Transcript 128–In Your Eyes

NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.

Hello! And welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, the show that takes a closer look at songs from the rock and roll era, and we check out some of the stories behind those songs, and the artists who made them famous.

My name is Claude Call, and I’m in the Southern Studio this week. But the Northern Studio is in Maryland, so it’s pretty much all “south,” isn’t it.  

Remember to check out the website, How Good It Is Dot Com, and the Twitter, and the Instagram, and of course the Facebook page, which can be found over at Facebook dot com, slash, (ow) How Good It Is Pod. And if you can swing it, please consider supporting the show as a patron. For just five bucks a month you get the weekly newsletter, with the week’s music news, a little bit of my opinions, and the history calendar. In this week’s issue I give you a few hundred words of questionable brilliance about the new Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Click the link on the website or point your browser to patreon dot com slash how good it is.

We did this brand of trivia a short while back with Elton John, let’s see how it suits ye for The Rolling Stones. So: According to The Sound of Vinyl Dot Com, which Rolling Stones song has been covered more than any other? And once again, I’ll tell you that I guessed wrong on this, though my guess does appear in the list. Sound of Vinyl listed the ten most-covered Rolling Stones songs, which song has seen the most covers so far? I’ll have that answer, and the rest of the top ten, at the end of the show.

I know, I know, I know that I said I was done with songs that had non-English lyrics in them, and I am. It’s just a coincidence that today’s song also just happens to have some non-English in it.

I should also note that this episode is based on a listener request. Aimee and Dana from the Run/Eat/Drink Podcast, two of the nicest people I’ve ever met, put in this request a couple of weeks ago, and how could I say no?

So.

[beat]

And when I say “So,” I’m really telling you the name of the album that Peter Gabriel was working on when he recorded “In Your Eyes”. So was Gabriel’s fifth solo album, and the one that pretty much turned him into a mainstream artist from his prior cult star status. And it’s also the first album that Gabriel released that wasn’t titled Peter Gabriel. Calling it So was Gabriel’s response to the label pressuring him to more properly market his music. He figured that by giving it a very short, almost “anti” title, he could say he complied with the label’s request without really giving them what they wanted.

Let me talk about this album a little bit. Gabriel recorded most of it in a two-room studio on his property; one room was used for vocals and the other for assembling the music. The studio consisted of two analog 24-track tape recorders, plus a modified Studer A80 recorder that had been customized by a technologically-inclined friend of his. He also had a Fairlight CMI synthesizer, which is not remarkably automatic and needs a lot of human input. Putting the music together turned out to be a pretty easy task for Gabriel and the musicians he’d brought in; putting the lyrics together was little bit of a bigger problem. Oftentimes, engineer and mixer Kevin Killen would isolate certain vocal performances as the “master track,” knowing that he’d have to keep other tracks available so that he could edit new lyrics in. It got so bad that at one point producer Daniel Lanois destroyed Gabriel’s phone and nailed the studio shut to lock him inside until he could finish his writing. But ultimately, he came up with nine tracks that combined artsy pop with a worldbeat music sensibility.

[IN YOUR EYES]

The last thing that Gabriel struggled with was the sequence of songs on the album. He made cassettes of the songs in different orders to see which combinations worked the best. Now, this is the interesting part: Peter Gabriel wanted “In Your Eyes” to be the closing track on the album, but there was a technical issue that made it difficult. On a vinyl LP, the sound is transmitted through the needle to the speakers by the grooves creating a vibration. Well, “In Your Eyes” has a pretty prominent bassline, which means the groove needs some room to vibrate correctly. That’s not something you get when the needle is closer to the center of the album. So on the original vinyl release of the album, the song opens Side Two, but if you purchased the CD when that became available a couple of years later, well, you didn’t have to worry about the mechanical aspects of the recording, so the song is returned to the closing track position. The LP also only has eight tracks, but the CD and cassette have a bonus ninth track called “This is the Picture”, which nowadays appears as Track Eight. And unfortunately if you think you have something valuable, none of this makes the original album worth much more than yard sale prices.

