13
Oct 09

JENNIFER RUSH – “The Power Of Love”

FT + Popular55 comments • 4,756 views

#558, 12th October 1985, video

The hovering synths on “The Power Of Love” seem to be coming from somewhere vastly above the listener, like a Star Wars spaceship-overhead shot which goes on and on and on until the scale just defeats you. We’re heading for something – yes, Aldebaran most likely. Or Rigel.

Jennifer Rush stretches her song till it comes at you like granite falling through treacle – the structure of her track is conventional enough but it’s not until three minutes twenty that we even get the middle eight. Previous number ones have been long, but usually because they’ve tried to pack a lot in, ring the changes on the track or go for some kind of cumulative effect. “The Power Of Love” doesn’t really build – it’s big like a whale is big: it just grew that way.

It’s like there’s an edge to the music your ears can’t quite reach, and what you can take in is too diffuse to make any real sense. The bonds of meaning that link line to line – things you take for granted as a listener without ever realising it – become dangerously weak. “Lost is how I’m feeling.” – oh OK, that’s bad, right? – “Lying in your arms.” – no wait, that’s good…isn’t it? “The feeling that I can’t go on.” – uh oh – “Is light years away.” – phew! The cold quaver of Rush’s imperious vocals and the slight European stiltedness of the lyrics amplify the effect.

In a funny way though, it makes the song more effective and memorable than most of the records that would take this monster as a model. “The Power Of Love” is after all a song about how love removes your own sense of scale, makes existence itself unfamiliar, so the disorientating disconnect between it and anything resembling my emotional reality makes a sort of warped sense. It helps that the chorus is so memorable, something to anticipate and cling to as the rest of the song drifts apart. This is a record which exhausts me and exhausts itself, but there’s something fascinating about its reach even so.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    TomLane on 14 Oct 2009 #

    #25swanstep- You’re right about the difference between the UK and US list. That’s why I find this #1 countdown so interesting. I’m seeing a lot of UK hits that I remember seeing on MTV, yet never charted much in the US.

  2. 27
    tonya on 14 Oct 2009 #

    Celine’s version is better, mostly because it doesn’t sound like she’s singing over Ultravox’s Vienna. Celine didn’t have an enormous red walkman, though.

  3. 28
    koganbot on 14 Oct 2009 #

    Also covered by Laura Branigan (totally unrestrained and over-the-top and surprisingly good, though it has a key change) and Air Supply (unbearable).

    Checking the Jennifer Rush versions on MySpace: most are six minutes, and are from her hits albums, though there’s a 4:30 edit that’s also on a hits album. Wikipedia gives the single’s length as 5:44.

  4. 29
    koganbot on 14 Oct 2009 #

    Also covered by Laura Branigan (totally unrestrained and over-the-top and rather good, though it has a key change) and Air Supply (unbearable).

    Most of the Jennifer Rush versions on MySpace are six minutes, from her hits albums, though there’s a 4:30 edit, also on a hits album. Wikipedia times her single at 5:44.

  5. 30
    Andy Pandy on 14 Oct 2009 #

    Mark @22: ‘Nice Work’good book and the dramatisation from about 1989/90 on Channel 4 wasn’t bad too. David Lodge IMO is one of the best English novelists of the past 40 years.

    Very good observations on class too the middle class attitudes of the leftish female academic versus those of the unreconstructed nouveux riche but still working class in his outlook(despite him now running his own toolmaking(?)business) male protagonist.

    IIRC the leftish academic was more pissed off with him listening to Randy Crawford – didn’t she see he had Randy’s tapes in his car.

    I don’t think we got to know what her own tastes ran to but being mid-late 80s youngish trendyish academia I’d guess at possibly the Smiths or something?

  6. 31
    MikeMCSG on 14 Oct 2009 #

    Ironic that this dislodged Midge Ure; if you take her vocal off the track you’ve got “Vienna”.

    This was the last Europop number one before the Italian house guys rendered the concept redundant.

