Apr 09

CHARLENE – “I’ve Never Been To Me”

FT + Popular72 comments • 6,281 views

#503, 26th June 1982

One of my favourite old threads on ILX was a compendium of right-wing American cartoons, in which politics I found highly disagreeable were counterbalanced by craft and chutzpah. In fact my reactions were murkier than that – my horror at the opinions was part of the thrill. I certainly wouldn’t have had this reaction to right-wing columnists or talk shows so I assume the medium gave the material a – possibly dangerous – air of safety.

I have a similar reaction to conservative pop, especially country and country-tinged records like “I’ve Never Been To Me”, which Charlene kicks off in a laid-back Carly Simon mode before waxing increasingly rabid over the futility of female independence. The rather feeble self-help title is no preparation for the contents: this is strong meat. “I’ve spent my life exploring the subtle whoring that costs too much to be free” is the kind of lyric I’m surprised to find at #1 unbanned – perhaps DJs were simply too shell-shocked by the bug-eyed spoken word interlude (“THAT’S love! THAT’S truth!”) to notice.

The masterstroke is presenting the whole thing as a Rime of the Ancient Mariner style narrative, sung to an anonymous lady who is quite probably trying hard to extract herself from the conversation. The frame gives a context for Charlene’s rising hysteria – she knows she might be taken as a nutcase but she’s got to get her story over anyhow. So unlike, say, “No Charge”, “Never Been To Me” isn’t ever complacent – there’s something at stake here (even if you don’t agree).

The arrangement is creamy, well-constructed MOR, but beyond the lyric it’s Charlene’s performance that makes “Never Been” so memorable – the way she sounds so ecstatic wallowing in her own disappointment, her dangerously precise cadences, her marvellous 70s breathiness. Yes, in the charts of 1982 this might have seemed like an infuriating anachronism – but I think its unusual blend of schlock and intensity would have stood out in any year.



  1. 1
    Mark M on 7 Apr 2009 #

    I guess the question of the politics of the song is whether you treat the words as being uniquely about female independence. Obviously it can be, and was is probably mostly taken as part of the anti-feminist backlash (esp the I should have had a baby stuff. Boo). But you could also argue that she’s a woman so she’s addressing other women, and the whole thing could be a more general attack on jetset lifestyles and the widespread and false idea that going to lots of ‘exotic’ places necessarily gives you any perspective on anything (a notion swiftly dispelled by 30 seconds of conversation with your average ‘swam with the dolphins’ backpacker). There’s certainly something in it that appeals to my left puritan instincts.

    I’ve never thought of it as country, or even country-ish.

  2. 2
    Tom on 7 Apr 2009 #

    Your average backpacker hasn’t been undressed by kings though! Well I assume not.

  3. 3
    Alan on 7 Apr 2009 #

    I am obliged (by me) to say that this is my favourite cover on Ruby Trax.

  4. 4
    Mark M on 7 Apr 2009 #

    Re 2: Fair point… although I suspect if you had a sample of people who had been undressed by kings, they wouldn’t have much of interest to say, either.

  5. 5
    samwaltonyeah on 7 Apr 2009 #

    I was totally unaware of this song until a Belle & Sebastian B-side was released in 2001 called Take Your Carriage Clock & Shove It, which, according to several posts on a certain mailing list for bedroom saddo devotees, was a soundalike of I’ve Never Been To Me. Being one such devotee, I sought out the earlier track, and (broadly) those posters were right.

    Having done that, and looked up when it was released, I discovered that this was the record that was top of the pops when I was born. My sister, 11 years my senior, had always told me it was House Of Fun (because she didn’t know when I was born? Because she didn’t know when House of Fun was number 1? To spare me from the horrible truth?) and I had never thought to question her pop knowledge.

    And so, by accident of birth, this song is inexorably linked to me, and I’m sad about that because I think it’s a real stinker. The melody and the schmaltzy arrangement aside, surely the key to “advice” songs like this is that the artiste dishing out the tips should be someone you can identify with or, if the advice isn’t aimed at you (I’m not, and never have been, a middle-American teenage girl), someone you can at least like and respect. And Charlene’s melodramatic (‘bug-eyed’ is an ideal description) delivery sounds gushing, a bit self-promoting and, in the end, just insincere.

    I’ve never thought of it as country either, but assumed it was a ‘soul’ record (whatever that means) because it was on Motown.

  6. 6
    lonepilgrim on 7 Apr 2009 #

    the wikipedia entry for this song is so improbable that I wonder whether some popular pundits have been spreading disinformation. If you believe the entry then Charlene was working in a sweet shop in Ilford when this hit the top. Shame she wasn’t a waitress in a cocktail bar.
    I don’t think I’ve ever consciously heard the version with the spoken(?) bridge but I can’t say I’ve ever warmed to this song. For all the intended conservative message of the lyrics I’ve always mentally filed it alongside ‘I will survive’ and the Thelma Houston version of ‘Don’t leave me this way’ as female anthems – perhaps due to the performance and arrangment. It’s not for me – I’d give it 3.

