I Touch Myself (McEntee/Amphlett/Steinberg/Kelly) – Divinyls 1990
By 1990 the Divinyls had notched up several top five albums – Desperate (#5 in’83) and What A Life (#4 in‘85) as well as Temperamental (#11 in ’88), but the band was fraying at the edges, they had sacked their manager Vince Lovegrove in 1987, and amidst the usual intra-band crises and ongoing substance abuse issues they had survived some very scary times touring the US when opening for the feral fans of such groups as Aerosmith and the Ramones.
Replacement drummer JJ Harris and long-time guitarist/keyboardist Bjarn Ohlin were cut from the band and replaced by Charlie Drayton and Benmont Tench respectively, bassist Rick Grossman went into rehab and was replaced by Randy Jackson, Andrew McManus became their new manager, and work started on the fourth album, Temperamental, with producer Mike Chapman at Sunset Studio, Los Angeles.
The album charted #11 in Australia but failed to impress internationally and there were no hit singles lifted from it, Chrysalis got tired of waiting for the Divinyls to return a profit and dropped them from their roster, in 1990 they were picked up by Virgin
The band’s new American-based manager Freddy DeMann offered Amphlett and McEntee a lifeline, he would set them up with crack songwriters and producers in LA to deliver a hit record that would break the band in America. To do so would require Chrissy Amphlett to explore alternative themes and different rock sensibilities and relinquish some control over the band’s creative processes, which she and Mark McEntee had previously shown great reluctance to do.
Amphlett’s often confrontational sensuality set her apart from other performers, she was equal parts alluring, powerful, quixotic, and compelling and notoriously difficult to work with, she was not only the Divinyls frontwoman but also a driven and often tyrannical manipulator of her fellow bandmates.
Amphlett and McEntee were in the US when they met Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly of Virgin Records in Los Angeles to discuss future projects, Steinberg and Kelly had written big hits before – Like A Virgin (Madonna), Eternal Flame (Bangles), True Colours (Cindy Lauper) and I’ll Stand By You (Pretenders) and were particularly adept at providing material suitable for female lead singers like Amphlett.
Most of the previous Divinyls hits had been written by Amphlett and McEntee with the major exception of Pleasure and Pain, and Steinberg and Kelly preferred to write as a twosome, so some compromises would be required for all four to establish a successful creative partnership.
The concept of auto-eroticism had been explored musically in different ways in the past, Steely Dan and the Buzzcocks had taken their band names from a dildo and a vibrator respectively, and many artists had dedicated odes to onanism – Cindy Lauper (She Bop), Chuck Berry (My Ding-A-Ling), Elvis Costello (Pump It Up), The Who (Pictures of Lily), The Vapours (Turning Japanese), Violent Femmes (Blister In The Sun), Green Day (All By Myself), Skyhooks (Smut) and Hunters and Collectors (The Slab).
A meeting at the Cat and Fiddle club in Hollywood between Amphlett and Steinberg was the first time that the song I Touch Myself was discussed, Steinberg had written the first verse and the chorus, and Amphlett was enthusiastic about self-arousal being the inspiration for a song, the next day McEntee and Kelly joined in and the song was finally developed with all four getting a writing credit.
The song was recorded at the Groove Masters Studios in Santa Monica (Calif.) with Amphlett, McEntee and David Tickle producing the session, the record features a strong bass intro by former Journey bassist Randy Jackson, drums by Charley Drayton, before Amphlett’s vocals commence, the opening lines throw down the gauntlet “I love myself, I want you to love me,/ When I feel down, I want you above me/ I search myself, I want you to find me/ I forget myself, I want you to remind me.”Amphlett had truly connected with the eroticism of the song while still finding the rage that lay behind the lust.
McEntee’s solid guitar accents feature throughout and his guitar solo at the bridge was convincing, Amphlett’s vocals are seductive and stylish, not as threatening, nor predatory as previous Divinyls records, and she is slyly sexy and feminine when delivering the spoken word insert “I want you, I don’t want anybody else/ And when I think about you, I touch myself/ Oo, oo, oo, ahhhhh.”
The video was shot in a former nunnery in Pasadena (Calif.) by movie director Michael Mann, Amphlett takes centre stage in thigh high black boots, low cut fur-trimmed mini dress, numerous shots down the front of her cleavage and longing looks to the camera, as she seductively reclines on a chaise lounge, whilst other female dancers cavort in and out of shot suggesting lesbian themes.
Amphlett’s old school tunic makes a guest appearance later in the video but overall this was a smoother more sophisticated Chrissie Amphlett, the production values were high, and the lyrics were direct and impactful. Chrissy has subsequently admitted that she didn’t like working with Mann, who she found rude, bombastic and arrogant, and Mann has described the video as some of the worst work he has done, yet it was on high rotation on MTV for months, and nominated for an MTV award.
Some found the song offensive at the time, but it wouldn’t cause any concern thirty years later, and for many it proved to be liberating and encouraged women to take control of their sexuality and just as importantly to self-examine for early detection of breast cancer.
When lifted from the diVINYLS album the song became the Divinyls biggest hit, #1 in Australia, #4 in USA, #10 in UK, #8 in Ireland, #13 in Canada, #17 in NZ, the song also featured in the exploding fembot scene in the 1997 comedy Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
Following the sad passing of Chrissie Amphlett in 2013 due to the twin ravages of multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, her cousin Patricia Amphlett (Little Pattie) and Olivia Newton-John were inspired to establish the I Touch Myself Project to promote self-examination and early detection of breast cancer among women. The Divinyls were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2006 amongst a stellar field including Midnight Oil, Rose Tattoo, Helen Reddy, Daddy Cool, Icehouse and Lobby Lloyd.