    #10 Billy, as an A-Ha fan I’ve an ambivalent attitude to “Take On Me” as it’s so unrepresentative of the band’s main material and Pal Waaktar’s Ridgeley-esque posing with a guitar when there isn’t one on the track still prejudices serious music fans against them. You can see that when they play it in concert; most of the audience go mental but others (and perhaps the band) are glad to get it over with.

  7. 32
    punctum on 14 Oct 2009 #

    There was a time – and that time need not concern anyone else here – when I wouldn’t have expected to give this karaoke staple especially high consideration. But, as I have repeatedly been taught in the course of this exercise, just because I think I know a record on a long-term intimate basis doesn’t necessarily mean I know it. So at the moment I feel that the biggest-selling single of 1985 – the only single to exceed a million sales in Britain that year – is entirely justified in holding that title.

    “The Power Of Love” was truly a word-of-mouth record; unlike most autumn Europop hits, it was a ballad and that summer’s clear last-dance favourite. The holidaymakers returned and the record began its slow, organic ascent to mass popularity. Over July and August the single, A-listed on local commercial radio stations, was already selling strongly in Scotland and the North and crept into the lower half of the national Top 75. Then as autumn set in, Radio 2 belatedly picked up on the single, helping it break the Top 40 barrier; three weeks later, it was at number one.

    Although Rush is an American artist, the single’s performance in her homeland was surprisingly modest; it reached only #57 on Billboard, and the song did not do well there until Celine Dion’s cover (and also her international breakthrough hit) a decade hence. The feeling appears to have been that was Rush’s reading was somewhat too European, in both production and delivery, for transatlantic tastes, whereas Celine’s version very cleverly makes the song slightly more American (including Michael Thompson’s sometimes intrusive guitars) and therefore more palatable.

    The original record was conceived and recorded in Germany, and indeed originally boasted German lyrics. A new English lyric was composed by Rush in conjunction with one Mary Applegate, but co-writer Gunther Mench acted as arranger and producer. There is heavy irony about Rush displacing Midge Ure at the top of the charts, since Mench’s arrangement is almost entirely indebted to “Vienna” – but then the latter was equally indebted to Walker’s “The Electrician” so we see the filtering process hard at work here. The general atmosphere is one of a displaced Euroamerican trying to emulate the template of the Anglo-American power ballad and not quite getting there but in the process accidentally inventing something else.

    It begins quietly if imperiously with Rush’s sonorous, vulnerable “The whispers in the morning” and builds up from there with patience infinite (the single lasts a full six minutes). As with the spiral staircase of the first movement of Gorecki’s Third, Mench’s music and Rush’s voice methodically add on extra layers of depth and meaning as the song’s ambition climbs higher. The song is about sexual uncertainty and latent fear (“Sometimes I am frightened but I’m ready to learn”). Gradually the singer’s timidity matures into confidence, and on towards the apex of bold revelation; Rush’s turning point is when she peaks with the “can’t” of “The feeling that I can’t go on” and follows that line with the liberating “is light years away.”

    The song’s central tenet of “‘Cause I am your lady/And you are my man” was what essentially sold it – as a Scot I could sense naturally how such sentiments, expressed in such a way, would appeal to a very central yearning. There has been some criticism that Rush’s vocal is perhaps too dispassionate, pitch-perfect at the expense of emotion, even slightly congested. But I think her performance just about perfect for the emotions which the song demands. Celine’s delivery is technically flawless, and in the first verse in particular she demonstrates her ability to melt and twist her soul around the song’s emotional corners, but ultimately she sounds a little too sure of herself. The song, however, is supposed to be sung by someone who doesn’t necessarily know what love is, is deeply scared by it, so Rush’s reading is a nerve conduction study, concerned with doing the right thing and learning the language rather than long having mastered it.

    And finally she frees herself with that tremendous and not entirely expected high C “love” at the end – she has literally come to the top, is triumphant and humble, and so the song ends on a long, sustained choral-synth chord…as though the hurt of Joy Division’s “Decades” had somehow been remedied.

    As a pop record, this “Power Of Love” is very nearly perfect, and perhaps a little too perfect, since FGTH’s “Power Of Love” – not to mention “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” – does finally go that extra, ambiguous and tormented mile in order to attain greatness. But twenty-four years after its success, it now reveals itself as an intricate wonder, with one of the finest and – yes – noblest female vocal performances of its era at its trembling core.

