Taylor Dayne, whose dance single "Tell It to My Heart" is a Top 5 pop hit, is part sophisticated lady and part Dead End Kid.
At breakfast recently in West Hollywood, the petite singer, wearing a conservative suit, looked elegant and angelic at first. But that was just a veneer. It didn't take long for the real Dayne to emerge--the fast-talking, sassy, no-nonsense New Yorker who can cuss like a sailor.
"What'd you expect, a nun?" she cracked. "I'm from New York. It's a jungle. If you're dainty, you die."
She was just warming up.
"I'm no pushover," Dayne continued. "I can't afford to be. The record business ain't Disneyland, you know. I've already dealt with people who've tried to rip me off. I don't have a chip on my shoulder. I'm a nice person. . . . Just don't cross me."
Dayne, 25, has been on the road promoting her first Arista Records album, "Tell It to My Heart," which has zoomed to No. 46 on the Billboard pop chart in three weeks thanks to the radio exposure for the single.
The LP's success is somewhat surprising since Dayne doesn't fit the current trend in female dance-music singers: teen-agers with sweet, yearning, underpowered voices like Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. Dayne sings like she talks--lustily and defiantly. Basically, she's a white-soul singer.
"We signed her because she could really sing," said Arista's President Clive Davis in a separate interview. "We were impressed with the passion in her voice."
Dayne revels in "attacking" a song with that unbridled passion. A large part of the appeal of her hit single is her fervent vocals. But at first, she recalled, producer Ric Wake wanted her to sing "Tell It to My Heart" softly and sweetly--because that was the trendy sound.
"I tried but I couldn't do it," she recalled. "It didn't sound right. Finally, I said I want to sing it with some power, some (guts).
"When I sing, I want sparks to fly. Those teen-aged singers are as exciting as wallpaper. I couldn't sing the song like that. I had to do it the right way. I didn't care if it sold only 10 copies."
Dayne didn't record the "Tell It to My Heart" single for Arista. She and producer Wake brought the single, already finished, to the label. Then, after making a big splash on the club circuit, the single became a pop hit. That's when Arista signed her to rush-record an album.
"We did it in just six weeks," Dayne recalled with a shudder: "We were working 'round the clock. What a nightmare."
Though it features some dance tracks, "Tell It to My Heart" isn't a dance album. Arista's chief executive Davis preferred it to be well-balanced: "We didn't want her to be categorized right away," he said. "We wanted to present a diversified picture of this artist. Just because she had one dance hit, she's not a dance artist. She can sing ballads and in different tempos. She's not one-dimensional."
Dayne also doesn't blindly do as she's told. She rejected some of the songs Arista executives wanted her to record. "I'm no puppet," she said forcefully. "I fought for what I wanted. On some of the songs, they were right. They were good songs. But on others we had to work miracles to make them sound decent."
She explained how she bartered with the label executives, singing some of their selections in return for the addition of some of her choices. "When I heard the demo (demonstration record) of 'I'll Always Love You,' I hated it," she said. "I said: 'It's a Whitney (Houston) throwaway (Houston's also on Arista); It's a mayonnaise-type song, with no guts. But I said: 'I'll sing it if you let me sing 'Carry Your Heart.' That's what happened."
Is she pleased with the album now? "Yeah, sure," she replied. "But it would have a little more depth on it if I had done things the way I wanted."
Surprisingly, Dayne rarely listens to dance music. "I don't want to get burned out on that sound," she explained. "I listen to rock stations or the black stations and that's it.
For while Dayne, who started out as a rock singer, didn't just have an R & B edge to her style, she was actually singing R & B music.
"What a mistake," she groaned, recalling that frustrating period a few years ago recording for an independent label. "I was trying to sing R & B, but it wasn't working. I'd go out trying to push an R & B single I'd recorded and as soon as the stations saw this white face, it was all over. Radio stations wouldn't play me. It's hard for a white person singing R & B. I got so discouraged. I had to stop. I saw I wasn't going to get a major deal as an R & B singer."
The alternative was to do what she's doing now--sing pop with an R & B style. "I should have been doing this all along," she said. "It would have saved me a lot of grief."