Saturday, July 11, 2015

"Little Thing Called Love" by Neil Young

Song#:  1324
Date:  01/29/1983
Debut:  84
Peak:  71
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  If you are ever in a conversation about bizzaro albums in an artist's catalog, bring up "Trans" by Neil Young. After his 1981 "Re-ac-tor" album, Young continued to record songs with his band Crazy Horse for his next LP. But then Young got a couple of new toys and things changed drastically. He experimented with the songs by stripping out most of the band parts and replacing them with a Synclavier synthesizer. He then did his vocals through a vocoder.  Soon after his experiments, Young decided to switch labels and move over to the newly formed Geffen Records. For his first album for the fledgling label, Young handed in a set of tunes he recorded in Hawaii that he titled "Island in the Sun." The tropical themed album didn't impress David Geffen and he asked for something else. He certainly got it when Young handed him "Trans." Instead of recording something new, Young revisited his experiments and combined six of those with three tunes from the "Island" sessions. He wrapped it all up and called it "Trans." Geffen decided to release the album which baffled critics and fans alike. Despite the confusion over the album, it did pretty well reaching #19 (which was a better showing than his previous two albums). It also contained this single which became his final pop chart entry. "Trans" ended up being a legendary album, but not necessarily for its music.

ReduxReview:  I've never been a fan of Young's music. He's written some great songs and is a terrific musician, but I just don't connect to his tunes. He is fascinating though. Like "Trans," he's not afraid to experiment and change up his sound. I admire that. Sometimes it may not work out, but at least he moves his music in different directions. Back in the day, I almost bought this album. The concept, the cover, the controversy, and the whole synth thing attracted me. Ends up, it's not a great album but it is one that I kind of like and would actually own. It would have been cool to make it all synth based, but instead there were a couple of "normal" songs like this one tossed in. For a Young song, this one ain't too bad. It's not what pop radio was into at the time, but it jams along just fine and I don't mind it.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Young revealed later that the album was inspired by his son who had cerebral palsy and could not talk. Therapy sessions using technology to try and communicate with his son played a part in the LP's concept. Many complained that Young's use of the vocodor made his lyrics indecipherable, but that was intentional. It was what he imagined it was like for his son trying to understand him. 2) This album and Young's next one, the rockabilly "Everybody's Rockin'," really pissed off David Geffen. He though Young was deliberately trying to release non-commercial material. So Geffen, who was probably expecting more of the "Harvest"-style music, sued Young for not making, well, Neil Young music. It was the first lawsuit of its kind. The problem though was that Young's contracted gave him complete artistic control. Therefore, he could do about any music he wanted for the label. The suit was settled and afterward Geffen did apologize to Young. Oddly, Young went on to release three more albums for Geffen before switching back to Reprise in 1988.


Friday, July 10, 2015

"New Frontier" by Donald Fagen

Song#:  1323
Date:  01/29/1983
Debut:  86
Peak:  70
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Soft Rock, Jazz-Rock

Pop Bits:  Fagen's first post-Steely Dan solo album, "The Nightfly," was a solid hit going platinum and reaching #11. It was boosted by the #26 single "I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)." This second single got a little airplay, but it wasn't enough to really move it up the chart and it stalled at #70. It did a little better at AC reaching #34.

ReduxReview:  Just like Steely Dan, Fagen's solo work wasn't necessarily made for the pop chart. His sophisticated jazz-rock tunes were not going to attract the new MTV generation. However, that didn't really matter. Critics and fans of Steely Dan were enamored and that was plenty enough to sell some discs. I think "I.G.Y." did better than expected, which probably brought on board some new fans. But there was no surefire follow-up single on the conceptual album. This song was probably the only viable candidate. It didn't get much support and I'm not surprised. It chugs along well, but with no real chorus and long instrumental passages, it was kind of doomed from the beginning. I'm not a big fan of Steely Dan or Fagen's nerd-pop, but I kinda like this song. It's just not a good single.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  In the early 80s, most music was still being recorded in an analog manner. The concept of recording digitally was in its early stages and only a minor few albums were recorded in that fashion. Fagen's "The Nightfly" was one of the first albums to be digitally recorded. It's also still considered by many sound engineers to be one of the best examples of digital recording. It is still used as test material in studios and in setting up live performances in concert venues.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

"Too Much Love to Hide" by Crosby, Stills & Nash

Song#:  1322
Date:  01/29/1983
Debut:  89
Peak:  69
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  CSN's comeback album "Daylight Again" spawned two Top 20 hits including the #9 "Wasted on the Way." To keep interest in the album going, this third single was issued. The more rock-oriented tune didn't catch on as well and it spent a few weeks in the bottom third of the chart. Rock radio wasn't enthused about it either with the song peaking at #46.

