Saturday, October 8, 2016

"Taxi" by J. Blackfoot

Song#:  1812
Date:  03/03/1984
Debut:  95
Peak:  90
Weeks:  5
Genre:  R&B, Quiet Storm

Pop Bits:  While serving time for auto theft, John Colbert was inspired by another prisoner who had formed a vocal group. Upon his release, Colbert decided to follow the music path and eventually he was selected by Stax Records' Dave Porter and Isaac Hayes to join a new group called The Soul Children. The vocal quartet began charting at R&B in 1968 and over time placed three singles in the Top 10. Those same three songs also found their way on the Pop chart with 1973's "I'll Be the Other Woman" doing the best at #36. After the group split in 1979, Colbert played with several bands around Memphis before striking out on his own. Signing with the Sound Town label, Colbert recorded his debut album City Slicker under his new moniker J. Blackfoot (his nickname was Blackfoot due to him walking around town barefoot). This first single was lifted from the LP and it became a hit at R&B reaching #4. It did well enough to catch some Pop action and it made a brief appearance near the bottom of the chart. Blackfoot would grab seven more chart entries at R&B, but none would get close to the peak of "Taxi." He would continue recording and performing over the years and even restarted The Soul Children in 2007. Blackfoot would pass away from pancreatic cancer in 2011.

ReduxReview:  This is some real ol' school soul. I'm surprised that it was a hit as it just didn't seem in-step with the times. However, I'm glad it was able to scale the R&B charts as it is a good song. Blackfoot is not a strong vocalist, but he does a great job selling the tune. I wasn't sure what I was in for when it opened with street sounds and a little monologue from Blackfoot, but everything settled in just fine when the song got started. It's a solid throwback gem that luckily found an audience in the 80s.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1)  Blackfoot's solo career began thanks to a connection he had from his Soul Children days. Homer Banks had written and produced songs for the vocal group including their biggest hit, the R&B #3 "I'll Be the Other Woman." Banks and Chuck Brooks had written "Taxi" specifically for R&B star Johnnie Taylor. However, it was taking too long to get Taylor to record the song so Banks decided to get another artist to sing it. That is when Banks called Blackfoot into the studio to record the tune. It became a hit and put Blackfoot on the path to a successful solo career.  2) Blackfoot almost fronted another famous R&B band. The Bar-Kays started their career off with an R&B Top 10 in 1967 titled "Soul Finger." They were a hot band and it seemed they would be highly successful. Unfortunately, while on tour four members were killed in the plane crash that also took the life of legendary singer Otis Redding. Only one member survived while another member was not on the plane. The pair decided to rebuild the band and initially Blackfoot was selected to be the lead singer. But then Porter and Hayes came calling and Blackfoot went on to The Soul Children.


Friday, October 7, 2016

"They Don't Know" by Tracey Ullman

Top 10 Alert!
One-Hit Wonder Alert!
Song#:  1811
Date:  02/25/1984
Debut:  63
Peak:  8
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  It's hard to believe now, but Ullman was virtually unknown in the US at this time. In her UK home she was already a major comedy star thank to her roles on two BBC sketch programs A Kick Up the Eighties and Three of a Kind, but she had not crossed the Atlantic yet. While doing Three of a Kind, she had a chance encounter with the wife of Dave Robinson, the head of Stiff Records. Ullman was asked if she wanted to make a record and she though - why not? Some folks advised her that it was not a good idea, but Ullman forged ahead and recorded an album of retro 60s-style tunes titled You Broke My Heart in 17 Places. Her first single in the UK was "Breakaway," a remake of a 1964 b-side tune by Irma Thomas. It was an immediate hit and reached #4 on the chart. "They Don't Know" followed and became her biggest hit at #2. A third single, "Move Over Darling" (a 1963 Doris Day song) wound up at #8. The success of the album and singles pushed Stiff to try the US market. Ullman's first single would be "They Don't Know." Thanks in part to a video that featured a cameo by Paul McCartney, the song took off and got into the Pop Top 10. It also reached #11 at AC. It was a great introduction to Ullman who would go on to major success in the US on TV, but for her music career, this hit would be about it (she would have one low-charting follow-up later in the year). The single Top 10 got her pegged as a one-hit wonder. Luckily, her TV and film work made her a real star and pretty much overshadowed this oddball classic 80s tune.

