Saturday, January 21, 2017

"Sunglasses at Night" by Corey Hart

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  1917
Date:  05/26/1984
Debut:  75
Peak:  7
Weeks:  23
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  This Canadian singer/songwriter made a bold move when he was a teenager and sent cassettes of his songs to members of Billy Joel's band while they were on tour in Canada. Sax player Richie Cannata heard something interesting in the songs and invited Hart out to Joel's Long Island studio to work on some recordings. Those demos got Hart a record deal in Canada with Aquarius Records and by 1984 his debut album, First Offense, was ready. This first single was issued, but it wasn't really catching on. Then a deal was struck with EMI for US distribution. The song was issued in the States along with the accompanying MTV video. The video became popular and moved into heavy rotation, which sent the single into the US Pop Top 10. Canada would eventually catch on thanks to all the attention in the US and the single would get to #24. He would soon be a major star in Canada, but in the beginning it was having this US hit that helped get him established at home.

ReduxReview:  This is one of those songs where it only took ten seconds to get hooked. That keyboard riff sold the song even before the verse started. Luckily, the verse and chorus only made it better. It was destined to be a hit and over time it became an iconic song of the era. Still today, a big chunk of folks will recognize this song within about five seconds of it starting. Although this song would end up not being his biggest charting hit, it certainly has remained his most popular and recognizable one.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Initially, this song was not going to be included on the album. In fact, it hadn't even been written yet. Hart had turned in eleven songs to the label and everyone thought the album was finished (including Hart). But soon after, he was toying with a demo from a song idea he had and before long, "Sunglasses" was written. Hart was absolutely sure the song was a winner and wanted to get it on the album. He called up his label and begged to get the song recorded. They allowed him to return to the studio to work up the song. It proved to be a wise choice when the single became a hit.


Friday, January 20, 2017

"Farewell My Summer Love" by Michael Jackson

Song#:  1916
Date:  05/26/1984
Debut:  81
Peak:  38
Weeks:  12
Genre:  R&B, Pop

Pop Bits:  By this point in time, Jackson had been anointed the King of Pop and pretty much anything that bore his name was gonna have a good chance of selling. Knowing this and smelling money in the air, Jackson's former label, Motown, decided to raid their vaults for any unused Jackson material. They ended up finding nine unreleased tracks from an abandoned 1973 album project and chose to package them for release. However, instead of just releasing the tracks in their original form, Motown decided to spruce them up with some 80s flourishes to make them sound more current (aka, they wanted them to sound like brand new songs). The tracks were bundled and released as the LP Farewell My Summer Love. Although the cover states "Never Before Available - from the Platinum Vaults of Motown," it was basically being hawked as new material. It really wasn't going to fool anyone, but kids clamoring for anything new from Jackson would most certainly take a look. And they did. This first single got issued and although it wasn't a big hit, it did find it's way into the Pop Top 40 (#20 AC/#37 R&B). It helped sell a few copies of the album in the US, but Motown was probably happier with the results in the UK where the single reached #7 and the album went gold.

ReduxReview:  This was a tremendously stupid idea and it just reeked of corporate greed. Motown was not the first, nor the last, entity to try and make a buck off of Jackson, but in a way it was one of the worst. I think it was a revenge tactic against Jackson for leaving the label and their way of letting him know that hey - you may have left, but we are still going to make as much money as we can from you. It was shameful. A smarter move would have been to do a kind of retrospective compilation of Jackson's Motown solo days and include these unreleased tracks in their original form. (Motown, in conjunction with the Hip-O label, did later release a 2009 compilation called Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection, which did just that.) Instead, we got tracks that Motown tried to "update" and sell as something new. Sad. Now, forgetting about how this song got released, the actual tune is not too bad. It has a breezy feel and it was recorded at a time when Jackson's voice was moving into adulthood. The problem is that it still sounds like a product of the 70s and very juvenile when put next to anything from Thriller. It was appropriate for Jackson in '73, but not in '84. It's a nice tune that ends up just being an interesting entry in Jackson's catalog. Definitely not essential.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Where did these tracks come from? Apparently, after Jackson's early 1973 album Music & Me was released, Motown had him back in the studio to record the follow-up. However, after the songs got recorded, The Jackson 5 (still featuring Michael) grabbed a surprise hit with "Dancing Machine" (#1 R&B/#2 Pop). With the family group hot again, Motown decided to hold up on Jackson's solo album and set it aside. Two years later, when Jackson was scheduled to do a solo disc, things had changed and it was decided that the old tracks would be ditched in favor of new ones. The ensuing LP, Forever, Michael, would be released in 1975. It would be his last effort for Motown. Four years later he was at Epic and riding high on the charts with Off the Wall. Jackson certainly was not happy with Motown's decision to issue the old material, but there was nothing he could do about it. The recordings were their property. The bummer about this single is that it put a dent in Jackson's run of Top 10 singles. It was the second time Motown did this (they issued the 1974 track "One Day in Your Life" right after the hits from Off the Wall). If you discount the two Motown cash-in singles, Jackson would have had a run of 17 Top 10 hits. The actual stopper would then have been "Another Part of Me," which peaked at the unfortunate #11 in 1988.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

