Sunday, November 17, 2019

"Facts of Love" by Jeff Lorber with Karyn Whiate

Song#:  2955
Date:  12/06/1986
Debut:  96
Peak:  27
Weeks:  16
Genre:  R&B, Dance

Pop Bits:  Lorber was a jazz-based keyboardist who formed his own instrumental group, Jeff Lorber Fusion, in the mid-70s. They got signed to the NYC jazz label Inner City and released two albums in '77 and '78. Their smooth jazz sound became popular and for their third album they signed with Arista, a far bigger label that allowed them more exposure. Three more albums would follow all of which would find their way on to the Pop album chart. With Lorber's star rising, it came time for him to be billed as a solo act and the first album under just his name was 1982's It's a Fact. It became his best-selling album to-date reaching #73 on the Pop chart. Sensing that Lorber could be a bigger crossover act, Arista brought in R&B producer Maurice Starr to assist with Lorber's 1984 album In the Heat of the Night. It didn't expand his audience any further, so for his next effort, 1985's Step By Step, it was suggested Lorber collaborate with other more commercial writers and include songs with vocals. The title track, co-written by Lorber and Anita Pointer, would end up being a hit on the Dance chart getting to #4. It also got to #31 at R&B. Session vocalist Audrey Wheeler sang the tune. A second single, "Best Part of the Night" sung by Gavin Christopher, got to #15 on the Dance chart. Lorber also earned his first Grammy nomination for Best R&B Instrumental Performance for the track "Pacific Coast Highway." It all seemed to be working well, but pressure from Arista and the prickly Clive Davis made Lorber take off for Warner Bros. His first effort for them was 1986's Private Passion. It also featured some vocal tracks like this first single that was performed by session singer Karyn White. The song would go Top 10 at Dance (#9) while getting to #17 R&B and making the Pop Top 30. The hit would help the album get to #68 Pop, #29 R&B and #17 Jazz. It would be his peak crossover moment. But then Lorber decided that he'd had enough of trying to be a crossover star and retreated to session work for a while. He would return in 1993 in a more comfortable contemporary jazz fashion on Verve Forecast Records with Worth the Wait. More albums would follow and he'd reform Jeff Lorber Fusion in 2010. He would earn six more Grammy nominations finally winning in 2017 for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for the Fusion's Prototype.

ReduxReview:  This was a good, hooky tune that kick-started Karyn White's career (her 1988 debut album would spawn three Pop Top 10's). It also helped sell a few albums for Lorber. I'm not always sure what to think about singles like this though. Lorber was an excellent musician who helped bring smooth jazz to the masses and this track is nowhere near his usual fare. I think its a case of a label trying to force an artist to be a crossover star. I mean, they will sell more albums, they can have hits, yet they can sort of keep a bit of their writing and musical roots alive on other album tracks. I guess it is fine, but when it comes down to it this song could have been done by anyone. Lorber didn't write it (the production team Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers did). He plays keyboards, but not in a way that would truly identify him. Basically, it is a Karyn White single. Other fringe jazz or instrumental artists would do the same and score pop hits in the decade as well, but I just don't get it. People call it selling out. I'm not sure I agree. Why wouldn't you give it a try to help sell your own material and get people to your concerts? It just seems strange though because if you went to see Lorber in concert around this time, he would probably play this song, but the majority of the concert would be a bunch of smooth jazz noodling, which many folks didn't sign up for. Regardless, this was a solid track that was produced well, even though it is really selling Karyn White.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Whether you love or loathe soprano sax master Kenny G, you pretty much have Jeff Lorber to thank. Lorber brought Kenny Gorelick on board with the Fusion for their 1980 Arista album Wizard Island and its 1981 follow-up Galaxian. Lorber knew the young Gorelick had ambition and helped to sell him as a solo artist to Clive Davis. Davis finally bit and signed the newly christened Kenny G. In 1982, Kenny G would play on Lorber's first solo LP and release his own solo debut. It would do pretty well and his next two LPs increased his fan base. But it would be 1986's Duotones that would break him wide open as a crossover star. That album would go on to sell over five million copies.


