Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Fight Fire with Fire" by Kansas

Song#:  1592
Date:  09/03/1983
Debut:  87
Peak:  58
Weeks:  7
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  The band's CCM-leaning LP Vinyl Confessions got some attention thanks to the #17 hit "Play the Game Tonight." It was their first Top 20 hit since 1978. It was good news for the band, but they were still struggling internally. Original member Robby Steinhardt (violin/vocals) decided to call it quits and the band was having difficulty seeing eye-to-eye on the direction of the band. The remaining members rallied to make their next album Drastic Measures. For this effort, the band cut back on the CCM-oriented material, which left fans of that genre a bit disappointed. Rock radio initially responded well sending this first single to #3, but Pop basically ignored it and the song stalled outside the Top 50. The album was a commercial disappointment and by the end of the year, two more original members including main songwriter Kerry Livgren took off. After issuing a hits compilation, the rest of the band called it a day. However, a reformed version of the band would attempt a comeback later in the decade.

ReduxReview:  You're definitely not in Kansas anymore...  Anyone looking for the Kansas of the 70s won't find it here. They have basically turned into a heavily synth'd rock band and have pretty much lost their identity in the process. Artists do have to change and adapt over long careers, but there still has to be something in the mix that identifies the artist. There is nothing here like that. This could be any rock band. If this was a debut single from some new band, I might think it was a pretty good effort as I like the crunchy sound and production (although the tune is a bit average). But knowing it is Kansas makes it a disappointment. Although they changed up their sound previously with "Play the Game Tonight," at least it was a solid song. This one just takes them deeper into Oz and further away from Kansas.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  This was lead singer John Elefante's second album with Kansas. After the breakup, he went on to be a top producer mainly for CCM artists. His first major success was with the CCM rock band Petra. Elefante and his brother Dino produced the band's 1986 album Back to the Street. It would be the first of many successful projects between them. The album would be nominated for a Grammy for Best Gospel Performance.


Friday, March 25, 2016

"All I Need to Know" by Bette Midler

Song#:  1591
Date:  09/03/1983
Debut:  88
Peak:  77
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Although Midler released the successful soundtrack to The Rose (featuring the #3 title track hit) and the live album Divine Madness, she hadn't released a formal studio album since 1979's Thighs and Whispers. With her film projects and tours complete, she headed back into the studio with producer Chuck Plotkin (Bruce Sprinsteen, Bob Dylan) to record her first album of the 80s, No Frills. This song was issued as the lead-off single, but it failed to make any impact. After a month on the Pop chart it dropped from sight and it ended up stalling at #39 at AC.

ReduxReview:  Midler's albums always contained a mix of genres, but she usually leaned towards standards mixed with some pop and a selection tunes from contemporary singer/songwriters like Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and John Prine. But that mix was probably not going to cut it in the new decade so she steered a good chunk No Frills in the direction of rock and new wave. However, after updating her sound, surprisingly it was this ballad that was chosen as the lead single. This is actually my favorite version of this song (see below), but I don't think it was the smartest choice for a single. Another Midler ballad was not going to sell. I always thought the album's lead off track, the synthpop "Is It Love," should have been issued. Regardless, Midler does a lovely reading of this tune and it did deserve more attention as did the No Frills album, which I have to say is my favorite Midler disc.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) You may see the title and think that you don't know this song, but chances are you do. Under the title "Don't Know Much," this song became a huge hit for Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville in 1989 (#2 Pop/#1 AC). If you've followed this blog for a while, you may also remember that the first recording of this song to hit the Pop chart was by Bill Medley in 1981. Also titled "Don't Know Much," it had little impact on the chart reaching #88.  2) The No Frills album ended up not doing well. It could only manage a #60 peak in the US. However, in Europe the LP was a big success in many countries. It did the best in Sweden and Norway where it peaked at #1 and #3, respectively. It remains her best selling album in those countries along with a couple of others.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

"What's She Got" by Liquid Gold

Song#:  1590
Date:  09/03/1983
Debut:  90
Peak:  86
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Dance-Pop, R&B

Pop Bits:  This English disco band first hit the US Pop chart in 1979 with "My Baby's Baby." It would only be a slight hit at Pop reaching #45, however it did well at Dance hitting #5. Their 1980 follow-up, "Dance Yourself Dizzy," could only muster a #26 showing at Dance and miss the Pop chart, but it would become their biggest hit in the UK topping out at #2. In the years following, they grabbed one more UK Top 10, yet they remained absent from the US charts until this single was issued. It would serve as their last charting single spending a month at Pop while going to #23 Dance and #52 R&B. They would disband in 1984.

