Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Lady" by The Whispers

Song#:  0141
Date:  04/19/1980
Debut:  77
Peak:  28
Weeks:  11
Genre:  R&B, Soul

Pop Bits:  The Whispers had just hit big with their gold record "And the Beat Goes On" (Redux Song# 0045) when this second single from their self-title album came out. The slinky R&B ballad would get them another Top 5 hit on the R&B chart as well as Top 30 pop. The album would be their first to be certified as a platinum seller.

ReduxReview:  This is a pretty good slow jam and the lead vocals are terrific and keeps the song interesting. Plus a nice organ solo is always a bonus. I preferred their groovin' "And the Beat Goes On," but this is a worthy follow-up.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  In less than two years, the pop chart featured three different songs titled "Lady." The Little River Band's song peaked at #10, Kenny Rogers would have his first pop #1 with his, and this one by The Whispers. Also, five years earlier Styx had their first Top 10 hit with their song "Lady" and in 1981 The Commodors would hit #8 with "Lady (You Bring Me Up)." Seems like "Lady" luck was with these artists.


Friday, November 16, 2012

"It's a Night for Beautiful Girls" by The Fools

Song#:  0140
Date:  04/19/1980
Debut:  79
Peak:  67
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Rock, Power Pop

Pop Bits:  This Massachusetts group captured the attention of EMI with this Boston radio hit. EMI signed them and then sent them out on tour in support of The Knack. They recorded their debut album after the tour and this song served as the first single. They managed one more studio album for EMI before steadily releasing their own albums. They still continue to play around the Boston area with their brand of party music, humorous originals, covers and parodies.

ReduxReview:  I can't say that I really like this song, but it is very interesting. It's beat is interesting and not really typical for pop radio at the time. Hearing some of their other songs, I can see why they went on tour with The Knack. They kind of have a Knack vs. Cheap Trick, vs. Police feel. They sound like solid musicians and the production on this song is quite good. Not outstanding, but definitely an interesting single.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  The Fools first Boston radio hit was a song called "Psycho Chicken." It was a parody of the Talking Head's "Psycho Killer." There was even a video...oh, my...


"Catching the Sun" by Spyro Gyra

Song#:  0139
Date:  04/19/1980
Debut:  82
Peak:  68
Weeks:  5
Genre:  Smooth Jazz, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  This jazz-fusion group broke through in 1979 when their instrumental tune "Morning Dance" hit #24 on the pop chart. Since then they have had great success on the pop and jazz album charts and continue to maintain a loyal following with their concerts. Their fusion style that mixed elements of jazz, R&B, and even Caribbean music was not always a hit with critics, but record buyers loved their sound and they became one of the main influences for the smooth jazz format. This title song from their third album wasn't as memorable as "Morning Dance," but the fact they were able to get songs on the pop chart was a testament to their wide-ranging popularity.

ReduxReview:  I've never been and never will be a fan of the smooth jazz format. With the exception of a few Chuck Mangione songs, I avoid it like the plague. The musicians are usually very talented and I respect their abilities, but I just don't like the sound. I went to a jazz college and I remember one person saying that smooth jazz was where real jazz went to die. I kind of agree. But without smooth jazz, what would we have listened to in waiting rooms in the 70s and 80s? I can still hear those saxy sounds from when I waited at the orthodontist office to get my braces adjusted.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The group's name came from founding member Jay Beckenstein. A club owner was pestering him for the name of the group to advertise and as sort of a joke, Beckenstein blurted out "spirogira," which was the subject of a college biology paper he wrote. The owner misspelled it as "Spiro Gyra" and the name stuck.  2) This song garnered them a Grammy nomination in 1980 for Best Jazz Fusion Performance.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone" by Manhattan Transfer

Song#:  0138
Date:  04/19/1980
Debut:  84
Peak:  30
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Pop, Disco, Vocal

Pop Bits:  This NYC quartet's strength mainly surrounded their vocal jazz abilities, particularly in "vocalese," a fairly dormant style at the time. Vocalese basically sets words to previous instrumental compositions, mainly with jazz tunes. Although it can be improvised, the lyrics are typically set to an already existing melody and/or instrumental solo. The Transfer's albums usually consisted of standards, vocalese tunes, and modern compositions and it was a successful formula for them. They scored a Top 30 hit in 1975 with "Operator" and developed a very loyal following. Their next singles failed to chart in the US, but they had a string of hits in the UK including the #1 "Chanson D'Amour" in 1977. They finally made it back on the US pop chart with this disco flavored tribute tune to the popular TV show.

