Saturday, October 27, 2018

"Baby Talk" by Alisha

Song#:  2571
Date:  12/21/1985
Debut:  90
Peak:  68
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  Brooklyn-born Alisha Ann Itkin began singing at an early age. Her parents thought she had the goods to make it in the music industry and when Alisha was 14, they began to circulate a demo tape to various labels. Someone at Vanguard Records took notice and passed the tape along to their in-house producer, Mark S. Berry, who at the time was seeking a vocalist for a dance track he was working on. Alisha seemed exactly right for the job and she got to record the song "All Night Passion." The tune slowly broke in the dance clubs and eventually it reached #4 on the Dance chart. Alisha then signed with Vanguard for a debut album produced by Berry. Her second single, "Too Turned On," was another Dance hit getting to #6. But this third single would end up being her biggest overall hit. The song took off and made it to #1 at Dance while becoming her first to crossover to the Pop chart. While the single didn't peak very high, it stayed on the chart for quite a long spell. It would also get to #75 at R&B. Her self-titled debut album was issued out, yet despite the Dance hits, it was unable to chart. Alisha's Dance chart success got the attention of RCA and she would move over to that major label for her next album.

ReduxReview:  This song had to have been influenced by Madonna's "Into the Groove." The bass line especially sounds like a near ripoff. There is enough other stuff going on in the song to keep it from being lawsuit-worthy, however it didn't help that Alisha sounded an awful lot like Madonna. From what I've read, producer Berry was looking for just a really good vocalist to sing the first single "All Night Passion," but my guess is that when he was seeking one the words "Madonna-like" were probably uttered. I mean, he worked for Vanguard and most likely had access to killer session vocalists who could sing circles around Alisha, yet he chose a teenager with a capable voice who sounded like Madonna. Things that make you go hmmmm... Despite the Madonna similarities, the song itself is just okay. I don't find it very memorable and the production is a bit weak and on the tinny side. Alisha's voice doesn't do much for me either.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This is actually a remake of a song originally recorded by singer Gregg Brown. It was written by Brown and Logankoya. Brown released the track in the UK in 1984, but it didn't get anywhere.   2) When an artist hits it big, sometimes imitators will follow. Trendsetter Madonna was certainly one who influenced a lot of folks and in the 80s there were plenty of Madonna-esque artists (sometimes intentional, sometimes not) coming out of the woodwork. Alisha is one who got lumped in the pile of Madonna imitators thanks to her voice and style of music. Many people took note of the similarities including Madge herself. In a 1989 interview for Rolling Stone, Madonna was asked how she felt about these artists capitalizing on her sound. Madonna said that at first she was peeved about it, but then later felt flattered. She also said that it throws her for a loop sometimes when one pops up unexpectedly on the radio as for a split second she thinks it's her. Alisha happened to be one of those artists and Madonna said of her:  "There's one girl in particular, a girl named Alisha, who's had a couple of songs that ripped off the chord progressions of some of my songs. And her voice sounds so much like mine when I sing in a higher register. I was shocked! She's definitely one who stunned me."


Friday, October 26, 2018

"Own the Night" by Chaka Khan

Song#:  2570
Date:  12/21/1985
Debut:  93
Peak:  57
Weeks:  9
Genre:  R&B, Rock, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  While the soundtrack to the hit TV series Miami Vice had a few previously released tracks, there were a few originals including Jan Hammer's theme song, which had recently hit #1. Another original was this tune from R&B star Chaka Khan, which would serve as the LP's third single. Unfortunately, it didn't quite catch fire and it stalled near mid-chart at Pop while getting to #66 at R&B. Although the song didn't do very well, the album was still selling and the following week after this song debuted on the Pop chart, the LP would return to the #1 spot for four weeks. Combined with it's previous seven week run at the top the album would spend a total of eleven non-consecutive weeks at #1. It would eventually sell over four million copies.

