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5 Ways Paula Abdul Could Have Extended Her Music Career

Mar 6th, 2015

After releasing the single “Ain't Never Gonna Give You Up” in 1996, Paula Abdul changed her focus to a career in television. She returned to the pop scene in 2008’s “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow” with American Idol Judge Randy Jackson followed by the 2009 single, “I’m Just Here For The Music.”

Paula has reported that she’s been working on a new album of material since 1997 when she was signed to Mercury Records. In 1998, The Island/Def Jam Music Group acquired Mercury Records and dropped several artists from their roster including Paula before she completed her album. Eighteen years later, Paula isn't signed to a label, and a new album still hasn't materialized.


I've been a fan of Paula Abdul's for many years now.  Often, I can't help but think about what "could-have-been" when it comes to the future of her music career.  As you already know, Paula had 2 mega-successful albums "Forever Your Girl" and "Spellbound" with a platinum remix album "Shut Up and Dance" (it alone sold over 5 million copies) released in-between.  Things were moving right along.

SPELLBOUND

In 1991 Paula had switched management and suffered a very public lawsuit during the launch of her "Spellbound" album.  She was also planning a worldwide tour and dating Emilio Estevez. That's around the time when decisions were made that started the collapse of her music career.

Rush, Rush was the first single from "Spellbound" followed by the hugely successful dance track "The Promise of a New Day." In my opinion, the mistake was made with single #3 when Paula's management and Virgin Records decided to release another ballad, "Blowing Kisses in the Wind" instead of a proven dance track like "Vibeology."

"Blowing Kisses in the Wind" was a popular hit for Paula, peaking at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #4 in Canada. I know she loved the song the minute Peter Lord played it for her on the piano.  It's a great song, don't get me wrong.  My problem with the "Spellbound" album is that Paula chose to release more ballads than dance songs, which she was already known for.

The up-tempo funky song titled "Vibeology" was released as the fourth single from the Spellbound album. It reached number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Abdul's first single not to make the Top 10 in the U.S. since the original release of "(It's Just) The Way That You Love Me" in 1988. I think it would have charted higher if it had been released as the 3rd single after "The Promise of a New Day."


The "Vibeology" music video was directed by Stephen Wurnitzer who took one of Paula's most creative songs and murdered it visually. Paula's live MTV Music Awards performance of the song received negative reviews as her outfit garnered more attention than her performance or the song. The remixes were also hit-and-miss for such a clever song.  Nevertheless, "Vibeology" still achieved considerable chart success, especially in the club charts where the single became a huge smash hit for Paula.


If "Vibeology" had been released as single # 3 and had a better music video created to promote it... possibly more along the lines of Paula's performance on tour, I think the song would have charted much higher.  And in case you were wondering, after "Vibeology", Paula released another ballad, "Will You Marry Me?"

"IF IT'S NOT BROKEN, DON'T FIX IT"

For the "Spellbound" album Paula completely disregarded the songwriters and producers that helped her create the über-successful "Forever Your Girl" album that sold over 12 million copies worldwide.

Paula should have ripped a page out of Kylie Minogue's playbook and stuck with the same songwriters and producers for her second album, then maybe she would have had even more hit singles, before switching things up and moving on to a new album with entirely new producers.

I know that part of the reasoning behind the switch is Paula's manager was also managing "The Family Stand" and wanted to make sure his clients had work... A move that in my opinion is bittersweet because I love the "Spellbound" album and "Vibeology" is my favorite Paula Abdul song... but if she had continued with Elliot Wolff and Oliver Leiber for album two, I think it would have only helped her music career out even more.

Give the audience what they want before you change it up.  It would have been easier for Paula to sell new singles with the same formula on a second album.  There was at least another album or two with Wolff/Leiber that Virgin Records could have capitalized on before "Spellbound."  The success of the "Shut Up and Dance" remix album released between the two studio albums clearly states that there was a marketplace for it.  Also, no remix album for "Spellbound"? What's up with that? Yet another missed opportunity.

BEND TIME

In 1992 “Bend Time Back Around” was recorded and meant to be the lead single off Paula’s then-untitled 3rd studio album. (Her 3rd album was released in 1995 and titled “Head Over Heels.”) Paula’s management insisted "Bend Time" be included on "Beverly Hills 90210: The Soundtrack" instead.

The song was permitted to be included on the 90210 Soundtrack with the understanding that it would be released as the first single from the soundtrack, but due to management issues within the record label, "Saving Forever for You" by Shanice was released as the first single instead. So a smash-hit, brand new unreleased song was basically hidden on a soundtrack album and went unnoticed.


“Bend Time Back Around” had the potential to be Paula's 7th #1 hit single. In my opinion, not releasing this song as a single was one of THE BIGGEST mistakes in her music career.  It was a perfect transition from "Spellbound" to a third album, would have kept Paula on the radio and fresh in the public's mind... and sold thousands upon thousands of records.