ReduxReview:  I totally fell for this song when it came out. It was an excellent song perfectly dressed in 60s girl group glam. I loved Ullman's album as well, which had some really fun remakes. But the best thing coming from this for me was Kirsty MacColl (see below). I wouldn't fully discover her until 1991, but once I did I was a huge fan. She was a terrific singer/songwriter who just couldn't get a break in the US. Her untimely death broke my heart, but her musical legacy lives on. If you don't know her work, go listen. Her Galore! collection is a good starter, but her albums Titanic Days and Tropical Brainstorm are excellent. The latter contains a song that has gained some airplay over the years - "In These Shoes?" has been used on TV and even in figure skating. Bette Midler covered the song for her 2001 album Bette. The song hit #8 on the Dance chart. As for Ullman, her second album wasn't as good, but it still had a few gems. I think I became a bigger fan of her once she was on TV, but I still like to hear her albums once in a while.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This song came courtesy of Ullman's labelmate at Stiff, Kirsty MacColl. MacColl wrote and recorded her tune in 1979. Picked up by radio stations, the song ended up being a #2 hit for airplay and seemed destined to be a hit on the UK chart. Unfortunately, a strike prevented the actual single from getting distributed and because the main chart was based on sales, the song was unable to chart. Luckily, Ullman got the tune and recorded it and the song finally became a hit. MacColl even supplied background vocals for it and provided her signature "baby!" shout out at the end of the instrumental section. Despite having seventeen chart singles in the UK, including two Top 10's, MacColl was never really able to break through in the US. Sadly, she died in 2000 in a boating accident in Mexico.  2) After this song hit, Ullman's comedic skills started to get attention. Eventually she was offered her own skit show on the new fledgling Fox network. The Tracey Ullman Show debuted in 1987. It ended up being a hit and ran through to 1990. Along the way, the show nabbed ten Emmy awards with three of those going to Ullman. Most famously, Ullman's show served as the launching pad for another hit TV show - The Simpsons. Originally conceived as short bumpers for the show, the family cartoon became popular enough in its own right to get spun off into its own show. As of this blog date, the show is still on the air in its 28th season, making it the longest running American scripted show in TV history. Ullman later voiced a character in an episode as a dog trainer who is helping Bart with Santa's Little Helper.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

"Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" by Phil Collins

#1 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Grammy Alert!
Song#:  1810
Date:  02/25/1984
Debut:  67
Peak:  1 (3 weeks)
Weeks:  24
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  While Genesis was doing well with their 1983 self-titled album, lead singer Phil Colllins wrote and performed this title song to the upcoming 1984 Taylor Hackford film Against All Odds, starring Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward. The song was initially titled "How Can You Just Sit There?" and was intended as a possible track on Collins' 1981 debut album Face Value. With Arif Mardin producing, Collins adjusted the song and its lyrics to fit the film in and it ended up being played over the closing credits. The power ballad was released as a single and it shot up to #1, becoming Collins' first Pop chart topper. It also got to #1 at Rock and #2 at AC. When awards season came up, this song got several nods. It was nominated for Best Original Song at both the Oscars and the Golden Globes, plus Grammy nods for Song of the Year and Pop Male Vocal. Collins won the latter category. The song was so popular that it is even attributed to boosting the box office receipts of the film, which was not very well reviewed.

