Barbara Cartland’s Album of Love Songs, Sung Especially For You is a thrillingly awful recording from 1978 that combines several things I love very much: bad prose, the singing voice of an elderly woman, orchestral music, and non-singers with big egos leveraging success in other mediums to create a vanity album, especially for you! In the case of this record, we have an eighty-year old English romance novelist whose tentative, tremulous soprano quivers and chirps like a small, wounded bird through some of the finest standards ever written. When she attempts to soar you can hear the panicked flapping of a single wing—”ascend, I say!” Throughout, Miss Cartland’s anemic vocals are ably supported by the massive Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, who were undoubtedly well-compensated for this recording. A voice this tentative backed by the Royal Philharmonic is the musical equivalent of using a pen light to guide an ocean liner and, indeed, half the fun of this record is the ever-present risk of icebergs!
Some younger Stargazyers may not be familiar with Barbara Cartland, who was the most well-read romance novelist of the 20th century, selling upwards of one billion books over the course of her “literary” career. Before Jacqueline Susann, Jackie Collins and Danielle Steele, there was Dame Babs. While researching this piece, I learned two things I did not know: one, Cartland was Princess Diana’s step-grandmother and two, she is widely credited being credite with coining the phrase, “bringing sexy back,” which would probably come as a big surprise to Justin Timberlake, who probably didn’t realize he was reviving a phrase that had already been written by the dowager countess of letters. What this means is that though I found many references to Cartland having originated the phrase, I was unable to find anything specific to support the statement, though this does nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for it.
More on one of the all-time great bad albums after the jump as well as a special Zsa Zsa Gabor/Barbara Cartland clip.
Successful as she may have been, (Cartland is apparently the third best selling author of all-time, after Shakeskpeare and Agatha Christie), she is certainly the only one of the three who has recorded an album of love songs (although in the spirit of full disclosure, I did once executive produce a track with Bruce Roberts on a Jackie Collin’s compilation album where that author read passages from her Lethal Seduction opus over a grinding dance track; but that was only one song and Collins only spoke.)
Why am I so passionate about Barbara Cartland’s Album of Love Songs, Sung Especially For You? For one thing, I’ve always been a pushover for anyone who has enough chutzpah to record an album despite having no musical ability whatsoever. This is especially true in the analog era, before pro-tools, when there were essentially no effective tricks to manipulate the voice, other than pushing it back in the mix or blending the vocal with an actual singer (reference Yvette Marine’s lawsuit against Paula Abdul).
Which leads me to the Cartland voice itself, or, if you prefer, aural sfumato: thin, whispy, anemic, and airy as her cotton candy hair, possessing not a single redeeming quality other than an abiding need to somehow be heard! How many recordings can you recall in which vocals sound like they were recorded while reclining in bed; one can almost hear the soft whispering of her satin bedding.
My fascination here goes beyond the music. Each song benefits tremendously from the writer’s self-penned soliloquies that begin and end each song. For example, Irving Berlin’s 1933 How Deep is The Ocean, would certainly have been a bigger hit if Berlin had thought of adding this to the beginning:
“there has never been a lover who has not asked ‘how much do you love me?’ but no one can ever find words to express the wild, burning glory of love…”
Definitely words to live by, unless your Barbara Cartland, who in 1983 alone wrote twenty-three books attempting to “express the wild, burning glory of love.” If no one can ever find the words, she definitely spent a lot of time trying. Another reason for my high regard for this album is the artwork. The front cover photo is exactly what you would expect an album of love songs by an eighty-year old romance novelist to be, all pinks and cremes, replete with small toy dog.
I also enjoy reading and re-reading the back cover, which contains this touching and populist message to her fans:
“When my album of love songs which I sang with the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra was published I said “it’s too expensive!”
Now after a fierce battle you can buy it a price which can be afforded by the people who read my books.
The cassette of me singing the beautify, unforgettable, nostalgic songs which make our hearts throb is only 1.99 pounds. Do listen to it and recall the rapture, the ecstasy and the irresistible joy of Love”. – Barbara Cartland
In one of the album’s standout songs, I’ll Follow My Secret Heart, Barbara abandons the melody altogether in favor of yet more treacly recitative: “A woman must seek all her life until she finds in one man the complete, perfect love which is both human and divine. Any sacrifice is worthwhile when one know the ecstasy, the glory and the irresistible fires of love”. Translated into American English, this roughly means “you, my dear listener, are tasked with a challenge of biblical proportions that is statistically impossible and will unequivocally lead to a lifetime of pain and emptiness.”
Here, don’t take my word for it, judge for yourself:
And because you have read this far, how about Zsa Zsa Gabor and Cartland competing to be heard on Wogan’s UK talker in the 1980s (Barbara was a spry 87):
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