Saturday, April 18, 2015

"Used to Be" by Charlene & Stevie Wonder

Song#:  1231
Date:  10/30/1982
Debut:  76
Peak:  46
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  After her dead and buried single "I've Never Been to Me" got unearthed and became a left-field hit (#3 pop), Charlene had the arduous task of following up the unexpected hit and sudden revival of her singing career. Working with her original label, Motown, and the writers of "I've Never Been to Me," she introduced her new album with this title-track single that became a duet with her labelmate Stevie Wonder. It seemed like a surefire hit on paper, but the song fizzled and couldn't reach the pop Top 40. It didn't do any better at AC peaking at a lowly #31. As a result, the album was a non-starter and disappeared quickly. Motown attempted to move Charlene into a more modern pop direction with her next album, "Hit and Run Lover," but it got zero attention. This song would be her last charting single.

ReduxReview:  I remember being so excited for this song. I was all about Charlene at the time and ran out to get this album when it was released. Charlene with Stevie Wonder - it has to be awesome! Well, it wasn't. This preachy ballad sounds like a four-minute afterschool special. Remember how great it "used to be?" But, oh, "used to be" wasn't really that great either. I dunno. It's just a message song gone horribly wrong. The two singers try to breathe life into the tune and I actually like the music, especially when it revs up, but the lyrics just drag it down. Very unfortunate as it kind of killed Charlene's career.

ReduxRating:  3/10

Trivia:  In addition to updating Charlene's sound, Motown also put her in a film. Berry Gordy co-produced the martial arts film "The Last Dragon" and he used several Motown artists for the soundtrack. In addition to Charlene's song contribution, "Fire," she also performed it in the film. Unfortunately, it didn't do anything to further her career and she was dropped from the label soon after.



  1. Unlike you, I found both "hits" beyond awful. "I've Never Been To Me" was bad enough as a song, but that spoken word part was laughable - my friends and I constantly mocked it. As for this "hit," I would love to hear Wonder's explanation for why he got mixed in this mess. Yes it was on Motown, but Wonder had to realize what a joke it was from the first stanza "Superman was killed in Dallas. There's no love left in the palace. Someone took the Beatle's lead guitar." I thought George Harrison was the lead guitarist? I actually felt bad for Charlene, as she was saddled with writer/producer Ron Miller for all of her Hot 100 entries. As bad as these two songs were, they were "American Pie," compared to the song he co-wrote for her in 1977 called "Freddie." This abomination was a "tribute" to Freddie Prinze who had recently killed himself. To say this is was horrible would be an insult to horrible songs. Shockingly, Miller had previously written several great songs - "Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday," "Heaven Help Us All," and "Touch Me In The Morning."

    1. I recognize "I've Never Been" is not a good song, but sometime there are bad tunes that I can't help liking and that is one. I think it is a time and place thing. Yes, Miller and his co-writer Ken Hirsch were hit-and-miss with their compositions. Another one I do like is "Can't We Try" which Charlene had on her album and Teddy Pendergrass issued as a single (I covered that one on the blog already). I have "Freddie" and it is a bit on the dreadful side. Charlene could have had a better career, but she did get stuck with the wrong material. And Motown made it worse when they tried to make her a dance diva. Poor girl.