  8. 33
    enitharmon on 14 Oct 2009 #

    A quick aside from my rocking chair:

    I’m glad somebody mentioned Nice Work. A fine novel indeed – vied with The Satanic Verses for the 1988 Booker, which went to Peter Carey in the end. It’s many years since I read it and I don’t have a copy to hand, so comments I make are from an increasingly unreliable memory.

    As a professor of Eng Lit, whose unusually lucid and readable academic essays must have opened doors in the murky labyrinths of literary theory for many more than just me, David Lodge quite deliberately spreads the semiology (and insider jokes) thickly in his novels. Nice Work is full of references to the nineteenth-century industrial novel (Hard Times, Shirley, Adam Bede, North and South and, mischievously, Sybil, or The Two Nations). His protagonists names are carefully chosen and pointed – Victor Willcox: all power, bluster and machismo, and Robyn Penrose: gender-ambiguous, literary and romantically impractical. Willcox isn’t the representative of Thatcherism, he stands for old-school conservatism and the small skilled manufacturing businesses that were being stifled. The Thatcher element comes from within his own business, the rival undermining him by promoting his own de-skilled service enterprise selling, if I remember correctly, sunbeds.

    As for the matter in hand: this song is a leitmotif in the book. It’s associated with Willcox, who plays it loud in his car, and it stands, I think, for the kind of industrialised, well-crafted but artistically-limited pop-song that goes with Willcox’s line of work and character. I can’t remember what music Robyn Penrose espoused, but she does talk to Willcox about The Power of Love as a text to be deconstructed. I have a sneaking suspicion that she favoured the classical repertoire, which would fit with her bourgeois betrayal of her radical ideals.

    Nice Work appeared in 1988 and presumably was being written even as the pillars of Thatcherism collapsed in the market crash and subsequent stagnation in October 1987.

    Incidentally, I find it odd that this might be seen as a ‘girly’ record. Perhaps I’m influenced by the book, but I think it has “male menopause” stamped all over it. Odd, too, that 1980s pop seems to be a lad’s thing, whereas pop in the early-to-mid 60s was definitely aimed at girls.

  9. 34
    Conrad on 14 Oct 2009 #

    I’ve been guilty of commenting on recent number 1s on memory, something I could easily do up until late 84/early 85, but I realise I don’t know the recent chart toppers anywhere near as well.

    So, after a couple of listens to “Power of Love” this morning, some observations:

    “The song, however, is supposed to be sung by someone who doesn’t necessarily know what love is”. Interesting you should say that, as this is both sonically and in its glacial construction, closer in feel to Foreigner’s “I Don’t Want to Know What Love Is” than BT’s “Total Eclipse”.

    It also has the stately feel of “Move Closer”.

    But, the comparison with Nelson does it no favours.

    I am going to have to go against the grain here, because I found this thoroughly hard work. As a composition, and as a recording, it is sorely lacking in dynamics. JR’s vocal, while admirably restrained, leaves me cold.

    The Phil Collins fill into the second chorus grates.

    And the verse melody is wearing.

    There simply is not enough going on musically for this to sustain over 3 and a half minutes, let alone the bloated six it runs to.

    I don’t hate it, I don’t doubt the sincereity of the artist and writers, I just wouldn’t ever want to hear it again.

  10. 35
    Rory on 14 Oct 2009 #

    This spent two weeks at number one in Australia, and did nothing for my 17-year-old ears; I imagine I saw it as another sign of a duff chart year. But my reaction today is surprisingly positive. There’s an earnestness about Rush’s performance that disarms my default dislike of power ballads; the jerky upper-body dance moves on the video only add to that. The European underpinnings may have turned off the American market, but endear it to me: I hadn’t realised that this could be considered part of a mid-’80s mini-invasion of German-related acts, but musically it makes sense.

