Saturday, January 30, 2016

"Radio Free Europe" by R.E.M.

Song#:  1536
Date:  07/23/1983
Debut:  90
Peak:  78
Weeks:  5
Genre:  Alternative Rock

Pop Bits:  This Athens, Georgia, quartet carved out a sound for themselves that would eventually become know as alternative rock (or college/indie rock). They became the poster child for the genre and one of the first to really go mainstream and have large scale success. But before all of that, they were just four dudes making music and touring. In 1981, they recorded their first single, which was "Radio Free Europe." Initial pressings of the song sold out and word spread quickly about the band. As they were prepping their debut EP, they got picked up by I.R.S. Records. Chronic Town was well-received and it set them up for their full-length debut album Murmur. This first single, a re-recording of their 1981 original, got great buzz and it ended up at #25 on the Rock chart. It was also able to scrape the Pop chart for a few weeks. The attention helped get the album to #36. As their popularity grew over the years, the LP would eventually go gold. Reviews for the album were glowing and it even lead to Rolling Stone naming it the best LP of 1983 over huge classic hits like Thriller and Synchronicity.

ReduxReview:  I have to admit that the first time I heard R.E.M., it was all lost on me. I just didn't get it. By the time they were on my radar, they had just released their second LP Reckoning. It got a great write-up in Rolling Stone and they were being hailed as new rock gods, so I took a chance and bought the album. I wasn't happy that I spent my money on the LP. It was just some jangly rock with a guy sleepily mumbling lyrics. This was the new face of rock? I was not impressed. But at the time I had my sunny 80s pop day-glo colored glasses on and this stuff just bounced right off of them. It's funny - I ended up a fan of the band, but I didn't get to hear Murmur until many years later. When I heard it for the first time, I said to myself "oh, NOW I get it!" Experience made me understand why critics and fans were latching onto them when they started. This single is pretty great, but for me the album contains even better songs than this ("Talk About the Passion" was a particular favorite.) If you only jumped on board the R.E.M. wagon with "The One I Love," then hunt up Murmur to hear how it all started.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) This song is one of two by R.E.M. that made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of "Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll." The other is their 1991 #4 hit "Losing My Religion."  2) Lead singer Michael Stipe became known for his vocal delivery that made a lot of the lyrics on R.E.M.'s earlier albums indecipherable. It all mainly started with the original 1981 version of this song. When they went to record it, Stipe had still not finished the lyrics. So instead of completing them, he just babbled his way through it. By the time of the 1983 re-recording, he apparently had finished a set of lyrics, but his mumbling delivery still made them a mystery to many folks.  3) There actually is something called Radio Free Europe. It was a radio station developed in 1949 that would broadcast news and information to territories where the government controlled what the public heard (such as countries in Eastern Europe). It played a big part in the Cold War reporting details on events that governments of certain countries would suppress. It is still in operation today.


Friday, January 29, 2016

"Words" by F.R. David

Song#:  1535
Date:  07/23/1983
Debut:  94
Peak:  62
Weeks:  9
Genre:  Synthpop, Europop

Pop Bits:  Born in Tunisia and raised in France, Elli Robert Fitoussi David tried to get a career started in bands and on his own, but not much panned out. Along the way, he became a successful studio musician working with artists like Vangelis, The Doobie Brothers, and Toto. His closest brush with fame came when he joined the English-language French rock outfit Les Variations in 1974. They scored a hit in France, but crossing over to the US proved difficult and David left the band for a solo career. With the moniker of F.R. David, he co-wrote and recorded this song, which was issued in France late in 1981. It was a hit and it spread across Europe going Top 10 in several countries. The song finally reached the UK in 1983 where it peaked at #2. The US was next, but the Europop song wasn't clicking with Americans and the song fizzled at #62. Follow-ups failed to get attention anywhere and in most European countries (especially the UK) he got labeled a one-hit wonder.

ReduxReview:  This kind of sounds like an Eric Carmen knock-off from the 70s. It's pretty cheezy. Europeans can shower a lot of love to schlock like this, but the US tends to ignore much of it. Sometimes that is not justified and we miss out on some primo crazy Europop, but in this case I'd say it was the correct call. The style of the song was really out-of-step with US pop radio at the time and the saccharine lyrics didn't help matters. I don't have much else to add, so I guess you could say that "Words" fails me...

ReduxRating:  3/10

Trivia:  In 1983, the English band The Tremoloes recorded this song. When they recorded the tune, it was already popular around Europe, but had not hit the UK chart yet. The band experienced their heyday in the late 60s and saw the single as a potential comeback opportunity. Unfortunately, by they time the single was released, David's original recording took hold and started climbing the chart. It pretty much killed The Tremoloes single, which ended up peaking at #91 on the UK chart. The Tremoloes scored eleven UK Top 10 singles (including two #1's) between 1963 and 1970. They were not as fortunate in the US where they could only muster five charting singles. The best of those was the #11 "Silence Is Golden" in 1967.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

"Promise, Promises" by Naked Eyes

Song#:  1534
Date:  07/16/1983
Debut:  71
Peak:  11
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Synthpop

Pop Bits:  Naked Eyes' debut single, "Always Something There to Remind Me" (#8), was a hit remake of a Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune that in the US became associated with Dionne Warwick (her version reached #65 in 1968). So when this follow-up single came out, folks thought it must be another cover of a Warwick song (she had hit #19 Pop/#7 AC/#47 R&B in 1968 with "Promises, Promises," also written by Bacharach/David). However, that was not the case. This same-titled song was an original written by the duo who formed Naked Eyes, Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher. After the confusion ended, people latched on to the new song and it barely missed the Top 10, peaking at the dreaded #11 spot. It would also hit #19 at AC and #32 at Dance.

