(October 16, 2023).  Allow me to set the stage for what might be the oddest, yet eerily logical connection that can be made between two pop culture phenoms from the year 1976…one related to music, the other a classic motion picture. 

On one hand, you have a female pop superstar who happened to be the only solo woman to have a No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 that year (and she had two of them): Diana Ross.

On the other, you have the two stars of the psycho-thriller movie Carrie: Sissy Spacek and the late Piper Laurie, who sadly passed away this past weekend in Los Angeles at the age of 91.

More specifically, the connection this article makes is between the two characters Laurie and Spacek so convincingly portrayed in what is among this blogger’s five favorite movies all-time, and the two oddly character-related songs Ms. Ross topped the charts with earlier that year: “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To?)” and “Love Hangover.”

Regular readers of this blog—and my closest family and friends—already know that Ross is one of my favorite artists, perhaps in the top five all time.  I’ve seen the “Upside Down” singer four times in concert and would gladly see her again (even as she prepares to celebrate her 80th birthday next March).

But what you may not know is that Carrie is singlehandedly responsible for my love of the whole suspense-thriller genre of motion pictures, not so much for the blood and gore it contains, but because of the psychosis that is so deftly depicted in its characters.  

Piper Laurie’s Margaret White portrayal was supreme among those depictions (no pun intended with that choice of adjective, by the way).

The first six words that came to mind when a close friend informed me of the celebrated actress’s death on Saturday (October 14) were: “they’re all gonna laugh at you!,” heard in that operatic-like cadence that Laurie so memorably uttered them in a warning to her character’s titular daughter about going to the high school prom.

Not only because they were the words of the puritanical-to-a-fault mother that formed the famous refrain playing in Carrie’s (Spacek’s) mind as she exacted murderous revenge on her classmates–even undeserving ones– at that prom.  

But also, because those words ran through my head as I contemplated this oddest of music-to-movie connections, knowing it might elicit a few chuckles from readers questioning the amount of time I had on my hands to even ponder it, much less write about it. 

You may remember the film’s plot: Carrie was a shy, introverted, and very naive teenage girl who was the subject of intense bullying at her high school (especially when she panicked during gym class one day after experiencing her very first menstrual period, something her mother—or anyone else for that matter—had never told the 16-year-old Carrie would happen).

That mother, Margaret White, didn’t help Carrie’s cause; she was fanatically religious, a Jesus freak (in 1970s parlance) awash in her own sin—specifically, the original one—a sin she wanted to prevent her daughter Carrie from ever indulging in at all costs, especially given the filthy, liquor-infused way that she had been “taken” when she conceived Carrie so many years earlier.

Except Carrie White, much to her extremely evangelical mother’s dismay, was becoming a woman.  And while we presume that the budding young debutant had never been intimate with anyone–ever–it would also be safe to assume that she was at least capable of developing romantic feelings for a guy, as revealed later in the film when her prom date—the well-intentioned and sympathetic Tommy who, on the urging of his even more altruistic girlfriend Sue, takes Carrie to the film’s climactic event.

It was Carrie’s innocence and yearning, along with her mother’s inability to forgive herself for or purge from her mind that original sin—one she admits to Carrie she actually enjoyed while recalling it to her daughter moments before attempting to stab the life out of baby girl with a butcher knife—that formed the connection to the two No. 1 singles that Ms. Ross made history with that year.

Piper Laurie (wielding a knife) comforting the post-prom Sissy Spacek in the 1976 film Carrie

First, there’s “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To),” in which Ross rhetorically asks poignant questions about the direction a person’s life is taking: “Do you know where you’re going to? Do you like the things that life is showing you?”

One could easily draw a parallel between those lines and our young Carrie, a girl whose own direction in life is contemplated after she experiences that traumatic, life-changing experience in gym class. The things that life is showing her, specifically the classmates’ bullying, the becoming a woman, the ultra-religious reckonings of her deranged mother, her own telekinesis (oh, did I mention she had those powers?), would be too much for any teenager to take, much less one whose whole upbringing was directed by a fundamentalist mom like Margaret. The easy answer to Diana’s musical question would be a firm “no.”

When Ross further asks, “Do you get what you’re hoping for?  When you look behind you there’s no open doors; what are you hoping for?  Do you know?,” doesn’t that just scream Carrie’s entire being, especially on prom night? 

After all, here was this sixteen or seventeen-year-old budding woman on her very first date with the most popular guy in school, a guy who was seemingly taken by her innocence and surprising beauty on their ill-fated date night. Could she have been innocently hoping that Tommy’s loyalty to Sue would lapse for just one night as they danced under the glittery stars?

