Saturday, December 10, 2016

"The Reflex" by Duran Duran

#1 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  1876
Date:  04/21/1984
Debut:  46
Peak:  1 (2 weeks)
Weeks:  21
Genre:  New Wave

Pop Bits:  Duran Duran continued their hot streak when the first two singles from their album Seven and the Ragged Tiger reached the Top 10 - the #3 "Union of the Snake" and the #10 "New Moon on Monday." At best, the band was most likely hoping for a Top 10 finish for this single, however it exceeded expectations and ended up topping the Pop chart. At the time it was a bit rare to have an album's third single hit #1, especially after the previous ones did not, but this song did that for the band. Boosted by an MTV video, the song took off and ended up topping the Pop chart while getting to #15 Dance and #35 Rock. It would be their first US #1 and their second UK #1.

ReduxReview:  This song is both terrific and terrifically annoying. I was a bit on the fence about their previous two singles and wondered if I'd ever really like Duran Duran again. Then this song came along and it hit my ears just right. The single version (see below) sounded awesome and the chorus was hard to deny. I went out and immediately got the single which was housed in this cool sleeve that turned into a poster (I still have it). However, the annoying part is the lyrics. Duran Duran were never great at conveying ideas in their lyrics but this one was just nonsensical. Sometimes when artists write songs and they don't have lyrics yet, they just make up stuff so they can sing the song and hear the melody. Usually these riffs are eventually replaced with real lyrics. This song sounds like the band just kept their scratch lyrics. The words are utterly meaningless. In fact, in an interview lead singer Simon Le Bon said he had no idea what the song was about. Although it's annoying that the words mean nothing, what they did scribble down ended up being kind of charming and very catchy. So it seemed to all work out. I guess everyone can apply their own meaning to the song. It is easily one of their best singles.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  This single version is a bit different from the one that appeared on the album. In order to boost the single potential of the tune, producer Nile Rodgers was brought in to do a remix. The new glossy sheen applied to the song by Rodgers turned the album track into something a bit more appealing to radio listeners. The remix worked very well and it got the band their first #1 hit.


Friday, December 9, 2016

"The Heart of Rock & Roll" by Huey Lewis & the News

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  1875
Date:  04/21/1984
Debut:  51
Peak:  6
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  The band's third album Sports was shaping up to be a major hit. I already spawned two Top 10 hits, "Heart and Soul" and "I Want a New Drug" (#6), and this next single became the third one to reach those heights. It would also get to #5 at Rock. It was during the run of this song that the album finally captured the top spot on the Album chart. Although it would remain there for only a week, the LP's longevity on the chart and time in the Top 10 helped it get ranked as the #2 chart album of the year.

ReduxReview:  This was the song that finally prompted me to buy the album. I liked the three hits and thought that the album had to be just as good. However, besides the hits, I really didn't like the album all that much. I kind of shrugged it off and tossed it to the back of the listening pile. Then I ended up getting Huey fatigue because the singles seemed to be constantly playing on the radio. I was over them quickly. This song was a good one and I enjoyed it at the time, but I don't think it has aged as well as some of the band's other hits. It's a corny crowd pleaser that I don't mind hearing, but I don't seek it out. As an oboist, I was never fond of the line "now the oboe may be barely breathing..."

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  There are a lot of sixes going on here. This song, plus two others from from Sports, peaked at #6. The band had 6 members. I rated this song a 6. Finally, in 2004 Blender magazine placed this song at #6 on their list of the 50 Worst Songs Ever. While that last one may not seem good, the list drew attention to the songs, which translated into some additional airplay and sales. That's not necessarily a bad thing if you wrote, published, and/or licensed the song as it's only gonna pad your pockets. The heart of commerce is still beatin'...


Thursday, December 8, 2016

"You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)" by Joe Jackson

Song#:  1874
Date:  04/21/1984
Debut:  60
Peak:  15
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Jazz-Pop

Pop Bits:  After a stopover with the soundtrack to the movie Mike's Murder, Jackson returned to the studio to record the follow-up to his #4 1982 LP Night and Day. Instead of repeating the synthpop new wave sounds of that album, Jackson decided to toss together elements of pop, jazz, and R&B and came up with Body and Soul. This horn-driven first single got things started and it ended up doing quite well hitting the Top 20. It would also do about the same at Rock (#12), AC (#13), and Dance (#14).

ReduxReview:  Hearing this song now, I actually can't believe it did so well on the charts. I could imagine a good showing at AC, but #15 Pop? It was a sophisticated song that didn't necessarily fall in line with what the kids were listening to. I'm pretty certain that adults were the ones that drove the popularity of the song and I'm really glad that happened. I thought it was a terrific song that sounded great on radio. I was already a fan of Jackson's and got the album, which is probably my second favorite of his following Night and Day.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Jackson's given name is David Ian Jackson. When he first started playing in bands he went by David Jackson. While in one of those early bands, people began calling him Joe instead of David. This was because some folks thought that Jackson looked like the Peanuts cartoon character Snoopy when he donned his Joe Cool guise and played piano. After a while, the name Joe stuck and by 1978 it became Jackson's official stage name when he formed the Joe Jackson Band and released the debut album Look Sharp!