ReduxReview:  After the folk/soft rock of "Wasted" and "Southern Cross," this stomper sounded a bit out of place. It's a quality jam song, but those don't necessarily make good singles. As an album track it rocks along pretty good. However, I don't think they really needed this third single.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  After CSN's debut album hit it big, they needed to tour. A backing band was assembled and as part of that, Neil Young came in. Their very first show was in Chicago in the summer of 1969. Joni Mitchell opened for the band. The next night they had their second ever show as a band (billed now as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young). It happened to be at Woodstock. Joni Mitchell was to be there as well, but her manager convinced her to cancel so she wouldn't miss being on The Dick Cavett Show. The events led to Mitchell writing the song "Woodstock." CSNY then recorded it and the song reached #11 in 1970.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"It Might Be You" by Stephen Bishop

Song#:  1321
Date:  01/29/1983
Debut:  90
Peak:  25
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  The early 70s found Bishop as a struggling musician unable to capture the attention of any label. While working as a songwriter for a publishing house, a friend gave a demo of Bishop's tunes to Art Garfunkel. Garfunkel ended up selecting two of Bishop's songs to record for his second album, 1975's "Breakaway." It ended up being the break Bishop needed and it led to a recording contract and a 1976 debut album called "Careless." The album featured two hits, "Save It for a Rainy Day" (#22) and "On on On" (#11). But chart success was short lived and his next two albums failed to generate any significant hits. After his 1980 album "Red Cab to Manhattan," Bishop would not record a proper follow-up LP until 1989. In the meantime, he started to write songs for films. Beginning with two for the 1978 movie "Animal House" (including the title track which hit #73 on the chart), he wrote songs for more than a dozen films. Although he didn't write this particular song, Bishop did contributed his vocals to the track which was used in the 1982 film "Tootsie." Written by Dave Grusin with Alan and Marilyn Bergman, the single performed well enough to grab Bishop his first Top 40 hit in five years. It would be a big hit at AC reaching #1. The song would earn the writers an Oscar nod for Best Original Song.

ReduxReview:  This is such a sweet song. It's one of those that as soon as you hear the first few bars, you feel all gooey inside and your face takes on a dreamy look. It's a delicate tune that is made all the more so thanks to Bishop's light vocal touch. So sit back, turn down the lights, get some candles going, pour a glass of wine, and play this tune. You will be happy and relaxed in no time.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Since Bishop did not write this song, he did not get an Oscar nomination. However, he would end up receiving one in a couple of years. Bishop wrote the song "Separate Lives" for the 1985 film "White Knights." Sung by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin, the single would be a major hit reaching #1. Bishop got an Oscar nod for writing the song. Unfortunately, he lost to another #1 hit from the same movie - Lionel Richie's "Say You, Say Me."


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

"All Right" by Christopher Cross

Song#:  1320
Date:  01/22/1983
Debut:  29
Peak:  12
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Soft Rock, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Cross was riding high thanks to his 1980 multi-Grammy award winning debut album and his recent #1 Oscar-winning song "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)." All ears were awaiting the release of his sophomore album "Another Page." This first single slammed onto the pop chart at a very high #29. It was the week's top debuting single, even besting the debut of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," which came in at #47. It seemed destined to be a major hit, but after its splashy debut, the song just kind of fizzled and peaked outside of the Top 10. It was a surprising result for the singer/songwriter. The lack of support for the song affected the album which would also fail to reach the Top 10 (#11). AC radio was still on board with Cross and the single did better there reaching #3.

ReduxReview:  I remember when this song came out. After "Arthur's Theme" even I was expecting something great from Cross. And then I heard this tune. Yeesh. It was like an instant thud heard 'round the pop music world. Apparently "Arthur's Theme" really was the best that he could do! Granted, the song is not really that bad. It has a nice soft rock sound, a good chorus, and it falls right in line with the songs from his debut album. But I think that was the problem. The song offered nothing new and in the short couple of years since his debut, pop music had changed. His yacht rock offerings were fine for 1980, but 1983 just wasn't having it. I wasn't either.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Cross played guitar for Deep Purple for one gig. When Deep Purple came to the States for the first time, leader Ritchie Blackmore got ill before they could even do their first show. The band didn't want to cancel the show so through connections they found a guitarist (Cross) to fill in for the night. Deep Purple wasn't Cross' only brush with hard rock. His early band in Texas, Flash, opened for several big artists who swung through the state. Most notably, they opened for Led Zeppelin.


