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May 10

BELINDA CARLISLE – “Heaven Is A Place On Earth”

Popular106 comments • 5,298 views

#602, 16th January 1988, video

Another supersized AOR number one, but “Heaven” is more unashamedly bubblegum than Starship or T’Pau, and a great deal more effective for that. Its fat-free, chorus-led songwriting cuts out most of the portentiousness or instrumental high-fiving that often works against AOR’s pop impact. And it’s happy to let its roots show: behind the bombast are layers of pleasingly plasticky new wave keyboards and Flashdance-style synth-rock moves. In fact, beyond the echo and the heads-down chugalong rhythm there’s hints of the spirit of ’84 about “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” – that giddy season of American music when rock and pop and disco and funk all melted together under the MTV studio lights; what the US did instead of New Pop.

Maybe it’s just the singer that has me following those trails though – ex-Go Go Carlisle was a living link to New Wave (and further back – this is the only Number One hitmaker to have played in The Germs!). “Heaven” sets the tone for pretty much all her solo stuff – take care of the chorus and the rest will sort itself out. As a result her hits are hardly ever less than likeable: at the time, having no memory of the Go-Gos, I thought of Belinda C as broadly a Good Thing without ever crossing over into exciting, and I’ve never really changed my mind. And as a solo vocalist she fit the needs of the times – plenty of volume and passion papering over some very flimsy content, with “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” no exception: it feels like a lyric built to fit a title and a song built to fit a chorus. An undeniable, surging, chorus, one of her best, but still a record I can imagine being enjoyed by everyone while mattering to no-one.

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Comments

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  1. 76
    punctum on 13 May 2010 #

    #73: That’s not really what we’re talking about; the question is about the charts gradually and systematically falling out of commensurability and ceasing to be taken seriously as a result of aggressive niche marketing which turned them into a barometer of nothing more than marketing department performance bar charts. This doesn’t mean that there were no more huge hits which everyone knew or that sales were down, just that there were a lot fewer of them, sales became divided into niche demographics, and the charts in the nineties and beyond as a whole became something of a mystery, and finally an irrelevance, to the public at large, which certainly wasn’t the case through the sixties to the eighties.

    Another factor which occurred to me would have been the 40,000 or so professional DJs in Britain who faithfully go out and buy that week’s big dance tunes when they come out, and that has also had a distorting effect on chart behaviour. Why doesn’t the public remember half the stuff in the nineties charts? Because, by and large, they didn’t buy them.

    Having belatedly read Tom’s original post I must say I am baffled by the assertion re. “what the US did instead of New Pop.” Prince, Madonna, Michael and Janet, Jam and Lewis? New Pop was happening there all right.

  2. 77
    Tom on 13 May 2010 #

    The charts have always had two axes – position and duration. Until the 90s and 00s the latter (how many weeks something has stuck around) was something nobody really cared about. Now people still don’t really care about it but it’s become the most reliable way of assessing crossover, hugeness of hit, etc etc. That Snow Patrol song being the best example.

    re New Pop – “instead of” was badly phrased, the US equivalent of would be better. They didn’t call it such though, and I’d say the dynamics are quite different (the role of MTV and the role of race, for instance), so I’d still prefer to treat them as related but separate.

  3. 78
    punctum on 13 May 2010 #

    #77, para 1: and it’s all still mostly illusory, isn’t it? On a Top 100 basis “Chasing Cars” is now ahead of “My Way” as weeks-on-chart champ – on a Top 75 basis it’s still some way behind – but my mum wouldn’t be able to sing it and to be frank (ahem) neither can I. It’s just one of those songs which lounges about and people take it as a vague indicator of something or other – security blanket, placid in-car pabulum, credit crunch lullaby – without really thinking or caring about it.

  4. 79
    swanstep on 13 May 2010 #

    I assume everyone’s heard the chasing cars/every breath you take mash-up, e.g., here? (It’s nuts how close they are musically – it stopped me feeling sorry for Snow Patrol when Black-eyed Peas made a gazillion dollars from I’ve got a feeling which recycled SP’s Open your eyes to a ridiculous extent.) At any rate, it seems that there’s an almost stationary market for, as Punctum nicely says, security blankets, in-car pablum… whatever precise emotional chord these songs bang away on. Maybe in a download world, every breath you take would still be in the charts! Punctum’s Mum might have trouble humming Chasing Cars because she’ll find herself sliding into The Police (it messes me up!).

