Here’s a clip of former Christian-rock chanteuse turned secular Beatlesque pop singer Sam Phillips, singing her 1994 song “Baby I Can’t Please You” as taken from her T-Bone Burnett-produced disc Martinis & Bikinis.
Sam Phillips started her recording career singing straight-ahead Christian rock, being herself a woman of faith and recording under her given name, Leslie Phillips. Yet the Christian subculture and the sub-sub culture of being a Christian rock artist began to take its toll on Phillips. Firmly aligned to her own ideas of her faith, and aware that the mainstream church’s (and her label’s) right-wing political baggage had very little to do with that faith, Phillips broke away from being a Christian singer in favour of being a Christian who sings. And Sam Phillips was born where Leslie Phillips once stood.
As he was in assisting Bob Dylan through his Christian period, producer T-Bone Burnett was instrumental in helping Phillips to make this transition from the Christian rock ghetto to a secular pop space which allowed Phillips to address spiritual and earthly matters on a level playing field. Burnett helmed her first two albums The Indescribable Wow and Cruel Inventions both to critical praise, if not in the smash sales or chart positions she’d enjoyed as a Christian rock artist with a guaranteed niche audience. The couple married in 1991.
One of her critical breakthrough’s was this album, Martinis & Bikinis, and particularly this song which could be about a dysfunctional relationship with the God of the Right Wing as much as it could be about a relationship with a self-righteous human being. The line ‘you say love when you mean control’ seems to speak volumes in favor of this idea. In actuality, the entire album has little moments like this, with lines that point to the need to refocus on the ideas of what love really means, and how far away it is from the impulse to wrest, and maintain, control over others.
Sam Phillips most recent album, Don’t Do Anything, is out now.
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2 thoughts on “Sam Phillips Sings “Baby I Can’t Please You””
Very insightful Rob. Y’know I’ve adored that album for so many years yet never made the effort to explore any of her other “Sam” work. Thanks for giving me a nudge.
Hi Jon! Nice to see you here, and thanks for comments.
It’s a tight little album, both rootsy and Beatlesque at the same time. And her voice is sort of androgynous, in a good way of course.
Little known fact: Sam Phillips played a non-speaking role in the third Die Hard movie, as Jeremy Irons creepy right hand woman. True!