  7. 7
    will on 7 Apr 2009 #

    Being a mere slip of a lad in 1982, I wasn’t aware of any feminist arguments raging over this record. No, what I found loathsome was the AOR arrangement and the spoken word section’s gushing faux-sincerity, which seemed to me symptomatic of a certain breed of American entertainer.

    Interestingly, I’ve Never Been To Me is the first chart topper by a US artist for a whole year (unless you count Stevie Wonder’s contribution to Ebony and Ivory). British pop just seemed streets ahead of anything America could produce at this stage. From my young perspective, this was a source of pride and a kind of blinkered chauvinism. We had been through punk, post-punk, 2 Tone and were now well into the New Pop era, where as the Yanks… well, they were still wearing flares! And records like I’ve Never Been To Me just summed up how useless they were. I hated it.

  8. 8
    justfanoe on 8 Apr 2009 #

    Whoops, it turns out “Goody Two Shoes” was my birthday #1 after all.

    I’ve never liked this song, but this makes me want to go back and give it a fresh listen. BTW does anybody know why this song only became a hit 5 years after its original release?

  9. 9
    LondonLee on 8 Apr 2009 #

    We used to call it “I’ve Never Been To Leeds” which is the most interesting thing I can think of say about this rubbish.

  10. 10
    The Intl on 8 Apr 2009 #

    Yeah! The Motown Sound in full effect!

  11. 11
    wichita lineman on 8 Apr 2009 #

    The divarication of “I’ve been undressed by kings”/”I’ve been to Greece” reminds me of Shania Twain’s “So you’re Brad Pitt”/”So you’ve got a car”.

    She’s grabbing the other woman’s sleeve throughout the song, ever, ever tighter. Clearly unhinged. I wonder how many sales were down to its comedy value.

    Motown released some other equally un-Motown material when I’ve Never Been To Me was recorded, like Albert Finney’s Album (yes, that’s the title) on which he attempts to match Richard Harris’s orch-pop and doesn’t come close, wallowing instead in three-day-week gloom like What Have They Done To My Home Town?

  12. 12
    marna on 8 Apr 2009 #

    I’m terribly sorry for linking this, but I cannot even think of this song without getting the Dustin the Turkey parody of it in my head.

  13. 13
    peter goodlaws on 8 Apr 2009 #

    #9 – Yes, “I’ve Never Been to Leeds”. My lot sung that also and it was the only fun we had with this terrible nonsense, in which Charlene whined on about seeing things women were not supposed to see and all the rest of it. What a drip!

    As for the deliberate misheard lyric, the juxtaposition between Paradise and Leeds couldn’t have been more marked. Cloughie was well out of it.

  14. 14
    rosie on 8 Apr 2009 #

    I’d been blissfully unaware of this until a couple of years ago when Charlene herself appeared on Woman’s Hour.

    This is another throwback song, recorded in 1976, and by the time it became a hit Charlene had given up her singing career and was living in London and working in a shop. I don’t know what flung it into the spotlight in 1982, but it started in America.

    On that first occasion I was pleased to spot the Ancient Mariner connection (and Wikipedia confirms that the song was originally written from a male perspective, though not that of a greybeard loon obviously. I agree with Tom that without that offbeat framing this would be a rather deliquescent song but as it is I like it quite a lot. There’s a message in there, of course, for those of today’s vacuous teenagers who crave a life of celebrity rather than being well-rounded and doing something worthwhile!

    Though Carole King was featured on Woman’s Hour this morning and I can confirm that Charlene ain’t no Carole King!

  15. 15
    marna on 8 Apr 2009 #

    Actually, scrap that. I’ve listened to them both (because I hate myself, clearly) and I think I’ve Never Been To Meath is the better of the two.

  16. 16
    Billy Smart on 8 Apr 2009 #

    7 out of 10 is perhaps a bold statement, but Tom is largely right. It may be a terrible record, but at least its storytelling narrative makes it a terribly compelling record. I can’t recall it having any effect on my nine year-old self, though.

    The really duff thing about it is the central metaphor. Speaking for myself, I have never been to paradise, but have – all to often – been to me.

  17. 17
    Billy Smart on 8 Apr 2009 #

    TOTP Watch: Chrlene performed ‘I’ve Never Been To Me’ twice on Top of the Pops;

    3 June 1982. Also in the studio that week were; ABC, Echo & The Bunnymen, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Fun Boy 3 and Junior. David ‘Kid’ Jensen was the host. That looks like a good show.

    17 June 1982. Also in the studio that week were; Roxy Music, Queen, Duran Duran and Echo & The Bunnymen. Simon Bates was the host.

  18. 18
    Tom on 8 Apr 2009 #

    #16 Billy that’s because paradise IS A LIE. You think you’re in Paradise and in fact you’re in Nice getting felt up by a minor bicycle monarch.

  19. 19
    Alan on 8 Apr 2009 #

    i’m recalling the R1 breakfast DJ (hairy cornflake or mike read i guess) at the time speculating on what the things were that a woman just ain’t supposed to see.

    the central metaphor ISN’T duff in the context of the philosophy it espouses and within its own definitions. where paradise = riches and luxury, but what really matters = facing up to who you are. MAN

  20. 20
    Pete on 8 Apr 2009 #

    As a nipper I found this a rather intriguing philosophical quandary as I had never considered “me” to be a place before. After this record I noticed people using phrases like “me time”, and the shifting of my understanding of a holiday being more a state of mind than actually visiting some place (it possibly helped that this was about the time when we started going on package holidays to sunny places that weren’t very interesting). And it is a killer tune, storytelling package. But Tom is right, there is something off about it, something a bit dissatisfied, something a tad ungrateful.