After her world tour and marriage to Emilio, Paula checked into a clinic to fight bulimia, then subsequently divorced Emilio and her follow-up album was delayed until 1994/95.

IT'S ALL ABOUT FEELING GOOD

Paula released her third studio album on June 13th, 1995, titled “Head Over Heels,” and it featured a more mature sound. The new album strikingly builds on Paula’s distinctive mix of pop, funk, R&B and ballads. “My Love Is For Real,” the first single from the album, merges a heavy funk groove with Middle Eastern stylings and guest vocals by Israeli singer Ofra Haza.

The single did not live up to expectations of being a big comeback hit for Abdul. It was Paula's first single to not reach the Top 20 and was considered the last major hit in her career with Virgin Records.  The song peaked at #28 on the Billboard Hot 100 and did end up becoming a success in clubs with several remixes commissioned, even hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart.

"My Love Is For Real" was Abdul's first single in over 3 years. "Will You Marry Me" released in March 1992.  After her tour and marriage, Paula dropped out of the spotlight and the music landscape changed with Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise", Shaggy's "Boombastic", U2's "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" and Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone" all topping the charts in 1995.


"My Love Is For Real" wasn't a good lead-single choice to compete with other songs of the day, and lack of promotion caused the album to stall.  It charted well because it was the first single, and an album's first single almost always gets the most attention.  In my opinion, "Crazy Cool" would have been a better choice as the first single. Virgin released "Crazy Cool" as the second single later that year.

Unfortunately the song failed to make the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 (only reaching #58), but proved to be a success in clubs, becoming a hit on the dance charts. The single also found significant success in Canada where it peaked at #16 and remained on the charts for 15 weeks.  It stalled due to a (at the time) controversial music video, lack of radio airplay and virtually no promotion from Virgin.


I think releasing "Crazy Cool" first would have been a better fit for the music marketplace at the time and that it would have performed better than it did because first singles get the most attention and it's more dance-oriented than its predecessor.  The song was catchier, had charisma and better fit the sound of the time.  Using that single for the album's launch, I think it would have performed better.


The true single should have been "Crazy Love" which was the real stand-out song on the album, but unfortunately it was only released as a bonus track on the Japanese import of the "Head Over Heels" album.  The song wasn't actually released stateside until it was included on 2000's "Paula Abdul's Greatest Hits" album.

The "Head Over Heels" album faded after the quick release of "Ain't Never Gonna Give You Up" in 1996 and Abdul dropped out of the music scene until 2008's "Dance Like There's No Tomorrow" with Randy Jackson.  That song was a hit for Paula and topped the official iTunes Top 100 Videos chart. The song peaked at #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart and peaked at #48 on the U.S. Billboard Pop 100 chart.  Paula was once again set up for success on the charts and once again Paula started talking about a tour and new album.

BOOMBOX

As a result of the success from “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow,” Paula released her next single, “I’m Just Here For The Music.” The song was originally an unreleased track recorded during sessions for Kylie Minogue's ninth studio album "Body Language".

Another discarded song Kylie recorded during this time titled “Boombox”, was also recorded by Abdul and was intended to be the follow-up single to “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow”.


Kylie’s version leaked online in 2008 and garnered such rave reviews from fans that Kylie performed a snippet of the song mixed with her hit "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" during her X 2008 World Tour.


"Boombox" was instead used on "Paula Abdul's Rah! Cheerleading Bowl" show on MTV, and Abdul’s version of "Boombox" remains unreleased to this day.  In 2009, her official web site promised fans that signed up for a paid membership to her fan club a free download of the song, though it never materialized, much to her fans’ disappointment. Radio DJ’s John Jay and Rich were very supportive of the song being released as a single and even played an extended clip of it on their popular syndicated radio show.


After Minogue used a remix of “Boombox” on her remix album of the same name, Abdul scrapped the commercial release of “Boombox” in favor of “I’m Just Here for the Music”.  Fans were really excited and there was a lot of momentum for Paula releasing "Boombox" when suddenly out of nowhere she dropped “I’m Just Here for the Music”. A song that wasn't bad - it was great - but Oliver Leiber cooked up a massive hit song for Paula with his production of "Boombox" and sadly it was never released.

CONCLUSION

I've been a fan of Paula's music for a very long time.  Over the years I've contemplated why she stopped doing music and what could have been done to provide her music career with longevity.  I'm not offering these opinions to be negative or overly critical of Paula.  These are things I would have done differently if I was managing her or working at the label during her reign.

It's been 18 years since Paula first announced she was working on a new album.  Elvis Presley and Beatles fans will never get a new album from their favorite artist.  Paula Abdul is alive and has at least 30 songs recorded/written/demo'd. A lot of us have been waiting patiently enjoying what morsels of music Paula has thrown our way since her "return" to music in 2008.  While it's sad that more music hasn't been released in the last decade, I can't help but wonder, if one or all of the points above would have helped extend Paula's music career.

What do you think?
 

 

 

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