Saturday, December 2, 2017

"In My House" by Mary Jane Girls

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2240
Date:  03/09/1985
Debut:  87
Peak:  7
Weeks:  22
Genre:  R&B, Dance

Pop Bits:  The mid 80s was certainly the height of the Prince vs. Rick James rivalry. For the most part it seemed Prince didn't really care about it, but James did. With Prince having success with protege acts like The Time, Vanity 6, and Sheila E., James wanted to have his own stable of acts that he could form, write songs for, and produce. His label relented and one of his first acts to get off the ground (besides his long-standing relationship with Teena Marie) was the Mary Jane Girls. James formed the group from the four female backing singers that accompanied him on tour. Joanne "Jojo" McDuffie would serve as the lead vocalist as she had previously sang backup vocals in the studio for some of James' recordings. James would write and produce their self-title debut album. Released in '83, the album eventually went gold thanks to three R&B Top 30 hit including the #11 "All Night Long." All three tracks in a mix would reach #8 at Dance. Unfortunately, none of the songs would reach the Pop chart. James also headed up their next effort, Only for You. This first single from the album would be their first R&B Top 10 (#3) and get to #1 at Dance. It also got them on the Pop chart for the first time. It took a while for the song to catch on, but once it did the single cracked the Top 10. It would end up being their only Pop Top 40 hit. It would boost their album to #5 R&B/#18 Pop and it would be certified gold.

ReduxReview:  This is one of the best songs James did in his 80s output, including his own solo recordings. It was just a hot track that jammed along with that great synth/organ riff and steady guitar line. The production was rock solid and the vocal work by McDuffie and the Waters' was spot on. The chorus hit the mark and it was difficult to not dance when this song came on. It's a bummer that James couldn't keep this level of material up for the girls, but it nearly didn't matter because this track was so good that it was going to overshadow any other song they would release.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) When James wanted to do a protege project, his initial idea was to get Jojo McDuffie signed as a solo act. However, somehow it worked out that a group would be signed and James filled out the spots with the other three backing singers/dancers from his tour. Although there were four girls assigned to the group, only McDuffie would sing on the first album. The background vocals were provided by the Waters sisters (Julia and Maxine). (The Waters sisters, along with their brothers Oren and Luther, were some of the most sought after backing vocalists in the business for both studio and tour work.) For the second MJG album, McDuffie and the Waters sisters once again did most all of the vocal work, but this time around the other three girls got to sing lead on one track each. Apparently, despite their work on tour with James and coaching, the three girl were not strong vocalists and that limited their participation in the studio. Only McDuffie had the vocal chops to really carry the songs.  2) This song made it on to the PMRC's infamous "Filthy Fifteen" list of offensive songs. The song was cited for sexual content. Although there were no explicit words said, the wink-wink "hey this song is about sex" lyrics caught the parents' group attention and they added it to their naughty list.


Friday, December 1, 2017

"Follow Your Heart" by Triumph

Song#:  2239
Date:  03/09/1985
Debut:  89
Peak:  88
Weeks:  2
Genre:  Hard Rock

Pop Bits:  This Canadian band had their peak moment in 1981 when their album Allied Forces reached #23 and went platinum. It was boosted by the #8 Rock track "Magic Power" (#51 Pop). It set them up well for their next album, 1982's Never Surrender. The LP was able to generate two Top 3 Rock tracks, but neither reached the Pop chart. Without that extra support, the album didn't sell as well and stopped at gold. While that is not a bad outcome, the band was having issues with RCA, which caused a lack of support from the label. Needing a change, the band grabbed a new deal with MCA and began work on their seventh studio album, Thunder Seven. Like their previous LP, results were fairly solid (another gold seller), yet unspectacular. The first single from the album, "Spellbound," got to #10 at Rock, but failed to reach the Pop chart. This next single got to #13 at Rock and got them back on the Pop chart, however very briefly. It would be the band's last single to reach the Pop chart. They would issue three more studio albums, two of which would go gold in Canada, but by the mid-90s their focus shifted to their tours.

