Game-Changing Women of Australian Music – Kate Ceberano Pt. 2

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Bedroom Eyes (R Jones/S McKinney) and Love Dimension (Anderson/S Oliver/K Montano/M Oldland) and Young Boys are My Weakness (R La Pread/W King) – Kate Ceberano 1989

In 1986 I’m Talking had broken up after taking their last two singles into the top ten and succeeding with their debut album Bear Witness, Kate was looking to pursue other musical directions that would reflect her love of jazz, swing, and music of bygone eras, even though these were not highly commercial decisions, but her brief experience with PWL/SAW in the UK had stiffened her resolve to avoid being commodified according to the dictates of record companies.

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Her first solo album in 1987 would be a live recording of a performance of torch songs and jazz standards titled Kate Ceberano and Her Septet, it was a welcome addition to the emerging nostalgia cabaret genre, it charted #29, occupied the charts for 14 weeks, and sold 35,000 copies.

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She would follow up a year later with the album You’ve Always Got the Blues, a joint collaboration with Wendy Matthews, produced by Martin Armiger (Sports), that genre-hopped across country, blues, and R&B, as two great female voices sang solos and duets that resonated with fans, it scored a #8 hit and sold 35,000 copies, and Kate’s solo career was off and running. Below Los Trios Ringbarkus, only two in the trio, gettit.

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On a personal level Kate was still in a relationship with comedian Stephen Kearney, a member of the zany Los Trios Ringbarkus, Stephen was madcap, clownish, completely natural, eleven years older than Kate, and totally uncool; very different from Kate and her music industry friends, but as opposites often attract, they clicked and would stay together for five years. Below L-R – L Ron Hubbard Founder of Scientology, Headquarters (they clearly had an edifice complex), Poster Boy Tom preaching the gospel.

Kate had also revealed her family’s belief in scientology, a curious quasi-religious cult that emerged from the sci-fi mumbo-jumbo of an American, L Ron Hubbard, the proponent of a spurious science called dianetics. To this day Kate remains the most public adherent of Scientology in this country, although James Packer once flirted with it, and internationally several high-profile performers – Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley, John Travolta, Anne Archer, and Juliette Lewis – have also revealed their continued support for the movement. In 2014 she would attend a Scientology convention in the UK where she received a Freedom Award from the cult with its poster boy Tom Cruise in attendance. She would also peform at this function, and later enrol her daughter Gypsy in a residential Scientology training programme at the Delphinian School (Oregon, USA), but by 2020 the young girl had left the programme. Below – Kate 2nd from the left at the 2014 Scientology Function in the UK, wearing her “Freedom Medal”.

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In 1987 Kate decided to sack her manager Ken West, he had advised Kate not to do tabloid interviews, which he regarded as potentially predatory and unnecessary, the revelations about scientology were a case in point, but Kate resented this advice and promptly installed her mother Cherie as her new manager. Cherie was a capable career counsellor and had her daughter’s best interests at heart, but she was a novice when it came to planning, guiding, and commercializing her daughter’s career in entertainment, and after several years she would be replaced by Bruce Pawsey, the drummer in Kate’s band, who would prove to be yet another unfortunate choice. The sacking of West followed by the installation of Cherie as manager, would echo in the next millennium when Delta Goodrem would sack Glenn Wheatley and replace him with her mother Lea, who was ill-equipped to curate her daughter’s career, and was also sacked several years later, at the insistence of Goodrem’s record company. Below L-R – Ken West, Mum Cherie and Kate, Kate and Bruce Pawsey.

Contractually Kate still had unfinished business with London Records and briefly PWL/SAW, and returned to London to record there, she was unimpressed with the material she was offered which she regarded as second-rate dance factory songs, but she did record a catchy re-mix of Young Boys are My Weakness with producers Phil Harding and Ian Curnow.

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This was a cover of a 1974 hit by The Commodores entitled Young Girls are My Weakness, at a time when the lyrics were regarded as raunchy and controversial,  before rap and hip hop made the use of  profanities and sexual innuendo more commonplace “Hey boys let’s mess around/I wanna party with you on the town/Some boys really make me swing/There ain’t nothin’ like a pretty young thing/Young boys are really mellow/You don’t believe me then just try this fellow/ (I know what to say when they call me on the phone)/You call me back when your momma ain’t home/Young boys are my weakness/I just like their sweetness”. It was dance-pop and the re-mix gave it a Paula Abdul vibe, sax, keyboards, and sassy vocals by Kate elevated the song, and the music vid was luminous and catchy, although the use of imagery of very young children was unacceptable then, as it would be now. It became Ceberano’s only UK top 100 entry when it stalled at #98, but fared better locally when released as a double-A side single with Brave, and climbed to #15. Because of the controversial lyrics Ceberano no longer performs this song, feeling that her present age makes it inappropriate, in 2022 Kate turns 56.

Close your eyes and it sounds like I’m Talking.

In late 1988 Kate would commence recording her debut solo album, and Brave would emerge as her biggest hit, but it was not without great drama, as the London recording sessions were chaotic, unplanned, and lacked quality control.

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Ultimately London Records washed their hands of the whole project, the group returned to Melbourne with their box of multi-track tapes, and turned to Nick Launay to salvage the album. He set up in the Paradise Studios and painstakingly sorted through the tapes, retained local session musos, and ultimately produced a brilliant debut album for Kate. Below – Nick Launay.

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The first single released locally was the uber funky Bedroom Eyes, a song that Cherie had found while trawling through various Los Angeles song publishers, it was written by Ray Jones who had been the keyboard player for Chic and he had recorded hits with Chic, Diana Ross and Sister Sledge, as well as producing hits for Whitney Houston and Patti La Belle. But Jones attempts at producing this song with Kate in London were abysmal, a $500 demo track that had been made in Melbourne by Ashley Cadell prior to Kate departing for the UK was far superior, and it proved to be difficult to prise production control away from Jones, who had an ego to match his reputation.

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Bedroom Eyes was the big hit that Kate needed at this early stage in her solo career, it was sophisticated, Latin-flavored, uptempo pop, and the music vid played up the continental angle, with Kate introing the song with seductive words in Filipino Tagalog, writhing on a large bed in a low-cut LBD, and spending time with her lover in Lygon St cafes and streets, the lyrics were steamy and direct –“You’re part of me, my one obsession/And from this power you possess I need protection/When you’re staring straight through me/With those eyes those bedroom eyes/I’m lost for words so hypnotized/I can feel it in my heart it’s about to start/With those eyes those bedroom eyes.” But the vid was chaste by modern standards and Kate was luminous, and clearly enjoying herself. The song charted #2, sold over 70,00 copies, and was the 9th highest -selling single for the year in 1989.

Kate’s biggest hit, she was peaking in her solo career.

Her follow up, Love Dimension was another slice of sassy synthpop with Kate urging her man to make his intentions clear, and take her to another dimension, the vid was one of her best, stylish, dynamic, colourful, and as Kate moved to the beat flowers bloomed and oily beefcake guys flexed their muscles, it charted #14 and assisted the album Brave to notch up sales in excess of 200,000 copies, and rank #5 in the list of top-selling local albums for the year.

Sassy pop from KC.

Kate ended 1989 on a high note when she won the ARIA Award for Best Female Artist, and followed up in 1990 with ARIA awards for Highest-Selling Single (Bedroom Eyes), and Best Female Artist for her debut album (Brave); although she did later express regrets about agreeing to appear on the cover of Playboy magazine in 1989 in a revealing pose that she later described as exploitive.

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