Saturday, July 23, 2016

"Think of Laura" by Christopher Cross

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  1727
Date:  12/10/1983
Debut:  67
Peak:  9
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Soft Rock, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Cross' second album, Another Page, wasn't doing nearly as well as his platinum debut. The LP's first single, "All Right," stalled outside the Top 10 and a second single was locked out to the Top 30. Although the album initially shipped at gold level and was certified as such, sales were actually flat and it seemed the album was on the verge of disappearing. Then came this third single which got a much needed boost from a TV soap opera. General Hospital was a cultural phenomenon at the time with the Luke and Laura characters being wildly popular. There was a point in their story line where Laura goes missing for an extended period of time. The producers of the show needed a song to play when Luke reflects back on Laura and asked Cross if they could use this song. He agreed and the song began to get played on the soap. The extra publicity paid off handsomely and the single soon found its way into the Pop Top 10. It did even better at AC reaching #1 and staying there for four weeks. No one really knows what the fate of the single might have been had it not been on the soap, but no one can deny that it certainly made the song a hit. It would be Cross' last appearance in the Pop Top 10.

ReduxReview:  Ugh. I was a GH fan, but was not a fan of this song. I can still remember those awful flashbacks to Laura and this song playing. Luke would be all mournful and sad while Cross whined his way through the tune. And then I had to endure the single on radio. I was just over Cross by that time and didn't wanna hear it, or really anything he had to offer. I know lots of folks love this song and it brings back memories of GH, but I still don't care for the tune. I think Cross got super lucky with this one. Had it not been featured on GH, I doubt this would have even gotten into the Top 40. The results were awesome for Cross, but I'll still skip it.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  Double Shot! 1) No, this song was not written specifically for the soap. It actually has a bit of a sad origin. Apparently, Cross was dating a woman named Paige who was attending Denison University in Ohio. She had a roommate at the time named Laura Carter. Cross had met Carter while visiting Paige at the college. One evening Carter's parents were visiting and they got in the car after a lacrosse match to head out for dinner. Unbeknownst to them, there was some kind of altercation going on about a block away and gun shots were fired. A stray bullet ended up striking Carter and she died. The tragedy affected Paige and to help her through the difficult time, Cross wrote this song. The inner sleeve of the Another Page album has a photo of Cross and Paige.  2) The R&B group Boyz II Men recorded a version of this song titled "Think of Aaliyah (The Aaliyah Song)." It was done as a tribute to R&B star Aaliyah who died in a plane crash in 2001.


Friday, July 22, 2016

"99 Luftballons" by Nena

Top 10 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  1726
Date:  12/10/1983
Debut:  74
Peak:  2
Weeks:  23
Genre:  New Wave, Synthpop

Pop Bits:  Nena is actually a German band named after its lead singer. Gabriele Kerner got the nickname Nena (Spanish for "little girl") while her family was on vacation in Spain. She first fronted a band called The Stripes, which recorded one LP in 1980. After that band broke up, Nena and her boyfriend made a move to West Berlin and created the band Nena. The group was signed to CBS and their first single, "Nur geträumt," hit #2 on the German chart. Their next single was "99 Luftballons" and it went directly to #1. The successes spurred a self-titled debut album that also went to the top of the chart. As "99 Luftballons" began to hit #1 in other European countries, it started to get attention in the States. Epic took a chance on the song and issued it as a single backed with an English version titled "99 Red Balloons." Surprisingly, it was the German version that got traction and it started to climb the Pop chart eventually getting to #2. Unfortunately, the song's success didn't translate into further hits in the US and because it was their only charting song, the band got tagged as a one-hit wonder (#10 on VH1's list of Greatest One-Hit Wonders). Luckily, they continued to have good success in Germany and other European countries until their break up in 1987. Lead singer Nena then went solo and initially didn't have much success. She experienced a resurgence in 2003 and since that time has has seven Top 10 hits in Germany. In 2005, she got her second #1 with her song "Liebe ist." In doing so she set a record on the German chart for the longest span between #1's, with "99 Luftballons" being her first. She remains a major star in Europe and was a judge for three season on the German version of the TV competition program The Voice.

ReduxReview:  I still find it surprising that the German version of this song caught on here. Our culture has never been that open to hearing pop songs in other languages. Only a handful of foreign language songs have reached the Top 10. So when this song started to make the rounds on pop radio, it was certainly attention getting. And the fact that it didn't really have a true chorus made it even odder. I think the music was just so infectious that it made the song hard to resist, especially the groove the band establishes after the initial opening. I must admit that I kind of connected with the English version more because I wanted to understand what the song was about, but these days I'll take either one. Although Nena couldn't make a go of it in the States after this hit, they certainly had a pop culture moment with this song. It is still well-remembered and has been referenced in many TV shows (The Simpsons, Scrubs) and movies (The Wedding Singer, Boogie Nights).

