Saturday, April 1, 2017

"Beat Street Breakdown - Part 1" by Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five

Song#:  1998
Date:  08/04/1984
Debut:  88
Peak:  86
Weeks:  2
Genre:  Rap, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  After Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five hit big with their rap classic "The Message," issues arose within the group concerning royalties. Lawsuits were filed and in the aftermath the group's main rapper and songwriter, DJ Melle Mel, took over as the new Grandmaster. The group's first success under the new moniker was this contribution they made to the soundtrack of the film Beat Street. It would be a hit at R&B getting to #8. The song would be a very minor blip at Pop for a couple of weeks. The hit would help the soundtrack reach gold level. The group would follow it up with a self-titled album, but it failed to secure any major hits and disappeared after a #43 showing at R&B. They would issue one more LP in 1989, but it disappeared quickly.

ReduxReview:  While this song may not be as memorable as "The Message" or even "White Lines" (see below), it's expertly executed by Melle Mel. It's got a great groove, nice scratch sections, and the call n' response parts are actually what I remember most about it. I think what is missing for me is some kind of hook. It could be a repeated passage or a small chorus or even something instrumental. Even rap songs need something memorable to keep people coming back. I'm just not hearing it here. However, Melle Mel's rap is certainly top notch and he does make you feel like you are listening to an important story.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Prior to being fully credited as Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five, Mel and Sylvia Robinson (head of Sugar Hill Records) wrote a tune titled "White Lines (Don't Do It)." Despite the fact that it was mainly recorded and performed by Melle Mel, the anti-drug song got credited to Grandmaster & Melle Mel. The credit was an attempt to capitalize on the Grandmaster Flash name as it insinuated that he was part of the recording, which he was not. The song was a Dance hit reaching #8, but it didn't do so well at R&B getting to #47. It was also a #7 hit in the UK. An unofficial video for the song was filmed. It was directed by a young college student named Spike Lee and featured up-n-coming actor Laurence Fishburne. Later in 1995, Duran Duran covered the tune for their Thank You album. Their remake featured both Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel. It was issued as a single and it got to #5 on the US Dance chart while hitting #17 in the UK.


Friday, March 31, 2017

"She Loves My Car" by Ronnie Milsap

Song#:  1997
Date:  08/04/1984
Debut:  94
Peak:  84
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  Milsap's 1983 album Keyed Up would be his final one to feature a Pop Top 40 hit. The rock-leaning "Stranger in My House" would reached #23 at Pop while getting to #5 Country and #8 AC. Although his hit making days at Pop would be over, he continued his streak of hits at Country with his next album One More Try for Love. The LP's first single, "Still Losing You," would become his 25th Country #1. The song was also able to chart at AC getting to #29, but it missed Pop completely. His next single would feature this song, which would end up being Milsap's final Pop chart entry. It was only able to hang on for a month. The song would not be able to get on any other chart, however the single's flip side would (see below). Milsap would remain a big hit maker at Country for the balance of the decade securing ten more #1's.

ReduxReview:  The video is pretty hilarious and worth watching. So 80s and so weird. The song is not too bad. It's the typical 80s bid for crossover action from a country star, however by this time folks were becoming less interested in country artists as pop acts and the split between the two genres was widening. Therefore, crossover acts like Mislap, Kenny Rogers, Juice Newton, Dolly Parton, etc., were losing their pop audience quickly. The heydays of country crossover were pretty much done by this point. These artists would safely return to their core country audiences and finally give up the pop hits. But before that, Milsap gave it one more try with this song. It didn't pay off. Again, it's not a bad little lite-rock tune, but it can't compare to his truly great hits of the period.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The single for this song was basically a double-sided hit. The first side featured this song, which was marketed to a Pop audience. The second side contained the song "Prisoner of the Highway," which was marketed to Country. "Car" ended up a blip on the Pop chart, but "Prisoner" was able to reach #6 at Country. No matter which song you preferred, you could get both on one single. Now that's crossover marketing!  2) The video for this song is loaded with 80s references and fads from day-glo colors to moonwalking. It also featured an 80s TV star, a future TV star, and a famous punk band leader. HervĂ© Villechaize, who played Tattoo on Fantasy Island, made a cameo in the video as did John Doe, founding member of the L.A. punk band X. The main female role was handled by future Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay. It was her first acting gig. The following year she made her film debut in a small part in the horror flick Ghoulies. After that she worked on several TV shows until she secured her role on SVU in 1999. For anyone who doesn't know by now, Hargitay is the daughter of the famous entertainer/sex symbol Jane Mansfield. Mansfield famously died in a car crash in 1967. She and two other adults died in the crash. Three of Mansfield's kids (including Hargitay) were asleep in the backseat when the crash happened. They all survived.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

