Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes – Up Where We Belong

First Hit #1: November 6, 1982

When I put these things together, one of the first steps is finding an appropriate clip to put at the bottom. It’s a practical concern, but sometimes you find little nuggets of information you wouldn’t expect, such as the person who described Up Where We Belong as one of the biggest hits of the ’70s. It’s an interesting statement, just because there’s not much ’70s about Up Where We Belong, and I’m not sure I could confuse it for a song from the earlier decade.

Now, big ballads were big business in the ’70s, and that hasn’t changed for the new decade. It also doesn’t really have too many of the production tricks of either decade, relying on piano, voice and drums above all else. It’s actually a deceptively simple arrangement, it relies largely on the voices of Cocker and Warnes to push that big chorus but it sounds like much more is going around. It’s a manipulative harmony that gets the big emotional hit of the chorus, as Cocker’s gruff voice combines with Warnes’ much smoother delivery, combining in a manner that emphasizes their differences while creating a stronger whole. It could almost represent marriage itself, if you wanted it to, and if it is a bit on the nose and sentimental, so are most weddings.

So why could I never confuse this ’80s hit for a ’70s one? It’s part of a larger trend in the decade, one that will likely be explored in the future. Basically, the ballads are getting more intense, perhaps one could describe it as more cinematic. Big choruses, increasingly sentimental lyrics, and often tied with a major moment in a film. Up Where We Belong had An Officer and a Gentleman, and brought a certain cheesy heft to the finale. The pop charts have always been closely tied to film, right from the beginning, but in 1982 it has been much more pronounced.

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One Response to Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes – Up Where We Belong

  1. Robert Berman says:

    Musically, a typical piano ballad that could have been done by Barry Manilow, the Carpenters, Anne Murray, Melissa Manchester, etc. Warnes and Cocker are among those rare performers in the days of MTV who succeeeded based solely on vocal performance, with very little in the way of visual flare; they are very much of the previous generation of musicians in that respect. Warnes would put out “Famous Blue Raincoat,” the definitive album of Leonard Cohen covers in 1987, the same year of her other soundtrack duet smash for the film Dirty Dancing.

    Lyrically, it’s a typical wedding reception slow dance, affirming the wonderful life ahead. Not the sort of lyrics one would expect from Native American singer/activist Buffy Saint-Marie, but who likes to be pigeonholed?

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