Feb 11

MARIA McKEE – “Show Me Heaven”

Popular49 comments • 5,126 views

#651, 25th September 1990

Take my breath away, leave me breathless: the general “Top Gun, only not as good” vibe of Days Of Thunder extended to this single. As stately, as vague, more soporific somehow. One new ingredient is religion – “such amazing grace”, “feels divine” – and yes, this is a post-Madonna power ballad, but in this more conservative form the dance of identity between worshipper and worshipped quite vanishes. It has a slothful, vanillla, lie-back-and-think-of-the-Midwest kind of passion – sex as blockbuster movie, where your role is simply to wait for the ‘wow’ moment the heroic lead will surely provide.

McKee can belt, but she’s most comfortable away from the chorus, giving “Show Me Heaven” a more tender and dynamic performance than it might deserve. With this material, she can’t convince anyone of anything, but thanks to her it sounds for a while like this is a song, not a steamroller, that if it caught you in the right mood you might find something to relate to in it. But a lot of her good work is undone by that mandolin, its folksy, friendly, irritating air undercutting whatever subtleties she’s bringing.



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  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 1 Feb 2011 #

    A definitive ‘5’ record for me. Its not irritating, just about registers in my memory, and is a pretty good showcase for McKee’s voice. But I can’t imagine ever wanting to hear it.

    This one was approved of by girls in the sixth form and ignored by boys. I was slightly baffled, having frequently read in the 1980s music press about how heartfelt and interesting Maria McKee and Lone Justice were while never getting to hear them. ‘Show Me Heaven’ didn’t seem to offer much to support this contention.

  2. 2
    Tom on 1 Feb 2011 #

    Once again I apologise for the delay between entries – busy busy busy. Also, in this case, uninspired uninspired uninspired.

    I did not remember T Cruise’s character in this film was called Cole Trickle.

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 1 Feb 2011 #

    #2Watch: A week of Londonbeat – ‘I’ve Been Thinking About You’. I remember liking the guitar line on that one.

    Then a week of Bobby Vinton, ‘Blue Velvet’. “The original soundtrack as used by NIVEA lotions” it says on the sleeve. It made more sense in a David Lynch context than in a 1990 one.

    Then – Tee hee! – a week for Status Quo’s ‘The Anniversary Waltz Part 1′. Comin’ Atcha like a rockin’ Jive Bunny. The subject of much mirth and derision at the time.

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 1 Feb 2011 #

    TOTPWatch: Maria McKee twice performed ‘Show Me Heaven’ on Top Of The Pops;

    13 September 1990. Also in the studio that week were; Londonbeat, Sonia and Bass-O-Matic. Gary Davies was the host.

    27 September 1990. Also in the studio that week were; Monie Love & True Image, The Wedding Present, Status Quo and Bass-O-Matic. Anthea Turner was the host.

    Oh, Bass-O-Matic, ‘Fascinating Rhythm’… Now that would have been a wonderful #1.

  5. 5
    Elsa on 1 Feb 2011 #

    There was an actual well-known race car driver in the US called Dick Trickle. Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it.

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    lonepilgrim on 1 Feb 2011 #

    Maria’s a bit of a belter but that doesn’t work as well for me as Madonna’s more subdued approach on the superficially similar ‘Live to tell’ and ‘This used to be our playground’. I don’t mind the song too much, but the production seems to encourage an overblown approach.
    The religious imagery is more likely to have come from Maria McKee’s own faith rather than any attempt to ape ‘Like a Prayer’.
    I don’t hear a mandolin but more of a twangy Chris Isaak/Twin Peaks style guitar – worth mentioing that ‘Twin Peaks’ was being broadcast for the first time on the BBC at this time.

  7. 7
    Billy Smart on 1 Feb 2011 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Just three solo UK TV appearances for Maria on the list;

    WHISTLE TEST: with Maria McKee, Mick Hucknall (1987)

    WOGAN: with Joan Collins, Maria McKee, Dennis Waterman (1990)

    THE WORD: with Keith Allen, IF, Kathy Lloyd, Maria McKee, Brooke Shields (1991)

  8. 8
    Alfred on 1 Feb 2011 #

    I once wrote about American rock critics’ brief infatuation with Maria McKee’s former band Lone Justice. Her scoring her a #1 English hit is a mordant irony.

    Here’s the piece: http://humanizingthevacuum.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/ways-to-be-unwicked/

  9. 9
    enitharmon on 1 Feb 2011 #

    Nothing to say about this because I don’t know it and nothing I’ve read so far makes me feel like getting off my backside and finding out.

