The 90's US One-Hit Wonders Rate: I got 99 problems but a #11 ain't one | Page 61 | The Popjustice Forum

The 90's US One-Hit Wonders Rate: I got 99 problems but a #11 ain't one

Discussion in 'Charts, rates etc' started by Ironheade, Nov 12, 2018.

  1. Heard Would I Lie to You? in the grocery store last night...happy to report it’s still THAT JAM. RIP. Get taste people.
  2. Alright, so we're at the stage of the competition where people's 11's will start to drop a lot more regularly, unfortunately.

    Too bad that this one's a twofer. And it was a candidate for mine, too...


    Average score: 7.758
    Highest scorees: 2 x 11 (@CorgiCorgiCorgi , @ModeRed ); 8 x 10 (@Ironheade , @soratami , @pop3blow2 , @Filippa , @unnameable , @Andy French , @CasuallyCrazed , @Blond )
    Lowest scores: 1 x 2 (@Ana Raquel )

    Chart positions: #44 Hot 100, #38 Radio Songs, #19 Mainstream Top 40, #3 Modern Rock
    Year-End Hot 100: N/A

    Who? Oh yeah, them...

    There is something to be said for those who can get an intimate, atmospheric slow-burning ballad nailed properly. When it is done correctly, it can be one of the most transcendent musical experiences it is possible to have. Unfortunately, though, the indie rock scene is currently overrun with teeth-grindingly slow and unadorned music that aims for “dreamy” but lands on “bored”, sung by vocalists who sound like they're wondering what to have for lunch. Poor dears. They really ought to look back to their foremothers in Mazzy Star with “Fade Into You”, to see how to do this sort of thing properly. But just as Mazzy Star faded into the world of the mainstream, they quickly faded out of it. Not deservedly so, of course – but before the hit, we've got over a decade to go backwards...

    Side note, I've always loved the name "Hope Sandoval". It is euphonious, so it is.

    Just like the last elimination, the story of Mazzy Star begins with one of the major alternative scenes of the very early 80's, with irrevocable ties to a certain geographical location. But this particular scene was rather less diffident and bristling than the shy retiring Sound of Young Scotland that Orange Juice represented. Rather, it was the Paisley Underground, the movement of poppy psychedelic-tinged garage rock that came out of Southern California as a retro 60's throwback. While the Bangles became mainstream stars out of their Paisley Underground roots, and Prince ended up naming his Paisley Park label after it, the rest of the bands would be restricted to underground success, though they proved very influential in future. One of the core bands of the movement was Rain Parade, founded in Los Angeles in 1981, who essentially played a sort of relaxed and dreamy psychedelic jangle-pop. And they are absolutely another band, much like... y'know... EVERYTHING ELSE 80's college rock related, that you really ought to check out. They're very reminiscent of The Church in spots, and you guys probably know by now that that's one of my favourite bands. For any fan of the early college-rock underground, their 1983 debut album Emergency Third Rail Power Trip (great title, by the way) should be essential listening. However, after that album, lead guitarist and co-lead vocalist David Roback split off to form a new band. Originally named Clay Allison, and featuring his then girlfriend Kendra Smith (formerly the bassist of fellow Paisley Underground linchpins Dream Syndicate) on lead vocals, Roback's new project put out two EP's, before changing their name to Opal.

    95 of the luftballons appear to be missing in action.

    Happy Nightmare Baby, the sole full-length album they put out on Rough Trade under that name in 1987, is a rather strange beast. It's trippy and organ-heavy, like a vision of the drugs-and-death 60's and the peace-and-love 60's colliding together at a hundred miles an hour, topped off by Kendra Smith's vocals, which are so nonchalant as to border on somnolent. An odd mixture of the dreamy and overwhelming, Happy Nightmare Baby is nevertheless very much worth a listen, as it's one of the more successful invocations of two decades past to come along in the 1980's, along with the aforementioned Church of course. It's interesting to consider how the Opal project might have developed over time, probably in a rather different direction to Mazzy Star, but sadly it was not to be. Kendra Smith quit Opal in murky circumstances (the usual story appears to be that she didn't want to be an on-stage “frontwoman” any more – she would go on to release two solo albums in the mid-90's before falling off the map altogether), while they were in the middle of a European tour supporting The Jesus & Mary Chain. Roback suddenly found himself in need of a replacement vocalist, and she came in the form of Hope Sandoval, who was one half of a folk duo called Going Home with her high school friend Michelle Gomez. Apparently they were huge fans of Rain Parade and Opal, passed on a demo tape to Roback backstage, and it was all fixed up in short order. They finished up the tour with The Jesus & Mary Chain, and Roback and Sandoval continued to tour together as Opal for the next two years.

    This album cover kind of weirds me out, and I have no idea why.

