Saturday, December 13, 2014

"Valley Girl" by Frank & Moon Zappa

Song#:  1108
Date:  07/17/1982
Debut:  75
Peak:  32
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  A hit single can be both a blessing and a curse. Zappa found that out with this single from his album "Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch." The song, which was a satirical take on the way young girls from the San Fernando Valley of California would talk ("valspeak"), became Zappa's biggest single and even received a Grammy nod for Best Rock Group Vocal. However, the song got treated as more of a novelty tune and phrases from it like "gag me with a spoon" became part of popular culture. Zappa then felt that his vast catalog of serious compositions was starting to be viewed as novelties for folks not familiar with his previous works. It affected him to the point that he never played the song in concert. What he intended as an attack/commentary on the SF Valley and its inhabitants turned into a Dr. Demento-style hit that spread "valspeak" to the masses and helped to spawn phrase books and even the 1983 Nicholas Cage film "Valley Girl."

ReduxReview:  I have to admit, I didn't know much about Zappa prior to this single so I took the song as more of a parody than anything. Of course we imitated the valspeak as a lot of people did, but when we did we felt we were making fun of the vapid, suburban mall girls that we knew we would hate along with that culture. I don't know if that would quell Zappa's feeling on the song in anyway, but at least we didn't treat it like a comedy sketch. Actually, I think it is a pretty rockin' tune. It's not something you would want to hear a lot on repeat because the valspeak can get annoying, but its crunchy sound is tasty.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  The female voice is that of Zappa's daughter Moon Unit. For her part, she was just basically improvising and imitating things that she heard around at parties or the mall (aka "the Galleria). Many folks took it that she was actually a Valley girl and was part of that whole scene when in reality she was not. Thanks to the song, she became a sort of an unwitting poster child for valspeak when in reality, she just wanted to work with her dad.


Friday, December 12, 2014

"Love or Let Me Be Lonely" by Paul Davis

Song#:  1107
Date:  07/17/1982
Debut:  78
Peak:  40
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Davis was at a career peak with his first album for the Arista label, "Cool Night," spawning the #11 title track and the #6 "'65 Love Affair." He would grab a third Top 40 song with this single (#11 AC), but it all was not that wonderful to Davis. The Arista machine (headed by Clive Davis) turned Davis into a reluctant pop star and it soured him so much that he basically stepped away from the music business. He would return to guest on a pair of #1 country singles and write tunes for other artists, like Dan Seals' 1986 #1 country smash "Bop" (#42 pop) , but Davis sat out on pursuing his own solo career. He finally got back in the studio in 2008, but he died of a heart attack soon after he had recorded two new songs.

ReduxReview:  The original is a terrific song (see below), but there is something about this arrangement that I just don't like. It sounds really forced (probably was - see above) and very rigid. I think Davis tries his best to liven up the song but overall it just doesn't work. I'd stick with the original.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  This song is a remake of a 1970 hit by The Friends of Distinction. Their original reached #6 on the pop chart while hitting #9 at AC and #13 R&B. It was the quartet's second Top 10 hit. Their first was a vocal version of Hugh Masekela's instrumental hit "Grazing in the Grass," which reached #1 in 1968. The Friends' single reached #3 the following year.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

"Let Me Go" by Ray Parker, Jr.

Song#:  1106
Date:  07/17/1982
Debut:  81
Peak:  38
Weeks:  9
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  Parker's solo debut LP after disbanding his group Raydio, "The Other Woman," was a #1 R&B hit thanks to the #2 title track (#4 pop). This second single would also do well at R&B reaching #3, but at pop it could only manage a quick showing in the Top 40.

ReduxReview:  Ugh. If you are gonna put a spoken word section in a song, you better make it something good. That didn't happen here. The cheezy opening with Parker's little coos after the first chorus killed the song for me right off the bat. And is it just me or does the beginning of the chorus ("if you're not sure that you want me") sound suspiciously like the song "If You Don't Know Me By Now?" It must have been Parker's popularity that pushed this song because I don't understand how this made the pop Top 40.

ReduxRating:  3/10

Trivia:  In 1984, comedian Richard Pryor starred in a children's TV series called Pryor's Place. Featuring puppets and kids living in an inner city setting, the show lasted one season. Parker appeared in the program's opening credits and also sang the theme song.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"Every Love Song" by The Greg Kihn Band

Song#:  1105
Date:  07/17/1982
Debut:  86
Peak:  82
Weeks:  2
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Kihn's album "Kihntinued" didn't get off to the best start with its first single, "Happy Man," only getting to #62 on the chart. This second single didn't help things and was barely a blip on the chart for a couple of weeks.