Something that makes the song “In Your Eyes” special is the backing vocal near the end of the song, provided by Youssou N’Dour. N’Dour is a singer and songwriter from Senegal and, while he’s still active in that regard, he’s also taken on political causes in that country, even running for President in 2012. He didn’t win, but he was appointed Minister of Culture and Tourism by the eventual winner. At any rate, after the last chorus we hear N’Dour chanting in a language called Wolof, which is the native language of Senegal. And according to a couple of Internet sleuths it’s a rough translation of “In your eyes, the light, the heat, I am complete.”

While “In Your Eyes” is a very personal song for Gabriel, he’s still willing to experiment with it a little bit during his concert performances. And the big question becomes, Who is the song about?

Gabriel has explained numerous times that he was inspired by a visit he’d made to Barcelona, when he visited a cathedral there. At that time, he wrote up some lyrics for another song called “Sagrada,” which is Spanish for “Sacred,” but eventually he scrapped the song and used some of its elements in “In Your Eyes.” Given that Gabriel was pretty immersed in the worldbeat sound and the African rhythms at the time, it makes sense that his songs follow the African tradition of maintaining an ambiguous relationship in songs, where they can easily be about both a relationship with another person, or a relationship with God. However, that doesn’t really answer the question. The most common theory is that the song is about Rosanna Arquette, with whom he was involved for a while, and both Rosanna and her brother David have said this, but Gabriel himself has never said so. But there is a website that has a discussion post from someone identifying himself only as “Daniel from Montreal”, who wrote (quote):

I am so sick of this. I will finally speak out regarding Roseanna Arquette being the inspiration for “In Your Eyes”. It was another young woman, also an actress, who was the inspiration for the song. I don’t know if it’s Arquette’s camp who is generating this rumor, or the public. Her identity is not revealed because at the time Gabriel was still officially married. Arquette and Gabriel didn’t even meet until after the album came out. I should know. I co-produced the album. (unquote)

Could this be Daniel Lanois saying this? I guess it’s possible. I mean, anything is possible, right? But before I drop it entirely, there’s one more detail related to the song that I’ll bring up in a couple of minutes.

The single was the third one released from the So album, and it came out on September 2, 1986. It topped out at Number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 by the end of October, but it got all the way to Number One on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and it remains a staple of Classic Rock playlists across the USA, despite the relatively slow tempo. The single didn’t see a lot of chart action elsewhere in the world, peaking at Number 50 in New Zealand and barely cracking the top 100 in Australia.

Something that’s interesting about this song is that there are several versions out there. The album version clocks in at about five and a half minutes and that version is available on a 7-inch record. Then there’s a “Promo Special Mix” which runs 4:58. THEN there’s the 12-inch single mix which runs six minutes and fifteen seconds, and yet another 12-inch special mix which goes for seven minutes and fourteen seconds. These longer versions largely are extensions of the ending, with N’Dour’s chanting in between Gabriel singing “your eyes” repeatedly. And that’s also what tends to happen when Gabriel plays the song in concert. As I mentioned earlier, he experiments a little bit, usually by improvising a longer ending with the backup singers, which, when he was touring to support the album, would include Youssou N’Dour. And there’s also a version which has some of the words cut out of it, specifically the part about the churches, thus leaving the line about “the resolution of all the fruitless searches” hanging out there without a rhyme. I hadn’t heard this version until I moved to Baltimore, but it appears that ClearChannel Radio, which owned about 800 stations and is now part of iHeart Media, made the cut and nobody seems to know why.

Oh—let me talk about the video for this song a little bit. At this point, Gabriel was also getting very well-known because of the video for “Sledgehammer,” which was a combination of strata-cut animation and a filming technique called pixilation, which looks a little like bad stop-motion animation. “Big Time,” the third single from the album, had a similar style visually, but this video, which fell in between, was a little more straightforward in its style, with shots of Gabriel singing the song, sometimes in extreme closeup, interspersed with some abstract images, but it also had some intercuts with scenes from what appear to be an old movie. And if that’s what you thought it was, you’d be…almost correct. The footage comes from 16 millimeter industrial short film, essentially a ten-minute commercial for General Motors. The film is called Design for Dreaming, and it features a young woman, played by dancer and choreographer Tad Tadlock, who dreams about a masked man taking her to the 1956 General Motors event called “Motorama.” She is then taken to the “kitchen of the future,” where she bakes a cake. Then she returns to the Motorama and dances a “dance of tomorrow.” And then finally, she and the masked man, who has now unmasked himself, get into a Firebird II to fall in love and travel along the “road of tomorrow.” All of the dialogue is sung, and it’s the voice of Marjorie Gordon we hear rather than Tad Tadlock. How about that!

