Bette Midler

The Divine Miss M

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Bette Midler was one of the last major artists who emerged from the traditions of nightclub performing, after rock & roll changed the rules of the music business, though she was a singer capable of working both sides of the fence. Midler's approach bore more than a passing resemblance to the traditions of supper-club performers wearing their hearts on their sleeves for the audience, but she could balance sincerity and a deep respect for songcraft with a large dose of camp and broad humor, coupled with a love of R&B and girl group sounds that put her within a stone's throw of rock. (And if the nightspot where Midler first found her audience was a gay bathhouse in New York, that was just one more wrinkle that separated her from the major nightclub acts of the '50s and '60s.) Midler's 1972 debut album, The Divine Miss M, gave her an ideal introduction to the listening audience, a set that honored her brassy and introspective sides with equal care and skill. While Midler was and is best known for her outgoing stage persona, numbers like "Am I Blue" and "Do You Want to Dance?" demonstrate how much emotional heat she can bring to a torch song, and her interpretations of "Delta Dawn" and "Hello in There" are powerful, moving stuff, portraying their characters with a palpable compassion and nuance. Midler's loving renditions of "Chapel of Love" and "Leader of the Pack" show how much she learned from Brill Building pop, and "Friends," which opened and closed side two, made clear Midler could wrap some very complicated emotions in a catchy (but smart) pop tune. And the production (half by Joel Dorn, half by Geoffrey Haslam, Ahmet Ertegun, and Midler's then musical director, Barry Manilow) knows when to move in close to catch the sweet grain of her voice and when to step back and take in the whole show. If Midler matured as a performer with time, The Divine Miss M remains her best album, one that captured the many facets of her musical personality beautifully and showed her quirks were a rich part of what made her music so powerful.

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