    As Opal were still contractually obligated to deliver a new album to Rough Trade, they began work on one in 1989, under the title of Ghost Highway. However, Sandoval ended up finding herself dissatisfied with the songs they were working on; this may have had something to do with the fact that most of the material was old, having been co-written by Roback and Kendra Smith around the same time as Happy Nightmare Baby, and Sandoval wanted to work on something new. They ended up quickly throwing together a set of new songs – and, to reflect this fresh start, they changed the band's name to Mazzy Star. Sandoval and Roback would always remain the core of the band, though they have several longtime supporting personnel (drummer Keith Mitchell and keyboardist Suki Ewers have both appeared on all of their full-length albums). And while both Rain Parade and Opal had been fairly popular in college-rock circles, particularly the former, it was as Mazzy Star that they would find wider acceptance in the mainstream.

    The newly recorded songs ultimately became Mazzy Star's debut album She Hangs Brightly, which Rough Trade put out in 1990. (The song “Ghost Highway” still made the album, as a reminder of what could have been for them.) They shucked most of the more overt psychedelic influences of Opal, instead moving into the dream-pop genre – Sandoval's distant husky vocals and Roback's atmospheric, minimal guitar and keyboard work and a layer of ethereal reverb were the core elements of their sound, combined with subtle but noticeable blues and folk influences. And even working in one of the poppier indie rock genres, Mazzy Star's desolate, detached feel and languid melancholia concealed a trickier, artsier edge. The album's promoted single, for example, was “Blue Flower”, a cover of a song by German art-rock band Slapp Happy – an act that later went on to merge with avant-prog legends Henry Cow. With these unusual intricacies, it's perhaps unsurprising that the mainstream of 1990, a time when pop music was about as polished and plastic as it's ever been, failed to bite. “Blue Flower” reached a hardly stellar #29 on the Modern Rock chart and failed to cross over to the Hot 100. But it was critically acclaimed, and established Mazzy Star alongside the Cocteau Twins and Julee Cruise as leading lights of dream pop. (We even get an OHW CROSSOVER of sorts – like the Butthole Surfers' first EP, Kurt Cobain listed She Hangs Brightly as one of his fifty favourite albums of all time.)

    A few less naked shitting dancers involved here, though.

    It seemed, then, that Mazzy Star were never to become crossover artists under any guise. And to make matters worse, the American arm of Rough Trade went under in 1990, leaving Mazzy Star without a record deal. But this was the time when the major labels were only just beginning to capitalize on the commercial potential of alternative rock, and Capitol swooped in to pick up Mazzy Star's contract within weeks, re-releasing She Hangs Brightly in November. While it found no more commercial success than they had had with Rough Trade, Mazzy Star were critically acclaimed among alternative rock fans and got an American tour slot opening for their dream-pop forefathers the Cocteau Twins, so by the time the musical climate had changed to be more amenable to alternative rock, the stage was set for them when they followed up with So Tonight That I Might See in 1994 (which was a little less riffy than She Hangs Brightly, but otherwis in a similar country-blues dream-pop vein). Clearly, Capitol thought that despite a previous lack of commercial success, there was something there that radios would like, as they really latched onto the main single from the album. They pushed “Fade Into You” at radio for nine months, an unusually generous promotional cycle for a band with no proven prior success working in such a usually uncommercial genre as dream pop. But it paid off, as thanks to the sheer tenacity of the promotional strategy, it eventually began drifting onto the pop stations as well as the rock stations. By April of 1995, So Tonight That I Might See had gone platinum for selling a million copies – all thanks to this one little song that could.


    So what do I think?


    You know, the feeling of falling in love – the pure clean bliss – is perhaps one of the most difficult to capture in a song. Many have tried of course, but those happy few who succeed with true flying colours will always ascend to the status of legends. And so it was with two songs in this rate: “There She Goes”, and now “Fade Into You”. Hope Sandoval's gentle, warmly husky voice is a perfect instrument, and right from the very first word, her delicously accented smokiness sounds so intimate that she might as well be right there in the room. Her poetic lyrics, packing a lot into just a few simple words (not quite the brutally efficient economy of Lee Mavers, but the effort is appreciated), help her a lot too – but then again she doesn't particularly need them. Listen to the way she draws out the word “you”, just the word “you”, and it is an enthralling portrait of wistful desire and longing in itself. The acoustic guitar and piano, a few shakes of tambourine coming in at key moments to accentuate a chorus such that “Fade Into You” never feels like a simple and directionless drift along a flat plain, are both gorgeous. It feels like looking over the plains of the American west in the times just before the rain come, dusty and, yet with an electric sense of anticipation in the air, hopes and fears tied together so intimately that one no longer knows which is which. But as the acoustic strums mostly give way to a gentle rainfall of piano chords on the chorus, the answer can be found, and while I'm not sure quite what it is, it's a satisfying one either way. David Roback's slide guitar technique, his clean and unembellished melodic lines that have something of the character of a steel guitar, definitely has something of the Ry Cooder about it, and that of course is no bad thing, not when it results in bent notes that sound this poetic, so truly heavenly, like they're catching you in their graceful arc and lifting you up to the skies. That slide guitar break is perhaps the greatest instrumental moment of this rate, and thus it is no surprise that those moments where a single ghostly lead guitar note punctuates the verses are always so memorable – all that just from ONE NOTE! And, really, if that's the kind of facility you have with composition, you kind of have to get a 10 from me. The fact that “Fade Into You” remains one of the most heartbreakingly tender and intimate and achingly beautiful compositions in 90's alternative, even right down to the fade (as much a thing of beauty as one might expect from the title, Hope's tender croon and David's sighing guitar bends drifting off into a sleepy nothingness), is almost incidental.