    The first week of Maria’s reign I note I spent in Blackpool at the Labour Party Conference. It was very windy all week. I fell in with the press corps through people I’d got to know via a new fad called the Internet, which I had discovered not long before. You had to dial up through a 2400 baud modem and pay the phone bill for calls to London so apart from the universities who had had it for years it was confined largely to people in the London area, mainly geeks and journalists. I wonder what happened to it, did it ever catch on? Anyway, it got me my free pass to the late night hotel bars and I remember being bought drinks by and having a long chat about jumps racing with one Robin Cook, a man of rare political integrity and fearsome intellect much missed in today’s political climate.

    And for Billy @ 3: Blue Velvet was (still is) an absolute belter of a film with Dennis Hopper staking a claim to be one of the all-time great (and most terrifying) screen baddies. The song did wriggle around in the head very pleasantly in 1990 and I can hardly begrudge Bobby Vinton his belated success here.

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    will on 1 Feb 2011 #

    Unfortunately this has become linked in my head with the ‘Woaaaaah Body-form’ adverts that started appearing around this time.

  11. 11
    swanstep on 1 Feb 2011 #

    New to me when I ear-peeked ahead last week on youtube (it barely charted in the US). Already completely forgotten it and I found it hard to get all the way through it that one time. Apparently 22 year old Kidman plays a neurosurgeon wunderkind in the film – brilliant. Next:
    2 or 3

  12. 12
    Billy Smart on 1 Feb 2011 #

    #9 It’s a shame that Blue Velvet couldn’t have been a hit at the time of the film in 1986/7 though, when it would have carried a bit more creepy force than on the back of a Nivea commercial four years later.

    Vinton’s version is alright, but sounds a bit pallid next to The Clovers’ fantastic 1955 doo-wop interpretation.

    Obviously a much better song in any form than ‘Show Me Heaven’, though.

  13. 13
    enitharmon on 1 Feb 2011 #

    Um, I thought Blue Velvet was a hit on the back of the film. I did think it was earlier than 1990.

    I know nowt of any Nivea advertisement. So, as you were, I’ll go back to sleep.

  14. 14
    MV on 1 Feb 2011 #

    I rarely disagree with popular but I have a real soft spot for this song! It’s not based on anything much though. Just sentimental fluff, but that’s OK now and again.

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    thefatgit on 2 Feb 2011 #

    All I remember of SMH is she blinked a lot in the video, suggesting fake sincerity. And that’s about it.

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    anto on 2 Feb 2011 #

    Found this a bit of a bore at the time. Very competent isn’t it?

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    weej on 2 Feb 2011 #

    Oh 1980s, you may have won this battle but the 1990s are going to win the war.

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    punctum on 2 Feb 2011 #

    Days Of Thunder is now principally remembered as the point Where Tom Met Nicole, but if their real-life relationship was anything like as perfunctory as it was in the film then it’s little surprise that the marriage didn’t last; in this rewording of Top Gun (“I’m not denying/We’re flying above it all”), humanity is of decidedly secondary sexual interest to the fast cars and crash helmets which almost make Cronenberg’s subsequent film of Ballard’s Crash unnecessary.

    Fittingly “Show Me Heaven” only retains a perilously thin umbilical cord to human emotions and feelings by virtue of McKee’s vocal, which does its beautiful best to make us believe in its rhyming of “spine” and “divine” and its cringeworthy epithets (“You’ve such amazing grace” indeed). Then again McKee’s name is present on the label as co-writer so she must shoulder some of the blame. None of the moderately strange touches to the arrangement – the plucking banjo in the chorus, the Duane Eddy guitar and strings which arise towards song’s end – leads us to think that this is the woman responsible for the record voted NME’s ninth best album of 1989 (her eponymous solo debut which, though rather ordinary to these ears, outranked Paradise, Raw Like Sushi, The Sensual World, Straight Outta Compton, Hats and, um, Freaky Trigger), let alone 1996’s genuinely extraordinary Life Is Sweet, one of the decade’s greatest and most shrewdly adventurous pop albums. No, this was simply a day job to help pay for the art, and it is as nullifyingly bland as any of its hi-tech cinematic kin.

  19. 19
    MikeMCSG on 2 Feb 2011 #

    This isn’t one of Maria’s better songs and the 5 mark is about right.

    Her work has always been variable but at her best she can move you to tears – try “Dixie Storms” from the second Lone Justice album “Shelter” for instance. “Ways To Be Wicked” is also a top-rate song.

    Anyone remember her spaced-out appearance on Juke Box Jury around this time ?

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    Chelovek na lune on 2 Feb 2011 #

    Never seen the film, am still moderately fond of this song, although it’s obviously not her best. Although even her only other top 40 hit, “I’m Gonna Soothe You” is preferable, I’d still happily listen to this.

