Saturday, December 9, 2017

"Be Your Man" by Jesse Johnson's Revue

Song#:  2247
Date:  03/16/1985
Debut:  89
Peak:  61
Weeks:  11
Genre:  R&B, Dance

Pop Bits:  Johnson began playing guitar in his teens and started playing in bands in the mid-to-late 70s around the northern Illinois area where he was born. With his skills increasing, he was encouraged by a friend to move north to Minneapolis to get involved in the music scene there. He did just that in 1981 and soon after the move he met up with Morris Day and joined Day's band at the time, Enterprise. The pair would then go on to be part of the Prince protege band The Time. That band would have four R&B Top 10 hits and appear in Prince's Purple Rain film before splitting up. Johnson opted for a solo career and signed up with A&M Records. Although credited to Jesse Johnson's Revue, his self-titled debut album was basically a solo effort with Johnson writing and producing all the tracks. This lead-off single was issued ahead of the album and it caught on at R&B getting to #4 while going to #20 at Dance. The tune couldn't catch on as well at Pop, but it did spend nearly three months on the chart.

ReduxReview:  Well, Johnson certainly didn't stray far from the Prince/Time sound he had been working with for the past few years. That's not really surprising, however it just makes the song sound like an imitation instead of something new and original from Johnson. It grooves along just fine, but I just get a been-there-heard-that feeling from it.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Around the same time that Johnson was prepping his solo debut, he also cut a song that would be used in the upcoming film The Breakfast Club. Co-written by Johnson, the track "Heart Too Hot to Hold" would make it into the film and on its associated soundtrack. The song was a duet with singer Stephanie Spruill. Spruill was an in-demand background vocalist who has worked with some of the biggest names in music including Tina Tuner, Luther Vandross, Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand, and many other. Clive Davis signed her to Arista Records in the late 70s as part of the duo Saint & Stephanie (the Saint was singer Roger St. Kenerly). They recorded one album that was released in 1979. Unfortunately, the album didn't make an impression and it quickly disappeared. Although it seems that Johnson and Spruill's duet was issued as a single, it didn't get anywhere. Of course it was most likely overshadowed by the big #1 hit from the soundtrack, Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)."


Friday, December 8, 2017

"'Til My Baby Comes Home" by Luther Vandross

Song#:  2246
Date:  03/16/1985
Debut:  90
Peak:  29
Weeks:  16
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  Vandross quickly established himself as an R&B star with three studio albums that supplied six R&B Top 10 hits. All three LP's were platinum sellers, but Vandross had yet to really break through on the Pop chart. In the same stretch of time he could only manage to get two songs into the lower rungs of the Pop Top 40. With his fourth album, The Night I Fell in Love, Vandross would still have to wait for a major Pop hit as this first single once again stalled near the Top 30 mark. However, the news was brighter at R&B where the track got to #4. It also reached #10 at Dance. The album would be his fourth consecutive #1 at R&B while getting to #19 Pop. Sales were solid and the album would eventually go double-platinum. While the LP's follow-up singles failed to reach the Pop chart, Vandross collected another #4 with "It's Over Now" and a #11 with "Wait for Love."

ReduxReview:  This blues-ish shuffle had crossover potential, but not enough to really make it a major hit at Pop. Still, it's a great song with a terrific chorus and performance by Vandross. His skills as a producer were getting better as well. Even though this track still sounds like it's from the 80s, it has a fuller sound than some of his previous efforts. He was definitely ready for a mainstream breakthrough, but it's hard to believe he wouldn't get into the Pop Top 10 for another four years.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The album would get Vandross his third Grammy nomination in the Best Male R&B Vocal Performances category. It would be his fourth overall Grammy nomination as his first one was in the Best New Artist category.  2) The album is considered among the best in Vandross' catalog and it ranked #93 on Rolling Stone's list of the Best Albums of the 80s.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

"Back in Stride" by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly

Song#:  2245
Date:  03/16/1985
Debut:  95
Peak:  88
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Soul, R&B