    Where Are They Now?™

    Capitol made a rather strange choice with Mazzy Star's follow-up single, as it was not a song from So Tonight That I Might See... or, indeed, any song at all. In fact, promotion for that album more or less began and ended with “Fade Into You” and its doggedly tenacious radio-push cycle, and no further singles came out from it after it ended its chart run. This was partially because people had latched onto “Halah” from She Hangs Brightly, despite even the re-release of that album being over four years old by the time “Fade Into You” finished its chart run, and that it hadn't recharted or anything in the wake of the success of So Tonight That I Might See. Nevertheless, “Halah” wasn't a total failure on rock radio, as it reached #19 on the Modern Rock chart, albeit it did not cross over to the Hot 100 the way “Fade Into You” had – unsurprising, as its rock-radio charting was purely from unsolicited airplay, and not any intentional pushing from Capitol. In fact, it never saw official release as a single at any point! And there was no more of a push to be found on the part of Mazzy Star themselves, either, as they were both the sort of anti-stars in which the 90's underground specialised. Sandoval's shy and reclusive nature and dislike of the spotlight was well-known; on stage, then as now, she would perform in almost total darkness with only a dim backlight, and with almost no interaction with the audience, as a method of dealing with chronic stage fright. Roback was certainly no more of a forward personality, as even back in the Paisley Underground days, he was known for being quiet and reserved. Rock stardom was clearly never the goal for either of these two. Which is good for them, because they didn't get it.

    One tends to have trouble getting among 2D objects.

    By the time their follow-up, the comparatively austere folky slowcore of Among My Swan, emerged in 1996, alternative rock radio had become a very different environment. The post-grunge movement had more or less codified what the sound of “mainstream” alternative rock would be, and the female presence on alternative radio would come in the form of the slicker and poppier Lilith Fair singer-songwriters. There was little place for a subdued dream-pop act like Mazzy Star any more. The album's sole single “Flowers in December” completely tanked in the US, though it did reach #40 in the UK, eight spots higher than “Fade Into You” had managed, becoming their only Top 40 single on any chart. Following the album's tour, Mazzy Star got back to work on a new album, but they ended up asking Capitol for a release from their contract, chafing at the idea that they were to follow up “Fade Into You” with a commercial success that would sell millions of records, and disliking the heavy-handed way the executives were pushing for it. But they got their release, and with that, they put the project to bed for a good long while. (Because Record Labels Are Sometimes Not Dicks.)

    Mazzy Star never officially broke up as far as I can tell, but it took them twelve years to note that they were back together, and another half-decade after that for any new music to appear. So what exactly happened? Well, given the immaculate arrangements of Mazzy Star's music, one might be forgiven for assuming that this was another case of Lee Mavers style perfectionism, labouring over tracks for hours on end and tinkering with every little detail until they were sure it was exactly right. That, however, could not be further from the truth. Recordings actually proceeded in a very occasional way over the course of almost two decades. It is apparent, from the comments that both Sandoval and Roback made in an interview with Uncut I found from 2013, that they had just been recording almost for the sake of it, and had not necessarily thought about making it into an actual album:

    So what exactly did they do to occupy themselves in the meantime? Quite a bit, though it was generally at the same relaxed pace as they worked on-and-off on Mazzy Star's fourth record. Sandoval formed a solo project called Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions, alongside My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm O Ciosoig. Their debut album Bavarian Fruit Bread came out on Sanctuary Records in 2001; a second, Through the Devil Softly, came out on Nettwerk in 2009. Both albums were critically acclaimed in indie circles, and any fan of Mazzy Star and “Fade Into You” should enjoy them, as they're not too far away. She also racked up quite a number of featuring credits with other artists, among them The Jesus & Mary Chain (“Sometimes Always”), The Chemical Brothers (“Asleep from Day”), and Death in Vegas (“Killing Smile”). Arguably her most prominent appearance was on what is arguably Massive Attack's most famous latter-day track, “Paradise Circus”, in 2010, as well as their non-album single “Four Walls” (a previously unreleased track given a new mix by Burial) the next year. Meanwhile, Roback kept a somewhat lower profile: he first worked as a producer on some tracks for Beth Orton in the late 90's, then moved to Norway, where he pursued a career making experimental music for sound-art installations. He also made an acting appearance as himself in the 2004 indie movie Clean, for which he also wrote the three songs that Maggie Cheung's character performs in the film. And all the while, Mazzy Star remained revered as one of the leading lights of dream pop. “Into Dust”, a track from So Tonight That I Might See, even managed to make the lower reaches of the UK singles chart twice – once in 2009 when it was featured in a commercial for Virgin Media, and again two years later after a placement in one of the trailers for Gears of War 3.

