Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"Stages" by ZZ Top

Song#:  2588
Date:  01/18/1986
Debut:  62
Peak:  21
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  The Texas band got their second Pop Top 10 hit with "Sleeping Bag," the lead single from their ninth studio album Afterburner. They kept things rolling with this next single that nearly made the Pop Top 20. It would do much better at Rock where like "Sleeping Bag" it hit #1. The album would end up being the highest peaking of their career getting to #4, but in the long run their 1983 album Eliminator, which peaked at #9, would sell twice as much moving over 10 million copies vs. 5 million for Afterburner.

ReduxReview:  I think with the massive success of Eliminator, the band was probably pressured to push out a similar album with even more of a commercial punch. They accomplished it with Afterburner, which had a good run of singles, but it certainly wasn't the ZZ Top of the blues-rock La Grange era. This song demonstrates that more than anything they had done. The tune was the most pop-oriented the band had ever recorded. It was as slick and polished as hits by Eddie Money or 38 Special with nary a hint of their brand of blues. Critics weren't all that hep to it, but I actually liked it. I thought the band did a good job of trying to incorporate their sound into something more mainstream. Yeah, they lose a bit of their identity, but I liked the effort and thought it was better than the goofy "Sleeping Bag."

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Another track on the Afterburner album, "Can't Stop Rockin'," was not released as a single, but it picked up enough radio airplay to send the song to #8 on the Rock chart. The song would later be picked up for use in the 1993 superhero/comedy flick Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. The live action move would use a mix of animatronics and suited actors. Because of this, actors were hired to supply the voices. Former 80s teen star Corey Feldman did the voice of Donatello, which was a reprisal of what he did on the first Ninja film. The part of Michelangelo was voiced by Robbie Rist, who had done the part in the previous two films. Some folks familiar with the 70s sitcom The Brady Bunch may remember Rist. He portrayed cousin Oliver in the last season of the show. After the show ended, Rist continued to act in TV shows and a few films. He also became a musician and has performed with many bands. His bread 'n' butter these days seems to be voice over work. In addition to the Ninja trilogy, Rist has supplied voices for numerous animated TV shows, films, and video games.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

"Nikita" by Elton John

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2587
Date:  01/18/1986
Debut:  71
Peak:  7
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  John's nineteenth studio album Ice on Fire, started off on a bit of a weak note with its first single, the George Michael-assisted "Wrap Her Up," halting at the #20 spot. For a follow-up this ballad track was selected to be the next single. George Michael would once again make an appearance on backing vocals along with Nik Kershaw. The song slowly gained traction and did well enough to reach the Pop Top 10. It would also be a significant hit at AC getting to #3. Although the album would only peak at a minor #48 (his worst showing to this point for a studio album), this hit breathed enough life into sales of the LP to make it go gold.

ReduxReview:  John's Ice on Fire album ranks among his worst efforts, yet this song provided at least one good moment. Even though "Wrap Her Up" got to #20, it was basically a dud and could have easily sank the album. Luckily, this track was strong enough to overcome the bad start. It really should have been the LP's first single, but I'm assuming the label wanted an uptempo track to start things off and figured the George Michael connection would help sell it. In John's overall singles catalog, this one isn't necessarily a stand out, but it was a pretty good track that did its job in keeping John relevant in the 80s.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This Cold War tale written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin is about a Western man falling for a female East German border guard. The plot of the lyrics sounded awfully familiar to another songwriter named Guy Hobbs. Hobbs had written a song called "Natasha" in 1982 that was based on an experience he had while working as a photographer on a cruise ship. Hobbs ended up having a brief affair with another worker on the ship who was from Russian. Hobbs sent a demo of the song Elton John's publishers in hopes of maybe getting a deal, yet nothing came of it. Later on around 2001, Hobbs happened to read the lyrics to "Nikita" and since that song was written not long after he submitted his song, he figured they used his song as the basis for "Nikita" and decided to sue John and Taupin for plagiarism. In the end, John and Taupin won the lawsuit as the judge found that the ideas and similarities that Hobbs had pointed out between the songs did not fall under the rules for copyright protection.


Monday, November 12, 2018

"Another Night" by Aretha Franklin

Song#:  2586
Date:  01/18/1986
Debut:  74
Peak:  22
Weeks:  14
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  Franklin's mid-80s comeback continued with this fourth single from her hit album Who's Zoomin' Who? Although it wouldn't reach the Top 20 like her previous three singles (two of those went Top 10), it still did well and nearly made that goal. It did better at R&B (#9) and Dance (#4). It also came close to the AC Top 20 making it to #21. The hits all helped to make the album Franklin's first to reach platinum sales.

