MUSIC

The snowbird’s new song

BOB LEVIN April 7 1986
MUSIC

The snowbird’s new song

BOB LEVIN April 7 1986

The snowbird’s new song

The lady is high style: blond, modified spike hairdo, grey fox coat. She strolls through city streets, repeatedly encountering the same handsome stranger.

“You and me,” the lady sings, “we’ve got a destiny.” Now, she is getting on the elevator of her apartment building. He gets on after her. At the fifth floor he eyes her invitingly and by the seventh they are kissing—first in the elevator, then by a blazing fire. She looks familiar.

She is familiar. Yes, the star of this music video is the same shy girl next door who, 16 years ago, became Canada’s country music sweetheart: Anne

Murray. Still, she insists that the transformation was not her idea but that of her image makers. “All this new look and new image crap—I don’t care about that,” said the 40year-old Murray. “What concerns me is the music.”

Murray, though regarded by many as a country singer, has often been able to cross over from the country charts to score pop hits as well. But now she has stepped squarely into the cool, contemporary—and highly lucrative-world of pop. The song in the video, Now and Forever (You and Me), is the first single from her new, decidedly un-country album, Something to Talk About. Her husky voice swings through the album on high-tech studio sounds of drum machines and synthesizers—the work of three different pop producers, including the sought-after David Foster, the Los Angeles-based Canadian whiz-kid. Speaking -

of Murray, Foster said: “I don’t think of her as a country artist. She is a terrific singer, period.”

In fact, Murray has long squirmed uneasily within the homey embrace of country. “I want to reach as many people as I can,” she said. “I feel too confined with just a country audience.” That broad appeal has been basic to her success. She has won 22

Juno awards, four Grammys and three U.S. Country Music Association awards. Her new single and album have been moving steadily up Ca-

nadian and U.S. pop charts and, despite their slick sound, country charts as well. Music critics have been generally kind. Many have praised Murray for her risk-taking in opting for pure pop and for her strong-voiced, energetic delivery.

Some critics, however, have longed for a return to simpler arrangements that showcase Murray’s distinctive

vocals. The Globe and Mail's Liam Lacey wrote that her new album’s slick production “effectively erases her best qualities as a vocalist.” And while Murray’s manager Leonard Rambeau said that most fan reaction to her new look has been positive, some Canadians have called him to ask, “What have you done to our Anne?” Said Rambeau: “They treat Anne like their 18-year-old daughter. They’re afraid to let her go to the dance on Friday night by herself.”

That innocent image, frozen in time, has endured despite Murray’s repeated attempts to shake it. A former gym teacher from Springhill, N.S., she joined the chorus of the CBC-TV variety show Singalong Jubilee in 1966 as a shy, barefoot singer. Then, in 1970 her first record, Snowbird, sold one million copies and gave her international fame. By 1974 she had American managers and a glittery new wardrobe, but despite the highpowered moves her career foundered and she temporarily retired. It was not until 1978, when Rambeau took over as manager, that Murray surfaced, with the No. 1 hit song You Needed Me and other middle-of-theroad, country-flavored numbers. And that success, she says, kept her from moving sooner to the pop sound. Said Murray of her latest release: “This album’s been in me for five years.”

But for all the apparent changes, Murray lives much as she has since 1975, when she married Bill Langstroth, her mentor since the days of Jubilee. The two share a 15-room house in Thornhill, north of Toronto, with their son William, 9, and daughter Dawn, 6. Such domesticity is a far cry from Murray’s new video and its steamy kissing scene with an actor who is decidedly not her husband. As if still trying to live down her wholesome image, she said in a throaty stage whisper: “He was good-lookin’ though, huh? Great-lookin’ guy.” Murray, who has sold some 20 million albums in her career, is equally direct about her ambition to reach an even larger record-buying public. “If I can crack the American market,” she said, “and Australia, and New Zealand, and the Philippines—all those places I sell tons of records—then why not the world?” That is the calculation behind her up-to-date look and sound. In the process, she says she hopes not to alienate her old country fans. But she clearly believes that—to paraphrase her new single—she has a destiny. “I’m doing what I think is right,” said Murray. “I’m 40 years old and I can damn well do what I please.”

BOB LEVIN