Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Day Walker's Night Moves

Vocalist Marilyn Martin first came to the wider attention of mainstream music listeners when she combined with Phil Collins to sing the U.S. #1 single ‘Separate Lives’ taken from the 1985 motion picture ‘White Nights’. ‘Separate Lives’ was the atypical love ballad, good for what it was, and ideally suited to the vocal mix of superstar Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin. The song wasn’t actually written by Collins (as was often thought) but was penned by Stephen Bishop (‘It Might Be You’ from Tootsie), and not only spent a week atop the charts but was nominated for an Oscar.

In the context of Phil Collins’ career the song was just another in a long string of global hits, but to Marilyn Martin it represented a door opening to a potential long term solo career. Martin herself faced the challenge of being mistaken for an already established identity, Crystal Gayle being among them, for her vocals on the song. But it wasn’t the first time Martin had sung on a U.S. #1.

Tennessee born Martin had been a singer from her teen years and settled in Los Angeles in the early 80s with her husband, guitarist Greg Droman. She gained her first break as a performer when she sang backup vocals in 1983 on an album by Joe Vitale (Joe Walsh’s drummer). Walsh was impressed by Martin’s vocals and invited her out on tour as a backing singer. One Stevie Nicks just happened to be the headline act on that tour and she was similarly impressed by Martin and invited her on tour as well, as did Tom Petty. By a joining of the rock superstar dots, Martin then found herself touring with Kenny Loggins and sang background vocals on Loggins 1984 worldwide #1 smash ‘Footloose’.

Through her session work on Stevie Nicks’ album ‘Rock A Little’, Martin came to the attention of Doug Morris, then president of Atlantic Records. Martin was signed to a recording contract, but before she could start work on her solo album she was asked to record ‘Separate Lives’ with Phil Collins. Post ‘Separate Lives’ Martin did express some reservations in interview as to her involvement. She was concerned about being associated with a soft ballad when that wasn’t really her thing. Marilyn Martin would have her chance to shed the ‘ballad singer’ image with her 1986 eponymous debut album.

The first single ’Night Moves’ was anything but a ballad, and drew on all the best elements of the edgier music from contemporary vocalists Pat Benatar and Patty Smyth. It was backed by a really cool promo clip which featured Martin playing the role of a vampire ‘on the hunt’ - playing on the whole ‘Night Moves’ motif I guess. I thought the song was first rate 80s pop-rock but it didn’t appeal to a wider audience and stalled at #28 on the U.S. charts. Perhaps the highpoint in popularity for the 80s rock chick had passed, which could be right as even Pat Benatar struggled to maintain the same level of commercial appeal in the second half of the 80s.

The album had all the right ingredients to launch Martin’s career, from producers Arif Mardin, Jon Astley and Philip Chapman, to songwriters which included John Parr and Simon Climie. It also had all the musical hallmarks of a classic 80s pop-rock album, lots of grungy guitars, pounding bass lines and slick multi-tracking production. And with Martin presenting a fine vocal performance and marketable image, it’s a mystery as to why the album largely missed the mark (peaking at #72 in the U.S.). But then it wasn’t the first or last example of all the ingredients being right but the final product failing to be a best seller on the menu.

Marilyn Martin released her second and final album in 1988 with ‘This Is Serious’. Sales were poor and soon after Martin was dropped from her Atlantic Records deal. No other recording deal or album was forthcoming thereafter and the potential that Martin had promised so much of earlier in the decade, was reduced to a question of what might have been. Marilyn Martin did continue a stellar career as a backing vocalist for other artists into the 90s and beyond, including Julian Lennon, Madonna, Richard Marx and Tina Arena. According to Wikipedia Marilyn Martin has also worked as a realtor since 2005, though hopefully she’s given up the female-vamp tendencies.

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