ReduxReview:  If you were anywhere near a high school show choir during this time, the Transfer were the shizzle. They were what every show choir wanted to be. I didn't participate in choir, but I saw plenty of performances where Transfer tunes were covered. They were the mecca for vocal work. And still are. This song is really quite an oddity considering their jazz work, but it is a really fun song and cool to hear all the sounds done via vocals. It would set them up for doing more pop tunes on their next couple of albums.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  After one initial album in 1971 ("Jukin'") with a different line-up, the group split. Lone remaining member Tim Hauser kept the Transfer alive and found three others who fit his vision of the group. They signed with Atlantic and issued their self-titled album in 1975 with the hit single "Operator." There would only be one other personnel change in the group when Laurel Masse would leave in 1979. Cheryl Bentyne would join for the album "Extensions," which this song is from. The line-up hasn't changed since then.


"Two Places at the Same Time" by Ray Parker, Jr. & Raydio

Song#:  0137
Date:  04/19/1980
Debut:  86
Peak:  30
Weeks:  14
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  Ray Parker, Jr. was already a successful musician by the time he created the group Raydio in 1977. The group got off to a solid start netting two major pop Top 10 hits, the gold record "Jack and Jill" (#8) and "You Can't Change That" (#9). When their third album rolled around, Parker billed himself first, thereby getting his name out and associated with their hits. This first single under the changed name didn't do as well as the others, although it did reach the R&B Top 10 and the album was certified gold.

ReduxReview:  After two really great singles, expectations were high for the next one. But for me (and others as it only peaked at #30) expectations were not met. It's a very run-of-the-mill R&B/crossover mid-tempo song with nothing much to hook you in. The lyrics are pretty sub-standard as well, which doesn't help matters.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  When he decided to strike out on his own recording career, Parker was not very confident in his lead vocal capabilities, so he formed a group instead and contributed vocals rather than being a completely solo artist. Obviously he gained confidence as he started a successful solo career once Raydio split in 1981.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Rock Lobster" by The B-52's

Song#:  0136
Date:  04/19/1980
Debut:  87
Peak:  56
Weeks:  8
Genre:  New Wave, Rock, Dance

Pop Bits:  Imagine you are listening to a pop radio station in early 1980 and maybe they just finished playing Andy Gibb, Fleetwood Mac, and Kool & the Gang. Then this comes on. I don't think "WTF" existed back then, but I'm sure it was uttered many a time. The Athens, Georgia, quintet began their group from a jam session that took place after drinking at a Chinese restaurant. The members had very little musical experience, but they managed to get their first gig in 1977 and a year later they had recorded the original version of "Rock Lobster." It became an underground hit and lead to gigs at high-profile clubs like CBGB's. In 1979 they signed with Warner Bros. and issued their debut album. It included this updated version of "Rock Lobster" that hit the pop chart. Quirky, strange, retro, new wave, and just plain fun, the B-52's became an instant success and quite influential for the transitioning 80s sound.

ReduxReview:  I was unaware of The B-52's in 1980, but I'd jump on board in a couple of years. The B's call themselves a party band and that is exactly how this song comes across. It was considered a novelty song initially but it is not. It is a seriously well-executed fun party song that still holds up today. When this first came out, who would have thought that the group would continue on, have big hits, and still be recording and going on tour to this day? I'm certainly glad they are! It was the right time and right combination of everything and it launched with "Rock Lobster." A party rock classic.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  The B-52's take their name from the Southern term for a specific bouffant hairdo from the 1950's. The beehive-style do was high and pointy and seemed to resemble the nosecone of the B-52 aircraft. The two girls in the group, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, would wear wigs sometimes sporting the bouffant style. The group later paid tribute to hair pieces with their song "Wig" from 1986's "Bouncing Off the Satellites."


