Saturday, November 3, 2018

"Secret Lovers" by Atlantic Starr

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2578
Date:  12/28/1985
Debut:  80
Peak:  3
Weeks:  23
Genre:  R&B, Adult Contemporary, Quiet Storm

Pop Bits:  Despite scoring three R&B Top 10's, over the course of five albums Atlantic Starr's only significant entry on the Pop chart was the #38 "Circles" in 1982. As their sixth album, As the Band Turns,  kicked off, the grabbed another R&B Top 10, but once again saw little action at Pop. That is until this fourth single was released. The ballad slowly caught on and soon it got to #4 at R&B while becoming their first Pop Top 10. It was also a big success at AC reaching #1. The late blooming single helped push the album to #17 (#3 R&B) and it would eventually become their first album to reach gold level sales.

ReduxReview:  Perhaps it didn't seem like it at the time, but this was a no-brainer for single release. Yet the label chose three other songs ahead of this one which were more upbeat. I'm guessing they were trying to establish the band as something hip and funky and didn't want to get them tagged as a quiet storm act. When that didn't really pan out, someone finally went - screw it, let's put the ballad out. They were lucky that it got noticed as fourth singles will rarely become big hits, especially following a couple of tepid releases. It really revived their career, which was waning a bit at the time. Who knows what would have happened had this not been released, especially since they had already been dumped by A&M. The song was a great fit for Pop and AC. It's a lovely tune with a sweet 80s production. I found it odd back in the day that couples would crowd the dance floor and happily sway to this tune about - infidelity. Weird.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Apparently the band's label at the time, A&M, were not thrilled with the band's progress or initial sales of As the Band Turns. Despite reaching the R&B Top 10 with the LP's first single "Freak-A-Ristic" (#90 Pop), A&M made the decision to let the band go and had basically dropped them before "Secret Lovers" was released. Because they no longer had label support, the band had to actually pay for a video themselves in order to promote the unexpected hit. With a major crossover hit to their credit, the band was quickly snatched up by Warner Bros. where they would have the biggest selling album of their career.  2) The female lead singer for Atlantic Starr, Sharon Bryant, decided to head out on a solo career after the band's 1983 album Yours Forever failed to capitalize on their previous success, 1982's #1 R&B LP Brilliance. Bryant would then work as a session singer until she finally got a record deal. Her 1989 album Here I Am would feature two R&B Top 10 singles, but it ended up being her only solo effort. Her replacement in Atlantic Starr was Barbara Weathers, who sang on "Secret Lovers." Weathers would also leave the band for a solo career after one more album. Her self-titled 1990 album was a modest seller that featured the #13 R&B single "The Master Key."


Friday, November 2, 2018

"Let's Go All the Way" by Sly Fox

Top 10 Alert!
One-Hit Wonder Alert!
Song#:  2577
Date:  12/28/1985
Debut:  85
Peak:  7
Weeks:  25
Genre:  Synthpop

Pop Bits:  Sly Fox were an assembled duo put together by producer Ted Currier. He first brought on board Gary "Mudbone" Cooper of Bootsy's Rubber Band for the project. Then Currier had the idea to hire in a white singer and play up the black/white race angle of the duo. Currier found jingle singer Michael Camacho and Sly Fox was set to go. With Currier producing, the duo recorded their debut album for Capitol titled Let's Go All the Way. This title-track would be issued out as a single. It would be a slow-burner that would ease its way up the chart until it finally cracked the Top 10. It would be a middling entry at R&B reaching #57. The hit would help sell albums and it would get to #31, which was a good showing for a debut. It set them up well for further success, but artistic differences and other issues arose and the duo called it quits before they could issue out a second album. Besides a very low charting second single, this song was their only major hit and it got them tagged as a one-hit wonder.

ReduxReview:  The production and arrangement were really the highlights on this song. I remember buying the single and it sounded so damn good cranked up on my stereo. It also helped that it was hooky as hell. Yet this song was such a distinctive hit that none of their other material could gain any attention and as happens with a lot of groups that are put together by someone else, they didn't last very long. They got the one-hit wonder tag, but at least they earned it with a pretty cool song that folks still like.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  For many folks, this song's beat sounded awfully familiar. A few months earlier, a hip hop group named The Boogie Boys had a #6 R&B hit with a song titled "A Fly Girl." The beat of that song was nearly identical to the one used on "Let's Go All the Way." Did Sly Fox rip it off? Not necessarily as both songs just happened to be produced by Ted Currier. Currier actually recorded "Let's Go All the Way" first and thought it turned out so good that he played it for the Boogie Boys, whom he had started working with. Apparently, Boogie Boy member Stro loved it as well and ended up writing a rap over the beat. This impressed Currier and he decided to adjust the beat track from "Let's Go" for the new rap song "A Fly Girl." Timeline wise, "A Fly Girl" came out during the summer while "Let's Go didn't appear until the end of the year making it seem like "Let's Go" ripped off "Fly Girl." Yet it was just a case of same producer and same beat applied to two different styles of music.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