  5. 80
    thefatgit on 13 May 2010 #

    ‘Chasing Cars’ is a hang over from the Sad/Dad Rock phase of the early 00’s. I tend to lump Snow Patrol in with Aqualung and Athlete. But ‘Chasing Cars’ is deliberately vague so that its “meaning” can be drawn from, by just about anyone, and “mean” anything which is no mean skill to pull off. In terms of its durability then it’s of a number of “multiple meaning” songs including ‘My Way’ and ‘Every Breath…’.

  6. 81
    Conrad on 13 May 2010 #

    77, I think Hey Ya’s chart parabola was a classic example of witnessing a record, and possibly even to some extent a genre, crossing over to a much wider audience.

    And weeks on Top 40 count for a lot more in terms of public consciousness than Top 75 or Top 100.

  7. 82
    punctum on 13 May 2010 #

    “Hey Ya” was one of many recent examples of “real” hits – i.e. songs that climb high and stay on the chart – that nonetheless escape Popular because they were beaten to number one, mostly by fly-by-night wonders.

    The chart counts for next to nothing in terms of public consciousness these days, wherever you choose to finish it.

  8. 83
    Conrad on 13 May 2010 #

    Yes it’s a great shame we won’t be covering Outkast on here

  9. 84
    Rory on 13 May 2010 #

    Yes, I was amazed to realize that it had never made number one in the UK. A US number one, though, which may be a sign of how our perceptions are being skewed by the Web: a song can feel huge because of its online buzz, even if relatively fewer people buy it locally.

  10. 85
    Erithian on 13 May 2010 #

    Punctum #71 – re downloads and the effect of transient marketing on chart positions week by week, I mentioned during the discussion on Rage Against the Machine over Christmas that when it costs less to download a single than it does to have a pee at a London rail terminus, tracks are gong to be bought by people more out of a desire to affect the chart than a love for the song. Hence Tina Turner’s “The Best” turned up at number 9 earlier this month after a Facebook campaign to celebrate Rangers’ Scottish League title win and disappeared the next week (unless I’m mistaken). It leads me to wonder, seeing Mike’s “Which Decade” project starting on a new ten-year cycle, whether we’re going to have a singles chart in a recognisable form at all by the time it’s due to finish in 2019.

  11. 86
    lockedintheattic on 13 May 2010 #

    76 – OK, I get your point, however I would dispute that the reason that 90s/00s songs aren’t remembered by the public is not because they stopped being bought by a wide demographic. I really don’t think they were being bought by that wide a demographic in their heyday either – singles sales have always been pretty low compared to the size of the population. I think the big difference is the fragmentation of the media (and of music itself). In the olden days, Top of the Pops was on TV with an audience of millions each week, as was the chart show, and radio 1 and a small number of monopolist pop radio stations around the country would all play (mostly) songs from the chart. So the small number of record buyers would have their tastes broadcast around the country.

    By the 90s/00s, there were no longer the same broadcast channels – TOTP had slumped in terms of viewers, there were now niche radio stations all over the place meaning playlists no loner slavishly followed the charts, meaning records could sell just as much (or even more) than in the 70s/80s but not cross over.

    (and one minor and less general point – you clearly have no understanding of club culture if you think the only reason loads of dance records charted was thanks to 40,000 DJs buying them. Plenty of dance records sold way more than that, and there are – or perhaps rather were in the 90s/00s – plenty of dance music fans who bought lots of singles without ever having DJed in their lives, myself and most of my friends being some of them.

  12. 87
    xyzzzz__ on 13 May 2010 #

    I know its just something to say but I’m not sure about this division between enjoyment and mattering. Especially when referring to everyone/no one. Probably 8 or 9 to me.

  13. 88
    ace inhibitor on 13 May 2010 #

    I can hear ‘Livin on a prayer’, but only because they’re both channelling ‘Because the night’…

  14. 89
    Garry on 15 May 2010 #

    When I started out in radio, the presenter before me always insisted on closing with a Belinda Carlisle track – even if it meant cutting into my timeslot. As a result I have a grudge regarding Belinda which her music doesn’t really deserve.

