Saturday, October 20, 2018

"How Will I Know" by Whitney Houston

#1 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  2563
Date:  12/07/1985
Debut:  60
Peak:  1 (2 weeks)
Weeks:  23
Genre:  Dance-Pop, R&B

Pop Bits:  Houston's star was already high in the sky when her first two solo singles became gold-selling Top 10's. Her previous single, "Saving All My Love for You," became her first to reach the #1 spot. With a lot of attention and momentum behind her, this third single was issued out. Bolstered by a video that went into heavy rotation at MTV, the song climbed all the way up the chart to become Houston's second #1. Like "Saving," the single would also reach #1 at R&B and #1 at AC. The tune would also be a Dance chart hit getting to #3. Houston would win her first and only MTV Music Video Award for the song. She won for Best Female Video. She was also nominated for Best New Artist in a Video (which went to a-ha that year). Surprisingly, despite all her success Houston would receive only one more MTV Music Video award nomination. That came in 1999 when "Heartbreak Hotel" would get a nod for Best R&B Video. That song was performed by the trio of Houston, Faith Evans, and Kelly Price.

ReduxReview:  This bubbly and fun track was a perfect choice for a third single. This is the one that brought the kids on board the Whitney train. It showed that she wasn't just an R&B/AC artist and could appeal to a wide crossover audience. Houston nails the vocals and sounds like she is having a ball singing it. The song is not a classic by any means, but Walden's spirited production combined with Houston's voice really sold the song.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This song was originally written by George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam. The two singer/songwriters were getting some attention at the time as the duo Boy Meet Girl. Their single "Oh Girl" made it to #39 on the Pop chart. The pair were signed to A&M and they were asked to write a song for label mate Janet Jackson and came up with this song. However, it was rejected by Jackson and her team as it wasn't fitting in with what she was recording at the time (Jackson was in the midst of sessions for her landmark LP Control). Through a connection, the song ended up over at Arista Records and in the hands of a person seeking material for Houston's debut LP. They were looking for a more pop-oriented crossover hit and this seemed to fit the bill. They coaxed Narada Michael Walden away from his sessions with Aretha Franklin to produce the song, but he wanted to make changes to it. Merrill and Rubicam balked at first as they had no idea who Houston was or any of the folks involved, but then they talked with Walden and agreed to compromise on changes to the song. Houston recorded the tune and it turned into one of her biggest hits. It was fortunate for Merrill and Rubicam that it all worked out as they were then able to write another #1 for Houston, 1987's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)."


Friday, October 19, 2018

"Go" by Asia

Song#:  2562
Date:  12/07/1985
Debut:  86
Peak:  46
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Arena Rock

Pop Bits:  This supergroup's 1982 self-titled debut was a quad-platinum seller that became a staple of early 80s rock radio. Their second LP, Alpha, didn't perform as well only going platinum, but with five of the LP's tracks hitting the Rock chart, it showed they still had solid support and a third album was called for. However, the band was having some internal issues and lead vocalist/main co-writer John Wetton was let go from the band (or he left, depending on which story you believe). The remaining trio brought in Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake & Palmer) to take Wetton's place, but after a short stint, Lake left. The band then somehow convinced Wetton to return. When he did, Steve Howe was then gone and replace by Mandy Meyer, formerly of Krokus. With personnel changes finally done, the band proceeded to record their next album, Astra. This track was issued out as the first single and it was a hit at Rock getting to #7. The song's associated video was also successful on MTV, but somehow it all didn't translate into a successful crossover to Pop. The single stalled before it could even get into the Top 40. With little to support it, the album halted at a low #67 and couldn't get near gold-level sales. After the failure, the members decided to split, but it wasn't long before various versions of the band would make comeback attempts.

