Saturday, February 11, 2017

"Young Thing, Wild Dreams (Rock Me)" by Red Rider

Song#:  1938
Date:  06/16/1984
Debut:  94
Peak:  71
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  This band got themselves on the map with their debut album Don't Fight It. It featured the #20 Canadian hit "White Hot," which crossed over to the US Pop chart and peaked at #48. Although the band's next two albums sold well in Canada, they were less popular in the US with neither one sporting a Pop chart single despite a trio of Top 20 Rock tracks. Their fourth effort, Breaking Curfew, featured this first single that got them back on the US Pop chart, but it wasn't significant enough to really move albums and it disappeared rather quickly. It would end up being the band's final single to reach the Pop chart. After Breaking Curfew, the band went through some changes and when the dust settled, their name was adjusted to be Tom Cochrane & Red Rider and their fifth self-titled album was highly successful in Canada. Their next LP, Victory Day, would be their best-selling album in Canada thanks to two Top 10 hits. Save for a lone #9 Rock track (1988's "Big League"), the band was pretty much ignored in the US. After one more album, the band would break up with leader Tom Cochrane heading out on a solo career. He'd start off his solo days with the #1 Canadian hit "Life Is a Highway" in 1991. That song would also reach the US Top 10 at #6. Once again, after that hit Cochrane's US career stalled. Back in Canada, he would be highly successful grabbing six more Top 10 hits including a second #1.

ReduxReview:  Both Red Rider and Tom Cochrane are among a group of Canadian rockers who never really made a major impact in the US. It happens. For every Bryan Adams or Loverboy that got worldwide acceptance, there are bands like Red Rider or The Tragically Hip that remain distinctly Canadian and hugely popular there (The Tragically Hip boasts eleven #1 albums and fourteen Juno awards while in the US they were basically a cult band). With Red Rider, I'm guessing the reason they didn't break wider in the States is that their music wasn't full of the pop radio friendly hooks necessary to break through the slog of so many other artists. I think in Canada the stations there are required to play a certain amount of Canadian-specific artists and that probably benefited a band like Red Rider. That might make the radio stations a bit more diverse so Canadians may hook into songs differently than folks in the States. I dunno. I'm just guessing here. Regardless, the band was not going to break through with a song like this. Besides the awkward title, the tune doesn't offer much beyond a decent groove and the "rock me" yells. It almost sounds like someone tried to smash together the Rolling Stones and J. Geils Band and it didn't quite work out.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Cochrane would win four Juno's (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for his debut solo album Mad Mad World. He would receive one for Album of the Year, one for Single of the Year for "Life Is a Highway," Male Vocalist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year. Cochrane would receive one Grammy nomination for Best Rock Vocal for "Life Is a Highway."  2) In 2006, country band Rascal Flatts would cover "Life Is a Highway" for the hit Pixar animated film Cars. The song would be issued as a single and it would get to #7 on the Pop chart. Oddly, the song was not issued for airplay to country music stations, most likely because around the same time their single "My Wish" was shaping up to hit #1 on the Country chart and it wasn't necessarily good to have a competing second single. However, many stations went ahead and played the song anyway and based on that activity, the song got to #18 on the Country chart.


Friday, February 10, 2017

"Sad Songs (Say So Much)" by Elton John

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  1937
Date:  06/09/1984
Debut:  49
Peak:  5
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  After a dismal start to the 80s, Elton John's career bounced back with two solid selling LPs, 1982's Jump Up! and 1983's Too Low for Zero, which featured the #4 hit "And I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues." Keeping his same band, producer, and of course co-writer (Bernie Taupin), John plowed ahead and finished his fourth album for the Geffen label, Breaking Hearts. This first single got things kicked off and it was a winner getting to #5 Pop and #2 AC. It also found its way to the Rock chart for a quick #24 showing. It would help the album reach #20 and quickly go gold. Over time the LP would reach platinum status.

ReduxReview:  Truth be told, John released nine albums in the 80s and despite featuring several hits, they are pretty forgettable within his catalog. Too Low for Zero was probably the best of the bunch. However, I will say that I rather enjoyed Breaking Hearts. I liked this hit and a few other tracks on the LP, especially the big ballad "Burning Bridges." Elements of that tune remind me of the Elton of the 70s and I think it's one of his most overlooked songs. Critics were not kind to the album, but what they didn't know was that his next two were going to be far worse. This was another solid hit for John, but oddly it hasn't lasted as well as some of his other hits.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This song was also a hit in the UK where it reached #7. However, the LPs second single there did even better. On "Passengers," John and lyricist Bernie Taupin got a bit political and created an anti-apartheid song. The video for the song followed suit and both became popular in the UK. The reggae-tinged single would end up reaching #5 in the UK and be certified as a Silver seller. However, it seems the label thought the song's sound and message would be lost on a US audience and it was not issued as a single. Instead, two other tracks would get released - "Who Wears These Shoes?" and "In Neon."


