Saturday, July 13, 2013

Milestone! 1980: The Year in Review

One year down, nine to go! I've reached the first milestone in this project by listening to and reviewing all songs to debut on the pop chart in the year 1980. Summing up the year in music, I would say it was transitional. The laid-back singer/songwriter stuff was beginning to fade and disco was definitely on the outs. Incoming was new wave and the beginnings of synth-pop, one of the defining genres of the 80s. Also making its way onto the charts was rap. It would still take a good chunk of the decade before rap had more of a presence on the chart, but 1980 was where it really began to get notice. It was a fun year that had its share of surprises and good finds, along with some real duds that somehow made it on the chart. I look forward to beginning the next step in the project with the next post and the first song to hit the chart in 1981. Here are some stats for this first milestone of my venture:

Number of charted songs in 1980:  452
Time it took to listen/post all songs:  10 months  (yikes!)
Favorite song of the year:  "Brass in Pocket" by The Pretenders
Worst song of the year:  "Voice of Freedom" by Jim Kirk and the TM Singers
Best song I didn't know existed:  "King of the Hill" by Rick Pinette and Oak
Favorite discovery:  Turley Richards
Most interesting discovery:  The unexpected personal connections to the artists RCR and Robin Lane

Recordings I bought based on songs I heard from 1980:

Cindy Bullens - bought her first 2 vinyl LPs
Turley Richards - bought 3 LPs and 2 CDs
Cliff Richard - bought 1 CD
RCR - bought 1 LP
Spider - bought 1 CD
Oak - bought 1 LP
The Motors - bought 1 CD
Hotel - bought 1 LP
Robin Lane - bought 1 CD and 2 digital download albums
Russ Ballard - bought 1 digital single
Jimmy Hall - bought 1 LP
Meco - bought 1 45-rpm single  (for coverage purposes)
Pendulum - bought 1 LP
Jackie English - bought 1 45-rpm single (for coverage purposes)

According to the year-end chart for 1980, these were the year's Top 10 singles:

1.  Call Me - Blondie
2.  Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2 - Pink Floyd
3.  Magic - Olivia Newton-John
4.  Rock with You - Michael Jackson *
5.  Do That to Me One More Time - The Captain & Tennille *
6.  Crazy Little Thing Called Love - Queen *
7.  Coming Up - Paul McCartney
8.  Funkytown - Lipps, Inc.
9.  It's Still Rock and Roll to Me - Billy Joel
10.  The Rose - Bette Midler

* These songs debuted in 1979, so they were not covered in the blog.

I hope folks have enjoyed the posts and the songs. So long 1980 - welcome 1981!


Friday, July 12, 2013

"United Together" by Aretha Franklin

Song#:  0452
Date:  12/27/1980
Debut:  80
Peak:  56
Weeks:  8
Genre:  R&B, Soul

Pop Bits:  By 1980, the Queen of Soul was seeing her popularity on record slip away. Her past three albums for her home label Atlantic pretty much bombed and her last pop chart entry (and last R&B Top 10) was 1977's "Break It to Me Gently" (#85). She also had not hit the pop Top 10 since 1973. Feeling that a change was needed, Franklin moved over to Arista and in 1980 released her "Aretha" LP. Although the album didn't set the charts on fire, it performed far better than her previous platters and this first single got her back on the pop chart and up to #3 on the R&B chart. It gave her career a boost and it would only grow as the 80s continued.

ReduxReview:  This big ballad kind of reminds me of a more soulful "It's My Turn" from Diana Ross. Not sure why, but when I heard this song, the other just came to mind. Actually, "It's My Turn" would have been wonderful to hear from Franklin rather than thin-voiced Ross. Regardless, the Queen's return to the pop chart is good, but not stellar. It may have sounded just a tidge old-fashioned at the time so that may have played into chart position. But Miss Thang would certainly adapt to the times very soon.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Although not released as a single, Franklin's cover of Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose," included on the "Aretha" album, got her a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female. Oddly enough, Franklin had recently appeared in the film "The Blues Brothers" where an instrumental version of the song was used as the Brothers' intro. However, the song did not make it onto the soundtrack.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Merry Christmas in the NFL" by Willis "The Guard" & Vigorish

Song#:  0451
Date:  12/27/1980
Debut:  82
Peak:  82
Weeks:  3
Genre:  Christmas, Novelty

Pop Bits:  This novelty duo obviously does not exist. The real folks behind the song are Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia. Those names may seem familiar to you. If so, then you may remember them as Buckner & Garcia, the duo behind the Top 10 hit "Pac-Man Fever" (1982). The pair came up with this Christmas novelty tune based on the standard holiday poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and it was released for the 1980 holiday season.