Saturday, November 16, 2019

"Suburbia" by Pet Shop Boys

Song#:  2954
Date:  12/06/1986
Debut:  97
Peak:  70
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Synthpop

Pop Bits:  This duo's debut album Please was a platinum seller thanks to three Pop chart entries, which included the #1 "West End Girls" and the #10 "Opportunities." Feeling that there may still be some gas left in the tank, their label decided to remix this album track and push it out as a fourth single. Unfortunately, it didn't get very far. It stopped in the lower reaches of the Pop chart while only getting to #36 at Dance. It would do much better in their UK homeland where the single became their second Top 10 there (#8).

ReduxReview:  I like how the happy sounding chorus of this song plays against the darker verses. I'm sure that was intentional - trying to cover up the ugly underbelly of suburbia with some kind of fake positive spin. Musically, Pet Shop Boys' songs are fairly simple (and I don't mean that in a bad way). Their chords and progressions are not complicated and their melodies are lovely and easy to latch on to. However, because of that I think their lyrics often get overlooked. They are often sharp, witty, or poignant. Their view of a riotous suburb and its disconnected youth is front and center on this track. It's a good song and one that wasn't too bad of a choice for a single. It just came out a bit too late in the LP's cycle and couldn't attract attention.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  On the back sleeve of this single, it states that the song "was partly inspired by the film Suburbia." That 1984 movie was produced by Roger Corman and written/directed by Penelope Spheeris. It was Spheeris' first film following her acclaimed 1981 documentary about the L.A. punk scene The Decline of Western Civilization. She used elements of the punk lifestyle as inspiration for the fictional Suburbia. She even hired on a few punk musicians for roles instead of actors, such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist Flea. The film focused on a group of runaway punk kids who end up living together in abandoned homes in suburban L.A. While it wasn't necessarily a box office hit, it did fairly well with critics and has since become a bit of a cult flick. Spheeris would go on to do two sequels to The Decline of Western Civilization and in 1992 would score a big mainstream hit directing the Mike Myers/Dana Carvey SNL skit-inspired comedy Wayne's World.


Friday, November 15, 2019

"Change of Heart" by Cyndi Lauper

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2953
Date:  11/29/1986
Debut:  67
Peak:  3
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  The title track first single from Lauper's second album True Colors would go on to be her second to top the Pop chart. She would follow up that stark ballad with this heavier produced upbeat track that featured The Bangles on background vocals. It would become her seventh Top 10 on the Pop chart. It also made it to #4 at Dance. The album was certified as a platinum seller just prior to this single being released. The hit would promote more sales of the LP and eventually it would be a double-platinum seller.

ReduxReview:  This was a smart follow-up to "True Colors." It was a bit more mature than some of her previous singles, yet it kept her personality and featured a big 80s production. Both songs together seemed like a step forward for her as an artist, but the balance of the album was a mish-mash of styles and quirky tunes that didn't quite gel. The two songs were the highlights of the album and they ended up being the two main hits. She needed to break away from her kooky shabby chic personality and move towards being an artist of longevity and the two tunes did help, but it's too bad she didn't do more like them on the album. I mean, did we really need a track that featured Pee Wee Herman? Yikes. Regardless, she is one of my all-time favorite artists and this was a terrific hit for her.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This song was originally written by singer/songwriter Essra Mohawk. Born in Philly as Sandra Hurvitz, she first got noticed in the early 60s and recorded one single under the name Jamie Carter in 1964. Nothing happened with the tune, but then her songs got picked up by other artists including The Shangri-Las. This led to a record deal with Verve and her debut album, Sandy's Album is Here at Last, got released under her real name in 1967. She next got picked up by Reprise Records and recorded the 1970 album Primordial Lovers. She ended up marrying her producer, Frazier Mohawk, and by the time the album was set for release changed her name to Essra Mohawk. The LP didn't sell, but it was a critical favorite and became a bit of a cult record. She would release a few more albums over the years, but nothing much happened with them. She later recorded a demo of a song she wrote titled "Change of Heart." The song found its way to Cyndi Lauper who decided to record it. Lauper made a few lyric and melodic changes, which then gave her a co-writing credit. Mohawk would continue to write songs, record albums, and sing background vocals for major artists over the years, but this would be her shining pop moment. Her voice may be familiar to folks who grew up in the 70s. She sang three songs featured on Schoolhouse Rock!  She sang solo on "Interjections!" (Grammar Rock) and "Sufferin' 'til Suffrage" (America Rock), and was part of a quartet that sang "Mother Necessity" (America Rock).