    This game fuckin' ruled, by the way. It's hard to make a crappy game when chainsaw bayonets are involved, really.

    The first hints of Mazzy Star's hiatus ending came in 2009, when both Sandoval and Roback mentioned that they had been recording together, but would be delaying putting out any new music until the second Warm Inventions album had seen its release. A single entitled “Common Burn” made its way into the wild in 2011, but the album still continued to be delayed and delayed. Finally, Seasons of Your Day appeared in 2013, after a seventeen-year gap from Among My Swan. The long gestation process was betrayed by the credit for Rain Parade keyboardist Will Glenn – who had passed away in 2001. But was it worth the wait? I'd say so, yeah. It sounds like they haven't skipped a beat since Among My Swan, and the guitar interplay between Roback and the legendary Bert Jansch on “Spoon” is just a really special moment. After that, they went back on hiatus again, during which time Sandoval released a third Warm Inventions album called Until the Hunter in 2016, and also made a third appearance with Massive Attack, contributing to non-album single “The Spoils”.

    Mazzy Star likes two things: purple, and 2D animals.

    She and Roback reunited for their first concert in five years in 2017, performing on three consecutive nights at the festival Vivid Live at Sydney Opera House, and released a new EP entitled The Still in 2018. Sadly, they were the band's first recordings without longtime supporting drummer Keith Mitchell (who had also been a part of Opal), who passed away in 2017, though the cause of his death was not revealed. According to the band, a new Mazzy Star full-length album is in the works, such as it is, but if the previous pattern of both the band's work and Sandoval's solo career is any guide, you can expect to be waiting for it for quite a while. But personally, I don't particularly mind waiting for that. Perfection can't be rushed, after all.


    Manky star
    DominoDancing (6.5): It's sweet. It's dreamy. It's also long. And not so much happens for those 5 minutes.

    Hudweiser (4.5): Nondescript.

    Empty Shoebox (4): Sounds like it should be playing in the background of a seaside establishing shot in a teen programme or film. (I mean, it'd probably work.)

    iheartpoptarts (6): Slow dance song for alternative kids, probably. I wouldn’t know. We pretty much just had K-Ci and JoJo. (What is "slow dancing"?)

    WowWowWowWow (5): Fades into the background compared to some of the other songs on offer, sorrynotsorry. May or may not have been a favorite song of a childhood friend who left my life in negative circumstances, which may or may not have docked it a few points. (Nah, I get you there, I have a few songs like that myself.)

    chanex (5): One of the few songs on this list I don't remember at all, and doesn't that say it all? (...Yes. Yes, it does.)

    'Mazing star
    əʊæ (8): Queen of fisting. (RETHINK THIS.)

    saviodxl (6.5): Sounds a little enigmatic. In a good way though. Great discovery for me!

    berserkboi (9.7): 90s Lana sounds great! (Well, now you mention it...)

    Sprockrooster (9):
    Loving the post-chorus instrumental a lot. Also has a bit of a Lana vibe to it. That is a very good thing. (I dunno, Lana's shtick kinda wore out on me. This, on the other hand, I can never get tired of.)

    4Roses (9): 90's prom song perfection. Those whirling, melting guitar licks just ruin me. (Slide into my ears ANY time, Mr. Roback.)

    yuuurei (8.5): I like this band and Hope's voice quite a bit, but this isn't my favorite of theirs (that'd be Halah). Still, it's a good song. (I can go with that, "Halah" is amazing too!)

    Seventeen Days (8): This was one of those songs that I would hear on occasion in the 90s and didn’t know who it was, but vaguely thought it was good. The more I listen to it these days though, the more I like it. A gorgeous slice of hazy dream pop.

    Auntie Beryl (8.5): Dreamy.

    Ganache (9): So dreamy *sigh* (They'd be a pretty bad dream-pop band if they weren't!)

    Filippa (10): A lovely song.

    Blond (10): This is such a pretty song and very nearly got my 11, but I have a sneaking suspicion it will do just fine anyway. I fucking love female pop rock and this is right up my street. Also here is Kelly singing it just because…

    (I approve this message. - Ed.)

    DJHazey (9.5): A new listen for me and what a discovery. This is simply magical.

    CasuallyCrazed (10): My go to sad bath song. (I prefer the "waking up in the morning" music from Neon Genesis Evangelion. If you don't know act like you know.)

    unnameable (10): I adored Hope Sandoval’s voice, and have exquisite memories to the album this is from. (Yeah, the whole thing's just about as good as "Fade Into You". BUY IT NOW, on iTunes or otherwise.)

