Friday, June 22, 2018

"So in Love" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Song#:  2442
Date:  08/31/1985
Debut:  86
Peak:  26
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Synthpop



Pop Bits:  Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys were schoolmates that either formed or were a part of several bands throughout the late 70s. Their music would often be experimental and electronic with their biggest influence being German electro pioneers Kraftwerk. By 1978, the pair had officially become Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and began to do performances with a little 4-track tape deck providing their backup music. Buzz about the band grew and by 1980 they were signed to the Virgin off-shoot label Dindisc. Their self-titled debut featured the UK hit "Messages" (#13 UK, #67 US Dance). Five Top 10's would follow over the course of four albums. Yet despite their success in the UK, they had yet to break through in the US. By the time their sixth album, Crush arrived, the band had expanded to six members and their sound had become more commercial and less experimental. This helped to attract an audience Stateside and this lead-off single from the album became their first Pop chart entry. It broke into the Top 30 while getting to #16 at Dance. The hit helped the album sell well and reach #38.

ReduxReview:  Prior to this, OMD had shaded some of their tunes with a bit of pop, but it really wasn't enough for the US market. It wasn't until they hooked up with producer Stephen Hague for Crush that they truly refined their sound and made something that was ready for US radio. Hague gave their synthpop a denser feel and this opening track was nothing like they had recorded before. It was beautifully produced and it had a solid, hooky chorus that could reel in listeners. The tinny blips and bleeps of their early experimental tracks were gone and replaced with a more mature pop sound that served the band well.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  OMD's first Top 10 in the UK was the track "Enola Gay," which was from their second album Organisation. Although it didn't make the US Pop chart, it did get to #34 on the Dance chart. Both McCluskey and Humphreys were fascinated with World War II planes and when lyrics were needed for a song they were working on, McCluskey settled on doing a song about one of the most famous planes in history. The WWII B-29 bomber named Enola Gay was the one that dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima in Japan on August 6, 1945. The bomb killed over 100,000 people and helped to bring an end to the war with Japan. The plane was named after its pilot Paul Tibbet's mother. OMD's lyrics include references to this and to the bombing. In general, it is seen as an anti-war song even though songwriter McCluskey didn't necessarily mean for it to be.

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

"Stand By Me" by Maurice White

Song#:  2441
Date:  08/31/1985
Debut:  88
Peak:  50
Weeks:  13
Genre:  R&B



Pop Bits:  White became a superstar performer, writer, and producer via the band he founded in 1970, Earth, Wind & Fire. By this point in 1985, that band had scored seventeen R&B Top 10's including seven #1's and seven Pop Top 10's (with one #1). Along the way he branched out to write and produce songs for many other artists including The Emotions, Deniece Williams, Jennifer Holiday, ABC, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, and Atlantic Starr. When Earth, Wind & Fire went on a break in 1984, White took the opportunity to do his own solo album. His self-titled debut would be preceded by this first single, which made it into the R&B Top 10 at #6. It was also a good hit at AC getting to #11. However, the track couldn't quite breakthrough to a wider Pop audience and the song stalled at the halfway point of the chart.

ReduxReview:  This moldy oldie certainly got a shimmering day-glo 80s update by White. Even though it's a classic song with a great message, I never really cared for it. In fact, there is only one version of the tune that I kinda like and that one is by singer Turley Richards. However, I don't mind White's take on the song. He actually does something different with it instead of doing a direct cover. After a billowy opening, the tune opens up into a dance track with all the 80s synth/drum machine bells and whistles. Although it probably pissed off some purists, White even added a bridge with new lyrics followed by an instrumental section. Overall, it's not too bad. Chalk me up as surprised. The only question I have is - why? White is a solid songwriter and works with other brilliant writers, so why did he choose to issue out a cover tune as his first solo single? Seems odd but it ended up doing rather well.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of a song co-written and originally recorded by R&B star Ben E. King. King's 1961 version reached #1 at R&B and #4 Pop. It would return to the charts in 1986 after the movie Stand By Me became a hit. On its second go 'round the song would get to #9 Pop and #10 AC. The enduring classic would end up being recorded by hundreds of artists. Over the years, eight artists, including White, would reach the Pop chart with their versions. The highest peaking cover version came from R&B singer Spyder Turner. Turner was known for being able to imitate the voices of popular R&B stars and when he recorded "Stand By Me," he mimicked the voices of other artists like Smokey Robinson, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, and even King himself. Turner's 1966 novelty-ish single would catch on and reach #12 at Pop and #3 R&B. Turner wasn't able to capitalize on the hit and have others, but he did co-write "Do Your Dance," which became a #4 R&B (#39 Pop) hit for Rose Royce in 1977.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"Test of Time" by The Romantics

