Friday, February 26, 2010

Jackie DeShannon: Bette Davis Eyes

Every Friday I feature an original recording of a song that later became a hit for another artist. Written in 1974 by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon, “Bette Davis Eyes” became a colossal hit for Kim Carnes in 1981. The song, however, was originally recorded by its coauthor Jackie DeShannon on her 1975 album “New Arrangement.”



For the billions of people familiar with Kim Carnes’ largest hit record, the Jackie DeShannon version is not very palatable. It is an example of a song’s evolution from an obscure album cut that would become a hit record – producing more royalties for DeShannon (and Weiss) in the process.

When producer Val Garay was looking for material for Kim Carnes’ “Mistaken Identity” album, Donna Weiss provided another tune, but neither Carnes nor Garay were impressed. Weiss then suggested “Bette Davis Eyes.” Although DeShannon’s version is in a country vein, Garay described Weiss’ arrangement as sounding like “a Leon Russell track, with this beer-barrel polka piano part.” Garay continued, “But I loved the melody and I loved the lyrics.” Carnes was no stranger to the track as Weiss had submitted the tune for her previous LP “Romance Dance”; however, producer George Tobin had passed on it.

Fortunately for Carnes and Garay, the song was a huge hit. The night the band learned the song was December 8, 1980 – the same night that John Lennon was shot and killed. The signature keyboard part that makes the song was devised by Bill Cuomo and was played on a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 synthesizer. Cuomo also credited as the song’s arranger.

When Carnes went into the studio to cut “Bette Davis Eyes” the song was recorded live with no overdubs. Garay had Carnes and the musicians record three takes with the very first being chosen for release. “Bette Davis Eyes” was #1 for 8 weeks in 1981, was overtaken by the Stars on 45 “Beatles Medley” for one week, and then returned for an additional week at the number one slot. Besides being a number one record in the US, “Bette Davis Eyes” hit the top chart position in 30 other countries.

In 1982, the single won “Song of the Year” and “Record of the Year” Grammy Awards. “Mistaken Identity” was additionally nominated for “Album of the Year”; however, this honor was bestowed upon John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s “Double Fantasy” album. Billboard also lists “Bette Davis Eyes” at #12 of the top 100 of the first 50 years its Hot 100 chart.

Kim Carnes Version




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