Saturday, January 13, 2018

"Basketball" by Kurtis Blow

Song#:  2284
Date:  04/13/1985
Debut:  85
Peak:  71
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Hip-Hop

Pop Bits:  Kurtis Blow was the first hip-hop artist signed to a major label (Mercury) and it paid off when his single "The Breaks" became the first rap song to go gold. The song and his debut album would influence many artists to come. Blow continued to record albums, but none of them produced a second crossover single. However, his fifth LP, 1984's Ego Trip, included a track that started to get the attention of folks not only in music, but in sports as well. "Basketball" was Blow's ode to the NBA, which had been reaching new heights in popularity at the time through stars like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and a new up-n-coming kid named Michael Jordan. The tie-in to the NBA got the song attention and it got issued as a single. It did fine at R&B getting to #29, but its popular video and NBA tie-in helped it reach the Pop chart for a few weeks. It would be Blow's last and best effort on the Pop chart. Later in the year, his next album America would feature his second biggest hit, "If I Ruled the World," which got to #16 R&B and #25 Dance. Unfortunately, it wouldn't make the Pop chart. Blow recorded two more albums before retreating behind the scenes and working as a producer for artists like Run-D.M.C., The Fat Boys, and Wyclef Jean.

ReduxReview:  I have to say that when I hear tracks like this, I miss ol' skool hip-hop. I love the hook with the female singers, the groove, the big drum beat, and the rap. With the time-oriented references, the song is dated, but its still a cool listen. Rap would grow and change exponentially over the next decade with some very important tracks to come, but these fun early raps still hold up and make me jam and smile.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This was the first and big step in what would be a long partnership between the NBA and hip-hop music. Apparently, the NBA commissioner at the time, David Stern, found out about the song and thought that it held significant marketing potential. It wasn't long before the song was used for NBA promos and Blow was hired to do concerts following NBA games, which filled seats with a young audience who attended the games, but were really there to see Blow. The cross marking worked and more NBA/hip-hop promotions would follow over the years. At a time when hip-hop was trying to break through to the masses, it was very significant that a cross-culture organization like the NBA embraced the new genre and its artists.


Friday, January 12, 2018

"Talk to Me" by Fiona

Song#:  2283
Date:  04/13/1985
Debut:  90
Peak:  64
Weeks:  7
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Singer Fiona Flanagan moved to NYC at the beginning of the decade to pursue a career in music. Just 18 at the time, she ended up singing with several band before attracting the attention of Atlantic Records. They signed her to a deal the the result was her self-titled debut album that featured this first single. It caught on at Rock and did well peaking at #12 on that chart. The song's popularity there allowed it to crossover to the Pop chart where it ended up peaking in the lower half of the chart. The action at Rock helped sell some albums and it did respectable business getting to #71. While the results weren't spectacular, it was enough for Atlantic to keep Fiona on for two more albums. Although her second LP wouldn't produce any charting songs, her third would get her a second entry on the Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  This rockin' track with a blues edge to it was a good vehicle for Fiona's voice. She's definitely got the goods. She's got a big, full voice with a nice range and raspy tone. I'm sure she could sing the crap out of anything. Unfortunately, the material she had didn't quite keep up with her voice. This is a solid track for rock radio, but it wasn't necessarily all that great for the pop crowd. There was a lot of promise on her debut album, but she needed some more hit-oriented material ala Pat Benatar to really make a mark. It's too bad she really didn't fully break through as the talent is there.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Following this album, Fiona began to branch out into acting. Her first major role was on an episode of Miami Vice. This led to her first starring role in a movie. She played opposite Bob Dylan in the musical drama Hearts of Fire. The film was about a former rock star who tried to help a singer  (played by Fiona), but then she begins to take up with a younger, new star. The vehicle for Dylan was a stinker out of the gate and was quickly pulled from theaters. The soundtrack, which featured three songs by Dylan and five by Fiona, also had a short shelf life. Both singers returned to their day jobs afterward.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Heartline" by Robin George

Song#:  2282
Date:  04/13/1985
Debut:  93
Peak:  92
Weeks:  2
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  UK guitarist Robin George had already been performing, touring, and recording with several bands before deciding to step out on his own in the early 80s. His first deal came with Arista Records who footed the bill for a 1983 single titled "Go Down Fighting." Nothing came from the record and an unimpressed Arista dropped him from the roster. About a year later, he signed on with Bronze Records and was able to record a full album titled Dangerous Minds. This first single got issued and it made a minor impact at Rock getting to #40. That slight action allowed the song to crossover to the Pop chart for a short couple of weeks. It would be George's only solo song to reach the chart. He turned more towards producing and engineering afterward, but he'd get another brush at fame in the next decade (see below).

