Saturday, June 16

Let the River Run (1989)

"Let the River Run" is a single rather than an album, but the song is such a significant entry in Carly Simon's catalogue that I thought it deserved comment here. Equally, the photograph on the picture sleeve of the single is distinctive enough to warrant attention. Here, her trademark smile is just a little more restrained and less spontaneous than in the past. Her pose is not as overtly sensual or playful, and it seems almost conventional in its directness. Her hair, make-up and clothing (those shoulder pads!) have less of a bohemian edge and a bit more 1980s-style glamour, although the ethnic jewelry ensures that this is not a glitzy or corporate glamour (an important qualification in the decade of Ron and Nancy). Most strikingly, the keyboard on her left references her musicianship, and so incorporates her status as a songwriter and film composer into the image. The result is a photograph that is highly recognizable and yet has a new sheen of professionalism and maturity. 

The film was of course Mike Nichols' Working Girl (1988), a winning comedy with a stellar cast. Nevertheless, its off-beat story needed a measure of Carly clarity in the theme song. How else could we make sense of a film that portrays Wall Street as a callous jungle, and yet wants us to sympathize with the heroine's ambitions to succeed in that world? How else could we understand an ending that firstly celebrates that our heroine has been promoted and secondly reveals that she has achieved only a small, mid-level office amongst thousands of similar offices? The song's combination of a thundering drum beat and gospel choir backing lent a sense of both urban realism and transcendent euphoria to this scenario. Little wonder, then, that its catchy hymn-like melody played over both the opening and closing credits, and that it was hummed and orchestrated at intervals throughout the film. The song was not just catchy. It kept the audience in tune with the trajectory of the plot. Little wonder, too, that the Post Office adopted the song in the wake of 9/11 and the anthrax mailings. It perfectly captures the resilience of the American Dream - let all the dreamers wake the nation! - even in the most challenging circumstances. 

The song was too unusual to storm the charts, and in fact it did not even crack the Top 40 back in 1989. However, it won just about every award possible, including a Golden Globe, a Grammy and an Oscar, and it has become a well known standard and one of her most popular, enduring songs. It solidified her reputation as a musical legend, rather than as a singer or as a celebrity, and this is what is so perfectly captured in Bob Gothard's photograph. It is a portrait of Carly Simon as a musician and songwriter, looking confident in her achievements and, at the end of her second decade in the spotlight, assured of her talents too.

There was a soundtrack album, by the way, but technically it did not count as a Carly Simon album because it contained songs by several different artists.