You Light Up My Life
November 27th, 2013
Todd plays "You Light Up My Life" on his piano.
DEBBY BOONE - YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE
A pop song review
Todd: Welcome back to One Hit Wonderland, where we take a look at the careers of bands and artists known for only one song. And today, we are going to look at one of the [As the bold words appear] BIGGEST...HITS...OF ALL...TIME! Yes, you heard me. One of the all-time biggest chart-smashing mega-hits ever! Yes, today we are looking at...
- Video for "You Light Up My Life"
- Debby Boone: You light up my life
- You give me hope to carry on
Todd: Uh...yeah, guess it's not that impressive when you start actually playing it. But yes, one of the biggest hits of all time. In fact, Billboard listed it as the [shot of Billboard Hot 100 55th Anniversary: The All-Time Top 100 Songs, Top Ten page] 9th biggest hit in the entire history of the Hot 100, [single cover] and the single biggest hit of the entire 1970s.
Todd (VO): Yeah, not "Stayin' Alive", not "Dancing Queen" or "I Will Survive". Nope, "You Light Up My Freaking Life".
- Another televised appearance begins
- Debby: So many nights I'd sit...
Todd (VO): Yeah, see, adult alternative effectively killed the easy-listening format by the end of the 90s. But for a good, solid three decades, it was an incredibly successful, chart-dominating format, especially in the 70s, when your Barbra Streisands and your Barry Manilows and your Olivia Newton-Johns were the thundering gods of the music world.
Todd: So you might be thinking it was all [pictures of Studio 54, still from Soul Train, and Led Zeppelin] cocaine disco orgies, Afro-tastic funk and groupie-banging classic rock. But what the people really wanted was sappy love ballads from Stepford Wivey young women like [album covers of the Carpenters - Voice of the Heart] Karen Carpenter, [...and The Captain & Tennille - Love Will Keep Us Together] Toni Tennille...
Todd (VO): ...and the woman you see before you, the divine Miss Debby Boone.
- Debby: And you...
Todd (VO): Boone lucked into the song of a lifetime in 1977. And to the world at large, she is basically known for that one single hit. But did you know that she has quite a long career of recorded output?
Todd: Did you wanna know? Well, too damn bad!
Todd (VO): We're gonna look at the one stunning hit of the most softacular, milquetoast, bland, Good Housekeeping balladeer of all time, and then we're just gonna keep digging further.
Todd: Look, I just need to wash the taste of Miley out of my brain, alright? So, Debby Boone - "You White Up My Life". Light up...you light up my life. Let's go.
- Debby: And fill my nights with song
Before the hit
Todd: Back in the 1950s, there was this guy.
- Clip of performance of...
- Pat Boone: Ain't that a shame
Todd (VO): His name is Pat Boone. Nowadays, people only really remember him for covering a bunch of metal [clip of Boone shaking Alice Cooper's hand at 1997 American Music Awards] songs a decade ago and getting himself in trouble. [Clip of performance in infomercial] But my dad tells me that, for many decades, he was the most loathable man in America.
- Performance of "April Love"
- Pat: April love
Todd (VO): He's been kinda written out of the history books, but he was there at the dawn of rock 'n roll. [Clip of "A Wonderful Time Up There"] He was a contemporary of Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers. He was one of the original teen idols, and, in terms of chart success, he rivaled the [clip of Elvis] King himself. In fact, he and Elvis had a lot in common. They were both instrumental in bringing black music to white America. Uh, the difference between him and Elvis was...
Todd: ...Pat Boone did it by making it suck.
- Clip from Don't Knock the Rock (The original)
- Little Richard: Tutti Frutti, oh Rudy
- Tutti Frutti, oh Rudy
- Woo! Tutti Frutti
- Clip of Pat Boone performance from 1957 (The Pat Boone version)
- Pat: A-wop-bop, a-loo-mop, a-lop-bop-bop
- Tutti Frutti, aw Rudy
- Tutti Frutti, aw Rudy
Todd (VO): In other words, for decades, Pat Boone would've been the whitest kid you know. [Clip of performance] And unusually for a teen idol, he also got married super-young and starting popping out kids immediately, [Picture of the Boones. Debby is in front row, second from left] including his third child Debby, who he had in 1956, when he was just 22.
Todd: Now, on her mother's side, Debby is also the granddaughter of [clip of...] Red Foley, a country music legend from the 40s and 50s. And, as a weird kind of parallel, Pat Boone and Red Foley both eventually turned to making gospel records. It should also be noted that, if you didn't know already...
- Clips of Pat Boone
Todd (VO): ...Pat Boone is extremely religious and has been a major figure in the Christian subculture for a long, long time, so that's the environment Debby grew up in. I read she actually went through a rebellious phase in high school, which...I can only imagine what that was like. Maybe she didn't finish her peas once.
Todd: But she outgrew that by the time she reached adulthood and instead decided she wanted to continue the family tradition of crap.