Song#:  2440
Date:  08/31/1985
Debut:  90
Peak:  71
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Rock



Pop Bits:  This Detroit band hit it big with the #3 hit "Talking in Your Sleep," the lead single from their fourth album In Heat. That gold album set them up well for their next effort titled Rhythm Romance. This first single was issued out but it barely got any attention. It spent a few weeks near the bottom of the Pop chart while only getting to #44 at Rock. A follow-up single, "Mystified," failed to reach either chart, but did briefly make the Dance chart at #42. In turn, the album did not sell well and it stalled early at #77. Unfortunately, the news was going to get worse for the band (see below) and as a result, this song would be their last to reach the Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  The Romantics had a knack for creating solid, catchy power pop tunes and when they really hit the mark as with "Talking" or "What I Like About You," they were awesome. However, something happened when they wrote and recorded Rhythm Romance. The songs lacked punch, the production lacked crunch, and the band nearly sounded out to lunch. This Motown-ish first single sounds lethargic. I think there might be a decent song here, but the band just doesn't sound all that into it and the production is fairly wimpy. This wasn't the album they needed after In Heat. A change in producers and some outside songwriters might have been helpful at this point to keep their career hot. Unfortunately, the band quickly cooled off with this tepid outing.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  Not long after the band finished up a tour in support of Rhythm Romance, they discovered that their management had been profiting for years off of their works without their knowledge. Apparently, when the young band (with zero music biz experience) signed the agreement with their managers, it allowed the band members to get the royalties from any songwriting, but the money from mechanical royalties and publishing/administrative rights went to the managers. This was a huge mistake and the band basically lost control over their own catalog and didn't even realize it. You'd think a lawyer would have caught this for them, but alas, they used the same lawyer that worked for the managers, so that didn't help. When it all finally came to the surface, the band sued their now-former management. Yet doing this came with a cost. Due to aspects of the legal battle, the band was prevented from recording and releasing any new music until the suit was settled. Unfortunately, the suit lasted nearly seven years and that basically ruined their career. The band would be successful in the end gaining back their catalog and rights, but any royalties prior to the suit were long gone thanks to the managers squandering the funds, so it is doubtful they will see a penny of back settlement royalty pay.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

"Weird Science" by Oingo Boingo

Song#:  2439
Date:  08/31/1985
Debut:  93
Peak:  45
Weeks:  12
Genre:  New Wave, Soundtrack



Pop Bits:  The roots of this band came via a 1970s performance art group called The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo, which was headed up by Richard Elfman. The troupe featured a large cast of musicians playing numerous instruments who performed a cabaret-style show with music from the first half of the 20th century. Around 1976, Richard decided to leave the group and his brother Danny took over. As time wore on, the band was reduced down to an octet and their focus changed from the theatrical to something more rock oriented with an emphasis on ska music. By 1979 they had officially become Oingo Boingo and had recorded a demo EP that got the attention of I.R.S. Records, who issued out an updated version of the EP. The band then moved over to I.R.S.'s parent label A&M and in 1981 issued their first full-length LP Only a Lad. Over the course of three low-charting albums, the band solidified their reputation as a live act and gained fans. They decided to make a move over to MCA, but due to contract issues with A&M, the band's first album for MCA, So-Lo, was credited solely to Danny Elfman. After the label shenanigans got settled, the band were ready to record their next album. But first, the band would be tagged to contribute a song for an upcoming John Hughes teen comedy Weird Science. Elfman would write the tune and the band got it recorded for the film and its associated soundtrack. It would be issued out as a single following the film's release. The song nearly made the Top 40 while getting to #21 at Dance. It would also be included on their next album Dead Man's Party.

