Renee Geyer, Sing To Me and faulty memories

Images from Renee Geyer's 1985 promotional campaign for Sing To Me.

When legendary Australian singer Renee Geyer died in January this year, there was the expected outpouring of tributes and reminiscences.

Not all of these were accurate, alas. For instance, the ABC’s piece on Geyer’s death includes this entirely false claim:

Geyer's highest-charting single, Heading in the Right Direction, was released in 1975. The single — from her third studio album Ready to Deal — peaked at number 31 on the Kent Music Report in 1976.

Nonsense. Geyer’s biggest hit was 1981’s ‘Say I Love You’, which peaked at #5. And she had 3 other singles which got higher than #31:

  • ‘Stares And Whispers’, 1976, #17
  • ‘Do You Know What I Mean?’, 1981, #29
  • ‘All My Love’, 1985, #28

That last hit is the one I want to discuss here. It’s from my favourite Renee album, 1985’s Sing To Me. That was her only album for Warners/WEA, having started her recording career on Mushroom. It also provides yet another example of how pop star memories can be fallible.

Here’s that hit to get us in the mood.

Renee herself was not a fan of Sing To Me. Here’s her typically blunt assessment from her 2000 autobiography Confessions Of A Difficult Woman:

I tried to carry on through the eighties after Mushroom let me go. I approached Warner Brothers (WEA) — just rang up without representation, made an appointment and went by myself to talk to Peter Ikin, head of A&R at the time. My spiel must have been good because he signed me immediately. ‘Sing to Me’ was the album that resulted, and I have to say it was a stinker. It was probably the single most terrible record I’ve ever made. There were no redeeming features (well, maybe just the title track, a Don Walker song). I was a music moron.

According to an interview Renee gave to the Canberra Times in 1985, Ikin signed her after hearing a demo of ‘Faithful Love’ she’d already recorded (and which ended up on the album). So a little more than a “spiel” was involved, it seems.

The album was a star-studded affair. As well as Don Walker, it included songs composed by Tim Finn (then recently ex-Split Enz) and Dragon’s Alan Mansfield and Todd Hunter. Eurogliders’ Amanda Vincent contributed keyboards, and Venetta Fields and Mark Williams popped up on backing vocals.

Sing To Me is a deeply mid-1980s record, awash with synths and funky bass. That’s why I like it. Renee was and is welcome to hate it. Opinions differ.

However, the very next paragraph in Confessions Of A Difficult Woman gave me more substantial pause:

After one single, Warners dropped me, and Peter Ikin sent my representative at the time a letter. It said something like, ‘We really respect Renee as one of our great singers but we don’t think that her greatness as a singer translates to record sales.’ In other words, you’re OK, but get out of the recording business.

I know this isn’t true. Why? Because I clearly remember when the second single from Sing To Me, the Tim Finn-composed ‘Every Day Of The Week’, was released, with the video popping up on Countdown and being carefully recorded by me on VHS.

I own both this single and ‘All My Love’ on vinyl. Despite the Finn pedigree and the cheerfully camp video, the song was a very minor hit, reaching #88.

Renee Geyer's All My Love and Every Day Of The Week 7" singles.

What I hadn’t realised until researching this piece was that Sing To Me also produced a third single, ‘Faithful Love’. It didn’t chart, and WEA didn’t even run to a video or even a picture sleeve this time around.

So I don’t doubt that Renee got dropped. But all the evidence suggests that was after three singles were released, not just one. WEA gave up, but not quite that quickly.

Renee’s own comments at the time also suggest a messier story than being dumped by letter. Interviewed (again) by the Canberra Times in 1986, she said:

The worst thing about this was that they didn’t talk about it or give even an inkling that it was going to happen. They just stopped answering calls from my representative or me.

Anyway, was Sing To Me really a flop? It reached #37, which probably wasn’t enough to make back recording costs.

The Canberra Times 1985 interview says that the album had sold 15,000 copies in Australia and she had a 3-year, 3-album contract, and the same figures pop up in the 1986 piece. The latter article makes it clear the contract included an option allowing the label to terminate early. That’s how the industry goes.

In any event, 1981’s So Lucky, which included the big hit ‘Say I Love You’, only got to #31. Not a whole lot better.

WEA obviously though there was enough life in it to reissue it on CD in the mid-1990s as part of its ‘Original Masters’ cut-price range. Which is, of course, when I picked it up. (Note the FULL DIGITAL RECORDING boast on the cover. We cared about that stuff at the time.)

The lesson? Angry pop stars don’t have perfect memories. But that’s OK, as long as they produce the goods. Thanks Renee.

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