Saturday, May 13, 2017

"Pretty Mess" by Vanity

Song#:  2038
Date:  09/08/1984
Debut:  87
Peak:  75
Weeks:  7
Genre:  R&B, Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  Initially, Vanity had some success as a Prince protege. She was a part of the vocal trio Vanity 6 that Prince assembled. He mostly wrote and produced their 1982 self-title debut album. It spawned the #1 Dance/#7 R&B hit "Nasty Girl," which failed to cross over to the Pop chart. Next up, Vanity was supposed to co-star with Prince in his upcoming film Purple Rain, but things happened and Vanity dropped out of the movie and separated herself from Prince. Now on her own, she looked to continue her career as a solo artist and got signed to Motown Records. She wrote a set of songs and proceeded to record them with musician/producer Bill Wolfer. With her solo debut album, Wild Animal, completed, this first single was issued. It saw a little action at Dance (#13) and R&B (#15), but Pop was less enthusiastic and the tune got locked in the bottom quarter of the chart. A second single, "Mechanical Emotion," could only manage a #23 showing at R&B.

ReduxReview:  Okay, so here is the thing with Vanity. She's is barely a passable singer. So when an artist doesn't have that great of a voice, the songs and everything else have to be spot on in order to make it work. As much as I worship and adore Madonna, she is not a great singer. However, she had everything else in spades and that made her voice seem better than it was. Unfortunately, Vanity didn't have the whole package. She might have had a far better chance had Prince still been in control, but without him, it wasn't gonna happen. If you take this song down to its bare bones, it's really not bad at all. Vanity came up with a pretty good tune. But the thin 80s production combined with her little girl voice making all these goofy inflections sink the song. Imagine if someone like Sheila E sang and produced this. I think it would have been a hit. It just wasn't gonna happen with Vanity at the helm.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  Although she had left Prince behind, his influence was apparent on her debut album. With producer Bill Wolfer playing practically all the instrument and Vanity writing most all the material, it was nearly a two-artist affair, as it was with Prince and Vanity 6. She also introduced her own brand of Prince's sexy/naughty side, which ended up getting her called out for obscene material in the same way that Prince was. Vanity's song "Strap On 'Robbie Baby'" joined Prince's "Darling Nikki" on the PMRC's "Filthy Fifteen" list. "Strap On" was written by Vanity's then-boyfriend Robbie Bruce and was basically an ode to dildo play. The PMRC was less than thrilled with the song and tagged it as filthy.


Friday, May 12, 2017

"Body Rock" by Maria Vidal

Song#:  2037
Date:  09/08/1984
Debut:  89
Peak:  48
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Dance-Pop, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  Vidal's career initially began to take off when she became a member Desmond Child & Rouge. That group would reach #51 on the Pop chart in 1979 with the song "Our Love Is Insane." After two albums the group would split, but Vidal kept busy as a background vocalist. In 1984, songs were being gathered for an upcoming movie titled Body Rock. It was another entry in the breakdance film craze of the time period and a soundtrack was a necessity. Producer Phil Ramone was put in charge of the soundtrack and songs were gathered from artists like Laura Branigan, Roberta Flack, Dwight Twilley, and others. For the title-track, this song was written and Vidal was chosen to sing it. The tune would be selected as the soundtrack's first single and issued ahead of the film. The single got some attention at Dance where it reached #8, but it petered out before it could get inside the Pop Top 40. It probably didn't help that the movie was a box office dud and disappeared quickly. Ramone was probably hoping for another Flashdance type success (he oversaw that soundtrack as well), but it didn't happen. Vidal would appear in and supply songs for the 1985 film Once Bitten, but neither the film or soundtrack were very successful. She would fully embark on a solo career in 1987 signing with A&M and issuing a self-titled debut album, but no singles charted and the album faded quickly.

ReduxReview:  This song now sounds like a second-rate Madonna imitation. Madonna had recently become a star, so they could have easily copped her sound and style. The problem is that the song and production wasn't nearly as strong as what Madonna was doing. In fact, even for the time period, the production here is very weak. It's so tinny and thin. Vidal actually has a better voice that what this would suggest too. It reminds me of a tune that would be used on some 80s exercise video. I don't mind hearing it, but it's not a very good recording.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Group leader Desmond Child later became more famous as a songwriter and producer. He has written/co-written many hits over the years including Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name" and "Livin' on a Prayer," Kiss' "I Was Made for Lovin' You," Aerosmith's "Dude (Looks Like a Lady," Joan Jett's "I Hate Myself for Loving You," Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca," Katy Perry's "Waking Up in Vegas," and many more. In 1991, he issued his only solo album titled Discipline. Two singles from the album got on the Pop chart: "Love on a Rooftop" got to #40 and "You're the Story of My Life" made it to #74 (#29 AC).  2) Vidal later married songwriter/producer Rick Nowels. Nowels has had his own string of successes writing and/or producing for artists like Belinda Carlisle, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, Madonna, Lana Del Ray, and many others. He would co-produce the majority of track on Vidal's self-titled solo album.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

