Saturday, May 6, 2017

"In the Name of Love" by Ralph MacDonald with Bill Withers

Song#:  2032
Date:  09/01/1984
Debut:  89
Peak:  58
Weeks:  10
Genre:  R&B, Adult Contemporary, Smooth Jazz

Pop Bits:  MacDonald's father was a famous Calypso musician and it wasn't long before MacDonald got himself involved in music. He began his music career as a teenager playing the steelpan (or steel drums) for Harry Belafonte's tours and shows. Along the way he expanded his repertoire and soon he was a go-to percussionist for studio work. He would end up recording with legendary artists like Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, Billy Joel, Hall & Oates, and many others. Along the way he also recorded his own solo jazz/crossover albums beginning with 1976's Sound of a Drum. A trio of songs from that album made it on the Dance chart and got to #7. Two of those songs were formally issued as singles and made it to the lower rungs of the R&B chart. He issued two more albums for the small Marlin label before getting signed to Polydor. His first album for them was Universal Rhythm and it contained this first single, which featured vocals by Bill Withers. The song was a hit at AC reaching #6 while also getting to #13 at R&B. It was popular enough to crossover to Pop where it just missed getting into the top half of the chart. It would be MacDonald's only single to reach the Pop chart. While he would continue to record albums over the years, MacDonald would mainly work in the background as a musician and songwriter. He often performed in Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band. He passed away from lung cancer in 2011.

ReduxReview:  I dunno. I guess I was expecting more here. With MacDonald's writing background I thought this would be another standout track, however I'm just not loving it. I think they were going for "Just the Two of Us, Part 2" and it didn't really work. The sound is there, but the memorable hook and melody is missing. It's nice background music for wining and dining, but that's not necessarily good. That means it pleasantly blends into the background and nothing about it stands out. Plus, the time period for this style of song had kind of passed by, so unless it was an absolutely brilliant tune it wasn't going to go far on the Pop chart.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Back around 1970, MacDonald decided to open a music publishing company along with William Salter. The pair struggled for nearly two years trying to get the company established. Finally, in 1972 a song that the pair wrote got picked up. Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway recorded the tune "Where Is the Love" for their self-titled duet album. The song was released as a single and it got to #5 Pop and #1 R&B. Flack and Hathaway would receive a Grammy for their performance. Now established songwriters, others came calling. The pair would have another big success in 1981 when their song "Just the Two of Us" became a #2 Pop/#2 AC/#3 R&B hit for Grover Washington, Jr. That song featured the vocals of Bill Withers, which then led to Withers co-writing and performing on this MacDonald single.  2) MacDonald would win a Grammy for writing "Just the Two of Us," but years earlier he got two Grammys for being included on a famous soundtrack album. MacDonald recorded a song called "Calypso Breakdown" that was used on the huge hit soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. When that album won the Grammy for Album of the Year, it netted MacDonald a Grammy for being a performer and one for being a producer.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

"Lucky Star" by Madonna

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2031
Date:  08/25/1984
Debut:  49
Peak:  4
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  Madonna's self-titled debut album was finally shaping up to be a hit after the LP's fourth single, "Borderline," became her first Top 10 hit (#10). A follow-up was needed, so this fifth single was issued. "Lucky Star" had already been a #1 hit on the Dance chart in combination with "Holiday," and it had already been issued in several other countries. Yet despite the song's previous exposure, it quickly climbed the charts to become Madonna's second Top 10. It also got to #19 AC and #42 R&B. It was helped along by an iconic MTV video that helped to break Madonna and the album wide open. Very quickly, young girls were adopting Madonna's thrift shop look from the video and album sales were increasing. Eventually, Madonna would sell over 5 million copies in the US. The album would peak at #8 and as of this posting it remains Madonna's only regular studio album to peak lower than #3.