"Only When You Leave" by Spandau Ballet

Song#:  1996
Date:  07/28/1984
Debut:  68
Peak:  34
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Pop, Blue-Eyed Soul

Pop Bits:  This UK band broke through in the US with their big #4 hit "True." It was the title track to their third album, which made it to #19. Of course both the song and album reached #1 in the UK and made them stars. Their success in the UK continued when they issued their follow-up LP Parade. It would hit #2 mainly on the strength of this first single that got to #3 (their eighth UK Top 10). Listeners in the US were not quite as thrilled with the song and it faltered after getting into the Pop Top 40 (#35 AC/#40 Rock). As a result, the album stalled at #50. Both the single and album would be the band's last ones to reach the US chart. They would remain popular in the UK for another couple of albums, but by the early 90s, disagreements within the band lead to a breakup. A reunion later in 2009 sparked a new album that reached #7 on the UK chart.

ReduxReview:  Their British sophista-pop worked well for a few songs in the US, but that was enough for listeners and the band ended up getting ignored here. I just don't think they had enough good material to sustain the audience here. Since I liked the True album, I bought the new one when it came out and I was highly disappointed. Except for this first single, none of the songs really caught my ear. It was all well-crafted, but none of it stuck in my head. While I'm not surprised by the peak of this single, I do think it is a lovely piece of Britpop.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Following the band's break up, only lead singer Tony Hadley sought a solo career. His debut LP, 1992's The State of Play, didn't feature any significant hits and disappeared quickly. Since then he has recorded three other solo albums. His last one in 2015 was a Christmas album. He also dabbled in acting and made his West End debut appearing as Billy Flynn in the revival of Chicago. He also appeared on two British TV reality competition shows. He would finish sixth on I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here in 2015 and in 2003 he would win the show Reborn in the USA. That show took ten British pop stars who were virtually unknown in the US and took them to the States to perform in various cities. Performances were voted on each week an act was eliminated.


"Go Insane" by Lindsey Buckingham

Song#:  1995
Date:  07/28/1984
Debut:  70
Peak:  23
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Synthpop

Pop Bits:  The last time Fleetwood Mac went on a little hiatus, Buckingham issued his debut solo disc titled Law and Order. It featured his first and only solo Top 10 hit, the #9 "Trouble." Following their 1982 album Mirage and subsequent tour, the Mac took another extended break. Buckingham then retreated to the studio to record his second album Go Insane. Just as he did with his first solo outing, Buckingham once again played nearly every instrument on the LP. The title-track to the album was issued as a first single and it did well at Rock getting to #4. However, it stalled earlier than expected at Pop and got locked out of the Top 20. A second single, "Slow Dancing," was a non-starter and failed to chart. This song would end up being Buckingham's last to reach the Pop chart. His next solo album, Out of the Cradle, would produce a couple of minor entries at both AC and Rock in 1992. He would return to Fleetwood Mac for 1987's Tango in the Night, then quit, then rejoin again later in the 90s. He also continued to release solo discs along the way.

