”Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes was one of the biggest selling songs of 1981...yet, it’s almost never heard on the radio anymore...except here on New Jersey 101.5!

And, there are lots of “Fun Facts” behind this almost-forgotten hit...the biggest of Kim Carnes’ career!

Kim Carnes is playing on New Jersey 101.5! (Craig Allen photo).
Kim Carnes is playing on New Jersey 101.5! (Craig Allen photo).

Kim Carnes was born in Los Angeles on July 20, 1945.  Her father, James, was an attorney. Kim’s mother was a hospital administrator.

Carnes says that she knew at an early age...3...that she was going to be a singer, even though she was not born into a musical family. “My mother didn’t get my career, and my father, who was an attorney, didn’t think singing and writing was even a career.

After writing songs for years, Carnes scored her first publishing deal with producer Jimmy Bowen in 1969. She would share studio/demo recording time with other Bowen-signed writers including Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and J.D. Souther (“You’re Only Lonely” #7/1979).

In 1971, along with Bowen...

...Kim Carnes would become a part of the bubblegum rock band the “Sugar Bears.”

Through the early 1970’s, Carnes and her husband, Dave Ellingson, co-wrote several songs with (the late) David Cassidy. This was at the height of the “Partridge Family” heartthrob’s career...and Carnes and Ellingson toured with Cassidy, as his opening act! Several Carnes-penned songs appear on Cassidy albums. Plus, she provided backup vocals on those albums!

Kim Carnes’ first solo album “Rest On Me,” was released in 1974.

Carnes would continue to write songs, and record, in the coming years...

1980 was a breakthrough year for our spotlight artist...

Her duet with Kenny Rogers, “Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer,”was a major hit on the Pop (#4), Country (#3), and Adult Contemporary charts (#2/1980). This multi-chart smash came from a Kenny Rogers’ album...all songs written by Carnes and Ellingson!

Kim Carnes would follow up with her own hit...her first solo “top 10”...

...a cover version of Smokey Robinson’s “More Love” (#10/1980).

"Mistaken Identity" back cover art (Craig Allen photo).
"Mistaken Identity" back cover art (Craig Allen photo).

Which brings us to “Bette Davis Eyes”...and lots of “Fun Facts!”

Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” is ALSO a cover version!

Originally recorded in a 1920’s Jazz style, the song appears on Jackie DeShannon’s 1975 album “New Arrangement.”

Written in 1974, in collaboration with Donna Weiss, Jackie DeShannon says she was inspired by watching the 1942 Bette Davis movie “Now Voyager.”

It was co-writer Donna Weiss brought the song to Carnes’ attention.

Kim Carnes, and her production team and band members, would come up with a new, hit arrangement, for the song.

In fact, they would spend 3 days in the studio rehearsing the song, to bring it to a “darker, more haunting place.

Keyboard player Bill Cuomo gets credit for coming up with the signature instrumental lick..and major changes to chord arrangements.

Producer Val Garay had an assistant go out and buy the cheapest (and cheapest sounding) drum set for the recording! Combined with an early synthesizer, called a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, carnes and her team found their hit sound!

After the 3 day’s practice, “Bette Davis Eyes” was recorded over the next 2 days...with no overdubs!

Dropping the...needle! (Craig Allen photo).
Dropping the...needle! (Craig Allen photo).

The first single from Carnes’ album “Mistaken Identity”:

”Bette Davis Eyes” would spend 9 week’s at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, starting May 16, 1981.

This long run at #1 would make it the #1 Single Of The Year (1981) in N.J., and across America!

In fact, “Bette Davis Eyes” would be the Second Biggest Hit Of The 1980’s... tied with “Endless Love” from Diana Ross & Lionel Richie, with 9 week’s at #1 in August 1981, and behind Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” which spent 10 week’s at #1 (at the end of 1981, into early 1982, coincidentally).

Kim Carnes’ single would (of course) also become a major worldwide hit!

”Bette Davis Eyes” popularity would propel “Mistaken Identity” to the top of the Billboard Album Chart for 4 weeks!

At the 1982 Grammy Awards, “Bette Davis Eyes” won the Grammy for “Record Of The Year” And “Song Of The Year.”

Kim Carnes was nominated for “Best Pop Female Artist Of The Year.”

”Mistaken Identity” was nominated for “Album Of The Year.”

By now, Kim Carnes was no longer...mistaken...by radio listeners and record buyers.


Her raspy vocal style often caused the casual listener to think Rod Stewart was singing!

The popularity of the “Bette Davis Eyes” video on MTV helped secured Kim Carnes’ image...and vocal sound...as well!

It was directed by Russell Mulcahy, whose videos were seen as artistic...and often included unexpected scenes. The costumed crowd smacking the floor, and each other, in time to the beat, is a good example of the...unexpected!

Want more “Fun Facts?”

Have you wondered about Bette Davis’ reaction to the song?

She LOVED it! (thankfully).

Further, the screen idol was not shy about it. She approached both Kim Carnes, and the song’s writers, to express her feelings. And, in her memoir, “This ‘N That,” Miss Davis stated: “It was a thrill to become part of the rock generation.” 

In fact, Kim Carnes and Bette Davis struck up a personal friendship that lasted til Davis’ death in 1989.

Kim Carnes "Best Of" CD! (Craig Allen photo).
Kim Carnes "Best Of" CD! (Craig Allen photo).

In the post-“Bette Davis Eyes” years, Carnes would continue to record as a solo artist, and with others...

How many Kim Carnes hits do you remember? (Craig Allen photo).
How many Kim Carnes hits do you remember? (Craig Allen photo).

Notably, she was a part of “USA For Africa” and “We Are The World.”

Indeed, Carnes would return to the charts and airwaves through the rest of the 1980’s...but another top-10 Pop hit would be elusive.

Of course, she would continue to write songs...and, in 1988, Kim Carnes would move to Nashville.

In her personal life, Kim Carnes and Dave Ellingson have 3 sons: Collin, Ethan and Ry.....Collin and Ry have collaborated on music projects with their mother.

What is Kim Carnes up to now?

Click here to check out her official site!

And, enjoy “Bette Davis Eyes” on New Jersey 101.5....And here at nj1015.com!

Your author, and his "vinyl!" (Chris Eannucci photo).
Your author, and his "vinyl!" (Chris Eannucci photo).

Here’s to...lookin’ at you!

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