Saturday, August 8, 2015

"Beat It" by Michael Jackson

#1 Alert!
Platinum Record Alert!
Rated 10 Alert!
Grammy Alert!
Song#:  1356
Date:  02/26/1983
Debut:  78
Peak:  1 (3 weeks)
Weeks:  25
Genre:  Rock, R&B

Pop Bits:  If "Billie Jean" was the song that kicked off "Thriller"-mania, then it was this song that cemented the album's (and Jackson's) iconic status. Knowing that "Billie Jean" was headed to #1, the label wanted to capitalize on Jackson's soaring popularity and rush released this third single in hopes that both songs would simultaneously reside in the Top 10. This feat would be more than accomplished with the two songs almost becoming back-to-back #1's (interrupted for one week by "Come on Eileen"). The single would also reach #1 on the R&B chart. The song's cinematic video would be hugely popular and highly influential and would help to boost the single's popularity. As part of his record-setting Grammy sweep, Jackson would receive two awards for this song - Record of the Year and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.

ReduxReview:  For me, this was the best track on "Thriller" and it quite possibly may be my favorite Michael Jackson song. Jackson takes a stab at writing a rock song and comes out a convincing winner. It didn't hurt that he got a stamp of approval from Eddie Van Halen (see below) as well. Everything about this song worked. The synth/guitar hooks, the dark tone, the solid chorus, and the hot guitar solo all added up to a perfect 4-minute explosion of genius. The video was must-see MTV back then. I remember we all wanted his J. Parks red leather jacket. A couple of folks ended up with pleather imitations. Thankfully I didn't get one. Yeesh. Glad that trend ended quickly. But we still had to contend with the Members Only fad.


Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The guitar solo was famously done by Eddie Van Halen. When producer Quincy Jones first contacted Van Halen to do the solo, Van Halen thought the call was a prank. After realizing it was not a joke, Van Halen jumped on board. He considered the work a favor and did it for free. He was often chided by his fellow band mates for doing this, but Van Halen said he just really wanted to do it. His contribution has often been included on lists of the best guitar solos in rock history. Van Halen should have been in the song's video, but he was prevented from doing so by his label.  2) Jackson's plan for the song's expensive concept video did not excite his label, Epic. They refused to pay for it. Jackson decided to flip the $150,000 bill himself. The video was shot around L.A.'s famous Skid Row district and it featured a large cast of dancers and extras, some of whom were actual L.A. gang members. It is often included on lists of the best music videos ever made.


Friday, August 7, 2015

"Some Kind of Friend" by Barry Manilow

Song#:  1355
Date:  02/26/1983
Debut:  79
Peak:  26
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Manilow's first single from his "Here Comes the Night" album was the #8 AC hit "Memory" (#39 pop), a song from the Broadway musical "Cats." For his follow-up single, Manilow issued this rock-leaning tune that again found a home at AC (#4), yet faltered at pop. The two minor Top 40 entries didn't do much for the album and it ended up being his lowest peaking studio album up to that point fizzling at #32. However, his loyal fans helped make the LP another platinum seller.

ReduxReview:  I consider this album Manilow's desperation shot. He was one of Arista's biggest artists and I'm sure there was pressure on him to produce more hits. That could be felt on this album with its chaotic mish-mash of styles that made it seem like Manilow was just throwing songs at a wall and seeing what might stick. His core audience was getting older and remaining loyal, yet the kids were not coming on board and they were basically treating his music like a joke. In fact, I remember having to be a secret Fanilow around this time because it was definitely not cool to like his music. This song, co-written by Manilow, seemed like his stab to be current. It didn't really work. Rock does not fit Manilow well and he sounds uncomfortable and unconvincing. The song itself sounds like Manilow was trying to retro-fit one of his 70s songs into a modern rock track and it's all a bit odd. I also get the feeling that this album was not a favorite of Manilow's as I believe it is the only full album in his Arista catalog that has not been reissued on CD in the US. I wouldn't consider this song a favorite, but I don't mind if it spins up. It's kind of an interesting curiosity from his hits catalog.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) After years of being ignored on the charts in the UK, Manilow's career suddenly surged when his 1980 single "Bermuda Triangle" reached #15. He ended up scoring more hits over the next three years than he did the entire first seven years of his career. It continued when the track "I Wanna Do It with You" from the "Here Comes the Night" album was issued as a single in the UK. The song peaked at #8 and became Manilow's biggest hit on that chart.  2) "Here Comes the Night" also included the album track "Some Girls," written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. The song was originally a #2 UK hit for the British band Racey. That band was also making some news in the US thanks another remake. Racey's album track "Kitty" got turned into the #1 smash hit "Mickey" by Toni Basil. That song was also a Chinn/Chapman composition.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