ReduxReview:  I happen to listen to a radio show that will do their own novelty/pop culture songs quite often and they are really well-done, clever, and funny. The show will also have guest comics that sing their own tunes as well. Again, a good chunk of them are really good. So this proves novelty songs can be good. How something like this gets attention is beyond me. It's not the least bit funny or clever and it sinks as a parody. And the actual recording is even awful. It sounds like a cheap commercial jingle. I try to cut novelty songs a little slack because they are not meant as a serious addition to a musicians catalog, but in this case I can't. It's

ReduxRating:  1/10

Trivia:  The song imagines sportscaster Howard Cosell as Santa Claus. For whatever reason, Cosell thought the lyrics were offensive and because of his pull/popularity at the time, the song ended up getting little airplay. But sales most likely pushed the song onto the chart and it quickly came and went.


"(Ghost) Riders In the Sky" by The Outlaws

Song#:  0450
Date:  12/27/1980
Debut:  83
Peak:  31
Weeks:  15
Genre:  Southern Rock, Country Rock

Pop Bits:  This Tampa band had several stops and starts and line-up changes before finally releasing their self-titled debut release in 1975. That album featured the #34 chart song "There Goes Another Love Song." They continued to release albums through the 70s and gathered a solid following thanks to their successful tours. Although labeled as a Southern rock band, their sound also featured vocal harmonies that were more inline with groups like Poco. In 1980, they issued the LP "Ghost Riders" and this first single became their biggest pop hit. Unfortunately, it would also be their last. After a couple more albums the group initially called it quits in 1982. Different iterations of the group popped up in later years and recorded albums, but the group's prime period is considered the late-70s/early-80s era.

ReduxReview:  I've heard this song too many times - and not by choice. It was practically a staple song to be done in a country show or in a country bar band were I was in Branson. If done right, it is a haunting folk song. But most of the time I've heard it done for laughs or parodied. I will say this is the first time I've really heard a rocked-up version. The Outlaws do a pretty good job with it until they really take off in that amp'ed up Southern rock sound in the last quarter of the song. Ugh. (If you follow my posts you will know I'm not a huge fan of Southern rock.) Actually, I can't believe this peaked in the Top 40. Strange time and song to do so. (Not loving this song, but on the album the second track is "White Horses" and it is pretty tasty. Check it out.)

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The Outlaws were the very first act signed by Clive Davis for the Arista label.  2) This is a remake of a folk-tale song written in 1948 by Stan Jones. The first recording of it was by Burl Ives in 1949. The first appearance on the modern pop chart was in 1961 when the Ramrods took the song to #30, but beating out The Outlaws' #31 peak to be the highest the song has made it on the chart. It has been covered by many artists including Johnny Cash, Peggy Lee, Elvis Presley, and even Deborah Harry (Blondie). It has also been mentioned that the song provided inspiration for The Door's song "Riders On the Storm."


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"Don't Want No-Body" by J.D. Drews

Song#:  0449
Date:  12/27/1980
Debut:  88
Peak:  79
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Pop, New Wave

Pop Bits:  JΓΌrgen Drews, aka J.D. Drews, is a German musician who began his recording career with songs produced by Giorgio Morodor back in the late-60s. Not much happened with those and he then found himself as part of the popular group the Les Humphries Singers (a large vocal group modeled after the US's Edwin Hawkins Singers). The group had several hit songs and albums in Germany and Drews stayed with them until he left for a full-time solo career in 1976. He had a #1 hit covering the Bellamy Brothers' "Let Your Love Flow" (as "Ein Bett im Kornfeld"), but failed to really follow it up. Drews then decided to see if the US market would be any better and he recorded an album the Unicorn label that yielded this lone chart song. He returned to Germany and continued to record and work in TV and film, remaining popular and even grabbing a Top 10 hit in Germany in 2009.