Monday, July 6, 2015

"Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson

#1 Alert!
Platinum Record Alert!
Rated 10 Alert!
Grammy Alert!
Song#:  1319
Date:  01/22/1983
Debut:  47
Peak:  1 (7 weeks)
Weeks:  24
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  Here it is folks. The song that truly started "Thriller" mania and cemented Jackson's status as a pop icon. This second single from the album and its influential video remains one of the defining moments not only in the 80s, but in pop music in general. Crafted to the nth degree by Jackson, producer Quincy Jones, and mixer Bruce Swedien, the song quickly became a massive hit reaching #1 at pop for seven weeks and #1 at R&B for nine weeks. It also hit #1 in many countries around the world. The song would earn Jackson two Grammy awards for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song. The two Grammys would be part of his record-setting eight wins that year. The video for the song is largely credited as being the one that broke the racial barrier on MTV. Previously, MTV didn't think R&B artists were rock enough for their concept and any videos by non-rock artists were only played on occasion. But Jackson's video and song could not be denied and it gained heavy rotation status quickly on the new channel. The song also got Jackson another iconic television moment. His performance of the song on the "Motown 25" special introduced mass audiences to the dance move known as the moonwalk. Even though Jackson lip synced to the song, his performance was so mesmerizing that it didn't matter. It earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program. There are many songs that are eventually considered classics of an era. But only a minor handful, like "Billie Jean," become historical markers on the timeline of pop music.

ReduxReview:  When "The Girls Is Mine" came out, folks were kind of I mean, it was a hit, but it gave no clue as to what would come next. Then this song came out. It prompted a friend of mine to go buy the album. I'll never forget she came into school and said "you have to go get the album - it's amazing!" I should have, but didn't. I got this single and "Beat It" before I finally bought the LP. What can really be said about this song that hasn't already been said? It's a killer track from start to finish with a hook around every corner. Jackson would go on to do so many great songs, but the legacy started right here.


Trivia:  Quad Shot!  1) Jackson and Quincy Jones had several arguments over this song. Jones thought the intro was way too long and wanted it cut. He also thought it should be titled "Not My Lover" because he thought people might mistake "Billie Jean" as being about tennis great Billie Jean King. Jones also didn't like Jackson's initial demo or the bass line. In all cases, Jackson would end up winning and getting his way. Jackson also asked Jones for a co-producing credit since the end result sounded almost exactly like his original demo. Jones balked at first but all ended up getting resolved - as Jackson wanted.  2) Jackson has said that there is no real Billie Jean. He based the character on the various groupies that he observed around his brothers in the early Jackson 5 days. Many would come up and say that they got pregnant by one of the Jackson brothers. However, there are other stories that Jackson based the song on a real-life stalker. On story has him coming home and there was a woman lounging by the pool. In another more disturbing story, he would get notes from a woman who claimed he was the father of one of her two twins (yeah, weird...). The notes got more intense until she sent Jackson a package with a gun and a letter telling him that she was going to kill herself at a specific date and time and he should do the same so they could be together. Apparently, the woman ended up in a mental institution.  3) In 2014, a teenager did a dance routine to "Billie Jean" at his school's talent show. A video of the performance was posted on YouTube and quickly got millions of views. With new chart rules in place that take into consideration plays on sites like YouTube, "Billie Jean" re-entered the pop chart for a week at #14.  4) Engineer Bruce Swedien mixed the song 91 times until it was finally approved and set for release. Normally, Swedien only needs to mix a song once.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

"The Blues" by Randy Newman and Paul Simon

Song#:  1318
Date:  01/22/1983
Debut:  73
Peak:  51
Weeks:  8
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  Newman began his career as a songwriter in the 60s penning songs for artists like Dusty Springfield, Irma Thomas, and Gene Pitney. He ended up with his own recording contract and issued albums in 1968 and 1970. Critically well-received, the albums failed to chart but they contained a few songs that have become pop standards, such as "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" and "Mama Told Me Not to Come." As his songs became more well-known, his popularity increased and his albums began to chart. His peak moment came when his controversial song "Short People" reached #2 on the pop chart and went gold. Although he remained a favorite of critics, he would never be able to replicate that single's success. Newman branched out to the world of film scoring and in 1981 grabbed two Oscar nominations for his music to the film "Ragtime." Before he move on to his next score, Newman issued his seventh LP "Trouble in Paradise." This first single, a duet with Paul Simon, got enough attention to get it near the top half of the chart.

ReduxReview:  This wasn't what I expected at all. The title led me to think this was a blues-style song, but it is not. It plays like a show tune. The origins of all his songs for the Pixar animated films and others are right here. This style of Newman is not my favorite. I find the music and concept a bit goofy. He can be an amazing songwriter, but I prefer his more reflective compositions over his oddball pop tunes.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  Newman's second single from the album ended up being far more popular despite never charting. His satirical song "I Love L.A." has been used in films, on TV, in advertisements, and at sporting events. It has even spawned many adaptations and parodies such as "I Love D.C." The original single got a little bit of airplay thanks to a popular video that played on MTV, but it wasn't enough to get the song on the chart (it bubbled under at #110). In the long run, it didn't really matter because the song ended up having a life of its own.