One hit wonder Charlene had never been to me, but where’s she been to since…?
US singer Charlene (b.Charlene D’Angelo in 1950) was signed to Motown Records in 1973 as their next big thing. Under the name of Charlene Duncan, she released two singles, “Relove/Give It One More Try” and “All That Love Went To Waste”, but neither did anything. Charlene had to wait till 1977 to have a hit, in the shape of “It Ain’t Easy Comin’ Down”, which broke the US singles chart at No.97. She amassed three top 100 hits that year with “Freddie” (No.96) and “I’ve Never Been To Me” (No.97). The follow year, she began recording songs for a planned second album, but when “Are You Free?” and “Hungry/I Won’t Remember Ever Loving You” flopped, the album was dropped and so was Charlene!
Now the story goes, that a US DJ by the name of Scott Shannon loved the song “I’ve Never Been To Me” and played it on his station endlessly and wanted it to be a hit. It eventually attracted the attention of Motown president Jay Lasker, who contacted Charlene, who was now living in the UK, with a view to resigning with the album and re-release the song. She agreed and also made a rather haunting video for the song. Now, without giving my address away, it was filmed just a mile down the road from where I write this, at the National Trust’s Blickling Hall in Norfolk, a magnificent 17th century house set in glorious open parkland. Just to make things even more eerie, Charlene appeared in the video in her wedding dress, from her marriage to Jeff Oliver.
This time “I’ve Never Been To Me” found an audience and became a top ten hit around the world, reaching number one in the UK and making No.3 in America. With this new found success, Motown issued an album of previously recorded tracks and some new ones under the same title, which reached No.36 Stateside and No.48 in the UK. “It Ain’t Easy Comin’ Down” also saw a reissue soon after, although this time it stopped at No.109, despite its inclusion in the 1982 film ‘The Last American Virgin’. Motown now wanted to capitalise on this new success and recording began on a new album of fresh material, that also saw a new contribution by “Never Been To Me” songwriters Ron Miller and Kenneth Hirsch.
This new song, “Used To Be”, was recorded as a duet with none other than Stevie Wonder, but because of the controversial lyrics written about an uncaring, self-centred society, many US radio stations refused to play it. In addition to that, UK stations followed suit and a song that should have been a massive hit, wasn’t. Sadly that, the follow up single “I Want To Go Back There Again” and the album all flopped. But Motown were not done with her yet. There was one more album in 1984, “Hit & Run Lover”, which featured the singles “We’re Both In Love with You” and the title track, although these failed to find any audience at all and in 1985, after the release of “Fire”, Motown said goodbye to Charlene for a second time.
Charlene, at the age of 35, now generally retired from music and returned to America, where she lives in California. Dance versions of “I’ve Never Been To Me” appeared in 2002 and 2012, while Charlene herself was ‘coaxed’ out of retirement and recorded her version of the Mama and Papa’s classic “California Dreaming” that same year. In 2013 she recorded a new single, “Heard You On The Radio”, while the enduring popularity of “I’ve Never Been To Me” continued into the 90’s and beyond, featuring in film ‘ The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert’, TV shows Will & Grace and Desperate Housewives and ‘Shrek The Third’ in 2017.
But…Charlene is back! she has a brand new single coming out soon, her first for seven years, “Sea Of Tranquility”! We will keep you posted…
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