Saturday, February 10, 2018

"Square Rooms" by Al Corley

Song#:  2312
Date:  05/11/1985
Debut:  96
Peak:  80
Weeks:  5
Genre:  Europop, Synthpop, Dance

Pop Bits:  Some folks may remember the name Al Corley from the 80s nighttime soap Dynasty (see below). For the show's first two season, Corley played the role of Steven Carrington. The show was a hit, yet Corley was not happy with the character and decided to leave the series. Corley was also a musician, so after leaving Dynasty he decided to try and parlay his new fame into a recording career. He signed on with Mercury records and hooked up with German producer Harold Faltermeyer, who had some recent success with Laura Branigan (this was prior to his Beverly Hills Cop hit "Axel F"). Corley wrote or co-wrote all the songs for his debut album Square Rooms. The title track would first be issued as the lead single in Europe late in '84. It would be a Top 10 hit in a few countries including France where it reached #1. It got to the US in the spring of '84, but the reception was different. The track couldn't get out of the basement of the Pop chart. It did slightly better at Dance getting to #26. With that tepid reception, the album then disappeared quickly. A follow-up single, "Cold Dresses," would be another hit in France (#5), but that would be it for Corley. He'd record two more albums for Mercury before calling it a day on his music career.

ReduxReview:  I can certainly hear why this was a hit in Europe. It definitely has that Europop/new wave feel and Corley's voice fits in with that nearly sounding like Roland Orzabal from Tears for Fears. It's a catchy tune, but nothing that was going to spur the interest of a US pop audience. I'm not surprised it stalled early.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Back in the early 80s, openly gay characters barely existed on TV, let alone in a leading role. Billy Crystal's Jodie Dallas on the 1977 comedy series Soap was one of the most famous regular characters on a show to be gay. Some say he was the first, but actually actor Vincent Schiavelli played a recurring character that was gay, Peter Panama, on the 1972 sitcom The Corner Bar. Also before Crystal, the 1975 Norman Lear sitcom Hot l Baltimore featured a gay couple. These were all comedies and sometimes that made introducing tricky subjects a bit easier because the situations and/or characters provided laughter. It was tougher for dramas and it wouldn't be until Dynasty in 1981 that a regular gay character would be on a primetime dramatic show. Corley took on the role of Steve Carrington and portrayed him for two seasons. But Corley was unhappy with the character's direction and left the show. He was then replaced by Jack Coleman, who finished out the run of the show. To explain Steve Carrington's physical change when Coleman took over the role, the writers had Carrington burned in an oil rig fire and attributed the change in looks to plastic surgery. While the Carrington character was groundbreaking, he wasn't necessarily a well-adjusted gay man. Feeling pressure from protesters and organizations, the writers transitioned Carrington through various relationships, including with women (he even gets married at one point), and portrayed him at times as closeted and confused. Regardless, it was a bold step at the time and the character and the actors who portrayed him are part of gay history.


Friday, February 9, 2018

"Dangerous" by Natalie Cole

Song#:  2311
Date:  05/04/1985
Debut:  77
Peak:  57
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Dance-Pop, R&B

Pop Bits:  After a streak of six gold and platinum albums, Cole's career started to go cold. She hadn't had a Pop Top 10 hit since 1977 and her last R&B Top 10 was in 1979. In addition to recording lackluster albums, Cole's personal life, which included a drug addiction, was in shambles. She finally stepped away from everything to seek treatment and by '85 she was ready to return to music with a new outlook. She signed with Modern Records and recorded her tenth studio LP Dangerous. This first title-track single showed that she was keeping up with music trends of the day. While the dance-pop tune wasn't a runaway hit, it did get Cole into the R&B Top 20 (#16) and back on the Pop chart. It was her best effort on either chart since 1980 and signaled that Cole was on her way back.