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    El boludo on 2 Feb 2011 #


    Ahem. I quite liked smh (ha!) when I was a kid, it was on a CD of advert songs my mum had (due to its use in a dairy milk ad I think?). It ia boring , though, and I think a five is right.

    Never seen days of thunder but it can’t be as bad as that faux-Oirish film they were in together, which has far and away the least on-screen chemistry between an irl married couple that I’ve ever seen.

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    Cumbrian on 2 Feb 2011 #

    #21 “that faux-Oirish film they were in together, which has far and away the least on-screen chemistry between an irl married couple that I’ve ever seen.”

    I see what you’ve done there. Very good.

    I must confess, I’ve never heard anything by Maria McKee other than this. A band called Lone Justice with her countryish power ballad vocals (remember, this song is my only exposure to her) on it doesn’t fill me with lots of hope – but then I’ve never been much of a fan of modern country anyway. Maybe I should give them a listen with an open mind.

    The song: if we are marking from 1 to 10, then the average point is 5.5 (or I think it should be, I’m having one of those brain fades where I can’t be sure of anything numerical anymore after looking at too many figures over the last week). This is below average to my ears but not utterly offensive, so 4 or 5 seems about right. Given I gave The Joker 5 and I like it slightly more than this, I’d probably go for a 4. Echoing other comments, I just find it a bit dull.

  23. 23

    Lone Justice were straightahead cowpunk, and pretty good within that genre: a lot twangier and feistier than this. I am right now listening to the Long Ryders reunion concert of 2006.

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    23 Daves on 2 Feb 2011 #

    I genuinely do really like McKee’s vocal performance on this, which seems to express several different emotions at once in places – lust(well, that’s what the breathless delivery in the chorus suggests to me anyway), longing, love and a bit of despondency. The song itself, on the other hand, is absolutely nothing special at all and lyrically vapid, and it’s an unbelievable achievement she managed to pull that much out of it. She could probably sing the interior message in a budget greetings card and make it sound interesting.

    She’s an artist I’ve always meant to investigate in more depth beyond the three or four songs I’ve heard by her, but I’ve never properly done so. I do indeed remember her “Juke Box Jury” appearance with her frantically fanning herself and seeming rather dazed, and she’s always come across as an interesting character… Perhaps I should head off to Spotify soon and look at her other work.

  25. 25
    Mark M on 2 Feb 2011 #

    Kidman and Cruise are indeed bad chemistry personified in all their joint outings (but then with a few exceptions – Magnolia for him, The Others for her – I’ve rarely enjoyed anything they’ve done apart, either).

    As for Ms McKee (sister of Bryan MacLean from Love, since I don’t think anyone’s mentioned it), this is a dull but not awful power ballad. Lone Justice’s Ways To Be Wicked, however, is a cracker…

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    swanstep on 3 Feb 2011 #

    Kidman and Cruise resonate as particular extreme types on screen (rather like old-time movie-stars): once you divide through by beauty, she’s icy and entitled (I have friends who refer to her as ‘cold mountain’ or even as ‘CM’) and he’s needy and hyper (The Actor’s Studio ep./interview w/ Cruise has to be seen to be believed – track it down if you can). Aside from Mark M. ‘s good choices, I’d take To Die For and Birth for her, Risky Business and Tropic Thunder for him.

  27. 27
    LondonLee on 3 Feb 2011 #

    How did this get to number one? I don’t remember the film being any kind of popular smash like Top Gun. Maybe it was without me noticing.

    Cruise is very good in Rain Man, better than Hoffman.

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    Tom on 3 Feb 2011 #

    #27 Apparently the song wasn’t a hit at all in the US, so we were clearly a market ripe for exploitation by enormous film tie-in ballads.

    As future events would prove, really.

  29. 29
    vinylscot on 3 Feb 2011 #

    Slightly biased, as this was the first dance at my wedding, but I always quite liked this one, even before “the big day”.

    I don’t find it formulaic; I find it a little quirky, and a refreshing change from the majority of the paint-by-numbers movie-related dross infecting the charts around this time.

  30. 30
    Mark M on 3 Feb 2011 #

    Re 26: you’re right, especially about Cruise – he’s a proper movie star in that he almost always plays roughly the same role* , and he’s rarely miscast. I just don’t like most of the films I’ve seen him in. The great thing about Magnolia is the way it uses his essential Cruiseness to entirely other ends (Paul Thomas Anderson also did much the same thing with Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love).

    To Die For – yes indeed.

    *(Tropic Thunder being an obvious exception – but I have to say I didn’t find his turn as funny as most other people did. Liked the film, though.)

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