Monday, November 20, 2017

"One Night in Bangkok" by Murray Head

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2228
Date:  02/23/1985
Debut:  81
Peak:  3
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Pop, Dance, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  English actor/singer Murray Head began writing songs as a kid and in the mid-60s tried to get a music career started. He recorded several singles for various labels, but nothing came from them. Then in 1969, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice hired Head to sing on the concept album for their rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Performing as Judas Iscariot, Head would sing what would be considered the opera's signature track "Superstar." The song was issued as a single prior to the album's release and it peaked at a low #74. Then nearly a year later as the show was being prepped for Broadway with Head in the Iscariot role, the song recharted for a minor three weeks, dropped off the chart, and then returned for a final run that would find the single peaking at #14. Following the song's success, Head tried to get a solo career going. He recorded seven album for five labels, but chart success eluded him. Then in 1983, Head was once again tapped to perform on another musical concept album that was co-written by Tim Rice (along with ABBA members Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson). Called Chess, the musical concept album had Head performing the pop/dance song "One Night in Bangkok." The tune was released as a single and it caught on in a big way hitting the Top 10's of many countries including the US (#5 Dance/#35 AC/#89 R&B). Later in '86, the stage version of the musical hit London's West End with Head performing in the cast. It would make it to Broadway in '88, but with a different cast. Head would continue to record albums over the years, but he remained off the charts. He would have a bit more success acting on stage, in TV shows, and in films.

ReduxReview:  I believe this song has the distinction of being the last song from a stage musical to hit the Pop chart that was performed by an original cast member. Some cover tunes from shows have reached the chart, but none by the originating artist. Even Hamilton with all of its success has not produced a charting single. I remember this concept album being talked up, especially since it involved half of ABBA, so when this single came out and got on the chart, it was quite the deal. What made the musical a bit different was that many of the songs were modern pop oriented and could function on their own outside of the show. This one in particular was certainly set up to be a potential hit when you consider the hooky chorus, the rap, and the driving dance beat. It got an extra boost from the odd lyrics and strange touches within the arrangement. It made for a bizarre hit that folks loved or hated. I thought it was a lot of fun and it made me buy the Chess album. It's now one of those relics from the decade that still gets some airplay and induces some chuckles and sing-a-longs. I prefer the song with its "Bangkok" orchestral opening left intact. (BTW - my favorite song from Chess was the wonderfully urgent "Nobody's Side" by the great Elaine Paige.)

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) Head's younger brother, Anthony, became a successful actor as well. Although he has been in several stage productions, TV shows, and films, he is most likely best known to US audiences as the character Rupert Giles on the hit TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  2) Although this song was credited solely to Head, he only performs the rap portion of the song. The chorus was sung by Swedish singer Anders Glenmark. Glenmark became a highly successful songwriter/producer in Sweden working with many artists including solo work from ABBA's Frida.  3) This song was only able to make it to #12 in the UK. However, a duet from the Chess album, "I Know Him So Well" by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson, reached #1 for four weeks. It was issued in the US, but failed to chart. Whitney Houston recorded the song as a duet with her mother Cissy for Whitney's second album in 1987. The track was released as a single in a minor few countries (not the US) the following year. The best it did was #14 in the Netherlands.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

"The Bird" by The Time

Song#:  2227
Date:  02/23/1985
Debut:  83
Peak:  36
Weeks:  13
Genre:  R&B, Dance

Pop Bits:  The Time's Ice Cream Castle LP was doing well thanks to the hit "Jungle Love" (#6 R&B, #20 Pop), which was featured in the film Purple Rain. The title track of the album served as the second single, but it didn't fare as well only reaching #11 at R&B and missing the Pop chart. This third single would do better at Pop, most likely due to it also being in Purple Rain, and it would get inside the Top 40 while going to #6 at Dance. The response wasn't as good at R&B were it topped out at #33.

