Graded on a Curve:
Helen Reddy,
Helen Reddy’s Greatest Hits (And More)

Friends, Romans, Vinyl District readers; I come to praise Helen Reddy, not to bury her in the insulting verbiage many use to unfairly deride her formidable talents. Many have nothing but snide things to say about her, but I do not count myself amongst them; her multitude of AM radio hits—they didn’t call Reddy the “Queen of ‘70s Pop” for nothing—brought me too much happiness in my youth, from the altogether uncanny “Angie Baby” to her landmark feminist anthem “I Am Woman.”

Australia’s Helen Maxine Lamond Reddy has been unfairly consigned to the easy-listening dustbin of history. There’s no denying Reddy generally stuck to the middle of the road. But to steal a phrase from Dylan Thomas, she sang in her chains like the sea. And a careful look at her discography reveals she brought a host of weirdly subversive bunch of songs to the party while she was at it. Lucky for us, they’re all to be found on 1990’s Helen Reddy’s Greatest Hits (And More).

Why buy this comp and not another? I’m glad you asked. First, it includes the funky electric piano-dominated version of “Angie Baby” I grew up listening to on the radio, and not the alternative version to be found on her other best of packages. Second, it includes the dance-floor friendly “I Can’t Hear You No More,” which you won’t find on most of her greatest hits albums. And the same goes for “Happy Girls,” her moving lament to “the lonely girls of the world.”

“Happy Girls” joins a triumvirate of empathetic portraits of woman who are, depending on your point of view, either mad or society’s outcasts. The countrified and gospel-inflected “Delta Dawn” tells the story of a Brownsville woman who wanders the streets wearing “a faded rose from days gone by” looking for a “mysterious brown-haired man” who is going to take her to his “mansion in the sky.” The touched protagonist of the funky and horn-fueled “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)” also wanders the town, talking to herself and telling everybody who approaches her to, well, leave her alone.

And then there’s “Angie Baby,” which is less a song than an episode of The Twilight Zone and truly one of the weirdest songs to be heard on 1970s radio. Angie lives in a fantasy world in her room, listening to the radio, until a neighbor boy with lust in his heart makes his way into a room. But instead of sex what he gets is miniaturized and sucked into Angie’s radio, where he can be Angie’s dream lover forever. Creepy, especially when Reddy sings, “It’s so nice to be insane/No one asks you to explain,” and “Living in a world of make believe/Well, maybe.”

In their own way these songs are as feminist at heart as “I Am Woman,” that anthem of the burgeoning women’s movement. “I am strong/I am invincible/I am woman,” sings Reddy, and I for one think it’s a great song both in sentiment and execution; the chorus swells, the horns blare, and the drummer kicks ass as the song builds and builds to a wonderful climax.

Other pleasures on the LP include Reddy’s take on “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar (what pipes!); “Emotion,” yet another song about “desperate women of a lonely kind,” but in this case the loneliness is redeemed by love; and “Keep on Singing,” which is about familial love and the power of song and boasts a big sing-a-long chorus and enough backing vocalists to fill a Baptist church on Easter Sunday. And then there’s “Peaceful,” which is a balm to the soul if I’ve ever heard one.

Helen Reddy’s Greatest Hits (And More) would be better if it included such later forays into Steely Dan territory as “Let’s Go Up” and “Lost in the Shuffle,” and it would also benefit from Reddy’s cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” but hey, you can’t have everything. I’m not under the illusion that I can convert even a single soul to the Helen Reddy camp, but I will argue until my dying breath that her contributions to both music and the righteous cause of feminism make her a significant figure in the history of popular music. I am woman indeed.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text