    Later in life I was told it was about female masturbation, which I have never questioned.

  21. 21
    Erithian on 8 Apr 2009 #

    There’s a fun dissection of this song from a feminist perspective at http://www.tartcity.com/newdungeon.html by one Lauren Henderson (a former writer for Marxism Today and the Observer!), who points out that the song was written by a MAN and then gives the man a good shoeing.

    At the time I didn’t pay much attention to the lyrics, apart from noting what clunkers some of the lines were – it all seemed of a piece with the nauseating glamour depicted in Dallas, Dynasty and all those spinoffs, and the song being at number one just got in the way of a lot more enjoyable stuff. Looking at the lyrics now, it sounds like another one from the “Stand By Your Man” stable, or maybe it’s an older and wiser Marie-Claire from “Where Do You Go To My Lovely” telling her friend back in Naples that it wasn’t all that glamorous after all. Not that the friend would have minded the chance to find out for herself, you understand.

    BTW, welcome back Rosie, good to hear from you again. Carole King is on Later with Jools Holland this week, I notice.

  22. 22
    Martin Skidmore on 8 Apr 2009 #

    Carole King was on Later last night, as were the Specials. BBC as ever bringing us the most exciting new music.

  23. 23
    Snif on 8 Apr 2009 #

    This song gets extra amusement points around my way, as Paradise is a suburb about five km from where I live. Nothing like jumping on the bus to Paradise whenever the mood takes you…actually, it’s better known for being the site of an Assemblies Of God church that’s more like a giant music arena than temple of quiet religious contemplation.

    This song is also a favourite among the sort of divas seen in “Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert.”

  24. 24
    Erithian on 8 Apr 2009 #

    Maybe it should be twinned with Hell in the Cayman Islands.

  25. 25
    Mark G on 8 Apr 2009 #

    I believe the “subtle Whoring” line never made it to TOTP performances, and the record got faded out before the spoken word part.

    “Seen some things a woman ain’t sposed t’ see”

    A men’s urinal, I believe.

  26. 26
    SteveM on 8 Apr 2009 #

    #22 Martin! Surely the look of ecstasy on Dame Terry Hall’s face during the performance, as is his wont, was quite enough excitement for all of us.

  27. 27
    SteveM on 8 Apr 2009 #

    And to be fair “Joolz” did also feature the rather good+actually hip Yeah Yeah Yeahs (perhaps to focus on the 2009 aspects of their new record rather than the 1979 ones, for sake of this argument)

  28. 28
    pjb on 8 Apr 2009 #

    I thought there would be more affection for this, however ironically expressed.

    Kitch beyond belief, sure, but hugely memorable and with a lyric that went beyond the usual cliches (largely by reaching new, previously unexplored cliches, but there you go). Sung ‘in character’ I always supposed, but no worse for it.

    I’m actually not sure it’s that different therefore from the Adam (and the) Ant(s) singles of previous months – they were ‘punk’ extended to entertaining pop cliche, and this was Motown/Country taken to the same extreme.

    Distinctive enough to have made no 1 in pretty much any year.

  29. 29
    rosie on 8 Apr 2009 #

    Erithian @ 21: I haven’t been anywhere, I’ve been lurking, just haven’t had much to say about some recent entries.

    Happening in Rosieworld about this time: the first microcomputer bubble had burst and I was out of a job again and at the beginning of a long slide the culmination of which we’ll come to in early 1983 when there’s some rather more interesting stuff about than this.

  30. 30
    AndyPandy on 8 Apr 2009 #

    Life was so good for me in 1982/83 that complete crap didn’t usually register although this made me cringe enough to force its way onto my personal radar.Since however I’d sort of forgotten about it – but yes it’s appalling not even “so bad it’s good” in fact I’d put it down with St Winifrid’s School Choir, Little Jimmy Osmond, and ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ as hardly worthy of 1. Having said that if ‘You’re Gorgeous’ had got to number 1 surely minus figures would have had to be introduced…

    As Will said pop culturally America seemed to exist in a parallel universe and similar to his point about them still wearing flares their haircuts were unbelievably dated too – whilst young males in this country over the last few years in the early 80s were wearing anything from wedges, skinheads, flat-tops, short and neat or New Romantic fringe type haircuts when you saw Americans on contemporary telly programmes they still had those early/mid70s hair ears three-quarters or completely covered cuts that noone in the UK had had for at least 5 years…I used to despair of them a bit like I did for different reasons when the dance culture hit but that’s another story…

    Finally its been mentioned that it was surprising that the word “whoring” wasn’t banned. I’ve always found at least in the last 30+ years the BBC to be far more lenient than theiir given credit for. Half the time when I read of a track being banned it seems to be complete SUN-style sensationalist rubbish as I often remember hearing the track in question plenty of times on the radio and it often seems a case of the record company courting a banning/pretending it has been banned just for the controversy.
    I’ve even read articles which say ‘Ebeneezer Good’ or ‘We Call iT Acieed’ were banned (and in the case of the former it was so shite it maybe should have been!) when they were on especially in the Shamen’s case at a saturation level of play.
    Even something from a year or 2 after cHarlene which was famously “banned” was only banned because a dj wanted to make a name for himself and up till then had been on the playlist. I think Top of the Pops were a bit stricter for some reason but post the mid-60s you could count the number of genuine big hits that were banned on not many fingers and even most of those were played in the evening if the dj wanted to…

  31. 31
    Conrad on 8 Apr 2009 #

    Was Charlene American?

