Saturday, May 19, 2018

"Freedom" by Wham!

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2408
Date:  07/27/1985
Debut:  43
Peak:  3
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Pop, Blue-Eyed Soul

Pop Bits:  The duo's second album, Make It Big, was certainly a big hit reaching #1 for three weeks and spawning three #1 singles. They were hoping to make it four in a row with this follow-up, but it stopped just shy reaching the #3 mark. It also got to #4 at AC. It would be the last single to be issued from the album. All the hits combined help the album sell over ten million copies worldwide. Six million of those were from the US alone.

ReduxReview:  I found this slice of Motown-ish pop a bit annoying with it's sing-a-long chorus that sounded like a children's song. Yet, the hooks in the thing, including the stompin' "doodoo-doot-do-do-do" bridge, were super strong and it was hard to completely ignore the tune. It's almost a shame the song didn't hit #1. If it had, Wham! would have been the first artist to register four #1's from one album (of course depending on if you counted "Careless Whisper" as a George Michael solo song as they did in Europe). No worries though. George Michael would be one of three artists in 1987 to have four #1's from one album (the other two were Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, who ended up with five #1's).

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  As part of their world tour in 1985, Wham! went to China for ten days and performed two concerts. That may not seem like a big deal now, but back then it was a very significant event. Wham! was the first Western pop/rock act to perform in China. The country had been going through a bit of a cultural revolution and music became a part of that. It was also a time of reconstruction for the country whose reputation around the world in regards to government control and treatment of its people was not good. China began to open up more to the world to help boost their world standing, generate tourism, and to show the Chinese people in a more positive light. As part of that, big music acts from Western countries began to try and convince the Chinese government to let them play in the country. The Rolling Stones and Queen were trying to get there, but in the end the seemingly more innocent and pop-friendly sounds of Wham! were selected. Much of the population of China were not familiar with Western music as it really hadn't been allowed in the country, so the crowd of 15,000 people that attended Wham's first concert were both mystified and intrigued. They were also fairly subdued as attendees were highly discouraged from dancing or singing along. A film crew followed Wham! along the way and later a documentary of the journey was released. If folks expected the doors to fly open for Western artists to play in China after this, they were sorely mistaken. Over the next decades, few artists would be give permission to perform there. The Rolling Stones finally made it over in 2006, but even then Chinese officials banned them from doing certain songs in their catalog due to the lyrics.


Friday, May 18, 2018

"Pop Life" by Prince & the Revolution

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2407
Date:  07/27/1985
Debut:  46
Peak:  7
Weeks:  14
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  The week after "Raspberry Beret" peaked at #2, this follow-up single from Around the World in a Day got on the Pop chart. It's high debut position was promising and indeed the song was able to reach the Top 10. It would also get to #5 Dance and #8 R&B. While it wasn't as big of a smash as some of his previous singles, it was his eighth Pop Top 10 and it help to extend sales of the album.

ReduxReviewAround the World was meant to be more experimental, so only a minor few of the tracks were contenders for singles. "Raspberry" and this one were the two with the most potential and at least they did garner him a couple more Top 10s. While this one was worthy of its #7 placement, it isn't one of my favorites from Prince. The beat is solid, but I find that it drones on a bit. The melody is monotone and repetitive, which makes Prince's delivery sound a little robotic and stiff. It did well on the radio back in the day, but as time went on, folks seemed to have set aside this song in favor of his bigger and better hits. I kinda did too.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Nearly twelve years after this song was released, another artist approached Prince about covering this song. In 1997, Elvis Costello was readying an upcoming best-of compilation to be titled Extreme Honey and was readying a version of "Pop Life" for inclusion on the disc (one of those "new track" promo things). Costello then sought permission from Prince to release the track. However, it seems that Costello may have updated and/or changed some of the lyrics and whether that was the issue or something else, Prince denied Costello's request. Still needing a new song for the compilation, Costello decided to answer back to Prince in a way by writing "The Bridge I Burned." The song had a similar feel to "Pop Life," utilized some of its chord structures, and even had background vocalists rattling off "pop life" and "dig it." The idea to cover "Pop Life" had probably been with Costello for a while as he had performed this song in some of his concerts back in the late 80s.