ReduxReview:  Producers Arif and Joe Mardin tried their darnedest to make something hit worthy out of this song, but it just didn't quite get there. It's not a bad song, but it's more of a b-side or album track. It just doesn't have the goods to truly be a memorable single. Khan is a powerhouse singer, yet she nearly sounds like she's just going through the motions. It didn't help that the song wasn't a good vehicle to showcase her voice. The rock edge of the track didn't do it any favors on the R&B chart. The production/arrangement is probably the best thing about the tune. It actually sounds like a song that should be on a soundtrack, so in that respect it was fine. It just wasn't a very good single choice.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of a song that was originally recorded by soul star George McCrae. He recorded the song for his 1984 album of the same name. His version was issued out as a single, but the only thing it could so was reach a low #59 on the Dance chart. McCrae is mostly known for his 1974 disco hit "Rock Me Baby." That single reached #1 at Pop and R&B (also #19 AC). McCrae would grab two more R&B Top 10's, but things quickly cooled and his singles stopped charting before the 80s even began. The song was written by Franne Golde, Mary Dean Lauria, and Marti Sharron. Golde had scored earlier in the year co-writing "Nightshift" by the Commodores (#3 Pop) while Sharron had success in 1984 co-writing "Jump (For My Love)" by the Pointer Sisters (#3 Pop).


Thursday, October 25, 2018

"Day By Day" by The Hooters

Song#:  2569
Date:  12/14/1985
Debut:  85
Peak:  18
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  The Philly band's second album Nervous Night was slowly building up an audience. With the second single "And We Danced" nearly making the Pop Top 20 (#21, #3 Rock), people were taking notice. This third single would be another winner for them that would get into the Top 20 while hitting #3 at Rock. It would end up being their biggest hit. The singles would help the album move up to #12 and eventually it would be a double-platinum seller.

ReduxReview:  This jangly rock track was a good follow-up to "And We Danced." It featured another big hook that easily lured in listeners. While I liked this track, I thought "And We Danced" was a much better song. I was actually a bit surprised when it popped into the Top 20. I remember seeing the title of this song when it first charted. I hadn't heard it yet and I was a little confused as I thought, "did this band actually do a remake?" For a half second I thought they might have made a bold choice and done a cover of "Day By Day" from the 1971 Broadway musical Godspell. (In 1972, "Day By Day" was released as a single from the original cast soundtrack. It got to #13 on the Pop chart.) I quickly learned they did not and it was their own original.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  The Hooters got to perform early on during the US portion of the Live Aid concert held in Philadelphia on July 13, 1985. They were slotted in just after Joan Baez opened the concert in the morning. It made sense to have the band there as they were from Philly and they had just broken through nationally with their Nervous Night album. Yet one person was not happy to have them on the bill. Live Aid organizer Bob Geldoff balked at the band getting stage time. He had no idea who they were or why they would even be involved. Pressured by other people including promoter Bill Graham, the band was allowed to perform. Years later in 2004, a DVD of the concert was finally released, yet The Hooters' performance was not included. According to Hooter Eric Bazilian, just a few short weeks after the DVD came out, the band found themselves headlining a concert in Germany. Their opening act? Bob Geldof!


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

"Somewhere" by Barbra Streisand

Grammy Alert!
Rated 10 Alert!
Song#:  2568
Date:  12/14/1985
Debut:  86
Peak:  43
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Pop, Standards

Pop Bits:  As 1985 rolled around, Streisand was at a bit of a crossroads. Although her 1980 album Guilty would be her best selling studio LP and her directorial debut Yentl was a success, her 1984 album Emotion was a disappointment. Streisand's mainstream pop/rock career, which took off with 1971's Stoney End, had a lot of ups and a few downs, but she seemed to be able to keep up with music trends. Yet, the 80s brought on more drastic changes with new wave and synthpop leading the way and even though she tried to stay on-trend with aspects of Emotion, it just didn't work out and it was a signal that perhaps she needed to reevaluate her place in the day's music scene. What Streisand did next confounded many folks including her label. She decided it was the right time to return to her original roots and make an album of Broadway songs that she personally loved. Appropriately titled The Broadway Album, Streisand forged ahead with the recording despite naysayers and even filmed the process for a TV special. This West Side Story song complete with a modern arrangement by producer David Foster was selected to be the first single. As expected, the tune did well at AC getting to #5. The single couldn't quite get inside the Pop Top 40, but its #43 peak was still considered a success due to the style of the song and the fact that none of the singles from Emotion did that well. It helped lure folks to the album, which shot to the top of the chart becoming Streisand's sixth #1. It would end up selling over four million copies and be considered one of Streisand's best albums.

