Saturday, November 18, 2017

"Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds

#1 Alert!
Song#:  2226
Date:  02/23/1985
Debut:  90
Peak:  1 (1 week)
Weeks:  22
Genre:  Rock, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  This Scottish band came together in 1977 and by 1979 they had a solid line up and a contract with Arista Records. Their debut LP, Life in a Day, did well in the UK getting to #30. Two more albums would follow on Arista before they switched to Virgin. Their first album for the label, Sons and Fascination, broke them a bit further in the UK when it reached #11. But it would be their 1982 album, New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84) that would make them stars in Europe. Featuring two Top 20 UK hits, the album would reach #3 there and go Top 10 in several countries. It set them up for their first UK #1 album in '84 titled Sparkle in the Rain. Despite solid success around the world, the band was virtually ignored in the US. This seemed to have stemmed from the labels not promoting the band in the US. That would change when they recorded this song that was written for the John Hughes film The Breakfast Club. Used as the closing song, the single took off when the film became a box office hit. It would hit #1 at both Pop and Rock while reaching #9 at Dance and #36 AC. With the song helping to establish them in the US, the band now had the task of trying to follow up the massive hit.

ReduxReview:  I don't think any 80s pop playlist would be complete without this song. It is an essential hit from the decade. I loved it from the start, but then the thing got so overplayed that I tired of it. I ignored the song for a long time, but then eased it back into my 80s rotation. Simple Minds is not the first artist to dislike one of their hits (see below), but it's like biting the hand that feeds. Without this song, their chances of making it big in the US were minimal. If they didn't like the song, they shouldn't have done it. Since they did, they should have embraced it, especially after it became a hit. I could be completely wrong, but I seem to remember that at one point they tried to stop playing this at their concerts and audiences about revolted. To me it sounded like sour grapes - the song that they would be remembered most for wasn't theirs (and they wouldn't reap the financial benefits of being the writers/publishers either). It sticks in my craw when artists do this. Hey, you guys wanted to be stars, especially in the US, so accept the hit, say thank you, and happily move forward.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This song was written for the film by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff. Originally, they wanted Bryan Ferry to record the song, but he turned it down. It seems Cy Curnin (The Fixx) passed on it as well, as did Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders). It's been said that Billy Idol was also offered the song, but he says that didn't happen (he actually recorded the tune himself in 2001). Then Simple Minds, a band which Forsey loved, was suggested. When approached, the band initially turned the opportunity down because they didn't want to record a song not written by the band and they didn't really like the tune. However, after seeing a screening of the film and some prodding from folks like Kerr's wife Chrissie Hynde and songwriter Forsey, the band convened at a studio and rearranged/recorded the song.  2) Even though this song was a worldwide hit and got them established in the US, the band still didn't like the song (they even left it off their next album, which was released later in the year). In one interview, the band mentioned they were a bit embarrassed by the song's success and lead singer Jim Kerr apparently told a reporter that he wanted to vomit every time they played the song. However, no matter how much they wanted to distance themselves from the tune, it wasn't going to go away. It had become a touchstone song from an iconic 80s film where the end image of Judd Nelson putting his fist in the air being directly associated. However, in later years Kerr has said he recognizes the song's impact and is glad he was able to be a part of that.


Friday, November 17, 2017

"Look My Way" by The Vels

Spotlight Alert!
Song#:  2225
Song#:  1802
Date:  02/23/1985
Debut:  92
Peak:  72
Weeks:  6
Genre:  New Wave, Dance, Synthpop

Pop Bits:  This Philadelphia trio consisting of Charles Hanson, Alice DeSoto, and Chris Larkin formed in 1980 and over the next few years they honed their sound and gathered a solid following. Eventually, Mercury Records came calling and the band got signed to the label. Working with producer Steve Stanley (of Tom Tom Club), the trio recorded their debut album, Velocity. The initial single from the album, "Private World," couldn't do much except a #30 showing on the Dance chart. This next single got a little more attention thanks to an MTV video and the song was able to reach the Pop chart for a few weeks while getting to #39 at Dance. It would be their only single to reach the Pop chart. A second album, House of Miracles, was issued in 1986, but it quickly disappeared. The Vels broke up later in '87.

