Saturday, June 3, 2017

"High Energy" by Evelyn Thomas

Song#:  2059
Date:  09/29/1984
Debut:  95
Peak:  85
Weeks:  5
Genre:  Dance

Pop Bits:  DJ Ian Levine became popular on England's Northern Soul club circuit in the early 70s. When he branched out to producing music, he went over to the States to look for talent. On a trip to Chicago he encountered singer Evelyn Thomas. Levine got her signed to 20th Century Records in the UK and together they issued a couple single that were minor entries on the UK chart. During the height of disco, Thomas then signed to Casablanca in the US and recorded a debut album 1978. The following year saw another album issued on the AVI label, but neither album did any business and with the fall of disco, Thomas' career was fading fast. Even though disco had died, the clubs still needed dance music and that spot was filled with a lot of Euro-dance tunes. Ian Levine hooked into this and once again brought Thomas over to the UK to record more songs. Their first effort was "High Energy" and once released it reached #5 in the UK. The song then got attention in US clubs and soon it was sitting atop the Dance chart. The attention there helped the tune crossover to the Pop chart for a few weeks. It would be her first and only #1 Dance hit and her only one to reach the Pop chart. An album of the same name would be released and it sold a few copies. A follow-up album came out in 1986, and it featured two Top 20 Dance hits and her only song to reach the R&B chart, "Heartless" (#84). She continued to record over the years, but nothing would be successful as this single.

ReduxReview:  This song definitely had a sound that was going to soon catch on at Pop. It was just a matter of time, the right song, and the right artists. In the meantime, it has to start somewhere and this song was one of the first of its kind to really take over the dance floor. It was still a bit too dance-oriented to really catch on at Pop and its disco flavor wasn't going to win over a lot of fans who poo-poo'd that genre. Still, it's a solid tune and Thomas sounds great. Thomas was never able to capitalize on this song and make it big in the US, which is too bad. She had the talent and some good material. She's a bit of a lost artist now, so if this song interests you, check out her other tunes.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  "High Energy" was not only the name of the song, but it would also become the name of the song's sound. Later known as Hi-NRG, the genre was basically a spinoff of disco after that genre experienced a massive backlash. Hi-NRG combines elements of Eurodance and disco, but with a slightly higher tempo. One of the first song attributed to the genre was Donna Summer's 1977 hit "I Feel Love." It has been mentioned that Summer may have inadvertently coined the style's name. Apparently in an interview she mentioned that "I Feel Love" became a hit because it had a "high-energy vibe." A few songs that fit the style followed, but it really came into fashion in the early 80s, mainly in the UK. There was even a specific music chart dedicated to the genre there and Thomas' "High Energy" was one of the first to top that chart. Hi-NRG would become more popular in the States with songs from the Stock-Aitken-Waterman production team hitting the charts ("Venus" by Bananarama, "You Spin Me Round) Like a Record" by Dead or Alive, etc.). Hi-NRG would peak in the mid- to late-80s with offshoot genres like techno and rave starting to take over.


Friday, June 2, 2017

"Left in the Dark" by Barbra Streisand

Song#:  2058
Date:  09/22/1984
Debut:  68
Peak:  50
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Pop, Rock, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  After Streisand completed her film making journey with Yentl, she returned to pop music and recorded her first proper studio album since her 1980 #1 smash Guilty. Her latest offering, Emotion, would feature a lot of star power via performers and producers including Richard Perry, Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire), The Pointer Sisters, John Mellencamp and Kim Carnes. Also on the list was Wagnerian Rock songwriter/producer Jim Steinman. He contributed this epic song to the album and it was chosen as the first single. Streisand made a video for the song, which was her first to be done specifically for MTV. The six-minute video featured her A Star Is Born co-star Kris Kristofferson. Of course AC would show up to support a new Streisand tune and it got to #4 on that chart. Yet despite the video and Steinman's epic production, the song fizzled just halfway up the Pop chart. Although the album would be a platinum seller, it could only manage a #19 peak, which was her worst showing on the chart since her 1976 classical music project Classical Barbra.

ReduxReview:  This certainly wasn't the first time, nor would it be the last time, that Steinman recycled his own music (see below). That really shouldn't matter, but it seems that with a mega star like Streisand, he could have at least wrote a song specifically for her. On the good side, the Streisand version is far better than Steinman's original. She attacked it and gave the tune everything she had. However, as much as I bow down and love La Streisand, she was never a very convincing rock singer. (If you don't believe me, the album has a John Mellencamp song which she tries to tackle - yikes..). Even on this one she seems a bit out of place. I just don't think the Steinman/Streisand pairing really worked. Plus, by this time folks were getting tired of Steinman's epics. After this, he wouldn't have a significant hit until 1993 when Meat Loaf went to #1 with "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)." While this isn't a bad track, it does not rank among Streisand's best. It's more of an oddity in her catalog, as is the album. It was her bid to stay with current pop trends, hence the hot producers and guest stars. It was after this album that Streisand realized that she didn't need to keep up with trends. She just needed to do what she does best and folks would follow. And we did!