    Andy French (10): Absolutely transcendent.

    pop3blow2 (10): Gawd. At this is just remains one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. I’m so glad it was included in this rate, because even though it didn’t go top 40, it’s quietly one of the most influential songs of all time. I hear Mazzy Star in so many many current artists : Vanessa, Kacey, Lana, Taylor, Lykke, & more. It had such an impact. One of my favorite artists, Emmy The Great even did a nice cover of it a few years back. Its such a hauntingly beautifully mood. A song you’ve heard thousands of time shouldn’t probably still take your breath away, but this does. Hope Sandoval is an enchantress. (See, getting to read commentary like this is what makes rates worth it.)

    ModeRed (11): Such a mellow, soothing song, and I never tire of hearing it. It's seemingly so simple, a basic guitar refrain and Hope singing, almost as if she's not bothered. Bloody gorgeous. Just played it three times whilst rating the list… sure it'll be out by #45. (I have a pleasant surprise for you.)

    CorgiCorgiCorgi (11): Easily one of the most beautiful songs ever made. (And doesn't that just say it all?)
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2019
  3. Now I really want to hear Lana cover it!
  4. You put things so beautifully. *applauds*
  5. Your clue had me worried. I wouldn't have Mazzy Star in my top 40, so they can go with my blessing.
  6. 2014

    2014 Moderator

    I have no recollection of this song.
    DominoDancing likes this.
  7. ...this was still in?

    I'm not mad at it surviving into the Top 20, but I stand by my comments. Cute, but a bit boring and much too long.
  8. Mazzy leaving us at 18? Yes that is better than I thought. Much like the Cocteau Twins too, the more you listen to them/this song the more the atmosphere they generate captivates.

    I do need the solo Hope albums, never got round to picking them up. @Ironheade are they very similar to MS?
    Ironheade and Eric Generic like this.
  9. Hope's work with Massive Attack is absolutely amazing too.
    CorgiCorgiCorgi likes this.
  10. Time for a true confession, and me to overshare....
    As a student at university in the 90s, I had many albums by my favourite female singer-songwriters and some interesting stuff like Mazzy Star on CD. When it came to the night that this shy boy from a sheltered rural upbringing got to lose his V card, the object of my affection turned out to dislike Maria McKee, so I shelved the album "You gotta sin to get saved" and instead put on "So Tonight That I Might See".

    Hope Sandoval literally helped my life change. For me, "Fade Into You" will always be magic
  11. That sounds like a personal problem.

    This should have been top 5.
    Seventeen Days, Aester and Remorque like this.
  12. Mazzy Star's fantastic, so I most definitely underscored by not giving a 10, goddammit.
    pop3blow2, ModeRed, Aester and 3 others like this.
  13. So! Let's get rid of someone else's 11, shall we?

    I'll be in my bunk.



    Average score: 7.864
    Highest scores: 1 x 11 (@Hurricane Drunk ); 11 x 10 (@Hudweiser , @Ana Raquel , @iheartpoptarts , @berserkboi , @Aester , @unnameable , @Andy French , @CasuallyCrazed , @GimmeWork , @4Roses , @Remorque )
    Lowest scores: 1 x 1.3 (@Untouchable Ace )

    Chart positions: #4 Hot 100, #9 Radio Songs, #2 Modern Rock, #35 Mainstream Rock
    Year-End Hot 100: #52 (1991)

    Who? Oh yeah, them...

    So, “I Touch Myself” is a song about masturbating. You know, just in case you didn't quite get that before. It's a tried-and-true method to get yourself in front of the Top 40 audience's eyes, isn't it – a bit of good ol' fashioned sexually explicit provocation? Well, Chrissy Amphlett might have touched herself, but apparently her Divinyls didn't manage to touch the hearts of the American public, as they went away quickly as they came. But, like many a non-American artist in the rate, these Aussies have had quite the run of hits in their home country, and a long and interesting history to be told. Let us return to Australia, then, for the third and final time in this rate, and take a look at one of the country's more interesting acts of the 80's...

    Yeah, fishnets are going to be a bit of a theme in the Divinyls pics in this post.

    Like quite a few bands in this competition, the Divinyls' membership was a bit of a revolving door, with only a couple of members staying consistent throughout the years. In this case, those members were lead vocalist Chrissy Amphlett and lead guitarist Mark McEntee, who first met and got the band together in Sydney in 1980. It was not in the most likely of circumstances – the vector for their union was former Air Supply supporting bassist Jeremy Paul, who had been playing in a band called Batonrouge with Amphlett, and also served as their manager in the early years until he left in 1982. Amphlett was also not the most likely of celebrities: a cousin of 60's Australian pop star Little Pattie, she had left a dysfunctional home as a teenager and bummed around Europe, even being arrested for three months in Spain for busking, before pursuing a theatrical career. And yet, a celebrity she became. It was previous connections from Jeremy Paul's... rather less hip prior gig that got the new band a contract with WEA. And when film director Ken Cameron happened to see them performing in a club, they got the opportunity to provide the EP soundtrack to his film adaptation of Helen Garner's novel Monkey Grip, also appearing in cameo roles as a rock band. The Divinyls were immediately successful out of the gate, and established themselves as one of the biggest names in Australia's burgeoning early alternative rock scene: their debut single “Boys in Town” went all the way to #8 on the ARIA charts in 1981, and the Divinyls would make the Top 40 in Australia five more times before the decade was out.

