Music And Concerts



The Divine Miss M (1972)

US: Platinum
Billboard peak: # 9

Tracks: "Do You Want To Dance?" - "Chapel Of Love" - "Superstar" - "Daytime Hustler" - "Am I Blue" - "Friends" - "Hello In There" - "Leader Of The Pack" - "Delta Dawn" - "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" - "Friends"

Listen To Audio Samples

Rolling Stone Magazine (RS 124), Jon Landau

Bette Midler has been pushed so hard and so fast I naturally assumed she was not just a hype but destined to become a fad, perhaps earning enormous stardom for a while, but spending those earnings lightning fast. Now we have The Divine Miss M, which proves me wrong at the same time that it proves Miss M to be one hell of a talent. Tom Jones will burn himself out because his ratio is wrong-25 percent art, 75 percent artifice. Elvis Presley can record one of the five biggest singles of this year, almost two decades after he released his first, because his ratio is right-100 percent talent, 100 percent artifice. You can't have too much of the second as long as you have the first. And Bette Midler has both.

In a scene so dominated by trends, it is reassuring to see that if time seldom makes amends for undeserved obscurity, in the end it very often separates the deserved from the undeserved successes. It may be the gimmickry and publicity surrounding Bette Midler that will make her album one of the biggest-selling debuts of the year, but it is her own ability that will sustain her career. In the same way, a variety of factors helped bring Barbra Streisand her initial acclaim, but only her talent has kept her going 12 years after that fact.

By talent I don't mean technical virtuosity (although in Streisand's case, that can't be overlooked), but only the consistent ability to express oneself through his work. On Live, Barbra doesn't just express through, but trounces upon-dominates and overpowers-the music with the self-assurance that only years of unquestioned success, coupled with a continuing desire to reprove oneself, can bring. She remains most at ease with pop music-my favorite on this album is "On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)," which she sang so beautifully in Vincente Minnelli's marvelous movie of the same name-while she continues to deal with rock as a concession to the changing taste of her audience. Rather the opposite of Presley, who sings pop as a concession and the rock as a natural expression.

Thus, she jokes about the fact that she has to read the words to "Stoney End" because she hasn't sung the song in two years. And she sings "Sweet Inspiration" without ever betraying the fact that someone else once had a million seller with the same song. "Where You Lead" seems to hit her closer to home, and her reading of the lyrics sounds appropriately more personal. In fact, because the last two are done as a medley, the difference in her feeling for them is exceptionally striking.

And yet the shortcomings never really seem to matter. There is something about that big, beautiful, instantly recognizable voice singing in front of a strictly pro big band (playing off of some very classy charts) that casts a shadow over the material. As with Presley, the songs are overwhelmed by the artist. Within her medium Streisand may pick them better, but as with him, it is always the singer, not the song, you remember hours after you've finished listening.

I can't judge this album in relation to her others because I don't know them all that well. I enjoy this one the way I enjoy the work of any super-pro. Barbra is like Willie Mays, always there when needed, always delivering more than expected. If her onstage sense of humor is a bit forced and her interpretations occasionally too distant for my taste, it remains just that-a matter of taste, not judgment. And when she turns at the end of this album to the one truly inspired piece of work that made her reputation, the ironic, depressed version of "Happy Days Are Here Again," and sings it a little more joyfully (the album was recorded at a McGovern benefit) and with a little more hope than she used to-well, I like that a lot.

Bette Midler is just as much a New Yorker, and even more a ham, so that it's even harder (and less important) to differentiate between her ability and her aura. There are a lot of female, hammy, New York crooners, but not all of them have pushed it to Bette's extreme and maybe that, more than her freakish popularity with gay audiences at New York's Continental Baths, accounts for all the immediate commotion. She is more Judy Garland than Judy ever dreamed of being, more aware of her audience than any rock group, and, most importantly, has the intuitive sense to pitch herself one step ahead of the expectations she herself so carefully generates in her audience.

Miss Midler sings too much rock to be considered a cabaret singer and too much pop to be considered a rock singer. She doesn't write yet, but she sure can pick them.

She camps it up, but with such skill that if her performance is a put-on, that fact is irrelevant. Like Hitchcock, she keeps you guessing about how she really means it and how you should be taking it. You start to laugh but then it's not really funny; it's good, but then it's not just good but moving; and then suddenly it's corny and you're laughing again-all the while fascinated, entertained and involved.