"Shoppin' from A to Z" by Toni Basil

Song#:  1354
Date:  02/26/1983
Debut:  83
Peak:  77
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Pop, Novelty

Pop Bits:  Basil's single "Mickey" was a unexpected platinum #1 hit that ended up becoming an 80s classic. With its famous cheerleader refrain and choreographed video, the unconventional song was going to be tough to follow-up. The label could either go with a straight pop song or they could try to replicate the success of "Mickey" with another quirky single. They chose to do the latter and this track from the US version of Basil's album "Word of Mouth" was released. The oddball tune featured more chanting (of a grocery list) and moved Basil towards the novelty category. Despite a comedic dance video and push from the label, folks weren't buying it and the song quickly disappeared.

ReduxReview:  I will admit that I liked this song back in the day. I thought it was fun and I'd bop around shouting out the list. However, I do think this was probably the worst song they could have chosen to follow-up "Mickey." I mean, I can kind of understand their reasoning - it's another offbeat song with chanting that could be the basis for another hit MTV video. But in reality, this song A...awful, B...bad, C...crappy, D...desperate. The song may be cute for a kids album, but as a legit single, I don't think it works at all. And when put next to a powerhouse single like "Mickey," it sounds even worse. This song was mainly for the US market and it did hit the chart for a few weeks. So you'd think that on a Toni Basil "best of" collection, the song would be included. Nope. The US version of her BO collection does not include the song. I doubt it had anything to do with rights or publishing since Basil co-wrote it. So it leads me to believe that someone would rather forget this song happened. I imaging others would too. Basil had several other solid single contenders on "Word of Mouth" (which is a great album by the way), so the release of this one still baffles me. I think it killed her recording career. Again, the tune is silly fun and I don't mind hearing it, but as a single, N...NO!

ReduxRating:  3/10

Trivia:  In 1971, Basil would form a dance group with Don "Campbellock" Campbell call The Lockers. They were proponents of street dance and the sub-style called locking (developed by Campbell). Their performances got a lot of attention and soon they were making appearances on TV shows like "Saturday Night Live," the "Tonight" show with Johnny Carson, "The Carol Burnett Show," and "Soul Train." They are credited with changing dance and for helping to make street dance an art form. Basil stayed with the group until 1976 as did Fred Berry (aka Rerun from the TV show "What's Happening!!"). For this song's video, Basil got Berry to make an appearance. You can see him in the clip above.


"Please Mr. Postman" by Gentle Persuasion

Song#:  1353
Date:  02/26/1983
Debut:  89
Peak:  82
Weeks:  4
Genre:  R&B, Pop

Pop Bits:  Leza Holms, Sharon Williams, and Renee Johnson made up this Philly-based female R&B vocal trio. They initially had a single on Soul Dimension in 1973 called "Dynamite Explodes," but it didn't break nationally. They then got signed to Capitol Records and recorded a couple of singles, but nothing panned out. Next stop was Warner Bros. and the trio's first full album. Their disco-based, self-titled LP was released in 1978 and once again, it got ignored. In the new decade, Capitol Records gave the ladies another shot and this one-off single was recorded. The song failed at R&B, but did spend a month floating around the bottom of the pop chart. It wasn't enough for Capitol to further invest and the trio faded away.