ReduxReview:  I was insanely in love with this song when it came out. Being a student of sound and production, all the stuff Buckingham did with this track just fascinated me. And then the album was even better. I would listen and try to dissect all the layers of sound. Of course, it sounds incredibly 80s now and with all the advancements in technology since then, folk now pretty much have the power to practically replicate this in their living rooms. However, back then it was cool as shit to me. I still love this song and album and was always sad they didn't do better. Yeah, the material may not rival his brilliant Fleetwood Mac songs, but it showed a different side to Buckingham and I loved it.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Depending on who you ask, this song is either about Stevie Nicks or Carol Ann Harris. Nicks had been in a relationship with Buckingham for many years, but by this point they had not been a couple for a long while. Prior to making this album, Buckingham's seven-year relationship with Harris came to an end. Buckingham dedicated the album to Harris and Harris stated in her memoir that the song "Go Insane" was about the couple's breakup. However, Buckingham stated in an interview many years later that the song was about the post-breakup period between he and Nicks. Either way, it seems Buckingham certainly had some traumatic breakups based on the title of the song and album.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"It's a Hard Life" by Queen

Song#:  1994
Date:  07/28/1984
Debut:  77
Peak:  72
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Queen's album The Works was a big hit around the world, except for the US. Although it would be certified gold, the LP stalled at #23 (the lowest peak for one of the regular studio albums since 1974) and its first two singles failed to reach the Pop Top 10. This third single's month-long appearance wouldn't turn the tide and it wrapped up the chart singles from the album. Meanwhile, back in the UK the song would be another hit reaching #6. A fourth single, "Hammer to Fall," would also do well getting to #13, but all it could do in the US was a very minor #57 showing at Rock. Queen would sadly continue to have lackluster results after this album, but their British and European fans would keep them at the top of the charts through til the last official Queen album in 1995.

ReduxReview:  This song kind of harks back to the dramatic Queen of yore - you know, the pre-synths hit making days. It even nearly has an ode to "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the instrumental break. It's a lovely rock tune and features another terrific performance by Mercury. He wrote the song and it showed that he definitely still had songwriting chops regardless of the other tunes they were pushing out. Since The Works wasn't finding an audience in the US, this song ended up lost in the shuffle and that's too bad. It deserved a better fate as it's one of their better latter day songs.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Does the initial opening of this song sound familiar? If you dabble in classical music then you may recognize it. The melody Freddie Mercury sings was adopted from the aria "Vesti la guibba," which was a part of the opera Pagliacci. Written in 1892 by Ruggero Leoncavallo, the tenor aria has become one of the most recognizable in music. Superstar singer Enrico Caruso's recordings of the aria certainly made it famous. In more recent times, both Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti have both recorded and performed in the opera.


"We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister

Song#:  1993
Date:  07/28/1984
Debut:  80
Peak:  21
Weeks:  15
Genre:  Heavy Metal

Pop Bits:  This band started as Silver Star in the wonderfully named Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, in 1972. With Jay Jay French (given name John Segall) on board, the band's shows became well-known and they became a hit attraction on the club circuit. But after a few years and several personnel shifts, the band needed a new direction. Their manager encouraged French to hire on Danny Snider to lead the band. Snider came on board in 1976 and French gave him his new first name of Dee. They immediately began to get a following and were soon headlining sold out shows. Despite their popularity, US record labels showed little interest. So they took off for the UK and got signed to Secret Records. An EP and debut LP were issued in '82 and did fairly well in the UK. Unfortunately, Secret went out of business and the band was on their own again until Atlantic finally picked them up. Their second album, You Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll was a #14 hit in the UK thanks to three charting songs, but it was just a blip on the US Album chart. However, their third LP, Stay Hungry, would finally make them stars in the US. It contained this first single that got to #7 at Rock and nearly Top 20 at Pop. A big part of its success was due to the comedic video for the song that got into heavy rotation at MTV. Both the album and single would be their biggest hits in the States. The original single would not sell enough to get a gold record, but decades later, the digital version of the song would sell enough for it to receive a gold certification.