"Alibis" by Sergio Mendes

Song#:  1915
Date:  05/26/1984
Debut:  83
Peak:  29
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Mendes' second album of more commercial-leaning modern pop, Confetti, got off to a shaky start when the Olympic Games tie-in tune "Olympia" stalled at a low #58 on the Pop chart. For the second single, this more straight-ahead pop/AC tune was selected and the results were much better. The tune got to #5 at AC while just getting inside the Top 30 at Pop. Once again, as with Mendes' previous few singles, the vocals were handled by Joe Pizzulo. Unfortunately, it would be Mendes' last significant hit on the charts. He would grab a couple of minor AC Top 20 songs later in the decade, but by then Pop had no interest in his music. Mendes would continue to record albums for various labels over the years.

ReduxReview:  Hit songwriter Tom Snow ("Don't Cry Out Loud," "He's So Shy," "You Should Hear How She Talks About You") was co-writer on this tune and it was another terrific entry in his catalog. Once again, Joe Pizzulo provides a nice vocal, but barely gets any credit for it. Mendes gets the name recognition, but really this song could have been by anyone. I'm sure many younger folks back in the day bought this single thinking Mendes was the singer. Frankly, besides a couple solid songs like this one, this commercial pop era of Mendes was terrible. I'm a big fan of his Brazil '66 output. Mendes did some great work directing, producing and arranging his group and the results were fantastic. But this updating to something not even remotely associated with his signature sound just was not good. However, at least Pizzulo got the lead on a couple of good tunes.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  With his Pop days on the wane, Mendes started to give hints that he wanted to return to the Brazilian style of music that originally made him famous. He left A&M after 1989's Arara album and three years later he signed on with Elektra for his return-to-roots LP Brasileiro. Not only was the album well-received by critics and fans, but the Grammy folks took note as well and awarded Mendes his first Grammy for Best World Music Album.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Freakshow on the Dance Floor" by The Bar-Kays

Song#:  1914
Date:  05/26/1984
Debut:  88
Peak:  73
Weeks:  8
Genre:  R&B, Funk

Pop Bits:  Since their R&B #3 debut single in 1967, "Soul Finger" (#17 Pop), this band had amassed twenty R&B chart entries by the time 1984 rolled around. A key factor to keeping them on the chart was their ability to adapt to the new sounds of the day. This was particularly noticeable with their fifteenth LP Dangerous. The band took cues from contemporaries like Midnight Star and Prince and fashioned their songs to be viable in the 80s commercial market. The strategy was validated when this first single reached #2 at R&B. Its performance was strong enough that Pop caught on and it crossed over to that chart for a couple of months. Although they would remain active on the R&B chart for the remainder of the decade, this song would be their last to reach the Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  This is certainly a long way off from "Soul Finger," but it works. Taking cues from artists like The Gap Band, the updated Earth, Wind & Fire, and Midnight Star, they threw in about every 80s effect there was and churned it all into a solid funk groove. It should have done a lot better on the Pop chart, but once again it was another R&B gem that got left behind on Pop radio. Sadly, even after Michael Jackson and others were scoring major crossover hits, many R&B acts were still ignored by Pop stations, who seemed to want to keep the lines between genres fairly solid. But luckily, songs like this found bigger audiences as time went on and remain staples of the decade.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  The son of original Bar-Kays member James Alexander would go on to a very successful career in music. Phalon Alexander would become a much sought after producer, songwriter and singer starting in the late 90s. Professionally, he became known by the name Jazze Pha and over the years he would work with some of the biggest names in hip-hop, rap, and R&B including Mariah Carey, the Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, and Ciara, whom he discovered and signed to his label Sho'nuff. Phalon Alexander was named after original Bar-Kays member, saxophonist Phalon Jones. Jones and three other of the original Bar-Kays died in the plane crash that took the life of legendary soul artist Otis Redding. One member, trumpeter Ben Cauley, survived the crash.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"She Don't Know Me" by Bon Jovi

Song#:  1913
Date:  05/26/1984
Debut:  90
Peak:  48
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  The New Jersey band's self-titled debut album was shaping up to be a good seller due to the lead single, "Runaway," getting to #5 at Rock and #39 at Pop. This next single nearly became their second Pop Top 40 entry, but it stopped a little short. It probably didn't help that it only got to #44 at Rock. Regardless, the album certainly did it's job in helping to establish the new band.