    Given your one hit, shouldn't that be "Monkey Spank"?

    After Monkey Grip, the Divinyls moved from WEA to Chrysalis Records, releasing their debut LP Desperate in 1983 and following up with What a Life!, in 1985. In the that period, they were basically a new wave band with a slightly harder-rocking power-pop edge to them, somewhat in the same vein as the Pretenders. However, the Divinyls were a somewhat edgier, more experimental band, particularly with Amphlett's sexually aggressive performance persona and slyly humorous lyrics. She was best known for performing in a suitably modified school uniform, and performing lewd acts with an illuminated neon tube in concert; there was always a streak of outright punk aggression running through her, and she was not shy to confront hecklers and troublemaking audience members. Acutely aware that Australia had no female rock stars to speak of, her confrontational persona drew attention from all quarters, and the management of the band soon got wise to the idea that such an outre frontwoman might be able to get them some good publicity abroad. The Divinyls were trying to break through in the States from the beginning, starting with their slot as the opener at the 1983 US Festival. 1985's “Pleasure and Pain” even got some penetration in the US, reaching #76 on the Hot 100 and #12 on Mainstream Rock, and earning itself a bit of play on MTV. This led to What a Life! being given an American release, and the Divinyls getting the opportunity to tour there. Unfortunately, it was not a success, and despite it reaching #5 on the album charts in Australia, Chrysalis Records declared it to be a failure as it had not managed to break the Divinyls internationally.

    What is it with Australian rock stars and school uniforms, anyway?

    This was the first step in the process of the Divinyls sanding quite a few of the edges off their sound, making it more palatable for mass American consumption – though to an extent, that had been happening already. “Pleasure and Pain”, for example, was not a band composition, but came from the pens of professional hitmakers Holly Knight and Mike Chapman. By the time they came out with their third album Temperamental in 1988, their sound had turned a lot more mainstream and poppy compared to the edgier nature of their previous incarnation, with the sexual element on Amphlett's part being rather less confrontational than it had been previously, though it was still definitely more explicit than what was the norm for a woman in popular music at the time. Their image, too, had turned rather more glamorous than the punky school-uniform-and-fishnets look that they had had previously. Unfortunately for them, Temperamental failed to produce any American charting singles, and didn't even sell as well as their previous two had done back home in Australia, just falling short of the Top 10. Chrysalis had declared it a “make or break” album for the Divinyls, and it had failed to make them in the States, so that was it – they were dropped, Because Record Labels Are Dicks.

    Uh, Mark? Might wanna do something about that headcrab...

    But, as is so often the case in this rate, the Divinyls' one hit was soon to come in on the back of a second chance: they were picked up by Virgin Records, who put out their self-titled album in 1991. The band, by now, had been reduced to just Amphlett and McEntee, supported by session musicians. The two had been in an on-off relationship since 1982, and it was always volatile, marred by drug and alcohol abuse and, at times, near-constant fighting that would sometimes turn physical. The seeds for the band's destruction had already been sown, but for now, they were both on the same page. By all appearances, they were certainly chasing after that golden snipe with the self-titled, looking for that big international crossover rather than just being confined to local stardom. The record executives even referred to Amphlett at the time as “the next Madonna”. And funnily enough, the song that broke them big in the States was co-written by Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, the songwriters of “Like a Virgin”. But, y'know, even though it sounds odd, I can sort of see where they might have been coming from. After all, Madonna is an artist who has often been known for her sexually provocative music, and rarely more so than in the early 90's, the period of “Justify My Love” and the Erotica album. As you may well have predicted, “I Touch Myself” raised the hackles of the world's Mary Whitehouses, who protested the blanket airplay that MTV was giving to the video. But, of course, such protests never seem to hurt the commercial success of those targeted, and indeed they can be a great help. They certainly were in this case...

    So what do I think?