Thursday, May 17, 2018

"No Lookin' Back" by Michael McDonald

Song#:  2406
Date:  07/27/1985
Debut:  72
Peak:  34
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Soft Rock

Pop Bits:  It had been three years since McDonald issued his first solo album, which featured the Top 10 hit "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)" (#4). After that success, McDonald spent time overcoming a drug and alcohol addiction and along the way recorded a hit duet with James Ingram ("Yah Mo B There"). He also began writing songs that would make up his second album, No Lookin' Back. Pop music had changed quite a bit in the interim three years and McDonald attempted to give an 80s commercial sheen to his soft rock/blue-eyed soul sound. While it was a solid hit at Rock getting to #4, neither Pop nor AC supported it quite as well. The song could only make the Pop Top 40 while just getting to #18 at AC. Two follow-up singles failed to reach the Pop chart and that certainly affected sales of the album, which could only reached #45. For a major music star like McDonald, the results were disappointing.

ReduxReview:  This is another quality track from McDonald and Loggins (see below), but it does have one major problem in regards to being a single - it's missing a hooky, memorable chorus. The chorus nearly acts like another verse. It's not until the second time through the chorus that the title is mentioned - and it doesn't stand out. If you played this for anyone who didn't know the song and asked them what the title was or to sing the hook, they couldn't. For a pop single, those are essential items. Think about the Top 10's these artists have had. In every case, there is a definite, memorable hook. For some reason they left it out of this song and that pretty much doomed it. That said, I do think it's a good song, but it just wasn't one that should have been a single.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Although McDonald co-wrote this song, it is actually a remake. It was first recorded by one of the song's co-writers, Kenny Loggins. Loggins recorded his version of the tune for his 1985 album Vox Humana, which had come out earlier in the year. Loggins did not issue the song as a single. McDonald then did his take on the song for inclusion on his second solo LP. This isn't the first time the pair recorded their own versions of songs they co-wrote. They had rival versions at least two other times. The 1979 Grammy-winning #1 hit by the Doobie Brothers, "What a Fool Believes," was first recorded by Loggins for his 1978 album Nightwatch. Then in 1982, each artist recorded a version of their co-write "I Gotta Try" for their respective albums released that year. McDonald would release the song as the second single from his debut album. It got to #44 Pop/#28 AC. McDonald had the upper hand in the pair's dueling co-writes with three of them charting, but Loggins also scored a hit with another song they wrote together, "This Is It." That 1979 song would reach #11 on the Pop chart. It would also net Loggins a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male. This time around, McDonald did not record a version of the song.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"You Look Marvelous" by Billy Crystal

Song#:  2405
Date:  07/27/1985
Debut:  82
Peak:  58
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Novelty, Comedy

Pop Bits:  By the time comedian Crystal was asked to join the cast of the tenth season (1984-85) of Saturday Night Live, he was already a star who had hosted the show twice in its previous season. SNL was going through some growing pains during this time period and it was decided that the show might benefit from adding established stars to the cast. Along with Martin Short, Crystal was brought in to write and perform on the show. One of the most popular recurring sketches from the season was Fernando's Hideaway, in which Crystal portrayed actor Fernando Lamas as a talk show host. Crystal's parody of the sexy Latin playboy was an instant hit that contributed two catchphrases to 80s pop culture: "It is better to look good than to feel good" and "You look mahvelous!" With Crystal's star high in the sky, he decided to make his first (and only) comedy album. Titled Mahvelous!, the LP featured portions of Crystal's stand-up act along with a couple of songs that featured characters he did on SNL. This dance track, co-written with Paul Shaffer, centered on Crystal's Fernando character and it was issued out as a single. The song's associated video became popular on MTV and soon the single was climbing the Pop chart. It nearly reached the Top 50, which wasn't a bad showing for a novelty tune. It also got to #27 at Dance. In turn, the album sold pretty well and made it to #65. Crystal would later receive a Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Recording for the song. By the time the album and single were released, Crystal had already finished up his first and only season as a cast member of SNL (the show revamped again the next season and Crystal was not asked back). Oddly, he would never return to the show as a host.