ReduxReview:  The band toned down their late 70's disco in favor of a more mature 80s pop/R&B sound. The results are pretty solid. The song is not terribly memorable, but it cuts a nice groove and lead singer Ellie Hope is awesome. It's a shame she couldn't spin this into a solo career. She is easily the best thing about this single. It should have done a lot better than the measly #86 peak. At least it filled dance floors for a while.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) All the band's material was written and produced by Adrian Baker. He reached the US chart earlier in the year with the 4 Seasons medley project "Seasons of Gold." Credited to Gidea Park featuring Adrian Baker, the song topped out at #82 on the Pop chart.  2) After the breakup, Liquid Gold's guitarist, Syd Twynham, would go on to join Mud, a UK glam rock band that had major success in the 70s. Mud scored eleven Top 10 hits in the UK between 1973 and 1976, including three #1's. The band's original lead guitarist, Rob Davis, would later co-write hits for other artists including Liquid Gold's singer Ellie Hope, who hit the US Dance chart in 1983 with "Lucky" (#14). Davis would also co-write (with Cathy Dennis) Kylie Minogue's 2001 smash hit "Can't Get You Out of My Head" (#7 Pop, #1 Dance). Twynham joined Mud in 1987 and has remained with the band since. Davis left in 1979.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Take Away" by Big Ric

Song#:  1589
Date:  09/03/1983
Debut:  95
Peak:  91
Weeks:  3
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Three members of this LA rock quartet got well acquainted when they were members of Barry Manilow's touring band. They teamed up, grabbed a lead vocalist (Joel Porter), and proceeded to sign with Scotti Brothers for a self-titled debut album. This first single was issued and it ended up being a minor blip near the bottom of the Pop chart. The album came and went as did Big Ric. Two members of the band, John Pondel and Bud Harner, later formed a crossover jazz/fusion band called Uncle Festive. In addition to making an appearance on Manilow's 1988 Big Fun on Swing Street TV special, the combo recorded six albums between 1987 and 1992. Harner would later become VP of A&R at Verve Music Group.

ReduxReview:  I listened to this song about four times in a row. It's not a bad tune, but after a little bit of time I came back to write the blog entry and couldn't even remotely remember how the song went. That's not great for a single that is trying to climb the Pop Everest. I think the video is actually more memorable than the song. They kept up with Manilow, so you know these are quality musicians. Unfortunately, their material was a bit lackluster.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  The fourth member of the band, Kevin DiSimone, not only played in Manilow's band, but a song he wrote with James Jolis ended up being recorded by Manilow. "Stay" was the closing track on Manilow's 1982 LP Here Comes the Night. The tune was originally recorded by the R&B trio Ray, Goodman & Brown. It served as the title track to their 1981 album and was issued as a single. Unfortunately, it did not chart. Manilow's version was not released as a single.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

"King of Pain" by The Police

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  1588
Date:  08/27/1983
Debut:  37
Peak:  3
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Rock, New Wave

Pop Bits:  Just as "Every Breath You Take" was finishing its eighth week in the #1 spot on the Pop chart, this second single from The Police's Synchronicity album debuted. It wouldn't do as well as the classic "Every Breath," but it still was a significant hit spending two weeks at #3. It would be the band's fifth Top 10 hit. The song would also hit #1 at Rock and #33 AC. Although it would serve as the second single from the LP in the US, in the band's UK homeland it would end up being the fourth single issued and it faltered at #17.

ReduxReview:  Following the stalker-ish "Every Breath You Take," it's pretty amazing that this downer of a song got to #3. I think its a testament to how good these songs were. There was a lot of dark material on Synchronicity, yet listeners seem to relate to it all and heavily embrace it. The Police were not necessarily known for writing happy tunes, but a song called "King of Pain" screams out depressing before a note is played. Yet Sting's philosophical lyrics and the song's lovely pop melody helped make it not so dire and folks dug it. I did too. It's really a terrific song.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Over the years there has been some interesting covers of this song. Most notably is the parody version done by "Weird Al" Yankovic titled "King of Suede," which is obviously about a guy who sells suede. The song was the second single from his "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3-D album and it reached #62. Another later single attempt was made by Alanis Morissette in 2000. That year she recorded the live album MTV Unplugged. This song was the one cover version she chose to do. It was issued as the LPs second single, but it failed to chart. However, it did reach the lower rungs of a few charts in Europe.


