Thursday, August 1, 2013

Bette Midler - No Frills

Today (August 1st) marks the thirtieth anniversary of No Frills, the sixth studio album from American singer/actress Bette Midler. It was also her first studio albums in four years, a time period during which she took to do movies like Divine Madness!, Jinxed! and The Rose (click here for the review of that last one).

No Frills charted at number 71 in Canada, number 60 on the US Billboard Hot 200, number 46 in Germany, number 41 in the Netherlands, number 3 in Norway and number 1 in Switzerland.

Side one begins with “Is It Love”, a track written by Nick Gilder and Jimmy McCulloch. It has a strong beat and synth line that firmly fit in with the music playing on the airwaves at the time in 1983. It is Midler’s vocal style that gives the number a unique voice though.

“Favorite Waste of Time” was written by Marshall Crenshaw, who first released it in 1982 as a B-side to his single “Someday Someway”. Midler covers it here and comes across in a similar vein as Rachel Sweet and Kirsty Maccoll, both of whom I enjoy.

The first single “All I Need to Know” charted at number 77 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 39 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, and number 5 on the Canadian Adult Contemporary chart. Linda Ronstadt recorded the song in 1989 as a duet with Aaron Neville under the revised title of “Don’t Know Much” and had a smash Top 10 hit with it around the world. If you only know the latter version, you definitely want to give Midler’s piano ballad a listen as it is a refreshingly different take.

Things change up with the feisty Latin beat of “Only in Miami”, a tale of a girl longing to be back in her native Cuba.

The side ends with “Heart Over Head”, a mid-tempo tune about falling in love and backed by an R&B rhythm.

Side two starts with “Let Me Drive”, a danceable number about a woman taking charge in the relationship and moving things on to the next level. Midler teases as the saxophone sets the mood.

The B-side to the first and third single was “My Eye on You”, a dark and moody rocker about a female stalker.

“Beast of Burden”, a cover of the Rolling Stones’ 1978 hit from their Some Girls album (click here for that review), was the second single. Thanks to a popular MTV music video featuring Mick Jagger, the song went to number 71 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 15 in Germany, number 10 in the Netherlands, number 4 in New Zealand, and number 2 in both Norway and Switzerland. Midler gives the song plenty of attitude, worthy of Jagger himself.

The music style changes up again with “Soda and a Souvenir”, a soft pop number that would have felt right at home in the late 50’s and early 60’s.

The closing track “Come Back Jimmy Dean”, another gentler pop ballad, was also the B-side to the second single.

I had been a Bette Midler fan from the time I saw The Rose and Divine Madness on HBO in the early 80’s. I liked her mix of music, comedy and theatrics. From this album, I knew of the single for “Beast of Burden” thanks to its music video. Listening to the rest of No Frills for the first time now, I can say I definitely would have enjoyed it even back thirty years ago. This is a diamond in the rough that I am happy to have unearthed.

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