Saturday, November 28, 2015

"Keep It Confidential" by Nona Hendryx

Song#:  1475
Date:  06/04/1983
Debut:  95
Peak:  91
Weeks:  3
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  Hendryx began her career in the early 60s as a member of The Blue Bells with Patti Labelle and Sarah Dash (and for a short time Cindy Birdsong). The trio hit it big as Labelle in 1974 with their #1 hit "Lady Marmalade," but tensions in the group led to their breakup in 1976. Each member set out on a solo career with Labelle having the most success. Hendryx, known for her wild style and music experimentation released her first solo album in 1977. Although it got good notices thanks to her mix of soul and hard rock, the album tanked and she was let go from her label. After that, she started doing a lot of session work for major artists and toured with bands like Talking Heads. She wouldn't record another solo album until 1982's "Nona." Cutting back on the rock and taking a more traditional dance/R&B approach proved to be a better commercial fit for her as this single demonstrated by its #22 R&B/#25 Dance results showed. Pop wasn't all that interested and the song floundered at the bottom of the chart for a few weeks.

ReduxReview:  Hendryx certainly changed up her sound since her debut five years earlier. (That self-titled LP is a pretty great rock album, so check it out.)  This song certainly ditches the rock in favor of mainstream pop/R&B and it works well for her. She is a solid writer and a vocal powerhouse. I don't think I'd call this one a chart topper, but it certainly should have done better than scraping the bottom few notches. I prefer her more rock-oriented tunes, but this is a nice departure.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Although her next two albums wouldn't generate any hits, her 1985 album "The Heat" contained the song "Rock This House," which featured Keith Richards. The recording got her a Grammy nod for Best Rock Female Vocal.


Friday, November 27, 2015

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" by Michael Jackson

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  1474
Date:  05/28/1983
Debut:  41
Peak:  5
Weeks:  15
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  After the back-to-back #1's of "Billie Jean" and "Beat It," Jackson issued this fourth single from his mega-hit album "Thriller." Although it didn't have a video like the previous two hits to help it along, the song easily went to #5 at both Pop and R&B. Jackson originally wrote the song for his sister La Toya, but then decided to record the tune himself. It was initially recorded in his "Off the Wall" sessions, but was not chosen to be on the album. He then rerecorded the tune for "Thriller" and this time it made the cut serving as the album's lead cut. The song was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Song, but it lost to another "Thriller" track "Billie Jean."

ReduxReview:  Ah, the genius of Michael Jackson. I mean, there are very few people who could write an entire song around two chords and make it into something exciting and awesome. This thing has hooks all over the place, and not just in the melody - the bass line, the horns, etc. I played this song quite a bit back in the day. I thought it was, well...thrilling. It's definitely not as classic as "Billie Jean" or "Beat It," but it comes pretty close.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  It seems the famous phrase used in this song, "mama say mama sa mama ko-sa," was an adaptation of a phrase used in the song "Soul Makossa" by Manu Dibango. That song reached #35 on the Pop chart in 1973. It was Dibango's only chart entry. The similarity between the phrases was not lost on Dibango who sued Jackson. Jackson freely admitted he did borrow from Dibango's song and settled out of court with Dibango. Unfortunately, in 2007 when Jackson and his label gave approval for Rihanna to use samples of "Wanna Be" in her song "Don't Stop the Music" (#3), they forgot about getting permission from Dibango as well because the samples Rihanna used contained the disputed phrase. Dibango balked again and while awaiting resolution on credits and royalties, Dibango sued both artists for damages stemming from the incident. That case was thrown out, but the matter of credit and royalties worked itself out.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Baby Jane" by Rod Stewart

Song#:  1473
Date:  05/28/1983
Debut:  53
Peak:  14
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Although his star was cooling off a bit as the decade started, Stewart still managed to grab a platinum album with 1981's "Tonight I'm Yours," which got a boost thanks to the hit "Young Turks" (#5 Pop). Two years later, Stewart issued his next effort "Body Wishes" and this song became the LP's lead single. Staying in the similar synthpop vein as the previous album's singles, the song would be a major hit for him in the UK where it reached #1 (his sixth and last UK #1 to-date). Stateside, the tune did okay, but it missed out on the Top 10 - his first lead single from an album to miss since 1975. The LP was greeted with poor reviews and although it would still end up reaching platinum status, its #30 peak would be his worst showing studio album since his solo debut in 1969.