"Coming Down from Love" by Bobby Caldwell

Song#:  0135
Date:  04/19/1980
Debut:  89
Peak:  42
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Pop, R&B, Blue-Eyed Soul

Pop Bits:  Caldwell's debut album in 1978 featured the Top 10 pop and R&B smash "What You Won't Do for Love." The album was a platinum seller and two other singles from the album found their way to the R&B chart. His follow-up album failed to capitalize on this success in the US, but in Japan he gained a significant audience and his next releases were best-sellers in that country. However, he regained his US audience in the 90s when he changed up his sound from R&B/Quiet Storm to the newly popular smooth jazz format. This along with a couple of Big Band forays garnered him five Top 15 jazz chart albums. He continues to perform and record with his latest release being 2012's "House of Cards." This song was the first single from his second album, "Cat in the Hat."

ReduxReview:  This ain't no "What You Won't Do for Love," but it's not a bad R&B-lite shuffle. It kind of has that Boz Scaggs feel along with that white-boy soul sound that was going on during this time. It's very well-done, but not as outstanding as his previous hit - and a tidge too smooth-jazzy for my taste.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!:  1) Caldwell's self-titled debut album was in the can and ready, but the label thought it needed a hit single they could push. Caldwell returned to the studio and quickly came up with "What You Won't Do for Love." The song was so popular that the label changed the name of the album to the track's title.  2) Caldwell was on the TK label, famous for KC & the Sunshine Band and other diverse artists. Initially, the label wanted to keep it under wraps that Caldwell was white, thinking it may hurt R&B sales. Even the album cover and trade ads were devoid of any pics of him. Of course, the song was such a hit he had to perform and tour and it didn't take long before the "secret" was revealed. He ended up having more R&B chart songs than pop.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"New Romance (It's a Mystery)" by Spider

Song#:  0134
Date:  04/19/1980
Debut:  90
Peak:  39
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Power Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  Spider was an NYC group that were able to get three songs on the chart in 1980-1981. Their two albums also managed to get on the Top 200 chart. Their minor success ended sometime after the second album and the band called it quits with each member going their own way. This song was their first to make the chart and their only Top 40 hit.

ReduxReview:  Spider was a solid power pop band and with a crack songwriter like Holly Knight on board (see below), you should know what to expect. Oddly enough, I knew this song first by the artist who covered it (again, see below). Now, don't judge me - she put out a couple of albums with some good tunes. I like this song a lot and if it turns yer crank, I suggest seeking out more of Spider as I think you will dig them.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Spider served as a launching pad for two members who went on to have bigger careers. Drummer Anton Fig worked with many A-list artists throughout the 80s and beyond and in 1986 became a permanent fixture on the David Letterman show in Paul Shaffer's band. Keyboardist Holly Knight went on to be in another Top 40 group in the 80s called Device, but she became better known as a hit songwriter. She wrote several songs done by Tina Turner including "One of the Living" and "The Best," and also wrote or co-wrote hits like "Love Is a Battlefield" and "Invincible" for Pat Benatar, "Rag Doll" (Aerosmith), "Never" (Heart), and "Love Touch" (Rod Stewart).  2) This song was covered by TV star Lisa Hartman ("Knots Landing") on her 1982 "Letterock."


"Seasons" by Grace Slick

Song#:  0133
Date:  04/19/1980
Debut:  98
Peak:  95
Weeks:  2
Genre:  Rock, Pop

Pop Bits:  Jefferson Starship had been well underway for a few years with Slick as part of the group. But by 1978 her alcoholism was wreaking havoc on the band and their live performances. It got so bad that she was asked to resign from the group that year. She would later rejoin in 1981, but in her time away from the group she would release two solo albums, "Dreams" and "Welcome to the Wrecking Ball!" This single from "Dreams" is the only chart singles entry of her career (and it was almost a one-week dud).

ReduxReview:  Yes, she is a legend, a trailblazer, and can be a good songwriter. However, this is not one of her finest moments. What is this? It is just so strange - and even more so as a single. I'm surprised it even made it to the chart at all. I was reading about this album and a comment I ran across concerning this song said that it had "mock-whimsical melodies straight out of a haunted Biergarten." Yeah, I think that about sums it up. Pass me a beer, helps in forgetting things, right?

