Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"Take on Me" by a-ha

#1 Alert!
One-Hit Wonder Alert!
Song#:  2383
Date:  07/13/1985
Debut:  91
Peak:  1 (1 week)
Weeks:  27
Genre:  Synthpop, New Wave

Pop Bits:  This Norwegian trio formed in 1982 and soon after made a move to London in order to try and jump start their career. A demo of a song they had titled "Lesson One" got the attention of some industry folks and soon the band was signed to Warner Bros. The band then revamped their demo song and it turned into a new one titled "Take on Me." Produced by Tony Mansfield, who recently had success with Naked Eyes, the song was issued as a single in several European countries. It failed miserably in all of them except one - Norway, where it got to #3. It was promoted by a video that had the band simply performing the song in front of a blue background. That might have been it for the song, but the US arm of Warner Bros. thought the trio had something and decided to give them a shot. They ended up re-recording the song with producer Alan Tarney and a new, innovative video was shot to accompany the single. The video brought attention to the band and soon the single was picking up airplay. It was a slow starter, but the tune finally caught on and began topping charts around the world, including the US. It would make a-ha the first act from Norway to hit #1 on the US chart. It also got to #4 at AC. The hit would push their debut album, Hunting High and Low, to #15 and eventually it would go platinum. It would also earn the band a Grammy nod for Best New Artist. Unfortunately, it would end up being their only major hit and despite a follow-up that reached #20, this indelible track ended up getting the band tagged as a one-hit wonder in the US (#3 on VH1's Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the 80s and #8 on their All-Time list). The band would remain hugely popular in Europe scoring eight Top 10's in the UK alone.

ReduxReview:  This song was destined to be a hit, but it took a new recording and a cool video to make it happen. If you listen to the original version first released, the song is there and is still good, but the production by Fairlight expert Mansfield does not make the song soar. It's very tinny and one-dimensional. It took the skills of Tarney to transform the song into something bigger and better. Now, whether the song would have caught on without the video is another question. I think it might have, but perhaps it wouldn't have been as big of a hit. It goes without question that the video certainly sold this record. In this case, I don't think it was a bad thing. This is a great tune with excellent production and the wonderful, soaring vocals of Morten Harket. In addition, the band was more than this one song. Their debut album Hunting High and Low was excellent and remains a favorite of mine. It's too bad that this is really the only song that is remember from them in the US. They had a lot more to offer.


Trivia:  If anyone at the time needed proof that a video could make a song a hit, this would be it. The animated pencil sketch video directed by Steve Barron fascinated viewers and it quickly became an MTV favorite. It would eventually go on to win six MTV Video Music awards, but it missed out on Video of the Year, which was won by Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing." The video remains a classic from the time and has even been parodied by TV shows like Family Guy, which had the character Chris getting caught up in a similar black-and-white pencil animation.


Monday, April 23, 2018

"We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)" by Tina Turner

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2382
Date:  07/06/1985
Debut:  52
Peak:  2
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Pop, Rock, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  After Turner's major comeback with her hit album Private Dancer, other opportunities came flying her way including film roles. One that she was seriously considered for was the part of Shug Avery in The Color Purple. She ended up turning it down as did other singers like Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, and Diana Ross. The role went to Margaret Avery, who walked away with an Oscar nod for her work. Although Turner wasn't interested in playing Shug, she did decided to take on the role of Auntie Entity in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The character was written with Turner in mind and she ended up signing on to the picture. Of course since she was a huge music star at the time, she was also tapped to provide a couple of songs for the film's soundtrack. This theme song was written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle, the same team that wrote Turner's #1 comeback hit "What's Love Got to Do with It," and it became the first single released from the soundtrack album. It would be a multi-format smash getting to #2 Pop, #3 AC, #3 R&B, #23 Dance, and #29 Rock. The song earned Turner a Grammy nod for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. The movie did well at the box office and Turner was critically praised. However, she didn't parlay it into other roles. She wouldn't be seen on screen again until 1993 in The Last Action Hero, which was her last acting role outside of guest appearances where she played herself, including on the hit TV show Ally McBeal in 2000.

ReduxReview:  Okay, this song gets points for the writers being able to actually include "Thunderdome" in the lyrics! Britten and Lyle gave the song a "What's Love" kind of feel but then amped up the rock and tympani-style percussion for the chorus. It was a perfect fit for Turner and as usual, she sold it like no one else. Frankly, this song was the most memorable part of the film - and it was just played over the end credits! The film was fine, but it was so tame and Hollywood-ish when compared to the previous two films (especially the original, which was quite brutal). This song still stand up well today and I consider it among Turner's best.

ReduxRating:  9/10

TriviaThunderdome is the third film in the Mad Max series that began with the original Mad Max in 1979. Starring the relatively unknown actor Mel Gibson, the film was a worldwide hit that grossed over $100 million. With the cost of making the film estimated at around $400,000, its cost ratio to gross profit got it listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most profitable film of all time.  Years later, two horror flicks, The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, would each take over that distinction. The Road Warrior was the second Mad Max film and it was also a box office hit. Thunderdome did well, but it was the weakest performing of the three. The franchise would get a reboot in 2015 with Mad Max: Fury Road. This time around, the part of Max was played by Tom Hardy. The film was a major hit and ended up receiving ten Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. It would win six awards in the technical categories.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

"Invincible" by Pat Benatar

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2381
Date:  07/06/1985
Debut:  61
Peak:  10
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Rock, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  After Benatar's album Tropico ran its course with three charting singles including the #5 hit "We Belong," she was ready to head back into the studio to record a follow-up. But prior to that, she had an opportunity to record a song that was written for an upcoming film titled The Legend of Billie Jean. Written by Simon Clime and Holly Knight, "Invincible" would serve as the theme song to the movie. Benatar got it recorded with producer Mike Chapman and it was released as a single a few weeks prior to the film's debut. The song was a hit at Rock getting to #4 and would become Benatar's fourth and final Top 10 on the Pop chart. With the song being a success, it was added to the track listing for Bentar's upcoming new LP Seven the Hard Way, which would be released later in the fall. The song would also earn Benatar her fifth Grammy nomination in the Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female, category. She won that category for four straight years, but this time she was bested by Tina Turner.

