Monday, March 12, 2018

Women: Woman in Chains

Tears for Fears, featuring Oleta Adams: Woman in Chains


Oleta Adams has a great voice that too few people have heard. In fact, it took a fairly remarkable break for her to finally get her chance at stardom at age 37, and even then, her career never went as far as her talent possibly deserved. Adams learned to sing in church, and added jazz to her repertoire as she went along. In the late 1970s, she recorded a demo that she shopped to major labels, but they wanted disco divas if they signed a black woman at the time, so Adams got no offers. By the early 80s, Adams decided to make a brave move and released two albums on her own label. Remember that there was no internet at the time to allow a self-releasing artist to promote herself. There were independent labels at the time, even small ones, that were having some success with punk, new wave, and early rap, but Adams did not fit any of those categories. By 1985, she had moved to Kansas City, where she was doing a gig at a local hotel. That was where her moment happened. Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal, aka Tears for Fears, came through town during their tour for their smash album Songs From the Big Chair, and they happened to stay at her hotel. It took two years for that to turn into an offer to join their band to record and tour for the follow-up album The Seeds of Love, and the album wasn’t released until 1989. But Adams played piano and sang backup on the first single and title track.

The second single was her moment. Woman in Chains is a duet, and the overlapping vocals by Roland Orzabal and Oleta Adams blend magically. Hearing this, it is hard to guess why they didn’t do more work together. In the event, Tears for Fears signed Adams as a solo artist to their vanity label within their major label, and her first two major label releases were hits, especially in the UK. Over the years, Adams has had the occasional chance to record some jazz, including one song with Antonio Carlos Jobim. But her albums, to my ear, have played it safe with smooth R&B. She does it well, but I can’t help wondering what might have happened if she had taken some chances artistically.

Woman in Chains is a long song, but the lyrics fit comfortably on a napkin. They leave a lot of space for the listener to fill in. It is almost as if the song was conceived alongside its video. Together, they paint a picture of an abusive relationship between a pole dancer and a boxer. The version I have chosen is not the album version, and this is not the official video. Instead, I found a live version that has a more muscular arrangement, and shows off Adams’ voice to even better advantage than the original. The video seen here uses enough of the original footage to tell the full story, but the performance portion of the original has been replaced with new concert footage.

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