ReduxRating:  2/10

Trivia:  The story is that Grace Slick was the first person to say "fuck" on TV. Jefferson Airplane appeared on the Dick Cavett show the day after Woodstock and they sang the song "We Can Be Together," which near the end does include the word "motherfucker." Although not a live show, Slick did muddle the word and it apparently went to air unedited. So who do we have to thank for Bono and Tom Hanks dropping the f-bomb? Ms. Slick.


Monday, November 12, 2012

"Hurt So Bad" by Linda Ronstadt

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  0132
Date:  04/12/1980
Debut:  46
Peak:  8
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Pop, Soft Rock

Pop Bits:  Ronstadt was still riding the new wave of her hit "How Do I Make You" when this second single from the album "Mad Love" was released. Debuting at a relatively high position for that time (#46), it wasn't long before this became her eighth Top 10 hit. Unfortunately, it would also be her last solo outing to reach the Top 10.

ReduxReview:  First off, this is just a great song and if you haven't heard the Little Anthony & the Imperials version, I suggest you do. It is a little more urgent and has a terrific arrangement. Ronstadt's is a bit more relaxed but she just kicks ass on the vocals. Plus it features Danny Kortchmar's screamin' guitar. I don't think I could pick one over the other. To me they are both terrific in their own way.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This song was originally written for Little Anthony & the Imperials. They took the song to #10 in 1965. The Letterman also scored a hit with the song in 1969 with their #12 version. Ronstadt's #8 remake would be the best chart outing for the song.


"I Don't Want to Walk Without You" by Barry Manilow

Song#:  0131
Date:  04/12/1980
Debut:  81
Peak:  36
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Manilow pretty much owned the radio airwaves in the 70s. With ten Top 10 hits, his six other chart songs peaking in the Top 30,  and all but his debut album hitting the Top 10, it was his decade of superstardom. But like many stars who made it big in the 70s, the changes of the 80s would signal a decline in popularity. Manilow got an early taste of this as his 1979 album "One Voice" only yielded one Top 10 hit ("Ship" #9) and sales fell short of expectations. The album would also end up being his last Top 10 until "Ultimate Manilow" unexpectedly hit #3 in 2002. This song was the third single from the album and his first to peak outside the Top 30.

ReduxReview:  At the time, being a "Fanilow" was not something you put out there. I listened to my Manilow 45s behind closed doors and kept my adoration to myself. Fortunately I found out my BFF in high school was also diggin' on the Barry so I at least had someone to cruise around with blasting his hits. These days I don't hide my love for the Manilow and I'm finding out there are plenty of others out there who are proud to say they dig this Brooklyn guy. This particular song I wouldn't put on my list of favorite Manilow songs, but it is not a bad little tune. It is a catchy, old-timey sing-along that can be hard to resist once you get into it. (Note: The very first 45 single I bought was "Mandy." Still have it!)

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  If this song sounds very old-fashioned, there is a reason. It is an old standard written in 1941 by Jule Styne and Frank Loesser. The song was used in the 1942 film "Sweater Girl" where it was sung by Betty Jane Rhodes. It was also a #1 song in 1942 by Harry James.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

"Headed for a Fall" by Firefall

Song#:  0130
Date:  04/12/1980
Debut:  82
Peak:  35
Weeks:  9
Genre:  Soft Rock, Country Rock

Pop Bits:  Firefall was a minor-supergroup being made up of members of The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Byrds, and Spirit. Their soft country rock was an immediate hit with "You Are the Woman" hitting #9 in 1976. It would be their only Top 10 hit, but they had two other big songs that both peaked at #11, "Just Remember I Love You" and "Strange Way." They had just come off of their best-selling album "Elan" when this first single from the follow-up album "Undertow" was released. Although they would go on to have a few more albums under the Firefall moniker, due to internal struggles, drug, alcohol, and financial issues, this would be the last album with the original line-up.

ReduxReview:  This song is even darker than their previous hit "Strange Way" - probably too dark for pop radio at the time. It is a fairly good tune with a sound that reminds me of Dan Fogelberg. But if you were expecting something along the lines of the singles mentioned above, you may be disappointed.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  The band took its name from a summer ritual called Firefall that took place in Yosemite National Park. Each night, burning hot embers would be dumped from atop Glacier Point in the park. The cascade of embers resembled a glowing waterfall. This started around 1872 and ended in 1968 when the park service decided a man-made event was not right for the park and the traffic issues it caused each evening were an increasing problem.