    Don't get me wrong, I do like “I Touch Myself”... but I just can't quite shake the feeling that, while it's a good solid pop-rock tune to be certain, it doesn't really have all that much going for it beyond its, er, provocative premise. Well, no, that's unfair. While a song this explicit and literal could come across as cringeworthy in less assured hands than those of Chrissy Amphlett, she is exactly the sort of singer you would want for something like this. Her slightly nasal, coolly sultry singing strikes just the proper balance between the seductive and flirtatious element of the lyric and a more submissive angle (“I forget myself, I want you to remind me”), and she approaches it with a cheeky grin and a wink of the eye that lets you know it's all just a bit of fun. Musically, however, “I Touch Myself” is much more of a mixed bag. The chugging bass and organ lead-in is surprisingly cool and tense, and the main guitar part, with its prowling distorted underlay holding up a jaunty clean strummed figure, is a nice catchy underpinning to Amphlett's vocal. I also appreciate that they do some interesting things with structure, by putting the bridge after the first chorus, and then give us another bridge later in the song anyway, with both stripping the guitars back a bit and letting that light-handed groove just roll. (Chrissy's vocal interjections in the later bridge are pretty damn nice too.) The guitar solo, however, is a peculiarly underwhelming bit of aimless twanging, and the production is also of that odd variety that only seemed to exist in mainstream rock of the very early 90's, and that I don't care for much – it's holding onto 80's traits like the heavy gated reverb on the drums and the super-clean chorusy clean guitars, which make it sound a bit antiseptic and overpolished, yet it's trying to go for more of a “rootsy” and “gritty” feel with some of the guitar tones, a rather queasy mixture. That production hurts the song quite a bit, but overall, “I Touch Myself” comes out more good than bad in the musical department. It might be resting on its laurels of its premise a bit too much, but it can still hold its own pretty decently.

    Also, this. Sweet dreams.

    Where Are They Now?™

    So, the Divinyls had got themselves into the American mainstream, and their first hit had won them a reputation as sexually-oriented provocateurs. The thing is, that's the sort of promotional tactic you can only work for so long: eventually, all possible monocles have been popped, and the world gets tired of you. The Divinyls' immediate follow-up “Love School” definitely tried to play up to that angle, particularly in the video, but it seemed that the trick was something the Americans only wanted once, as the song failed to chart. The album's campaign was rounded off by “Make Out Alright”, which actually did make the Mainstream Rock chart at #19, but it didn't make it to the Hot 100. As a matter of fact, none of the album's other singles made it to the Top 40 in Australia either, despite “I Touch Myself” having been a smash number one hit. This was not through any musical fault of their own, but because the sands were shifting beneath their feet. Like a lot of acts who got big in 1990 and 1991, the Divinyls were stuck in an awkward position, as the entire shape of pop and rock music was about to change radically and leave the entire old guard in the dust. Their next American release was a 1993 compilation called The Collection, which contained a handful of new singles which were all covers, as well as a hodge-podge of tracks from the self-titled album, new versions of their previous Australian hits, and even some live cuts. Needless to say, it didn't exactly set the charts on fire. (One of those covers was from the soundtrack of the Super Mario Bros movie. Yeah, the "I Touch Myself" band and Mario. The early 90's were weird.)

    Very, very weird.

    The Divinyls' official follow-up album Underworld didn't come out until 1996, and by then with the long gap and the total shift of musical climate that had happened in the meantime, there was no chance of scoring another hit in the States and little enough of a chance in Australia. The lead single “I'm Jealous” charted at #14, but none of the other singles got anywhere close to the Top 40. They were a band on borrowed time as it was, anyway. The creation process for Underworld had been chaotic, partly due to producer troubles – they had started work on it with Keith Forsey behind the board, but abandoned him in favour of self-producing after deriding his mixes as too slick, as well as bringing in Peter Collins for one song - and partly due to inter-personnel ructions. Amphlett and McEntee's on-off relationship had moved permanently to “off” in 1993, and the work environment in the band had long since turned toxic, with the two barely able to tolerate one another. Amphlett was also abusing alcohol pretty heavily at that time, which put a further strain on things. By the end of the year, they had dissolved the Divinyls after one final major falling-out.

    Amphlett returned to the theatrical career that she had pursued in the early days of the Divinyls, with her biggest star turn being in 1998, when she played Judy Garland in the Australian production of The Boy from Oz. Meanwhile, McEntee and his partner Melanie Greensmith ran a fashion company called Wheels & Dollbaby. It wasn't quite the end for the band though, as in 2006, Amphlett and McEntee would reconcile and get the Divinyls back together for a presumed one-off performance at their induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame. (An induction performed by Hugh Jackman, no less!) Following this, they declared the band permanently reformed, went on tour across Australia, and put out a new Greatest Hits album. They said that they would put out a new album provided that they “survived” their reunion tour, and released a new single entitled “Don't Wanna Do This” in 2007. However, in 2009, Amphlett would say exactly that, announcing the Divinyls to be over again. This may partially have been down to her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, which she had revealed to the public two years previously. She had also clearly not been enjoying their reunion tour, and was candid about that fact. However, Amphlett was not willing to let her health slow her down, and said that she would be working on solo music with a new band in New York.