  15. 90
    crag on 18 May 2010 #

    Fascinating discussion about the charts since the 90s-Surely two of the reasons for many chart hits of the past 20 odd years supposedly being less engrained in the public consciesness in comparison with those fromthe preceding decades or so is that there were so MANY of them-18 #1s in 1989 as oppossed to 36 in 1999 for example. So no suprise there are so many “forgotten” #11 hits,say, from the 90s and 00s when their chart runs would have much shorter than a similar-sized hit in the 60s, 70s or 80s.

    Also as mentioned above in the last 2 decades the choice for listeners on radio had grown and those not enjoying Radio1 could listen tothe golden hits of yesteryear elsewhere with much more ease. The fact that hits from this period have also largely yet to become “history” is also a factor explaining their obscurity. Most tracks mid90s onwards are considered too recent to be welcomed as oldies or be subject to the musical archeology their predecessors have and so havent had their “second time around” yet.

    Can anyone give a good reason as to why singles are released to radio so far in advance now? It seems insane to me as it means sales will surely suffer when many listeners get sick of tracks weeks before their release and also others getting downloads of tracks illegally in the run up to them coming out offically-the modern equivelant of “taping a song off the radio”. Why the record companies think this is a good idea baffles me.

    Another quick thought on the charts- shouldnt a ruling be brought in to prevent songs clogging up the charts for months on end similar to the one brought in the USalbum charts to prevent “Bat Out of the Dark Side of Troubled Water” types that had been hanging around for years. Maybe a 4 months-then-you’re-off kind of rule?

    One final thought- another shout out for Rush Hour- much prefer it to HIAPOE. Iremember Wiedlin doing a version of the Electric Prunes I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night on the Last Resort at this time and as a 13 year old 60s psych novice finding it fascinating…

    sorry about the rambling nature of the post i havent commented for a while and it all seemed to come out at once!!

  16. 91
    punctum on 19 May 2010 #

    #86: I didn’t say “the only reason”; please avoid casual rudeness.

    Furthermore, TOTP dipped because its producers thought they knew better than the public and changed the show from a passive reflection of the chart to an active attempt to influence the chart. The show was killed slowly by the Cool Police; TOTP was never meant to be “cool.”

    #90: I certainly agree that some Billboard-style regulation of the album chart is needed. Observers might say, well it’s fair, these are the hundred best-selling albums this week (which is debatable since hype and chain store preferential treatment also play major parts in what charts where) regardless of age, but I understand that it must be frustrating for new acts in particular trying to get heard and they can’t even break into the Top 100 because it’s clogged up with Abba Gold, Legend et al for years on end (again, largely because of permanent discounting on the part of chain stores). I’d say establish a separate catalogue chart for albums available for more than 18 months; given the need for promoting an album long-term with singles, tours, remixes etc., this is probably a reasonable cut-off point.

    I don’t quite know, however, where that would leave a situation where Exile On Main Street is currently set to be number one next Sunday.

  17. 92
    lockedintheattic on 19 May 2010 #

    Actually the biggest single drop in viewers to TOTP came when the BBC switched the show from Thursday to Friday, and stuck it opposite Coronation Street, the UK’s most popular show. Sticking it in that slot meant it instantly became a niche show for a much smaller demographic. The changes I think you’re referring too – which were certainly annoying – were really just rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic.

  18. 93
    punctum on 19 May 2010 #

    We’ve had some thoughts about the decline of TOTP before and I think the history can be summed up as follows:

    1. Central problem: charts from late eighties onward dominated by tune-not-artist club bangers.

    2. Immediate problem for TOTP: endless streams of anonymous chaps standing behind keyboards is not good television but show is duty-bound to adhere to the charts.

    3. Stanley Appel tries to drag it back into the mainstream by inviting people like Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand onto the show but they look awkward and do not regenerate ratings.

    4. Ric Blaxill tries to make it more “relevant” and televisual and happily (for him) this coincides with rise of Britpop.

    5. Residual problem: Britpop fades out and back to square one. Show now has no character. Anonymous presenters who are told they can’t wear any colour except black or stand out in any way. Time wasted “interviewing” when they should be getting on with the music.

    6. Solution: Put the show down gently and long-term, first moving it to Fridays against Corrie so they can justify absence of ratings as reason for closure. Then move to BBC2 Sundays.

    There were, I feel, other ways, and point 5) is really where the show went wrong.

  19. 94
    weej on 19 May 2010 #

    The “Moving it to clash with Corrie” is a time-honoured BBC tradition for series they want to get rid of – that’s also what happened to the original Doctor Who.