ReduxReview:  These ladies certainly gave it a shot. Three chances at two major labels and this ended up being their only chart entry. They had the vocal chops, but it just seemed that they couldn't get the right material. This one didn't really help. The retro sound was not very hip at the time and the slight arrangement (almost mimicking The Pointer Sisters' "Should I Do It") didn't do anything to boost the song. It's perfectly fine to hear, but it is just bland and faceless. The trio doesn't stand out. The ladies deserved better.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Although the ladies couldn't get Gentle Persuasion off the ground, they did hit #1 on the dance chart under another name. An early pioneer of the Eurodisco sound, Boris Midney created a "group" (really, a studio project) called USA-European Connection. The vocals for the recordings were all done by the Gentle Persuasion trio. A four song disco LP called "Come Into My Heart" was issued in 1978 and it went on to top the US dance chart that year. Midney would record a self-titled follow-up LP under the USA-European Connection moniker, but he ended up using different vocalists for that outing.  2) This is a remake of the 1961 original by The Marvelettes. Their version would be a #1 hit at both pop and R&B. The Beatles would famously cover the tune, but it was not issued as a single. In 1974, the song would be revived and reach #1 again, this time by The Carpenters. That success made the song one of only nine in the rock era to have hit #1 by two different artists.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"Only You" by Yaz

Song#:  1352
Date:  02/26/1983
Debut:  90
Peak:  67
Weeks:  8
Genre:  Synthpop

Pop Bits:  To follow-up their US debut single, "Situation" (#73), British duo Yaz released this second single that could only manage to do slightly better. The ballad also made a slight dent in the AC chart reaching #38.  In the UK, this was the band's first single. Released in the spring of '82, the song was a major hit for them peaking at #2. It helped establish the successful careers of Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke (Erasure), aka Yazoo in the UK.

ReduxReview:  This song I'd put in the "unfortunate" category in two ways. First, it's unfortunate this song did not do better. It really should have. I think the record company screwed up when they issued "Situation" instead of this song for Yaz's first US single. Then, it's a shame that this very pretty song got masked in a tinkly synthpop. At the time it probably seemed cool, but it really sounds dated now. This is a terrific song that deserves to have a lovely arrangement. It's a product of its time and as-is, the song is a nice nostalgia trip.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia: Two remakes of this song went on to become #1 hits. First, the a cappella group The Flying Pickets hit the top of the UK chart in December of '83 with their version. It was the first a cappella song to reach #1 in the UK. The single failed to reach the US chart. Second, a Latin version titled "Sólo En Ti" was recorded by Enrique Iglesias in 1997. That single debuted at the top of the US Latin singles chart and would eventually spend 10-weeks at #1. This single also failed to hit the US pop chart. Iglesias would record an English version of the song a couple years later, but it was not issued as a single.


"Whirly Girl" by Oxo

Song#:  1351
Date:  02/19/1983
Debut:  73
Peak:  28
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Pop, New Wave

Pop Bits:  This Miami-based band was formed by Ish "Angel" Ledesma. After his previous band, Foxy (see below), broke up, Ledesma tried for a solo career with a 1979 LP titled "Ish." Nothing much happened with the album so he then formed Oxo. The band signed with Geffen Records and issued their self-titled debut. This first single did fairly well making it into the Top 30. Unfortunately, further singles failed to chart and their recording career ended as quickly as it began. This song would remain their only chart single. Ledesma would stay with Geffen and do another solo attempt with 1986's "On This Corner," but it failed to generate interest. However, he has remained a successful studio musician, songwriter, producer and performer over the years.

