Wednesday, September 28, 2022

"Batdance" by Prince

#1 Alert!
Platinum Record Alert!
Song#:  3939
Date:  06/17/1989
Debut:  53
Peak:  1 (1 week)
Weeks:  18
Genre:  R&B, Funk, Pop, Soundtrack


Pop Bits:  In mid-1988, Prince wasn't really in a good spot. His album Lovesexy was not received well and by Prince standards it tanked missing the Top 10 and only going gold. Due to that and a costly tour, Prince's finances were not in good shape. He began working on songs for another album, but his manager didn't think a new LP was going to right the ship. Prince needed a commercial win to boost his career and finances. An opportunity came when his label, Warner Bros., took on the job of making a film version of Batman. Tim Burton was to direct and Danny Elfman would do the score. Warner wanted to get a hot artist to contribute songs to the film and the idea of getting Prince came up. Burton, a fan of Prince, wasn't so hot on the idea as he didn't want to be forced to use specific songs in the film, but then the idea was hatched to have Prince write an album of songs that were "inspired" by the film. Elfman could do his full score and then Burton could incorporate some of the Prince songs where it seemed appropriate. Prince saw a rough cut of the film and was left a tape of it. He got to work and fleshed out a set of songs that were based on the characters in the film. Burton liked what he heard, but asked for a couple of replacements and Prince obliged. When the film was set for release, there were two soundtrack albums ready to go. One was Elfman's original score and the other was Batman by Prince. One of the first tracks Prince recorded for the LP was this initial single. Prince took parts of other songs he had been working on along with snippets of raw dialog from the rough cut of the film to create a sort of promo track for the movie. An edit of the 6-minute song would be pushed out as a single prior to the film's opening. Thanks to the film taking off at the box office, the song quickly ran up the chart and reached #1 in a short eight weeks (#1 R&B/#1 Dance/#18 Modern Rock). The album would then get to #1 and remain there for six weeks (#5 R&B). It would end up being a double-platinum seller. The tactic to get Prince back on top had worked.

ReduxReview:  The Batman movie ushered in a few things that still are happening today. While there had been a few superhero movies prior, like Superman, Batman took things to a new level. The franchise would continue while others would soon follow. The film also introduced the concept of having an album of "inspired by" music along with a separate release for the actual film score. Batman was influential as was Prince's LP at the time with this nearly avant garde promo single leading the way. However, in the long run, the LP and especially this song are looked at as curiosities in Prince's catalog. This song worked at the time, but once the movie's run was done, no one really wanted to hear it. Other songs from the album suffered the same fate as well. The LP got the job done for Prince and the film, but it wasn't nearly in the same league as Prince's classic Purple Rain soundtrack. It is kind of a fun nostalgic exercise to hear the LP once in a great while, but in general it was product for a purpose. This single was just bat-shit crazy (pun intended). It was a weird, messy mash up of songs, dialog, and other things that kind of worked in a Prince-ly way. I'm not sure another artist at the time could have pulled this off and grabbed a #1 hit. Really, I'm not sure any artist had the balls to do this so to Prince's credit, he certainly played into the spectacle of the movie and nailed it. That said, do I really want to voluntarily hear this now? Not really. I might toss it in a playlist as something fun and odd to creep up on you, but other than that, it was a song for a specific time and reason.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  While the Batman album was a boost for Prince's career, it wasn't exactly the most perfect situation. Since the movie was a Warner Bros. project, they definitely wanted a share of any music that was to be associated with the film. Therefore, they wanted the publishing rights to Prince's contributions. Weighing the good vs. the bad, Prince and his team agreed to the terms. That meant that if anyone wanted to use any Prince song from the Batman album, they would have to deal with Warner, not Prince. Because of that, none of the charting singles from the album were included on any Prince compilation. It wasn't until after Prince's death that "Batdance" finally was allowed to be on a compilation. It was the only single from Batman to make 4Ever, the first release of any kind that came out after Prince's death in April of 2016.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

"No More Rhyme" by Debbie Gibson

Song#:  3938
Date:  06/17/1989
Debut:  66
Peak:  17
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Pop


Pop Bits:  Gibson's second album Electric Youth would become a #1 double-platinum seller thanks mainly to a pair of gold Top 10 hits including the #1 "Lost in Your Eyes." Hoping to keep the streak going, this third single was issued out. While it would perform okay, the song could only manage a Pop Top 20 showing while reaching #13 AC. Gibson seemed to beat the sophomore slump with Electric Youth and although it reached #1, overall it wasn't as successful as her triple-platinum debut that featured four Pop Top 10 hits.