Thursday, November 14, 2019

"Love You Down" by Ready for the World

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2952
Date:  11/29/1986
Debut:  76
Peak:  9
Weeks:  19
Genre:  R&B, Quiet Storm

Pop Bits:  This Flint, Michigan, band scored a #1 Pop/R&B/Dance hit with "Oh Sheila," a track from their self-titled debut album. The LP would turn platinum thanks to three other R&B Top 10's. As soon as they could, they went back into the studio to record a follow-up. It would be titled Long Time Coming and this first single, written by lead singer Melvin Riley, got issued out. It would easily top the R&B chart becoming their second to do so. It crossed over to the Pop chart and became their second Top 10. It also got on the AC chart at #24. The band seemed to be poised to match the success of their debut, but further singles from their second LP didn't crack the R&B Top 10 and failed to reach the Pop chart. Still, this song helped push the album to #5 R&B/#32 Pop and it would be a gold seller. Unfortunately, this would be the band's last single to reach the Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  This was an unusual move for a band whose two biggest charting songs were uptempo workouts. A ballad as a first single wasn't necessarily risky, but it wasn't all that common either. I'm guessing that the label thought this was the strongest single contender on the LP and went ahead and released it. Indeed, it got them the hit they needed and further singles didn't perform well so they were fortunate this one got out the gate first. The ballad sounds less like their Prince-ish tracks from their debut album and more like they were taking notes from Jam & Lewis. It worked out well with this slinky quiet storm ballad heating up the airwaves. The lyrics deal with a May-December romance, but with a small twist - the guy is the younger one. It was kind of refreshing since most songs around this time focused on young, hot women (especially in hard rock and R&B). A solid outing for the band, but unfortunately, they just couldn't grab another crossover hit.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The band returned in '88 with their third album Ruff N' Ready. It featured the #6 R&B single "My Girly." A second single was a minor chart entry and further singles failed to chart. Without a significant crossover hit, the album didn't sell well.  They gave it one more try with 1991's Straight Down to Business, which did generate the #9 R&B "Can He Do It (Like This, Can He Do It Like That), but it didn't lead to album sales and that ended their days as a major label artist.  2) This song was later remade in 1997 by Pop/R&B/Dance vocalist INOJ. It was her debut single and it got to #25 on the Pop chart. Her next single would also be a remake. She covered Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" and pushed it out in 1998. It would get to #6 at Pop. This led to her recording a full album the following year for Columbia's So So Def label that included the two hits. It was weirdly titled Ready for the World. Further singles failed to chart and the album suffered the same fate.


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

"Every Beat of My Heart" by Rod Stewart

Song#:  2951
Date:  11/29/1986
Debut:  83
Peak:  83
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  Stewart's fourteenth studio album, Every Beat of My Heart, was not performing well. It had already peaked at a low (for him) #28 and was not on track to becoming a certified gold seller. Despite the previous single, "Another Heartache," not doing well (#52), Stewart's label went ahead and issued out this title-track follow-up. It did even worse by peaking where it debuted on the Pop chart. It failed to reach any other chart as well. With those results, the label called it a day and the album fell off the chart. That left it being one of Stewart's worst performing albums to-date. Only his 1969 debut LP and 1983's Body Wishes did worse.

ReduxReview:  This was meant to be one of those big sentimental sing-along songs that would cross international boarders and make everyone weepie and nostalgic. It had a vague Irish feel to it and indeed mentioned the "Emerald Isle," but it was still generic enough for non-Irish folk to catch on and apply their own meaning. The person in the lyrics is headed home, but I'm not sure from where. From war or a war-torn country? From military service? I dunno. The song is fine, but a little slow and a bit boring. There's just not enough memorable lines or melodies to make it catch on in a bigger way. It strives to be a classic longing-for-home song that everyone rallies around while toasting their pints, but it doesn't quite make it there.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  In the UK, one further single was released from the album. Stewart's remake of The Beatles' "In My Life" would just scratch the chart at #80. "In My Life" was recorded for Rubber Soul, the Beatles' 1965 album. Although it was not selected to be a single, the song became a fan and critical favorite over the years. On Rolling Stone's 2004 list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time," the tune was ranked at #23. Although many artists have covered the song, as of this posting date none have been able to reach the Pop chart with a version. However, one artist did manage to reach the AC chart with the tune. Bette Midler recorded the song for the soundtrack to her 1991 movie For the Boys. It was the second single released from the soundtrack and it got to #20 at AC.