WOMEN OF AUSMUSIC – SPECIAL

merril bainbridge1

Mouth (M Bainbridge) and Under the Water (M Bainbridge/O Bolwell/S Paulzen) – Merril Bainbridge 1995

merril bainbridge8Mouth was recorded at the 001 Studios in Carlton (Melb.) in 1994, Bainbridge had been working there as a session vocalist and in return she got some studio time to work on her own songs, she was signed to Gotham Records in 1993, the fledgling label that had been set up by John Farnham and Ross Fraser, which had also signed Bachelor Girl, Katie Underwood and Nikki Webster to their roster .farnham91While Bainbridge is the acknowledged composer of Mouth, she concedes that the collective environment within the recording studio including musicians, writers, programmers, and her producer George Siew, all made creative contributions to the development of this song and others on her debut album Garden. Given the close association of Farnham and Fraser with the record, there were no surprises that members of the Farnham “Whispering Jack  Family” of musos appeared on the Bainbridge recordings – Roger McLachlan (bass), Angus Burchall (drums and percussion), Chong Lim (piano) and Ross Fraser (mixing). merril bainbridge4When Mouth was lifted from the Garden album and originally released in October 1994, it was swamped by the Christmas deluge of seasonal hits and annual compilations; however when re-released in February 1995, it took off and sat atop the ARIA charts for 6 weeks, becoming the fourth highest-selling single in Australia for 1995. Dismissed by some as 90’s bubblegum music,  Bainbridge brought a slightly soft folkie dimension to the song, reminiscent of the hippie fusionists of another era who embraced jazz, pop, and rock, and to that she added the ethereal, languid grace of Kate Bush, to produce a floaty, wistful slice of perfect pop.merril bainbridge9 The playfully erotic nature of Mouth has given rise to much debate about the meaning of the lyrics with Bainbridge deflecting comments that the song is basically about having sex, and while conceding that is part of the chemistry of any relationship, Bainbridge asserts that there are other equally-important dimensions such as being open, emotionally honest, respectful, and non-controlling.

The lyrics and the promo video however do tend to send conflicting messages which lay the sexual content at least, firmly between the lines “would it be my fault if I could turn you on? / would it be so bad if I could turn you on/ when I kiss your mouth, I want to taste it/ turn you upside down, don’t want to waste it.” The promo video featured Bainbridge in a lingerie dress flirting with a man in an open top sports car, intercut with images of another man’s mouth, there were two versions filmed along the Yarra Boulevarde in Kew (Melb.)merril bainbridge 5Musically the song is sweet, simple, catchy 90’s beatbox pop, with vocal osculatory percussive effects courtesy of Jason Catherine, a plinking keyboard insert by Owen Bolwell (above) and solid rhythm section support from Burchall (below) on drums and McLachlan on upright bass, Bainbridge nailed the vocals at the first take, and they were seductive but not submissive.farnham62Mouth was released in the United States on 20 August 1996 and became the most requested song on American radio for three weeks, it debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at number sixty-seven and after twelve weeks, the song peaked at number four, spending a total of thirty weeks in the charts, and  selling 600,000 copies there.  In addition to success in the USA the song was a substantial international hit, #1 in Australia and Canada, top ten throughout Asia, and #17 in NZ, it was a debut million-seller for Bainbridge and she toured the US soon after in 1996 in support of Sheryl Crow.merril bainbridge3The next single lifted off the Garden album was Under the Water  written by Bainbridge, Owen Bolwell (who would wed Bainbrige in 1999) and Stanley Paulzen, it was another gentle, wistful pop song which traded in folksy harmonica and backing vocals by the late Chris Wilson (below), acoustic strumming by Mark Domoney, and was inspired by the death of a lover who had drowned. It peaked at #4 locally for the second top five hit for Baingridge, won the ARIA Award for Most Performed Australian Work in 1996, but it did not chart internationally. merril bainbridge6There were two music videos produced to promote the song, the first one for Australia and a second version for the United States. The original Australian version was a simple black and white video with Bainbridge walking around a forest and performing the song with a band. However, when Bainbridge broke in the U.S. with her previous single Mouth, a more polished video, directed by Martin Kahan, was produced for the American market and showed a man and a woman in a room filled with water.

The album Garden was a local hit, climbing to #5 and selling 140,000 copies, subsequent releases by Bainbridge have not resonated with fans, she joined Johnny Farnham’s 1999 Can’t Believe He’s Fifty Tour along with Kate Ceberamo, Ross Wilson, James Reyne and Human Nature but has been on a lengthy hiatus since the birth of her first child in 2003.  merril bainbridge7

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