ReduxReview:  I've never heard of this Philly band, but they hooked me right from the opening of this song. The warm chords, the nice melody, the boy/girl vocals, and the 80s synthpop production are all right up my alley. Then, to top it off, there is a rap section a la Debbie Harry in "Rapture." It was produced by the same guy who co-wrote and produced Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love," so that seemed to rub off here. Sadly, this song couldn't do as well and it quickly disappeared. It deserved a better fate. I've called up a couple of their other tunes and they show promise, so I ordered up both of their LPs to see what else they had to offer. Regardless, this is a lost gem from the 80s and a lovely surprise to run across. As I've said before, discovering tunes like this is one of the best things about this project and I think it is worthy of being in the Spotlight.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Charles Hanson's first brush with success came via the New Orleans-based punk band The Normals. Formed in 1977, they only issued one single back in the late 70s, but had recorded enough songs for an album. These would later be issued on LP and then in 2011 as a CD titled Vacation to Nowhere. Apparently, at the time they were considered New Orleans' first punk band. After an unsuccessful attempt to break through in New York, the band split and Hanson went on to form The Vels. It seems these days Hanson owns what is considered one of the oldest bars still in operation in NYC. Now called the 169 Bar, it originally opened in 1916.  2) After The Vels broke up, Alice DeSoto returned to her real name of Alice Cohen and in the early 90s was a member of the Athens, Georgia, band Die Monster Die. They released two albums that did well critically, but were commercially unsuccessful. While in The Vels, Cohen wrote a disco-style song called "Deetour" that was a #34 Dance hit in 1982 for singer Karen Young. Young previously had one charting hit at Pop called "Hot Shot." That 1978 track reached #1 at Dance while getting to #67 at Pop.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

"We Close Our Eyes" by Go West

Song#:  2224
Date:  02/23/1985
Debut:  95
Peak:  41
Weeks:  15
Genre:  Pop, Blue-Eyed Soul

Pop Bits:  This UK duo of Peter Cox and Richard Drummie recorded a two-song demo that got the attention of Chrysalis Records. After signing a deal, they set out to record their self-titled debut album. This first single was issued and in their home country it became a hit reaching #5 on the chart. In the US, it would also reach #5 on the Dance chart, but it didn't do as well at Pop just missing out on the Top 40 at the dreaded #41 position.  However, that seemed to be enough to draw folks to the album and it peaked at a respectable #60 (#8 UK).

ReduxReview:  One of the things this duo did well was to come up with big, memorable synth riffs like the one at the beginning of this song. It grabs your attention right away and is quite memorable. I like this song but have always thought it was a bit disjointed, like the various sections were created separately and stitched together. Still, the song worked but it was the forceful synth line that made it memorable.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Although it was not created for the film, this song was included on the soundtrack to the 1985 Italian horror flick Dèmoni (English title: Demons). That movie was co-written and produced by Dario Argento. Argento had written, directed and/or produced many horror/thriller films since the late '60s. Arguably one of his most famous creations was the 1977 surreal supernatural thriller Suspiria, which is often included on lists of best horror films. Demons was quite successful in Europe and it ended up spawning seven sequels over the years.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"I'm on Fire" by Bruce Springsteen

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2223
Date:  02/16/1985
Debut:  54
Peak:  6
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  This song would serve as the fourth single from Springsteen's mega-hit album Born in the U.S.A. It debuted as the previous single, the title-track, was just finishing up its run on the Pop chart. It would sail into the Top 10 at Pop while reaching #4 at Rock. The ballad would also be Springsteen's first entry to reach the AC chart. It did well getting to #6. As this song was debuting on the singles chart, the album returned to #1 for three weeks. It had already spent four weeks at #1 in the summer of '84, so for the LP to get back to the top spot six months later was a remarkable feat.

ReduxReview:  When I first got the album and heard this song, I thought it was one of those dark, smokey, sensual songs that was perfect for cruising in the car with the windows down on a hot summer night. It nearly sounded like an outtake from Springsteen's Nebraska album. It was pretty great, but I never thought of it being a single. I guess it made sense as his run of Born singles had all been rockers, so something like this would be a nice change of pace. It ended up working quite well and it sounded great on the radio.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Two of Springsteen's previous singles had videos created for them and those mainly consisted of concert footage. However, the video for this song set aside stage performances in favor of one that had Springsteen acting out a story line that reflected the lyrics. The video won Springsteen an MTV Music Video award for Best Male Video. It was directed by John Sayles, who had made a few well-received films including 1980's Return of the Secaucus 7 and 1984's The Brother from Another Planet. He was also the writer of the 1978 b-movie horror flick Piranha. He was later twice nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Screenplay category for 1992's Passion Fish and 1996's Lone Star, both of which he directed as well.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"Rhythm of the Night" by DeBarge

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2222
Date:  02/16/1985
Debut:  65
Peak:  3
Weeks:  22
Genre:  R&B, Pop, Dance, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  This family group's star had been steadily rising since their debut album in 1981. By late '83 they had scored their first #1 R&B hit with "Time Will Reveal" (#18 Pop). Their label, Motown, thought it was time for the group to break through in a bigger way and decided to bring in some name producers and writers to help get them out of their R&B ballad mode and into something more mainstream friendly. First up was this track that was written by Diane Warren and produced by Richard Perry. It was recorded for DeBarge's new album, but Berry Gordy was producing a movie titled The Last Dragon and decided to use the song for the soundtrack as well. Released as a single, the song caught on and became the group's second #1 at R&B. It also broke them through to the Pop Top 10 along with hitting #1 at AC. The hit would help make DeBarge's album of the same name their third gold certified in a row.

