Once upon a time, there was a girl named Lucky.
Wait, no. Wrong story.
Once upon a time, there was a girl named Britney Jean.
At just fifteen years old, following a brief stint singing, acting and voguing the house down on national television alongside frenemies and future lovers alike on The Mickey Mouse Club, B-Girl and her entertainment lawyer-turned-manager Larry Rudolph decided it was time for her to embark on a solo career.
And so, Britney put together a demo tape to submit to labels: the demo that got her in the door, which remains a fascinating fact, was an unreleased Toni Braxton song called “Today” (which remains still unreleased, sadly.)
The recording apparently wasn’t…great.
“It had been done in one of these karaoke recording studios, and it was in totally the wrong key for her. But there was one part, when her voice went up into a higher register, and suddenly she sounded really soulful and appealing. I thought maybe there was something there,” said Steve Lunt, who was working A&R at Jive at the time.
“There was something there.”
A few weeks after submitting the tape, she got the call to audition at Jive Records in New York City, where she sang Whitney Houston‘s “I Have Nothing” in front of a small room of executives.
They were so impressed, they signed her immediately.
“I’ve been involved with a lot of different projects over the years, and with Britney, we’ve got a real special artist here,” Senior VP of Pop at Jive Jack Satter said to Billboard before the release of “…Baby One More Time” to radio in October of 1998.
“I really feel like she’s like a young Madonna…I think she’s got longevity.”
The rest, as we know, is history.
But in that time period between signing her deal with Jive and the release of …Baby One More Time, Britney worked with another producer in 1997 before the iconic Max Martin collaboration that brought us the main bops: Eric Foster White, who reportedly helped to mold her voice into The Britney Voice.™
Together, they “Soda Pop,” “From the Bottom of My Broken Heart,” “You Got It all,” and, most importantly, “E-Mail My Heart.” Those sessions also birthed several songs that didn’t make the cut on her debut LP.
Earlier this year, a slew of demo cassettes, among other personal items, showed up on an auction site thanks Britney’s shady first boyfriend, Reg Jones.
Naturally, someone in the B-Army bid and won the cassettes, and then promptly began to upload the material online, which all leads up to this moment: the debut of “Let Me Take You There,” a previously unreleased song featured on a cassette labeled “Britney Spears Demos” from November 1997, featuring some other yet-to-be-released songs and early versions of …Baby One More Time album tracks.
Twenty (plus) years later, the song finally sees light of day.
The demo is the epitome of ’90s funky R&B-pop, instantly bringing Robyn, TLC, and all of her fellow bubblegum pop princesses to mind. (Also, given that all the titles are Eric Foster White productions, I can only assume that this one is too.)
The production is corny, oh yes. Dated as all hell, surely. But those vocals are no joke. The deep voice! The baby voice! The belting! The growls! The background harmonies! The falsetto ad-libs! It’s all here – undeniably, adorably Britney. Again, she was only sixteen years old. Marinate on that for a moment.
For the fellow lifelong stans willing to go to bat (and/or die) in defense of Vocalney (she was signed for a reason!), this is yet another strong showing of the Living Legend’s undeniably unique, versatile and very cool chops.
And as the now 36-year-old Undisputed Princess of Pop™ prepares to kick off yet another world tour of her greatest hits residency two decades deep into the game, the timing of the unearthing of this Spearitual time capsule feels particularly nostalgic.
You’ve sure come a long way, baybeh.
Photo credit: Larry Busacca