Pop Bits:  Maze had certainly been on a roll since their debut album in 1977. Each of their five studio albums had reached the R&B Top 10 and all five were certified gold sellers. The LP's were helped along by several chart singles, including five R&B Top 10's. However, they had yet to reach #1 on either chart. That changed when this first single from their album Can't Stop the Love made it to the top spot on the R&B chart. It's success helped the album also reach #1. It seemed that the single would help break them wider to the mainstream pop audience, yet once again like their previous charting entries at Pop, the song just circled the bottom of the chart for a few weeks. It would also be their last one to reach the chart. However, that didn't deter their continued popularity at R&B. Their next album would also get to #1 and they would grab a second #1 R&B single in 1989 with "Can't Get Over You." Their last studio album would arrive in 1993 and after that the band stopped recording and stuck to being a highly successful touring act.

ReduxReview:  For the 80s, Maze might have been a little too ol' school soul to attract a pop audience. They just needed one hot crossover tune to break them through, but it never happened. Yet despite that, they had a loyal following that turned each of their studio albums into gold, which was quite an accomplishment. I think since Frankie Beverly did all the songwriting and producing, it was his show and if wasn't broke, he wasn't gonna fix it. Everything worked out fine for them, but I think they missed out on expanding their audience by not collaborating with another producer and/or songwriter. This track was another solid effort from the band. I think Beverly tried to introduce some more modern production on it, which certainly helped the song, but it's still sound like 70s soul (which is not a bad thing).

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  The second single from the album was "Too Many Games" and it got the band their seventh Top R&B top 10 when it reached #5. Over the previous few years, the band had been gaining a significant following in the UK. This song would be their best charting effort there when it got to #36. However, despite the lack of hit singles there, their music and reputation as a top live act allowed the band to sell out shows in the UK including a highly successful eight-night run at the famous London venue Hammersmith Odeon.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"Forever Man" by Eric Clapton

Song#:  2244
Date:  03/09/1985
Debut:  64
Peak:  26
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Clapton's first album after moving over to Warner Bros. was 1983's Money and Cigarettes. Although it would be a gold album that featured the #18 Pop/#6 AC hit "I've Got a Rock 'n' Roll Heart," the label though it under-performed, so they kept a close watch on his next effort, Behind the Sun. For this album, Clapton collaborated with Phil Collins, who would serve as both a musician and a co-producer (and also a co-writer on one song). At the time, Clapton's marriage was unraveling and that led to him writing some darker songs that weren't necessarily all that commercial. When the label heard the finished product, they were not thrilled. They felt it had no songs that could be promoted commercially and rejected the album. To rectify the situation, Warner suggested Clapton record three new tunes that were written by songwriter Jerry Lynn Williams. Clapton thought the songs were good and agreed to record them. This first single from the album was one of those new tracks. It struck the right chord at Rock radio and it became Clapton's second #1 on that chart. It didn't do as well at Pop where it faltered just inside the Top 30. However, the Rock hit along with Phil Collins' involvement helped the album reach platinum sales, which was an improvement over Clapton's previous LP.

ReduxReview:  There are rare cases where I think label intervention is justified. Usually they muck things up. In this case, I believe they made the right decision. Although long-time Clapton fans were probably not happy he was being pushed in a more commercial direction, the album was kind of a downer and there was nothing much that could be used to promote it on the radio So with his last effort not doing all that well, if the LP had been released as-is, the results most likely would have been worse. It was surprising that the original version of the album had nothing commercial on it because with Phil Collins on board I figured he would bring along a couple solid pop tunes for Clapton, yet he did not. Luckily, this track came along and it gave a boost to the album. I wasn't a fan of the song, but it had some solid production and, as usual, great guitar work from Clapton.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This song was written by Jerry Lynn Williams. Williams had been playing guitar backing several artists since he was a teen. In the late 60s, he was in a band called High Mountain that got an album out on Columbia in 1970 (although due to legal issues with the name, it was reissued with a new title and listed as by The Jerry Williams Group). Nothing came from the album, but it did get a deal for Williams to do his own solo album, which came out in '72. Again, no one really paid attention. A second album for Warner Bros. that was due in '79 ended up shelved. As a recording artist, Williams was just not having any luck. His career would take a turn for the better when a song from his second album got picked up by Delbert McClinton. McClinton recorded the song "Giving It Up for Your Love" and turned it into a #8 Pop hit in 1980. It helped establish Williams as a songwriter and more work would follow. In addition to the three songs he gave to Clapton, Williams wrote tunes for Bonnie Raitt (included on her Grammy-winning Nick of Time album), the Doobie Brothers, Peter Frampton,  Bobby Womack, and many others.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"Roxanne, Roxanne" by UTFO