ReduxReview:  I don't care all that much for novelty tunes and I'm not a fan of impressionists. This tune combines both, which I would normally abhor and ignore, yet I can't help but like what Crystal did here. I remember watching Crystal on SNL back in the day and loving the Fernando sketches. I was also familiar with Fernando Lamas, so that made them even funnier. I never would have thought that a song could be created from the sketch, but Crystal and Paul Shaffer were able to spin it into something interesting. Although there are dated references in the track, Crystal tosses out some hilarious lines and successfully maintains the character. The track is actually kind of catchy and it sounds great thanks to production by Arthur Baker. Of course, the video was terrific and even had a cameo by Sting! Now, do I want to hear this on a regular basis? Nope. Maybe once every decade is fine. However, I wouldn't immediately hit skip if the song came up in a playlist, which is saying something. As novelty songs go, Crystal came up with something that worked and I gotta give some props for that. And yes, I do look mahvelous, darling.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Crystal's Fernando character was so strong that for many younger fans of the show, they didn't realize it was based on a real person - actor Fernando Lamas. For those who were familiar with Lamas, it made the sketch even funnier. Originally from Buenos Aires, Lamas was an actor who starred in several Argentine films throughout the 1940s. In 1950, Hollywood called and Lamas co-star in an American film titled The Avengers (a swashbuckling film, not the British TV show or comic book Avengers). He signed on with MGM and several films followed that had him playing sexy Latin lovers. Later on in the 60s and 70s, he acted in many TV shows and began directing episodes as well. He even directed episodes of the hit 80s nighttime soap Falcon Crest, which starred his son, Lorenzo Lamas. Apparently, Crystal got the idea to do the Fernando character when he saw Lamas as a guest on Johnny Carson's show where Lamas said the line "it's better to look good than to feel good." According to Lorenzo, his dad loved Crystal's exaggerated impression. Crystal's character wasn't the only one inspired by Lamas. Actor Jonathan Goldsmith used Lamas as inspiration for his "most interesting man in the world" character he did in ads for Dos Equis beer from 2007 to 2015. Goldsmith and Lamas were good friends for many years prior to Lamas' death in 1982.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

"Do You Want Crying" by Katrina & the Waves

Song#:  2404
Date:  07/27/1985
Debut:  83
Peak:  37
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  This UK rock band fronted by American Katrina Leskanich grabbed a US Top 10 hit with their enduring 80s classic "Walking on Sunshine" (#9). For a follow-up this next track was selected for single release. The song was able to make it inside of the Pop Top 40, but stalled soon after. Thanks to "Sunshine," the album made it to #25, but without a stronger follow-up single the LP missed out on going gold.

ReduxReview:  It was going to be a difficult task to follow up such an indelible song as "Sunshine," but the band didn't do too bad with this track. It was a bit more rock oriented, yet still had a catchy chorus that wouldn't be too out of place on a Pat Benatar album. While it's not Top 10 material, it was good enough to be pushed out as a single. I think it did about as well as it could on the chart, especially coming on the heels of a near-iconic single.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  The band's self-titled major label debut album for Capitol mainly featured tracks that originally appeared on their first two indie albums. Most all of the songs were remixed for the new album with some getting spruced up with overdubs. However, two songs on the album were completely re-recorded versions of tracks appeared on their first album in 1983, including "Walking on Sunshine." The other song that was redone was one titled "Going Down to Liverpool," which was written by band member Kimberley Rew. Between the time this song was first released on their album in '83 and its newly recorded version in '85, the song was picked up and recorded by another up-n-coming band - The Bangles. The all-female band had signed with Columbia Records and for their 1984 debut album All Over the Place, it was suggested that they record "Liverpool." They did and it ended up being released as the LP's second single. Unfortunately, it didn't chart in the US, however it did make a brief appearance on the UK chart at #79. A reissue of the song in the UK the following year did a bit better reaching #56. Katrina & the Waves never issued the song out as a single, but it was the b-side to "Sunshine." With the Bangles popularity on the rise and MTV playing the video for this song, it ended up more associated with them than with Katrina & the Waves.


Monday, May 14, 2018

"Spanish Eddie" by Laura Branigan

Song#:  2403
Date:  07/27/1985
Debut:  84
Peak:  40
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  Branigan was at a career high with her 1984 album Self Control. The album was her biggest seller (platinum certified) thanks in part to the #4 title-track hit and its video, which grabbed a lot of airplay on MTV. For her fourth album, Hold Me, Branigan didn't change up her winning formula. She retained Jack White, who had been a producer on her previous three albums, and selected another set of songs that had a mix of dance-pop and ballads. The first single out of the gate was this Europop-ish track. It seemed like it might be another solid hit for Branigan, but then it stalled just as it entered the Pop Top 40. It did slightly better at Dance (#26) and AC (#29). It was a bit of a disappointment and in turn the album did not sell well and it became the lowest peaking one of her career to this point (#71).