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"Modern Day Delilah" by Van Stephenson

Song#:  1873
Date:  04/21/1984
Debut:  71
Peak:  22
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  As a songwriter, Stephenson was selling tunes to country artists and doing quite well. He then jumped into being a solo artist and his first more pop-leaning effort, 1981's China Girl, produced the minor Pop chart single "You've Got a Good Love Coming" (#79). The results were not great, but Stephenson pushed forward and got a new record deal with MCA. His first album for them, Righteous Anger, included this first single, which became his first and only one to reach the Pop Top 40. It would also be a hit at Rock going to #9.

ReduxReview:  Here is a song that despite getting near the Top 20 was really overlooked. The tune was well-written, had a great chorus, and had a top-notch production. I thought for sure it was destined for the Top 10, but it stopped way short. Then it kind of disappeared. Some medium charting songs end up having extra life due to inclusion on compilations or being picked up on radio or streaming or being used in TV shows or movies. For some reason, this has remained a lost gem. It truly deserved a better fate. The album was pretty good too. I believe I still have my copy somewhere. I think my favorite part of the song is the intro and outro with the mysterious guitar lick and scissor snip sound effect. This song needs to be resurrected stat!

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  While Stephenson was enjoying his solo success, he continued to write songs for other artists. He ended up co-writing several songs that found their way to the 1985 self-titled debut album by the country group Restless Heart. Over the course of four albums, Restless Heart recorded several songs co-written by Stephenson. Some of those songs ended up being released as singles. Four of those songs went Top 10 at Country with one of them topping the chart, 1988's "The Bluest Eyes in Texas."


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"I Cry Just a Little Bit" by Shakin' Stevens

Song#:  1872
Date:  04/21/1984
Debut:  83
Peak:  67
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Rockabilly, Pop

Pop Bits:  Here is another case of an artist who was extremely popular in the UK, but their status there did not translate to the US. Working in bands since the mid-60s, the Wales-born Michael Barratt first started to gain a following when he change his name to Shakin' Stevens and fronted his 50's inspired band called The Sunsets. The group opened for big names like The Rolling Stones and recorded five albums beginning in 1970. Although they were a popular attraction, the band just wasn't breaking through on a wider scale. Then an offer came in for Stevens to co-star in the stage show Elvis! where he would portray Elvis during the star's prime years. It was initially to be a six-month gig, but it turned into a two-year hit that left The Sunsets waiting in the wings. Once the show wrapped, Stevens' new management advised him to dump the band and go solo, which he did. After a few medium chart singles in the UK, Stevens then broke through with his first #1 single, 1981's "This Ole House." As part of the UK's rockabilly revival, Stevens continued to score hits throughout the decade. By 1987, he obtained fifteen Top 10 hits with four of them hitting #1. This streak made Stevens the top selling male singles artist of the 80s in the UK. However, Stevens couldn't replicate his success in the US. The only thing he was able to do was get this lone single on the Pop chart for a few weeks and to #13 at AC. Other than that, Stevens remained virtually unknown in the US. Stevens' UK career began to slide in the 90s and for the most part he stopped recording. He did make a couple of returns with new albums in 2007 and 2016.

ReduxReview:  I know that I've heard his name over the years, but I had never heard any of his music. The lone exception would have been Barry Manilow's 1982 remake of Stevens' #1 UK hit "Oh, Julie," but at the time I had no idea Stevens wrote and recorded the song. Even after knowing who he was, I still didn't listen to any of his music. That's most likely due to the fact that I really wasn't into retro rockabilly, so I had zero interest. After catching up on some of his hits, I'm not exactly sad about my decision. It's just not my thing. Stevens is a solid vocalist and his recordings are well produced, but it really does amaze me that he was so huge in the UK. The rockabilly revival didn't last all that long, but somehow he was able to score big hits over a seven-year period. Eh. Guess you had to be there. I was already familiar with this song via Sylvia (see below). Stevens' original is more pop/rock than rockabilly with a beat that sounds like Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll (Part 1)." It's not too bad and I find it better than some of his other hits. However, I would never peg this for a hit in the US and with the exception of AC, it wasn't.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Stevens had a bit of a career revival in 2005. A new hits compilation was being issued right around the same time that he was to appear on the British TV competition program Hit Me, Baby, One More Time. Each week on the show, a set of five former hitmakers would perform one of their big hits followed by their version of a newer hit. A winner would be chosen at the end of each show. Following seven weeks of competition, the seven winners would compete in the finale. Stevens won his week and then went on to win the finale. Stevens sang his biggest hit, "This Ole House," and paired it with a cover of P!nk's "Trouble." The two songs ended up getting released as a single, which reached #20 on the UK chart. The show would also make it Stateside the same year, but the format was slightly different. Each week's winner got $20k to donate to their favorite charity and there was no finale show. Since Stevens was a UK star he did not compete in the US. But a few artists did compete on both the UK and US versions of the show including Tiffany, Howard Jones, and Haddaway.  2) Country star Sylvia covered this song in 1985 for her album One Step Closer. It was released as the LP's third single and got to #9 on the Country chart.