Song#:  2243
Date:  03/09/1985
Debut:  79
Peak:  77
Weeks:  5
Genre:  Hip-Hop

Pop Bits:  This Brooklyn quartet got started after performing as backing dancers for the hip-hop trio Whodini. They split off on their own and began UTFO, which stood for "Untouchable Force Organization." They signed on to Select Records and their first single, "Hanging Out," didn't make much of an impact. However, the record's b-side, "Roxanne, Roxanne," started to get attention and soon it was hitting the R&B chart. It would reached #10 there while getting to #40 Dance. The song generated some interest at Pop and it would end up circling the bottom of the chart for a few weeks. It would be their only Pop chart entry. The group would grab five more low-peaking R&B singles and release four more album, but nothing they would do would be as popular or as influential as this song. They would call it a day in 1992.

ReduxReview:  This is definitely some ol' school rap. I remember this song being released back in the day, but I had never heard it. Rap was rarely played in my little Midwest community. You might occasionally hear a hip-hop track through someone else who had discovered it, but it certainly wasn't a style of music that was going to be heard on our local radio stations. At least not for a while. Later on I'd have to play catch-up on a lot of older rap tunes like this one. The show Yo! MTV Raps helped out. This track is fun, but it isn't one of my favorites from the time. It just didn't stick in my brain like a lot of others. I never really understood the big deal about it and why so many other artists had to try and follow it up (see below). Yet, the song was quite influential and remains a hip-hop classic.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Pop music is not all that unfamiliar with answer (or response) songs, which is where an artist will write and record their own song in response to another artist's song. For example, Carole King wrote "Oh, Neil!" in response to Neil Sedaka's 1959 #9 hit "Oh, Carol!" Typically, just one answer song will come out. In the case of "Roxanne, Roxanne," several artists wrote their own response songs and it led to what would be known as the "Roxanne Wars." It mainly started when UTFO failed to make an appearance at a show. Some other rappers were talking about the no-show and a young 14-year-old artist named Lolita Shanté Gooden heard them and offered to write a song to get revenge on the group. They thought it was a cool idea and they recorded the track "Roxanne's Revenge." The song even prompted Gooden to change her name to Roxanne Shanté. Although the song was not a big chart hit, getting to #22 R&B, it was widely popular and it set off a storm of other artists doing their own answer songs. By the end of the year, no less that twenty-five response songs to "Roxanne, Roxanne" had been recorded. The number continued to grow in the years following. Even UTFO themselves got into the game. In response to "Roxanne's Revenge," they recorded "The Real Roxanne," which was performed by Elease Jack, who the group then dubbed The Real Roxanne. The song was issued as a single and got to #44 on the R&B chart.


Monday, December 4, 2017

"Emotion" by Barbra Streisand

Song#:  2242
Date:  03/09/1985
Debut:  81
Peak:  79
Weeks:  2
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Streisand's first two singles from her Emotion album were mid-charters at Pop, but both easily reached the AC Top 10. It was decided that a third single would be issued and this title-track song would be the one selected. Produced by Richard Perry, the more upbeat tune did fine once again at AC reaching #14. However, it stumbled at Pop and could only manage a two-week stay near the bottom of the chart. While the album would be another platinum seller for her, it wasn't necessarily a hit. It stalled at #19, which was her lowest peaking non-concept pop studio album since 1969. However, her next album would turn things around in a big way and all of her studio albums from that point to the date of this posting would reach the Top 10 with six of them hitting #1.

