"Gypsy Woman" is about (and a product of) a chaotic universe [May 6, 1991]
You could end up on the streets, you could end up on Top of the Pops.
This week’s Number 3:
“Gypsy Woman” by Crystal Waters
Destiny is wild.
When you look at Crystal Water’s backstory, you might think she was destined for stardom. First of all, there’s the name. How can you not be famous when your name is Crystal Waters?
But there’s also a family pedigree there, thanks to her grand-aunt, Ethel Water. Ethel had a stunning career in the mid-20th century with an Oscar nomination, her own TV show, and a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. The entire Waters family seemed to have entertainment careers, including her father who was a respected jazz musician. How could Crystal ever do anything other than get into show business?
And yet, she didn’t.
Crystal Waters started the 90s working in a sunless basement in D.C., processing arrest warrants. She was almost 30, had two daughters, and a degree in computer science. Data entry seemed to be her destiny
Around this time, D.C. was full of homeless people. I assume it still is. I visited once just before 9/11 and was shocked to find a shantytown in a park that was only a short stroll away from the White House. It felt like it should be an allegory for something. It didn’t inspire me to write though. It just made me sad.
When Crystal Waters lived in D.C., she often used to see this one particular homeless woman who sang gospel songs on the street corner. This particular woman usually took the time to dress nice and wear make-up, which still didn’t impress Waters. “Just get a job,” she would think as she walked by.
A while later, Waters found an interview with this woman in a local paper. She discovered this humanizing backstory about how this woman had been living a normal life, but lost her retail job and suddenly found herself with nowhere to go. When people become homeless, many of them find themselves stuck that way forever. Even the ones who make an effort to dress nice.
Destiny is a bitch.
Crystal Waters eventually took her destiny into her own hands. She hooked up with a team of producers called The Basement Boys, who had worked with people like Milli Vanilli (and whatever else about Milli Vanilli, their records were well-produced.)
The Basement Boys had put together some house beats and they were trying to get Ultra Nate to lay down some vocals, but she wasn’t up for it. So, Crystal Waters stepped in and found herself having to write some lyrics in a hurry. She thought back to that strange homeless woman with the immaculate makeup, and the rest is history.
It’s funny how things work out. Like the way that house music started out as an underground genre in the clubs of Detroit but somehow found its way across the ocean, where it quickly became the dominant form across the UK and on the beaches of Europe.
“Gypsy Woman” was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, but it was something of a novelty in the Billboard charts. In the UK, it debuted at number 3 in the charts, just below “Last Train to Transcentral” by The KLF, one of dozens of dance anthems to storm the charts in 1991.
Elsewhere in the charts
As mentioned, The KLF stay put at number 2 with “Last Train to Transcentral”, while Cher keeps Shoop-Shooping at the top.
Soft Cell recorded a new version of “Tainted Love” as part of their Greatest Hits, and the single release appears at number 5. It’s hard to understand the vagaries of the record-buying public when looking back from the safety of 2021. Why would you buy a 10-year old song as a single? Why not just buy the Greatest Hits? It has “Bedsitter” on it!
Just slightly fading out of the top ten is “Touch Me” by Cathy Dennis, which is an incredible pop song by 80s standards, but it sounds like a skiffle record compared to more contemporary dance songs (like “Gypsy Woman”.)
“Shiny Happy People” enters the top 20 and will eventually hit number 6, which is much higher than “Losing My Religion”. Now that feels like a metaphor for something. Out of Time is number 7 in the album charts.