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of a song originally done by its writer, Jim Steinman. The track was originally intended for Meat Loaf, but when Meat lost his voice things kind of spiraled. With songs available and no one to do them, Steinman then decided to record them all himself. He issued the solo album Bad for Good and this song served as the closing track. The LP was somewhat successful thanks to the minor hit "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through" (#32). Instead of writing Streisand a new song, Steinman revisited his own recording and tailored a few lyrics to make them fit the female perspective. Meat Loaf would eventually record the song for his 1995 album Welcome to the Neighborhood.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

"Bouncin' Off the Wall" by Matthew Wilder

Song#:  2057
Date:  09/22/1984
Debut:  78
Peak:  52
Weeks:  9
Genre:  Synthpop

Pop Bits:  Wilder had an unexpected breakthrough with the single "Break My Stride," which was from his debut LP I Don't Speak the Language. The song would reach #5 at Pop and #4 AC. A year later, Wilder was ready to unleash his second album titled Bouncin' Off the Walls. The title-track was issued as the LPs first single, but it just wasn't catching fire like his signature hit. It got near the halfway point on the chart before fading away. The disappointing results of the song had the label scrapping any plans for further singles and the album quietly disappeared. Along with it went Wilder's solo career. Despite not being able to remain a viable recording artist, Wilder continued to be highly successful in the music business as a songwriter/producer. He would later earn an Oscar nomination for his work on the Disney film Mulan.

ReduxReview:  "Break My Stride" was such a unique hit that Wilder was going to have a difficult time following that up. He tried with this spacey Major Tom-ish jam, but it wasn't going to get the job done. It had some good things going for it like the production, the "boom-boom-boom" hook, and the crazy video that did the upside-down room stuff way before Lionel Richie did in "Dancing on the Ceiling." However, the song was just not strong enough to cut through all the other hooky synthpop tunes out there at the time. It's definitely worthy of a listen or two.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Back in 1992, a young band from California got signed to Interscope Records and released a debut album. It sold poorly. Afterwards, the label wasn't that much interested in the band and prospects for a new album were dim. With a lot of songs written, the band then decided to record on their own and issue and album independently. Their second LP sold over 100,000 copies which, of course, immediately got Interscope's attention. Now with a potential hit band on their hands, the label pushed for a new album. However, they were not all that happy with what the band was coming up with on their own, so they ended up getting Matthew Wilder to produce the album. In 1995, the Wilder-produced album Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt was released. It would go on to sell over 10 million copies in the US and it made huge stars of Gwen Stefani and the band.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"Cool It Now" by New Edition

Top 10 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  2056
Date:  09/22/1984
Debut:  84
Peak:  4
Weeks:  25
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  This teenage vocal group, developed by producer Maurice Starr, did well with their self-titled debut album. It resulted in good sales and a #1 R&B hit with "Candy Girl." Another Top 10 hit would follow, but the group had a difficult time crossing over to the Pop chart with "Candy Girl" unable to make the Top 40 (#46). The young group toured and gained fans, but when it was all done, the kids went home with virtually zero money in profit. Feeling they were getting the short end of the straw, the kids sued to get out of their contract with Starr. They won and immediately got picked up by MCA. The label went into action and set the group up with several producers including Michael Sembello ("Maniac") and Ray Parker, Jr. With a more clean-cut image, the guys recorded a new self-titled album. This first single was issued and it became their second to top the R&B chart. The song was pushed heavily to Pop and it paid off when the single reached #4. That crossover action helped to earn the group a gold record. The album would reach #1 R&B/#6 Pop and would eventually hit the double platinum mark.

ReduxReview:  Back in the day I just considered these guys a weak imitation of the Jackson 5 and I didn't pay much attention to them. I wasn't a fan of this tune and the tinny 80s production and little raps didn't help. It was a fine track for younger kids, but as an adult I wouldn't be caught blasting this tune in the car with the windows down. I'm still not fully on board with the song - I'd rather just listen to the Jackson 5. However, I hear it with different ears now and as a piece of extra sweet, saccharine-laced candy, it's not all that bad.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This song was written and produced by Vincent Brantley and Rick Timas. The pair had written it specifically for New Edition, but had zero luck in trying to get it to the group. Feeling that it just wasn't going to happen, they recorded the song with another group whose members were older than those of New Edition, but it just didn't sound right. It was meant for the young teens of New Edition. They caught a break one day when they spotted one of MCA's VPs at a restaurant. Armed with a cassette player and the tune, they boldly got the guy's attention and played/sang him the song. The exec liked what he heard and set up a meeting in the studio with New Edition's manager. It was decided that the group would record the song and that Brantley and Timas could produce it. The pair would also produce two other tracks for the album.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Yes or No" by The Go-Go's

Song#:  2055
Date:  09/22/1984
Debut:  86
Peak:  84
Weeks:  3
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  The band's third album, Talk Show, was just not performing as well as their previous two. With only its initial single, "Head Over Heels," getting any real attention, the album could only manage a #18 peak and it failed to reach gold level sales. Hoping for a bit of a turn around, this third single was issued. Unfortunately, it disappeared rather quickly and the song would end up being the band's final one to reach the Pop chart. With The Go-Go's experiencing a lot of inner turmoil, they called it quits not long after Jane Weidlin decided to leave the band. Solo careers were to follow with Belinda Carlisle having the most success scoring four Top 10's including the 1987 #1 "Heaven Is a Place on Earth." The band would have various reunions over the years including a successful 2016 Farewell Tour, which was billed as being their last full tour. However, they still plan to do one-off gigs on occasion.