ReduxReview:  Although I thought the video was hilarious, I never liked the actual song. It was one of those grating rock anthems that could quickly turn into a horrible ear worm. To me it was smart alecky and silly. However, Snider did a great job writing this tune. The verse and chorus were made up of simple melodies that anyone can sing and the chorus had that indelible hook to it. Plus, the ol' anti-authority message certainly didn't hurt (well, except for the PMRC - see below). I would never voluntarily call up this tune for a listen, but I do appreciate Snider's songwriting.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This song was another one that riled the feathers of the Parents Music Resource Center and Tipper Gore. For this one, it wasn't necessarily the lyrics that got them in a huff. The comedic video suggested violence against authority (mainly parents) and that got the song listed in the PMRC's "Filthy Fifteen" list. Another song of the band's, "Under the Blade," while not on the list was also specifically targeted by the organization. During the Senate hearings prompted by the PMRC, Dee Snider (along with Frank Zappa and John Denver) appeared to speak against the rating/labeling of music products. Despite their efforts, the record companies voluntarily decided to play ball and the parental advisory sticker was born.  2) Dee Snider wrote this rock anthem and he has mentioned that there were two inspirations for this song:  the rock band Slade and the Christmas carol "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful." Later on in 2006, Snider and the band recorded a Christmas album and they arranged "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful" in the manner of "We're Not Gonna Take It."


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"The Only Flame in Town" by Elvis Costello & the Attractions

Song#:  1992
Date:  07/28/1984
Debut:  83
Peak:  56
Weeks:  9
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Although Costello scored a couple of hit albums late in the 70s, he was never able to get a single on the US Pop chart. That changed when "Every Day I Write the Book" from his 1983 LP Punch the Clock broke through. It got to #36 while hitting #33 on the Rock chart. The album was a bit more commercial leaning than his previous efforts and when Costello went back into the studio to record the follow-up, he wanted to change things and do something in the folk-rock vein. But soon after the sessions began, it all kind of nosedived. The producers he had for Punch stayed on and they (and most likely the record company) wanted to continue down the more slick, pop-friendly route established by "Every Day." Costello was against that and tried to forge his own path. However, Costello himself really didn't have a clear vision of what he wanted and the lack of direction made the sessions miserable for everyone. He finally relented and did give the reins fully over to the producers for a couple of songs, which included this first single. But the messy execution of the tracks made for an album that was not well received. This single stalled early at Pop and Rock (#44) with the album quickly peaking at #35. It would be two years before Costello would release another LP and five years before he would return to the Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  This is kind of a mashup of blue-eyed soul with hints of ska. It's a good song, but the weak part of it is the production. It just sounds so stiff and there is little excitement. Even the vocals are bland. It's too bad. The track could have been a solid jam if it hadn't been given a near-Karaoke backing track production. You can bet that if this had been a Hall & Oates song (see below), it would have been pumped up and jammin'. The accounts written about the making of this album have it sounding like a tortuous process and just based on this track, I can nearly hear that.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) So what did Costello think of the album in retrospect? Although he thought the songs had merit, everything else was a mess. When a reissued of the album came about, Costello started his liner notes with "Congratulations! You've just purchased our worst album."  2) This song features vocals by Daryl Hall. With Hall & Oates' career at a high point, the addition of Hall could certainly draw in some of that duo's fans. Hall even appeared in the video for the tune. However, having him on board didn't guarantee success and indeed the song fizzled.


"You Were Made for Me" by Irene Cara

Song#:  1991
Date:  07/28/1984
Debut:  85
Peak:  78
Weeks:  5
Genre:  Adult Contemporary, Pop, R&B

Pop Bits:  Cara's album What a Feelin' produced an unexpected Top 10 hit with "Breakdance," the LP's third single (fourth if you count the previously released soundtrack hit "Flashdance...What a Feeling"). With that song giving a bit of a boost to album sales, it was decided a follow-up single was in order. This album closing ballad was chosen and it did very well at AC getting to #10. However, it didn't do all that well at Pop and R&B wasn't in love with it either (#83). Sadly, the single marked the last time that Cara would have a song reach the US charts. After an extended break, Cara returned to recording and issued the 1987 album Carasmatic, but its first single failed to chart and the album disappeared quickly. It would be her last major label recording. Years later, Cara would form her own all-female band called Hot Caramel. An album would be issued in 2011.