Thursday, February 9, 2017

"Strangers in a Strange World" by Jenny Burton and Patrick Jude

Song#:  1936
Date:  06/09/1984
Debut:  78
Peak:  54
Weeks:  7
Genre:  Pop, R&B, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  It was around this period in the 80s where a series of hip-hop/dance films were made. The hit movie Breakin' was one of the first out of the gate followed quickly by Beat Street. Produced by entertainer Harry Belafonte, the drama focused quite a bit on hip-hop culture and included lots of music and dance sequences. The soundtrack was produced by Belafonte along with Arthur Baker and it featured several hip-hop/rap pioneers like Grandmaster Melle Mel and Afrika Bambaataa. It also featured artists from the Atlantic Records roster including The System and Jenny Burton, who had recently done well for Atlantic with her Dance hit "Remember What You Like." For the soundtrack, Burton was paired up with singer/Broadway performer Patrick Jude for this duet, which served as the "love theme" from the film. Issued as a single, the song could only manage to reach the Pop chart for a few weeks topping out near the halfway point. Despite no support at Pop and the film not being a major box office success, the album sold well and went gold, mainly on the strength of the #8 R&B hit "Beat Street Breakdown" by Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious 5. A second volume of songs from the film was also compiled and released, but it didn't do nearly as well. That second volume made Beat Street the first US film to feature more than one soundtrack album. A third was initially planned, but it ended up getting scrapped.

ReduxReview:  I have to be honest. This tune bored the crap out of me. I was almost sawin' logs before the chorus even started. But I stayed awake and at the bridge the song started to rev up and I was thinking, "okay, now we are getting somewhere and it's gonna have a really big, nice ending." But then the build-up slacked off and the song nearly screeched to a halt. And then...oh, god no...not another verse! It was a trial to get through the rest. Is this a bad song? No, it's not. However, it is pretty run-o'-tha-mill as far as 80s ballads go and I think they missed a big opportunity after the bridge to do a killer ending. The thing about ballads like this is that there has to be something interesting to make them stand out and this one lacks that special something. Like I said, less than a minute into it, I was already done.

ReduxRating:  3/10

Trivia:  This song was written and produced by Jake Holmes. Holmes had been a friend of Belafonte's and that connection brought the tune to the soundtrack. Holmes was originally a folk/pop singer in the late 60s/early 70s and issued five albums during that time. His biggest success as a solo artist was when the song "So Close" reached #49 on the Pop chart in 1970. He also co-wrote Frank Sinatra's 1969 concept LP Watertown with producer Bob Gaudio. Although that album was not well-received upon release and sold poorly, it has since become a cult favorite. It was also known for being the only Sinatra album where he sang over pre-recorded orchestra tracks instead of singing with them live in the studio. After Holmes' career waned, he turned to jingle writing and was highly successful. He wrote memorable jingles for Dr. Pepper (the "be a Pepper" ad), the US Army ("be all that you can be"), and Sure deodorant ("raise your hand if you're Sure"). Later in 1988, Holmes would co-write all the tracks for Harry Belafonte's Apartheid-themed album Paradise in Gazankulu. It would end up being Belafonte's final studio album. However, Led Zeppelin fans may be quite familiar with Holmes. Back in 1976, Holmes wrote a song for his debut album called "Dazed and Confused." Apparently, Jimmy Page and The Yardbirds had heard Holmes perform the song when he opened for one of their shows. Page then arranged his own version of the song for The Yardbirds, who did perform it. However, before they could get it recorded, the band split. When Page's new band Led Zeppelin was formed he brought along the song and it appeared on their debut LP. Unfortunately, the songwriting credit only listed Page. This was not lost on Holmes and over the years he attempted to contact the band about not getting credit or royalties. His notices were ignored and by 2010 Holmes finally brought a suit against Page. The issue was settled out of court. Holmes may have gotten some financial compensation, but credit for the song is still usually listed as by Page, or on occasion it will have Page's name followed by "inspired by Jake Holmes."


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

"The First Day of Summer" by Tony Carey

Song#:  1935
Date:  06/09/1984
Debut:  79
Peak:  33
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Carey's first album for MCA, Some Tough City, got some attention thanks to the #1 Rock track "A Fine Fine Day" (#22 Pop). He grabbed a second Pop Top 40 entry with this next single. The track wasn't quite as popular at Rock this time around and it stalled at #21. Still, the singles helped sell the album and MCA decided to invest in a follow-up. Unfortunately, none of the songs from Blue Highway could get on any chart and the album quickly disappeared, along with Carey's recording contract. He would continue to release solo albums over the years and even revive his Planet P Project ("Why Me") later in 2002.