ReduxReview:  I really disliked this song when it came out. I thought it was a weak tune that found Stewart kind of whining his way through it. I remember thinking, "wait...this is the same guy who did 'Maggie May' and 'The Killing of Georgie'? Yeesh." His other 80s singles were nothing to write home about, but they were better than this. I don't quite hear it like that anymore, but I still would not consider it anywhere among his best songs. I guess the best thing I can say about the song is that it did it's job and sold some records. Other than

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  The cover of the "Body Wishes" album may look very familiar to Elvis Presley fans. It mimics the cover done for Presley's 1959 album "50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong." Stewart is not the only artist to pay tribute/parody the album title and cover. Artist like Bon Jovi and The Fall have based their titles/art work on the Presley LP.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Roll Me Away" by Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band

Song#:  1472
Date:  05/28/1983
Debut:  55
Peak:  27
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Seger's album "The Distance" was doing well thanks to the #2 showing of "Shame on the Moon" (#1 AC/#15 Country) and the #12 "Even Now" (#2 Rock). This third single tried to keep things going, but it just wasn't quite as successful. It only managed to get inside the Pop Top 30 while hitting #13 at Rock. Both "Even Now" and this song were far more rock oriented and didn't fully speak to the crossover audience that took his previous studio album, "Against the Wind," to #1. Although "The Distance" would reach #5 and go platinum, it was a steep drop from its multi-platinum predecessors.

ReduxReview:  Heartland rockers like Seger and John Mellencamp were often compared to Bruce Springsteen in an unflattering way. I remember reading several reviews back then that would call either Seger or Mellencamp a "poor-man's Springsteen." That was a pretty shitty statement because basically they were saying that people who love those two artists were not really smart enough to understand Springsteen's music and that even the artists themselves pale in comparison. I don't think either is true. Each artist had fans from all walks of life and each artist had their own unique sound and awesome music. That's been proven out over the years and the crappy comparison eventually stopped, but at a time when Heartland rock was nearing its peak, most reviewers thought Springsteen farted sunshine and any others were cloudy imitators. The weird reason I bring this up is two-fold. First, the whole "Mask" controversy (see below - BTW, Seger's songs were better in the film, especially this song) and second, this is the one time I'd actually compare Seger with Springsteen. The song has that big epic sound and vision that reminds me of a few Springsteen songs. However, this is all Seger to me. It's not a song I can hear Springsteen performing and that's the difference. It's just Seger showing that he can be an epic heartland storyteller and do it just as well as anybody else. I absolutely love it. The song has become my favorite from Seger's catalog.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  The 1985 movie "Mask" starring Cher and Eric Stoltz was originally supposed to feature songs from Bruce Springsteen's catalog. Based on the life of Rocky Dennis, director Peter Bogdanovich selected Springsteen songs to be used in the film because Springsteen was Dennis' favorite singer. However, talks between the film company and Springsteen's label for use of the songs broke down. Bogdanovich was forced to get other songs and he chose ones by Seger. This particular song was used at the end of the film while a few other Seger songs like "Katmandu," "Mainstreet," and "Rock 'n' Roll Never Forgets" were featured. Later in 2004, a Director's Cut of the film restored the Springsteen songs as originally intended after rights to use them were secured. So instead of "Roll Me Away" being the final song, Springsteen's "The Promised Land" was used. The other Springsteen songs used in the Director's Cut that replaced the Seger tunes were "Thunder Road," "The River," "Born in the U.S.A." and "Badlands."


