Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Promises Left Unfulfilled

Almost thirty years after the song was a smash hit here in Australia, ‘Baby It’s You’ sounds as fresh and vibrant to me as it did when I first heard it as a ten year old. One of the great mysteries of popular music, for me, remains the fact that the song didn’t find a market in either the U.S. or Britain at that time, and why the group responsible for it, Promises, didn’t experience greater and more prolonged success on the charts.

Promises comprised three Canadian born siblings, Leslie Knauer (vocals), Jed Knauer (guitar/piano) and Benjamin Knauer (keyboards/ vocals). Their father Peter was originally from Hamburg, Germany, and after settling in Canada for some years, moved his children to Thousand Oaks, California in the late 60s. Peter Knauer was also musically inclined, and when his three kids decided to form the band Promises in 1978, he became their manager, and occasional keyboardist.

The trio scored a recording contract through the subsidiary EMI Electrola label, and recorded their eponymous debut album during the second half of 1978, with producer Steve Verroca. The lead out single was the sublime pop-rock power ballad ‘Baby It’s You’ (written by Benjamin and Leslie), but neither single nor album could crack the U.S. market. Possibly because of father Peter Knauer’s German heritage, the Knauer trio Promises did strike it big in Germany (and other European markets), where ‘Baby It’s You’ peaked at #4, and ‘Promises’ the album achieved gold certification, for selling over 250,000 units.

Around the same time as the group were having success in Germany, a local TV variety program in Australia called ‘Hey, Hey It’s Saturday’ started playing the promotional video for ‘Baby It’s You’ regularly on Saturday mornings (the show later switched to an evening time slot). I was living in Tasmania at the time, so didn’t have access to ‘Hey, Hey It’s Saturday’s weekly goofball antics, but if they were true to form the clip possibly got a good run of regular airtime because of the fact that Leslie Knauer was a rather attractive young lady, and this was evident in the video clip for ‘Baby It’s You’. Regardless of whether it was a superficial reason to begin with, viewers loved the song, and the vocals of both Leslie and Benjamin were breathtaking. When Leslie Knauer delivered the searing chorus for ‘Baby It’s You’ it was enough, and still is, to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Few power ballads have managed to pack such a mighty punch in their chorus. Before long ‘Baby It’s You’ had made it to radio play lists across Australia, and of course, onto ‘Countdown’. EMI Australia must have had a hard time keeping up with the demand, given they probably thought the song wouldn’t have legs after it had flopped in the U.S. and Britain. ‘Baby It’s You’ hit the Australian charts in March of ‘79 and rocketed to #2, only denied top spot by ‘Lay Your Love On Me’ by Racey (see future post).

Just as ‘Baby It’s You’ was beginning to descend during its 24 week run on the Australian charts, the follow up single ‘Let’s Get Back Together’ debuted in July ‘79. It lacked the grunt of its predecessor, but was still a decent enough pop song, and eventually climbed to #27 nationally (#18 Germany). Meanwhile, ‘Promises’ the album achieved gold status in Australia, and reached as high as #6 mid year. Such was the impact Promises had in Australia during 1979, that when the new season of ‘Countdown’ began for 1980, a photo of Promises appeared in the montage of images for the opening credits. As an aside, the popular Australia comedy TV show ‘The Late Show’ (which ran in the early 90s), used to have a segment called ‘Countdown Classics’ hosted by Tom Gleisner and Jane Kennedy. They featured the clip for ‘Baby It’s You’ on one such segment, and it was clear that while Jane was happy to move on with the rest of the segment, Tommy G. was happy to keep watching the clip, such was the hypnotic effect of Ms. Knauer.

Following a low key second album titled ‘Reel To Reel’, which featured the single ‘Ooh, Baby I Like It’, it appears that Promises broke up, but I’ve no idea why - possibly due to the lack of inroads into the U.S. market. Vocalist Leslie Knauer (later Knauer-Wasser) initially worked as a solo artist, before joining the group Precious Metal (1983-1992), with whom she recorded four albums. After a period of song writing, during which she recorded two songs to the 2001 Dennis Hopper film ‘Choke’, Leslie joined the group Kanary in 2004, in which she has also taken on lead guitar duties. Kanary have recorded several albums, the latest being ‘Only Dead Fish Go With The Current’. While there is a certain amount of information out there on Leslie Knauer’s post Promises career, I’ve not been able to uncover any information on what her brothers got up to after the group called it a day.

According to Kanary’s website there are plans for Leslie Knauer to re-record ‘Baby It’s You’ with the band, and there’s a petition for her and the band to tour Australia. Here’s hoping she can still belt out the chorus like she did thirty years ago - that would be a privilege to hear. Hopefully the rest of Kanary’s set would be good enough to encourage the audience to stay beyond ‘Baby It’s You’.

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