Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Look for an ascot, a big cigar..



Eartha Kitt - Where Is My Man (1983, Able)
Eartha Kitt - Where Is My Man (Instrumental) (1983, Able)

A little something before I get on with the final part of the Grace Jones post..

As anyone whose payed attention to the news lately must know, the legendary Eartha Kitt passed away this Christmas, at the age of 81. I just borrowed her 1989 autobiography "I'm Still Here" at the Public Library. So far, I'm still only at the beginning, but what a life she packed into those 81 years. Barring any requisite showbiz mythmaking, I don't doubt the obstacles and the desperate circumstances she had to claw out of to get to where she was. While all the tributes were pouring in all over the news, I couldn't help but pull out some of my records and take a listen to her mid-80's disco hits..

I had been introduced to them around three years ago, before YouTube really took off, after downloading a video of her performing "Where Is My Man." After that, I just had to have a copy for myself.. Prior to that, I had seen copies of the singles and her album "I Love Men" (1984, Able) in used shops many times before. It undoubtedly piqued my curiosity, but until that time though, I don't think I ever really had the nerve to pick any of them up..

Equal parts campy and catchy, "Where Is My Man," was the single which helmed her musical comeback at the time. Produced by Jacques Morali, top purveyor of disco camp and quality (see The Village People, The Ritchie Family, Phylicia Allen, Dennis Parker etc.) and credited to Morali, comedy writer Bruce Vilanch, and musician Fred Zarr, this seemed like a second moment for both Eartha and Jacques after their respective dry spells..

As an aside, although there isn't much mention of him, one of the song's co-writers, Fred Zarr, appears to have been one of Jacques Morali's main collaborators around this time, having been credit on almost everything he released around this time.. Given his credits and his apparent synth wizardry, I'd venture to guess that he was a large part of Morali's energized sound in the early/mid 80's. In a little bit of disco trivia, aside from his high profile gigs for Madonna, Whitney Houston, Debbie Gibson etc.. Zarr was also involved as a co-producer in a lot of the somewhat shady Began Cekic records of the early 1980's.

Back to the record though - a song that brings images of the Dallas/Dynasty 1980's and old Hollywood types (Zsa Zsa Gabor and her "love or money - why not both?" philosphy comes to mind), the meeting of Eartha, Vilanch and Morali couldn't have been a better recipe for instant camp. The combination of Vilanch's hilarious lyrics, the production combining old school disco finesse (those string highlights) with those catchy guitar hooks and of course Eartha's performance put it right over the top.. Complete with signature feline growl right at the beginning, she camps it up spectacularly, with a little wink or two, simultaneously paying tribute and poking fun at her image. I suppose they didn't call her the "original material girl" for nothing..

A big leopard printed 80's fantasy dripping with Diamonds and Champagne, the video is a classic, too.



Eartha Kitt - Where Is My Man (Official Video)
Uploaded by earthakitt


My favourite line in the song (not in the video, sadly), has to be in a little section toward the end. Her drawn out phrasing and the little dose of innuendo is classic: "I want.. a billionaire.. with a big, big.... big.. BIG......yacht!.. Who can take me to....Monte Carlo... Saint Tropez... and eventually..... Tiffany!"

Bruce Vilanch himself wrote a great little article in The Huffington Post about his meeting with Eartha and how "Where Is My Man" (and those lyrics, no less) came about:

"In another pocket of his existence, Jacques annually created a score for the Crazy Horse show in Paris. Spectacular showgirls lip-synched the English lyrics as well as spectacular showgirls could to an audience of non-English speakers who had about as much interest in the lyrics as Lorenz Hart might have had in the showgirls. Armed with this knowledge, Jacques asked me to write a lyric to one of his disco tunes. And he had another reason. 'The girrrrl will be lap-sinking to Eartha Kitt. And zo the lyrics need to be special.' Will she be doing an Eartha Kitt impression? 'Don't be bizarre. It is not a drag show. Eartha is sitting on a hill in Connecticut, not working. She will record this one thing.' The song was called 'Where is My Man?' It's about Eartha and her endless search for a soul-mate who never met Bernard Madoff.

I sent the lyrics to Eartha. A day later, she called. 'Brrrrruce, my love. Where have you been since 1952? This is so, so Eartha. But listen, I've never done this disco music before, so you must make a recording of this just the way you want me to phrase it so we get the maximum Eartha out of it.' If I didn't know that Ashton Kutcher had not yet been born, I would assume I was punked. Moi, teach Eartha Kitt how to phrase? Naturally, I fired off the cassette, which prompted another call from Eartha, threatening to sue me into the next world if I ever dressed up like Jim Bailey and did her act. She then went to New York and recorded the song with Jacques. During the session, they called. There was a long dance break on the record and Jacques felt she should cover it with something, something Eartha-esque. I dragged out my best trans-continental Eartha and purred, 'I want a man...with a big...big...big...big.....big....yacht.' Notice I resisted dinghy. And please enter it into the record. They loved the song at the Crazy Horse, Jacques and his business partner Henri Belolo released the song as a single, it became a gigantic dance record all over the world, I got to tip several people lavishly, and suddenly Eartha was Back.
"

Although it was largely a club hit in the US, it seems like it had hit the pop charts in parts of Europe (Number 5 in Sweden, apparently), judging from the TV appearances she made and from what others have said. Strangely, the single version of the song wasn't included (at least not on my pressing, or any of the ones I've found) of her "I Love Men" album from the following year. It was replaced, instead by a 10 minute Megamix version, which judging from the track timings, makes me wonder if it bears any relation to the Hot Tracks East-West Remix.