ReduxReview:  This is definitely some 80s power rock. The staccato-like verse is interesting and the chorus is okay, but it just doesn't have that extra hooky oomph to make it a more radio-friendly track. I dig the sound of it. The tune is well-produced and engineered. I also think the ending of the song is kinda cool. There is a lot of good going on here, yet the song is not really all that strong.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  After several years working behind the scenes, George decided to move out in front again and with vocalist Sean Harris (formerly of the UK metal band Diamond Head) formed a duo called Notorious. They got the attention of Geffen Records who signed them up for an album. A self-titled debut appeared in 1990 and the first single from the LP, "The Swalk," spent five weeks on the Pop chart peaking at #90. The tepid results didn't get them any further with Geffen and the pair returned to the other work. They would reunite for a second album in 2010.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"Celebrate Youth" by Rick Springfield

Song#:  2281
Date:  04/06/1985
Debut:  60
Peak:  26
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Although Springfield's leading role movie debut Hard to Hold was a box office bomb, the soundtrack did quite well going platinum and producing the #5 hit "Love Somebody." With the movie behind him, Springfield retreated back to the studio for his next album. The new effort, titled Tao, amped up synth-rock sound he had been toying with on his past couple of LPs. This first single introduced that sound and it was greeted with tepid results. The song stopped just inside the Pop Top 30 while missing the Rock chart completely. The first singles from his previous four albums all went Top 10, so this miss was certainly disappointing.

ReduxReview:  This song is just...loud. It's an overproduced message song that is nothing like the hooky pop/rock Springfield had been dishing out for the past few years. I wasn't shocked that both critics and listeners shrugged at it. However, I liked it and the album. Tao was an interesting experiment with Springfield layering sounds upon sounds and trying to write songs that had more depth. Critics balked at the LP but I actually liked it and thought it was one of his most consistent efforts. It's dark, dense, and loud, yet something about it got my attention. I've probably played it more than any other of his albums. A couple of the LP's songs are standards in my gym playlist. So while this song and the rest of the album didn't exactly light up the charts, I was a fan.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  One of the most popular sporting organizations during the mid-80s was the WWF - the World Wrestling Federation (now the WWE). With millions of folks watching events on TV and in arenas, it was inevitable that the sport would expand and cross over into other mediums. David Wolff, who was Cyndi Lauper's manager at the time, came up with the concept of a music album with tracks sung by some of the WWF's most famous stars. The project was called The Wrestling Album and one of the songs written for the album was "Eat Your Hart Out Rick Springfield." The "Hart" in the title is in reference to the song's singer and writer, Jimmy Hart. Hart, aka "The Mouth of the South," was a manager in the WWF, but long before he got in the wrestling world, Hart was a musician. His claim to fame from his early days was that he was a vocalist in The Gentrys, a band from Tennessee that got a #4 hit in 1965 called "Keep on Dancing." Hart's "Springfield" song is about Hart dating a girl who is obsessed with Springfield.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

"Smuggler's Blues" by Glenn Frey

Song#:  2280
Date:  04/06/1985
Debut:  74
Peak:  12
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Blues-Rock

Pop Bits:  Frey's second solo album, The Allnighter, was doing okay. He got a Top 20 Pop entry with the LP's first single, "Sexy Girl," but the title-track second single faltered at a low #54. However, prior to a third single being released, Frey's contribution to the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, "The Heat Is On," bolted up to #2. Despite the song not being on The Allnighter, it did spark further interest in the album and this third single got issued. It would do quite well getting to #12 at Pop and #13 Rock. It would be the best performing single from the album, which in turn would reach gold-level sales.