Monday, March 21, 2016

"Islands in the Stream" by Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton

#1 Alert!
Platinum Record Alert!
Rated 10 Alert!
Song#:  1587
Date:  08/27/1983
Debut:  58
Peak:  1 (2 weeks)
Weeks:  25
Genre:  Country Crossover, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Rogers was already having success in 1983 with his album We've Got Tonight, but it was to be his third and final studio album for the Liberty label. He switched to RCA Nashville and they quickly moved to get new material out. So a week after the third single from We've Got Tonight, "Scarlet Fever," hit on the Pop chart, this first RCA single debuted. The duet with Dolly Parton previewed Rogers' new Barry Gibb-produced album Eyes That See in the Dark. It would be Gibb's third production effort apart from the Bee Gees after Barbra Streisand's Guilty and Dionne Warwick's Heartbreaker. All songs were co-written by Barry Gibb with either his brothers or frequent collaborator Albhy Galuten. The combo of Rogers with Parton and the Gibb brothers was certainly a headline grabber and the song did not disappoint. It would reach #1 on three main charts - Pop, Country, and AC - and would go on to be the #1 Country song of 1983. The mega-hit would go platinum and earn Rogers and Parton a Grammy nod for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Duo or Group.

ReduxReview:  I still think it is both hilarious and sad that Barry Gibb and his bros would write these songs for other artists that would become hits, yet had they recorded and released them at the time, the songs would have been DOA. Nobody wanted to actually buy a Bee Gees record, however if someone else is singing it, then why not? And it's not like the tunes were radically different from typical Bee Gees material. "Islands" bears a lot of the trademark Bee Gees writing and even their background harmonies are there. People loved Bee Gees songs - they just didn't want to be caught buying them. It was so ridiculous. But then again, had it not played out like it did we might not have experienced this blissful duet. It's a near-perfect pop song featuring an earworm-worthy chorus that anyone can sing along with. Plus, Kenny and Dolly are awesome together. They should have been recording as a duo years before this. Actually, Dolly really shines here and I think a Dolly/Barry Gibb album ala Streisand's Guilty would have been amazing. Not everyone can convincingly sing a Bee Gees tune (some of their syncopated melodies are harder to sing than you think), but her voice and abilities would have been a perfect match.


Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The Bee Gees originally wrote this as an R&B song with the intended recipient being Marvin Gaye. That didn't seem to work out and as work began on Rogers' album, Barry Gibb presented the song and it evolved into the duet with Parton. It would mark the first time that the two superstars collaborated on a recording. They enjoyed the experience so much that they continued to work together for many years after. They would later record a successful Christmas album and top the Country chart again in 1985 with "Real Love."  2) As the 80s wore on, country music slowly began to disappear from the Pop chart. While a few crossover tunes would still do well, there was little room for it with synthpop, new wave, the second British Invasion, and MTV-driven hits dominating the airwaves. "Islands in the Stream" would end up being the last country song to reach #1 on the Pop chart for seventeen years. The unfortunate streak was finally broken when a remix version of "Amazed" by the country group Lonestar topped the chart in 2000.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

"One Thing Leads to Another" by The Fixx

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  1586
Date:  08/27/1983
Debut:  65
Peak:  4
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Rock, New Wave

Pop Bits:  The Fixx hit the US Top 20 for the first time with the lead single from their second album Reach the Beach, "Saved By Zero" (#20 Pop, #9 Rock). It was a solid introduction to the band, but it would be this second single that would make them stars. Boosted by a popular MTV video, the song became a multi-format hit reaching the Top 5 at Pop, #2 Rock, and #14 Dance. Its success pushed the album to #8. It would eventually become a platinum seller.

ReduxReview:  Although I liked "Saved By Zero," I was later perplexed as to why it was issued ahead of this song. I mean, this is a no-brainer hit. The hook, the groove, and Rupert Hines' excellent production should have convinced any label person that this had major potential. Had this song been released first, I think "Saved By Zero" then might have followed it into the Top 10. You never really know a lot of times why labels make these decisions. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. I'm glad it worked out well for The Fixx on both songs, but I think they could have done even better if the release order had been reversed. Regardless, this is one of the best rock/new wave tracks of the 80s.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  The band would score a significant Rock radio hit in the summer of 1984. "Deeper and Deeper" was selected for the soundtrack to the film Streets of Fire. The track gained enough airplay to hit #3 on the Rock chart. The most famous song from the film's soundtrack would be Dan Hartman's "I Can Dream About You," which hit #6 at Pop.