ReduxReview:  Here's the one that put Collins over the top as a pop solo artist. He'd already gone Top 10 with a remake ("You Can't Hurry Love") and one with Genesis ("That's All"), but this mega-ballad connected with a far bigger audience. It was just the right song at the right time. It helps that the production and arrangement were top-notch and that Collins sang the hell out of it. I certainly fell for it along with everyone else and I still think it's one of the top power ballads of the decade.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  This song caused one of the weirdest moments in Oscar history. All the tunes nominated in '84 for Best Original Song were big #1 hits, including this one by Collins. Typically, the original artists are asked to perform their song at the ceremony, but for some inexplicable reason, the producers of the show didn't think Collins was a big enough music star to perform on the show, even though he cleared his schedule to attend the event. Instead, they got someone else to do a performance. Broadway star Ann Reinking was tapped to sing (well, mime) and dance to the song. Collins was forced to sit in the audience and watch. It was bizarre to say the least. The snub and performance certainly didn't go unnoticed by critics pretty much shamed the producers and nixed Reinking's strange interpretation.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"Tonight" by Kool & the Gang

Song#:  1809
Date:  02/25/1984
Debut:  68
Peak:  13
Weeks:  18
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  After a bit of a slump in their career, Kool & the Gang got back into the Pop Top 10 with the #2 hit "Joanna." The gold-selling ballad would also reach #1 at R&B and #2 at AC. For a follow-up, they chose this track from their album In the Heart. It would peak inside the Top 10 at R&B (#7), but just missed that mark at Pop.

ReduxReview:  The Gang gets back to an R&B groove with this tune and it works out well for them. It's not vastly different from some of their previous upbeat singles, which were becoming a bit stale by this time, however it does have the advantage of featuring a memorable chorus and a solid groove. I wouldn't rank it among their best, but it was certainly better than some of their more recent efforts.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  "Joanna" was a hit overseas as well reaching #2 in the UK in a double-sided hit with "Tonight." However, prior to that the track "Straight Ahead" was issued as a single. It wasn't a major hit, but it did reach #15 on the UK chart. The song was later released in the US as the album's third single, but it could only muster a #49 showing at R&B while missing the Pop chart completely.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

"Hello" by Lionel Richie

#1 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  1808
Date:  02/25/1984
Debut:  75
Peak:  1 (2 weeks)
Weeks:  24
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary, R&B

Pop Bits:  After a couple of upbeat jams, Richie issued this ballad as the third single from his #1 album Can't Slow Down. The song would be a major hit thanks in part to its famous concept video. It would be Richie's second solo song following "All Night Long (All Night)" to reach #1 on three charts - Pop, AC, and R&B (third if you count "Endless Love," his duet with Diana Ross). The song would also go on to grab a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.

ReduxReview:  Now really, who can forget the video for this song with Richie pining after a blind student who ends up sculpting some kind of weird head that is supposed to look like Richie? Both the video and song ended up being the butt of jokes and the subjects of parodies for years. It's even been used to comedic effect in TV shows and movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Over time it seems like the song has become more known for being an 80s pop culture moment rather than for its actual artistic merit. Honestly, I've never really cared for the tune. I think it's a bit corny and overwrought. However, there is no denying that Richie did an excellent job with the tune and that the production/arrangement is top-notch. I still kind of roll my eyes and go "ugh" when I happen to hear it, but I do recognize that in general it is a fine song that many people adore.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  According to an interview with Richie, the inspiration for this song came when his co-producer James Anthony Carmichael came over to Richie's house to write songs. As Carmichael turned the corner into the room where Richie was, Richie said "Hello. Is it me you're looking for?" Carmichael looked at him and said "finish that song!" Initially, Richie though the whole idea was corny, but after writing the verse, he ended up liking the song. However, even after recording the tune, Richie wasn't convinced it belong on the album. He almost chucked the song along with "All Night Long" and "Running with the Night," but then was convinced by others that the songs needed to be on the LP. In the end, Can't Slow Down became Motown's biggest selling album.