"Swept Away" by Diana Ross

Song#:  2036
Date:  09/01/1984
Debut:  62
Peak:  19
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Pop, Dance, R&B

Pop Bits:  Ross was in a slump. After moving to the RCA label, her first LP for them, Why Do Fools Fall in Love, was a platinum success. However, its follow-ups didn't fare as well and her 1983 album Ross couldn't even reach gold level sales. She definitely needed a boost and initially she got a little help via her duet with Julio Iglesias, "All of You." With that song headed to the Pop Top 20 and #2 AC, the time was right to unleash this title-track single to her next album. The song was an instant hit at Dance where it became her first #1 on that chart since 1980. It also did well at R&B getting to #3. Although it could only manage to get inside the Pop Top 20, that result was her best since "Muscles" reached #10 in 1982. The news would be even better with her next single.

ReduxReview:  This song did indeed sweep me away. It also swept away the aftertaste left behind by the cruddy singles from her previous album Ross. This beefed up, rock-leaning tune was miles ahead of anything from that album or even the previous one (with the lone exception of "Muscles"). Even Ross sounded more engaged and performed a nice vocal - probably her best in years. Co-written by Daryl Hall (see below) it really doesn't have a whiff of Hall & Oates' blue-eyed soul, which benefits Ross. It doesn't sound like she is covering an H&O tune. Why this did not go Top 10 is a mystery, especially since the video did well on MTV and the song rocked. Still it was a major 80s step forward for Ross and it remains one of her best singles of the decade. The album was quite good too.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This song was co-written by Daryl Hall and Sara Allen with Ross providing the spoken word intro. Hall also did background vocals and performed the guitar solo. Hall also produced the song with Arthur Baker, who was quickly becoming an in-demand producer/remixer. At the time, Baker was having great success doing remixes for high-profile artists like Cyndi Lauper and Bruce Springsteen. The pairing of Hall and Baker seemed to work out well as Baker went on to collaborate with Daryl Hall and John Oates on their 1984 album Out of Touch. In addition to some production and remix work, Baker also co-wrote the LP's opening track, "Dance on Your Knees," with Hall.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Shine, Shine" by Barry Gibb

Song#:  2035
Date:  09/01/1984
Debut:  64
Peak:  37
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  The Bee Gees' 1981 album Living Eyes didn't exactly burn up the charts and neither did their song contributions to the 1983 soundtrack to Staying Alive. With their popularity dwindled the brothers invested their time in other projects. Barry was having solid success with other artists as a songwriter/producer, so the time seemed right to do a solo album and he signed a deal with MCA Records. He recorded his debut solo album, Now Voyager, and this song was the first single released. It did well at AC getting to #8, but it could only manage a brief Top 40 showing at Pop. A second single, "Fine Line," could not do anything except a quick #50 peak at Dance. Although Gibb couldn't get a foothold on the charts as a solo artist, he remained an in-demand producer for other artists.

ReduxReview:  It had to be difficult for Gibb. Here he was writing and producing hits for others, yet he just couldn't get a break as a Bee Gee or solo artist with his songs. I think part of the problem was that he gave away some of his best material and when it came time to do his own record, the well was a bit dry. For example, if a major star had recorded this song, would it have been a hit? I don't think so. It's an okay tune, but it's just not hit material. The other issue is that around this time many folks didn't want to hear a Gibb. Get someone else to sing the songs, sure. But that weird backlash was still in effect and Gibb was going to have to create something truly stunning and magical to break through the barrier. Unfortunately, this song wasn't it. When he really needed his A-game, Gibb just didn't have gas in the tank.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Although Now Voyager was Gibb's official debut solo album, it wasn't his first attempt. Back in 1969, it was announced that the Bee Gees had broken up. Gibb later announced that he was going to embark on a solo career and the following year he began recording songs. From the sessions, one single was officially released, but then the project stalled and the album never fully materialized. It was shelved and by the end of the year Barry's focus was diverted to a reunited Bee Gees. Save for bootleg material culled from the sessions and assembled as The Kid's No Good, the songs were never officially released. Two years after Now Voyager, Gibb set out to record his second solo album, which was to be named Moonlight Madness. Again, tracks were recorded, but the project ended up getting shelved. This time, however, several of the completed tracks were officially released in 1988 on a soundtrack album to the film Hawks, a British comedy that was based on a short story that Gibb had written. It starred Timothy Dalton and Anthony Edwards. Gibb would finally issue an official second solo album in 2016 titled In the Now. Although none of that LP's singles would reach the charts, the album did get to #2 in the UK and #63 in the US, which was better than the #72 peak of Now Voyager.


