Saturday, February 2, 2013

"Play the Game" by Queen

Song#:  0239
Date:  06/28/1980
Debut:  67
Peak:  42
Weeks:  9
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  In addition to being their first US #1 album, Queen's "The Game" also generated their first #1 single with "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." Their second chart single from the album was this more theatrical sounding song that didn't seem to catch fire. But they would rebound in a big way with the album's third single which would follow pretty closely on the heels of this minor chart scraper.

ReduxReview:  Written by Freddie Mercury, the song has that definitive Queen sound to it - theatrical, layered, and melodic. Mercury seems to sometimes take a vaudeville style approach to songs and then modernize the crap out of it. It makes for some terrific rock. This particular one is good, but does not rank high on my list of favorite Queen songs.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Prior to "The Game," Queen would include a "no synthesizers" label to their albums. Folks took this to mean that they hated synths and wanted to remain a true, non-electronic rock band. But it has been said that they included this tag because they wanted people to know that all of their different sounds and layering were done without the use of synthesizers. However, that finally change with "The Game." Times and opinions change and Queen finally decided that it was time to give synths a chance. As if to announce this, the lead track and single "Play the Game" begins with an Oberheim synth sound.


Friday, February 1, 2013

"I Can't Let Go" by Linda Ronstadt

Song#:  0238
Date:  06/28/1980
Debut:  74
Peak:  31
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  With two Top 10's in the can from her album "Mad Love," the label issued this third single. As with many of Ronstadt's hits, this one is also a cover of a previous chart song. In the US, The Hollies only reached #42 in 1966 with this song, but in the UK they took it to #2. The original recording of the song was by Brooklyn-born singer Evie Sands in 1965, but it failed to make the chart. As the case with her previous single "Hurt So Bad" (#8), Ronstadt's version of "I Can't Let Go" charted higher than any previous release of the song.

ReduxReview:  I'm a Hollies fan, so I knew this song through them first. It's a great song and Ronstadt does a nice job with it and I like the updated stomper-new wave feel. But it is hard to top the Hollies harmonies. I'd love to hear them sing over the Ronstadt arrangement - that would be awesome! But really, you can't go wrong with either version. I did find the Evie Sands version and it is okay. The tempo is a bit slower and it is more girl-groupy in it's sound.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This song was co-written by Chip Taylor. His writing credits also include the classics "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning." He also happens to be the brother of actor Jon Voight (Taylor's given name is James Voight), which makes him the uncle to Angelina Jolie.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Who Shot J.R.?" by Gary Burbank with Band McNally

Song#:  0237
Date:  06/28/1980
Debut:  79
Peak:  67
Weeks:  5
Genre:  Novelty

Pop Bits:  From the mid-60s through to his last show in 2007, Burbank was a very successful radio personality. He worked for several stations before moving to WLW in Cincinnati in 1981 and remaining there and in syndication for the rest of his career. His novelty song "Who Shot J.R.?" was written about one of TV's most famous mysteries from the nighttime soap "Dallas." The whole thing was a major pop culture moment and everything from tee-shirts to this song capitalized on the popularity of this one moment in TV history. The phrase even played a part in the ongoing 1980 Presidential election with both sides of the aisle using the phrase. This song was released before the show's episode that revealed the shooter. It is also Burbank's only chart entry.

ReduxReview:  Novelty songs about a pop culture phenomena can be funny at the time, but their shelf life is extremely limited. Once the moment passes into history, so does everything else that went with it. On rare occasions, these songs are well-done and many years later can be a touchstone for a place in time and can be fun. This is not one of those. In fact, I'd probably say that this was horrible back when it was new and time just makes it even worse. I could barely listen to this, but I'll give it a point since it wasn't meant to be taken seriously to begin with.

Side note: I was in high school during the whole "Who Shot J.R." thing. At band camp, we had skit night with prizes for the best skit and one of the girls' cabins did a thing called "Who Shot P.B.," which were the initials of our band director. They seemed a shoe-in for the prize with their elaborate skit. That is until my cabin got up, stood in a line with towels around our shoulders, dropped them to reveal our no-shirt look, then proceeded to do a serious rendition of the "Blue Danube Waltz" singing the first part (dah-dah-dah-dah-dum), then making an underarm fart noise for the second part (pft-pft, pft-pft). We did a whole chours of it. We call ourselves the Pit Band. We won.