Monday, November 23, 2015

"She Works Hard for the Money" by Donna Summer

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  1471
Date:  05/28/1983
Debut:  67
Peak:  3
Weeks:  21
Genre:  R&B, Dance

Pop Bits:  Summer's self-titled second album for the Geffen label was another gold success thanks to the #10 showing of "Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)" (#3 Dance, #4 R&B). She had moved from her home label of Casablanca to Geffen after issues arose with label head Neil Bogart. But being at Geffen was no picnic either as she found out when her second album for the label got shelved and she was then forced to release one with Quincy Jones at the helm. Meanwhile, lawsuits were still being settled with Polygram (who took over Casablanca) and it was determined that Summer owed her old label one more album. Oddly, this gave her a bit of freedom and she chose to bring in producer Michael Omartian. He and Summer co-wrote most all of the tracks for the album "She Works Hard for the Money." This title track was issued as the first single and it hit pretty big. The song hit #1 at R&B while reaching #3 at both Dance and Pop. It would propel the album to #9 at Pop and #5 R&B. The album and single would be her biggest hits since 1979. The song got Summer a Grammy nod for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.

ReduxReview:  With all the label and producer turmoil she had been going through, it was probably a nice relief for Summer to get hooked into the right producer/co-writer and get back to the music. This song is really a return to form and she just sounds inspired and freer that she has in years. It was the perfect vehicle to get her back near the top of the chart. Summer already had a few iconic songs in her catalog and she added another with this stellar outing. Although she would go on to have a late '80s hit (1989's #7 "This Time I Know It's for Real"), this would be the pinnacle of her success in the decade.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Summer based this song on an actual person she encountered at a restaurant. While dining at the famous Chasen's restaurant in L.A., Summer happened upon a restroom attendant who had fallen asleep. Summer startled her and the attendant, Onetta Johnson, apologized and explained that she works a full-time job during they day as well and she was just exhausted. Apparently, Summer thought at the moment "she works hard for the money" and that began the song. In addition to being the inspiration for the tune, Johnson also appears with Summer on the back cover of the album.  2) The memorable video was also very popular at the time and MTV put it into heavy rotation. That made Summer the first African American female to have a video get to that status on the channel. The video also got her two MTV Video Music Awards nominations for Best Female Video and Best Choreography. Again, she was the first African American female artist to receive nominations.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

"(Keep Feeling) Fascination" by Human League

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  1470
Date:  05/28/1983
Debut:  72
Peak:  8
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Synthpop, New Wave

Pop Bits:  The band scored a major #1 hit in the US and UK with "Don't You Want Me" from their album "Dare!" Unfortunately, none of the follow-up singles from the album could get on the US Pop chart. However, in the UK the album spawned two more Top 10's while two new non-album singles, "Mirror Man" and this song, became hits with both reaching #2. While prepping their new album, they needed something to keep their US audience interested, so the two new songs combined with three others formed the EP "Fascination!" This song was issued as the first single and it got them back into the Pop Top 10 (#1 Dance, #14 Rock, #56 R&B). The EP would do well reaching #22.

ReduxReview:  As if the bass line, the synth lick, the hand claps, and the groove weren't enough to sell this song, they then toss in a solid chorus and cool vocal arrangement to cap it all off. It worked perfectly. I think some folks back then were wondering if the band was going to be a US one-hit wonder, but this song certainly put that thought to bed. I remember playing this in the car with friends and we'd sing along with each of us taking a part in the verses - the girls and guys doing their specific parts. I would do my favorite part - the deep "hey, hey-ee-hey, hey!" It's not quite a classic like "Don't You Want Me," but it comes awfully close.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  The unexpected success of the "Dare!" album posed a bit of a problem for Human League. The label wanted a follow-up asap, but the band was not prepared to record a new album right away. A stopgap recording was needed in order to maintain their momentum. "Dare!" producer Martin Rushent had done remixes of songs from the album to serve as b-sides. He proceeded to do more and had enough to fill an album. With the remixes being mostly instrumental, the album was assembled and released as by The League Unlimited Orchestra, which was a takeoff on Barry White's disco-era Love Unlimited Orchestra. The LP was a hit in the UK reaching #3 and going platinum. The US didn't bite and it only mustered a #135 showing. However, the US would get "Fascination!" and that kept fans happy.