Bonnie Tyler’s biggest hit, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is a power ballad that embodies of so much of what made the ’80s the ’80s. The lyrics are melodramatic, the recording might have a few too many instruments on it, Tyler really sings the song, and the accompanying video is full of big hair, wind machines and absurd visuals. “Total Eclipse” was written by Jim Steinman, the songwriter most famous for launching Meat Loaf’s career. His lyrics can be just a tad over-the-top – he originally planned to write “Total Eclipse” about vampires. (Of course he did.) But Tyler’s gritty voice sells Steinman’s words, and she takes what could have been full-on camp and makes it feel impassioned and real.
As far as pop music history goes, the exclusion of “Silver Springs” from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album is something of a travesty. It’s the quintessential “one that got away,” the woulda/coulda/shoulda-been classic in the band’s catalog. Its last-minute exclusion from the best-selling album came simply because they had one track too many, according to Rumours co-producer Ken Caillat. And, as an added bonus, apparently Lindsey Buckingham wasn’t too crazy about the sentiments expressed in the song. Its ultimate resting place was on the B-Side of the “Go Your Own Way” single.
There are several reasons why Come On up To The House: Women Sing Waits had to be more than good, not least the fact this is scarcely the first such project. Waits cover albums by individual female artists – Holly Cole and Scarlett Johansson, just as a couple f’rinstances – are already lining up in judgement and for comparison. Then there are the myriad individual covers songs scattered across the repertoire of innumerable women of note. Why, I can find ten quality female-sung versions of “The Heart of Saturday Night” at the drop of a pork pie hat.
So why should this be so? What’s the draw here? Firstly must be the innate quality of the songs, somehow inhabiting a timeless era unsullied by the insistent imprints of any one style or structure. Secondly – and I tread carefully here – Waits’ voice and arrangements aren’t overly, shall we say, to all tastes, the combination of corncrake and clatter sometimes masking the delicate beauty in some of his work, especially the later years. The female voice will often draw this closer into focus than ol’ ‘Frank’ at his wildest, silk purses from, well, you know. Finally, it is now so very long since any new, it seems timely to have a reminder of him. And maybe a prompt for his muse?
One of the best tribute albums of the 2000s was 2008’s Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young for Charity. Now there’s a sequel of sorts, albeit one produced by a different label: Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits.
Out November 22 on Dualtone, the album features 12 artists across generations covering Tom Waits hits and deep cuts. Personally, I’m excited to hear Phoebe Bridgers tackle “Georgia Lee” and Kat Edmonson do “You Can Never Hold Back Spring” – two songs that don’t get covered often enough. But the hits are there too: “Jersey Girl” (Corinne Bailey Rae), “Ol’ 55” (Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer), “Hold On” (Aimee Mann), and of course “Downtown Train” (Courtney Marie Andrews).