ReduxReview:  It's a shame Cara didn't do a follow-up album sooner. I think she could have been a bigger music star had she gotten hold of (or written) the right songs. The What a Feelin' album showed a lot of promise, but for whatever reason she decided to resume an acting career instead (see below). Perhaps she enjoy acting more than making records and touring. Whatever it was, by the time she returned, her moment of opportunity had passed. So this ballad ended up her swan song on the charts. It's a solid ballad that she co-wrote, but it really wasn't strong enough to compete on the Pop and R&B charts.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  In addition to singing and songwriting, Cara also acted. She had appeared on Broadway, on TV shows, and in films since a young age. In 1984, her acting career got a boost when she got to co-star with Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds in the Prohibition crime caper City Heat. Her role gave her the opportunity to sing a couple of standards in the film and she wrote the title-track theme song as well, which was performed by jazz musician Joe Williams. The Eastwood/Reynolds pairing seemed like a sure bet for a hit, but the film was critically panned and despite making some money it was considered a box office dud. However, it led to a couple more films for Cara over the next two years and that work kept her from following up What a Feelin' until 1987.


Monday, March 27, 2017

"Loverboy" by Karen Kamon

Song#:  1990
Date:  07/28/1984
Debut:  88
Peak:  88
Weeks:  2
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  Karen Ichiuji, aka Karen Kamon, got her start in music when the singer attracted the attention of star producer Phil Ramone (Billy Joel, Paul Simon). Their meeting got her started as a backup singer for a few top acts and the pair also became involved (and eventually married in 1984). In 1983, the pair worked together for the first time on a song called "Manhunt." That tune ended up on the hit soundtrack to the film Flashdance. That song plus another one the pair did for the soundtrack to D.C. Cab ("Squeeze Play") got Kamon signed to CBS Records. With Ramone producing, work began on her debut solo album titled Heart of You. This first single was released to promote the LP, but it couldn't get any traction and ended up a blip on the Pop chart for a couple of weeks. The lack of a substantial hit killed her deal with CBS. She was picked up by Atlantic in 1987 and recorded a second album for their subsidiary label ATCO. It too failed to get attention and it brought to an end her solo days. She continued to work as a vocalist supporting several artists including an appearance on the soundtrack to Elton John's 1999 Broadway musical Aida.

ReduxReview:  I loved "Manhunt" from the Flashdance soundtrack. It was a killer rock/dance track and Kamon sounded great. So when this song came up in the queue I was rather excited to hear it. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to the expectations set up by "Manhunt." The piano part sounded like something lifted from Ramone's main client Billy Joel and the rest of the tune was a bit lackluster with a lot of doo-doo-doo's giving it a retro rock feel. It's not a bad tune, but considering the standard Kamon set with "Manhunt," it's a disappointment. Even worse was her follow-up single - a remake of "Da Doo Ron Ron" that did nothing for her or the classic tune.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Back in 1979, the superstar duo The Carpenters were on a bit of a break. Richard went into rehab for spell and that left Karen by herself. She decided to do a solo album while awaiting Richard's recovery. It was suggested that Phil Ramone would be a great producer for her and everything was set in motion. Karen flew to New York and began work with Ramone along with his girlfriend Karen Kamon (soon to be Karen Ichiuji-Ramone). The two Karens struck up a friendship thanks to the project and the fact that Carpenter stayed with the couple during the New York sessions. The album would be finished in January of 1980. The songs selected for the album were a bit different than the normal Carpenters fare in both style and content, which is want Ramone and Carpenter set out to do. Thrilled with the results, Karen excitedly presented her album to A&M (and her brother). Unfortunately, it was met with a thud and in the end it got shelved. Carpenter remained friends with Ichiuji and Ramone and had even talked with them two days prior to her death in 1983. In the conversation, they had talked about the solo album and how good they felt it was. The album remained unreleased until 1996.


