Saturday, November 26, 2016

"Don't Waste My Time" by Yarbrough & Peoples

Song#:  1862
Date:  04/14/1984
Debut:  92
Peak:  48
Weeks:  12
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  This R&B duo hit it big when their 1980 debut single "Don't Stop the Music" topped the R&B chart (#19 Pop). Their associated album The Two of Us would also get to #1 at R&B and go gold. They hit a minor bump in the road with their second album Heartbeats. The title track went to #10 at R&B, but it wasn't enough to really boost sales of the album and it sputtered out. They rebounded back with this first single from their third album Be a Winner. The song became their second R&B #1 while nearly reaching the Pop Top 40. The album would get them back into the R&B Top 10.

ReduxReview:  Although it's not quite as immediately catchy as "Don't Stop the Music," the groove of this one sinks in after a few listens. It could use a more distinct chorus, but the rolling rhythm and production are top-notch. Eventually you get wrapped up in the whole thing and before long you realize the speakers are blaring the groove. It was another tasty single from Y&P.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This track was written by Jonah Ellis. He also co-wrote the duo's other #1 "Don't Stop the Music." Ellis first recorded as the front man of the band Jonah and the Whales. They had a local hit in 1968 with "Savannah Sun," but it didn't break nationally. Ellis continued to work as a musician with acts like The Drifters and The Temptations before hooking up with Total Experience Records where he became a house songwriter and producer. He would work with artists like The Gap Band before having his best success with Yarbrough & Peoples. Besides a one-off Christmas single for a compilation, Ellis never set out on a solo career.


Friday, November 25, 2016

"Oh Sherrie!" by Steve Perry

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  1861
Date:  04/07/1984
Debut:  47
Peak:  3
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  Perry's early career was pretty much a non-starter. He fronted a few bands and did some recordings, but nothing came from any of the ventures. In the early 70s, he started a band called Alien Project that showed some promise. Demos were recorded, yet still there was little interest in the band. Following the death of a band member, Perry called it quits and moved back home. He was ready to give up music until he received a call from the manager of a prog rock band called Journey. The band's lead singer was basically going to be ousted and they were looking for a replacement. Perry got the job and Journey's fourth LP, Infinity, became their breakthrough. After four more hit studio albums, Journey was one of the biggest arena rock bands in the world. Following the the tour that supported their Frontiers album, the band decided to take a break. During that time, Perry decided to record a solo album. He co-wrote and recorded Street Talk and this song was chosen as the LPs lead single. Accompanied by a popular MTV video, the song became a #1 Rock hit while getting to #3 Pop and #33 AC. It helped to send the album to #12 and over time it would be a double-platinum seller.

ReduxReview:  The one thing that this single demonstrated was that Perry was not just going to regurgitate the Journey formula for his solo outing. When it came down to it, this song was just pure pop music. There was no arena rock going on. It was just a pop ode to a girl supported by a solid production. And it worked very well. The rest of the album followed suit with soft rock tunes, AC-leaning ballads, and even a Motown-inspired track (the terrific "I Believe"). But rising above it all was "Oh Sherrie" and it became his signature solo song.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  So who was Sherrie? She was actually Perry's girlfriend at the time. During the period when Journey was enjoying their greatest success, Perry was dating Sherrie Swafford. She served as the inspiration for the song and also appeared in the video. Unfortunately, like a lot of rock 'n' roll relationships, theirs came to an end before the 80s were out. Swafford kept a low profile following the breakup. Apparently, she lives a quiet life, never got married and is an esthetician.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

