Sunday, July 13, 2008

GUILTY PLEASURES

Okay, okay, I'll admit it. I love Celine Dion. I recently met a fellow New Yorker who was visiting Buenos Aires, and we hung out three nights in a row, marveling on each occasion at our scarily similar taste in pop and R&B: Amy Winehouse. Mary J. Blige. Lil' Kim. Nicole. (He's the only person I know who remembers her 1998 Top 5 single, "Make It Hot.") Gwen Stefani's "Luxurious." (Neither one of us could remember the title, so after an hour of agonizing over it, I texted a friend from the disco and asked him to look it up online.) But incredibly enough, he had no opinion of Celine Dion. He'd been unimpressed by her singles, but not enough to actually loathe her. "Forget about the hits," I told him. "Listen to the album tracks." He looked at me as if I were a little bit crazy.

Maybe I am. But hear me out.

First, I must cop to having a weakness for female Canadian singers. Shania Twain? Adore her! (She wrote "If Walls Could Talk" for Celine's 1999 greatest hits compilation, All The Way...A Decade of Song.) Sarah McLachlan. Love! Joni Mitchell. Legend! k.d. lang. Rocks! (I interviewed her once in her NYC hotel room and in 1991 saw her walking hand-in-hand with her girlfriend in Paris' Le Marais district.) Anne Murray. My original Canuck love! (I met her years ago, and she signed my copy of her 1980 "Lucky Me" 45, the first single I ever bought.) But the first time I heard Celine, way back in 1990 when she went Top 5 with her debut hit, "Where Does My Heart Beat Now?," I wanted to hate her. Maybe it was the sheer number of sappy ballads proliferating on the charts at the time. (Wilson Phillips--yikes!--ruled the Top 40.) Or maybe it was my general distaste for mainstream pop at the time. (I was going through my "progressive" phase. The Cure was my life.) I wanted to hate her. Boy, did I fail.

Don't get me wrong. I'm no fan of the hatchet-faced abandon with which she sings her greatest hits. And I don't care much for her smug expression when she takes a bow after a particularly over-emoted performance. As the crowd applauds, she seems to be thinking, Yes, I liked that very much, too! The beauty of Celine Dion lies not in the No. 1 likes of "My Heart Will Go On" or "The Power Of Love," but in album cuts that you've probably never heard. Even Prince, who wrote "With This Tear" from her 1992 self-titled second English-language CD especially for Celine, was nearly moved to, um, tears by Celine's masterful vocals.

Now, I'll let the music do the talking. Here are my Top 5 Celine Dion songs (in alphabetical order) with links to where you can check them out.

"Live for the One I Love"
It's over-the-top for sure, but sometimes you need to go there.

"My Love" Linda Perry wrote it. Makes me wonder what Celine would have done with "Beautiful."

"Why Oh Why"
Celine's Toni Braxton moment.

"With This Tear" As top-notch Prince collaborations go, right up there with Kate Bush's "Why Should I Love You?" and Sheena Easton's "101."

"Ziggy (Un Garcon Pas Comme Les Autres)" Like Gloria Estefan, Celine is at her best singing in her native tongue.
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