By now it may sound as if I'm describing a performance, but I've never seen her live. Everything here is a reaction to the record and everything that surrounds it. Here comes the opening of "Do You Want to Dance." (What is it about this utterly simple song that has kept it so alive? The title, above all; it is pure rock classicism.) What is she going to do with it? Why, she's going to sing it. How is she going to sing it? Quietly, simply, with dignity and soul, and then a little something else.

Well then, "Chapel of Love" has got to be a joke. Fooled again. Oh, it's a bit frantic but she means it and the band ain't no disgrace either. Sure isn't Sha Na Na and she really has a voice. "Super Star" is only a momentary down (and would be sung by anyone) while "Am I Blue" belongs on the Streisand album-Bette is reaching for every pair of ears she can get. John Prine's "Hello in There" is a high point, evocative, poignant, but not overdone.

"Friends" in its second version hits closest to home. Its lyrics are as hokey and as natural for Bette as "People" is for Barbra. But the music is very close in style to that of another New York prima donna, Laura Nyro-down to a melodic lift in one spot from "Save the Country." The purity of intent that marks most of the album is marred by Bette's only lapse in taste, a beautifully sung but pointlessly over-arranged version of "Leader of the Pack." "Day-time Hustler" is the closest she comes to pure rock, "Delta Dawn" is her true piece-devocal-resistance, and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" is a superb combination of nostalgia, novelty and camp, based on a piece from way before my time, in which co-producer Ahmet Ertegun no doubt had an extra large hand.

The Divine Miss M is a flawed piece of work but an exciting one. It shows that, as with the best of them, the identity surrounding her is just an extension of her burgeoning but very real art. She's a little over excited and a bit too manicky on record, but she is alive and burning and hot to trot. And she has something to show for it already-a damn good album. And like the lady at the head of her particular class-Miss Streisand-the mellowing can wait a while. She'll be around long enough to make that move when the time is right-which is more than you can say for most of the competition.

Rolling Stone Magazine (unpublished), Robert Christgau

Three "oldies" and two "standards" interspersed with five contemporary titles--conceptually, it seems pretty normal, a cover album Cyndi Lauper or Bryan Adams might try. But in 1972 The Divine Miss M was an outrageous assertion of taste. No rock-identified artists were consorting with the enemy--i.e, the grownups who teared up over the Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and Ethel Waters's "Am I Blue." Bobby Freeman's "Do You Want To Dance" had an acceptable rock and roll pedigree--released 1958, before "the day the music died," snuffle snuffle--even if Midler slowed it down and torched it up. But Beatle-era girl groups like the Dixie Cups ("Chapel of Love") and the Shangri-Las ("Leader of the Pack") had not yet, incredible though it may seem, joined the canon.

If it seems doubly incredible that this future Hollywood diva was rock-identified, her choice of contemporaries assured it, John Prine and Leon Russell especially, and never mind that the Carpenters got to "Superstar" first. As for "Delta Dawn," how were mere rockers to know that Nashville thought it was Tanya Tucker's, much less that Helen Reddy wanted it too? How were they to know that this brassy-voiced musical comedy vet and her jazz-tinged schlock-rock production were corrupting red-blooded heterosexual singer-songwriterdom with a sensibility both gay and feminist--a sensibility that adored daring women from Ethel Waters to Midler herself and made room for Tanya and Karen too?

Never again would Midler sell this sensibility with such verve--a part of her really liked schlock, and once established she indulged the weakness. But on this album the facetious comedy and complex kindness of camp still lifts songs that seem obvious now because she helped make them that way. It posits a unified field theory of American pop that only philistines would be narrow-minded enough to deny.

Consumer Guide Reviews, Robert Christgau

Midler thinks "cabaret" encompasses every emotion and aspiration ever transfixed by pop music. People who've seen her like this record more than people who haven't, which isn't good. But as someone who's been entranced by her show many times I'm grateful for a production that suggests its nutty quality without distracting from her voice, a rich instrument of surprising precision, simultaneously delicate and vulgar. I'd ease up on the '60s nostalgia by replacing "Chapel of Love" with "Empty Bed Blues," but anybody who can expose "Leader of the Pack"'s exploration of the conflict between love and authority has a right. A-

Entertainment Weekly, Jess Cagle

Produced with help from Barry Manilow, the album not only won her a Grammy as best new artist but crystallized the Divine Miss M persona-a lonely, misfit funny girl on ''Friends'' and the aching ''Delta Dawn,'' gleefully possessed by her own gargantuan talent on the rambunctious ''Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.'' She may not always hit the notes, but she always hits on some truth. A