ReduxReview:  I think when I heard this song for the first time I nearly shit my pants. Yes! Finally! Streisand bucking trends and recording the music she wanted to do. And not only that, but doing it with such power, grace, and emotion. It was spectacular. I'm one of the few folks who kind of liked the Emotion album, but even I knew that it just wasn't working and no matter how hard they tried, Streisand was not going to become an MTV generation synthpop diva. It was time for her to shift gears in her career and she certainly did with The Broadway Album. Everything about it was perfect - the timing, the songs, the arrangements, the production, etc. This song in particular was brilliantly done. I have a love/loathe relationship with David Foster, but he really took this classic tune and transformed it into something magical and ethereal. Of course, Streisand's last note is the kicker. She can hold a note nearly forever and I've always hoped that she actually did hold out this note until she turned blue and that there was no studio trickery involved, but either way, it worked. I nearly wore out the grooves on my copy of the album and I still consider it one of my all-time favorites.


Trivia:  Quad Shot!  1) The album would earn Streisand a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. It was her fifth win in that category. David Foster would win a Grammy for his arrangement of "Somewhere." The album would be nominated for Album of the Year.  2) This song was composed by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim for the 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story. In the stage version, this song is actually performed by an off-stage vocalist during a ballet scene. In the original Broadway production, Reri Grist sang the song. She also played the role of Consuelo. In the 1961 Oscar-winning film version, Maria and Tony (played by Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, but voices dubbed by Marni Nixon and Jimmy Bryant) sing the song as a duet.  3) A slew of artists would cover the song but only four would reach the Pop chart with a version: Streisand, singer P.J. Proby (#91, 1965), blue-eyed soul singer Len Barry (#26, 1966), and the cast of the TV show Glee (#75, 2011). Phil Collins did a version in 1996 that made it to #7 on the AC chart and the Pet Shop Boys reached #16 on the Dance chart with their 1997 take, but neither song reached the Pop chart.  4) In 1964, The Supremes recorded an album of show tunes and standards titled There's a Place for Us. One of the tunes they covered was "Somewhere," sung by Diana Ross. Their version featured a spoken word monologue that when done in concert could be changed to reflect on a particular place or event. The album ended up getting shelved even though the trio would perform some of the songs in their concerts, especially "Somewhere." One particularly memorable performance of the song came in 1968 when Diana Ross & the Supremes appeared on the Tonight Show the day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. The spoken word section was altered for the occasion.


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

"Secret" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Song#:  2567
Date:  12/14/1985
Debut:  91
Peak:  63
Weeks:  13
Genre:  Synthpop

Pop Bits:  After scoring five Top 10's in their UK homeland, OMD finally broke through on the US Pop chart with "So in Love" (#26), the first single from their sixth album Crush. For a follow-up, this track was chosen for the next single. Although it lingered around for a while, it couldn't quite manage to get into the top half of the Pop chart. Still, "So in Love" put them on the map in America and that would help them greatly with their next charting single.