Monday, May 8, 2017

"A Girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing)" by Romeo Void

Song#:  2034
Date:  09/01/1984
Debut:  80
Peak:  35
Weeks:  13
Genre:  New Wave

Pop Bits:  This San Francisco band, featuring Debora Iyall on lead vocals, got started in February 1979. Their post-punk sound quickly gained them an audience and by 1981 they had released an indie LP titled It's a Condition. The well-received album and the band's live shows got the attention of several popular musicians including Ric Ocasek of The Cars. Ocasek offered to produce some tracks for the band and later in '81 the EP Never Say Never was issued. This led to a deal with Columbia Records and the band's first major label album Benefactor. The popular title track from Never Say Never was included on the LP and got issued as its first single. It made an impression at Dance (#17) and Rock (#27), while the video made waves on MTV. The results were encouraging and Columbia called for another album. The band came up with Instincts and this first single led the way. Boosted by a popular MTV video, the song did well at Dance (#11) and Rock (#17). It also became their first song to chart at Pop where it broke into the Top 40. The album also sold well getting to #68. It set them up for even better success, but soon things unraveled and the band decided to call it quits in 1985.

ReduxReview:  For some reason at the time this song didn't stand out to me. I thought the title was intriguing (which was inspired by Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean"), but the tune seemed dull to me and lacked a solid hook. I got more familiar with it years later via an 80s compilation. It's a subtlety powerful song that was sometimes overshadowed by the popular "Never Say Never." It's a solid song and it's too bad the band wasn't give a chance to capitalize on the hit. 

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Apparently, a headline in a local magazine was the inspiration for the band's name. The cover featured an article titled "Why single women can't get laid in San Francisco." Somehow, this led to them thinking about the lack of romance and that turned into Romeo Void.  2) The music business is full of unfortunate stories where the labels basically pull the rug out from under an artist for one reason or another. Apparently, this happened to Romeo Void and it brought an end to the band. Everything was going great for them in '84. They were on tour and this single had become a hit. Most any label would be pleased with what was happening, but according to Iyall, via the band's manager, the label reps were not all that thrilled. Apparently, the reps had issues with Iyall's appearance, in particular her weight. With MTV becoming more important, image was a key factor and the label didn't necessarily think Iyall fit in. This became apparent when the label demanded that another, prettier girl appear in the video for this song. The band went along with everything, but it seemed that the label still wasn't satisfied. Without notice, the label pulled all PR, interviews, etc. from the band mid-tour despite the hit song and good-selling album. Soon they were just dropped. Whether this was all due to Iyall's appearance or if there were also other issues at play is not fully known, but it certainly was odd to dump a band that was doing well and breaking through on the charts.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

"On the Wings of a Nightingale" by The Everly Brothers

Song#:  2033
Date:  09/01/1984
Debut:  85
Peak:  50
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  Prior to the time when Hall & Oates dominated the Pop chart, The Everly Brothers were the top charting duo of the rock era. Between 1957 and 1962, the brothers scored thirteen Top 10 hits including three #1's. But as the 60s wore on, the hits stopped coming for the duo. Although they had many difficulties during that time (including addiction to amphetamines), they continued to tour and record. However, by 1973 the brothers were not getting along and after a farewell tour of sorts, the pair split. Phil and Don each pursued their own projects that had minimal success. Things changed when Phil released a self-titled LP in 1983 that became a hit in England. It rejuvenated interest in the duo and ten years after they split, they got together in England for a reunion show that was recorded for an LP and filmed for a TV special. Soon the brothers were in the studio recording a new album. This time around, they got some assistance from a few artists who have cited the pair as influences. Rocker Dave Edmunds would produce EB 84 while ELO's Jeff Lynne would play bass, do the arrangements, and contribute a song. Paul McCartney would also help out by contributing this song that became the LP's first single. The song was well-received at AC getting to #9. However, it wasn't quite the return they hoped for at Pop (#50) and Country (#49). Still, it was their first single to chart at Pop since 1967. It would also be their last to reach the Pop chart. A follow-up album also produced by Edmunds, Born Yesterday, scored a middling hit in 1986 with the title track. It got to #17 at both AC and Country. They continued to perform over the years and even toured with Simon & Garfunkel in 2003. Phil would end up dying in 2014 from lung disease.

ReduxReview:  This was a lovely little song written by Sir Paul that fit the brothers like a glove. Edmunds' production was spot-on as well. All involved did their best keeping the Everly's sound intact while shining it up in a more modern way. It was perfect for those who remember or were fans of the Everly's, but for a new generation of MTV-er's the nostalgia was lost on them. That's too bad as this was a really nice return for the brothers. Luckily AC picked up on it and gave it some love.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Phil and Don's solo efforts didn't yield much in the way of hits in the US. In his career, Don only recorded three solo albums. None of them did much business and his best charting single was 1976's "Yesterday Just Passed My Way Again," which got to #50 on the Country chart. Phil had a little more success. He ended up recording five solo albums and his best single outing was in 1980 when "Dare to Dream Again" got to #9 at AC (#63 Country). On his final self-titled solo album in 1983, Phil recorded a duet with Cliff Richard titled "She Means Nothing to Me" that got to #9 in the UK. Years later in 1994, a live radio recording done in 1981 of Richard and Phil sing The Everly Brothers' 1958 #1 hit "All I Have to Do Is Dream" was released as a one-off single. It got to #14 on the UK chart.