    I thought she was from Goodmayes in Essex.

  32. 32
    DV on 8 Apr 2009 #

    Little DV found this song a bit daring, with all its talk of people, you know, having sex and stuff. The idea that it might be all rather reactionary was something I only heard many years later and found a bit disturbing.

  33. 33
    wichita lineman on 8 Apr 2009 #

    Re 30: We Call It Acieed was definitely banned by the BBC. But I heard Charlene plenty, and have to agree that it’s a 2 for me at best (as with Ebony & Ivory, bonus point for “isle of Greece” laughs).

    Speaking of which, E&I was in the middle of a SEVEN WEEK run at no.1 in the US while Charlene had her moment in the British sun. Prior to this, those dum Yanks had already placed the following at no.1 in ’82:

    Hall & Oates – I Can’t Go For That
    J Geils Band – Centerfold
    Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – I Love Rock’n’Roll
    Vangelis – Chariots Of Fire

    …all of which I’m fond of to some extent. And they didn’t buy as many copies of Seven Tears as we did, bad haircuts or not.

  34. 34
    Mark G on 8 Apr 2009 #

    We Call It Acieed was eventually banned, it had already appeared on Top of the Pops, but when the whole ‘ban raves’ media frenzy happened, it was easy to ban it for non-existant drugs references.

  35. 35
    Nx on 9 Apr 2009 #

    Never heard of this song! I’m shocked that this is the same woman who tried to be some kind of video vixen, singing “Fire” in The Last Dragon just a few years later.

    Man, the things you find trying to find out how long ILX will be down…

  36. 36
    vinylscot on 9 Apr 2009 #

    Terrible song; still can’t fathom why it would have been a hit, far less a #1.

    It always struck me as a bit of a show song, or something pulled from a movie – like the Mash theme song for example. It’s like you needed to know more to make the song mean anything.

    To be quite honest, without some sort of solid background evidence, I just can’t believe Charlene had been undressed by kings!

  37. 37
    Mark G on 9 Apr 2009 #

    To be honest, the line about “Sometime’s I’ve got to cryin’ for unborn children that would have made me complete’ is the “OK, gotta go now” point for me as well as the other woman she’s got viciously by the arm.

  38. 38
    AndyPandy on 9 Apr 2009 #

    Re 33: I’d agree with you on Hall and Oates and in the respect of a “long service award” Vangelis although I’ve always blamed the track in question for giving a lot of people the wrong idea about someone responsible for some extremely worthwhile albums and in an excerpt of “Heaven and Hell” one of my alltime favourite pieces of music…

    …whatever the case on its eventual banning the ironic thing about ‘We Call It Acieed’ was that in the line saying words to the effect of they say “it’s a drug but it isn’t” they’re obviously going out of their way to avoid a ban

    …having said that in a rare possible ‘actual Radio 1 ban’ scenario I seem to remember reading at the time that Jolly Roger ‘Acid Man’ and Children of the Night ‘Its A Trip’ HAD been banned from daytime airplay (the latter with full ‘Viz’-esque drug outrage piece in ‘The Sun’ which I believe called for it to be banned from actual sale!) but to be honest you could have hardly imagined ‘DLT’, ‘Bruno’ or even ‘ooooh’ Gary Davis playing dancefloor tackle like those in a million years even if they’d been extolling the virtues of the bloody Radio 1 roadshow

  39. 39
    will on 9 Apr 2009 #

    To be fair to ‘Oooh’ Gary Davies he did ‘get behind’ a number of rave-y tracks towards the end of his tenure at Radio One. I remember him loudly extolling the virtues of Bizarre Inc’s Such A Feeling on his bit in the middle during what must have been ’91.

  40. 40
    Matthew K on 10 Apr 2009 #

    This was a LANDMARK record for me. Aged 12, it was the first number 1 that made me realise that the Top Ten wasn’t necessarily the best possible music in the world, and that a song could make it to number one, even though I hated it with every fibre of my being. I remember the realisation sharply, and it set the agenda for my next 27 years of musical taste. Thank you Charlene.
    Also – it’s not Carly Simon she’s aping in the mellow bit, it’s Karen Carpenter surely. Who was a genius of course.

  41. 41
    Ken Boothe on 10 Apr 2009 #

    Hated it at the time (everyone hated it at the time – it was playground law) but I play it a surprising amount now I’m senile. By that I mean I fish it out a couple of times a year, usually after the pub and usually along with ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ and ‘Angie Baby’.