ReduxReview:  This percolating track just doesn't have the same hooky, radio friendly vibe as "So in Love." It's a lovely little track, but I'm not sure I'd pay attention to it if I had heard it on the radio. One of the best parts of the song is the bridge with all of its layered harmonies. OMD is one of those bands that I should have hooked into back in the day as their synthpop sound was right up my alley. Yet I just didn't connect with their songs. Apparently, the Crush album signaled a change in their sound/direction to something more slick and commercial. Critics and fans of the band were not that impressed and preferred the experimental sound of their previous albums. Save for a few songs, I didn't care much for either era of the band.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  In 1988, this song would find its way onto the soundtrack album for the film Arthur 2: On the Rocks. It was the sequel to the highly successful 1981 film Arthur that starred Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, and Sir John Gielgud, who won an Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role. Moore and Minnelli would reprise their roles in the sequel, but the original writer/director Steve Gordon died in 1982 and that work was picked up by others. The late-coming sequel would end up being a box office bomb that would help earn Minnelli a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress (in combo with her other major dud that year, Rent-A-Cop). The original Arthur would be remade in 2001 with Russell Brand, Jennifer Garner, and Helen Mirren. It was also a box office and critical failure.


"Beat's So Lonely" by Charlie Sexton

Song#:  2566
Date:  12/14/1985
Debut:  93
Peak:  17
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  How many 10-year-olds do you know that played guitar in a renown blues band? Most likely none, but Charlie Sexton (aka then as Little Charlie) was one. Given a guitar as a kid by famous blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, Sexton took to it quickly and learned from Vaughan and others. Even before he was a teenager he was already playing in bands and gaining the reputation of being a guitar prodigy. At 13, he got invited to tour with Joe Ely when Ely's guitarist broke his hand. People took notice and word spread of the wunderkind. Sexton formed his own band and made a name for himself around Austin, Texas, playing blues music with his own twists. Soon the record labels started coming around, but blues records have a limited audience and were not what major label labels were seeking. Yet Sexton had higher aspirations and it seemed that RCA was willing to try and turn the teen guitarist into a rock star. It certainly helped that Sexton was a handsome lad in a Matt Dillon kind of way. RCA paired him with producer Keith Forsey (Billy Idol, Simple Minds) and the two wrote a few songs and began recording a debut album. Sexton was just 16 at the time. The LP would be titled Pictures for Pleasure and this first single would help introduce Sexton to the masses. The song's MTV video was a hit and it helped propel the new wave/rock track into the Pop Top 10. It also made it to #17 at Rock. With the album getting to #20, Sexton was on his way. Unfortunately, follow-up singles failed to chart and then his self-titled second album in 1989 couldn't attract any attention. Sexton's rock star days were quickly done. However, his career as a guitarist was still in full swing. Sexton would be an in-demand session/tour player for many big time artists and would even work with Bob Dylan for many years. He would record a few more well-received albums over the years both on his own and with bands such as Arc Angel.

ReduxReview:  Whenever I hear this, I still can't get over the fact Sexton was 16 when he recorded it. Both the song and Sexton's Bowie-meets-Bryan Ferry vocals sound like they were by someone at least a decade older. I had heard the hubbub about Sexton being a blues guitar wizard, so when this song came out I was a bit confused. Its new wave rock sound had nary a trace of the blues. I liked the song and just happened to find the album at the local used record store. It took me a while to warm up to the LP, but I ended up liking it very much. I still listen to it once in a while. Critics didn't care for it all that much, but I think they were just miffed/confused about a blues prodigy coming out with a big commercial album. Sexton took a lot of flack for the style of his debut. Many thought he sold out or was pushed into doing this by the label, but at the time Sexton was adamant that this was the album he wanted to make. Whatever folks thought, Sexton got this hit out of it and although not directly in the spotlight, he's had a pretty terrific career since.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Sexton would also take the occasional spin in the producer's chair. In 2001, Sexton co-produced Essence, the highly anticipated sixth album by roots rock star Lucinda Williams. Essence was Williams' follow-up to her Grammy-winning breakthrough Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, an album that Sexton performed on. A track from Essence, "Get Right with God," would earn Williams a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Sexton would also produce Edie Brickell's second solo album, 2003's Volcano.