ReduxReview:  This frantic single didn't catch my ear back then, but like a lot of other singles I missed the first time around, this one came back to life thanks to its appearance on a couple 80s compilations. It's frenetic pace is hard to ignore. I just find it difficult not to start boppin' around. I wouldn't consider the song a favorite in any way, but it's fun when this ditty shuffles up on a playlist.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Ledesma's first band of note was Foxy. The Latin-tinged disco band hit it big with the title-track from their second LP "Get Off." The song would reach #9 on the pop chart while hitting #1 at R&B. Their next album would then yield the #4 R&B hit "Hot Number" (#21 pop). They would issue a fourth album, but unfortunately it wouldn't produce any significant hits. The band would fold soon after.  2) This song was originally titled "Worldly Girl," but it later got changed to "Whirly." Ledesma co-wrote the tune which was about his wife. Ledesma would later develop a female vocal trio called Company B that featured his wife. The dance trio would hit the pop chart in 1987 with the #21 single "Fascinated" (#1 dance).


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

"She Blinded Me with Science" by Thomas Dolby

Top 10 Alert!
One-Hit Wonder Alert!
Song#:  1350
Date:  02/19/1983
Debut:  77
Peak:  5
Weeks:  22
Genre:  Synthpop, New Wave

Pop Bits:  English musician Dolby initially stayed behind the scenes writing songs and working with other musicians such as Lene Lovich. By 1981, he began to branch out on his own and released a single that led to him signing with EMI. His debut album "The Golden Age of Wireless" did well in the UK and he ended up with a couple of minor chart singles. Dolby wanted to branch out into the new video medium, so he came up with a story about a scientist falling in love with his assistant. From that storyline he developed this song. It was released as a single and found its way onto an EP titled "Blinded By Science." In the UK, the song stumbled and could only manage a #49 peak. But in the US, the song and video got a lot of attention and Dolby found himself with an unexpected Top 10 hit. This prompted EMI to reissued Dolby's "Golden Age" LP and include this song plus the two songs from his first single. Both the EP and LP were solid sellers reaching #20 and #13, respectively, on the album chart. Unfortunately, the song would be Dolby's only major hit in the US and despite two other low-peaking singles, he got labeled a One-Hit Wonder.

ReduxReview:  Here's an 80s staple that I just loved. Dolby's synthpop was funky, quirky, and loads of fun. The song kind of pigeonholed Dolby into a synth-novelty artist, which is too bad. He's a terrific songwriter and his "Golden Age" and "The Flat Earth" albums still remain two of my favorites from the decade. This is a terrific single, but it's the type of song that can be very difficult to follow up. What I liked most about Dolby is that he wrote good songs that didn't rely on synths. He could easily play these acoustically on guitar or piano. But then he would envelope them in the technology of the day to give further depth. Although not necessarily a concept album, the UK version of "Golden Age" plays like one (the US version jumbles the tracks and it is not as effective). I find it fascinating. "The Flat Earth" expands his sound even further. Both are worth checking out.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The high-pitched backing vocals in the chorus were supplied by music producer John "Mutt" Lange. Lang had hired Dolby to do some synth work on Foreigner's "4" album (notably on their #4 hit "Urgent"). Lang returned the favor by doing the vocals for Dolby. Lang would use Dolby's talents again while producing Def Leppard's "Pyromania" album.  2) For the part of the mad scientist, Dolby cast real-life scientist and British TV personality Magnus Pyke. Pyke was known for being highly animated and occasionally yelling "science!" at certain points. Pyke appeared in the video as well as providing the voice snippets in the song.


"What Love Is" by Marty Balin

Song#:  1349
Date:  02/19/1983
Debut:  78
Peak:  63
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  After leaving Jefferson Starship, Balin released his 1981 debut solo album title "Balin," which featured the #8 single "Hearts." His new soft rock sound was welcomed by pop and AC fans, so when Balin returned to a more rock-oriented sound with his next album "Lucky," many were not on board. This first single couldn't make any headway on the pop chart and disappeared after a few weeks. Another track on the album, "Do It for Love," got a little airplay at AC peaking at #48, but it failed to reach the pop chart. The lack of a solid single pretty much killed the album and along with it, Balin's contract with EMI. (Insert pun about the album being titled "Lucky"...) This song would be Balin's final pop chart entry. He wouldn't record another full album until 1991's "Better Generation."

