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Apr 09

CHARLENE – “I’ve Never Been To Me”

FT + Popular72 comments • 6,094 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.

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Comments

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  1. 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:
    wllboy7@aol.com
    Have a Wonderful weekend.

  2. 62
    Billy on 12 Feb 2012 #

    WHAT THE SONG REALLY MEANS THERE IS A MORAL FROM KNOWING HER
    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:
    wllboy7@aol.com

    Have a nice weekend
    Billy

  3. 63
    Mark G on 14 Feb 2012 #

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

  4. 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:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s238PNjBHMc&feature=related

  5. 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..

  6. 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!”

  7. 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.

  8. 68
    Larry on 6 Dec 2014 #

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

  9. 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.

  10. 70
    Mark G on 27 Nov 2018 #

    You’ve never been? Really?

  11. 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.

  12. 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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