The title of Spoiled Girl had a knowingly ironic resonance for Carly Simon. A scion of the Simon and Schuster publishing firm (her father was founder Richard L. Simon), Carly was considered by some to be a “spoiled girl.” In fact, that couldn’t have been further from the truth, despite a somewhat privileged upbringing. Yet here she was, mockingly singing of a woman who “thinks of nothing but herself,” the kind of gal who sends her chauffeur to supply more bubbles for her bath! 1985's Spoiled Girl announced that Simon could poke fun and definitively refute this image. Moreover, it made clear her hallmarks of incisive observations and lyrical intelligence wouldn’t be absent from this headfirst plunge into the world of eighties dance-pop.
Carly Simon certainly had paid her dues as a singer/songwriter over the years, and played out many aspects of her life in sometimes dark, starkly confessional terms on a series of rightfully acclaimed, often heartbreaking albums. Rare was a pop hit as melancholy as “That’s the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be.” Yet Simon showed many sides: she could also be fiercely assertive in “You’re So Vain,” wistful in “The Right Thing to Do,” jubilant in “Mockingbird” and sensual in “Anticipation.” Yet despite being one of the most unique songwriting voices of her generation, Carly was commercially adrift by the beginning of the 1980s. Despite fine, fascinating work, a switch from Elektra to Warner Bros. Records failed to yield much chart gold other than 1980’s Come Upstairs and its single “Jesse.” So Simon started fresh with an Epic Records contract for Spoiled Girl. Hot Shot Records’ impressive, expanded reissue (HSR-105, 2012) accomplishes what few such releases do: it gives a new lease on life to a maligned almost-classic that many fans – and perhaps even the artist herself - had long since written off.
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Spoiled Girl wasn’t Simon’s first foray onto the dancefloor; CHIC’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards had produced 1982’s single “Why” for the soundtrack of Soup for One, and it had hit the U.K. Top 10. But it certainly was her most concentrated effort, even if it took a whopping nine (!) producers to bring it to life. Simon wrote or co-wrote nine of the album’s ten songs (though, ironically, not its lead single) and the astute lyrics play on many of Simon’s most enduring themes: love, sex, the fragility of relationships. The album takes in dance, pop and rock styles, and if it still doesn’t hang together in a completely cohesive fashion, it more than warrants this eye-opening reappraisal from Hot Shot.
Though Simon didn’t write that first single, “Tired of Being Blonde,” she threw herself into the vocal on Larry Raspberry’s AOR rock-ish song. Frank Filipetti, Arthur Baker and frequent Hall and Oates collaborators T Bone Wolk and G.E. Smith all had a hand in the song’s production, which is marked by big drum machine beats, shimmering synthesizers, and even a guitar solo from Smith. In short, it had all the ingredients of a success circa 1985, but only managed a No. 70 peak in the U.S. while going Top 40 on the AC chart. When “Tired of Being Blonde” (a riposte to the prototypical spoiled girl!) didn’t burn up the charts, Epic then released the earthy “My New Boyfriend.” A modern-day “list song” of the titular character’s best traits, the song is set to a compulsively danceable beat as Simon exhorts, “He protects me, he defends me, he respects me…” before sassily admonishing, “he loves me more than you ever did!” Carly’s self-written song is enhanced with an everything-but-the-kitchen sink approach to production from Paul Samwell-Smith, who had previously helmed Anticipation. Though it might be the most “dated” track on Spoiled Girl, it stands out for its juxtaposition of haunting, baroque vocal interludes with electronic stutters and go-for-broke effects. Like many of the songs here, “My New Boyfriend” would be an ideal candidate for a latter-day, acoustic re-arrangement.
“Tonight and Forever” is lyrically an ebullient picture of a couple in love; in this case, it’s Carly and drummer Russ Kunkel. (Though Phil Ramone produced this track, Kunkel took the reins on the title song of Spoiled Girl.) But the slow-burning melody of the ballad, like many of Simon’s best songs, is still atmospherically moody. The other half of the Simon Sisters, Lucy Simon, joins the choir on the ethereal, intricate backing harmonies. Carly supplies steamy vocals on “Anyone But Me” and the entirely self-penned “Make Me Feel Something,” the personal reminisce of a lover from the past. The most seductive track on Spoiled Girl may be “Interview.” It was written by Carly and Don Was; Was’ production of “Come Back Home” here is gleaming, adult contemporary pop that points the way towards Simon’s later eighties triumphs like “Coming Around Again.” Arthur Baker produced “Interview,” another lusty, knowing track imbued with sensual vocals from Simon. Another famous voice appeared on “Can’t Give It Up": none other than Luther Vandross, who is quite present on backgrounds.
The most interesting track on Spoiled Girl just might be the album’s most atypical. “The Wives Are in Connecticut” is described in the liner notes by Simon as “sinister,” while producer Phil Ramone opines that it’s “the biggest piece of salt ever poured on a wound.” In any event, it’s a fiendishly clever piece of songcraft about some philandering fellow who also suspects his wife of infidelity, cataloguing her possible conquests in his mind. With a tricky melody and sly lyric, it’s an “art song” every bit as striking as “The Carter Family” or “His Friends Are More Than Fond of Robin” from 1972’s breakthrough No Secrets.
Hot Shot has expanded the album with four bonus tracks. Best of all is “Black Honeymoon,” the B-side to “Tired of Being Blonde.” Simon’s longtime lyrical partner Jacob Brackman crafted this tale of betrayal with Simon and Andy Goldmark. (This track previously appeared on the Epic CD and cassette versions of Spoiled Girl, but not the LP.) The other three bonuses offer different perspectives on the album cuts, with the single edit of “Blonde,” and two 12-inch mixes of “My New Boyfriend” which, of course, emphasize the song’s metallic quality, vocal effects and electronic instrumentation even more than the album version. The dub version also brings the blazing guitar to the fore.
Simon struck a seductive pose on the shadowy cover, and the booklet in Hot Shot’s reissue includes more beautifully-photographed shots of the singer. As per usual for the label, everything's housed in a Super Jewel Box. Nick Robbins has remastered with BBR’s Wayne Dickson. Topping off this exciting package is an essay by Christian John Wikane, which draws on new Interviews with the album’s key personnel including Phil Ramone, Don Was, Frank Filipetti and Carly herself. The willingness of the album’s creators to participate in its reissue all these years later speaks for itself. Simon’s reflections are personal but objective; she accurately laments that Spoiled Girl “doesn’t work all together,” adding, “It’s so disparate.” But she acknowledges the strength of the individual components: “I do think the album is retrievable…Maybe it will have another time. Things do come around again…” Carly Simon knows all about things “coming around again,” as her very next studio album took that title and went platinum, earning her a hard-won comeback. But Carly Simon had never left, as this thankfully-retrieved edition of Spoiled Girl proves.
You can order the remastered and expanded Spoiled Girl here!
wow, what a great review and insightful read.