And that would have been pretty much it for the song…except, of course, for a brief resurgence in popularity that it enjoyed just a couple of years later, when it was used in the 1989 film Say Anything, as the song that’s coming out of John Cusack’s boom box as he tries to woo Ione Skye near the end of the film. Now, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly magazine, the film’s director, Cameron Crowe, said that the scene was originally written with Billy Idol’s “To Be a Lover”. You may not remember that song, so allow me to illustrate…

[TO BE A LOVER clip]

…imagine that coming out of Cusack’s boombox? But Crowe knew that song wasn’t going to get the job done, so he and producer James Brooks began looking around for something that would work. They even tried having original songs written for the scene, and that was a no-go. But finally, one day, Crowe was playing a tape in his car of songs that were played on his wedding day, and out comes “In Your Eyes.”

[IN YOUR EYES]

And that’s when he knew he had the right track. He and James Brooks called up David Geffen and asked to use the song. Geffen said he’d try, but couldn’t guarantee anything because Peter Gabriel wasn’t in the habit of giving up anything for movies. Plus, Geffen wasn’t sure about Gabriel’s relationship to the song, that is, how personal it was.

In the meantime, they held a screening of a rough cut of the film, and someone from Geffen Records was in the audience and didn’t like the movie, so Crowe thought they were sunk. However, as the story goes, it was Rosanna Arquette who put in a good word for them, so Gabriel called the studio to ask for a copy of the movie so he could make a decision. And here’s where the stories get kind of confused when you read about them on the internet, so I’m relaying this the way Cameron Crowe told Entertainment Weekly. A few days later, he was told to call Gabriel in Europe. He had to get up extra early to do it, and Gabriel told him “I appreciate you asking for the song. It’s a very personal song to me and I just hope you don’t mind that have to turn you down.” Crowe was disappointed and said he understood, but at the very last second he decided to ask why not. Gabriel told him, “Well when he takes the overdose it just didn’t feel like the right kind of use of the song.” And THAT’S when Crowe realized that Gabriel had seen the film Wired, the John Belushi biopic, not the high school movie with the guy in the trench coat. Crowe asked Gabriel to please watch the high school movie, and that’s how he secured permission.

Most internet versions of the story have Gabriel giving permission but not really understanding why it had anything to do with the overdose scene. But according to Crowe, Gabriel withheld permission until he’d actually seen the correct movie.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2012, Gabriel noted the cultural impact of the scene, noting that it definitely gave the song a second life, and maybe even turned the scene into a modern-day Romeo and Juliet balcony scene. And finally, in October of that same year, Gabriel was doing a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. As he played the first few bars of the song, John Cusack came out on stage and handed Gabriel a boombox, then took a bow and left. As it happened, Cameron Crowe was in the audience and tweeted that he wouldn’t forget that…ever.

There are something like fifty cover versions of the song, but arguably the most successful version is by Jeffrey Gaines from 1998. Other than having an acoustic sound, it’s a very faithful cover and therefore not really worth playing here, but go look for it, you may like it.

And now it’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked you what the most-covered Rolling Stones song is, according to The Sound of Vinyl
Dot Com. Well…here’s their Top Ten.

10: Under My Thumb: covered 22 times

9: Wild Horses—my guess: covered 28 times

8: Honky Tonk Women: covered 28 times

7: Ruby Tuesday: covered 30 times

6: Angie: covered 31 times

5: Jumpin’ Jack Flash: covered 33 times

4: Sympathy for the Devil: covered 34 times

3: Gimme Shelter: covered 38 times, and at this point we take a big jump.

[PAINT IT BLACK]

2: Satisfaction was covered 93 times

1: Paint it Black has cracked the century mark, having been covered 100 times.

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Next time around, we’re going to find out How Good It Is when we have Joy, Fun, and Seasons in the Sun. No kidding.

Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you next time.