"Straight from the Heart (Into Your Life)" by The Coyote Sisters

Song#:  1989
Date:  07/28/1984
Debut:  90
Peak:  66
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Despite the name, this was not a group of sisters with the last name of Coyote. It was a trio of female singer/songwriters that consisted of Leah Kunkel, Marty Gwinn, and Renee Armand. Each of them had been involved in music for a number of years supporting and writing for other artists while also recording their own songs and albums. The three combined their talents and formed this trio, which got the attention of the Motown subsidiary label Morocco. They recorded a self-titled debut album that was introduced by this first single. AC responded positively and the song made it up to #16 on that chart. Its luck at Pop wasn't as good and it disappeared after a couple of months in the bottom third of the chart. A follow-up single, "I've Got a Radio," was able to reach #39 at AC, but it missed out on the Pop chart. Due to this single's AC success, the trio might have been afforded a follow-up LP, but by the end of '84 Morocco was shuttered by Motown and The Coyote Sisters were done. Years later in 2002, the trio was revived in a way. What started out as a solo album for Gwinn ended up involving Kunkel and Armand (as a song contributor only). Gwinn and Kunkel reformed as The Coyote Sisters and released a new album titled Women and Other Visions.

ReduxReview:  This is a nice AC-leaning tune that would reside comfortably next to ones by Carly Simon, Karla Bonoff, and Jennifer Warnes. It's a pretty slice of contemporary California singer/songwriter pie, but the flavor is just slightly stale. Their sound leans towards the late-70s and while that may still have had an outlet at AC, it wasn't gonna do them any favors at Pop in '84. These are talented women and their album is quite interesting. It actually has better tracks than this single. There was a lot of potential here, but I think they just arrived about six or seven years too late.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Out of the trio, Leah Kunkel probably had the most name recognition. As the younger sister of Cass Elliot (Mamas & the Papas), music was a big part of her life early on. She began backing many artists and writing her own songs. Later in 1968, she married famous session drummer Russ Kunkel. Her first attempt at a recording career came in 1974 when her sister's label, Dunhill, flipped the bill for a single called "Billy." For that record she was billed as Cotton Candy. It went nowhere, but a few years later she was signed to Columbia Records and got her first real crack at a solo career. She was able to issue two albums for the label, but neither did any business. After the disappointing returns, Kunkel then found herself as part of The Coyote Sisters, which would end up being her most successful venture. Kunkel continued to write and perform after the Sisters came to an end.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

"If This Is It" by Huey Lewis & the News

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  1988
Date:  07/21/1984
Debut:  45
Peak:  6
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  The News' album Sports was a consistent seller all throughout '84 thanks to its hit singles. By the summer, three of the LP's songs had hit the Top 10, which included the #6 gold-selling "I Want a New Drug." This fourth single was issued and it did just as well as the others climbing into the Top 10 and reaching the #6 spot. That seemed to be a lucky number for the band at the time as this was their third single in a row to reach #6.

ReduxReview:  I was never a fan of this song, however it was a good selection for a single. With Billy Joel riding high on the chart with hits from his early rock homage LP An Innocent Man, the sound of this single fit right in line. It sold well thanks to its multi-generational appeal. I didn't really buy into it, but I certainly don't hate the tune. It's just not my thing.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Just like their previous three singles, this one was also a hit at Rock where it got to #3. However, what is different about the tune is that its retro-rock/doo-wop sound found a home on AC radio and it became the band's first to reach that chart. It did quite well getting to #5. Now established on that chart, they would go on to have nine more AC Top 10's over the years with one of those hits getting to #1 - 1986's "Stuck with You."