ReduxReview:  I was quite disappointed when this was selected for the third single. I like the song and it's a great addition to the album, but I thought it was a very weak choice for a single. I'm guessing the label wanted to try something that would be more pop-friendly rather than a rock track and this one seemed to fit the bill. It just didn't work. There were better choices in my opinion. I thought "Beneath the Blue Sky" had much better potential. Regardless, Talk Show remains one of my favorite albums.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  The Go-Go's are still often considered the most successful all-female band in rock history thanks in part to their debut album Beauty and the Beat. That LP became the first written and performed by an all-female band to reach the #1 spot. Regardless of what came after, the album secured them a permanent spot in rock music history. The Go-Go's would reunite on occasion after the break up. The first instance was in 1990 where they did some performances and recorded a new version of "Cool Jerk" for a hits package. Another hits compilation brought them together again in 1994 and they recorded the song "The Whole World Lost Its Head." Released as a single, it missed the Pop chart, but got to #21 on the Alternative Rock chart. In 2001, the still-classic lineup of the band got together to record a new album titled God Bless The Go-Go's. The album would do well getting to #57 and it's main single, "Unforgiven," would reach #22 on the new Adult Top 40 chart.


Monday, May 29, 2017

"Don't Be My Enemy" by Wang Chung

Song#:  2054
Date:  09/22/1984
Debut:  88
Peak:  86
Weeks:  3
Genre:  New Wave, Synthpop

Pop Bits:  Wang Chung's album Points on the Curve boasted two Pop Top 40 hits including the #16 "Dance Hall Days," which was the LP's second single. Needing a follow-up, this track was selected as the third single. It had a fairly good showing at Dance getting to #17, but Pop didn't latch on to it and the song could only manage a few weeks near the bottom of the chart.

ReduxReview:  Their Points album was very good, but it wasn't loaded with big single contenders. "Dance Hall Days" was the catchiest of the bunch and "Don't Let Go" was pretty good too. This one followed in their footsteps and was probably a logical choice, but it just wasn't as strong or as memorable as the other two. I think "Wait" was a potentially better choice for the third single (see below), but it may have been a bit dark for Pop. That one sticks in my mind where "Don't Be" seems to fade away quickly.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  In the UK, this song was actually the first single issued from the album. It did not do very well only getting to #92. Like in the US, the best performing single from the LP was "Dance Hall Days," which got to #21. In both countries, a fourth single was issued. "Wait" was able to make a #87 appearance on the UK chart, but it was shut out on the US Pop chart. However, like "Don't Be My Enemy," the song was able to get to #17 at Dance.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

"Blue Jean" by David Bowie

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2053
Date:  09/15/1984
Debut:  54
Peak:  8
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Rock, Dance

Pop Bits:  Bowie's Let's Dance would end up being the best-selling studio album of his career. It featured three major hits including the #1 title-track. Following his highly successful Serious Moonlight tour supporting the LP, Bowie was pressured to get back into the studio for a follow-up. With little time to write new music, the majority of his new disc, titled Tonight, would consist of cover tunes, three of which were originally recorded by Iggy Pop (with two of those co-written by Bowie). Of the four new tunes on the album, two were solely written by Bowie; the opening track "Loving the Alien" and this first single. The song would reach #2 at both Rock and Dance while going Top 10 at Pop. It would be Bowie's fifth and final solo Top 10 hit at Pop. The album would reach #11 and eventually become a platinum seller.

ReduxReview:  This was the album that Bowie kind of caved in to pressure. Like most of his albums, Let's Dance was just another experiment to him. Once it was done, he planned to move on to something else - a different sound or style. However, the unexpected massive success of the album changed things. With lots of potential money to make, Bowie's label wanted more hits and wanted them quickly. Feeling a lot of pressure, Bowie decided to forge ahead with another commercial pop album. The results were not received well by critics. Several consider it his weakest album. However, a good chunk of folks admired this song and "Loving the Alien." While I do admit that the album does not rank among his best (or even second best), I do think it got a bit of a bad rap. This song and "Alien" are pretty much classics in his catalog and there are a couple of other worthwhile tunes. Is it rushed and a bit messy? Sure. And Bowie later said he was not fond of the LP. But it was interesting to me then and I still kinda like it. This song, of course, was a standout.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This song got a boost thanks to a popular video that hit heavy rotation on MTV. It was directed by Julian Temple, who had become a star director in the music video medium. In addition to the regular single-version of the video, there was also a much longer mini-movie version titled Jazzin' for Blue Jean that was about 20 minutes long. This version would win a Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video. Although he didn't play on the recording, the person performing as the bass player in the video was Richard Fairbrass. In 1991, Fairbrass and his brother would become one-hit wonders in the US as the duo Right Said Fred. Their lone hit was the #1 "I'm Too Sexy."