ReduxReview:  It was probably smart to go with the live version of this song (see below). The Time were a hot live band and their skills were never on display on record at the time due to Prince controlling everything. So this was a nice change and it highlighted them as a band. It's also the kind of song that is better in concert. It's a fun jam, but there's really not much to it. Therefore, the band's performance is key to making it work along with Morris Day's vocals and ad-libs. Otherwise, it's a bit of a near-novelty, toss-a-way tune.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This song was recorded live in October of '83 when The Time was performing at the First Avenue club in Minneapolis. Later on, in preparation for the album, the song was recorded in the studio. That version had Prince playing all the instruments except guitar, which was handled by Jessie Johnson. It had been recorded for inclusion on the Ice Cream Castle album, but prior to its release the studio version was set aside in favor of the live version. It would mark the first time in three albums that the full band was actually heard on record. All their previous songs and recordings were mainly done by Prince with Morris Day singing over the top of the tracks.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

"Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds

#1 Alert!
Song#:  2226
Date:  02/23/1985
Debut:  90
Peak:  1 (1 week)
Weeks:  22
Genre:  Rock, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  This Scottish band came together in 1977 and by 1979 they had a solid line up and a contract with Arista Records. Their debut LP, Life in a Day, did well in the UK getting to #30. Two more albums would follow on Arista before they switched to Virgin. Their first album for the label, Sons and Fascination, broke them a bit further in the UK when it reached #11. But it would be their 1982 album, New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84) that would make them stars in Europe. Featuring two Top 20 UK hits, the album would reach #3 there and go Top 10 in several countries. It set them up for their first UK #1 album in '84 titled Sparkle in the Rain. Despite solid success around the world, the band was virtually ignored in the US. This seemed to have stemmed from the labels not promoting the band in the US. That would change when they recorded this song that was written for the John Hughes film The Breakfast Club. Used as the closing song, the single took off when the film became a box office hit. It would hit #1 at both Pop and Rock while reaching #9 at Dance and #36 AC. With the song helping to establish them in the US, the band now had the task of trying to follow up the massive hit.

ReduxReview:  I don't think any 80s pop playlist would be complete without this song. It is an essential hit from the decade. I loved it from the start, but then the thing got so overplayed that I tired of it. I ignored the song for a long time, but then eased it back into my 80s rotation. Simple Minds is not the first artist to dislike one of their hits (see below), but it's like biting the hand that feeds. Without this song, their chances of making it big in the US were minimal. If they didn't like the song, they shouldn't have done it. Since they did, they should have embraced it, especially after it became a hit. I could be completely wrong, but I seem to remember that at one point they tried to stop playing this at their concerts and audiences about revolted. To me it sounded like sour grapes - the song that they would be remembered most for wasn't theirs (and they wouldn't reap the financial benefits of being the writers/publishers either). It sticks in my craw when artists do this. Hey, you guys wanted to be stars, especially in the US, so accept the hit, say thank you, and happily move forward.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This song was written for the film by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff. Originally, they wanted Bryan Ferry to record the song, but he turned it down. It seems Cy Curnin (The Fixx) passed on it as well, as did Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders). It's been said that Billy Idol was also offered the song, but he says that didn't happen (he actually recorded the tune himself in 2001). Then Simple Minds, a band which Forsey loved, was suggested. When approached, the band initially turned the opportunity down because they didn't want to record a song not written by the band and they didn't really like the tune. However, after seeing a screening of the film and some prodding from folks like Kerr's wife Chrissie Hynde and songwriter Forsey, the band convened at a studio and rearranged/recorded the song.  2) Even though this song was a worldwide hit and got them established in the US, the band still didn't like the song (they even left it off their next album, which was released later in the year). In one interview, the band mentioned they were a bit embarrassed by the song's success and lead singer Jim Kerr apparently told a reporter that he wanted to vomit every time they played the song. However, no matter how much they wanted to distance themselves from the tune, it wasn't going to go away. It had become a touchstone song from an iconic 80s film where the end image of Judd Nelson putting his fist in the air being directly associated. However, in later years Kerr has said he recognizes the song's impact and is glad he was able to be a part of that.