    However, said solo music would never appear, and it was due to perhaps one of the most tragic reasons possible. Amphlett was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, and could not receive chemotherapy for it because of her MS. After a protracted and painful struggle with the disease, she passed away in 2013, at the age of 53. The following year, a group of Australian female artists got together and did a cover of “I Touch Myself” to raise funds for breast cancer. You know, as in touching your breasts to check for lumps. (I really can't decide if that's genius or absurd.) McEntee and a new lineup performed a one-off Divinyls show in Perth in 2017, and the next year, he made a statement that there would be a tour from another new lineup in 2018. Needless to say, that attracted quite a bit of backlash from fans, as well as from Amphlett's widower Charley Drayton (the drummer on the band's final two albums). The tour ended up being cancelled, and that was probably for the best. I mean, there's some bands who can survive the loss of their face, but I don't think the Divinyls are one of them. Gotta say, that's some pretty suspect judgement on your part, Mr. McEntee...

    An icon of Australian rock. RIP.


    What a load of wank
    Untouchable Ace (1.3): Those vocal ticks and licks are too exaggerated and forced for me.

    əʊæ (5): Not totally awful, but a bit boring. (Fits the subject matter then, I guess.)

    DJHazey (6.5): The opening to the chorus still hits hard enough, I guess, but it's definitely more of a lackluster experience than I remember.

    Filippa (5): Too much information for me ladies! (And it'll make you go blind, too!)

    She bop
    Empty Shoebox IS IN THE POSITIVE SECTION OF THE SCORES THIS IS NOT A DRILL *EMERGENCY KLAXON* (8): Yes, I did mark this up for its comedy value, but it's definitely a memorable track even if we've all heard it before.

    ModeRed (7): Hearing this again, it's an enjoyable listen.

    Blond (7.5): In my list of female songs about wanking, this ranks somewhere above Party For One but way below Love Myself. (The burning question is, where does Toni Braxton's "You're Making Me High" come in? It is a bop, is that.)

    Auntie Beryl (6.9): On the rare occasions I hear this, I find I like it more now than I did back then. Can’t beat a frot anthem.

    WowWowWowWow (7): Yeah… I am not sure I would care one iota this song at all if the lyric was “When I think about you, it makes me smile.” The novelty of the subject matter (at least for a top 40 single) is the main draw. (Nailed it.)

    chanex (9): A bop that I've always taken for granted, it was always just around, floating in the atmosphere like so many songs on this list. But when I think about it, it's obviously awesome as eff. (Takes some balls to be this forward about what you're singing about, certainly. Kudos to you for that one, Divinyls.)

    2014 (9): Sexy groove and one of the most recognisable choruses ever. Whew!

    DominoDancing (8): Despite the crunchy guitars and slightly raunchy subject matter, this is very classic 60s pop songwriting at its core. (You know, now you mention it, yeah, it is. Ain't no bad thing, of course.)

    pop3blow2 (7): The track & vocal isn’t bad in this. I just never like the lyrics. Even as a kid, when hearing them should’ve felt “naughty”... i was just always indifferent to them. A bit to try hard.

    Seventeen Days (9.25): I mean, I have to give this a super high score. It’s one of my favorites from my childhood. Plus, every time I hear it I think of the scene in “Austin Powers” when he is trying to out-mojo the Fembots. (Oh, groovy, baby.)

    4Roses (10): YASSSSS Makes me want to be in a 90's romcom dancing round my room. (Me too. ...Wait, Austin Powers doesn't qualify as a romcom? FUCK!)

    iheartpoptarts (10): Always fun at karaoke. You have to do the “ohhhh” bits. (But of course.)

    Hudweiser (10): What a classic - we didn't know what the hell it was about when we were 11. No wonder my dad always turned it off.

    CasuallyCrazed (10): I prefer the Kristy Kay poppers o'clock eurodance cover of this, but a flawless song in any form. (...That sounds terrifying. @WowWowWowWow ought to be able to tell me more about that, I'm sure!)

    unnameable (10): I was the exact age in school to appreciate this Steinberg/Kelly/Amphlett masterpiece. The whole album was amazing (I find “Need a Lover” the best).

    berserkboi (10): Iconic Australian Classic, they had a long career here, masturbation anthem! (Yeah, looking over their material from before "I Touch Myself", I find I tend to prefer that. They're a pretty consistently good band for the most part though.)

    GimmeWork (10): Was this the first masturbation bop? I’m not sure, but it’s the first one I remember and it is indeed divine! (Nah, Cyndi Lauper beat them to that by six years, and there may well be more. But it is almost certainly the dominant one in the public imagination, to be certain, and that is no small achievement itself!)

  14. Also I didn’t realize Chrissy died :(
    Ironheade and berserkboi like this.
  15. As an Australian and someone who was aware of Amphlett's story, I feel bad for saying this but thank god it's out. Touch Myself was by far the least deserving to make the top 20, it might crack my top 60 at best.
  16. Ho ho ho.
  17. 2014

    2014 Moderator

    I Touch Myself is great but the chorus should really go in a bit more (ahem)
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2019
  18. I love the guitar part. It's such a catchy song!
    berserkboi likes this.
  19. Their self-titled album is full of masterpieces - "Lay your body down" and "need a lover" are amazing.
    berserkboi likes this.
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