ReduxReview:  "Always Something" was a terrific remake and an 80s synthpop classic. However, this original sits right next to that song on the shelf. Everything about the song is near-perfect pop. I actually like this better than "Always." While the quirkiness of "Always" kind of relied on and needed the new Fairlight technology, this song is enhanced by it. The tune itself is great to begin with, but then the duo wrapped it up in a nice Fairlight groove that took it to a new level without sounding like they were relying on synth gimmicks. I think that is also why I have heard this song played many more times over the years than "Always." That #11 peak just kills me - this should have easily gone Top 10.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) At the time of the single's release, some remixes of this song were done. One was by Jellybean Benitez. His version includes vocals by an artist he was just beginning to introduce to the world (and who was also his girlfriend) - Madonna.  2) Although this song would cut its own path into the 80s music landscape, initially it was confused with Warwick's "Promises, Promises." That song was the title track to the 1968 Broadway musical of the same name. The show's premise was based on the 1960 film "The Apartment" with music supplied by Bacharach and David. The show would get several Tony nods including for Best Musical and would go on to win two for Lead Actor Jerry Orbach (of Dirty Dancing and Law & Order fame), and Featured Actress Marian Mercer. Although this song was popular at the time, it was only a minor hit for Warwick. She had better luck with another song from the show "I'll Never Fall In Love Again," which she took to #6 in 1969.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

"Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler

#1 Alert!
Platinum Record Alert!
Rated 10 Alert!
Song#:  1533
Date:  07/16/1983
Debut:  75
Peak:  1 (4 weeks)
Weeks:  29
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  This Welsh-born singer got signed to RCA in 1976 and issued her debut album the following year. With the exception of being a hit in Sweden, the album faded quickly. However, her second platter, Natural Force, would prove to be her breakthrough when the song "It's a Heartache" became a worldwide hit. In the US, the single would reach #3 at Pop, #10 AC and #10 Country. The gold record should have fully established her career, but unfortunately she just could not follow it up. Save for a couple of songs that hit in specific countries, all her subsequent singles and albums went bust. Nothing was working so Tyler decided to scrap everything and start anew. She got new management and then sought out a new sound. She happened to catch Meat Loaf performing on a TV show and it got her wheels spinning. She set out to get Meat Loaf's producer and principle songwriter, Jim Steinman, to help do her next album. He came on board and along with him he brought two of his epic songs. One was the title-track to her new album, Faster Than the Speed of Night, and the other was this first single. The bombastic ballad took a little time to catch on, but once it did there was no stopping its climb to #1 (#7 AC/#23 Rock). Six years after she was last on the chart with "It's a Heartache," Tyler finally broke through for a second time.

ReduxReview:  Turn around, bright eyes...turn around. When Jim Steinman got his groove on just exactly right, he could serve up a tasty dish of Wagneiran pop that is hard to not devour. As much as I love his work with Meat Loaf and his own solo hit ("Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through"), I think this is his masterwork. It's made even better by Tyler selling the song like her life depended on it (actually, I think her career did...). We listened to this on repeat forever. I even think my best friend named a boat or car "Bright Eyes." A classic for the 80s and beyond.


Trivia:  Quad Shot!  1) There are two stories as to how Tyler got this song. The more common one is that Steinman wrote this song and "Making Love Out of Nothing at All" for a Meat Loaf album. Unfortunately, Meat Loaf's label refused to pay for the songs so Steinman kept them and one went to Tyler while the other went to Air Supply. However, Tyler has said that Steinman finished the song right before they met and it was not intended for Meat Loaf. (I believe he did write them for Meat Loaf. Steinman has recycling songs many times...)  2)  The male vocal part on this song was done by Rory Dodd. He's worked on many Steinman recordings including the ones for Meat Loaf.  3)  Two members of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band appear on this song. Roy Bittan is on piano and Max Weinberg is on drums.  4)  Singer Nikki French issued a dance version of this song in 1995. It would reach #2 on the US Pop chart.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Til You and Your Lover Are Lovers Again" by Englebert Humperdinck

Song#:  1532
Date:  07/16/1983
Debut:  87
Peak:  77
Weeks:  5
Genre:  Adult Contemporary, Country Crossover

Pop Bits:  AC crooner Humperdinck grabbed a quick chart entry with "Love's Only Love" (#28 AC/#83 Pop), the title track to his 1980 album. His next LP, Don't You Love Me Anymore, contained the title-track single, which fizzled quickly only reaching #41 at AC. For his next effort, Humperdinck decided to hit up the country market and issued the crossover LP You and Your Lover. This first single did make it onto the Country chart and reached a respectable #39. It did much better at AC hitting #17. The attention got it onto the Pop chart, but after a little over a month the best it could do was #77. It would be Humperdinck's final US chart single on any format. He would continue to issue albums over the years with a few finding their way on to the UK Album chart. In 2014, he issued a new duets album titled Englebert Callling that reached #31 on the UK Album chart. His duet partners included Elton John, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Dionne Warwick, Shelby Lynne, and even Gene Simmons from Kiss.

