Belinda Carlisle – Valentine (Remix Edit)
I rarely fantasise about being actual friends with pop stars, principally because I imagine most of them would be quite high maintenance and you wouldn’t get an awful lot out of the relationship. Madonna strikes me as someone who would make you take your shoes off before letting you in the house, and she would probably get the Hoover out to make you leave. Friendship with Mariah would probably involve an awful lot please-talk-me-off-the-ledge middle of the night phone calls. I imagine Cher would just shout at you a lot in capital letters, and not one of them would ever stop to stay “and how are things with you?”
The only pop star (other than every member of Bananarama) I’ve ever wanted to be friends with – by which I mean nipping round to theirs for a biscuit and saying terrible things about mutual acquaintances – is Belinda Carlisle. She seems like a right laugh, don’t you think? Bit of a hellraiser, yes – but you could probably also count on her to have a well stocked fridge.
A lot of my preconceptions about Belinda are based on the kind of pop she makes – essentially, the kind that makes me want to go out and streak down the road with excitement, which I would do if only it weren’t so cold. She never fails to cheer me up, even if she’s being a Frowning Concept. That is the sort of person I need in my life.
Let’s drop in on Belinda in 1989, at a time when she might have needed a hug from me, her new best friend, because things were not going quite to plan. Considering that Heaven on Earth had turned her into an actual, proper superstar, the expectation was that the follow-up, Runaway Horses, would do similar business – but in America especially it sort of tanked, peaking at no.37 on the Billboard 200, selling less than half of its predecessor’s total, and it yielded precisely no top ten hits. Matters were a little better in Britain – the album reached no.4 and the first single, Leave a Light On did too – but things went horribly wrong almost straight away, with the next three singles peaking at numbers 38, 40 and 41 respectively. Had I nipped round to Belinda’s swanky LA pad at this point I imagine the blinds would have been drawn and she might not have bothered getting dressed for a couple of days. Being a good friend, I’d have put my arm round her and gently suggested that La Luna might not have been the best choice for second single, and why don’t we nip down to the studio and give Valentine a thrilling remix to restore her to the top of the charts?
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the great missing hit from what should have been Belinda’s golden and valedictory Imperial Phase. You wouldn’t know it from the album version, which drags somehow, but the single remix transforms a slightly dowdy, Barb from Stranger Things sort of a song into a glistening, exciting, Lorelai from Gilmore Girls thing. This is partly due to the genius idea of moving the chorus – stripped back to the basics – right up to the start of proceedings, which gives that thudding great beat so much more impact when it kicks in. When you have what is essentially an Anthem of Low Self Esteem (“Valentine / I know that you’re not mine / You’re somebody elses flame / But when those hearts and flowers fade / Oh my darlin’ look my way“) you need a bit of oomph so stop it from becoming a right downer – and this is 4 minutes and 30 seconds of pure unadulterated prom night oomph. The production – and, of course, Belinda’s vocals – make you feel that mooning around after someone who shows absolutely no interest in you is a completely valid and oddly empowering life choice. It becomes all about the triumph of hope over likelihood and we all need that in our lives, don’t we?
The thing I love most about Belinda Carlisle records is how she always comes across like the leader of a pack. She generally carries the verses by herself, with that gorgeous growly lower register, and then on the choruses we head for the clouds, with a small army of multi-tracked Belindas and, on this occasion, Maria Vidal (of Body Rock fame), Bekka Bramlett and a moonlighting from Madonna-duty Donna DeLory. I don’t know about you, but this is a pack I want to run with. Valentine gives us maximum pack value, with every “yeah-eh-yeah” sounding like a herd of those cool girls at school who slightly intimidated you but you really wanted to pal around with. And then of course there’s the breakdown: one of the greatest in ALL POP, if you ask me. It comes right after Belinda has delivered the most brilliant pronunciation of the word “valentine” ever uttered – it’s guttural, sexy and vibrates in that unmistakably Belinda way – and while you’re goosebumping at that everything cuts out except the keyboards and the marvellous twinkly bits. If a pop song could propose to me, this is how it would sound. Amazing.
As it turned out, it was (We Want) the Same Thing that wrangled those pesky runaway horses, becoming an unexpectedly huge hit in the UK and reinvigorating the album, leading to a further (though at no.23 not as big as it deserved) hit with what is anecdotally everyone’s favourite Belinda song, Summer Rain. At this point we were into 1991 and Runaway Horses had been mined for six singles – and yet someone at Virgin in the UK decided there was room for a seventh. This may seem excessive, but actually there was room – just not a re-issue of Vision of You (which peaked 30 places lower than its first outing at no.71). Considering that someone actually did do a sparkling remix of Valentine, this would have been the perfect way to round off a slightly awkward, but ultimately brilliant era.
As we all know, mainstream America really lost interest in Belinda after Runaway Horses, but here in the UK we remained fiercely loyal and she remained quite the chart force right up until 1996. She can still fill a concert hall here and deliver an astounding performance – I last saw her at Indigo at the O2 a couple of years ago and she performed a hit-packed set with almost every single you’d want to hear. I’d Tweeted a couple of weeks prior to the concert begging her to do Valentine – and because we’re best friends, she did! The crowd, of course, went wild for it.
Entered chart: was not released
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Perhaps oddly, I can hear Ella Henderson doing this and doing it VERY WELL INDEED. But not, I urge her, in a stripped-back, Live Lounge sort of a way. Big and ballsy please.