My introduction to Wilson Phillips, like much of America, was through their first single, “Hold On.” I hated it, hated it, and hated it. The problem wasn’t the girls’ oh-gosh-darn earnestness. It was the spoiled-girl petulance that lay beneath that surface earnestness, a sense that the girls were reallly singing, “So hold on and get over your problems already, because we’re telling you to, and we know what’s good for you and everything else, you got that?!?” My initial dislike grew even more when Billboard declared “Hold On” as the top song of the year (1990) over Madonna’s dance classic, “Vogue.” D’oh!!!
But I came to warm up to Chyna, Wendy, and Carnie thanks to “You’re In Love.” They lay aside all their cloying schoolgirl-auditioning-for-talent-show mannerisms and sang simply from the heart about letting someone go for their better good. They then showed even more restraint and greater beauty with their cover of Elton John’s “Daniel.”
It’s the kind of song that almost but never quite explains what’s going on. Who is Daniel? Is he a lover that’s left? A literal brother who’s died? A friend who’s betrayed you? The girls sing it with an air of tragedy like Elton did, but they infuse the song with a sense of mystery and ambiguity that makes you long to know and understand. It draws you in, to a truth that you’re locked out from, like something beautiful that you can never have. Beautiful sadness, that’s the only way to describe it.