ReduxReview:  Neither this song nor the album were outstanding in any way, but what they did was make Cole relevant again. Those that hooked into this song were ready to see what else she had in store. I always thought this song under performed a bit. Yes, it sounds a bit familiar (see below), but it's a boppy fun synth pop tune with some fun effects. It should have at least made the Top 40 at Pop. Still, the song got her back on the chart and gave her career a much needed boost. I have fond memories of this album because I ended up doing a singing telegram for Cole (in a pink elephant costume) at a record store where she was doing a promotional appearance in support of Dangerous. She and her mom loved my little "act" and there was a lot of laughing and pictures being taken. They were such lovely folks. I bought an album and Cole autographed it for me. I still have it.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Does this song bring to mind the Pointer Sisters? That may be due to the writing team behind the tune. Marti Sharron, Stephen Mitchell, and Gary Skardina were the same composers that wrote the Pointer Sisters' big #3 hit "Jump (For My Love)."


Thursday, February 8, 2018

"Wake Up (Next to You)" by Graham Parker and the Shot

Song#:  2310
Date:  05/04/1985
Debut:  82
Peak:  39
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  After four respectable selling albums with Arista that produced one very minor Pop chart entry ("Life Gets Better"), Parker and the label parted ways. He then moved over to Elektra, formed a new band called The Shot, and recorded his next effort, Steady Nerves. This first single would introduce the LP and it would end up being the best charting single of his career. In addition to making the Pop Top 40, the song also got to #19 Rock and #26 AC. Even though the single did pretty well, it didn't translate to better album sales and the LP ended up peaking just two notches higher (#57) than his previous one. It would end up being his only one for the label. Parker has consistently issued new albums for various labels over the years, but none of them have had the commercial impact of his '79-'88 output.

ReduxReview:  I hate to constantly make the comparison, but each time I hear a Graham Parker song, I keep hearing shades of Elvis Costello. Not everything he does is Costello-ish, but singles like this one sure are. In fact, I'd probably say this is a weird combo of Costello with a little Springsteen tossed in. It's a nice tune and I like the little organ riff after the chorus. It takes a few listens to hook into the tune and I'm glad Pop listeners gave the song a chance. I need to explore Parker's catalog more as I've enjoy the few tunes that I've heard.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Graham's next album would be for the RCA label.  Titled The Mona Lisa's Sister, it received some good notices especially from Rolling Stone magazine. The album even made their list of the Best 100 Albums of the 80s. It placed #97 on the list. It was not a big seller and peaked at #77 on the Album chart. It would be Graham's last to get into the Top 100 of that chart.  2) Filmmaker Judd Apatow must have been a fan of Parker's. Following a 2011 reunion of Graham Parker and his band the Rumour, Apatow put the band in his 2012 film This Is 40. One of the lead characters, played by Paul Rudd, owns a struggling record label which is promoting the band's reunion.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

"My Toot Toot" by Jean Knight

Song#:  2309
Date:  05/04/1985
Debut:  84
Peak:  50
Weeks:  15
Genre:  R&B, Novelty

Pop Bits:  Soul singer Jean Knight got her start in the mid-60s with a couple of singles for Tribe Records. Nothing came from them and Knight retreated back to a regular day job. She caught a break when she did some sessions for a songwriter named Ralph Williams. Among the tunes she recorded was one called "Mr. Big Stuff." Initially, no label wanted to release the song, but after a song done by King Floyd during the same sessions ("Groove Me") hit #1 R&B/#6 Pop, champions of the song pushed Stax Records to release the tune. They finally did in 1971 and Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff" went to #1 R&B and #2 Pop. The hit earned Knight a Grammy nod for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female. An album of the same name followed and did well (#8 R&B/#60 Pop), but follow-up singles failed to capture an audience. To make things worse, Knight and Stax didn't get along and she ended up off the label. She continued to record over the next few year with various labels, but nothing clicked. A 1981 album for Cotillion got some good notice, but it still didn't get Knight back on the charts. Four years later, she wound up on the Mirage label singing a remake of Rockin' Sidney's "My Toot Toot." Released as a single, the song got some attention and it wound up reaching #59 at R&B while hitting the halfway point at Pop. Although Knight couldn't parlay the attention into further chart entries, it did boost her name and she has remained a popular touring act.