    Kings, yachts and ‘Isle Of Greece’ aside, lest we forget that INBTM also contains the fantastically racy lyric – “Moved like Harlow in Monte Carlo and showed ’em what I GOT”. I find it hard not to be impressed every time I hear that part.

  42. 42
    peter goodlaws on 10 Apr 2009 #

    Hey, Ken! How you doing?

    You rescued old Waldo from harm many years ago. I want to thank you for that.

  43. 43
    wichita lineman on 10 Apr 2009 #

    Re 41: Oh the humanity – by the time this was a hit Charlene was living near Harlow rather than Monte Carlo.

  44. 44
    rosie on 10 Apr 2009 #

    Ken @ 41: Playground Law – well, this was the age of conformity above all, and playground law is one of the tools by which conformity is enforced. This was the age of Family Fortunes, the game show in which original thinking was penalised and running with the herd rewarded!

    It never occurred to me until this thread started that this song could be construed as particularly right-wing. That’s certainly not my reading. Could somebody enlighten me, please?

  45. 45
    AndyPandy on 10 Apr 2009 #

    Will at No 39 – actually unlike the other 2 I can imagine Gary Davis being into the more poppy side of rave – he always did seem to be more of your local High Street club dj made good with the possible at least vague working knowledge of the ‘soul/funk-house-rave’continuum that the,admittedly ironic in his case, medallion man image he used to play up to would imply. For a period in around 1986/87 I was working in a factory where owing to this battered stereo I used to use only seeming to be able to pick up Radio 1 I used to listen to Radio 1 all day and although his music was usually shite I didn’t actually mind Gary Davis he seemed a sort of a personable bloke playing up to the Smashy and Nicey image with an ironic twinkle in his eye. Almost a breath of fresh air compared with the other dinosaurs on in the day in those days…

  46. 46
    SteveM on 10 Apr 2009 #

    I do have a vague memory of Gary Davis praising Urban Shakedown’s ‘Some Justice’ on Radio 1, but can’t say for sure that it really happened ha.

  47. 47
    vinylscot on 10 Apr 2009 #

    I’ve just added a particularly unpleasant cover of this to the “Bunny thriough the looking glass” playlist on Spotify.

  48. 48
    Dan M. on 17 Apr 2009 #

    Horrifying and unforgettable. I was particularly impressed by that WTF lyric, “moved like Harlow through Monte Carlo,” reaching for a rhyme to a blonde bombshell comedienne of 40-50 years earlier, who, appealing though she was, moved with a rolling-shoulder slouch that I always found a bit schlumpfy. I appreciate keeping the past alive and all, but did Harlow really evoke much to the audience in ’82 (or ’76 for that matter)? I was trying to come up with some alternatives… “like Theda Bara through Montserrat?”

  49. 49
    Mark M on 17 Apr 2009 #

    Deeply retro film references not unknown at the time (of writing, rather than release), as in:

    “In the morning from a Bogart movie/In a country where they turn back time/You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre/Contemplating a crime…”

    from Al Stewart’s Year Of The Cat.

  50. 50
    Mark M on 17 Apr 2009 #

    And a couple of years later, that master name-dropper Lloyd Cole was talking about a bird who looked like Eva Marie Saint in On The Waterfront (in gloomy black and white then, as opposed to the lovely Technicolor of North By Northwest).

  51. 51
    Erithian on 17 Apr 2009 #

    Not forgetting that one of the biggest US hits of the previous year was “Bette Davis Eyes”. The same year as “I’m In Love With A German Film Star” and indeed Adam Ant dressing up as Valentino (who was namechecked in “Manic Monday” not long afterwards). There was a lot of it about!

  52. 52
    Mark M on 17 Apr 2009 #

    And indeed, as I don’t think my ears ever picked up, in Bette Davis Eyes her hair is “Harlow gold”. Jean Harlow is one of those movie stars more famous as a notion anyway than an actual screen presence – I was wondering whether I had actually seen her in anything, but she is in The Public Enemy and I’ve seen that. But not any of her star vehicles.

  53. 53
    AndyPandy on 17 Apr 2009 #

    ‘John Wayne is Big Leggy’ also from this year although I suppose even in 1982 he was known by just about everyone so maybe not obscure enough

  54. 54
    punctum on 30 Oct 2009 #

    In the branch of Blockbuster Video at Headington there is, or was at any rate, a section I think unique in branches of Blockbuster (unless any readers know different), specifically devoted to Dysfunctional TV Movies. You may know the type of thing I mean – usually starring Cheryl Ladd and/or Brian Dennehy and/or Frederick Forrest and/or at least one of the cast from the TV sitcom Alice, concerning a battered wife who may also have breast cancer and/or a long-serving employee who has been made redundant from the steelworks after thirty years of service and undergoes a midlife crisis because he “won’t work for no Japanese,” finally ending up rowing a leaky boat in the middle of a lake at midnight. Sometimes child custody is involved; more often than not there are extensive (because inexpensive) scenes in the courtroom (Judd Hirsch! Karl Malden RIP big man! Tyne Daly!) always ending in victory for the victimised hero/heroine, invariably grinning and raising her fist in front of reporters on the courtroom steps; cue freeze-frame, sub-Windham Hill piano muzak and “This film was based on a true story.”