ReduxReview:  There are definitely some good things going on with this song. The verse and main part of the chorus is quite good, however there is a weird transition from the chorus back to the verse that almost brings the song to a halt. It's very odd and probably could have been handled better. In general, this is a solid song even if it is not quite as catchy as "Runaway" or the band's future hits.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This song has a bit of a long history. Written by Mark Avsec (Donnie Iris' co-writer and bandmate), it was originally intended for the disco band LaFlavour's second album. However, LaFlavour decided to scrap the disco, make a move towards rock, and change their name to Fair Warning. As the dust settled, this track was still pegged for Fair Warning's debut album and would most likely be the lead single. However, the band encountered issues and in the end their album was shelved. Bon Jovi was on the same label and were looking for another strong song for single contention. This one ended up in their lap and they got it recorded. But before it got issued on Bon Jovi's debut LP, the song did get released by two other artists. The 60s band The Grass Roots ("Midnight Confessions," #5, 1968) took a swing at the song for a 1982 comeback album. The song was released as a single, but it and the album failed to do any business. Then Peter Emmett (aka Sonny Geraci, lead singer of Climax who hit #3 in 1972 with "Precious and Few") recorded the song, which featured backing by Avsec and others from Donnie Iris' band. Again, it went nowhere. Finally, Bon Jovi's version came out and the tune found its way to the Pop chart. It was the only song on their debut album not written by a band member.


Monday, January 16, 2017

"Magic" by The Cars

Song#:  1912
Date:  05/19/1984
Debut:  59
Peak:  12
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Rock, New Wave

Pop Bits:  The Cars got the second Top 10 hit of their career when "You Might Think" reached #7. The #1 Rock track was the lead single from their fifth album Heartbeat City. This next one would be another big hit at Rock getting to #1, but it just missed out on placing in the Pop Top 10. The album would be a big seller for them hitting #3 and going 4x platinum. It would be their second album to hit both of those marks. Their 1979 album Candy-O was also a #3 quad-platinum disc.

ReduxReview:  The beefier sound, courtesy of producer "Mutt" Lange, is even more apparent on this song than on "You Might Think." Once again the band hits a sweet spot and maintains their track record for doing nice, concise, straight-ahead pop tunes. Although some of their earlier songs were better, this album was their commercial peak and deservedly so. I wasn't totally on board with it at the time, but now I find it to be a solid, fun 80s album.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Although not quite as groundbreaking as "You Might Think," the video for this song became another hit on MTV. Directed by Tim Pope, the video has the band at a poolside party with various characters. At one point, lead singer Ric Ocasek begins to walk on top of the water of the pool. Others try to do the same, but fail and fall into the water. Ocasek's water walk was achieved by using a plexiglass platform that met the surface of the water. Unfortunately, the builders didn't take into account Ocasek's weight and on the first take, the platform collapsed. Once they got the platform built correctly, the illusion worked. The video was filmed at the Hilton family mansion/compound. Kathy Hilton (Paris' mom) rented out the house for the shoot.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

"Legs" by ZZ Top

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  1911
Date:  05/19/1984
Debut:  64
Peak:  8
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Blues-Rock

Pop Bits:  The band's experiment with a more synth-driven sound was paying off well for them. Their album Eliminator was shaping up to be a major hit. The LP's first two singles were Top 10 hits at Rock while also crossing over to the Pop chart. Both were enhanced by themed MTV videos that got into heavy rotation. However, it would be this third single that would really push the album into a whole other realm. Thanks to the third video in their Eliminator trilogy, this song attracted a larger audience, which allowed the song to become the band's first Top 10 at Pop. It would also be another hit at Rock getting to #3. This boosted album sales considerably and even though it would only peak at #9, it would be a consistent seller. A year and a half after its release the album would be certified 4x platinum. By 1996, it was awarded Diamond status (10 million copies) and would be the band's best selling LP.

ReduxReview:  This is one of those cases where there is quite a difference between the album version of the song and the single version. The album version (posted above) is very clean sounding with the guitars forward and the synths more in the background. The single version (also available on Spotify) pushes the synths forward and adds more reverb. It makes for a fuller sound, but a bit on the muddy side. Initially, the fuller sounding single version caught my ear, but I think the album version is better. The focus is on the guitar work rather than beefy synths. Really, you can't go wrong with either of them.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This song got an unexpected boost courtesy of a new mix. In addition to the single version of the song, which amped up the synth sound, a dance mix was also created. It proved popular in the clubs and the song made it to #13 on the Dance chart. It would be their first and most popular entry on that chart. Two future singles would find their way on to the Dance chart, but they were far less successful peaking only in the 40s.  2) The video for this song won the MTV Music Video Award for Best Group Video in the award show's inaugural year. They were nominated in that category twice that year. The other nod was for their video to "Sharp Dressed Man."