    Tom questions the lyrics, but those also make sense to me: feeling “lost … lying in your arms” is feeling lost in happiness, losing herself in the moment; and “the feeling that I can’t go on is light years away” is surely unambiguously good, because that’s a long way away indeed. (“Kilometres” presumably didn’t scan.) Taken as a whole, the lyrics capture that falling-in-love feeling of blissful security tinged with apprehension, and the apprehensive aspect makes for an unusual and effective hook.

    It’s never going to end up on my iPod, but I can see the appeal. 5.

  11. 36
    Tom on 14 Oct 2009 #

    NB I’m not saying the lyrics don’t make sense – I’m saying the song is so stretched-out that the gaps between the phrases can create a disconnect between one half of a line and another.

  12. 37
    Tom on 14 Oct 2009 #

    (It’s a technique that reminds me a lot of Smog records, oddly!)

  13. 38
    Rory on 14 Oct 2009 #

    Ah, gotcha. I was wondering if the “light years” was confusing matters; my first reaction to that phrase is always to think “time-no-wait-distance”, and that line feels very different when you read “time” into it (“it’ll all end eventually, but for now we’re good”).

  14. 39
    Rory on 14 Oct 2009 #

    Maybe that disconnect is part of what sold the song? It keeps you focussed on the words, trying to make sense of them – and when you succeed you feel rewarded, like after completing a crossword. I enjoyed that puzzle… I enjoyed that song.

  15. 40
    Billy Smart on 14 Oct 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Jennifer Rush performed The Power Of Love on Top Of The Pops on three occasions;

    26 September 1985. Also in the studio that week were; Depeche Mode, The Style Council and Bonnie Tyler. Janice Long and Dixie Peach were the hosts.

    10 October 1985. Also in the studio that week were; Red Box, The Smiths and The Cult. Steve Wright and Mike Smith were the hosts.

    17 October 1985. Also in the studio that week were; Shakin’ Stevens, Elton John and Colonel Abrams. Peter Powell and Mike Read were the hosts.

  16. 41
    Billy Smart on 14 Oct 2009 #

    Light entertainment watch: Only a handful of UK TV appearances for Jennifer;

    DES O’CONNOR TONIGHT: with Spike Milligan, Status Quo, Jennifer Rush (1988)

    LIVE FROM THE PALLADIUM: with Tom Jones, Bob Carolgees, Jennifer Rush, Brian Conley (1987)

    TARBY AND FRIENDS: with Max Bygraves, Jennifer Rush, Karen Kay (1986)

    WOGAN: with Jimmy Jewel, Nigel Kennedy, Sophia Loren, Jimmy Ruffin, Jennifer Rush (1986)

    WOGAN: with Rick ‘Grizzy’ Brown, Elton John, Liz Robertson, Jennifer Rush, Steven Wright (1987)

    WOGAN: with Peggy Ashcroft, Richard Briers, Placido Domingo, James Fox, Paula & Ann Lewis, Sarah Miles, Jennifer Rush (1989)

  17. 42
    Mark G on 14 Oct 2009 #

    #31, abs.

    This comes back to where a song may be something you ‘do not like’, purely because it’s ‘not meant for you’. I can applaud the performance and the subject, and the ‘journey’ taken, and even rate it highly, without ever wanting to hear it again.

    (This comment written before #33 came in. Blimey, don’t these comments come in fast!)

  18. 43
    swanstep on 14 Oct 2009 #

    This spent two weeks at number one in Australia…I imagine I saw it as another sign of a duff chart year.

    It doesn’t seem quite so duff when you look at the US 1985 #1s which included:

    Crazy for You
    Don’t You (Forget About Me)
    Shout
    Everything She Wants
    Everybody Wants to Rule the World
    A View to a Kill
    Every Time You Go Away
    Money for Nothing
    Take on Me
    Miami Vice Theme
    Power of Love (Huey Lewis)

    That lot feels very representative of the whirl of pop music in 1985 IIRC, moreover all the connections to movies and tv (Breakfast Club, Back to Future, MTV itself, Miami Vice) make it a real time-capsule of much of the era. (1985 was also notably the year of Brazil, Out of Africa, Blood Simple, and Purple Rose of Cairo at the movies, and of Edge of Darkness on tv.)