ReduxReview:  I think Frey may have gotten lucky thanks to "The Heat Is On" and the Miami Vice tie-in with this track (see below). Otherwise, I don't think this single would have done as well. I wasn't a fan of it and it's still nothing I'd choose to hear. The video also helped for this song as it basically told the story in the lyrics. It all worked out for Frey, but it's a forgettable oldie for me.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  This is one of the rare cases where a song inspired an episode of a TV show. This song caught the attention of the producers/writers of the hit show Miami Vice and an episode titled after the song was filmed. Glenn Frey also makes an appearance in the show as a pilot. The episode was aired during the show's first season and premiered in mid-February. A couple of months later, the song was issued as a single. It would end up appearing on the show's associated soundtrack album along with another soon-to-be Frey hit "You Belong to the City."


Monday, January 8, 2018

"Do You Wanna Get Away" by Shannon

Song#:  2279
Date:  04/06/1985
Debut:  77
Peak:  49
Weeks:  15
Genre:  Dance, R&B, Synthpop

Pop Bits:  Shannon's "Let the Music Play" was an influential Top 10 hit that introduced many folks to the burgeoning freestyle genre of dance music. With a gold single and gold album to her credit, she then had the tough task of following them up. Working once again with producers Chris Barbosa and Mark Liggett, Shannon prepped her new disc titled Do You Wanna Get Away. This title track would be the first single issued from the LP. The song easily went to #1 at Dance becoming her third to top that chart. However, the song struggled elsewhere. It could only get to #13 R&B while missing out on the Pop Top 40. It would end up being Shannon's final single to reach the Pop chart. She would record one more album for Atlantic that failed to chart and that ended her major label days. She wouldn't record another album until 2000.

ReduxReview:  The fortunate/unfortunate situation for Shannon was that "Let the Music Play" was such a strong song she had to have, at minimum, another song that was just as good in order to keep her career going. Sadly, she just didn't have one. Her other material wasn't bad at all, it's just that none of it couldn't match the "wow" factor of her first hit. For example, this song has a nice urgent feeling and chorus, but it's nowhere as contagious as "Let the Music Play." Therefore, it failed to get her out from under the immense pressure dropped on her with that hit. She ended up a one-hit wonder, but what a great hit to be tagged with. As for this one, it was a valiant attempt to divert attention from her signature tune, but it just didn't work.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  The album also included Shannon's synthpop version of Foreigner's 1981 #4 hit "Urgent." It was released as the LP's third single. Her take of the song didn't really catch on and it could only manage a #68 showing at R&B while missing the Dance and Pop charts completely. As with the original version, the center section featured a sax solo, which wasn't quite as memorable as the one that Junior Walker did for Foreigner's original.


Sunday, January 7, 2018

"Oh Girl" by Boy Meets Girl

Song#:  2278
Date:  04/06/1985
Debut:  79
Peak:  39
Weeks:  13
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  The husband and wife songwriting/vocal team of Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill began to get attention when some of their songs started to appear on albums by artists like Phyllis Hyman and Deniece Williams. It wasn't long before their demo tapes were noticed by A&M Records and the duo, now known as Boy Meets Girl, were signed on and given the chance to do their own album. Their self-titled debut was released and this first single was issued. While it wasn't a major hit, it did at least peak just inside the Pop Top 40. The results were not great and their deal with A&M halted. However, the next two years would bring them two #1 hits as songwriters (both for Whitney Houston) and that would lead to a new label deal and a Top 10 hit of their own.

ReduxReview:  This couple can certainly write smart songs with solid hooks. Unfortunately, this isn't one of them. The groove is just fine, but the chorus is too subtle to be hooky and memorable. The bridge builds nicely, but when the chorus arrives the song falls flat. Frankly, I'm surprised this actually made the Top 40. Over the next few years the couple would write far better songs than this one.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  In 1984, the duo contributed two songs to Deniece Williams' only platinum-selling LP, Let's Heart It for the Boy. They composed the tracks "Don't Tell Me We Have Nothing" and "Haunting Me" (the latter co-written with Williams). For their debut LP, the couple recorded their own version of "Don't Tell Me We Have Nothing." In addition to the song contributions to Williams' album, the duo also performed background vocals on several tracks including the #1 hit "Let's Hear It for the Boy."