ReduxReview:  This ballad wasn't as strong as the LP's first single, but it was a good choice for release. It had a nice chorus and it was well-recorded. It just wasn't quite as memorable as Gibson's other hits. She really needed another solid dance-pop tune to spice up pop radio, but there really wasn't one on the album that could compete with her bouncy first three Top 10 hits. Therefore, the label went with another ballad and it didn't quite pay off. I appreciated that Gibson wanted to write and producer her own songs, but at this point it would have been a good idea to hook her up with a hot songwriter or two. She could have benefited from working with others and might have come up with a couple solid tunes that were a bit more mature and current.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  In 2007, a musical was staged that used Debbie Gibson's songs. Electric Youth was written and directed by Dean Parker. The comedy's musical numbers were from Gibson's catalog including "No More Rhyme." The show was considered a "jukebox musical" where songs from a particular artist or time period are used instead of original compositions. Famous jukebox musicals include Mamma Mia!, Rock of Ages, Tina, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, and Jersey Boys. The Electric Youth musical debuted in Orlando and seemed to generate mixed reviews.

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Monday, September 26, 2022

"Sacred Emotion" by Donny Osmond

Song#:  3937
Date:  06/17/1989
Debut:  70
Peak:  13
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Pop


Pop Bits:  Osmond surprised the music industry (and perhaps even himself) by scoring a major comeback hit with the #2 "Soldier of Love." The single came from a self-titled album that Osmond mostly recorded with songwriters/producers Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers. While it was great that Osmond was in the Pop Top 10 again sixteen years after his last one, the question was if Osmond could do it again. He gave it a go with this next single that was written by Sturken and Rogers. Lightening pretty much struck twice with the song nearly making the Pop Top 10 while hitting #4 at AC. It helped sell a few more copies of the album, which had already peaked at #54.

ReduxReview:  This was a good follow-up to the new jack-leaning "Soldier of Love." The mid-tempo ballad was nicely recorded and it featured a hooky, sing-a-long chorus. It was a good entry for the Pop chart, but it was an even better candidate for AC airplay. It's so funny. I think because he was just a kid when he became a star with his brothers, I remember people thinking that he was old at the time. Yet he was only 31. By comparison, Jon Bon Jovi was 27, Madonna was 30, and Cher was 43. They were all on the Pop chart at the same time. However, I guess because Osmond was considered a teen idol, it made it seem like he had been around for ages and that he hadn't really transitioned from teen idol into a viable adult music artist. This pair of late 80s hits changed some minds and it really gave a boost to Osmond's career.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This song featured a sax solo by smooth jazz artist Dave Koz. During the 80s, Koz was an in-demand session and tour player. Like a lot of musicians, he got the itch to do his own thing and decided to embarked on a solo career. He signed on with Capitol Record and in 1990 released a self-titled debut solo album. It would feature a pair of AC Top 20 songs and that helped the LP get to #128 Pop/#48 Jazz/#4 Contemporary Jazz. His popularity grew from there and although he would never have a single reach the Pop chart, his albums would sell well. Twelve of his studio albums would make the Jazz Top 10 while nine of them would reach #1 at Contemporary Jazz. He has nine Grammy nominations to his credit.

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Saturday, September 24, 2022

"Friends" by Jody Watley with Eric B. & Rakim

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3936
Date:  06/17/1989
Debut:  76
Peak:  9
Weeks:  18
Genre:  R&B, New Jack Swing, Rap


Pop Bits:  Watley's second album, Larger Than Life, got kicked off in a solid way with the gold selling #2 single "Real Love." It was her fourth Pop Top 10 and she aimed for a fifth one with this follow-up single. Indeed it would make the Pop Top 10 while getting to #3 R&B and #7 Dance. By this point the album had already peaked at #16 Pop/#5 R&B and gone gold.

