Saturday, April 4, 2009

Just Like Moses Malone

Squint your eyes, tilt your head, and she's a superstar.

In an alternate universe, Karla DeVito is a superstar.

You may remember her from the video of Meat Loaf's "Paradise By the Dashboard Light" (although it was Ellen Foley who actually sang on the song). Or from her song "We Are Not Alone" from The Breakfast Club.

But whenever I think of Karla DeVito, I think of her goofy and amazing debut album Is This a Cool World... Or What?, which came with a poster that had doodles, photos from her childhood, and handwritten lyrics. And the music was pretty great, Cyndi Lauder-esque goofiness, great pop musicianship from players like Anton Fig, Paul Shafer, and G.E. Smith, and powerful vocals that sounded like the love child of Kate Bush and Linda Ronstadt delivering a message from God. The album had a goofy song about a female pirate (perhaps explaining Broadway appearances to come) and some great covers (CCR's "Almost Saturday Night," the Grass Roots' "Midnight Confessions").

And then there's the title song. Which celebrates the coolness of modernity (circa 1981): French sunglasses, call-waiting, and a "house for my mother, just like Moses Malone." And she even dresses like a hippy chick, a Bobby Soxer, Alice in Wonderland, and a sad clown in the video. I dare you not to like it. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

Karla DeVito might easily have become the Queen of MTV, but instead she followed Linda Ronstadt onto Broadway for a revival of The Pirates of Penzance. To capitalize, Budweiser made a commercial with DeVito singing a version of "Cool World" mashed up with the then-current Bud jingle (link for Gmail subscribers):

A year later, DeVito married Robbie Benson (her Pirates co-star) and had two kids. She recorded a second album in 1986, but the songs weren't quite as sharp and Bob Ezrin's slick, synth-heavy production bludgeoned all the humor out of the record (which never made it to CD).

The other day, I dragged my vinyl copy of Cool World out of storage. The poster is frayed, the cover is worn, the price tag is partially shredded (but hanging in there). But the music is still amazing -- a goofy, fun artifact from the alternate universe and coolest of all possible worlds, just before Karla DeVito became the Queen of MTV.

Just like Moses Malone.


News 24/5 said...

Alex, this is great, a fun read. Love the video for Cool World. I've never seen it!

Mark said...

I think the clown scenes are pretty scary, especially the close-ups. She looks like Judy Garland from one of her TV specials.