ReduxReview:  Humperdinck infringes on Kenny Rogers' pop/country territory and doesn't come out too bad. It's not a great song, but it's not so bad either. Humperdinck sounds great and I like that he didn't try to sound like a country artist. There are times when pop vocalists try to cross over into country and they feel like they have to twang or drawl it up and it sounds weird and forced. Luckily, Englebert just sings the song and sells it. I just wish he was peddling a better song.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Fans of the MTV animated series Beavis and Butt-head may be familiar with Humperdinck. In the 1996 film based on the TV show, Beavis and Butt-head Do America, a character (voiced by creator Mike Judge) sings a song called "Lesbian Seagull." Originally written and recorded by Tom Wilson Weinberg in 1979, Judge discovered the song via a David Letterman segment and got permission to use it in the film. During the closing credits, the song is heard again in a recorded version by Humperdinck. His take appeared on the movie soundtrack and it also served as the b-side to The Red Hot Chili Pepper's remake of "Love Rollercoaster," which they recorded for the movie. The single reached #40 on the Pop chart. The Ohio Players original version of "Love Rollercoaster" hit #1 in 1976. 


Monday, January 25, 2016

"Legal Tender" by The B-52's

Song#:  1531
Date:  07/16/1983
Debut:  88
Peak:  81
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Rock, New Wave, Synthpop

Pop Bits:  After two hit albums and an interim EP, the B's returned with the full-length Whammy! Their first two albums each spawned a Pop chart entry and this third one did the same with this first single. Although it would only scrape the bottom of the chart for a month, the tune combined with two other tracks from the album, "Whammy Kiss" and "Song for a Future Generation," would hit #9 on the Dance chart. The album would reach #29 on the chart and go on to become their third gold disc.

ReduxReview:  The B's decided to tone down their guitar/keyboard rock and wrap their songs in the decade's new synthpop sound. It worked well enough for them to grab another chart single and gold album. I remember buying this LP when it came out and was a bit disappointed. There were a couple of good tunes, including this single, but nothing matched the outrageous rock of "Private Idaho" or "Rock Lobster." It also seemed like they were trying to be quirky rather than letting it just flow out of them. Initially I wasn't having it and I pretty much set the album aside. However, years later I've realized that it's actually a good effort from the band. Side one is very solid and showcases songs that could easily show up on a list of their best tunes. Side two is less interesting, especially since it lost "Don't Worry" (see below), but the throwaways here are a notch above ones on their other discs. While I could never imagine that "Legal Tender" would become a radio hit, it's still a great introduction to one of their most overlooked albums.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  The Whammy! album initially contained the song "Don't Worry." This was their cover version of a song originally written by Yoko Ono. Ono's song, title "Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)" was done first by the Plastic Ono Band and used as the b-side to John Lennon's "Cold Turkey" single (#30, 1969). It would then end up on Ono's 1971 album Fly. Inspired by her custody fight with her ex-husband over their daughter Kyoko, the majority of lyrics just have Ono repeating "don't worry." After Whammy! was first issued, some kind of rights issue came up with Ono regarding the B's remake and on further pressings of the album the song is replace with one titled "Moon 83." That song was an updated version of their own tune "There's a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)" that appeared on their self-titled debut album.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Don't You Get So Mad" by Jeffery Osborne

Song#:  1530
Date:  07/16/1983
Debut:  89
Peak:  25
Weeks:  14
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  Osborne's first solo album after leaving LTD, the group he founded with his brothers, was a success. The self-titled LP featured the #3 R&B hit "I Really Don't Need No Light" (#39 Pop) and the #7 AC hit "On the Wings of Love" (#29 Pop, #13 R&B). His follow-up album, Stay with Me Tonight, didn't waver from the formula set by the first. He retained George Duke as producer and this first single hit a similar groove to "I Really" and even peaked at the same #3 at R&B. At Pop, the song did a bit better and became his second Top 30 entry.

ReduxReview:  To me, this could have been subtitled "Don't Need Light, Pt. 2." It's a similar groove and it also has a chorus that is a little light in the hook area. But just like "Light," it's a solid tune led by Osborne's great vocals. It's the rare case where the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy worked.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Osborne co-wrote this song with Don Freeman and Michael Sembello. It was Sembello's second charting co-write for Osborne. "Eenie Meenie," the third single from Osborne's debut disc, reached #18 AC/#76 Pop. Sembello co-wrote that song with Raymond Lee Pounds. At the time this single debuted on the Pop chart, Sembello's own single "Maniac" had climbed to the #19 position on its ascent to the #1 spot.