ReduxReview:  This song kind of followed in the footsteps of Lionel Richie's "All Night Long (All Night)" with its Caribbean feel. This really was irresistible pop candy. It was a nice change of pace for the family group as well. They were starting to get tagged as smooth R&B ballad makers and for a young group, that wasn't necessarily good. This upbeat hit did a great job in expanding their sound. It's still one of those songs that when it starts, it just makes people smile and wanna dance.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Songwriter Diane Warren had been making strides in her career to this point. In addition to writing songs for Stevie Woods, Patti Austin, and one for Barbra Streisand, she had some success on the Pop chart when she wrote the English lyrics to Laura Branigan's 1983 hit "Solitaire" (#7). More work with Branigan would follow, but it was this DeBarge song that she wrote on her own that really set her career in motion. By the mid-80s she was churning out hits for artists like Cher, Heart, Chicago, Michael Bolton, Patti LaBelle, Taylor Dayne, Milli Vanilli, and many others. She's been nominated for fourteen Grammys (winning one) and eight Oscars (no wins yet). She's considered a superstar in the world of pop songwriting and it all pretty much began with this DeBarge hit.


Monday, November 13, 2017

"Lucky" by Greg Kihn

Song#:  2221
Date:  02/16/1985
Debut:  72
Peak:  30
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Rock, Blue-Eyed Soul

Pop Bits:  Kihn's ninth studio album, 1984's Kihntagious, did not come close to meeting expectations. It disappeared quickly after its two singles failed to reach the Pop chart (however, "Reunited" got to #9 at Rock). He needed to reverse the downward trend and came up with his next punned "Kihn" titled album, Citizen Kihn. This first single got things started and it did do better than the singles from his previous effort. It cracked the Pop Top 30 and got to #24 at Rock. Oddly, it did best on the Dance chart getting to #16. While it wasn't a major hit, the song did well enough to push the album to #51, which was a big improvement over the #121 peak of Kihntagious. The song seemed to signal that Kihn was back, but unfortunately it would end up being is last to reach the Pop Top 40.

ReduxReview:  I think this track is an overlooked gem from the time. It sounds similar to some of the blue-eyed soul acts that were coming out of the UK at the time. It's a sleek jam that hooks you in with its groovy bass line and chorus. It's a shame it didn't do better on the charts. I'd definitely list this as one of his best songs. The track showed that Kihn had some gas left in the tank, but unfortunately he was running on fumes.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  The failure of the Kihntagious album not only affected Kihn, but also his long-time label, Beserkley. Founded and run by Matthew King Kaufman, Beserkley signed Kihn in 1976 and released all of Kihn's albums through to Kihntagious. Kaufman served as producer on all of them as well. However, by the 80s, Kihn was the only act signed to the Beserkley and when Kihntagious tanked, it hit the label hard. In the aftermath, Kaufman decided to dissolve Beserkley and let Kihn get signed to a major label that could support him. Kihn signed on with EMI America. Kaufman would remain with Kihn in the producer role. Also with the new label came a name change. The "Band" was dropped and Citizen Kihn was solely credited to Greg Kihn. It was his first album since 1978 to be billed as such.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Kiss and Tell" by Isley Japser Isley

Song#:  2220
Date:  02/16/1985
Debut:  80
Peak:  63
Weeks:  7
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  The original trio known as The Isley Brothers had some good success in the 60s, particularly their 1969 #2 Pop/#1 R&B track "It's Your Thing." But it wasn't until 1973 when the trio of brothers added their other two siblings, Ernie and Marvin, and their brother-in-law Chris Jasper to the line up that the gold and platinum albums began. For a solid decade, the family group amassed ten gold, platinum, or multi-platinum albums along with sixteen R&B Top 10 hits, including five #1's. But early in '84 the group was having some financial and career disagreements and Ernie, Marvin, and Chris decided to break out on their own away from the original three Isley Brothers. They stayed on CBS Records and formed Isley Jasper Isley. They recorded their first album, titled Broadway's Closer to Sunset Boulevard, and the lead-off single "Look the Other Way" did well at R&B reaching #14. This follow-up single didn't do as well, but it did break through on three charts. It got to #46 Dance, #52 R&B, and #63 Pop.

ReduxReview:  This synth-based workout nearly butts up against the soft rock sounds of Michael McDonald thanks to a background vocal that certainly comes close to mimicking the former Doobie Brother. The song certainly sounds dated now, but the production on this tune was pretty slick. The style was a bit more modern than the old school R&B they were doing with the other three Isley brothers and it helped get them established on their own. It's not a real strong song, but it's a pretty good listen.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Even though the group was highly successful, apparently the three elder Isley Brothers encountered significant financial issues in the early 80s. Because of that, they wanted to file for bankruptcy. They also wanted to get out of their contract with CBS. However, the three younger members didn't have any money problems and were happy at CBS. With the two factions at a crossroads, it was decided that the group would split. This gave the younger three the opportunity to form Isley Jasper Isley. Unfortunately, the original three Isleys decided to sue the other three along with CBS to block the release of their debut album. Their attempt failed and the young trio set out on their new career. But like a lot of other families, they ironed things out and later in the 90s, Ernie and Marvin would join their older brother Ronald for a trio version of The Isley Brothers.