Monday, December 5, 2016

"What Is Love?" by Howard Jones

Song#:  1871
Date:  04/21/1984
Debut:  84
Peak:  33
Weeks:  13
Genre:  Synthpop

Pop Bits:  Jones' debut album Human's Lib hit #1 in his UK homeland thanks to the #3 hit "New Song" and this second single, which peaked at #2. While the two songs wouldn't reach those heights in the US, they did get him established on the charts. "New Song" would get to #27 (#58 Rock) while this second single would do just about as well at #33 (#20 Rock).

ReduxReview:  I liked "New Song," but this was the song that got me interested in Howard Jones. I thought it had a nice, dark groove and a real solid sing-along chorus. Rupert Hines' production gave the tune a robust sound that elevated it above the typical thin and tinny sounding synthpop. I went out and got the album and it has been a favorite of mine since then.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) In the UK, Jones ended up with four hit singles from Human's Lib. Along with the two mentioned above, "Hide and Seek" got to #12 and "Pearl in the Shell" made it to #7. Neither song saw any action in the US, although "Pearl" did "bubble under" the US Pop chart at #108.  2) Several of the songs on Human's Lib including "What Is Love" were co-written by Bill Bryant. Bryant was a speaker on spirituality and would hold group talks to share his experiences and philosophies. Bryant had befriended Jones' two brothers and the three began dabbling in music and lyrics while Bryant began holding group talks. Bryant then met Howard and the two hit it off. Jones soon became a close friend and follower of Bryant. Apparently, Jones asked if he could rework some of the tunes his brothers and Bryant had worked up and began to perform them. Guided by Bryant and others, Jones' music career began. However, as Jones' career started to take off things changed. A major label record deal, new management, and new pressures seemed to cause a rift in the Bryant/Jones relationship. It wasn't long before the pair decided to part ways.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

"Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)" by Icicle Works

Rated 10 Alert!
Song#:  1870
Date:  04/21/1984
Debut:  85
Peak:  37
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Alternative Rock

Pop Bits:  This UK trio got together in 1980 and soon after issued an indie EP that spawned a minor hit on the UK Indie song chart. A follow-up single titled "Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)" did even better getting to #2. It would also scrape the basement of the UK Pop chart. This got the attention of Beggars Banquet Records who ended up signing the band. A full-length self-titled LP was recorded and its first single "Love Is a Wonderful Colour" became a hit reaching #15 on the UK chart. It would end up being their biggest hit at home. With a little good fortune under their belt, it was decided that the band would try their luck in the States. A deal with Arista ensued and an altered version of their debut LP was issued. This song served as the first single. It did well getting to #13 at Dance and #18 at Rock while making an appearance just inside the Pop Top 40. Unfortunately, it would be the band's only single to get on those charts. In the UK, the song would be reissued as a follow-up to their first hit, but the single would only get to #53. The band would go on to secure a few more lower charting singles in the UK, but would eventually breakup in 1991.

ReduxReview:  Back when this song came out, I remember many folks commenting about the lyrics. It seemed that no one could figure out what the damn song was about! I freely admit that I had (and still have) no idea as to what they were trying to say. And frankly, I didn't care because I absolutely loved the music and production of this song. It's one of those soaring college rock anthems that could easily be a key track in some hit coming-of-age flick. The driving drums are spectacular and it has a chorus that anyone can sing along with - even if you have no idea what it means. It is absolutely one of my favorite tracks from the 80s and one that I still continue to play on a regular basis. I just wish it had done better on the chart. What's funny is that I don't like anything else from the band. I bought the album based on this song and was highly disappointed. But that's okay. Sometimes one blast of brilliance is all that is needed.


Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) In order to get this song released in the US, Arista demanded a few changes. First was the band's name. In the UK they were known as The Icicle Works, however, the label wanted to drop the leading article and have them simply go by Icicle Works. Next, the song's title. You may have noticed above that I first call the song "Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)." That is the original title. Arista wanted to reverse the two title sections because "Whisper to a Scream" is prominent in the chorus and it would help consumers identify the single in stores. Lastly, they wanted a slight remix of the song. In the original UK single, a woman's voice does a small spoken word part over the opening. The label wanted that gone. The band agreed to everything and it seemed to work out for them - well, at least for one song.  2) The band's unusual name came via a work by American sci-fi writer Frederik Pohl. Best known for his award-winning 1977 novel Gateway and its sequels, Pohl also was a magazine and book editor. He wrote many short stories and several were collected into books. It was his 1960 collection, The Man Who Ate the World that contained the story "The Day the Icicle Works Closed." It was that short that inspired the band's name.