ReduxReview:  "Borderline" may have been her first Top 10, but I think this is the song that really made Madonna a star; and that was mainly due to that dang video. Her dancing, persona, and clothing style were all over the place after that video. The song inescapable and it led to gaggles of girls imitating her look. Her next album would really shoot her star into the stratosphere, but it was this one that launched Madonna off the pad. While it is not the most impressive piece of pop writing that ever existed, it's still a solid song that sounds just as good and fun today.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  In the early sessions for the album, Madonna had recorded several songs with producer Reggie Lucas, including "Lucky Star" and "Borderline." Madonna's initial intent was for the album to be titled Lucky Star, but later it was decided that her single moniker name would be more powerful. At the end of the initial sessions, Madonna was unhappy with what Lucas did (or more like, what he didn't do that she wanted) and she ended up hiring John "Jellybean" Benitez to do remixes and handle production on another song. Benitez honed in on Madonna's vision and after a slow start, the album took off and made Madonna a star...a lucky star, you might say...


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

"Some Guys Have All the Luck" by Rod Stewart

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2030
Date:  08/25/1984
Debut:  57
Peak:  10
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  Stewart returned to the Pop Top 10 for the first time since 1981 with the first single from his Camouflage album, "Infatuation" (#6). This next single would achieve that same feat, but just barely peaking at #10. That result marked the first time that Stewart achieved back-to-back Top 10's from one album. Although Rock wasn't all that interested in the song (#27), AC took a big liking to it and sent it to #3. Thanks to the two hits, the album made it into the Top 20 and returned Stewart to gold-level sales.

ReduxReview:  If you've ever heard the original version of this song (see below), it's nothing like Stewart's take. The original is a laid back, near-ballad R&B 70s tune that still sounds great. Stewart took that track and transformed it into an 80s synthpop jam, which seems like an awful idea, but it actually turned out quite well. It's percolating keyboards sounded great on the radio and Stewart's "woo-woo-woo" line added another catchy layer. Yeah, it's not "Maggie May," but it's a nice little song.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) This is a remake of a song originally performed by the R&B vocal group The Persuaders. They recorded the tune in 1973 and took it to #7 R&B and #39 Pop. Written by songwriter Jeff Fortgang, it was the only song that he ever sold to any artist. After a few years of songwriting, Fortgang left the business and pursued a career in clinical psychology.  2) For this remake, Stewart added in a bit of flare courtesy of another song. The little "woo-woo" section in the song was taken from the 1956 hit "Ain't Got No Home" by Clarence "Frogman" Henry. His single made it to #3 at R&B and #20 Pop.  3) In addition to The Persuaders and Stewart, two other artists have had success with the song, but on other charts. Country star Louise Mandrell did a version called "Some Girls Have All the Luck" in 1985. It reached #22 on the Country chart. Prior to Stewart's recording, Robert Palmer covered the song for his 1982 album Maybe It's Live. That album consisted of both live and studio tracks. His cover version of "Some Guys" was one of the studio tracks. It was issued as a single and reached #16 in the UK. It failed to chart at Pop in the US, but it did make a brief appearance on the Rock chart getting to #59.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

"Flesh for Fantasy" by Billy Idol

Song#:  2029
Date:  08/25/1984
Debut:  64
Peak:  29
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Idol got his first Top 10 Pop hit when the ballad "Eyes Without a Face" made it to #4. It was the second single from his Rebel Yell album. For its follow-up this track was selected for release. It was another success at Rock getting to #8, but the more rock-leaning tune couldn't do as well at Pop and it barely made it inside the Top 30. Still, Rebel Yell would end up being Idol's best-selling album going double platinum.

ReduxReview:  This mid-tempo rock tune was a good selection to follow up "Eyes," which was an unusual ballad entry from Idol. The highlight here is the chorus, which Idol rocks out with gusto. The verse is where the song's weak point is. It just seems to ramble a bit before it starts to rev up in the pre-chorus bridge. The ending is totally weird as it just kind of drifts off and seems unfinished. It's definitely one of Idol's better hits even if it really wasn't Top 10 material.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  The video for this song was directed by Howard Deutch. Deutch was just beginning his directing career as music videos became popular and it helped get him established. In addition to the video for this song, he also directed the one for Billy Joel's "Keeping the Faith." Two years later, Deutch would direct his first feature film, the John Hughes comedy Pretty in Pink. The following year he headed up another Hughes film, Some Kind of Wonderful. It was on that movie that Deutch met his future wife, actress Leah Thompson. Later in the mid-90's, Deutch would direct a few episodes of Thompson's hit TV show Caroline in the City.