Friday, November 17, 2017

"Look My Way" by The Vels

Spotlight Alert!
Song#:  2225
Song#:  1802
Date:  02/23/1985
Debut:  92
Peak:  72
Weeks:  6
Genre:  New Wave, Dance, Synthpop

Pop Bits:  This Philadelphia trio consisting of Charles Hanson, Alice DeSoto, and Chris Larkin formed in 1980 and over the next few years they honed their sound and gathered a solid following. Eventually, Mercury Records came calling and the band got signed to the label. Working with producer Steve Stanley (of Tom Tom Club), the trio recorded their debut album, Velocity. The initial single from the album, "Private World," couldn't do much except a #30 showing on the Dance chart. This next single got a little more attention thanks to an MTV video and the song was able to reach the Pop chart for a few weeks while getting to #39 at Dance. It would be their only single to reach the Pop chart. A second album, House of Miracles, was issued in 1986, but it quickly disappeared. The Vels broke up later in '87.

ReduxReview:  I've never heard of this Philly band, but they hooked me right from the opening of this song. The warm chords, the nice melody, the boy/girl vocals, and the 80s synthpop production are all right up my alley. Then, to top it off, there is a rap section a la Debbie Harry in "Rapture." It was produced by the same guy who co-wrote and produced Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love," so that seemed to rub off here. Sadly, this song couldn't do as well and it quickly disappeared. It deserved a better fate. I've called up a couple of their other tunes and they show promise, so I ordered up both of their LPs to see what else they had to offer. Regardless, this is a lost gem from the 80s and a lovely surprise to run across. As I've said before, discovering tunes like this is one of the best things about this project and I think it is worthy of being in the Spotlight.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Charles Hanson's first brush with success came via the New Orleans-based punk band The Normals. Formed in 1977, they only issued one single back in the late 70s, but had recorded enough songs for an album. These would later be issued on LP and then in 2011 as a CD titled Vacation to Nowhere. Apparently, at the time they were considered New Orleans' first punk band. After an unsuccessful attempt to break through in New York, the band split and Hanson went on to form The Vels. It seems these days Hanson owns what is considered one of the oldest bars still in operation in NYC. Now called the 169 Bar, it originally opened in 1916.  2) After The Vels broke up, Alice DeSoto returned to her real name of Alice Cohen and in the early 90s was a member of the Athens, Georgia, band Die Monster Die. They released two albums that did well critically, but were commercially unsuccessful. While in The Vels, Cohen wrote a disco-style song called "Deetour" that was a #34 Dance hit in 1982 for singer Karen Young. Young previously had one charting hit at Pop called "Hot Shot." That 1978 track reached #1 at Dance while getting to #67 at Pop.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

"We Close Our Eyes" by Go West

Song#:  2224
Date:  02/23/1985
Debut:  95
Peak:  41
Weeks:  15
Genre:  Pop, Blue-Eyed Soul

Pop Bits:  This UK duo of Peter Cox and Richard Drummie recorded a two-song demo that got the attention of Chrysalis Records. After signing a deal, they set out to record their self-titled debut album. This first single was issued and in their home country it became a hit reaching #5 on the chart. In the US, it would also reach #5 on the Dance chart, but it didn't do as well at Pop just missing out on the Top 40 at the dreaded #41 position.  However, that seemed to be enough to draw folks to the album and it peaked at a respectable #60 (#8 UK).

ReduxReview:  One of the things this duo did well was to come up with big, memorable synth riffs like the one at the beginning of this song. It grabs your attention right away and is quite memorable. I like this song but have always thought it was a bit disjointed, like the various sections were created separately and stitched together. Still, the song worked but it was the forceful synth line that made it memorable.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Although it was not created for the film, this song was included on the soundtrack to the 1985 Italian horror flick Dèmoni (English title: Demons). That movie was co-written and produced by Dario Argento. Argento had written, directed and/or produced many horror/thriller films since the late '60s. Arguably one of his most famous creations was the 1977 surreal supernatural thriller Suspiria, which is often included on lists of best horror films. Demons was quite successful in Europe and it ended up spawning seven sequels over the years.