- Single cover of The Pat Boone Family - "Please, Mr. Postman"
- Boones: Mr. Postman, look and see
Todd (VO): The Boone girls formed in the mid-70s, making gospel albums. [Album cover of The Pat Boone Family] They weren't particularly successful, but I've heard some sources say that they basically started the entire contemporary Christian genre we know and love today, so, uh...thank them for that.
But anyway, [picture of Debby] their manager apparently pegged Debby as the breakout star of the group, so...
Todd: ...when one day, he caught some terrible movie with a promising song on the soundtrack, he got Debby to sing it solo. The result?
The big hit
Todd: "You Light Up My Life" comes from the...
- [Poster and still of...]
Todd (VO): ...movie of the same name, which stars Frenchy from Grease as a struggling, up-and-coming singer. The song was written by an [picture of...] ad jingle writer, Joseph Brooks, who was also the screenwriter and director of the movie. [Second poster] By all accounts, the movie is awful, and [shot of Netflix queue. You Light Up My Life availability listed as "Short Wait"] Netflix outright refused to send me a copy. (MY ASS, NETFLIX) But there are...
Todd: ...clips available online. Let's see what it's like.
- Clip from You Light Up My Life
- Producer: What's the name of the song?
- Laurie (Didi Conn): "You Light Up My Life".
- Conductor: "You Light Up My Life". Two, two...
- [Song begins]
- Laurie: So many nights...
Todd (VO): Pfft! Right! Yeah, no. Nice lip-syncing, Lina Lamont. Yeah, why would someone with that speaking voice sound like that when she sings?
Todd: Here, let me try and match that masterpiece of dubbing.
- Clip from Flight of the Conchords - "Murray Takes It to the Next Level"
- Mel (Kristen Schaal): Wouldn't it more fantastic if the world was more like your dreams?
- Jemaine and Bret: Yeah.
- Jemaine: Yes, some dreams.
- Mel: [dubbed over with Snap! - "The Power"] I've got the power!
Todd: But anyway, let's look at the song itself, which won an Oscar that year.
- Debby Boone singing at 50th Academy Awards
- Debby: So many nights, I'd sit by my window
Todd (VO): "You Light Up My Life" is basically the model for the big soundtrack ballad that got big in the 90s. "I Will Always Love You", "My Heart Will Go On", "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You", they're all basically attempts to do what "You Light Up My Life" did in 1977.
- Debby: And you light up my life
Todd (VO): Now with that said, "You Light Up My Life" has not exactly aged well. In fact, it's really quite terrible. We as a culture have collectively accepted that it is one of the worst songs of all time, and with good reason—it's an incredibly white-bread and lifeless little tune. And considering that it was, again, the 9th biggest hit of all time, I can only imagine what a crushing avalanche of soft rock garbage it felt like at the time. Holy Christ.
Todd: No, literally, Holy Christ. [Crosses heart] As the world later learned...
Todd (VO): ...Debby Boone based her interpretation of the song around her love of Jesus. Yes, there is one man in Debby's life, and that man has...
Todd: ...some ripped abs and a killer beard.
Jesus: Is there anything wrong with that?
Todd: [bowing head] No, my Lord.
- Debby: You light up my days
Todd (VO): But isn't the song actually about Jesus? Probably not, at least not originally. But you know...it certainly can be. The joke is that most Christian songs are just regular pop songs with the word "Jesus" added in, but "You Light Up My Life" actually fits pretty well into the genre.
Todd: For one, "You Light Up My Life" is an incredibly chaste, even unromantic love song.
- Debby: Finally, a chance
- To say, "hey, I love you."
Todd: Hey. I love you.
- Debby: Rolling at sea
Todd (VO): No, I mean, you could sing this song to your kid or your mom or your houseplant even, and there wouldn't be anything creepy or wrong about it.
- Debby: Could it be finally
- I'm turning for home?
Todd (VO): It's just that un-adult, so why not Jesus? More importantly, it's a song about how much better this unnamed person or thing or idea makes their lives, and obviously that lends itself to religion-y types pretty easily.
Todd: It's an "inspirational song," as they like to call it. You know? I can only imagine that I could sing of your love forever.
- Debby: And fill my nights with song
Todd: You fill my nights...with song. If that line ended with anything else, Debby Boone would not be singing it.
Todd (VO): Most importantly, it's got that skim-milk, scrubbed clean, "I've never had a real problem in my life" affectation that quickly became the hallmark of contemporary Christian music. She's got a very Christian-music singing style, you know. Perfect, clear vocals, obnoxiously chipper. That's exactly why Christian music has such a bad reputation. It's music for people who have the answer to every problem they could ever possibly have, quasi-spiritual songs like "You Light Up My Life" included.
Todd: And it's...it's not even a matter of me thinking they're wrong, it's just...that doesn't make for very good art.
- Debby: It can't be wrong
Todd (VO): Of course, the songwriter Joseph Brooks never came out and said it was about Jesus, but I have to believe he must have been some kind of devout Christian. This is the kind of song he wrote, and it just goes to reason. He had to be some kind of Bible-thumping goody-goody.
