Bette Davis Eyes

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"Bette Davis Eyes"
Single by Kim Carnes
from the album Mistaken Identity
B-side "Miss You Tonight"
Released March 10, 1981
Format
Recorded January 1981
Genre adult contemporary
Length 3:48
Label EMI America
Writer(s) Donna Weiss, Jackie DeShannon
Producer(s) Val Garay
Kim Carnes singles chronology
"Cry Like a Baby"
(1980)
"Bette Davis Eyes"
(1981)
"Draw of the Cards"
(1981)
Music sample

"Bette Davis Eyes" is a song written by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon, and made popular by American singer-songwriter Kim Carnes. It spent nine weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was Billboard '​s biggest hit of the entire year for 1981. The recording won the 1982 Grammy Awards for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

History[edit]

The song was written in 1974 by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon. DeShannon recorded the song that same year on her album New Arrangement.[4] In this original incarnation, the track is performed in an "R&B lite" arrangement,[1] featuring a prominent uptempo piano part, as well as flourishes of pedal steel guitar and horns.[5] However, it was not until 1981, when Kim Carnes recorded her version of the song in a radically different synthesizer-based arrangement, that "Bette Davis Eyes" became a commercial success.

The Carnes version spent nine non-consecutive weeks on top of the US Billboard Hot 100 (interrupted for one week by the "Stars on 45 Medley") and was Billboard's biggest hit of the year for 1981.[6] The single also reached No. 5 on Billboard's Top Tracks charts and No. 26 on the Dance charts.[7] The song won the Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Record of the Year. The song was also a number one hit in 31 countries, including Germany, Australia, Switzerland, Italy, Norway, Japan and Brazil, but it achieved more moderate success in the United Kingdom, where it peaked at number 10. The music video was directed by Russell Mulcahy.

According to producer Val Garay, the original demo of the tune that was brought to him sounded like "a Leon Russell track, with this beer-barrel polka piano part." The demo can be heard in a Val Garay interview on TAXI TV at 21:50.[8] Keyboardist Bill Cuomo came up with the signature synth riff, using the then-new Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 synthesizer, which now defines Carnes' version. The song was recorded completely live in the studio on the first take.[9]

Bette Davis admitted to being a fan of the song and approached Carnes and the songwriters to thank them for making her "a part of modern times."[citation needed]

The song was used frequently as bumper music on Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell.

The song was ranked at number 12 on Billboard's list of the top 100 songs in the first 50 years of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and at number one of the biggest hits of the 1980s.[10]

Cleopatra Records released a re-recording of the song as a single in 2007.[11]

Cover versions[edit]

Alvin and the Chipmunks covered the song for their 1982 album Chipmunk Rock. Leighton Meester released a cover in April 2009.[12] Later in the year, Courtney Love also performed the song.[13] In 2010, Brandon Flowers covered it at Highline Ballroom, New York City.[14] In 2011, Taylor Swift covered the song at the Staples Center during her Speak Now World Tour.[15] The rendition appears on the album Speak Now World Tour – Live. Dean Ray performed the song (with acoustic guitar) as his audition for X-Factor Australia 2014. Gwyneth Paltrow performed a cover of the song in the 2000 film Duets. In 2014, Kylie Minogue re-recorded the song especially for the British station program "Sounds of the '80s" BBC Radio 2. Sexton Blake covered the track for their 2007 album Plays the Hits!.[16]

Music video[edit]

The video opens in a dance hall with a black-draped leaning figure. The drape opens to reveal Kim Carnes wearing sunglasses as she sings the first verse. In the first chorus, she performs with a band; halfway dancers enter the hall. In the second verse, the dancers make slapping and floor-pounding dance motions. They disappear and reappear in the second chorus. The song finishes with the dancers making dance motions while approaching Carnes; the band is already gone when the video ends with the black-draped leaning figure. A shadowed silhouette of Bette Davis smoking a cigarette appears throughout the video. The video was directed by Australian film director Russell Mulcahy.

