The Original Bette Davis Eyes

“Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes is such a great song.  It has such a catchy melody and intriguing lyrics.  Back in 1981, way before I was born, it was a huge hit, topping charts and winning the Grammys for Song and Record of the Year.  I knew Kim Carnes didn’t write the song, but I always thought she was the original performer.  However, today I found a book at work that lists out all these popular songs that have been covered and explains the lesser known original, and “Bette Davis Eyes” was actually covered by Kim Carnes!  Hers is not that original!

Kim Carnes’ version:

The song is cowritten by Jackie DeShannon, who actually was the original performer, recording it for her 1974 album New Arrangement.  The original sounds nothing like Kim Carnes’ version.  In the book I found, they described the original as more like a show tune/broadway musical, which I sort of get.  DeShannon never released “Bette Davis Eyes” as a single and went relatively unnoticed, which somewhat explains why her version is rather unknown.  Somehow Carnes heard it and apparently thought there was something “special” about the song (which there is), but felt DeShannon’s arrangement was off.  So she made the chords minor and sang the song in her own way.  And I got to say, she deserved those Grammys because she really elevated the song and made it pop.

The original, Jackie DeShannon version:

Now, this may not be news, but I just thought it was so fascinating that years later we remember such a great cover and not the original.  On a random note, the book also mentioned that “Big Yellow Taxi” was not originally performed by Joni Mitchell, but I don’t know how that’s at all true because she wrote the song…I mean, how could she write the song and release it on her album Ladies of the Canyon and it not be the original?  Unless she sold it to another group and then decided that it fit better on her album.  I don’t know…the world of music was so different back in the day, it’s almost hard to imagine.