Happy 30th Anniversary to Belinda Carlisle’s second studio album Heaven On Earth, originally released October 5, 1987.
It started with a curbside conversation toward the end of the 1970s in Los Angeles.
Though the ensemble went through a few revisions before firming up, the impetus of why this gang of young women came together had not changed. The eventual five Go-Go’s were enamored with the piss and vinegar of punk rock and wanted in on the action. They were Kathy Valentine (bass), Gina Schock (drums), Jane Wiedlin (rhythm guitar), Charlotte Caffey (lead guitar, keyboards) and, of course, Belinda Carlisle (vocals). The quintet cut three albums from 1981 to 1984, rewriting the music history books for women everywhere. Yet, at their zenith, the Go-Go's called it quits. Thankfully, the dissolution of the Go-Go’s did not suggest a curtain call on Carlisle’s aspirations.
Belinda appeared on the I.R.S. label―home to the Go-Go’s―in the early summer of 1986. The Michael Lloyd produced set was the perfect debut. It’s pretty in pink vintage and voguish pop influences beguiled listeners who had not followed the Go-Go's, but it didn’t alienate those fans either. But hovering over the victory of Belinda was the query: could Carlisle sustain herself in the long term? As if on cue, circumstances began to line up as they were meant to.
I.R.S. Records unfathomably did not renew Carlisle's contract. Coming after the knockout of Belinda, this was even more shocking. An opportunity with MCA Records, domestically, and Virgin Records, internationally, came Carlisle's way. Though I.R.S had been good to Carlisle, she knew that her next album needed legs―as it related to distribution and promotion―that I.R.S. could not offer. Carlisle signed off on the respective deals and the vocalist began putting together her second LP, Heaven On Earth.
When reading the liner notes of Heaven On Earth, the guest list impresses: Rick Nowels, Diane Warren, Ellen Shipley, Rhett Lawrence, Michelle Phillips, Paulinho Da Costa, Chynna Phillips, Charlotte Caffey, Donna De Lory, and Carnie Wilson. Some of these individuals were former colleagues and/or peers of Carlisle’s. Some were popular music royalty and others genuine hitmakers featured on countless albums across the genre spectrum. Carlisle skeptics snarked upon the record’s release, and years afterward, that Heaven On Earth was too slick, in part, due to its personnel.
Heaven On Earth did show affection toward gleaming, latter-day ‘80s FM pop-rock. However, the reason Carlisle commanded the attention of these various individuals―and in many cases built longstanding working relationships with them―was Carlisle’s dedication to making music with universal appeal. Carlisle also understood that artistic integrity and commercial viability were not mutually exclusive. Nowels and Shipley, Carlisle’s chief partners for the creative overhead of Heaven On Earth and for follow-ups Runaway Horses (1989) and Live Your Life Be Free (1991), understood this too.
Each of Heaven On Earth’s 10 tracks have the capacity to act as a single. In fact, six of the 10 cuts on the record―“Heaven is a Place on Earth,” “I Get Weak,” “Circle in the Sand,” “I Feel Free,” “World Without You,” “Love Never Dies”―were commercially pitched singles during the album's promotional cycle. Mighty power ballads like “Heaven is a Place on Earth” and “I Get Weak” thunder throughout the long player, Carlisle’s charming, flexible tone sending the unabashedly romantic tunes into the stratosphere.
Putting aside the AC affability of the stated power ballads, there are straight-ahead rockers dwelling on Heaven On Earth too: the cheeky, but faithful cover of Cream's “I Feel Free” and the stadium stomper “Nobody Owns Me,” one of the album’s deep cuts.
Hiding brilliantly behind its sing-song feel, the roiling mock-European pop mood of “Circle in the Sand” made for an exciting new spice added to Carlisle’s musical stew. This element featured with greater frequency in some of Carlisle’s later recordings, climaxing with the French-language inspired Voila in 2007 and her recently unveiled eighth LP, the Eastern music infused Wilder Shores.
Released on October 5, 1987 in the United States and the preceding day abroad in international locales, the record was a blockbuster. Almost every substantial Top 60 single chart in the world saw product from Heaven On Earth competing healthily therein. Specifically, “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” “I Get Weak,” and “Circle in the Sand” were era-defining for Carlisle, and each single has shown staying power as pop standards beyond their 1980s heyday.
As a solo entity, Belinda Carlisle’s story began with the impeccable Belinda, but it was Heaven On Earth that ensured the continuing longevity of this pop icon for years to come.