ReduxReview:  Asia's first album hit at the exact right time. Arena rock from the likes of Journey and Foreigner were riding the charts and Asia fit right in with their hooky prog-rock. Yet a mere three years later the musical landscape had changed enough that Asia was going to have a more difficult time selling a rock track at Pop. They needed something very hooky and memorable if they were going to make it. Unfortunately, this track wasn't it. The song is not all that bad. It sounds like it was written to be in a film like Rocky IV and it might have fit well on that soundtrack. However, the production is really dense and they seem to have a heavier sound than before. I just don't think it played well at Pop and it just didn't reel listeners in as well as their first hits. They could have used something a bit more pop-leaning instead of this louder rock track. I bought Asia's first two albums, but I didn't get Astra because this song didn't catch my ear. Apparently I wasn't the only one.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  The band had tentatively titled their third LP Arcadia. During the recording process, they found out that Simon Le Bon's Duran Duran off-shoot band had decided to name themselves Arcadia. Not wanting any confusion between the band and their album, Asia then decided to change the title to Astra. This continued their habit of naming their albums with one word that began with the letter "A." They would end up doing four more over the years: Aqua, Aria, Arena, and Aura. They would end the tradition after 2001's Aura.


Thursday, October 18, 2018

"One Vision" by Queen

Song#:  2561
Date:  12/07/1985
Debut:  88
Peak:  61
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Rock, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  Queen's more 80s-influenced 1984 album The Works did well in several countries including their UK homeland. It would be a gold seller in the US, but the results certainly weren't like their multi-platinum days. Tensions about the musical direction of the album arose between members and by the time the album completed its run, the band was at a bit of a crossroads as to their future. While figuring it out, they accepted an invitation to appear on the London stage of Live Aid. Their performance, bolstered by a stadium of 70k+ people, was universally hailed as brilliant and it brought a lot of attention to the band. Energized by the performance and reception, Queen went back into the studio to see what they could come up with to capitalize on the moment. They recorded this track that they decided to issue out as one-off single. It scaled the chart in the UK and made it to #7. In the US the track would get to #19 at Rock, but it couldn't quite find an audience at Pop and it stalled in the bottom half of the chart.

ReduxReview:  This song borders on being a great track. It has a lot of good elements - a dramatic opening, nice rock riffs, solid 80s production, a theatrical mid-section, and killer vocals from Freddie. Yet the song as a whole just misses the mark a bit. Most of the sections work well, but a couple don't quite make the cut. When stitched together, there are moments where the song sags - as if they didn't quite know how to make the transitions. I like the tune, but I think it could have been a lot tighter. It was also cool to hear Queen rockin' again with some meaty guitars.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) As the song was getting ready for release, the band got an offer to have it featured in the upcoming action flick Iron Eagle. The tune would end up being used in the film and placed on the soundtrack album. The movie was critically panned but was a modest box office success. It would do even better in the home video market. Queen would also include the song on their next LP A Kind of Magic.  2) A the end of the song, Freddie Mercury sings "gimme gimme gimme fried chicken."Apparently the line happened when the band was trying to figure out the right words to match the melody notes and rhythm. Mercury was goofing around with the line trying to make things fit and as an improvised joke started using "fried chicken." Although it had nothing to do with the rest of the lyrics, the kooky phrase fit well and the band opted to keep it as the last line of the song as a bit of a lark.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