ReduxRating:  1/10

Trivia:  Burbank created many characters on his program with the most popular being "Earl Pitts," a redneck guy who would do commentary on many subjects. These bits are still in syndication and are played on hundreds of stations around the country.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"That Lovin' You Feelin' Again" by Roy Orbison & Emmylou Harris

Grammy Alert!
Song#:  0236
Date:  06/28/1980
Debut:  82
Peak:  55
Weeks:  8
Genre:  Pop, Country Crossover, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Long after Orbison's 60s heyday, he continued to release songs and albums; some of which would be hits in other countries. In the US, his chart entries came to a halt in 1967 with "Cry Softly Lonely One" (#52). But thirteen years later Orbison got back on the US pop chart with this duet that was featured on the soundtrack to the film "Roadie" (an album that already had a hit with Eddie Rabbitt's "Drivin' My Life Away").

ReduxReview:  Two music legends singing together like this is an event. It's just that the song doesn't really equal their talent. It's not a bad song at all, but it is nothing outstanding. Obviously, they sound great and sing it well, but I'm just not thrilled by the song that brought them together.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) With his trademark dark Wayfarer glasses and his stationary performance style, many folks thought Orbison was blind. Although his eyesight was not good, he was not blind. The signature glasses came into play when early on in his career he left his regular glasses behind on a plane and he ended up having to wear his prescription Wayfarers. He actually preferred wearing these and a legendary look was born.  2) This song won Orbison his very first Grammy award. He and Harris won for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group.


"Love That Got Away" by Firefall

Song#:  0235
Date:  06/28/1980
Debut:  83
Peak:  50
Weeks:  9
Genre:  Soft Rock

Pop Bits:  Firefall's previous single was prophetic in title - "Headed for a Fall." Because they indeed were. It was not a big hit and that along with the band's relentless tour schedule and internal/financial strife was causing them to lose all the momentum gained on their previous hit album "Elan." This next single didn't correct the direction, unfortunately.

ReduxReview:  Ugh - I hate that flute-y keyboard. It was probably cool back in the day, but now it sounds so cheesy. It sounds like a bad combo of country-island music. I'm not surprised this was basically ignored as a single. The song is just okay. It's sounds like this should be a good, bright upbeat ditty but it sounds so bland. Even the vocals lack any interest or personality. I'd call this "going through the motions."

ReduxRating:  3/10

Trivia:  After the success of their first album, Firefall recorded the follow-up and titled it "Tropical Nights." It featured a Cuban percussionist and the Memphis Horns. But their label was not impressed with the final album and wanted it reworked. Some songs were redone and new ones added resulting in their second gold album "Luna Sea," featuring the hit "Just Remember I Love You" (#11).


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"Dancin' in the Street" by Teri DeSario with K.C.

Song#:  0234
Date:  06/28/1980
Debut:  84
Peak:  66
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  DeSario and K.C. (as in "and the Sunshine Band) were coming off of a huge hit with "Yes I'm Ready" (#2) and it was time for a follow-up. This cover of the Martha & the Vandella's classic tune was issued, again featuring K.C., but it made little impact. It would be DeSario's last entry on the chart. She would issue one more pop album and then later turn her sights towards the contemporary Christian market, grabbing a Grammy nomination along the way.

ReduxReview:  Well, here is a first. I'm unable to locate anything on Spotify, YouTube, or any service for this song. The best that I could do was a playable sample (using the link above, it is disc 2 track 11). For myself, I had some access to a full version of the song, but I'm unable to post it. (Update: later found the song on YouTube although the song backs an odd Bob the Builder video.) But really, everyone knows this song and I think the sample will give you a clue that it is basically just another run o' da mill version of the song (one that is covered waaay too much). It's well-done, but there is just nothing that makes the remake unique or special. Snore.