ReduxReview:  Well, this certainly isn't "Magic Power." That song was hooky, melodic, and commercial enough to attract a wide audience of listeners. This song is a bit more hard rocking in a late 70s Styx kind of way via The Scorpions. It was in no way anything that was going to click on Pop radio. The opening guitar licks were promising as was the first verse, but once it got to the chorus, the song fell apart. By the end, there was just a lot of upper-register screaming vocals going on and it became grating. It's two-week stay on the chart was about two too many.

ReduxRating:  3/10

Trivia:  The second side of the band's Never Surrender album featured a bit of a conceptual theme that featured a prologue and epilogue. For Thunder Seven, they once again turned side two into a more prog-rock piece where the six songs focused on various concepts of time. It included two instrumental pieces and the "Time Canon," which consisted of multiple vocal tracks layered on top of each other.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

"Piece by Piece" by The Tubes

Song#:  2238
Date:  03/09/1985
Debut:  90
Peak:  87
Weeks:  2
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Two years earlier, The Tubes released the most successful album of their career with the #18 Outside Inside. It was boosted by their only #1 Rock track and only Pop Top 10 hit, "She's a Beauty" (#10). The LP was their second with producer David Foster, but for their follow-up they brought back Todd Rundgren, who had produced their 1979 album Remote Control. The new album, titled Love Bomb, was recorded and this track was selected as the first single. It received a tepid reception at Rock getting only to #25. That didn't help the song's chances at Pop and indeed is was only able to get on the chart for a minor two weeks. It would be the band's last charting single. Not long after the album tanked, they were dropped from Capitol Records. The band finished out their tour on their own dime and that added with other expenses that were not paid by Capitol left the band in debt. They had to continue to tour and work small venues for over a year in order to pay off their debts. Later in '86, lead singer Fee Waybill left the band. He would reunite with them in '96 for a tour and a new album.

ReduxReview:  David Foster really drove The Tubes into a more commercial direction and it made the band quite successful. Now without his help, the band tried to retain that commercial rock sound with Rundgren. While this song was not a bad attempt, it didn't recapture the same pop-hooky quality of the songs they did with Foster. There was no real personality here, which is a big part of what made The Tubes popular from the beginning. In essence, it became faceless. Any decent rock band could have done this song and sounded the same. The spark in the band was extinguished and it made this song unmemorable. That said, I don't think this is a bad tune. Rundgren's production is solid and it adds some meat to a song that is a bit lightweight. However, it just wasn't a song that was going to scale the charts.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Following the band's success with Outside Inside, lead singer Fee Waybill decided to step out on his own for a solo album. Retaining producer David Foster and enlisting a couple members of Toto, Waybill recorded his debut LP Read My Lips. Waybill and Foster co-wrote the majority of the songs for the album including its first single "You're Still Laughing." Yet despite The Tubes' presence on MTV and being at their commercial peak, interest in Waybill as a solo artist didn't exist. The song failed to chart and the album quickly disappeared. However, it was for this album that Waybill co-wrote a song with an up-n-coming singer/songwriter named Richard Marx. They would continue to write together on occasion which resulted in two chart hits. They wrote "Edge of a Broken Heart," a 1988 #26 charter for Vixen and "Too Late to Say Goodbye," which was a #12 hit for Richard Marx in 1990.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"Crazy for You" by Madonna

#1 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  2237
Date:  03/02/1985
Debut:  55
Peak:  1 (1 week)
Weeks:  21
Genre:  Pop, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  Songwriters John Bettis and Jon Lind were tasked with writing a song for an upcoming film titled Vision Quest and came up with this tune after reviewing the script. Meanwhile, the films producers had approached Madonna to sing a song for the soundtrack. This was around the time that her single "Borderline" was on the chart and Madonna's star was on the rise. They assigned "Crazy for You" to her, much to the surprise of the song's writers and they didn't think she could pull off the ballad, especially since all she had done to that point was dance-pop tunes. With producer John "Jellybean" Benitez on board, the results from an initial sessions were not good. However, Benitez commissioned another arrangement of the tune and after a second recording session, the film producers were thrilled and wanted to release the song as a single. For Madonna, the song would be a change of pace from her dance singles and show that she could do more. Released a few weeks after "Material Girl," the single gained traction and found its way to #1 - Madonna's second. It would be her third gold-seller as well. The ballad played well at AC and reached #2, while also getting to #80 at R&B. The song would also net Madonna her first Grammy nomination. It would come in the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance category.