"Let's Hear It for the Boy" by Deniece Williams

#1 Alert!
Platinum Record Alert!
Song#:  1860
Date:  04/07/1984
Debut:  56
Peak:  1 (2 weeks)
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Pop, Dance, R&B, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  During the filming of the movie Footloose, a song that was selected for a specific scene Just wasn't working for director Herbert Ross. So screenwriter/songwriter Dean Pitchford set out to write a new tune for the scene and called on a previous collaborator Tom Snow to help. They came up with "Let's Hear It for the Boy" and then asked R&B star Deniece Williams to record the tune with her producer George Duke. They agreed and the song ended up being a perfect fit for the scene. As the film was starting to become a box office hit, its title-track theme song, done by Kenny Loggins, shot up to #1. While occupying that position for a second week, this single debuted on the Pop chart. It would be a major hit getting to #1 at Pop, R&B, and Dance. The song's crossover appeal allowed it to hit platinum status. Williams would receive Grammy nod for the tune in both the Pop and R&B vocal categories and the song would get an Oscar nod as well. It would be Williams' second Pop #1 following her 1978 duet with Johnny Mathis, "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late." Unfortunately, it would be the last time Williams would score a major hit on the Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  Okay, how can you not be happy listening to this? This song is filled with pure, upbeat joy. Everything about it was near-perfection from Duke's production to Williams' wonderful vocal take. Just one listen to this song and you knew it was going to be a hit. My favorite part? During the outro where Williams does this high-pitched "doo-op-op-op" lick. I can't help but do that part whenever I hear the song. It's hilarious and fills me with glee.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  The background vocals on this song were provided by George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam. The pair were mainly known for their songwriting skills and two of their songs were used for Williams' Let's Hear It for the Boy LP. In a few years, the soon-to-be husband and wife team would write two smash hits for Whitney Houston - "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)." They would have their own success as artists under the moniker of Boy Meets Girl. The duo would score the #5 1988 hit "Waiting for a Star to Fall."


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"Run Runaway" by Slade

Song#:  1859
Date:  04/07/1984
Debut:  67
Peak:  20
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Hard Rock

Pop Bits:  Much like their fellow countryman Cliff Richard, the band Slade was wildly successful in their UK homeland while not making much of an impact in the US. Between 1971 and 1975, the band scored thirteen UK Top 10's with six of them going to #1. However, Slade's brand of glam rock was virtually ignored in the US and all they could manage were four very minor Pop chart entries with 1972's "Gudbuy T'Jane" doing the best at #68. By 1975, the band felt that they had conquered the UK and Europe and wanted to focus their efforts on doing the same in the US. They packed up, moved to the States, and began touring. Although the response to their live shows was very strong, their singles and albums failed. After a two-year attempt with no results, the band went back home. They floundered for the balance of the decade and by the 80s they really weren't sure if they were going to continue forward. Then in 1980 they got a huge break. When Ozzy Osbourne dropped out of the Reading Festival, Slade was approached as a replacement. They accepted and ended up putting on a legendary show. It rejuvenated interest in the band and they headed back into the studio. In 1981, they returned to the UK Top 10 for the first time in seven years with the song "We'll Bring the House Down." Over the next couple of years they would grab two more Top 10's including this song. The US remained indifferent until the US band Quiet Riot grabbed a #5 hit with a cover of Slade's 1973 UK #1 "Cum on Feel the Noize." With their profile raised, a decision was made to push "Run Runaway" in the States. Accompanied by a popular MTV video, the song took off and topped the Rock chart while going Top 20 at Pop. It took nearly fifteen years, but Slade finally landed their first hit in America.

ReduxReview:  Although this band influenced a lot of artists, like many folks I hadn't heard of them until Quiet Riot covered their songs. I haven't explored a lot of their back catalog, but from the songs I have heard I can tell that they are a solid band with a lot of fun material. Even though it came way late in their career, this particular single was terrific for the US market at the time. The style of rock was just right and the lean towards Scottish music was timely thanks Big Country's recent hit "In a Big Country." It was also catchy as hell with a call n' response verse that was hard to ignore. Their US popularity would be short-lived, but at least they were able to grab some chart love with this very fun blast of rock.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Unlike a lot of bands, from their formation in 1969 through to their breakup in 1992, Slade never had any personnel changes. The same four members that started the band stayed together for all of those years.  2) The melody of this song was based on an old Scottish hymn titled "There Is a Happy Land." The original hymn was written in 1838 by Scottish schoolmaster and poet Andrew Young.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

