In honor of Bette Midler’s birthday, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite Bette songs. You won’t find Wind Beneath My Wings or The Rose on this list. They’re both great tunes, but we’ve all heard them a million times. Instead, I’d like to share some of the lesser known, but equally good tracks.
I didn’t really pay attention to Bette until I heard a radio interview sometime in 1980. I was a lost fifteen year old. I had few friends because I had no social skills. During this interview she recited the following quote…
“What’s underneath the mask isn’t as important as the mask that you choose to wear. That’s the true indication of your imagination and your spirit.”
That quote gave me the courage to be the person I wanted to be. I started making new friends, I got my first part-time, after school job, and a year later I came out. Surprise! 😉
My unofficial introduction to Bette Midler was her 1972 remake of Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Want To Dance”, which appeared on her debut album, “The Divine Miss M”. The slower tempo gives it a more sultry feel than the original. It wasn’t until I was much older that I understood the deeper sexual themes of Bette’s version. It remains a favorite.
The third cut on Bette’s debut album, which also includes a beautiful cover of the Ethel Waters standard “Am I Blue”, is a percussion heavy, 1960s style rock/soul tune called “Daytime Hustler”. It’s the style of song you’d expect to hear from an artist like Tina Turner. With lyrics like, “Fancy money doesn’t buy my love. Flashy Cadillacs won’t make me f❇k. I’ve been hustled by the best of them, and you ain’t nothing but a crazy, crazy man…” It’s a fun song.
“Skylark”, from Bette’s 1973 self titled second album, is probably the most under-appreciated interpretation of the 1941 Johnny Mercer/ Hoagy Carmichael American pop classic. According to wikipedia, The yearning expressed in the lyrics is Mercer’s longing for Judy Garland, with whom Mercer had an affair.
On the other end of the spectrum from Skylark, is “Breaking up somebody’s home”, also from Bette’s second album. This is one of those little known gems that got buried in the past. It’s bluesy, raw, and more than a little bit sexy. You probably won’t hear this song at a wedding reception. …at least I hope not.
Bette’s fifth album, Thighs and Whispers (1979) contains her disco hits “Big Noise From Winnetka” and “Married Men” and a decent cover of Johnny Bristol’s “Hang on in There Baby”. Although “My Knight in Black Leather” did well in gay clubs, it never became anything more than a camp classic.
The real gems from her fifth album were “Cradle Days” and her beautiful, sad cover of James Taylor’s “Millworker”
“Cradle days” is an aching plea to first love. We’ve all been there. Bette’s voice is powerful in this emotional rock ballad. It’s my favorite tune on that album.
From Bette’s little known fourth album, the one that nobody bought, called Broken Blossom, came “Empty Bed Blues“, “Paradise“, and a really cool duet with Tom Waits called “I Never Talk To Strangers.”
The economy of 1970s was pretty much as it is today. Bette’s aptly named Songs For The New Depression contains a campy cover of “Marahuana” — originally sung by Gertrude Michael in the pre-code “Murder at the Vanities” (1934)
Bette was sick during the filming of Divine Madness, You can hear it in her voice. But the cameras, lighting and sound equipment were already paid for and the auditorium was booked. Canceling production would have cost millions. So they pumped her up with Vitamin C and sent her on stage. Yet, in my opinion, the Divine Madness performance of “Stay With Me Baby” is the best.
Happy Birthday Bette!