ReduxReview:  There are things I like about this song, such as the memorable chorus with the big castanets/tympani accent, but in general it's a weak outing for Branigan. "Self Control" gave a bit of a rock edge to her dance-pop and it stood out. I was hoping she would continue in that direction, but then this Eurodisco style tune came out instead. While the style fit her well, the material couldn't compete with her earlier hits. It just wasn't the right song or single and it kind of dinged up her career. Sadly, she never really bounced back after this.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  This song was co-written by David Palmer and Chuck Cochran. Palmer was a singer/songwriter from New Jersey who caught his first break when his band The Myddle Class got signed to Tomorrow Records, which was owned by the famous songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Beginning in 1965, the band recorded three singles for the label, but nothing came from them. After a fourth single on Buddha that went nowhere, the band split up. Palmer later ended up in a newly formed band called Steely Dan. Palmer shared lead vocal duties with Donald Fagen on the band's 1972 debut album Can't Buy a Thrill. Unfortunately, before their second album, Palmer was eased out of the band and Fagen took over all the vocal duties. A couple of years later, Palmer's association with Carole King paid off when the pair co-wrote all the songs for her 1974 album Wrap Around Joy. The album would be a #1 hit thanks to two Top 10 hits including the #2 "Jazzman." Palmer continued to write for other artists over the years and this song he co-wrote for Branigan became another chart entry for him.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

"Black Kisses (Never Make You Blue)" by Curtie and the Boombox

Spotlight Alert!

Song#:  2402
Date:  07/27/1985
Debut:  88
Peak:  81
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  After Dutch producer Peter Koelewijn crossed paths with singer Curie Fortune, he decided to develop her as an artist and form a backing group to support her. Fortune was originally from a Caribbean island and had an accent that Koelewijn liked, so when he sought other singers to fill out the group, he ended up finding three others that were also from the Caribbean. The new group recorded the song "Let's Talk It Over in the Ladies Room" for RCA and it got released in 1984. Although it was a middling chart entry in The Netherlands, the results were good enough to support the recording of this follow-up single, which ended up making the Dutch Top 20. RCA pushed the song to other countries including the US where it got some attention in the clubs and made it to #40 at Dance. It was also able to cross over to the Pop chart for a short month. With interest in the group increasing, it was decided that a full album should be done. After a few personnel changes, enough songs were recorded to fill a debut album. Unfortunately, follow-up singles failed to do anything and the album disappeared quickly. Fortune and Koelewijn then called it quits on the group, but three of the remaining members tried to kick off a career as just Boombox. Their initial single tanked and that brought a final close to the group.

ReduxReview:  I didn't know what to expect from this song and I have to say that it surprised me. It's nearly like something from the Bananarama/Stock Aitken Waterman camp with a bit of a rock edge. It grooves along quite well and the production is surprisingly good. The vocals and harmonies are just fine, but I think this song could have benefited from stronger voices. The lyrics are a bit meh, yet the groove of the track makes up for it. With the upcoming era of 80s female vocal groups coming up soon, this might have had more luck on the chart a couple of years down the road. This is a lost little gem that I'm glad I got to uncover and it is worthy of a Spotlight mention.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Peter Koelewijn is often considered the father of Dutch rock and roll. Back in the mid to late 50s, the new sounds of rock and roll were beginning to take over the airwaves in the US and the UK. Those songs began to spread across Europe, but for countries like The Netherlands, rock music was slow to take hold. It wasn't something played on the more conservative Dutch radio stations. Those who discovered rock had to hear it through other sources such as Radio Luxembourg or the American Forces Network that was mainly for US servicemen who were stationed in Germany. Soon, some young Dutch musicians were trying to replicate the sound of rock and covering hits from the US. A few artists were able to record some original tunes as well, yet despite a growing audience for this music, rock was still not taking over the Dutch airwaves. That all changed when Koelewijn started his band Peter and the Rockets. In 1959, the band recorded some original songs written by Koelewijn and one of the tunes, "Kom Van Dat Daf Ak" (translation - "Get Off That Roof"), was pushed out by Imperial Records. After a slow start, the song got on the Dutch chart and eventually made its way to the #1 spot. The band followed it up with more hits and in doing so helped to establish original rock and roll in The Netherlands. They would end up with five Top 10's at home, but the band was even more popular in Belgium where they scored fifteen Top 10's.