ReduxReview:  Streisand's bid for staying relevant on the Pop chart in the 80s didn't pay off. Despite all the guest stars, name producers, and a gaggle of songwriters, the album just tried too hard to sell Streisand to a younger generation. Long-time fans, like me, bought into the album, but many were disappointed by it. I didn't think it was a very good album at all, but I do admit that there were certain songs I enjoyed and the LP was a bit of a guilty pleasure. This title-track was a fun little listen even though the song itself was fairly lackluster. Streisand tries to sell it as best as she can and indeed elevates the average tune, however it wasn't nearly enough to make this song a hit at Pop. After this album, Streisand finally set aside trying to be a charting pop star in favor of just doing what she wants. The results were far better.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The first single from the album, "Left in the Dark," saw Streisand creating her first ever video specifically for MTV and VH1. This song would be the basis for her second music video. While "Left in the Dark" featured actor/singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson, this next video featured two well-known celebrities. The Who's Roger Daltry and ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov made appearances in the comedic video.  2) The background vocals on this song were performed by The Pointer Sisters. That tie-in most likely came via producer Richard Perry, who was most likely working with the Sisters on the follow-up to their hit LP Break Out, which Perry had produced.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

"Invisible" by Alison Moyet

Song#:  2241
Date:  03/09/1985
Debut:  83
Peak:  31
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Pop, Blue-Eyed Soul

Pop Bits:  Moyet first became a music star as part of the duo Yazoo (aka Yaz in the US). Beginning in 1982, they reached the UK Top 10 with three singles and their #2 debut album Upstairs at Eric's would be a platinum seller. Two of their singles reached the US Pop chart, but with minimal results. Their song "Only You" did the best reaching #67. After their second album, the pair split up and Moyet signed on with CBS as a solo artist. The label suggested the production team of Steve Jolley and Tony Swain (of Bananarama fame) and the pair along with Moyet set out to co-write and record Moyet's debut album, Alf. In the UK, the LP would be a #1 smash hit thanks to two Top 10 singles. This song would be the third single in the UK (reaching #21), but for the US market it would be selected as the album's first single. The song stuck around on the chart for a good length of time, but stalled before entering the Top 30. The album would peak at #45, which was better than Yazoo's output, but a far cry from the Top 10 showings in many other countries. The album made Moyet a big star around the world, except in the US.

ReduxReview:  There are times I just want to say, "America, what is your problem?!" This absolutely should have been a big hit. This is just a delicious slice of blue-eyed soul wonderfully served up by Moyet's big voice. I swear, if this song had a modern arrangement and was sung by someone like Adele or Sam Smith, this song would be a hit. Why it got ignored back in the day is a mystery. However, I do have to admit that I even missed this song when it first came out. I remember liking it, but it just wasn't played on the radio in my area so I didn't get a chance to hook into it. I certainly did later on, along with the Alf album. It's a shame that Moyet didn't catch on here. Both she and this song deserved a better fate. Luckly, her career carried on in Europe and other places, so she has a nice catalog of albums. She released a new disc in 2017 titled Other and I think it is easily her best work. It's full of modern electro-pop tunes and shouldn't be missed.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  All songs on Alf were co-written by Moyet, Jolley, and Swain except for this one, which was written specifically for Moyet by the legendary Motown composer Lamont Dozier. Both on his own and with brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, Dozier has written and produced a plethora of hits, most of which were recorded by Motown artists throughout the 60s. Dozier helped to supply The Supremes with ten #1 records and co-wrote pop standards like "Reach Out I'll Be There" by the Temptations, "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" by Marvin Gaye (and later James Taylor), and "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" by the Four Tops. The Holland-Dozier-Holland team were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.