Monday, May 1, 2017

"Strut" by Sheena Easton

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2028
Date:  08/25/1984
Debut:  75
Peak:  7
Weeks:  25
Genre:  Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  Easton's career needed a boost after her third album. Her singles were stuck in ballad mode and she'd gone two years without a solo Top 10 hit. Her fourth LP Best Kept Secret gained a little ground when its synthpop first single "Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair)" went Top 10. However, despite the hit, the album missed the gold mark and it left Easton at a career crossroads of sorts. Her next move would be crucial and luckily what she chose to do pretty much defined her image for the balance of the decade. For her next album, A Private Heaven, she decided to break out of her sweet, singer-next-door image and go for something more sleek and sexy. With producer Greg Mathieson (who helmed Best Kept Secret), Easton punched up her sound and grabbed some songs that allowed her to be bolder and more flirtatious - in perhaps a not-so-innocent way. This first horn-laden single announced her new direction. It took a while for the song to catch on, but with the aid of a popular MTV video, the song soon found its way into the Pop Top 10 and #6 Dance. The hit also earned Easton a Grammy nod for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

ReduxReview:  Let's face it. Prior to this song Easton's career was nearly on the ropes. Yeah, "Telefone" was a hit, but it didn't really make her progress as an artist or make her a bigger star. Had she continued with the ballads and cute little synthpop tunes, I think her charting career would have been over. I truly think she felt that as well and her next move ended up being a brilliant one. This song was a definite departure in sound and image and it was exactly what she needed. With one song, she went from a sweet, Scottish lass singing innocent pop tunes to a sexy siren with a wink-wink naughty side. Easton 2.0 was bold and independent and it drew in a new set of listeners. This first single was a perfect introduction and it made a lot of folks think differently about Easton. I loved this song and still do. It's a well-written song that features top-notch production and a standout vocal by Easton. It still sounds great today.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  This song was co-written by Charlie Dore and Julian Littman. Dore had her own brief moment in the Pop spotlight earlier in 1980 when her song "Pilot of the Airwaves" made it to #13. She wasn't able to follow up that song and decided to move on to acting. But the pull of music was still there and she continued to write songs, several of which ended up being recorded by other artists. Her first major success came when Easton picked up "Strut." That opened the door for her and before long other artists came calling. Tina Turner, Celine Dion, and George Harrison are a few of the major artists that have recorded Dore's songs.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

"You Take Me Up" by Thompson Twins

Song#:  2027
Date:  08/25/1984
Debut:  80
Peak:  44
Weeks:  9
Genre:  New Wave, Synthpop

Pop Bits:  This trio's fourth album, Into the Gap, was a Top 10 hit that would end up being their best-selling album. Two of the album's tracks had already achieved hit status and the band was hoping this third one would do just as well. Unfortunately, it stalled short of the Pop Top 40 and could only manage a #51 spot at Rock. In their UK homeland, the song would become their fifth Top 10 hit reaching #2. It would be their biggest hit there, yet serve as their final one to reach the Top 10. They would continue to have some Top 10 luck in the US with their next LP.

ReduxReview:  This song has a real international flare to it nearly combining a blues-ish feel with something akin to African music. I think it works well and it has a nice chorus. It wasn't going to be a big hit in the US, but I thought it would be able to get inside the Pop Top 40. However, it seems the sound of the single just wasn't clicking with US pop listeners.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This song would serve as the final US single from Into the Gap. However, since it became their biggest hit in the UK, it seemed logical to release a fourth single there. A newly remixed version of the track "Sister of Mercy" got issued. It did well reaching #11 on the chart. Its flip side was a bit unusual. Titled "Out of the Gap," it was a "megamix" of various songs from the album and a couple of their previous hits. The 45 version of the single featured a 5+ minute mix while the 12" version had a nearly 9 minute version.