is yet another commercially-worthy track that is a pure delight, even Bel’s warbly singing just before each chorus. “Valentine” is the anti love song to play to anyone that’s cheated or cheating on you. Sing to them “I know that you’re not mine, you’re somebody else’s flame”. Appreciate and enjoy the whimsical violin middle-eight of this track, it’s just so sublime and welcome. “Valentine” has, however, become a standard at Belinda’s live shows over the years and a crowd pleaser at that.
9. Whatever It Takes
There’s another superb, single-worthy feel about “Whatever It Takes”, which could almost be billed as a duet, given the ‘backing vocals’ of one Bryan Adams – yes he of “Summer Of ’69” and “Run To You” fame and yet to ‘bestow’ upon us the majesty of “Everything I Do”. The softer, smoother nature of this near-ballad showcase how far Belinda has come since her last album while Nowels and Shipley deliver yet another outstanding tune that turns what for some artists would be a collection of studio recordings, into an anthology of greatest hits and timeless classics that surely ranks as Belinda’s finest hour?
10. Shades Of Michaelangelo
There’s only one real ballad on this album and that’s saved for the end. “Shades Of Michaelangelo” is still, nevertheless, a worthy epic and in keeping with the quality of this album, just as “Love Never Dies” does for “Heaven On Earth”. Like all great epics, it takes a full minute and a half for the song to fade away and bring this new collection of Belinda Carlisle recordings to a close. An understated and poignant ending if ever there was.
The album that would become “Runaway Horses” was recorded in Hollywood, Los Angeles and in France over a period of twelve months and released by MCA in America at the beginning of October 1989 and by Virgin Records internationally in the weeks that followed. Despite producing a collection of any number of outstanding new recordings, the album was met with a lukewarm reception in her home country, where it failed to match the success of “Heaven On Earth”. Peaking at No.37, it would eventually earn a Gold certificate for sales of 500,000 copies, less than half that achieved by its predecessor.
But, as noted earlier, Belinda’s real success would happen internationally, where “Runaway Horses” was greeted with more open arms and longevity. The album would equal “Heaven’s” UK chart high of No.4, and with singles being released over an eighteen month period, the album followed suit, yo-yoing up and down the chart from October 1989 through to the early Summer of 1991, and selling over 400,000 copies in the process. Sweden and Australia were also appreciative with a Gold certification gained in the land of ABBA and a Platinum disc from ‘down under’ as well as in Canada. The album also performed well in many parts of Europe as well as in Japan, where it charted much higher than “Heaven On Earth” had done a year and a half earlier.
Belinda has recently reissued the album in celebration of its 30th anniversary in expanded form with all of the single edits and remixes present, together with dance and dub versions and three bonus tracks “If You Could Read My Mind”, “I Need You To Turn To” and “Both Sides Now” for added pleasure. The set has been issued in both CD and vinyl formats for fans to treasure and remember this golden age of Belinda and an album stacked out with hit after hit after hit and more hits, should she and/or Virgin/MCA Records so desired. It’s an album of its time but one that has weathered well and stands tall even now as we celebrate three decades of its existence and Belinda takes to the road to ‘feed’ her hungry fanbase of all its delights and treasures once more. And we cannot wait. See you soon Bel! X