ReduxReview:  The snazzy accordion of the original (see below) gets traded in for cheezy synths for this remake. It gives the song a cheap 80s sound, but since the tune leans toward novelty, it kinda works. It's a cute little Zydeco diddy and Knight sounds like she's having fun with it. I'm guessing this song was far more popular down south, which probably helped get it on the charts. I can't say that this is something I'd purposely listen to, but it's one of those tunes that could get a crowd dancing at a party or wedding reception. I'd certainly rather hear it than the dreaded "Chicken Dance."

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of an original song written and performed by Sidney Simien, aka Rockin' Sidney. The Louisiana native was a Zydeco artist who had been making a name for himself as a performer since the late 70s. He wrote and recorded "My Toot Toot" in 1984 and soon it became a regional hit. Enough so that Epic picked up the record for national distribution. The song was marketed to country stations and it ended up getting to #19 on the Country chart. It pushed his associated album to #13 (#166 Pop). As the song was shaping up to be a hit, two artists jumped in to do their own versions. Blues/R&B singer Denise LaSalle covered the tune, but it didn't do anything in the US. However, it was a big hit in the UK getting to #6. Jean Knight's version would be the one that got the song on the US Pop and R&B charts.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

"Black Cars" by Gino Vannelli

Song#:  2308
Date:  05/04/1985
Debut:  85
Peak:  42
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Synthpop

Pop Bits:  The last time Vannelli released a studio album was in 1981. That LP, Nightwalker, yielded his second Pop Top 10 hit "Living Inside Myself." In the four years following that successful release, Pop music sounds and sights (MTV) had changed quite a bit and Vannelli's smooth AC sound wasn't necessarily in favor. With a lot of ground to make up, Vannelli recorded his next album titled Black Cars. Embracing the synth and new wave trends of the day, Vannelli introduced his new sound via this title track first single. In his Canadian homeland, the song was a major hit reaching #4. Hopes were high when the tune crossed the border, but US listeners didn't really take to it and the single peaked just outside of the Pop Top 40. It did a bit better at Dance and Rock getting to #15 and #34, respectively. In turn, the album stopped at #62, which was his worst showing on the US chart since 1975.

ReduxReview:  Those expecting or longing for the romantic balladry of Vannelli's past hits were not going to find it on this single or album. Vannelli had moved on and this song certainly drew a line in the sand. While Canadians made it his second biggest hit at home, for some reason it just didn't connect with listeners in the US. I'm really not sure why. The tune was catchy, had great production, and had a sound similar to that of John Parr ("Naughty Naughty") or even The Cars. So why did it get ignored? Perhaps followers weren't ready for a glam, new waved up Vannelli or maybe the label didn't promote it well, especially on MTV (I don't even remember seeing this on the channel). It's too bad as this should have done a lot better. Yeah, it's a bit of a toss-off new wave-lite tune, but its fun and I dig the loud day-glo synth lines. The album isn't too bad either.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  So why the four-year gap between albums? It ended up being another case of friction between artist and label. Nightwalker was Vannelli's first LP for Arista after leaving A&M. While that album was successful, the artist/label relationship soured after Vannelli recorded his next project. His follow-up album, Twisted Heart, was apparently an edgier album that was not liked by Arista's Clive Davis. Although an initial single was released ("The Longer You Wait"), Davis ended up shelving the LP and that started a tug of war between the label head and artist. Neither side budged with Davis refusing to release the album and Vannelli not recording anything else. Both stuck to their guns until Vannelli was finally released from his contract in '85. He was then able to sign with Polydor and he stayed with them over the course of three albums with Black Cars being his first effort.


Monday, February 5, 2018

"Alone Again" by Dokken

Song#:  2307
Date:  05/04/1985
Debut:  86
Peak:  64
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Heavy Metal

Pop Bits:  L.A. musician Don Dokken started his first band in the mid 70s and as the decade began to close, he got an offer to record an album in Germany for the Carrere label. Under the band name of Dokken, Breakin' the Chains would be released in Germany in 1981 to little fanfare. The band headed back to the States with members going their separate ways. Dokken pounded the pavement trying to get a label interested in the album. Over a year later, someone finally bit. Elektra decided to take a chance and Dokken reassembled the band. A revised edition of Breaking the Chains made its US debut in '83. The title track was a minor #32 entry at Rock and the album sold poorly. The label intended to drop the band, but Dokken's management convinced Elektra to give them a second chance. The label did and a year later the band issued Tooth and Nail. At first, the album was a slow seller, but it held on as two singles floated near the Top 20 mark at Rock. Then it finally took off when this third single got enough attention to reach #20 at Rock and cross over to the Pop chart for nearly three months. With the success of the song along with their videos in rotation at MTV, the album finally went gold. Over time it would continue to sell and eventually go platinum.