ReduxReview:  This single came along exactly at the right time. Madonna was on a streak of upbeat hits and she really needed something to break that up and show she could do something different. This ballad was absolutely perfect. The arrangement, production, and Madonna's vocal were all spot-on. Coming directly on the heels of the quirky synthpop of "Material Girl," the contrast was terrific and it pushed her career even further into the stratosphere. This was just delicious pop music that still tastes pretty darn good even today.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) There was a dispute with Madonna's label regarding the release of this single. With Madonna's new album Like a Virgin shaping up to be a big hit, her label didn't want this soundtrack single to take away attention from the LP and its singles. At one point, the label even demanded that the two songs Madonna did for the soundtrack to be pulled out of the project. However, the producer put up a major fight and in the end all was well and the single got sandwiched in between two Top 10's from Like a Virgin.  2) The recording of this song was done in a live session, which was different from what producer Benitez was used to doing. He rallied and made it through the recording quite well as did Madonna who apparently did her vocal in one take.  3) The other song Madonna did for the soundtrack was her own composition "Gambler." She recorded the tune with Benitez soon after "Crazy for You." The producers thought the song fit the film as well and acquired it for the soundtrack. The song was later issued as a single and hit the Top 10 in several countries, except for the US. Madonna's label had requested that the tune not be issued as a single in the US, therefore it remained off the charts.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"One Night in Bangkok" by Robey

Song#:  2236
Date:  03/02/1985
Debut:  80
Peak:  77
Weeks:  3
Genre:  Dance-Pop, Synthpop

Pop Bits:  Louise Robey certainly had a varied career. After being discovered by a famous French photographer as she was sunbathing on a beach, Robey became a successful model for magazines, advertisements, and on the runways for fashion designers. After a move to Los Angeles early in the 80s, Robey branched out to music and formed her own group, Louise and the Creeps. They were successful enough to get signed to a label, but before they could even record a record the band broke up. Robey then went on as a solo act and signed with Silver Blue Records. Now going simply by her last name, Robey recorded her self-titled debut album. A single from the LP, "Killer Instinct," made a dent in the Dance chart at #34, but it would be this next single that pushed her into the Top 10 getting to #9. The attention in the clubs helped the song cross over to the Pop chart for a short three-week stay. Robey would have one more single, "I Surrender," reach the Dance chart (#47). Although she would record a couple of songs after this she pretty much ditched her music career and redirected her efforts toward acting.

ReduxReview:  I'm not sure why Robey and/or her label decided to cover this tune and release it around the same time as the original (see below). Perhaps their thinking was that if her version could get an early foothold, she could get the hit. While the clubs seemed to like both versions, pop audiences preferred the more exotic original over Robey's more standard dance take. Whatever the reason for doing this cover, it seemed to work out pretty well for her. However, I'm not all that impressed with it. Robey doesn't do much more than what Head did except sing the chorus. The production is not all that interesting either and pales in comparison to the original. In other words, there is nothing new or interesting here. The rest of her album was full of bland synth-dance tracks. It's pretty much forgotten now. Robey made her mark with this track and then quickly left music behind, which probably wasn't a bad decision.

ReduxRating:  3/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This is a cover of a song originally performed by Murray Head. Head's version was from the concept album for the musical Chess. Oddly, Head's single debuted on the Pop chart just one week ahead of Robey's version. It would be a race to see who could get the hit and Head's version decidedly won reaching the Top 10. Head's original also bested Robey's at Dance, but just barely. He got to #5 as she reached #9. While it was not uncommon in the 50s and 60s for two artists to duke it out on the chart with the same song, by the 80s it was a rare occurrence.  2) Roby's acting career did result in one significant role. She was a cast member on the syndicated TV show Friday the 13th: The Series. The show ran for three seasons.