ReduxReview:  Carey rocks it up a bit more with this terrific track. The opening is pretty awesome with the doubled-up snare, the keyboard add, and that little "Layla"-ish guitar lick. The song doesn't move too much from this setup, but it works well thanks to a good chorus melody. I actually like this better than "A Fine Fine Day." I'm surprised I didn't hook into it back in the day. It's a lost gem that needs to be dug up and enjoyed once again.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Carey also went on to produce records for several artists including Joe Cocker and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Carey moved to Germany in 1977 and he also got work there. He would co-produce albums by one of Germany's best-selling music artists, rock star Peter Maffay. Maffay's career got kicked off with his 1979 album Steppenwolf. It was a huge hit and his next LP did even better. Since then, all of his albums have reached the Top 10 with seventeen of them hitting #1. In Germany alone, Maffay has sold over 14 million records, which puts him at #2 on the list of best-selling artists in Germany. Only German artist Herbert Grönemeyer has sold more albums. (By comparison, Phil Collins places third, Madonna sixth, and Michael Jackson ninth.) In 1983, Maffay, along with a children's song writer and an author, created the character Tabaluga, a little 8 year-old green dragon who lives in Greenland (he's 8, but in human years that equates to 800). The adventures of Tabaluga were turned into books, an animated TV show, a movie, and a series of albums done by Maffay. It was the second album in that series where Carey got involved as co-producer. After its successful showing, Carey was then retained as co-producer of Maffay's next album Lange Schatten. Carey also co-wrote several of the songs included on the LP. Tabaluga did make it to the States in 1998. The TV series ran on the Fox Family channel for a few years.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"Bringin' on the Heartbreak" by Def Leppard

Song#:  1934
Date:  06/09/1984
Debut:  82
Peak:  61
Weeks:  8
Genre:  Hard Rock

Pop Bits:  Following the success of their 1983 album Pyromania, Def Leppard's record company decided to reissue the band's 1981 LP High 'n' Dry. To help re-sell that product, a new remix version of the album's second single "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" was included along with a remix of its b-side "Me and My Wine." Although the original single failed to chart either at Pop or Rock, the song's video became popular during MTV's early days. Sensing there was some life left in the track, some synths were added to the mix, a new video was shot, and the song was issued as a single. Once again it failed to chart at Rock, but it did see a little action on the Pop chart. It was most likely meant to help bridge the gap between Pyromania and the band's next album, but some unfortunate circumstances hit the band near the end of '84 that sidelined them for the next couple of years. They would not return to the charts until 1987.

ReduxReview:  The enhancements on this remix didn't make the song any better. The original version was great the way it was. The album's producer "Mutt" Lange did the remix, so at least it wasn't a complete cash-in thing on the label's part as they could have had some in-house guy do the work. Still, it was something that was meant get mileage off of older material. It's not as bad as some other cash-in projects, but like most of them, it was unnecessary and not all that great. I'll take the original over this one.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  In 2002, superstar singer Mariah Carey would cover this song for her album Charmbracelet. The LP was her first following the failure of her movie Glitter and a much-publicized breakdown. It too was a letdown. The album failed to generate a hit single with only "Through the Rain" reaching the Pop chart at a dismal #81 and #69 R&B (it did get to #1 at Dance though). Her "Bringin'" remake was issued as the LP's third single and although it got to #5 at Dance, it failed to get on the Pop and R&B charts. It would be her first regular studio album (not counting the soundtrack to Glitter) to not be certified at a multi-platinum level. It was able to just barely go platinum, but that was it. Most artists would be thrilled with a platinum album, but for Carey, that wasn't even close to what her albums typically sold. Bring on the heartbreak indeed.


Monday, February 6, 2017

"The Lebanon" by Human League

Song#:  1933
Date:  06/09/1984
Debut:  87
Peak:  64
Weeks:  5
Genre:  Synthpop, New Wave

Pop Bits:  After the worldwide success of their influential Dare album, members of the Human League were struggling to assemble their proper follow-up. A couple of stop-gap hit singles, including the #8 "(Keep Feeling) Fascination," kept their fans occupied, but they would have to issue a new full album soon. With mounting pressure from their label, the band went into the studio with their Dare producer Martin Rushent, but the sessions were not working out and in frustration, Rushent left the project. Producer Chris Thomas stepped in, but he also took a hike after a while. Finally, Hugh Padgham (The Police, Genesis) arrived and finished out the sessions. After two long years, Hysteria was finally ready. This political-leaning first single traded in the band's new wave synths in favor of a more guitar driven rock sound. In the UK it was marginally successful getting to #11, however it was a dud in the US stalling quickly in the lower half of the Pop chart. Although two other singles from the LP would to Top 20 in the UK, this would be the only one to chart in the US. As a result, the album flopped and folks began to wonder if Dare was just a fluke.