ReduxReview:  As unique and influential as this song was when it first became a hit, it is seemingly ignored today. I'm certain that I haven't heard this song since it was originally on the chart. However, I guess I'm not fully surprised by that. It was a good, hooky song with solid rap sections and a good new jack beat, but it certainly wasn't a classic. It also wasn't as memorable as some of Watley's previous hits. So while it helped to usher in a new era of collabs, it didn't have long enough legs to keep it alive much beyond its chart heydays.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  These days the Pop chart is littered with rap/sung collaborations between two (or sometimes more) artists and has been for decades. However, that was not the case in the late 80s with rap still trying to make further strides in gaining more mainstream acceptance. While a few rap/sung collabs did exist at the time, none were becoming major crossover hits. An argument could be made that Chaka Khan's 1984 #3 hit "I Feel for You" was the first big rap/sung collab hit, but many folks discount it because Grandmaster Melle Mel didn't get a "featured" or "with" credit on the record and the rap was more like recited rhythmic lines that mainly just repeated Khan's name. Plus, it happened without Khan's knowledge - it was sort of thrust upon her by producer Arif Mardin - and when she heard it for the first time she did not like it, but was convinced to keep it in. Therefore, most people recognize this hit by Watley and Eric B. & Rakim as the first big mainstream rap/sung collaboration. Eric B. & Rakim were given credit alongside Watley with their rap sections coming later in the song. The tactic was kind of sly. It was a way to sort of sneak rap onto pop radio giving both the genre and the rap artist further exposure. While the floodgates were not necessarily thrown open after this hit, collabs began to slowly gain in popularity throughout the 90s. The first rap/sung collab to top the Pop chart came in 1990 when crooner Glenn Medieros teamed with Bobby Brown for the gold selling "She's Ain't Worth It." Collabs became such chart staples that by 2002 a Grammy category was created just for them. Initially called Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, the inaugural award was given to the song "Let Me Blow Ya Mind" by Eve featuring Gwen Stefani. As of 2020, the title of the award was updated to Best Melodic Rap Performance to accommodate not only collabs, but also solo work that contain both melody and rap.

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Thursday, September 22, 2022

"Love Train" by Holly Johnson

Song#:  3935
Date:  06/17/1989
Debut:  82
Peak:  65
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Pop


Pop Bits:  Johnson experienced a huge amount of success as the lead singer of the British band Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Their 1984 debut album Welcome to the Pleasuredome became a triple-platinum #1 in the UK (gold, #33 US) thanks to three consecutive #1 hits including the controversial "Relax" (#10 US). Having such major success can affect the inner workings of a band and that seemed to happen with Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Following the relative failure of their more rock-leaning 1986 second album Liverpool, it seemed that Johnson and the rest of the band differed on their direction and it wasn't long before conflicts arose. Once the tour for Liverpool was finished, Johnson decided to quit and head out on a solo career. However, the band's label ZTT wasn't gonna let Johnson just walk away. They were going to hold him to a contract he had signed and took him to court to make sure Johnson could not just leave and record for another label. A two year legal battle ensued and in the end, the court found that the contract was way too restrictive and unreasonable. Therefore, Johnson was free to leave the label. He then signed up with MCA Record and began work on a debut solo album. He would finish off Blast before the end of '88 and would issue out this first single. In the UK, it would become a #4 hit. It would be followed by a second #4 "Americanos." The album would hit #1 and go platinum. With the LP doing well at home, MCA chose to push it out in the US. Unfortunately it didn't fare as well. This first single would stall in the bottom half of the Pop chart while "Americanos" would be a minor #36 Dance entry. With those results, the album would fail to chart.

ReduxReview:  With Frankie Goes to Hollywood hitting it quite big in the UK, folks there were familiar with frontman Holly Johnson. While the band's first album did well in the US, they were not the superstars that they were in Britain. Therefore, Holly Johnson was not necessarily known, especially since four years had passed since "Relax" became a hit. With a good built-in audience in the UK, this song was able to grab attention at make the Top 10. However, in the US it was like Johnson was a brand new unknown artist and so the song had to be pretty dang good if he was going to breakthrough in the States. Unfortunately, this tune didn't fit the bill. It was actually quite a nice track that chugged along well and featured Johnson's unique voice. It was a tasty slice of Euro dance-pop, but I don't think it was strong enough to draw in a US audience that was more into hair metal, freestyle, and Madonna. The album was pretty good as well.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) Queen guitarist Brian May supplied the guitar solo for this song  2) On first glance at the title, some folks may have thought this was a cover tune. Alas it was not. The song was an original written by Johnson. It had nothing to do with the 1973 #1 Pop/#1 R&B hit of the same name by The O'Jays.  3) In the UK, Johnson would follow up the success of Blast with 1991's Dreams That Money Can't Buy. Its first two singles failed to generate much interest and that left the album off the chart. After that disappointment, Johnson turned to his other love, painting. He would focus most of the 90s on his art, but would return to music in 1999 with the indie album Soulstream. He would not record again until 2014 when he released the critically well-received Europa.

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