"Olympia" by Sergio Mendes

Song#:  1858
Date:  04/07/1984
Debut:  77
Peak:  58
Weeks:  7
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  Mendes' career came back into the spotlight when his 1983 self-titled pop-oriented LP spawned the #4 hit "Never Gonna Let You Go." Sung by Joe Pizzulo and Leza Miller, the song would spend four weeks atop the AC chart. With that success, Mendes decided to stay in the pop/AC arena and recorded his next LP Confetti. This first single got things started and it once again featured the vocals of Joe Pizzulo. Unfortunately, the tune wasn't attracting listeners and is stalled at #18 at AC while remaining in the lower half of the Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  I'm sure I've mentioned before that Mann and Weil (see below) are fantastic songwriters. However, it seems that writing a big-ass sporting anthem is not in their wheelhouse. Admittedly, it's a tough task to write a song for an event like this. It has to be inspirational, catchy, anthematic, and appealing to folks of all ages. It's rough. It's similar to trying to write a Christmas song that will turn into an annual classic. In either case, it can't be forced. It just has to be something that comes out or you were inspired to do. This just sounds manufactured to me. It has a slight lean towards a Jim Steinman epic, but it never really reaches that goal. It seems to check all the boxes needed in order to be an anthem (bombast, big vocals, effects, inspirational lyrics, a bright chorus with two words that can be yelled out, etc.), but checked boxes alone don't make a great song and this one misses the mark by a mile. I happened to come across a review of this song that said it "sounds like a beer commercial" and they are exactly right! Listening to it again, I though for sure a voice was gonna come in during the instrumental part saying "so crack open a Bud and toast your athletes - go 'Murica!"

ReduxRating:  2/10

Trivia:  This song was written by the famous team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. As the title suggests, it was written specifically for the 1984 summer Olympic Games that were held in Los Angeles. Apparently, the choir used in the background (credited as the Olympic Choir) was a gathering of around a thousand volunteers from local schools and churches. The video for the song even features a little historical segment about how the games originally came into being. Despite all the fanfare surrounding the games, the anthem fell flat. And for some reason, it was not included on the official soundtrack album for the games that featured songs by Toto, Foreigner, Christopher Cross, Loverboy, and others.


Monday, November 21, 2016

"She's Strange" by Cameo

Song#:  1857
Date:  04/07/1984
Debut:  80
Peak:  47
Weeks:  11
Genre:  R&B, Funk

Pop Bits:  In the early 70s, musician Larry Blackmon formed the band East Coast, which featured future R&B star Gwen Guthrie. They issued one self-titled album in 1973 that disappeared quickly. Blackmon then moved on to form the New York City Players. With a total of ten members, the band quickly gained a solid following that led to a contract with Casablanca's Chocolate City label in 1976. Paired back to eight members, the band changed their name to Cameo (due to a conflict with the popular group Ohio Players) and issued a debut album in 1977. Their first three LPs all went Top 20 at R&B, but they were still looking for their first Top 10 single. That came when their fourth album spawned the R&B #3 hit "I Just Want to Be" in 1979. The album went gold as did their next four. Despite gathering five more R&B Top 10 hits, Cameo could not breakthrough on the Pop chart. That is until this title track single from their tenth album did the trick. The song would be their first to reach #1 at R&B and their first to finally crossover to the Pop chart. Although it would miss out on the Top 40, it did well enough to expand their audience. The album would also be their first to hit #1 at R&B and would be their sixth to go gold.