ReduxReview:  Although I like the remake better (see below), this is a pretty good shot at some pop/new wave. His vocals are kind of annoying in the verses, but I guess it kind of fits the style/attitude of the song. I think it makes for a good single, but there is just something about it that doesn't connect. Like something missing in the arrangement that really pushes it and makes it a Top 40 contender. It has a crappy ending too. But as-is, I still like it.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This song might sound familiar to a few people. Somehow it found it's way onto the 1982 debut album of Toni Basil, "Word of Mouth." That album featured the #1 hit "Mickey." The title was shortened to just "Nobody" and it ended up being the second single released from the album. It did not hit the chart, but did go to #52 in the UK.


"Got to Rock On" by Kansas

Song#:  0448
Date:  12/27/1980
Debut:  90
Peak:  76
Weeks:  5
Genre:  Rock, Prog Rock

Pop Bits:  The first single from their "Audio-Visual" album, the Christian-leaning "Hold On," barely reached the Top 40 and this second single got stuck in the lower quarter of the chart. The lack of radio support stared to wear on album sales as it was the first Kansas studio album since 1976 not to reach the Top 10. Although the album would eventually go gold, it would be the group's last album to do so. It also became the last album to feature all the original members of Kansas.

ReduxReview:  With a few exceptions, Kansas were not really a singles group. This is one of their more straight-forward rock tunes and it is alright, but still not a terrific single. It certainly sounds more Kansas-y than "Hold On" though and probably would have made a better lead single at least.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  The band originated in Topeka, Kansas, and after several iterations, a group evolved that was called White Clover. This band was signed by Don Kirshner for his record label and it was then that the group officially adopted the Kansas name. They released their self-titled debut album in 1974.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"Seven Bridges Road" by Eagles

Song#:  0447
Date:  12/20/1980
Debut:  64
Peak:  21
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Soft Rock

Pop Bits:  Although their album "The Long Run" was another massive hit, the Eagles were a dysfunctional bunch that were struggling to get through their tour. After a particularly bad night in Long Beach where Glenn Frey and  Don Felder were hurling threats at each other on stage, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Eagles were done. However, they still had a contractual obligation to deliver a live album. Songs from the tour were culled and the album was assembled and mixed by Frey and Don Henley - separately. Those two didn't want to even be near each other so they would ship tapes back and forth for the mixing. "Eagles Live" was released and while it wasn't a critical hit (partially due to the excessive overdubbing and fixing, making it sound more like a studio recording than a live performance), it did become another big seller for the group. This song, which does not appear on any other Eagle album, was issued as a single and it became their last Top 30 entry.

ReduxReview:  Again, a live song. Rare is the live album that I think is worthwhile. And after reading about all the overdubbing and such that was done on this album, it makes me question what was real and what was not. (Yes, I know many live albums do this to clean stuff up, but in my opinion it should be raw and real and not as slick as this one.) I call into question whether or not the harmony parts were "fixed" or if they are truly what came out of their mouths that night. I actually like this song and the arrangement (originally done by Ian Matthews) is really great and if I saw this performed in concert and it sounded just like this, I'd love it. But it's on an LP with a reputation of being over manufactured after the fact, so I just don't trust what I'm hearing. (I actually prefer the Dolly Parton version, so check that one out.)

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  This song, written by Steve Young and included on his 1969 debut outlaw country album "Rock Salt & Nails," was a favorite of the Eagles early on. The group would do the famous acapella opening to begin their pre-"Hotel California" concerts. Although the song dropped off the set list, it was revived on this final tour and found its way to the live album.


"Who's Making Love" by The Blues Brothers

Song#:  0446
Date:  12/20/1980
Debut:  76
Peak:  39
Weeks:  11
Genre:  R&B, Soul

Who's Making Love by Blues Brothers on Grooveshark

Pop Bits:  The Blues Brothers (John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd) quickly followed up their hit movie and it's soundtrack with the live album "Made in America." It would be their second live album and it showcased performances at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. The LP would be less successful than their previous two and would be the last to feature John Belushi before his death in 1982. This first single barely managed a Top 40 showing and it also became the last Blues Brothers single to reach the chart.

ReduxReview:  As mentioned in a prior post, I'm not a fan of the Brothers, but appreciate that they were serious about the music and brought some retro soul back around for a new generation. That said, they can't even come close to the original (see below) on this one. By this time the pop culture phenomenon of the Brothers was beginning to fade and it was showing. It's an acceptable but unremarkable performance and lacks the energy found on some of their previous performances.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  This song is a remake of the 1968 Johnny Taylor hit. It was Taylor's first pop Top 10 (#5) and first #1 R&B hit. The gold record would be Taylor's second biggest pop hit as years later in 1976 he would top the chart for four weeks with "Disco Lady." That song has the distinction of being the very first certified platinum single when the RIAA established that level.