And that’s not to mention the metaphor-brought-to-life phrase “when you look behind you, there’s no open doors,” suggesting that there’d be no turning back once you’ve come this far (whether it was that dance with Tommy or the prom her mother forbade Carrie to attend in the first place), and there’d be no way to escape Carrie’s undiscerning wrath (she telekinetically closed all the doors to the gymnasium to ensure this fate) as she exacted revenge on all her classmates.

Diana Ross’ “Theme from Mahogany” (1975)

But perhaps the most telling verse in Diana’s “Theme from Mahogany” was this one: “Once we were standing still in time, chasing the fantasies that filled our minds.”

After Carrie had been drenched in pig-blood, the result of a prank masterminded by a revenge-seeking classmate who’d been banned from the prom due to her earlier bullying of the late-blooming teen, didn’t it seem like Carrie was just standing still in time as that emptied blood-bucket clanked like a slow-moving pendulum above her (before it fell to the stage and knocked her date unconscious)?

The fantasies that filled her mind were the voices of a stunned auditorium who’d watched her and Tommy be crowned Prom Queen and King (in a rigged election) only moments before the prank was carried out.

Except, she misheard those voices as laughter…at her expense. The result? Her bloodied, bulged-eyed, catatonic state and the almost understandable fiery vengeance that ultimately offed everyone in the room, save Carrie and Sue, the sympathetic classmate who’d been kicked out of the prom earlier when it was assumed that she was also up to no good (she wasn’t).

The memorable split-screen of Carrie in one frame with all of her havoc being wreaked in the other gave us a unique insight into that fantasy-filled mind, all while the spooked Carrie stood nearly frozen in time, still in shock from what had been done to her.

And that takes us to the other 1976 No. 1 song by Ms. Ross that offers a parallel to Carrie: “Love Hangover.”

In “Hangover,” the only other No. 1 tune by a solo female singer that year, Ross basks in the afterglow of a long romance-filled night, one apparently containing the kind of intimacy she neither can nor wants to forget any time soon.

Ross sings of a “bad love,” a “mean love” that, even if there was a cure for the hangover she’s experiencing, she doesn’t want it. She simply enjoys it too much.

Cue Carrie’s mom Margaret, the psycho-woman who finally tells the story (to Carrie) of the night she conceived her, with a man whose rock-gut whiskey breath made the uninvited experience all the more enjoyable (I can still hear Laurie’s half-orgasmic exclamation “and I liked it!” as I type this).

Piper Laurie acted this scene splendidly, sparking fear in anyone whose mom offered to “pray together” in order to expunge any hint of sin from their souls.

You got the sense that Laurie’s Margaret despised the fact that she loved the feeling she had with a man, hence her terroristic grip on her daughter who’d not yet experienced the same. Mama Margaret’s “love hangover,” one she could never get over, had lifelong implications that manifested in the movie’s climactic, violent and tragic ending long after the intimate encounter that purportedly sparked it.

The parallels to the two pivotal characters/actresses of Carrie and Diana Ross’ history-making tunes don’t end there. Like Ross, who’d been nominated for an Oscar and lost (for her role as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues three years earlier), both Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie were nominated for their roles in Carrie (for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively). Both actresses lost to the stars of the movie Network, specifically Faye Dunaway (Best Actress) and Beatrice Straight (Supporting Actress).

The “Theme from Mahogany” was also nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar a year earlier for the Diana Ross-starring vehicle Mahogany but lost to Keith Carradine’s “I’m Easy” (from the film Nashville).

They may have been losers at the Academy Awards, but they were winners where it really mattered, in our hearts and on the charts.

Diana Ross is still the only woman to ever have been the lone solo female to reach No. 1 during a calendar year and do it with two No. 1 songs. (She’s also the only woman to have been the sole No. 1 representative twice after having achieved the distinction in 1970 with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”)

Meanwhile, the classic film that Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie gave record-setting, Oscar-worthy performances in that same year (never before had two actresses been nominated for the top awards in the same horror film) is now considered one of the greatest of its genre. Last year, Carrie was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.”

That the only two solo No. 1 songs by a woman in 1976 could so perfectly match the characters of the only two actresses to ever be nominated for Oscars for the same horror film is uncanny. And you’ll certainly be inclined to place this in your file of useless trivia you never asked about or thought you’d need to know.

Of course, you wouldn’t even be reading this if it weren’t for the unfortunate passing of Piper Laurie, the legendary actress whose memorably devastating portrayal of Margaret White will live on in horror film infamy.

The moral of this story is if that voice in your head is repeating “they’re all gonna laugh at you,” as you’re contemplating an idea, ignore it.

Carrie couldn’t. But this article is proof that some of us can.

May Piper Laurie (1932-2023) rest in peace!


DJRob (he/him/his), who’s seen ‘Carrie’ more times than he can count, is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop, rock and (sometimes) country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.

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