  20. 95
    Billy Smart on 19 May 2010 #

    The only two BBC1 programmes I’m aware of that ever really effectively competed with Coronation Street were Til Death Us Do Part (more popular) and Blake’s 7 (which attracted a substantial alternative audience).

  21. 96
    Hofmeister Bear on 19 May 2010 #

    Personally the end of Britpop now feels like the great cut-off point in which many of the old certainties surrounding popular music in the UK began to crumble. How much of this is down to technological advancement (specifically the internet) and how much just a general cultural shift, I’ll leave to the far more eloquent commentators on here to pick over.

    HIAPOE is an easy 6 for me, like much of Carlisle’s canon of hits it holds up pretty well. And frankly bollocks to Billy Bragg.

  22. 97
    AndyPandy on 19 May 2010 #

    @86 yes I’m surprised that Punctum said. When its known that many dance records (both pre and post 1988)sold far more than their chart positions would indicate because of a plethora of reasons but probably the biggest being that many were bought in dance specialist shops which were rarely chart return shops.And their penetration into the consciousness of the youth was immensely bigger because of their ubiquitousness on mixtapes/pirate radio tapes and compilation albums which were equally/more important to bringing these tracks into the public consciousness.

    It’s been mentioned on here that certain tracks (and this was especially prevalent 1988-92 but also in the trance/hard house era) barely scraped the Top 40 but sold enough to be Top 10 hits if sold in the shops where pop/rock singles were bought. I’ve read that if by some miracle the late 90s/early00s charts had represented the exact amount of every single sold including those sold in the specialist shops the charts they would have been crammed with completely underground trance/hardhouse and jungle tracks. And that still excludes all those who only bought mixes or compilation albums.

    To most working-class kids (once again especially in the 88-92 period) these tracks were the soundtrack of their youth.

    And what an outrage that Acen “Trip II The Moon” got to about 39 but sold well at least 50,000. I doubt there’s very few people of a certain age with the slightest interest in popular music who don’t remember this track or something like “Dominator” by Human Resource but the pop charts criminally under-represented both and many others.

  23. 98
    AndyPandy on 19 May 2010 #

    But surely the whole point of charts (both album and single)is to gauge what are the biggest selling records that week if anything else is introduced to change this the whole idea of charts becomes meaningless and pointless.

    Admittedly with Facebook (Leeds United fans are hoping to get “Marching All Together” to number one next week)its become a bit ridiculous but perhaps thats just a sign that charts )along with the old verities of popular music are now redundant)and have reached the end of their life.
    After all RATM was blatant chart-rigging which surely once and for all killed off the idea of “the Christmas Number One” forever.

  24. 99
    thefatgit on 19 May 2010 #

    There’s another Facebook group trying to get “Holy Diver” to #1 in Ronnie James Dio’s memory.

  25. 100
    punctum on 20 May 2010 #

    #98: The structure of the charts gives the illusion of public democracy where every record has a fair and equal chance of getting to the top. Not so. The people who get number ones are those whom the industry wants to get to number one. And very few others besides. Over the decades that hasn’t changed.

  26. 101
    Ian on 20 May 2010 #

    Come on, how is this not a 9 or 10?

  27. 102
    rosie on 25 May 2010 #

    On one day or other (one so loses track of time in hospital) I was doing a therapeutic walk past the day room and heard this coming out. For the rest of the day it was wriggling round in my head (it’s an infection little ditty isn’t it!). And to make matters worse, I was desperately trying to work out which 1970s rock anthem it borrows so heavily from. Or maybe I I imagined that – funny things have happened to my brain lately!

  28. 103

    […] Shipley, brought something believably adolescent out of her. When she falls in love, I feel it. Tom Ewing on “Heaven…”: “beyond the echo and the heads-down chugalong rhythm […]

  29. 104
    DanH on 27 Jan 2013 #

    “Circle in the Sand” is as good as late ’80s mainstream pop gets. It’s the Shangri-Las “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” fused with Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsy” or “Sara.” Great stuff.

  30. 105
    hectorthebat on 15 Feb 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  31. 106
    swanstep on 28 Oct 2016 #

    HIAPOE is given a very specific, possibly definitive interpretation in one of the best episodes of the latest season of Black Mirror. The ep. also bruits a kind of interp. of Popular. Interesting…

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