Monday, October 3, 2016

"Holding Out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler

Song#:  1807
Date:  02/25/1984
Debut:  84
Peak:  34
Weeks:  13
Genre:  Rock, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  For his music-based film Footloose, screenwriter Dean Pitchford worked with several songwriters to co-write the tunes for the soundtrack. One of those songwriters was Jim Steinman, who had written and produced epic singles for Bonnie Tyler, Air Supply, and others. After the pair came up with "Holding Out for a Hero," a vocalist was needed so Steinman suggested Tyler might be a good fit. With Steinman producing, Tyler tore through this anxious tune and it made it to the film and its soundtrack. While Kenny Loggins' title-track hit was still climbing its way to #1, this song was issued as the second single from the soundtrack. It got as far as the Top 40, but then sputtered out. However, it would later become a big hit in the UK reaching #2.

ReduxReview:  I loved this massively overproduced tune when it came out and thought for sure it would be a big hit. Pitchford seemed to think the same thing since it became the second single issued from the soundtrack. Unfortunately it fell short of expectations. It's just a guess, but I'm thinking that folks were tiring of Steinman's bombastic compositions and this one was just way over the top. Steinman used everything but the kitchen sink for this one. It was a loud, dense workout that practically made listeners tired by the end. Surprisingly, this song has gained a bigger audience over the years thanks to its use in TV shows, films, and commercials. I think it ended up being more popular over time than when it first came out. It's still an exciting, yet exhausting song.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  As Jim Steinman often did, a portion of this song is recycled from another one of his compositions. The instrumental sections (mainly the keyboard riff with the "do-do-do" vocals) were lifted from Steinman's 1981 tune "Stark Raving Love." Originally written for a Meat Loaf that didn't happen, Steinman recorded "Stark Raving Love" for his solo disc Bad for Good. That LP featured Steinman's only solo charting single, "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through" (#32).


Sunday, October 2, 2016

"White Horse" by Laid Back

Song#:  1806
Date:  02/25/1984
Debut:  85
Peak:  26
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Electro-Funk

Pop Bits:  This Danish duo of  John Guldberg and Tim Stahl developed an interest in the new electronic music scene and began experimenting with beats, synths, and sounds. They formally founded Laid Back in 1980 and the following year issued their self-titled debut. It would featured the song "Maybe I'm Crazy," which would be a big hit in Denmark. No one else paid much attention to them until they released their second album ...Keep Smiling and its single "Sunshine Reggae." That song would end up in the Top 10 of several European charts. It was then issued in the US, but it just wasn't clicking. However, some DJs flipped the single over and started playing the b-side, "White Horse." The funky tune caught on and soon it topped the US Dance chart. It would also reach #5 at R&B. There was interest in the song at Pop and it did get into the Top 30, but the song's controversial lyrics ("white horse" is slang for heroin and "bitch" is repeated in the tune) may have kept it from getting airplay on more stations. The duo's next LP was a complete miss everywhere except for the US where the song "One Life" managed to get to #10 at Dance. They would score one more significant hit in Europe in 1989 with "Bakerman," but that would be about it. The duo has continued to record and work on other projects over the years.

ReduxReview:  I'm not really sure if Prince copped from this song or not, but it certainly reminds me of "Erotic City," the b-side to "When Doves Cry," which was released later in 1984. I was always surprised that this minimalistic song did so well. With very few words (or even melody) and just a steady, funky groove, it didn't seem like hit material. I really wasn't impressed with it at at the time, but I do like it now. I'd actually consider it just slightly ahead of its time. Had it been released a year or two later, it might have been a bigger hit.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) In addition to their own albums, the duo branched out into the world of film scoring. In 2001, they wrote the score for the Danish family film Flyvende farmor. The pair would end up winning the Robert Award for Best Score. The Robert Awards are Denmark's equivalent to the US's Academy Awards.  2) The video for their 1989 hit "Bakerman" was directed by Palme d'Or winner (Cannes Film Festival) Lars von Trier. It features skydivers doing routines with band instruments while also miming the song. Like von Trier's film works, the video is quite interesting.