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Artist: Charlene (D’Angelo)
Writer: Ron Miller, Kenneth Hirsch
Label: Prodigal, Motown
I’ve been to Georgia and California and anywhere I could run; took the hand of a preacher man And we made love in the sun; but I ran out of places and friendly faces because I had to be free; I’ve been to paradise but I’ve never been to me. If you grew up in the 1970s and ’80s then you almost surely recognize this song. But when the song was blowing up on the radio, reaching no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February of 1982, few realized they were hearing the second version of the song, while the first version, released in 1977, had been a dismal flop.
This song about living in the fast lane and experiencing what some might call a debauched lifestyle (in those days) was meant as a message to the typical housewife who dreamed of such a jet-setting lifestyle: It doesn’t bring you fulfillment; i.e. I’ve been all over the world, even to paradise, but I’ve ‘never been to me.’ The song was written by the songwriting team of Ron Miller and Kenneth Hirsch who worked with Charlene D’Angelo after she was signed to Prodigal, a short-lived subsidiary of Motown Records.
Going by the simple stage name of Charlene, D’Angelo’s genre wasn’t exactly country. It wasn’t pop and it certainly wasn’t soul. While it definitely had the flavor of country but not to the point that Country and Western fans embraced it. Some might call it ‘countrypolitan,’ a sound that is identified with singers like Charlie Pride, and writers like Billy Sherrill (think, He Stopped Loving Her Today by George Jones). However, Charlene’s sound would probably more accurately be labeled easy listening, if you need to pick a genre.
Her first self-titled 1976 album contained an early version of I’ve Never Been to Me with a spoken part in the lyrics that caused some controversy. In 1977, the album was essentially re-released under the title Songs of Love, with the spoken part removed from Never Been to Me, the third single released from the album, it reached the Hot 100 at no. 97 in August of 1977. The first two singles, It Ain’t Easy Comin’ Down and Freddie, in March and May of 1977, had also managed to reach #96 and #97. However, while those singles also charted on the Easy Listening Chart, I’ve Never Been to Me did not.
Who’s to say why the song did so poorly on its first outing. As was typical in those days, it wasn’t the only version recorded. The first was by Randy Crawford in 1976 and another was by none other than Nancy Wilson in 1977. This version charted at no. 47 on the Billboard R&B chart. Walter Jackson also recorded a version in 1977 with a lyrical version of the song written from a man’s perspective. Another was released in 1978 by Mary MacGregor, reaching no. 29 on the Easy Listening charts. And yet another version, also in 1978, was released by Marti Caine.
While some of these other versions had much better success than Charlene’s original outing, it was Charlene who eventually took the song all the way. In 1982, a DJ in Tampa Florida named Scott Shannon (WRBQ-FM) began playing Charlen’s original version (with the spoken part intact) and a pretty good demand for the song ensued. This was encouraging enough for Motown to resign Charlene and have her record another album, with a new version of “Never Been to Me.” They had to track her down and found her working as a shop clerk in Ilford, Essex, England. This final version of the song spent 23 weeks on the Hot 100, reaching no. 3 in May of 1982.
Charlene recorded a duet with Stevie Wonder called Used to Be, which reached no. 11 in October of 1982. Then, she recorded on more album with Motown in 1984 called Hit and Run Lover. After that, Motown dropped her from the label once again.