    You will not be surprised to learn that this was a truly guilty pleasure of Laura, my first partner, and myself; frequent were the Tuesday nights at nine o’clock on Channel Four when we were in hysterics of mirth, carefully counting off all the cliches one by one as they appeared – and if any record epitomised “dysfunctional” then surely it was “I’ve Never Been To Me” (that title!) sung by the mysterious (i.e. one lucky shot then back to her local Taco Bell) Charlene (that name!!).

    The record was already three years old when it hit in Britain, and I can’t remember how or why it suddenly became big (though suspect that, yet again, Radio 2 were involved), but it is simultaneously hilarious and ghastly. Over an intro of sub-Windham Hill piano muzak the tremulous Charlene is playing the wise sage warning her subject not to do what she has done. “You’re a discontented mother/And a regimented wife.” Is it any wonder that her “lady” wants shot of it all? But oh no, Charlene is about to warn her of the terrible perils of “freedom.” In the first verse she describes her rootless wanderings around America (“Oh I’ve been to Georgia and California/And anywhere I could run”) and in the second she takes on the world (“Oh I’ve been to Nice/And the Isle of Greece – !!???!! -/While I sipped champagne on a yacht”). Her “weary heart” which has “lived a million lives” then becomes a stuffed shirt: “I’ve. Seen. Some. Things. That. A. Wo. Man. Ain’t. ‘Sposed. Ta. See.” “Hey lady, I’ve been to paradise” (high) “but I’ve never been to me” (low).

    If it sounds as though we’re getting into treacherous “Stand By Your Man” territory here, then you’d be right, for we now get The Climactic Talkover, acted in a suitably teary manner: “Hey! You know what paradise is? It’s a lie. A fantasy we create about people and places as we’d like them to be” (recited as though reading a Martha Stewart recipe off the back of TV Guide). “But you know what truth is?” (perhaps a belated answer to Johnny Cash’s 1972 hit “What Is Truth?” or an attempted refutal of Kantian precepts) “It’s that little baby you’re holding,” she begins to sob, “And it’s that man you fought with this morning! The same man you’re gonna make love with tonight! That’s TRUTH! That’s LOVE!!”

    Give her a cardboard Oscar and have done with it. But has she finished? Sigh…nope: “Sometimes I’ve been to crying for unborn children/That might have made me complete.” Is this a Moral Majority recruitment ad? “I’ve spent my life exploring/The subtle whoring/That costs too much to be free” (thereby becoming one of the very few number ones whose lyric contains the word “subtle” although the song itself is decidedly not). The message? Don’t have fun, don’t go and live your own life, lady; stay at home, get beaten up and fucked, have children, know your fucking place.

    The Taliban would have had no problem with the sentiment of “I’ve Never Been To Me” even if they are anti-music. Did British housewives in 1982 really feel so worthless and feeble that they wept along to Charlene with their sherry and valium just to confirm everything a thousand people had already told them? And, even more baffingly, what the hell was this doing on Motown? Its rise to number one forms the bend in the New Pop river; there would be further “New Pop” number ones, but as far as the first wave was concerned the impetus was lost, the opportunities squandered, the future rejected for 1975 again and again. Now that is a working definition of dysfunction.

    “Isle of Greece”…

  55. 55
    Tommy Mack on 30 Oct 2009 #

    I’d like to think the second Charlene finished her sermon, the ‘discontented mother’ told her to get f cked and stop feeling so bloody sorry for herself.

    Isle of Greece? Isle of grease, perhaps? Like a giant lump of lard sitting in the sea, slowly melting in the sun into the world’s first edible oilslick?

  56. 56
    Tommy Mack on 30 Oct 2009 #

    “she sounds so ecstatic wallowing in her own disappointment” is about right. Kind of reminds me of a friend of mine who always took the opportunity to mope about how he’d slept with so many beautiful women and yet none of them ever turned out to be the one. Which was a pretty flimsy excuse for some ludicrous bragging…

  57. 57
    Brooksie on 21 Feb 2010 #

    @ DanM # 48: “I appreciate keeping the past alive and all, but did Harlow really evoke much to the audience in ’82 (or ’76 for that matter)? I was trying to come up with some alternatives… “like Theda Bara through Montserrat?””

    The funniest thing I have ever read on popular!

    As for the feminist / ant-feminist lyrics of the song; I could give two figs less about it. The opposite of songs like this are all the shitty female vocalists who sing dance songs about their relationships that are ’empowering’ and all sound like 3 minutes of pure slapped-in-your-face misandry. There was a song out not too long ago by a teenage Scandinavian lass who was singing about a friend of hers being beaten up by her boyfriend. It had lyrics like, “When you put your hands on her / you are not a man.” It was a teenage girl singing a self-righteous song written by someone else about what is / isn’t a man via an experience she herself hadn’t been through or seen. I think that was the point where I realised there was something wrong with the world. There’s a culturally accepted ad-hoc victim status and an unjustified false sense of self-righteousness in modern music – usually from female artists – that makes the gender politics of ‘I’ve Never Been To Me’ sound like ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’!