Todd: I bet he became, like, a musical director for Pat Robertson or somebody. What is he doing now? [New York Post article: "Sicko songwriter, accused rapist Joseph Brooks kills self"] Huh.
The failed follow-up
- Clip from Grammys
Todd (VO): Debby won the Grammy for Best New Artist that year. Way to screw it up again, Grammys. Can you believe? I can't believe she beat out those other great nominees that year, like [album covers of Careless by...] Stephen Bishop, [Flowing Rivers by...] Andy Gibb, [...and the self-titled debut of...] Shaun Cass-- Okay...
Todd: There had to have been better new artists than that.
Todd (VO): Despite that, Debby didn't really have another hit off those first couple albums. I've read a few interviews where Debby lamented that having her dad's name kinda pigeonholed her into being this lightweight, goody-two-shoes kind of artist, which she didn't feel reflected who she really was. Me personally, though, I say, if the shoe fits.
Todd: But who knows? Maybe she broke out of that mold with those next few singles.
- Performance of "Baby, I'm Yours"
- Debby: Baby, I'm yours
- And I'll be yours until the stars fall from the sky
Todd's about to throw up
Todd (VO): What is she doing? Like, why is she smiling that much? Did she down a whole bottle of Quaaludes? It's creepy.
Uh, that's pretty much what all her first few years of music sounded like, just trust me on this. In 1980, she bailed on pop altogether and instead became a country artist, and she was actually moderately successful for a couple years.
- Clip of "Desperado"
- Debby and Kenny Rogers: Your prison is walking...
Todd (VO): Uh, the early 80s were a very, very lightweight time in country music, so she fit right in. She notched a few Top 40 country songs and even one #1 single.
- Clip of "Are You On The Road To Lovin' Me Again"
- Debby: Are you on the road to lovin' me again
- Did the trail of yellow brick come to an end
- [Todd dances a little in his chair]
- Did you realize the future lies right here where you began
Todd (VO): But even Nashville found Debby a little too corny and got tired of her fairly quickly. After her third album flopped in 1983, she quit country music too.
Did she ever do anything else?
Todd: Uh, yeah? See...
- Promo for MTV
Todd (VO): ...around this time, MTV showed up and everything got a lot more flashy and image-driven. Debby's fellow country-pop singer Olivia Newton-John dealt with the issue like this.
- Clip of Olivia Newton-John - "Physical"
- Olivia: Let's get animal, animal
- I wanna get animal
Todd: Obviously, Debby opted to go in a different direction.
- Clip of "Keep the Flame Burning"
- Debby: It's clear to me now
- You are my only refuge
Todd (VO): And so, Debby Boone ended up exactly where everyone knew she would—as a Christian artist. And she was pretty successful throughout the 80s. Hell, she was even bigger than...some other famous 80s Christian singer.
Todd: Amy Grant? Okay, she wasn't bigger than Amy Grant. I don't know.
Todd (VO): She also did some acting, including in some TV films. And she also did a bunch of Broadway shows. She played Rizzo in Grease. [Respective pics from Grease] Yes, not Sandy. Rizzo, the bad-girl juvenile delinquent who contemplates abortion.
Todd: I get the impression she's always felt a little restricted by her image, you know. [Gives thumbs up to picture of Pat] Thanks, Dad.
- Promo for Debby Boone Presents Reflections of Rosemary
Todd (VO): But she is still recording, most recently a tribute album to her late mother-in-law, Rosemary Clooney. So if Debby Boone covering Rosemary Clooney gets you pumped up, well, it's only $11.99 on Amazon. And for what it's worth, I've read a bunch of interviews with her, and she does not appear to be one of those crazy, Kirk Cameron-type of religious people, or at least not anymore, she isn't. Actually, despite the fact that I've done nothing but talk shit about her, I do want to point out that in everything I've heard her say, she just seems genuinely just like the nicest lady in the world, and she looks absolutely amazing for her age.
Todd: And I actually feel really bad for all the things I've said about her in this review.
Gives thumbs up
Did she deserve better?
Todd: Um...I don't feel like my life was particularly lit up by listening to more of Debby Boone.
- Debby: Cause you, you light up my life
Todd (VO): The sad thing is, unlike her dad, who had more of a sense of humor about it, Debby was kinda hurt by being a punchline. But...you know, she made the music she made. The career of Debby Boone, daughter of Pat Boone, singer of "You Light Up My Life," went exactly the way you'd imagine it would go.
Todd: I think "You Light Up My Life" was probably more than enough Debby Boone for anyone. Again, she seems really nice, but no, it is not the music for me. She filled our nights with song, but...I wish she hadn't. Sorry.
- Debby: ...my life.
Closing tag song: Whitney Houston - "You Light Up My Life"
"You Light Up My Life" is owned by Curb Records
This video is owned by me