Lyrics[edit]

There is much confusion over whether the lyrics are "she knows just what it takes to make a crow blush" or "... pro blush". Jackie DeShannon sings "crow" in her version, and Kim Carnes recorded it as "pro" from a mistranscription of the lyrics. This error has proliferated through numerous cover versions. The phrase "could make a crow blush" is an early 20th-century Midwestern United States colloquialism meaning that one could unease someone with little effort, and the arranger from Carnes' version was unfamiliar with the term.[citation needed][dubious ]

Track listing and formats[edit]

Charts[edit]

Order of precedence
Preceded by
"This Ole House" by Shakin' Stevens
Australian Kent Music Report number-one single
June 15, 1981 – July 13, 1981 (5 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Stars on 45" by Stars on 45
Preceded by
"Angel of the Morning" by Juice Newton
Canadian CHUM number-one single
May 23, 1981 – May 30, 1981 (2 weeks)
Preceded by
"Morning Train (9 to 5)" by Sheena Easton
Canadian RPM Adult Contemporary number-one single
June 27, 1981 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"Sukiyaki" by A Taste of Honey
Preceded by
"Je veux de la tendresse" by Elton John
"Confidence pour confidence" by Jean Schultheis
French IFOP number-one single
July 24, 1981 – September 25, 1981 (10 weeks)
October 23, 1981 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"Confidence pour confidence" by Jean Schultheis
"La danse des canards" by J.J. Lionel
Preceded by
"Stars on 45" by Stars on 45
German number-one single
July 13, 1981 – August 24, 1981 (7 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Dance Little Bird" by Electronicas
Swiss number-one single
July 5, 1981 – August 16, 1981 (7 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Stars on 45 Vol. 2" by Stars on 45
Preceded by
"(Out Here) On My Own" by Nikka Costa
Italian number one single
November 21, 1981 – December 5, 1981 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Cicale" by Heather Parisi
Preceded by
"Hubba Hubba Zoot-Zoot" by Caramba
Norwegian number-one single
40/1981 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"For Your Eyes Only" by Sheena Easton
Preceded by
"More and More" by Joe Dolan
"Kids in America" by Kim Wilde
South African number-one single
July 18, 1981 – August 8, 1981 (4 weeks)
August 22, 1981 – August 29, 1981 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Kids in America" by Kim Wilde
"Chequered Love" by Kim Wilde
Preceded by
"Ma quale idea" by Pino D'Angiò
Spanish number-one single
October 5, 1981 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"Ma quale idea" by Pino D'Angiò
Preceded by
"Morning Train (9 to 5)" by Sheena Easton
"Stars on 45" by Stars on 45
US Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
May 16, 1981 – June 13, 1981 (5 weeks)
June 27, 1981 – July 18, 1981 (4 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Stars on 45" by Stars on 45
"The One That You Love" by Air Supply
Preceded by
"Being with You" by Smokey Robinson
"Stars on 45" by Stars on 45
US Cash Box number-one single
May 30, 1981 – June 13, 1981 (3 weeks)
July 4, 1981 – July 11, 1981 (2 weeks)
Preceded by
"Call Me" by Blondie
1980
US Billboard Hot 100 best-selling single of the year
1981
Succeeded by
"Physical" by Olivia Newton-John
1982

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Greenwald, Matthew. "Bette Davis Eyes – Song Review". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
  2. ^ Useted, Tom (February 18, 2010). "Jackie DeShannon: Jackie DeShannon, Me About You / To Be Free, New Arrangement". PopMatters. Retrieved May 3, 2014. It’s hard to approach this album without focusing on the presence of “Bette Davis Eyes”, which, issued forth from the tortured larynx of Kim Carnes, became one of the defining new-wave records. 
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  4. ^ Cad, Saint (October 14, 2012). "10 More Famous Songs With Unknown Originals". Listverse. Retrieved June 21, 2013. 
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  9. ^ Jackson, Blair (September 1, 2003). "Classic Tracks: Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes"". Mix Online. NewBay Media. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
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  12. ^ Gicas, Peter (April 7, 2009). "Leighton Meester: Music to Your Ears?". E! Online. Retrieved May 5, 2014. 
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  14. ^ Harvilla, Rob (August 27, 2010). "Brandon Flowers Sang "Bette Davis Eyes" (And, OK, A Lot Of His New Solo Songs) At Highline Ballroom". The Village Voice. Retrieved May 4, 2014. 
  15. ^ Lerman, Ali (August 29, 2011). "Taylor Swift at the Staples Center Saturday Night". OC Weekly. Retrieved May 5, 2014. 
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  58. ^ "American single certifications – Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes". Recording Industry Association of America.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH

External links[edit]