  58. 58
    thefatgit on 22 Feb 2010 #

    “Isle of Greece”

    For a while, I thought this was some sort of C&W crossover hit. That Greece reference almost confirmed to me at the time that it was written (or should I say “scrawled in crayon”) by some ignint redneck, for some Nashville waitress.

    “I’ve been to Paradise (obviuosly nowhere near Greece then) but I’ve never been to me”

    So basically Charlene, you’re telling us that the alternative to settling down to domestic bliss with a loving husband and a couple of kids, is to go on a worldwide shagathon and witness the dark underbelly of life. Finally to sit down and pass on your wisdom to any poor young female who’ll listen.


    No, Dear. That’s what you’ll settle for after drowning your sorrows in gin, after finding out that your syphillis has reached chancre-sore stage.

    A truly hateful record.

  59. 59
    Chelovek na lune on 8 Sep 2010 #

    I loved it then, I love it still. Especially the version with the voice-over about what’s real, that’s love, etc. (There were definitely two versions available as 7″s in 1982 – the original, 1976 one, which had a burgundy-and-white covered cover with a picture of the chanteuse herself on, and a 1982 release, which, at Woolworths in Dagenham, anyway, went in a generic black sleeve only – or for all I know the sleeve illustrated here, which I’ve never seen before. I made sure to get the 1976 version)

    The B-side “Somewhere In My Life” is cracking, as well.

    On the “working in a sweet-shop in Ilford” thing, I believe it’s true (it was certainly reported in the local papers at the time); although I should emphasize that the shop in question (which was then called Foxes IIRC, and is right next to the railway station) was probably at least as much about selling tobacco and cigars and pipe-smoking accessories, etc, as it was sweeties.

    Anyway, this is proper adult pop music, and I love it. Do I come out a conservative now, or what? At the end of the day it’s a reasonable description of me, in some ways at least….

  60. 60
    paul ramsey on 20 Jan 2011 #

    Listen to Nancy Wilson’s magnificent cover of this record and marvel at the song being sung(and half whispered) in a world weary tone: charlene sings it like a waitress reading a menu whereas nancy gives the song and the lyric a proper meaning; but then soul artists usually pull that off see millie jackson’s cover of summer the first time and johnny bristol’s original version of love me for a reason and while were at it what about the valentine brothers original of moneys too tight to mention.

  61. 61
    Billy on 12 Feb 2012 #

    To answer the first question: “Is Charlene American” The answer is Yes., She came from Bay Ridge Brooklyn in later years but originally from South Park Slope (address ommitted).
    And she originally sang the song for Brooklyn Acadamy of Music off Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn.
    I wish she was still alive for 2 reasons, I Loved her Very Very Much, and because she wanted me to search out what happened to this song, of course while she was alive.
    I found they used it in the begining of Shrek 1.
    I probably would fall apart if I heard the song play with her voice, she had a Soft and Soothing Voice, Flowing Black Hair, and an exotic Attractive face with the Loveliest Dimples anyone has ever seen, her she was irish and Latin and had a Polite Friendly Loving face with a sloping pug nose, brown eyes, and an attractive face that would look latin and indian together.
    She was a Victoria Secret Absolute 10 maybe even 11 above 10.
    And Very Very Kid and Loving!
    I cannot and or will Not divulge her last name for Privacy reasons and for respect to Honour her.
    I will be going to Greenwood Cemetary tommorrow.
    Thank you Very Much for recognizing her song and I am Very Sure she will be honored.
    Any questions my name is Billy and my email is:
    Have a Wonderful weekend.

  62. 62
    Billy on 12 Feb 2012 #

    Hello All,
    1 more thing I must write explaining about Charlene’s song “never been to me” Knowing her personally as to what she explained in short what it meant:
    Yes she was a “Voyager” to Every Extent of the word, she experimented even wwith career moves.
    She spent her life searching, and, although I loved her, she was constantly searching for a mirage, how she percieved a perfect world would look like.
    Prior to me she was a victim of Domestic Violence by someone that would be like a King.
    And then Divorced from the King when I held her in Methodist hospital the Very Last time this would ever happen (details ommitted) I think I ran Every traffic light from Sunset Park to her office on 7th Ave and Garfield to get her to Methodist Hospital.
    I met her and fell in Love with her intervening with that problem, then I vanished out of her life for 5 years because I intervened in another Domestic plight and attended college for 5 years.
    Needless to say she was PISSED but Loved me.
    So even a Good “King” (mirage) like me could’ve been a dissapointment.
    So what she was saying in this song is Look VERY Well at what you want, and look deep into the mirage, because no folks not every picture is capable of telling a story.
    Mostly Look DEEP DEEP Inside yourself 1st!
    Don’t jump at the first picture.
    And yes, all of you would be amazed, Tragically she lived a short life of half a century, But Definetely A Full and Colorful one.
    She was an educated and articulate lady later in life was a Great help in the pscological field.
    Her Moral that she passes on in this song is simply this:
    Getting away from the fancy words in the song:

    Get to know inside your heart who you really are, and what you really do want.
    Don’t make the mistakes she made by looking for that perfect mirage for yourselves, that looks so tempting,
    without stopping at yourself and VISIT yourself first to see if those temptations are what you really want., and could really handle.