ReduxReview:  While a few rockin' tunes from heavy/hair/glam metal bands had made some headway on the Pop chart by this point, it was big ballads like this that allowed some bands to break through. The ballads were a bit more palatable than heavier rock tunes for Pop radio and that gave harder rockin' bands a chance to gain a wider audience. This is one that certainly helped Dokken. Their normally crunchy metal sound is kept in check here and enhanced by an acoustic-style opening. It's not loud or brash and that certainly helps when trying to sell the song at Pop. It's a quality ballad that did about as well as it could at Pop. It's not among the most memorable of heavy 80s rock ballads, but it was good enough to help establish the band.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  While in Germany, Don Dokken had become friends with members of the popular metal band The Scorpions. As the band was prepping to record their eighth album, Blackout, their lead singer Klaus Meine developed vocal nodes and had to have surgery done. While Meine was recovering, the band moved forward with demos of the new songs and asked Dokken to come in and handle the vocals. After Meine regained his voice, he returned and was able to complete the album with the band. Dokken's lead vocals were gone, but some of his backing vocals remained on the final product. Blackout would end up being the album that broke the band in the US. It would be a platinum seller.


Sunday, February 4, 2018

"Save the Night for Me" by Maureen Steele

Song#:  2306
Date:  05/04/1985
Debut:  89
Peak:  77
Weeks:  5
Genre:  Dance-Pop, Synthpop

Pop Bits:  Singer Maureen Steele got her first break when she recorded the song "Boys Will Be Boys" for the 1984 Matt Dillon comedy The Flamingo Kid. The soundtrack was issued on Motown and the label gave Steele the opportunity to record a solo album. Titled Nature of the Beast, this first single, co-written by Steele, was pushed out. It got a little big of attention and was able to reach the Pop chart for a few short weeks. A follow-up single failed to do anything, but "Boys Will Be Boys" caught on in the clubs and would eventually be a #18 Dance hit in the fall of '85. After those results, Steele lost her contract with the label and her solo career came to an end. She did get some work throughout the balance of the 80s as a backup vocalist. She appeared on Smokey Robinson's final Motown LP, 1986's Smoke Signals, along with Apollonia's 1988 debut solo album. Steele ended up leaving the business and later worked in real estate with her husband Mike Volante. The pair also became LifeMastery consultants and do seminars and workshops regarding personal potential.

ReduxReview:  Is this a great song? No. Do I love it? Yes! I was in Boston for college when this song came out and a certain radio station I listened to played this song quite a bit. I dug the tune and bought the 45 (which I still have - and have transferred it digitally). I think I might have looked for the album, but never found it. The song and LP seemed to disappear quickly. I later heard the full album, but it all kind of paled in comparison to this song. The melody is excellent throughout the song and I especially like the rev up to the chorus. The song was well-crafted and the production is not bad for 80s synthpop. It reminds me of something Laura Branigan might have picked up to record. Steele's voice isn't all that distinctive, but she does solid work here. This is a lost gem from the era that I love to dig up every now and then.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Motown was primarily known as a label for black artists, but along the way there were a few white artists that were signed directly to the label. Steele happened to be one of them along with Star Search winner Sam Harris. Although singer Charlene was initially on the Motown subsidiary Prodigal, she signed direct with Motown following her career reviving hit "I've Never Been to Me." While a few other white artists did record directly for Motown, most were signed to one of the label's subsidiaries like Gordy, which was Teena Marie's home. In the late 60s, Motown decided to branch out into rock and created the Rare Earth label, which got its name from the Detroit band that got signed to the label. Kiki Dee was also on the label along with UK band the Pretty Things. The label was discontinued in 1978. Motown tried to develop another rock label in the early 80s with Morocco. Duke Jupiter recorded for the label and had some success, but Morocco closed up after two years.