Bette Midler is one of the very elite group of divas that I consider to be truly legendary and utterly beyond reproach. I don't care if Bette has lost some of her edge over the years and I am even willing to turn a blind eye to the travesty that was "Cool Yule". Nothing can diminish the heart, wit and originality that distinguishes Bette's output from the 1970s and 80s. Bette may not have had the best voice to ever grace a recording studio, but nobody has had more personality! I have been meaning to make a post about Bette for some time, but as with Barbra Streisand - another diva I have unintentionally ignored - I just couldn't decide where to start. That problem was solved for me by Deirdre Halliwell, who recently wrote an absolutely stunning post about Bette on Cheesy Pop Music. I couldn't possibly re-cap Bette's career any better myself, so I thought I would cover one of the albums that Deirdre did not mention - Bette's divine, if brief, attempt at disco in the late 1970s.
"Thighs And Whispers" was Bette's much maligned attempt to jump on the disco bandwagon. The album was released in 1979 and promptly became Bette's lowest charting album to date. The culprit for the album's failure appears to have been the timing of its release. Bette's soundtrack for "The Rose" was riding high in the charts and audiences were confused when the rock goddess on display in "The Rose" unexpectedly released a camp disco album. Personally, I can't get enough of "Thighs And Whispers". It is, without a doubt, one of my favourite Bette albums and contains three of the most memorable songs from the entire disco era. It's high time that this masterpiece received some love and appreciation!
The album begins with a luminous disco interpretation of "Big Noise From Winnetka", one of Bette's live standards. The sound quickly changes to something far more traditional for the almost unbearably sad "Millworker". Bette remains in a contemplative mood for "Cradle Days" before shifting into high disco camp for the gorgeous "Knight In Black Leather". The song is an absolute classic of the disco era. I can just picture men with handlebar moustaches and leather chaps dancing to this under the brilliant glow of a disco ball. It also contains one of the best introductions in disco history:
I'm a hot blond and it was a cold night,
This is my story, I ain't ashamed to tell it,
I was hungry, tired and looking for love!
Just when you think the song could not possibly get any more camp, Bette finds the man of her dreams in a disco and exclaims - "He smelled just like a brand new car, 'cause everything he owned was leather". I'm living for the day I actually hear this anthem in a leather bar! "Thighs And Whispers" continues with one of my favourite slow disco tunes, Bette's brilliant cover of "Hang On In There Baby". Everything about the song is gorgeous from the depth of sound to the beautiful instrumentation and the soulful backing vocals by a certain Luther Vandross. Next up is "Hurricane", which is seven and a half minutes of disco madness. The disco sound briefly gives way for "Rain", one of Bette's best ballads.
The final song on "Thighs And Whispers" represents everything I love about Bette - It's bold, brassy and brilliant. "Married Men" is Bette's disco warning about the dangers of dating married arseholes. The song manages to be simultaneously funny and bitter, while never skipping a delicious disco beat. Luther Vandross returns for backing vocals and Bette is in top form herself. "Thighs And Whispers" might not impress critics or Midler purists but who really gives a fuck what they think. "Thighs And Whispers" is a work of camp genius that manages to encapsulate a sense of time and place with wit, originality and attitude.
"Thighs And Whispers" was re-mastered a couple of years ago and is available from Amazon.