  19. 44
    Rory on 14 Oct 2009 #

    Swanstep, you’re right, I’m probably just applying the selective memory of our number-ones focus. Lots of good stuff that year. (I’m holding my “Take on Me” comments in reserve until we get to its partner…)

  20. 45
    The Leveller on 14 Oct 2009 #

    This reminds me of school discos – all that 15 year-old angst/lust pent up in the four walls of the school gym. I think there is a good song in there, but can’t tell whether it would need the arrangements, the lyrics, the singer taken out of the equation…

  21. 46
    The Leveller on 14 Oct 2009 #

    30 – MikeMCSG – that would explain why they played The Sun Always Shines on TV as their ‘nod to the past’ on Jonathan Ross recently?

  22. 47
    MikeMCSG on 14 Oct 2009 #

    # 45 You’re sailing close to the bunny wind there Leveller but yes that’s a more representative song.

  23. 48
    LondonLee on 14 Oct 2009 #

    Compared to Celine Dion it’s very restrained, then again two planets colliding would seem understated next to the power of her lungs. But that light-operatic wailing never did it for me, nor that bloody awful drum sound. If you’re going to do that at least make them BIGGER. So while I admire it’s ‘good taste’ that only shows up all the things I don’t like about it.

  24. 49
    AndyPandy on 14 Oct 2009 #

    more on Vic and Robyn’s musical tastes in ‘Nice Work’: as mentioned previously Jennifer Rush features heavily not just TPOL but it quotes heavily from other tracks on the album too…and he tries to pull Robyn with their help!

    Vic’s other favourite Randy Crawford gets the right pasting from Robyn though eg “don’t you think she’s a little bland?….sentimental?”

    All we get to know about Robyn’s own tastes are that she’s seen at home listening to a Haydn harpsichord concerto and she and her brother used to go to punk gigs above pubs.

  25. 50
    Erithian on 15 Oct 2009 #

    Watching the linked video and re-reading the above comments, I found myself nodding vigorously at lonepilgrim’s comments at #8. I guess it addresses the question of whether you need to strain or put conspicuous effort into a vocal in order to convey passion and emotion. Lots of singers these days do the opposite – strain and wander all over the scale without convincing you it’s anything other than a vocal exercise – but Rush sings with clarity and control and totally gets the message across.

    As Conrad commented, it has the stately feel of “Move Closer”, and as I said in that thread, this is another one like “Paris, Texas” that demands that you take it on its own terms and at its own pace. The voice – unearthly in the opening lines, soaring as the music reaches the climax – keeps your attention (OK, mine at least), and her look is pretty compelling in the video too. Overall it’s a really class act, warm without being as cloying as Foreigner. It’s the 37th best-selling single of all time in the UK, and the biggest selling single in the period between Band Aid and that Robin Hood film we’ll be discussing in a few Popular-years’ time.

  26. 51
    abaffledrepublic on 17 Oct 2009 #

    Rush herself never followed this up with any further big hits, but Whitney, Mariah, Celine and Leona all did. I suspect that these artists and their ‘people’ were taking very careful notes when they listened to this.

    I actually like this far more than I realised, and certainly more than anything by the singers mentioned above. There’s definite sincerity and yearning in the performance. I wouldn’t go out of my way to hear this, but I’d give it a 6 rather than a 4.

  27. 52
    Abe Fruman on 18 Oct 2009 #

    Too many awkward slow dances for this to have nothing but bad memories.

    Nice big hair though…

  28. 53
    DV on 28 Dec 2009 #

    How many munters have been conceived to this record?

  29. 54
    Kevin's Cousin on 28 Jul 2011 #

    I can’t tell you how much I hate this record. The best I can say is that it is the sort of song that might stop me listening to music forever, just in case.

  30. 55
    malmo58 on 13 Jan 2012 #

    I’m very fond of this. Lovely love song, she has a magnificent voice, and it went to #1 the week I began following the charts religiously. I was 14 at the time; when I saw her on TOTP that Thursday a five-star ocean-going celebrity crush was born. While other lads lusted after Madonna I had eyes only for Jennifer.

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