ReduxRating:  3/10

Trivia:  DeSario had the luck of performing at a club one evening and having a long-haired gentleman show interest in her voice. That guy just happened to be Barry Gibb. He ended up helping her get a recording contract and then wrote a song specifically for her. The disco-y "Ain't Nothing Gonna Keep Me from You" was her debut single and it reach #43 on the pop chart in 1978.


"Beyond" by Herb Alpert

Song#:  0233
Date:  06/28/1980
Debut:  85
Peak:  50
Weeks:  8
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary, Instrumental

Pop Bits:  Alpert and his Tijuana Brass had a hugely successful run from 1962-1969. Their peak was 1966 where their albums outsold the Beatles that year and they had five albums listed in the Top 20 of the album chart - a record that has yet to be broken (plus at one point, four of the albums were in the Top 10). While their albums were highly successful, only three of their singles reached the Top 10 including the #1 "This Guy's in Love with You" in 1968 (a rare song he actually sang). Alpert disbanded the Tijuana Brass in 1969 but continued to record with a few members of the group (known as T.J.B. then) and solo. Of course his biggest solo hit was the title track to his 1979 album "Rise." The song reach #1 and won a Grammy. Alpert's follow-up album, "Beyond," generated the title-track single but it couldn't really "Rise" to the same heights (sorry...).

ReduxReview:  I had not heard this song and when it first started playing, my first thought was "hey, I know the Alan Parsons Project catalog back and front and I don't remember this one!" But the comparison kind of stopped once Alpert's horn started. I think it is titled appropriately. It is kind of futuristic or sci-fi sounding. Yeah, it is not as catchy as his freak single "Rise," but I kind of like it.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Alpert's two #1's, "This Guy's in Love with You" and "Rise" represent the first and only time that an artist has hit #1 with a song he sang ("This Guy's") and an instrumental ("Rise"). 


Monday, January 28, 2013

"One In a Million You" by Larry Graham

Top 10 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  0232
Date:  06/28/1980
Debut:  86
Peak:  9
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary, R&B

Pop Bits:  Graham was a member of Sly and the Family Stone during the group's peak years from 1968-1972. In addition to being a successful period, it was also filled with internal strife, drug use, and even accusations that Graham hired a hit-man to knock off Sly. Graham finally had had enough and left the group and went on to form Graham Central Station, a group similar in sound to the Family Stone. They achieved some success on the R&B chart in the 70s, but by 1980 Graham decided to go for a solo career and issued his "One In a Million You" album. The title track went on to be a major pop hit while also reaching #1 on the R&B chart. Graham also received a 1981 Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male.

ReduxReview:  I forgot what a lovely song this is. It's sentimental without going overboard into schmaltz. But besides being a really nice song, it's Graham's vocals that really make this so tasty. The tone of his voice is so warm and he just sings the song with such ease. This is definitely romantic fireplace music. If you can't just melt to this one, then I feel sorry for you.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Graham, a bass player,  is credited with creating the slap-pop technique when playing electric bass. It was a way to incorporate percussive and rhythmic sounds into the bass line. This style of playing was highly influential and many rock and R&B bass players adopted the technique.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Why Not Me" by Fred Knobloch

Song#:  0231
Date:  06/28/1980
Debut:  87
Peak:  18
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Knobloch originally started in a rock band, but by 1980 he signed to Scotti Brothers and issued an AC/crossover country-oriented album. This lead single didn't do as well on the country chart (#30), but reached #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. He would go on to release a few more singles, but this was his only solo album and Top 20 song.

ReduxReview:  It's not a surprise to me that it hit #1 at AC. It's one of those story-type songs that is perfect for that market. For me, these types of songs will usually sink or swim, but this one just kind of floats pleasantly along. It's definitely not a bad tune, yet it's not that awesome either. Plus, what bride invites their ex-boyfriend to a wedding? What's up with that? Dude, move on. Wanna really good song about running into an ex that you still love? Check out Cyndi Thomson's #1 country hit "What I Really Meant to Say." That one hits it right.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Later in the 80s, Knobloch formed a group called SKO with Paul Overstreet and Thom Schuyler. That iteration of the group released one album that featured the #1 country song "Baby's Got a New Baby."