Who remembers ABC’s answer to Saturday Night Live, the short-lived Fridays, which aired on–not surprisingly–Friday nights from April 11, 1980 to April 23, 1982? Like SNL, they also had musical guests, and Carnes was a guest on the September 25, 1981 episode, with William Shatner hosting. Did you know that “Bette Davis Eyes” was written and composed by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon, and originally released by DeShannon in 1974? That version had more of an R&B feel to it and you can compare it to Carnes’ hit version (below). Who sang it better?
Here’s more on the “Bette Davis Eyes” from Wikipedia:
“Bette Davis Eyes” is a song written and composed by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon, and made popular by American singer Kim Carnes. DeShannon recorded it in 1974; Carnes’s 1981 version spent nine weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was Billboard’s biggest hit of 1981. The song was written in 1974 by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon. DeShannon recorded the song that same year on her album New Arrangement. In this original incarnation, the track is performed in an “R&B lite” arrangement, featuring a prominent uptempo piano part, as well as flourishes of pedal steel guitar and horns. However, it was not until 1981, when Kim Carnes recorded her version of the song in a radically different synthesizer-based arrangement, that “Bette Davis Eyes” became a commercial success.
The Carnes version spent nine non-consecutive weeks on top of the US Billboard Hot 100 (interrupted for one week by the “Stars on 45 Medley”) and was Billboard’s biggest hit of the year for 1981. The single also reached No. 5 on Billboard’s Top Tracks charts and No. 26 on the Dance charts. The song won the Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Record of the Year. The song was also a number one hit in 21 countries and peaked at number 10 in the United Kingdom, her only Top 40 hit there to date.
According to producer Val Garay, the original demo of the tune that was brought to him sounded like “a Leon Russell track, with this beer-barrel polka piano part.” The demo can be heard in a Val Garay interview on TAXI TV at 21:50. Keyboardist Bill Cuomo came up with the signature synth riff, using the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 synthesizer, which now defines Carnes’s version. The song was recorded in the studio on the first take.
Actress Bette Davis, then 73 years old, wrote letters to Carnes, Weiss, and DeShannon to thank all three of them for making her “a part of modern times,” and said her grandson now looked up to her. After their Grammy wins, Davis sent them roses as well.