I skimmed through Eartha's autobiography for a little something more on this period in her career, and the few morsels that I did find were not exactly positive. As of the publishing of her book, she claimed, in an all too common music industry grievance, that she never got paid properly for the records she made under the auspices of Morali & Belolo:

"...At the end of Timbuktu I found myself scrounging again. An offer here, an offer there - Australia, England, or a few places in America. And no recording contract could be obtained anywhere.

Jacques Morali came along and offered me a contract to make a disco record. He and Bruce Vilanch wrote "Where Is My Man" which became a gold record in Sweden. (I did not know this until I walked into the office of Scorpio Records in Paris where I saw it hanging on the wall of Henri Belolo's office.) The album, I am told, especially 'Where Is My Man?' was a huge success, but no royalties were paid to me in the four years we worked together. I didn't enjoy making the record, but at least I was in the charts again, riding back into popularity, which I am extremely grateful for..
" (pgs 345-6)

I suppose, for her, it was a career opportunity she couldn't really refuse at the time.. Whatever her misgivings, "Where Is My Man" and the singles and album that followed have gone down as dance classics, especially within the gay community. For many, "Where Is My Man" will comfortably sit alongside the likes of "Santa Baby" or " C'est Si Bon" as emblematic of her style and appeal as anything else she'd ever done..

To end things off, I had to include this video - the same one that I had downloaded three years ago. Eartha performing "Where Is My Man" on the German program Musikladen, teasing the poor fellow in the front.. Notice how she forgets to 'sing' into her microphone at 1.55 and 1.58



Eartha Kitt - Where Is My Man (Musikladen)
Uploaded by fritz51333


PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #11: PHYLICIA ALLEN - JOSEPHINE SUPERSTAR (1978, CASABLANCA) (FRIDAY MARCH 17, 2006)
THE FUGITIVE COP (WEDNESDAY MARCH 8, 2006)

LINKS:
EARTHA KITT FAN CLUB
EARTHA KITT @ DISCOGS
EARTHA KITT - WHERE IS MY MAN 12'' @ DISCOGS
EARTHA KITT - WHERE IS MY MAN @ WIKIPEDIA
QUEERTY - EARTHA KITT: HERE'S TO A LIFE (BY JAPHY GRANT) (MONDAY DECEMBER 29. 2008)
THE HUFFINGTON POST - EARTHA KITT: MY ENCOUNTER WITH A LEGEND (BY BRUCE VILANCH) (FRIDAY DECEMBER 26, 2008)
GUARDIAN - OBITUARY: EARTHA KITT (BY ADRIAN JACK) (FRIDAY DECEMBER 26, 2008)
BBC NEWS - OBITUARY: EARTHA KITT (THURSDAY DECEMBER 25, 2008)
PHILADELPHIA CITYPAPER - 20 QUESTIONS: EARTHA KITT (BY A.D. AMOROSI) (FEBRUARY 27-MARCH 6, 1997)

CATEGORIES: MINI DELIVERIES, IN MEMORIAM.., VISUAL DISCO, DISCO NEWS

6 comments:

Mario said...

Your posts are so interesting and your knowledge is beyond. The style in which you present the posts are most eloquent and always with flair.
thanks to you I've discovered disco from another perspective and it truly does take me where I wanna be <<<<.....>>>> m*

osses said...

Hey Tommy,remember Etta from film with Eddie Murphy?Boomerang or sth?Funny.Personaly i don't like this number so much..I cannot stand her voice here.Nice post as always though.big up from Poland!

Reavis Eitel said...

Been reading yur blog and love it! Put it in my blog under my list of fave blogs! Happy New Year! -Reavis
http://reaviseitel.blogspot.com/

Tommy said...

Mario - Thanks for the kind comments. Glad you enjoy the blog, it's much appreciated! :)

Osses - Yeah, I remember Boomerang lol.. I actually saw it on YouTube. Someone posted the entire movie there (not sure if it's there anymore). Between Eartha and Grace Jones, I really have to get a copy for myself. As much as I enjoy her disco records with Morali, I do have to admit, I think her voice sounded better on her older hits than than it did here..

Reavis - Glad you like the blog! Thanks for adding me to your links. I've been enjoying your blog as well, so I've linked you back here as well. :)

Lady Blacktronika said...

I can't believe she's passed. Thanks for your extensive post. I miss hearing form you. How are you?

Tommy said...

Hey Lady B. No problem, thanks for the comment! I've been laying a bit low, but otherwise I'm doing fine :) See you on DnD!

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