ReduxReview:  This slow-groover plods along just fine but it is not in the same league as some of his best material. I don't think it really makes a good single either. The song might have been more interesting had he done it a little quicker with a reggae-influenced beat. Then maybe this might have clicked. As-is, it is fairly bland. Although the sax work is tasty.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  In addition to his music career, Kihn became an author of horror novels. He has written four books including 1996's "Horror Show," which was nominated for a Bram Stoker award for Best First Novel. The book centers around a B-move director who uses real dead bodies for his next film. Kihn also recorded a concept album called "Horror Show" that loosely uses the book for its themes.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"Foolin' Yourself" by Aldo Nova

Song#:  1104
Date:  07/17/1982
Debut:  88
Peak:  65
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Nova scored a hit from his double-platinum self-titled debut album with "Fantasy" (#23). This follow-up single couldn't rock it's way as far, but it made a slight dent in the pop chart. Unfortunately, it would be his final chart entry. Nova would go on to issue a second album that ultimately went gold, but it did not catch fire like his debut. His third LP failed to chart and it took six years for him to put out any new material. The album "Blood on the Bricks" came out in 1991 and the title track reached #14 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Since then, he has only issued one other album and that was in 1997.

ReduxReview:  This pop-leaning tune couldn't capture the rockin' magic of "Fantasy," but it's still pretty solid. I don't think Nova has the most commanding voice, so the song seems to overpower him. The song kind of has shades of Rick Springfield to it, which is not a bad thing. I'm surprised that this single didn't do better since the LP was a sizable hit. Nova hit a homer with his first album, but subsequent follow-ups couldn't get off of home plate.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Don't cry for Nova for not having more solo success. He kept himself very busy writing songs for other artists. Most notably, Nova wrote or co-wrote several songs for fellow Canadian Celine Dion including her 2001 #1 AC hit "A New Day Has Come" (#22 pop). But his biggest hit in the US would be American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken's "This Is the Night." That song hit #1 in 2003 and became the year's biggest selling single.


Monday, December 8, 2014

"Why" by Carly Simon

Song#:  1103
Date:  07/17/1982
Debut:  89
Peak:  74
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Pop, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  The 80s started off well for Simon with her single "Jesse" hitting #11 and going gold. Unfortunately, it would be her peak moment of the decade. Her next effort, the 1981 standards LP "Torch," stalled at #50 and contained no chart singles. Before releasing her final album for Warner Bros., Simon did this one-off single that appeared on the soundtrack to the film "Soup for One." Written and produced by Chic's Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, the song pushed Simon into the 80s with a more modern sound. It was enough to get her back on the pop chart, but only for a brief few weeks.

ReduxReview:  The video for this song is like a train wreck. It is so horrible, but you can't stop watching. It inspires so many questions just based on the title alone. Why didn't she fix her teeth? Why is she "dancing" like that on the street? Why is she bothering those people? Why are all these random folks singing "la-di-da di-da?" Why did they make a "fun" video for a song with sad lyrics? Why? We may never know. Ignoring the video, the song itself is nothing that exciting. It takes a few listens before the song sticks in your head, but it adheres more like a Post-It that says "hey, this is a weird Carly Simon song." I just know if I'm at home and I hear this, I'll probably start doing that little shuffle dance she does on the sidewalk. And folks will just wonder...why? I'll just smile and say "la-di-da di-da."

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  While the song was not a hit in the US, it was a different story in the UK. Listeners there loved the track and sent the song to #10. It's reggae-influenced funk sound continued to be popular and later in the 80s the song experienced a resurgence when it got played at the Ibiza-style UK club "The Hacienda," a place famous for popularizing acid house music. The song proved so popular that it was reissued in an extended version in 1989. It reached #56 on the chart.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

"Planet Rock" by Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force

Song#:  1102
Date:  07/17/1982
Debut:  90
Peak:  48
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Hip-Hop, Rap, Electronic

Pop Bits:  Kevin Donovan, aka Afrika Bambaataa, was an influential DJ who also formed the Zulu Nation, a social/political group formed of members of the hip-hop community. Already a prominent DJ who organized large block parties, Bambaataa was inspired by the electropop of Yellow Magic Orchestra ("Computer Game," 1980, #60) and decided to merge the electronic sound with hip-hop beats. With the help of producer Arthur Baker and synth player John Robie, Bambaataa crafted this single that reached #4 on the R&B chart and #3 on the dance chart. The widely popular track gained some traction on the pop chart and peaked inside the Top 50. Bambaataa would go on to record many other tracks over the years, but none were as popular or influential as this early hip-hop single.

ReduxReview:  I was barely aware of hip-hop in general around this time, so I completely missed this song. Even if I had, I can't say I would have jumped right on board as this genre was so foreign to me. In later years I discovered this song and thought it was pretty great. I even think I heard this song before I even knew the Kraftwerk lick (see below) so when I heard their track for the first time, I was like....hey, wait a minute! Despite my lack of exposure to hip-hop and electro at the time, I found my way to these songs eventually.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  One of the driving forces of this song is the synth line borrowed from Kraftwerk's 1978 song "Trans-Europe Express" (#67). Bambaataa also used elements from their 1981 song "Numbers" to help form the drum beat. These were not samples, but uncredited borrowing and reworking of the Kraftwerk material. This eventually led to a lawsuit that was settled out-of-court.