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  The English version of the song, "99 Red Balloons," is not a direct translation of the German version. The English lyrics, written by Irish musician/songwriter Kevin McAlea, takes liberties and the story told is a bit different from the original. The band actually did not like the English translation as they thought it was too direct and almost political, but they still recorded the new lyrics. Since that time, Nena has never performed the English version in concert. While the US and Australia preferred the German original, the UK and Canada liked "99 Red Balloons" better and it hit #1 in both countries.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

"Ebony Eyes" by Rick James with Smokey Robinson

Song#:  1725
Date:  12/10/1983
Debut:  76
Peak:  43
Weeks:  11
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  The title track to James' LP Cold Blooded did very well at R&B hitting #1 and staying there for six weeks. It was a minor hit at Pop reaching #40. Later on, this duet ballad that featured Motown legend Smokey Robinson was issued as a single. The star pairing was certainly an attraction, but the song petered out after reaching #22 on the R&B chart. It would stall short of the Top 40 at Pop.

ReduxReview:  I remember seeing this song reach the Pop chart and I thought "Rick James with Smokey Robinson? Wow! Can't wait to hear that!" But when I finally did, I was really disappointed. It wasn't what I expected at all. I thought it was kind of boring and that there wasn't much of a chorus to it. It just kind of slogged along on the same two chords for most of the song. It went nowhere for me. James wrote the song, so I was hoping that with Smokey on board, the song might incorporate a retro Motown or quiet storm sound. It didn't. It's not a bad tune and it seems to be well-liked in James catalog despite not being a major hit, but I'm still meh about it.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  This song was actually the third single released from the Cold Blooded LP. The second single was the jam "U Bring the Freak Out." Although the song did reach #16 on the R&B chart, it was a bit of a disappointment coming on the heels of the #1 title track. The song was unable to get onto the Pop chart.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"Save the Last Dance for Me" by Dolly Parton

Song#:  1724
Date:  12/10/1983
Debut:  78
Peak:  45
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Pop, Country Crossover, Synthpop

Pop Bits:  After breaking wide to a massive crossover audience with her album 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs and its #1 Pop/Country/AC single "9 to 5," Parton veered back towards country territory with her album Heartbreak Express. It resulted in two Country Top 10 hits, but no action on the Pop or AC charts. For her next album, Burlap & Satin, shades of pop began to leech back in, but the only single to get any action was the #20 Country entry "Potential New Boyfriend." With the album disappearing quickly, Parton was in need of a new sound and direction. What she chose to do was an album of cover songs from the 50s and 60s done with a modern synthpop flare titled The Great Pretender. With production by Val Garay (Kim Carnes, The Motels), Parton tackled chestnuts like "Turn! Turn! Turn!," "I Walk the Line," the title track, and this first single. Despite its decidedly pop production, the song was a hit at Country getting to #3. AC responded well and it got to #12. However, at Pop (the main audience this was geared toward) the response was tepid and the single stalled before it could get into the Top 40.

ReduxReview:  I think any artist who has released a lot of albums over a long period of time will have one or two head scratchers in their discography. The Great Pretender has to be one for Parton. I'm not sure who had the idea of Dolly doing an album of oldies with producer Garay, known for dark synthpop ("Bette Davis Eyes," "Suddenly Last Summer"), but the results were just...weird. This was a definite stab at the pop market and it just didn't work. Parton is an awesome vocalist, but she doesn't necessarily have the right tone and delivery for slick synthpop. The final product wasn't necessarily bad, just strange. A lot of the backing tracks, like this one, might have sounded interesting back in the day but now they sound like the pre-recorded tracks that a one-person band will use when playing in the bars. This one isn't even the oddest track. Her rendition of "I Walk the Line" is so strange that I can't make up my mind whether it is genius or horrific. "Turn! Turn! Turn!" is practically a mini-Steinman epic by the time it ends. It's Parton vs. Simmons drums! Several of the songs have this weird coda ending where Parton just riffs over the driving synths. It is really odd. Parton would do her share of covers over the years that were very successful ("Stairway to Heaven" from her 2002 LP Halos & Horns is awesome and her 2005 all-covers album Those Were the Days is excellent), but this particular album stands out as one very bizarre experiment in her recording career.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This is a remake of a song originally done by The Drifters in 1960. That recording was initially pegged as a b-side, but Dick Clark heard the song and deemed it the better song. With the tune now gracing the a-side, the single would hit #1 at both Pop and R&B. The song has been covered by many artist with two others reaching the Pop chart with their versions.  The DeFranco Family got to #18 with their take and crooner Michael BublĂ©'s version was a blip at #99 in 2006.  2) The background vocals on this song were supplied by The Jordanaires. Originally a gospel vocal group, they became famous when they began backing Elvis Presley on his recordings and tours. They would end up releasing their own albums over the years and have continued to perform 50+ years later (with some member changes, of course).


