CAUTION: Things are about to become very personal in here. In fact, if you have my phone number, you’ll probably delete it from your contacts list after reading this. Consider yourself warned.
For my fifteenth birthday, my mother bought me a karaoke machine. It was that kind that played any song by lowering the existing vocals and amplifying the instrumentals. You know. As karaoke machines do.
Naturally, I decided to use this opportunity to become the next Daniel Bedingfield (I’ve always been a dreamer) and record a home demo. On cassette tape. Using the golden microphone that came in a separate plastic sleeve in the box of the machine.
The four-song tracklisting of my debut covers (and concept) album, Haunting But True, consisted of an array of game-changing hits. These included Ashlee Simpson’s Harder Everyday, Lisa Loeb’s Stay (I Missed You), Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Otherside and Kate Winslet’s What If. To this day, I blame the postal service for losing my contract offer from Jive Records.
Now if the last song on that list seemed weird to you, then you should probably just go bake yourself a pie full of rat poison because you obviously know nothing about music.
Released in 2001, Grammy Award winning (for Best Spoken Word Album for Children in 2000) actress Kate Winslet recorded What If as the lead single to the soundtrack for the animated British film Christmas Carol: The Movie. And since you asked, it was indeed included on the 50th edition of NOW! That’s What I Call Music! in the UK alongside other seminal classics like Emma Bunton’s Take My Breath Away and Westlife’s cover of Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl.
You may have noticed that in pretty much all of her movies, Kate takes off her bra. However, many of her films (even if briefly) showcase her singing voice just as much as they do her Oprah-approved breasts. Watch them again and you’ll see that movies like Sense and Sensibility, Titanic and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind all feature Kate singing at some point or another. And let us of course not forget the cinematic achievement that was Romance And Cigarettes, the musical that co-starred Christopher Walken, James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Steve Buscemi, Amy Sedaris, Mary Louise-Parker, Eddie Izzard and screen legend Mandy Moore.
But I digress.
What If is a gorgeous ballad concocted from a recipe that calls for equal parts sorrow, nostalgia and regret.
“What if I had never let you go? Would you be the man I used to know? If I’d stayed, if you’d tried, if we could only turn back time,” Winslet gorgeous croons in her luscious mezzo-soprano voice. “But I guess we’ll never know.” Haunting but true.
While What If didn’t have much of an impact on American charts (#OccupyBillboard), the song did significantly well overseas. In the UK, it debuted at #6 and went on to top the charts in Austria, Belgium and Ireland (for four weeks in a row!). It also placed in the top 10 in countries like Germany, Switzerland and Holland, causing the song to peak at #3 on the overall European singles chart and win the 2002 OGAE Song Contest.
And just because it’s been a full decade since the song’s release doesn’t mean that it’s still not slaying your favorites today. Last year, it re-entered the UK singles chart following a performance of it on the TV show, The X Factor. It’s also been covered by club musician Ronny V and X Factor finalist Rhydian Roberts, who included it on his debut album as a duet with Broadway and Glee actress Idina Menzel.
The fact that Winslet teased us by releasing a single but never an album is really the single flaw that she has. When I first heard What If, my mouth was salivating at the idea of a full record. And no, I didn’t create album covers in Microsoft Paint and post them to fan-forums online. And no, I didn’t use Dear Kate as the tentative album title. How dare you even ask me that?
And yet, Winslet has always been full of surprises. Whether it be donating all proceeds from What If to a charity for children with cancer or that time she rolled me a cigarette when we were hiding from the rain under an awning in the West Village, she’s never been one that can be called predictable. So is there any hope that she’ll release that album one day?
I’ll never let go, Kate. I’ll never let go.