Donna DeLory – Just a Dream
Pop stars are such a generous bunch, aren’t they? Always willing to give their time and talent away for free in the name of a good cause. They really do care, and if a camera happens to be on them while they’re visibly caring then so much the better.
However, such selfless generosity doesn’t usually extend to other pop stars, and one thing you don’t tend to get that often is a pop star giving another pop star – or an aspiring one – one of their own amazing songs. Pet Shop Boys famously wrote Heart with a vague idea of offering it to Madonna (how amazing that would have been), but they bottled out – probably through fear of rejection – and kept it for themselves, and were justly rewarded with a (final) UK no.1.
What’s slightly more common is the Pop Cast Off – songs which, for whatever reason, have been rejected by the artist but might still make them a bob or two in someone else’s hands. And seeing as we’ve mentioned Madonna, let’s take a look at one of hers – the completely brilliant Just a Dream by Donna DeLory.
Donna DeLory is of course the most famous and long-lasting of Madonna‘s backing singers – she’s the one who does the hilarious Belinda Carlisle impersonation in Truth or Dare. Donna first got involved on 1987’s Who’s That Girl? tour and she was there, on record and on stage, right into the 2000s. She got the gig by virtue of having sung the original demo of Open Your Heart (which had in fact been written with Cyndi Lauper in mind – isn’t pop complicated?), attracting the attention of producer Patrick Leonard who was scouting songs for True Blue. For the best part of twenty years, she and Niki Harris were almost indivisible from Madonna – gamely throwing shapes in the video for Vogue, having a bit of a knockabout on stage during Causing a Commotion on the Blond Ambition tour and sensibly complementing their boss’s vocals without overshadowing them – which perhaps partly explains their longevity.
In 1992, with Niki off moonlighting as a temporary member of Snap!, Donna signed to MCA Records for her first solo album. Now, backing singers who are known for being backing singers don’t always have the best time of it when they get pushed front and centre, especially when the record company makes practically no effort to promote them – and that’s exactly what happened here. Although the first single Praying For Love was huge in Japan, it did practically nothing anywhere else – I certainly wasn’t aware of it at the time – and so it fell to the follow-up to try and rescue things. This one, however, had a built-in advantage: it was a Madonna off-cut, and the last one of those (Each Time You Break My Heart) had given Nick Kamen – a man of questionable vocal talent – a sizeable hit in 1986.
I’m always – perhaps slightly unjustly – suspicious of Madonna’s involvement as a co-writer, but as ‘dream’ is rhymed with ‘seem’ on this song, we can be fairly sure she was at least in the studio on the day it was penned. Just a Dream was written and recorded during the Like a Prayer sessions, but didn’t make the final cut – presumably because the urgency of its rhythm was a little too close to Till Death Do Us Part (another co-write with Patrick Leonard), and because it lacks the confessional quality that features so heavily on much of the album. It is, however, a fabulous, straight-up pop song, like something out of a sadly unmade John Hughes teen-angst movie – it would be great for a shopping montage where the dumpy one gets a makeover from the cool one.
Sometimes an absurdly fast record can convey emotional turmoil better than a ballad – Till Death Do Us Part proves that point emphatically – and Just a Dream does exactly the same thing. It’s really quite frantic, and Donna delivers a great vocal – part breathless, part desperate, surrounded by a glorious clatter of drums, guitars and synths. It’s basically all the confusion of new love in four and a bit minutes, and has a completely ace breakdown in the middle – “All that I have, all I ask / All my dreams, they fade so fast / Don’t wake me up, not today / All my dreams will fade away” – where you can clearly hear Madonna on backing vocals, providing extra pop thrills.
The next notable Madonna offcut, Love Won’t Wait, was bagged by Gary Barlow – although I rather suspect it was forced upon him – and gave him a second no.1 solo hit, despite being fairly terrible and nowhere near as good as Just a Dream. The difference? Public goodwill (although heaven only knows that was about to run out) and decent marketing. With just a smidgeon more of the former and a whole hell of a lot more of the latter, Donna DeLory might just have had the solo pop career she deserved.
Chart peak: 71
Weeks on chart: 1
Who could sing this today and have a hit? I kind of want to give everything to Demi Lovato at the moment, so, um, Demi Lovato.