ReduxReview:  While this tune was not as memorable or hooky as the classic "Freeway of Love" or the title track, it was still a solid track that made for a good single. It should have gotten into the Top 20, especially after doing well at R&B and Dance. My favorite part of the song is the breakdown where Aretha just shouts out "my man, I don't need you to be bringin' me down - HEY!" As usual, Aretha sings it with the punch and flare that only she can deliver. This song has gotten set aside over the years in favor of the other hits, which is a bummer as it deserves a bit more attention.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This song was written by Beppe Cantarelli and Roy Freeland. Cantarelli was an Italian singer/songwriter/producer who had a bit of success as a solo act, but fared better behind the scenes. He hit it big as a songwriter in 1979 when several of his co-writes were picked up by Italian pop superstar Mina for her album Attila. Mina would record a few more of his songs on her next two albums. An opportunity to play guitar for Quincy Jones led to Cantarelli moving to Los Angeles. He continued to write songs and it wasn't too long before a few of them were being picked up by American artists like Franklin, Joe Cocker, Bonnie Tyler, and Laura Branigan. One of this tunes, "I Still Believe," got recorded by Brenda K. Starr in 1988. It was issued as a single and got to #13 Pop/#14 AC. The song was later covered by Mariah Carey in 1999 as a new track for her first hits compilation #1's. Although the song didn't reach #1 at Pop, it did well getting to #4. It also got to #3 R&B and #8 AC. A dance remix of the tune was created and it did end up hitting #1 on the Dance chart.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

"(How to Be A) Millionaire" by ABC

Song#:  2585
Date:  01/18/1986
Debut:  81
Peak:  20
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Synthpop

Pop Bits:  The band's third album, How to Be a...Zillionaire!, netted them their first US Top 10 hit with the #9 "Be Near Me." This near-title track was then selected to be that single's follow-up. While it wouldn't get them back in the Top 10, it still did fairly well reaching the Pop Top 20 and making it to #4 on the Dance chart. The album would then make it to #30 and sell many more copies than their previous album, 1983's more rock-oriented Beauty Stab. It would fail to reach the gold-level sales, but it certainly put the band back in the spotlight.

ReduxReview:  This track kicked up the tempo from "Be Near Me" and it worked rather well as a follow-up. It expanded the band's smooth blue-eyed soul sound into something a bit more crunchy via a big 80s synthpop production. While it would not be one of their most memorable chart hits, its Top 20 placement was warranted. It was a great track that sounded good on the radio and it's animated MTV video was pretty cool.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  While ABC was having some of their best success in the US, the band's lead singer/songwriter was fighting a major battle that kept the band from touring. Martin Fry was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, a type of lymphatic cancer, around the time the album was released. He had to undergo radiation treatments and chemotherapy along with having his spleen removed. Due to all of this, the band had to turn down an offer to tour the US with Tina Turner, an opportunity that would have certainly capitalized on their first US Top 10 hit. Fry decided to put up a major fight against the disease and he did beat the cancer.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

"Night Moves" by Marilyn Martin

Song#:  2584
Date:  01/18/1986
Debut:  82
Peak:  28
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  Singer Martin had been getting some good gigs doing background vocals for the likes of Stevie Nicks and was even able to record one of Nicks' songs, "Sorcerer," for the soundtrack to the cult film Streets of Fire. Atlantic Records took an interest in her and first teamed her up with Phil Collins for the duet "Separate Lives." The song would be a #1 hit that put a spotlight on Martin. Atlantic signed her up and work began on a debut album. Several big named producers, writers, and musicians would contribute to the LP including recent hitmaker John Parr ("St. Elmo's Fire"). Parr along with Jon Astley and Martin would co-write this track that would serve as the album's first single. The more rock oriented song was certainly different from the pop balladry of "Separate Lives" and it may have thrown listeners for a loop as the song could only make a Top 30 showing. It did a little better at Rock getting to #18. Two follow-up singles failed to chart at Pop, but the song "Move Closer" did become a minor entry at AC reaching #34. Martin then softened up her sound for the 1988 follow-up album This Is Serious, but no one paid attention and the album quick disappeared along with Martin's contract. Atlantic took a chance on her again later in 1994 with a country album titled Through His Eyes, but it ended up shelved. Martin stayed in the music business for a long while providing background vocals for other artists including Stevie Nicks, with whom she toured in 2016. She also became a real estate agent and has been living in Nashville. In 2012, she released an indie Christian album titled "Trust, Pray, Love."

ReduxReview:  I really liked this moody, dark track when it came out. The opening with that bass piano riff is very cool and when the song cranks up it sounds damn good. Plus Martin's vocals were spot-on and intense. I've always been disappointed that the song didn't do better. It really should have. I can only guess that the dark rock track just wasn't the right fit for Pop radio and that folks who knew Martin from "Separate Lives" were disappointed in her musical direction. I do think it was a risk to issue this song out as a first single from Martin. She really needed a hooky pop single that could retain all those Phil Collins fans. I still think it's a pretty great tune and I've always appreciated Astley's production work.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Despite getting some positive reviews, the edgier pop/rock of Martin's debut LP just didn't click with listeners. So for her second effort, Martin chose to be more trendy and move towards a softer dance-pop direction. When looking for a producer to help her out, Martin ended up meeting Patrick Leonard who in the midst of working on Madonna's fourth album Like a Prayer. Leonard invited Martin to a session and Martin ended up singing background vocals on the soon-to-be hit "Cherish." Leonard then approached Madonna to write a song for Martin's new album. Madonna agreed and along with Leonard and Kai Winding wrote "Possessive Love." The song would be issued out as the first single from Martin's This Is Serious album. Oddly, despite Madonna's involvement, the track was virtually ignored and it failed to chart. That result made the album tank and ended Martin's days in the spotlight.