Monday, October 22, 2018

"He'll Never Love You (Like I Do)" by Freddie Jackson

Song#:  2565
Date:  12/14/1985
Debut:  96
Peak:  25
Weeks:  15
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  By this point in time, Jackson's debut solo album, Rock Me Tonight, had already gone platinum thanks to two #1 R&B hits that also crossed over to the Pop Top 20. Yet the #1 R&B album had more to offer and this third single would bring Jackson another hit. The song would make it to #7 at R&B while getting close to the Pop Top 20. It would also reach #28 at AC. A fourth single, "Love Is Just a Touch Away," would be pushed out and get to #9 at R&B, but it failed to reach the other charts. Jackson's debut certainly made him a new R&B star.

ReduxReview:  This groovy album-opening track was a good choice for a follow-up to Jackson's two hit ballads. He infringes a bit on Luther Vandross territory, but the song and Jackson are good enough to make it stand on its own. Jackson became more known for his quiet storm ballads so his jammier tracks like this one tend to get overlooked, which is too bad as the quality of a song like this is just as good as his more famous ballads.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Jackson's success also put a spotlight on songwriter/producer Paul Laurence. Laurence had produced Rock Me Tonight and also wrote the hit title track. Laurence was able to parlay this into his own record deal and in 1985 recorded a debut solo album titled Have You Heard. The first single from the album, "She's Not a Sleaze," would feature Jackson and Lillo Thomas. The song would be a modest hit on the R&B chart getting to #50. Laurence would get two more mid-charters from the album, which was enough to warrant a second LP. He released Underexposed in 1989, but not much came from it. He would end up having more success producing and writing for other artists.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

"My Hometown" by Bruce Springsteen

Top 10 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  2564
Date:  12/07/1985
Debut:  55
Peak:  6
Weeks:  15
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. was one of only two albums at this point in time to have spawned six Top 10 hits. The only other album to do it was Michael Jackson's Thriller. However, Thriller still held the overall record at seven Top 10's. With his popularity still riding high and the album still selling copies, Springsteen and his label decided to try for a tie with Jackson and issued out this seventh single. It ended up being the perfect song to release. The ballad played well to a cross section of folks and it would easily slip into the Pop Top 10 while becoming Springsteen's first and only tune to reach #1 at AC. It would also hit #6 at Rock. With his record-tying achievement in the books, Springsteen closed up his Born in the U.S.A. era and moved forward. The album would eventually sell over 15 million copies making it one of the best selling albums in US history.

ReduxReview:  This quiet album closer didn't seem to be a likely candidate for a single when the album came out, but it ended up being a really good choice to finish off the run of hits. I think folks appreciated the lyrics and took the song to heart. I don't believe this was one of the songs Springsteen initially recorded when working on Nebraska, but if this was just stripped down to guitar, this would have been a great addition to that album. After this hit, I was really hoping he'd go for a new record and issue out one more single. With twelve songs on the album, he could have done it (Jackson's LP only had nine tracks). I wanted to see "Bobby Jean" pushed out. I thought it was one of the best songs on the album and paired with a cool video it might have had a chance to be an eighth Top 10. But seven was still pretty damn good and it is still a record today. Springsteen shares it with Jackson and two other artists - Janet Jackson (1989's Rhythm Nation 1814) and Drake (2018's Scorpion), although Drake had the advantage of streaming/YouTube plays while the other artists had to actually sell physical copies and get radio airplay.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  The crossover appeal of this song certainly helped it reach the Pop Top 10. What is unusual though is that this seventh single had gold-level sales. Jackson's last single from Thriller was the title track, which went platinum, but it had the massively popular music video to boost sales. So what did Springsteen's quiet ballad have to offer that made it sell so well? Someone in Springsteen's camp smartly decided to capitalize on the time of year the single was to be released and put a live version of Springsteen doing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" on the b-side. The song was recorded at a 1975 concert and the only other time it was issued out for sale was as part of a 1981 children's album titled In Harmony 2. With the song getting a lot of airplay during the holidays of '85 and commercially available, it helped the "My Hometown" single sell enough copies to make it a gold record.