"Living in America" by James Brown

Top 10 Alert!
Grammy Alert!
Song#:  2560
Date:  12/07/1985
Debut:  91
Peak:  4
Weeks:  19
Genre:  R&B, Soul, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  The Godfather of Soul scored his first R&B Top 10 hit in 1956 with "Please, Please, Please." More than fifty R&B Top 10's would follow over the next few decades. Brown would place over 100 songs on the Pop chart, yet prior to this time period only six would make the Top 10. The late 60s/early 70s were his heydays on the chart, but as the 80s rolled around his brand of soul wasn't bringing him hits. With his last Top 10 at R&B being in 1976 and his last Pop Top 10 way back in 1968, the younger generation wasn't all that familiar with the legend or his music. But then Brown began making notable appearances in a couple of films, including The Blues Brothers, and interest in his music began to grow. Sylvester Stallone took notice and wanted Brown to appear in his film Rocky IV. It took a little convincing, but Brown agreed to appear and to also sing a new song written by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight titled "Living in America." Brown sings the song in the film prior to Apollo Creed's fight with Drago. It would be issued out as the second single from the soundtrack album following Survivor's "Burning Heart." With the movie a box office hit, the song took off and reached #10 R&B, #3 Dance, and #4 Pop. It would also become Brown's first and only Top 10 in the UK getting to #5. The song earned a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Song while Brown won the award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. The Godfather was back in a big way.

ReduxReview:  This song was a perfect fit for Brown. It paid tribute to Brown's soul roots while sounding fresh with some modern pop/rock elements. Dan Hartman's blue-eyed soul gets turned into the real thing thanks to Brown's authentic and spirited performance. Although the song was helped along by the film, it really was strong enough to stand on its own. I find it difficult not to get caught up in this jam. It may not stand right alongside Brown's classic early hits, but it bubbles up nearby as an excellent late-career revival.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  In his career, James Brown place 57 singles in the R&B Top 10. His last one happened in 1988. That was a chart record and Brown held on to that until 2017 when he was surpassed by rap star Drake. At one point, Drake and Brown were tied for third place for most #1 R&B songs (17), but in 2018, Drake moved ahead and holds third place by himself. The two artists ahead of Drake with more #1's are actually tied at 20 apiece - Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. With Drake's career yet to really ebb (at the time of this writing), chances are good that he could take over sole possession of the title. Of course, music and chart rules have changed over the years and Drake's totals include songs where he was a featured artist and listens/views from streaming services and YouTube. While Drake's achievements are impressive, the totals from Brown, Franklin, and Wonder came at a time when they needed physical sales of product and radio airplay to get their hits. They didn't have the opportunity to release an album and have nearly all of its tracks appear on the chart at one time. Can you image if they did?


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

"Digital Display" by Ready for the World

Song#:  2559
Date:  12/07/1985
Debut:  92
Peak:  21
Weeks:  18
Genre:  R&B, Electro-Funk, Dance

Pop Bits:  Although this Flint, Michigan, band's debut album already featured two R&B Top 10's, they didn't really break through in a big way until their third single, "Oh Sheila," topped the Pop, R&B, and Dance charts. To follow-it up, this fourth single was released. Once again it did well at R&B (#4) and Dance (#3), but it couldn't quite reach the same heights at Pop as their previous effort with the song stalling just shy of the Top 20. Still, it would help their self-titled album sell a few more copies and eventually it would be certified platinum.

ReduxReview:  While this song may not have been quite as good as the Prince-ly "Oh Sheila," it was a very worthy follow up. The song featured another tight groove from the band and the production with all the little effects is fun. Even the goofy/sexy lyrics work just fine. This really should have hit the Top 10.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  The band would record four albums for MCA before splitting up. Lead singer Melvin Riley would then take the opportunity to shoot for a solo career. He would stay on with MCA and in 1994 released the more urban flavored LP Ghetto Love. It would spawn a couple of minor R&B singles including the #43 "Who Is It?" The band would reunite in later years and record a couple of albums. Four of the original members still tour together. Riley was with them for many years, but just recently left the band and was replaced with a new lead singer, Ray Lavender.