ReduxReview:  This was exactly what Benatar should have been doing on Tropico instead of the meandering half-songs that mostly populated the disc. It's a rockin' song with a great chorus that is right in line with some of her earlier hits. It's an empowerment anthem that worked so well and it has stood the test of time. The production is great without being too overdone and as usual Benatar kills it on the vocals. The movie was a total stink bomb, but luckily this song didn't need the film. Although "We Belong" and "Love Is a Battlefield" are great songs, this one is what you come to Benatar for - solid radio-ready rock. She would have some good songs yet to come, but for me this was her last truly great single.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Benatar was lucky that the song was strong enough to stand on its own as the movie was a box office bomb. The film starred Helen Slater as a teen who mistakenly gets into trouble with her brother and goes on the lam. In doing so and trying to prove her innocence, she becomes a teenage martyr. Slater's brother in the film was played by newcomer Christian Slater. Although they share a last name, they are not related. But for many years, folks assumed they were related due to the last name and the fact they were brother/sister in the film. Christian Slater was fifteen years old at the time and it was his first leading role in a film. For Helen Slater, it was her second box office bomb in a row. In 1984, she was selected to play the title role in Supergirl, but that film tanked. Also in the cast of Legend was Yeardley Smith. Smith was twenty years old at the time, yet she portrayed a fourteen year old kid. Smith would act in several films and TV shows, but her biggest role would come in 1987 when she voiced the character of Lisa on The Simpsons when it debuted as a short on The Tracey Ullman Show. She has continued to voice the character since and as of this posting, The Simpsons is in its 29th season. It is the longest running scripted television show in US TV history.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

"Mystery Lady" by Billy Ocean

Song#:  2380
Date:  07/06/1985
Debut:  66
Peak:  24
Weeks:  15
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  Ocean's fifth album, Suddenly, was suddenly his big breakthrough thanks to three consecutive Top 10 Pop hits. After being a recording artist for nearly a decade, Ocean finally had a double-platinum seller. He tried to continue the streak of hits with this fourth single from the album, but the song just didn't have the same allure as the others and it stopped shy of the Pop Top 20. However, it was able to get inside the Top 10 at both R&B (#10) and AC (#5). It would be the last charting single from the album.

ReduxReview:  This has a faint Luther Vandross feel to it. It's a nice tune, but it definitely wasn't as hooky or memorable as his previous hit singles. Frankly, I doubt Ocean or his label could have predicted that the album would need a fourth single, so they pretty much were stretching it here. However, it didn't do too bad overall with good showings at R&B and AC. In reality, they could have just stopped with the three main hits and skipped releasing this one.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  While Ocean was struggling to get his solo career off the ground, a few songs he co-wrote wound up being recorded by other artists. In 1980, Ocean released two singles from his album City Limit - "Are You Ready" and "Stay the Night." Neither one would reach the US charts, but both songs were picked up and recorded by LaToya Jackson. In 1981, Jackson would release "Stay the Night" as a single and it would get to #31 on the R&B chart. Another track from City Limit, "Who's Gonna Rock You," would get picked up by the Irish girl group The Nolans. They would issue it as a single in 1982 and get to #12 on the UK chart. It would not chart in the US.


Friday, April 20, 2018

"Cherish" by Kool & the Gang

Top 10 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  2379
Date:  07/06/1985
Debut:  70
Peak:  2
Weeks:  25
Genre:  Adult Contemporary, Pop, R&B

Pop Bits:  The Gang's sixteenth studio LP Emergency was certainly on fire. With two Pop Top 10 hits already in the bag, including the R&B #1 "Fresh," the album was already selling better than their previous two efforts. However, the band was not done yet. For a third single, they dropped this sentimental ballad. Over time, its popularity grew until it finally spent three weeks in the runner-up spot at Pop. The single also got to #1 at R&B for a week and #1 at AC where it stayed in that position for six weeks. It was a huge crossover hit for the band that pushed Emergency to double-platinum sales. It would be the biggest selling studio album of their career.

ReduxReview:  I wasn't a big fan of "Fresh," so when this saccharine ditty came out, I wasn't having any part of it. I thought it was complete drivel. The lyrics were just so sappy and the single version's ocean and seagull sounds certainly didn't help. I always imagined that the seagulls were screaming "stop it, stop it!" Now, even though I really don't like this tune, I do appreciate the writing. The band tapped right into that formula that can make masses of people like a song - an easy, singable, catchy melody and chorus, along with simple chord changes that make it easy for folks to play. Add in wedding reception worthy lyrics and a hit was born. I still think it's sentimental claptrap, but it's hard to deny that the band hit a real crossover sweet spot with this one.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  This was one of only two songs that were successful enough at multiple formats to make three different year-end top singles charts for 1985. "Cherish" did well enough to come in at #17 for the year at Pop, #13 at R&B and #1 at AC. In addition to being the top charting song at AC for 1985, it would end up being the top charting AC song for the 1980s. The other song to reach all three year-end charts for 1985 was Whitney Houston's #1 hit "Saving All My Love for You." It finished at #5 for the year at R&B, #16 at AC, and #23 Pop.