Monday, July 8, 2013

"Back in Black" by AC/DC

Song#:  0445
Date:  12/20/1980
Debut:  82
Peak:  37
Weeks:  15
Genre:  Hard Rock, Arena Rock

Back in Black by AC/DC on Grooveshark

Pop Bits:  AC/DC got their first Top 40 hit with the #35 "You Shook Me All Night Long." This second title-track single from the LP "Back in Black" came very close to matching that song's performance. Although the singles had middling peaks on the pop chart, they became instant rock radio standards along with another track from the album, "Hells Bells." That song didn't chart in the US, but it did reach #8 in the group's native Australia.

ReduxReview:  With one of the greatest opening riffs in rock, this song is unmistakable and classic. Again, I've never been bowled over by AC/DC, but it is hard not to recognize something as good as this song.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This song was the band's tribute to recently deceased band member Bon Scott. They wanted a song that would not be morose and would be more celebratory. The newest member of the band, Brian Johnson, was tagged to do the lyrics and it has since become one of their most popular songs.


"Full of Fire" by Shalamar

Song#:  0444
Date:  12/20/1980
Debut:  89
Peak:  55
Weeks:  12
Genre:  R&B

Full of Fire by Shalamar on Grooveshark

Pop Bits:  This group was assembled by "Soul Train" producer Don Cornelius and Dick Griffey. After a few changes, the lineup of Jody Watley, Jeffrey Daniel, and Howard Hewitt settled in and they hit with the album "Big Fun," which featured their #8 gold record "The Second Time Around." They scored with two more R&B hits from the album, but remained off the pop chart until this single was released from the follow-up album "Three for Love." The LP was another gold seller, but they couldn't get back into the pop Top 10 with this song. It only managed a peak of #24 on the R&B chart as well.

ReduxReview:  Yeah, whenever you see the word "fire" in a song title, you know the inevitable rhyme of "desire" will come up. It's a pet peeve of mine and it needs to be banned in songwriting. I have very few exceptions to this. Anyway, other than that, this is a good tune. I don't think it is a completely catchy and great single (as evidenced by the peak), but it is a nice listen and is well-done.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Group member Jeffrey Daniel got into the group thanks to him being a dancer on "Soul Train." Typically known as a body-popper, Daniel also performed a move on the UK's "Top of the Pops" show that garnered him a lot of attention. The backslide move Daniel performed would soon be used by Michael Jackson when on the 1983 Motown 25th anniversary TV special Jackson would do the "moonwalk." Jackson would work with Daniel later on when Daniel would co-choreograph the videos for "Bad" and "Smooth Criminal."

Sunday, July 7, 2013

"Skateaway" by Dire Straits

Song#:  0443
Date:  12/20/1980
Debut:  90
Peak:  58
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Formed in 1977, the band featured two brothers, Mark and David Knopfler, and got off to a big start with the #4 hit "Sultans of Swing" (1979). Their self-titled debut album peaked at #2 and earned them a Grammy nod for Best New Artist. Their third album, "Making Movies," signaled a change for the band as Mark and David had differences that lead to David leaving the band, and the LP's songs were also lengthier and more intricate, which didn't make for good singles. This first release from the album would be the only one to get on the chart and although it didn't perform well, the album obtained platinum status.

ReduxReview:  It's like Bruce Springsteen crapped out a Jim Steinman song. I just have no connection to Dire Straits' music at all. Obviously, they are terrific musicians but I've never been a fan of anything they have released. Probably "Sultans of Swing" would be the only song of theirs I'd choose to hear. Other than that, I respect them as a band but just don't care for the music. Although I will say this is one of the better tunes I've heard from them.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  I mentioned above that the sound seems reminiscent of Springsteen and after I wrote that I discovered why. Ends up Mark Knopfler sought out Jimmy Iovine to work on the album. Iovine had already worked for Springsteen and he also brought in E-Street keyboardist Roy Bittan to play on the album. So it seems the idea was to capture some of the cinematic elements of Springsteen's productions to Dire Straits. If that was the case, it certainly worked.