ReduxReview:  This song starts out like a quiet AC ballad, but then it gets rocked up in the chorus. It's quite a change from the lovely and moody "Hearts." The production by Val Garay (Kim Carnes) is top-notch. He gives the song a nice, beefy sound. I actually like the tune quite a bit, but I don't think it was the right choice for a single.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  On his "Lucky" album, Balin revisited a song that one of his old bandmates recorded. "Heart of Stone" was written by Brian Marnell and it was recorded by his band SVT. That band included former Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady. After Casady left JA in 1972, he formed Hot Tuna. When that band took a break, Casady then formed SVT with Marnell. The band issued two singles in 1979 (including "Heart of Stone") and then a full album in 1981. Nothing really came of the releases and the band ended up folding. But Balin kept "Heart of Stone" alive and recorded it for his album.


Monday, August 3, 2015

"Should I Stay or Should I Go" by The Clash

Song#:  1348
Date:  02/19/1983
Debut:  79
Peak:  50
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  The first single released in the US from The Clash's "Combat Rock" album was "Should I Stay or Should I Go." It did respectable business reaching #45. But then they issued their breakthrough single, the #8 "Rock the Casbah." Now with listeners tuned in to the group and the album, focus started to shift back to the first single. Airplay picked up and it caused a bit of demand for the single. The band's record label jumped on board quickly and reissued the single with a different b-side. Hopes were probably high that it would follow "Casbah" into the Top 10, but the single faltered and couldn't even surpass its original chart peak. Regardless of the results, the extra attention helped the album get to double-platinum status.

ReduxReview:  Like a lot of folks I really didn't get into this song until after "Casbah" was a hit. I'm glad it got a reissue as the song did deserve more attention. I think it should have done better on the chart, but the song wasn't quite as pop-leaning as "Casbah" or even "Train in Vain." It may have been just a hair too rough for pop radio at the time. In the end, it didn't really matter. It's still one of their most popular tracks and one that a ton of folks know. Geez, I've even heard this played at a wedding reception. You know, that could be the ultimate test of a song's popularity and longevity. Does it get played at wedding receptions? Yes? Well then congratulations! Your song has been consumed by the masses and will live on forever.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  In the UK, this single did pretty well on initial release reaching #17 on the chart. Fast forward to 1991 and a TV commercial for Levi jeans. The popular ad used this song and it started to catch on with a new generation of listeners. The demand for a single was there so CBS Records obliged and got one released. This time around the song topped the UK chart. It became The Clash's first and only UK #1. Of course the label knew a cash cow when they saw one, so they quickly released a new Clash compilation titled "The Singles." It was a platinum seller in the UK reaching #13 on the album chart. They also reissued the "Rock the Casbah" single. It peaked at #15, which bested its original chart showing of #30.


"Mr. Roboto" by Styx

Top 10 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  1347
Date:  02/12/1983
Debut:  40
Peak:  3
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Arena Rock

Pop Bits:  Styx pushed into the concept album territory with their album "Paradise Theater." Featuring two Top 10 hits, "The Best of Times" (#3) and "Too Much Time on My Hands" (#9), it became the band's first and only #1 album. There had been tension in the band even before "Paradise Theater" and it was about to get worse with their next venture. Dennis DeYoung wanted to take the band even further into rock opera territory and came up with a full concept for an album titled "Kilroy Was Here." The plotted story about how rock music is outlawed by a morality organization was not exactly well received by the other band members. DeYoung's concept also included an elaborate theatrical stage show and video which had the band members playing specific roles. Despite being at odds, the band moved forward with the album and tour. To kick things off, this first synth-heavy single was issued and hit pretty big reaching #3 on both the pop and Mainstream Rock charts. The album vaulted to #3 as well, but ended up selling less than their previous multi-platinum works.