Monday, October 15, 2018

"The Heart Is Not So Smart" by El DeBarge with DeBarge

Song#:  2558
Date:  12/07/1985
Debut:  93
Peak:  75
Weeks:  7
Genre:  R&B, Pop

Pop Bits:  The DeBarge siblings were at the peak of their career with their fourth album Rhythm of the Night. With two Pop/R&B Top 10's and an additional R&B Top 10, the LP would easily turn gold. They went for a fourth hit with this track, but it didn't perform very well. It only managed to reach #29 at R&B while staying in the lower quarter of the Pop chart. It did a little better at AC getting to #17. However, despite the success the family was splintering with members have issues with drugs and El DeBarge garnering more of the spotlight and support from the label. Even their previous single and this fourth one from the album would be credited mainly to El with the rest of the family tagged as a supporting group. After the tours and promotions of the album were done, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that El would step out on his own. Although El's departure wouldn't formally kill the group, it did end their Pop charting days.

ReduxReview:  This Diane Warren-penned track was a nice add to the album with it's near-Caribbean feel, but it didn't really make a good single. It just wasn't strong enough to break through on a larger crossover scale. I think the label figured a fourth single was needed because the previous single, "You Wear It Well," got to #7 at R&B and #1 Dance, but it really wasn't necessary. They should have just called it a day at three, especially when they knew El was headed out as a solo artist.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Around this time, both El and his sister Bunny were offered solo deals. El would have good luck with his debut solo album, but things cooled off after that. He would later develop a drug addiction and have to go through rehab. In 2010, he returned to music with the album Second Chance. It would be well-received and he would earn three Grammy nominations for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, Best R&B Song, and Best R&B Album. Bunny would issue one solo album that failed to produce any charting songs. She would be dropped from the label and then later be forced to deal with her drug addiction. Besides a few minor projects, she has basically remained out of the music business. After El and Bunny departed, the remaining three brothers regrouped with another brother, Bobby, who already had success with the R&B band Switch. They released an album in 1987 that contained two minor R&B singles, but it seemed that very few people were interested in a DeBarge without El. Although he was not part of DeBarge, younger brother Chico pursued a solo and had some success gathering ten charting R&B singles including one Top 10. Like his siblings, he would struggle with drugs as well.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

"Caravan of Love" Isley Jasper Isley

Song#:  2557
Date:  12/07/1985
Debut:  96
Peak:  51
Weeks:  14
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  This family trio formed when they splintered off from the Isley Brothers. Their debut album sparked a couple of minor charting singles including "Kiss and Tell," which crossed over to the Pop chart (#52 R&B/#63 Pop). However, it would be this title track from their second album that would give them a long-lasting hit. The track was the first lifted off of the Caravan of Love album and it would be an instant hit reaching #1 at R&B and staying there for three weeks. The song would cross over to Pop and be their best (and last) effort on that chart nearly getting inside the Top 50. It would do better at AC where the track got to #16. The trio would score another Top 20 single from the album and then grab two more Top 20's from their third LP Different Drummer. After that, the members parted ways. The two Isley brothers would reunite with their siblings early in the 90s while Chris Jasper would set out on a solo career. He would end up getting one R&B Top 10 in 1988 with "Superbad."

ReduxReview:  I know I heard this way back when but couldn't remember it. When I started playing it, I thought "this sounds really familiar." Then it hit me. This song sounds an awful lot like Gregory Abbott's 1986 hit "Shake You Down." Since this tune came out first and was a major hit, I'm guessing Abbott really liked it! Yet unlike Abbott's single, this one couldn't quite made it at Pop, which is too bad. It's a lovely tune with a nice message.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  "Caravan of Love" would be the trio's signature tune and it would be covered by many artists over the years. Perhaps the most well-known cover was done in 1986 when the UK band The Housemartins recorded a version. Known for their jangle-pop style of music, the band would occasionally perform songs a cappella in their concert shows. This Isley Jasper Isley tune was one that they did in that fashion. Folks seemed to love it so they recorded it and issued the song out as a one-off single sandwiched between their first two albums. It ended up being their biggest hit reaching #1 on the UK chart and hitting the Top 10 in several other countries (it did not chart in the US). The band would break up following their second album. Two member would then go on to form the highly successful band The Beautiful South. That band would end up with six UK Top 10's including one #1.