ReduxReview:  Like a lot of the horn-driven R&B/funk bands of the 70s, Cameo was trying to find its way in the new synth- and electro-funk sounds of the 80s. Add to that the increasing popularity of rap/hip hop and the old guard bands found themselves being left behind. Cameo was one of the bands that decided to start embracing the changes and began incorporating new sounds in their recordings. After trying a few new things with their 1982 LP Style, they finally hit on a successful formula with this song. They gathered a lot of the current musical fashions, pushed them all through a mysterious groove, and the result was this terrific jam. The bits of rap, new wave, funk, and synthpop worked well together and it deservedly hit the top of the R&B chart. It should have done a whole lot better at Pop, but that format was still trying to adapt to the changes in music and tasty morsels like this were still getting left behind.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  As time went on, the member count of Cameo fluctuated. When the band started out there were ten members. As they began recording, it slipped down to eight. They then settled into a nine member lineup for several albums before adding one more person for a couple LPs. By 1982, the band consisted of five members. This was reduced to four during the time period that the She's Strange album was recorded. Their follow-up album would further reduce the number to three, which would be the standard throughout the rest of their heydays.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

"Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Song#:  1856
Date:  04/07/1984
Debut:  84
Peak:  67
Weeks:  7
Genre:  Dance-Pop, Synthpop

Pop Bits:  Never underestimate the promotional power of being "banned by the BBC." Case in point, this single from the UK band Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The group started to generate some buzz after a few performances, but a couple of labels didn't really know what to do with them and they remained unsigned. That is until producer Trevor Horn saw them on a TV program and signed them to his ZTT label. Horn saw potential in their song "Relax" and reformed it into something he thought would be a hit. Released in October of '83, the single was slowly making its way up the UK chart. After the band was featured on the Top of the Pops show, the song bounded into the Top 10. It might have remained just a popular Top 10 hit, but then a BBC Radio 1 DJ focused on the single's cover image and lyrics and began to rant on how offensive it all was. Although the BBC was also taking notice and making plans to band the song, the DJ's reaction certainly help make it clear that the tune should never be played on BBC radio or TV. Of course, the ban then put a spotlight on the lyrics and quickly after the controversy brewed, the single shot to #1 where it remained for five weeks. It would end up spending a year on the chart and become one of the UK's best-selling singles of all-time. The BBC would lift their ban late in '84. In the US, the song and controversy were initially met with yawns and shrugs. When first released, the single sputtered out in the lower third of the Pop chart. It just didn't catch on. Of course we all know that would change, but it would take nearly nine months before the US paid attention to Frankie and "Relax."

ReduxReview:  Probably like a lot of folks, this song didn't hit my radar until it got reissued early in '85. I loved it right off the bat. I think what attracted me to it more than anything was the production by Trevor Horn. It just sounded so damn good cranked to eleven! A lot of synth-driven songs at the time sounded so one-dimensional and flat whereas this song was cinematic. The sex-driven lyrics that made my young college-age ears perk up were actually crucial to the success of the song as well. Actually, I still can't believe this got such major airplay on US stations. In general, I consider the States a bit more prudish than the Brits or Europe in general, so the fact it ended up banned in the UK yet the US was just "eh, whatever..." was quite interesting. To help smooth over the controversy, the band initially stated that the song was not about sex, but about motivation. Everyone knew that was a bullshit lie. Just one listen to lead singer Holly Johnson saying "come" followed by him going "huah!" and then a big shooting splash sound was all it took to know what the song meant. It was all pretty awesome and the song became a classic of the day.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  So what's with the name? Apparently it stems from a painting by Belgian artist Guy Peellaert that appeared in The New Yorker magazine. The pop-art painting resembled a section of a newspaper that featured a photo of Frank Sinatra being mobbed by fans. The headline above the photo said "Frankie Goes Hollywood." The band spotted the image, added a word to the headline, and became Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Peellaert was already a famous artist in the music world having created cover art for artist like The Rolling Stones and, most famously, for David Bowie's Diamond Dogs album. He also did poster art for movies such as Taxi Driver and Wings of Desire.