ReduxReview:  Ah yes. The album and tour that pretty much destroyed one of my favorite bands! We were big Styx fans wearing out several cassettes of their albums ("The Grand Illusion" was our fave). We also loved concept albums and songs with story lines, so when this song and album came out we were totally on board. We cranked the shit out of this song when cruising around town. It was da bomb. Now 30+ years later, I look back on this song in a more nostalgic way. I mean, really. This was a crazy ass song for a single. It was goofy, over the top, and nothing like the Styx we knew. And despite not having a real chorus, the song was pretty darn catchy. I'd probably consider it the annoying little brother to Queen's "Bohemian Rhaposdy." Is it a good song? Well, that is debatable. But it was fun and still is. I just don't gush over it now like I did when I was a teenager. It does, however, bring back fond memories.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The band never intended for this song to be released as a single. It was meant to be a transition song for the tour. But some preliminary test marketing done by the label showed that listeners chose this song as a single over the rest. The label took that advice and the track became a hit. It has also become one of Styx's most memorable and enduring songs being used in films, TV shows, and commercials.  2) Their elaborate stage show with sets and props was not typical for an arena rock band. It began with a 10-minute concept film before DeYoung and Tommy Shaw came out to "perform" this song. They actually acted out a scene with dialog as if the video continued on stage. The full band arrives after their scene and beings to play. The whole thing didn't sit well with a lot of concert goers who where there to see a rock band, not a theater show. There were many reports of the band getting heavily booed during the lengthy opening. The tour ended up losing money and after all the dust settled, Shaw quit the band. Everyone else then decided to also go their own ways and the main era of Styx came to an end.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

"Der Kommissar" by After the Fire

Top 10 Alert!
One-Hit Wonder Alert!
Song#:  1346
Date:  02/12/1983
Debut:  75
Peak:  5
Weeks:  21
Genre:  Rock, New Wave

Pop Bits:  This British band formed in the early 70s and went through several personnel changes before deciding on a lineup that would record their 1978 debut album "Signs of Change." Their prog-rock sound attracted CBS and the band signed to the label. The band streamlined their sound, but over the course of three albums, they could only manage one UK Top 40 song. They went back into the studio to work up a new album, which was to include this song. In the meantime, CBS decided to compile tracks from the band's previous three albums for release in North America. This song got put on the LP titled "ATF." Released as a single, this song started to climb the chart in Canada before grabbing some attention in the US. Finally, in the spring of '83 the band found themselves with a Top 10 hit. For ATF, it was both good news and bad news. It was good that they finally had a hit, but it was bad because the previous December, they broke up! And to top it off, they did not want to reform. That left CBS with a hit single and no band to promote it or follow it up. CBS issued an older song from the compilation as the second single, but it barely scraped the chart. In the end, ATF became a one-hit wonder pretty much by choice.

ReduxReview:  Did I like this song back then? Nein! I wasn't buying into its staccato Euro-rap sound and chose to ignore the tune. Years later, I did developed a fondness for the song. It was the arrangement that finally drew me in. It does follow Falco's original (see below) closely, but ATF expanded on the sound greatly which I think is what made it such a hit here. I think it is far better than Falco's original.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This is an English language remake of a song by German artist Falco. A track from his debut album, it was released as a single in 1981 and hit #1 in several European countries, but failed to get any action in the US. ATF member Andy Piercy did an English translation of the lyrics for their version while keeping the "Der Kommissar" part/title. Around the same time, Laura Branigan was prepping her second LP and recorded her own version of the song with completely different lyrics. Titled "Deep in the Dark," her label had visions of the song being a single (and even pressed UK promos) until ATF's version hit. After ATF's version started to take off in North America, Falco's version was reissued. It still couldn't do any business in the US, but it did get to #11 in Canada.