    If Charlene was here right now, she would say to me you explained that clear and concise, but Billy, concise won’t make a song.

    I knew her for 20 + years, we were intimate, we were also Very Good Friends, she was Strong, and scarely Fiercely Loyal, Gutsy lady, I wish I could have her here now.

    To correct line, I believe 55 or 56, this was not intended to be just another whiny and complaining song,
    But a Moral lessen and design:
    That’s what the title means:
    “Ive never been to me”
    In other words I chased all these Great Mirages that tempted me, but “I’ve never been to me”.
    May People all over the entire world make this mistake everyday of their livesand realize it when they are 50 60 70 …
    So Please DON’T Criticize her song at all, look deep inside yourself to make the day to day decisions before committing to a mirage, Look Into it.
    ACTUALLY she deserves an award.

    Thank you very much for your time, Iam generally a man with a few words but I am doing this to Honour My Dearly Beloved Friend that I will see again on the other side when I leave this building.

    Any questions feel free to contact me only at my email at this time:

    Have a nice weekend

  63. 63
    Mark G on 14 Feb 2012 #

    Just to clarify, the Charlene that recorded and wrote this song is still alive.

  64. 64
    wichita lineman on 5 Mar 2012 #

    This had a wildly different lyric when sung from the male perspective.

    The ‘ancient mariner’ structure makes a lot more sense – it’s about a salty old sea dog on his deathbed, presumably talking to his son. The magnificent Walter Jackson sang it in 1976 and his version’s on Spotify.

    No subtle whoring. And he had kids, but regrets not spending enough time with them.

    This is a much better Walter Jackson song – eerie unsettling strings, heartbreaking vocal. He’s so under-rated:


  65. 65
    swanstep on 6 Mar 2012 #

    It’s about a salty old sea dog on his deathbed, presumably talking to his son.

    I don’t know Jackson’s version of INBTM, but in The Temptations’ instance of the male-perspective version of the song, the ancient mariner-y, salty old dog is definitely out begging in the street and the young guy he addresses is just a passer-by (very AM really).

    The big diff between the male and female perspective versions seems to me to be that Charlene addresses female malcontents (‘Hey lady, you lady cursing at your life you’re a discontented mother and a regimented wife’) and offers her tale of woe as a cautionary tale to them specifically to get over their belly-achin’, whereas The Temps address a guy who’s almost completely uncharacterized (hence the cautionary tale ends up feeling purely speculative/prospective).

    Strange how sailor tales were a bit of a pop default in the ’70s (and never before or after it, right?). Brandy, she’s a fine girl, etc..

  66. 66
    wichita lineman on 6 Mar 2012 #

    Oh yes, I misheard the lyric as “I just want to die” rather than “I just want a dime.”

    Give Walter a listen, it beats the Temps’ version, though I do like their oneupmanship on Walter and Charlene:

    “I’ve been to paradise
    Even been there twice!”

  67. 67
    Chelovek na lune on 4 Jan 2014 #

    Going through this again, just because: YouTube suggests that this song became popular in various parts of East Asia: there is one version, sung in English, by a Taiwanese singer, Tracy Huang, apparently popular with a Singapore audience in which some of the lyrics are toned down: she is caressed, rather than undressed, by kings; while there was no whoring involved – just ‘the inner feeling that costs too much to be free’; then a version by an Korean duo, As One, that keeps the original lyrics…

    and then…this…beautiful, I think, Japanese, interpretation by Jos Garcia (who is Filipina), almost entirely in Japanese (or Tagalog?) until almost the very end….when she switches into well…sort of English, placing the song in possibly a slightly different context: “I want the wedding bell; tonight, everything is you”. It’s rather lovely http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmpOLtryIi4M

    I believe this is what known as a phenomenon.

  68. 68
    Larry on 6 Dec 2014 #

    This song is hilarious, though I didn’t get the joke in 1982.

  69. 69
    dickvandyke on 27 Nov 2018 #

    When this song was in the charts, being a Yorkshireman who found himself working in an office in the south, I took great delight in telling my workmates that it was called,
    “I’ve been to paradise” … “but I’ve never been to Leeds”.
    By singing loudly over the key line, I convinced them of this.
    There are few better things I’ve done with my life since.

  70. 70
    Mark G on 27 Nov 2018 #

    You’ve never been? Really?

  71. 71
    dickvandyke on 29 Nov 2018 #

    I was born in Leeds Mark, and still live there.
    Just had a walk in the wind and drizzle around the new ‘Victoria Gate’ Shopping experience.
    I bought some chips in a greasy spoon cafe, which stands in the shadow of the new ‘flagship’ John Lewis department store. I saw a woman (all leopard print and leather) stride across a homeless man in the doorway. I suspect she’d been ‘undressed by kings’ – or at least a plumber from Wakefield.
    Re-generation stands cheek-by-jowl with De-generation. Twas ever thus.

  72. 72
    Mark G on 30 Nov 2018 #

    First time I went to Leeds was for a TV quiz show in 1975 – we stayed at the Dragonara hotel, close to the Yorkshire TV studios. Daresay all that’s gone.

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