Monday, November 27, 2017

"Smooth Operator" by Sade

Top 10 Alert!
Rated 10 Alert!
Song#:  2235
Date:  03/02/1985
Debut:  83
Peak:  5
Weeks:  20
Genre:  R&B, Adult Contemporary, Sophisti-Pop

Pop Bits:  Helen Folasade Adu, aka Sade (pronounced SHAH-day), was born in Nigeria and later moved to England with her mother and brother when she was a young kid. After attending art school where she studied design, Sade began singing background vocals with a band called Pride. Soon she began writing songs with fellow band member Stuart Matthewman and would perform them with a few other Pride members prior to the full band taking the stage. The side band's popularity grew and soon they broke off on their own gaining a large following. By late '83, Sade was signed to Epic Records. The band began working on their debut album, Diamond Life, and released their first single in the UK, "You're Love is King." It hit #6 on the UK chart and got the ball rolling for them there. In the US, a different song titled "Hang On to Your Love" was selected as the band's first single. Although it got to #5 at Dance at #14 R&B, it failed to reach the Pop chart. However, that would change when this second single got issued. It took a little while for the song to catch on, but once it did it ended up hitting #1 AC, #5 R&B, #5 Pop, and #11 Dance. The hit, along with the band's jazzy R&B sound, helped the album reach #3 and over time it would eventually sell over four million copies.

ReduxReview:  Sade and this song just seemed so exotic and sophisticated at the time. Sade was certainly a stunning woman and that combined with the song and the associated video made you feel like you could actually be a part of the jet-set crowd. The band's sound and Sade's voice were certainly unique for Pop radio and the fact that they caught fire was quite something. Because they were unique, I thought for sure they'd be a one-hit wonder. Sometimes artists with different styles or sounds who hit it big disappear quickly because the fickle pop audience moves on to the next shiny thing. However, when Sade's second album came out, I knew they were gonna be sticking around. The band would have other hits, but this is the one that became their signature song.


Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Prior to becoming a singer, Sade studied fashion design for three years and also had a brief modeling career.  2) The success of Diamond Life earned Sade several awards including the Grammy for Best New Artist. In the UK, the album was chosen as the Best British Album at the Brit Awards (the UK's equivalent of the Grammys).


Sunday, November 26, 2017

"Change" by John Waite

Song#:  2234
Date:  03/02/1985
Debut:  86
Peak:  54
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Rock, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  As Journey's "Only the Young" was closing in on the Pop Top 10, this next single from the soundtrack to the Matthew Modine coming-of-age flick Vision Quest was issued. Coming on the heels of Waite's three singles from his No Brakes album, some attention was given to the song, but it fizzled before it could reach the top half of the Pop chart. It did not chart at Rock this time around (see below). Oddly, the same week this reached the Pop chart, another song from the soundtrack, Madonna's "Crazy for You," would also debut. That song would make a much bigger splash than this reissue.

ReduxReview:  I actually like this track a bit better than his previous two singles, however just like those two songs I don't find this one terribly memorable. Occasionally, a song that missed the boat the first time around will get a second chance to become a hit. While I'm sure it was nice for Waite to see this song finally on the Pop chart, it wasn't necessarily one that needed to be reissued. It wasn't a strong song to begin with and time didn't do much to strengthen it.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Many films from the 80s that had pop music soundtracks usually featured new (or previously unreleased) songs from popular artists. The one for Vision Quest had a mix of new and previously released tunes, such as Foreigner's 1978 #3 hit "Hot Blooded." With Waite as the peak of his solo popularity, a song from him would help boost the album. Yet instead of a new track, this song that originally appeared on his 1982 debut solo album Ignition was used. The tune had also served as Waite's debut single from the LP. It got to #16 at Rock, but was unable to made it onto the Pop chart. For whatever reason, the older tune got a second chance to become a hit and got reissued after being included on the soundtrack. This time around, it made the Pop chart, but failed at Rock (most likely because it had already had its run there three years earlier). The song was written by Holly Knight and produced by Pat Benatar's husband Neil Giraldo. Later in 2013, this song was used in the film Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and appeared on the associated soundtrack.