ReduxReview:  This was the exact right theme song for the film. Even when just writing a pop-oriented track, Elfman was on the money when it came to composing for movies. The crazy, nerdy spirit of the film was perfectly reflected in Elfman's creation. Even the aural assault from the dense maniacal production was just right. The film and song go hand-in-hand and it is hard to not think of them both when someone talks about either one. It should have done better on the chart, especially since the film did well at the box office.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Weird Science was John Hughes' directorial follow-up to his hit film The Breakfast Club. It starred Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith as nerdy teens who end up creating a dream woman a la Frankenstein via a computer. Hi-jinks ensue. The film received mixed reviews, but was a box office hit. Like Hughes' previous films, music played a big role and the soundtrack was filled with songs from edgy, up-n-coming acts like Wall of Voodoo, Los Lobos, General Public, Killing Joke, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and Oingo Boingo. In 1994, the cult film was turned into a TV series which ran for five seasons.  2) By now most folks know that the band's leader Danny Elfman went on to become a very successful film score composer. His first major score was for Tim Burton's 1985 movie Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Since then, Burton and Elfman have collaborated on fifteen more films. Elfman has written music for many other films and TV shows with one of his best known works being the theme to The Simpsons. His work has earned him four Oscar nominations and he has won two Emmys and one Grammy.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

"Lonely Ol' Night" by John Cougar Mellencamp

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2438
Date:  08/24/1985
Debut:  40
Peak:  6
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Rock



Pop Bits:  After scoring his second multi-platinum album with Uh-Huh, Mellencamp set out to record an album of songs that had more lyrical depth and that incorporated certain aspects of 60s rock music. He emerged from the studio with his eighth album, Scarecrow. To get things started, this track was issued out as the first single. It immediately shot up to #1 at Rock and stayed there for five weeks. It also was a hit at Pop and it became Mellencamp's fifth Top 10. The album would just miss out on the top spot peaking at #2. Eventually it would sell over five million copies tying the amount that his breakthrough 1982 hit album American Fool sold.

ReduxReview:  Although I loved "Jack & Diane," I wasn't a real fan of Mellecamp's music and the tracks from Uh-Huh didn't change my mind. So when it was announced Scarecrow was coming out, I didn't really care. That was until I heard this first single. I can't pinpoint why, but I immediately connected with this tune. Then when I saw the stark album cover with Mellencamp hanging out by an old farm fence looking down and contemplating, I knew I had to have it. The LP was the first time I actually "got" Mellencamp's music. From that point on, I was a diehard fan and he has remained near the top of the list of my favorite artists. That is all thanks to this hit that I quickly got to know via the radio while driving around Boston delivering singing telegrams (yeah, you read that right...).

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Mellencamp was adamant about getting a certain 60s rock sound for the songs on the album and he thought the only way that he and his band could accomplish that was to actually learn and play songs from that era. So Mellencamp gathered up about a hundred 45s from the time period and got his band to learn and replicate the songs as close to the originals as they could. The band did this for about a month prior to recording the album. The experimental lesson paid off when the band was quickly able to adopt the sounds and techniques they learned into Mellencamp's songs.  2) The song's title and another small line in the lyrics were inspired by the 1963 movie Hud, which starred Paul Newman. Mellencamp was a big fan of the film and a certain piece of dialog from the script stuck with him. In the movie, Hud (Paul Newman) and his nephew Lonnie (Brandon deWilde) are heading into town one evening when Lonnie says: "It's a lonesome ol' night, isn't it?" Hud then replied, "Ain't they all." Those lines got reflected in Mellencamp's song. Hud would go on to win three Academy Awards including Best Actress for Patricia Neal. Neal is actually on screen for only around 20 minutes of the film's 112 minute running time, yet her powerful and memorable performance was enough to get her pushed to the lead actress category instead of supporting. She still holds the record for the shortest screen time by an Oscar winner in a lead category.

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