ReduxReview:  Yikes. This was just the wrong song to issue as a single. Like a couple of other UK synthpop bands who decided to take a serious, guitar-driven turn, this was not gonna work. Plus it was not representative of the other tracks on the album, which were more in-line with their signature sound. It was a stupid move on the label's part and it sent the band into a bit of a spiral. It's too bad because I rather liked the Hysteria album. Critics were not fond, but I thought there were several solid tracks on the record and I probably listen to it now just as much as I do Dare. I believe the band just overthought the whole thing. It would have been better to quickly get an LP together with Rushent at the helm like they did for Dare. However, I'm not sad about what they came up with. I rather liked it. I like this song as well, but it was not a good single choice. They should have gone with "Louise" (see below).

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Initially, it was hoped the first single from the album would be the track "Louise." Pegged by several critics as the best song on the album and a hit in the making, it was written as a follow-up to the band's #1 hit "Don't You Want Me." The lyrics have the couple from "Don't You" having a chance encounter four years later. Unfortunately, the label chose "The Lebanon" as the first single. After a second single and a significant delay, "Louise" was later issued as the LP's third single. With little promotion, it got to #13 on the UK chart. The song has been covered by several artists including UK superstar Robbie Williams, who included the tune on his 2006 album Rudebox, which was his seventh #1 studio album in a row in the UK.  2) Hysteria also included one cover tune. The track "Rock Me Again and Again and Again and Again and Again and Again (Six Times)" was originally recorded in 1974 by R&B singer and James Brown protégé Lyn Collins. It was released as a single and got to #53 on the R&B chart. The song was co-written and produced by James Brown.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

"Hold Me" by Teddy Pendergrass and Whitney Houston

Song#:  1932
Date:  06/09/1984
Debut:  89
Peak: 46
Weeks:  18
Genre:  R&B, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Prior to the devastating car accident in 1982 that left him paralyzed, Pendergrass had already recorded several songs for his label Philadelphia International. While he was recovering, the label issued the material over the course of two albums, but neither LP reached the heights of his previous five platinum and gold records. The releases did complete his contract with the label and that allowed Pendergrass to move forward to a new label, Asylum. For his first Asylum LP, Pendergrass worked with producer/songwriter Michael Masser and they came up with Love Language. The album contained eight tracks, seven of which were co-written by Masser (the remaining track was co-written and produced by Luther Vandross). Masser was known for writing hit ballads like Diana Ross' "Touch Me in the Morning" and Peabo Bryson's "If Ever You're in My Arms Again," and this first single was shaping up be another. It got to #5 at R&B and hit #6 at AC. Unfortunately, the tune didn't quite catch on at Pop and it got locked outside of the Top 40. It was a good return to the charts for Pendergrass, but what would make this song historically important was that it served as the introduction to a new vocalist named Whitney Houston.

ReduxReview:  This is a beautiful duet that hooked AC and R&B listeners, but for some reason couldn't get support at Pop. I have a feeling it was just a bit too languid for some folks. If the tempo was increased just a bit it might have flowed better for pop radio. Also, if Houston was able to really belt out the song it might have truly soared, however since this really was a Pendergrass song and she was just a guest, that was not gonna happen. She got a couple good licks in at the end, but when compared to her solo stuff, it was just minor child's play.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The association between Masser and Whitney Houston would continue after this single. Masser's songs would help establish Houston as a superstar. Along with this ballad being included on Houston's self-titled debut LP, Masser would contribute three other songs including the #1 hits "The Greatest Love of All" and "Saving All My Love for You." He'd give her another #1 song for her second album with "Didn't We Almost Have It All."  2) For Houston, this song ended up being a blessing and a curse. After she became a solo star the following year, it was full expected that Houston would cinch a Grammy win as Best New Artist. Unfortunately, due to the "Hold Me" single becoming a hit in the previous year, the Grammy rules for the category left her off the ballot. It was a controversial oversight that plagued the Grammys and that category for years. Rules for eligibility would evolve over the years and even as of this writing, more changes were made for the 2017 awards. Although she would not be crowned Best New Artist, Houston still took home a trophy that year for Best Pop Vocal Performance.