DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (Rachel Sweet Up)

“Shadows of the Night”
Rachel Sweet (1981)
Not released as a single. #13 in Billboard for Pat Benetar in 1982
Recommended source: Fool Around: The Best of Rachel Sweet

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Rachel Sweet was too early and too late. Too late to be a straightforward heir of the Brenda Lee rasp (which, as of the mid-seventies, had been taken over by adults like Stevie Nicks), and too early to catch the wave of teen angel-dom she helped create (of which Tiffany and Debbie Gibson were the prime beneficiaries and formers of the bridge to Britney and Miley and whoever’s hustling the mall crowd right now, working for the day when they, too, are chosen) none of whom could sing like Rachel Sweet.

Her early records on Stiff excited some critics and a hardcore cult, just enough to ensure that a small, fierce, purely informal band would carry on even if she left the biz. I count myself an enthusiastic member.

Later on, she did indeed leave the biz–at least the rock and roll part of it. She grew up, graduated from Columbia (the university), and made a mint writing and producing for television. According to Wikipedia she was eventually worth enough to buy and sell one of Madonna’s houses for some ridiculous sum.

Good for her.

But those of us in the shameless cult still remember what might have been. She flirted with stardom throughout the late seventies and early eighties. Her cover of Carla Thomas’s “B-A-B-Y” made the UK top forty. A slightly surreal duet with Rex Smith on “Everlasting Love,” after she signed with Columbia (the record label), did the same in the U.S. She scraped other charts here and there across the western world.

But, on the whole, her records worked best as secrets and the best secret of all was “Shadows of the Night.” Ex-pat Helen Schneider had a big, contemporary hit with her version in Germany and other parts of Europe. That may have been why Sweet’s American label didn’t release her version as a single.

Or maybe they were just stupid.

It took a lot of miscalculation to prevent Sweet from being a star. And, as my dad used to say about certain other inexplicable things, sometimes you have to assume it must have taken a genius, because no ordinary man could have done it.

The stupidity all around was exposed a year later when Pat Benetar had one of the biggest hits of a hit-machine career with a version that was half as good.

I’m glad Rachel got rich. I only wish it had been for the best of reasons and not just one more proof of a world gone sideways.

Stiff Records 1978

8 thoughts on “DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (Rachel Sweet Up)

  1. I love this stuff. Having wondered who that voice belonged to since the 80s, it was great to find out a bit of what happened.
    The music “business” has appeared, to me at least, to be a sharkskin suited version of the dark dream of amerika that so very much controls what we see, hear, eat, wear and have to live. I guess that makes me an optimistic cynic as well as a rational anarchist, because sometimes, if only for a brief moment, art, ideals and life’s liberty wins.
    So, check out LONE JUSTICE, and Maria McKee. They were a great band that also went nowhere at around 1985. I discovered them by chance while reading some SF. They were mentioned in passing, and I looked them up. Just give a listen and look at “Ways To Be Wicked”, “East of Eden”, and “The Train”. You’ll see what I mean.

  2. I love Maria…she’s a pretty good bet for a future post in this little series…And she’s a big Rachel Sweet fan as well! (I probably should have mentioned that in the piece…I didn’t mean to imply that Rachel’s influence was purely commercial!)

  3. It’s all music. Commercial, I don’t think so either. It’s the obvious energy in the performance and the ingenuous grace, and presence that shine!

  4. I think what I really wanted to say was we’d be living in a better world if folks like Rachel and Maria were more “commercial.” No disrespect to those who are. (Even if I don’t like them, I respect what it takes to make it.)

    • Darn right. What it takes to make it can be unacceptable and one can only wish that more “commercial” means that the suits let the artists drive the music that they make and that that’s what gets recorded and sold. My rant!

    • what a Twilight Zone-esque coincidence–BOTH “East of Eden” by Lone Justice AND several Rachel Sweet songs appear in the ill-fated Sweet showcase “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel” (1983)…I guess Lone Justice wrote the song earlier than ’85 (maybe ’82, when “Hotel” was shot?) and commissioned it to the filmmakers, allowing Sweet to perform it…or were they friends?

      • I don’t know if they were/are friends, but Maria was definitely a faf of Rachel (and I can’t imagine Rachel not being a fan of hers in return)…I’ll have to seek out Rock n Roll Hotel. Was it a movie? Whatever it was, if Rachel was in it, I’ll want to see it at least once!

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