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"The Dream (Hold on to Your Dream)" by Irene Cara

Song#:  1723
Date:  12/10/1983
Debut:  79
Peak:  37
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Pop, Dance, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  Cara's first post-"Flashdance" single, "Why Me?," wasn't a major hit, but it did quite well getting to #13 on the Pop chart. It was the first new single from her album What a Feelin'. This next single tried to keep the ball rollin', but it didn't have the same appeal. It just barely made the Pop Top 40 while stalling at #26 Dance and #65 R&B. She would have better luck with the album's next single.

ReduxReview:  This song is fine, but it was made in the same mold as "Flashdance" and just sounds too similar to that hit. Not surprisingly, it was written by the same folks - Giorgio Moroder and Cara, except this time they traded Keith Forsey for Pete Belotte (Donna Summer). Also, notice the vocal part when she sings "the dreee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-eam!" It is the same as another Moroder/Forsey tune - Limah's "The NeverEnding Story," which would come out in 1984. Ahhh - song recycling at its best! I guess if it worked once, why not try it again? And put it in a movie as well! I don't necessarily mind this "Flashdance, Pt. 2," but I think the similarities to Cara's big hit hampered its chances of doing better.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  In addition to being on Cara's album, the song was also used in the movie D.C. Cab and served as the opening track on the related soundtrack album. Cara also appeared in the movie in a role that she was made for - herself. The film, about a rundown cab company in the District of Columbia, famously featured Mr. T in its cast along with Adam Baldwin and Gary Busey. One of the cab drivers is obsessed with Cara and has decked out his cab in all things Cara. She ends up as one of his fares.


Monday, July 18, 2016

"Red Hot" by Herb Alpert

Song#:  1722
Date:  12/10/1983
Debut:  83
Peak:  77
Weeks:  5
Genre:  Adult Contemporary, Instrumental

Pop Bits:  Alpert's album Blow Your Own Horn featured the song "Garden Party," which hit #14 at AC while spending a month near the bottom of the Pop chart. Although this second single would do just slightly better at Pop, no other chart would host it and the song disappeared quickly along with the album. The song was produced by his nephew Randy Badazz Alpert. Badazz and Andy Armer wrote and produced Alpert's 1979 #1 hit "Rise."

ReduxReview:  Regardless of the version (see below), the song is not all that great. I'm sure there is some kind of melody amid all the horn tooting and background noise, but it is hard to pick it out. Unlike "Rise," which had an excellent, memorable melody, this one flounders about between some sort of chorus and a bunch of trumpet and sax scat. At the time, Alpert owned his own label (A&M), so he could virtually do anything he wanted. It seems like in this early 80s period he was just noodling around looking for a sound that the kids might dig in order to get another "Rise" out of it. Unfortunately, it just wasn't working.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Although this may not technically be a cover tune as Alpert's version was issued first, this song was written by British songwriter/producer Howard Massey and it (most likely the demo) served as the b-side to a single that Massey released in 1981. The a-side of that single was "The Theme from Pop Quiz (Saturn Stomp)." That song was used as the theme to the BBC television program Pop Quiz, a game show that pits two teams of pop music stars against each other trying to answer questions about pop music. The show first aired in 1981 and initially ran for four seasons. It was brought back on three occasions, the last being in 2011. The show's Christmas special in 1984 was a game that featured members of Duran Duran vs. members of Spandau Ballet.  2) In addition to being somewhat of a cover, the song is also a repeat. It is a remix of a track Alpert had already recorded and included on his 1980 album Beyond. Apparently feeling that there was some life left in the song, the tune was updated from its disco-oriented production to something more modern.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

"Almost Over You" by Sheena Easton

Song#:  1721
Date:  12/10/1983
Debut:  84
Peak:  25
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Easton got out of the ballad rut and issued the Euro-dance tune "Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair)" from her album Best Kept Secret. It became her third Pop Top 10 hit reaching #9. For the LP's second single, Easton reverted back to ballad mode and issued this track. Like some of her previous ballads, the tune did well at AC, getting to #4, but could only muster an okay showing at Pop.

ReduxReview:  While this is a quality song, I just think the mature, AC tunes Easton was doing were not what listeners wanted from her. "Telefone" had a younger, fresher sound and it resulted in a Top 10. Going back to an old-fashioned pop ballad seemed to age her sound quickly and it just wasn't working. I think she (and her label) finally realized that and her next album was much more modern. As for this single, it's a lovely tune that worked for AC, but it just wasn't hip enough for Pop.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:   This song was co-written by Jennifer Kimball and Cindy Richardson. By the end of the decade, Kimball would be part of a duo that made a few waves on the indie/folk scene. She and college friend Jonatha Brooke had been playing around Boston as a duo for a while in the 80s before a demo song they did got them signed to Green Linnet Records. Now billed as The Story, the pair issued two well received albums in 1991 and 1993. They split after the second album with each pursuing a solo career. Kimball was able to release two solo discs in years following, but to little notice. However, Brooke's 1995 solo debut, Plumb, got a lot of attention and she quickly garnered a solid following on the contemporary folk scene. Several more critically lauded albums would follow.