"Good Friends" by Joni Mitchell

Song#:  2576
Date:  12/28/1985
Debut:  88
Peak:  85
Weeks:  3
Genre:  Singer/Songwriter

Pop Bits:  After diving into jazz-oriented sounds in the late 70s, Joni returned her more singer/songwriter pop roots with her first album for the Geffen label, 1982's Wild Things Run Fast. The album performed well and even got her back on the Pop singles chart for the first time in six years with the playful Elvis cover "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" (#47). With a little commercial viability tossed back into her career, Geffen wanted to up the game a bit and get Mitchell's songs updated for the 80s. They paired her with "She Blinded Me with Science" synth wizard Thomas Dolby and the resulting album, Dog Eat Dog, would be her most modern, of-the-times sounding effort. To introduce the LP, this opening track would be selected as the first single. Although he wasn't given billing, Michael McDonald provided the duet voice. The song was able to reach the Pop chart, but only for a few short weeks. It did a bit better at Rock getting to #28. It would end up being Mitchell's final single to reach the Pop chart. She would leave Geffen after two more albums and then experience a career resurgence on the Reprise label with her 1994 Grammy-winning LP Turbulent Indigo. Her 2000 album Both Sides Now, which featured orchestrated standards and new versions of two of her most famous songs, would win the Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. The album and its title track would play a key role in the 2003 film Love Actually. Mitchell would also earn a Grammy for her participation in Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters, a 2007 album on which Hancock performs jazz interpretations of Mitchell's songs. It would end up winning the Grammy for Album of the Year. Mitchell performs the vocals on the track "Tea Leaf Prophesy." It was only the second jazz album in Grammy history to win the award and the first in 42 years.

ReduxReview:  Mitchell fans have always been divided about the Dog Eat Dog album. It's a love it/hate it kind of thing with a few waffling in between. As a big Mitchell fan, I'd place it very low on a ranked list of her albums, but I also don't think it's truly as bad as some fans and critics make it out to be. I like that she took a chance and brought Dolby on board as his work gave her songs a different spin (though it sounds dated now) and there are a few gems among the tracks. "Good Friends" is an interesting track. Mitchell has never been a true "hit" songwriter and by this point she certainly wasn't going to conform and create a conventional pop tune, so this was an attempt to shove one of her songs into an arrangement that made it seem more radio friendly and accessible. It might have worked if there had actually been a hooky chorus here, but there isn't. It just kind of rambles against a big 80s production. Oddly, I kind of like it but there was no way this was going to fly up the chart. Luckily, this electro 80s phase of her career would pass and she'd later make some albums that would rank high up on my "best of Joni's albums" list.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Throughout her recording career, Mitchell had produced the majority of her own album albums including her classics Blue (1971) and Court and Spark (1974), along with her first Geffen album Wild Things Run Fast. However, for her next effort Geffen suggested that she work with a producer who was more in-tune with the sounds of the 80s. Their suggestion was Thomas Dolby. Mitchell bristled at the idea and thought that if she let a tech guru like Dolby come in and paint her songs in what he wanted, then the songs would end up not being hers. She said no, but Geffen was certain this needed to happen and convinced Mitchell to take Dolby on in a more backseat technical role. It was Dolby's synths and effects that pushed Mitchell's songs into the 80s. Although they got the work done, apparently the two didn't necessarily become best buds during the process. After this experience, Mitchell would then produce all of her albums herself with the majority of them co-produced by Larry Klein (who was also Mitchell's husband from 1982-1994).


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

"Let Me Down Easy" by Roger Daltrey

Song#:  2575
Date:  12/28/1985
Debut:  89
Peak:  86
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Daltrey's song "After the Fire," the first single from his album Under a Raging Moon, was #3 Rock hit that just missed out on making the Pop Top 40 (#48). For a follow-up, this next track was selected. The tune did well at Rock reaching #11, but it couldn't catch a break at Pop and only managed to spend a month near the bottom of the chart. The album, which was a tribute to his former bandmate Keith Moon who died in 1978, did fairly well reaching #42.

ReduxReview:  This is a pure commercial rock track that fit Daltrey very well. At a time when Adams and Vallance (see below) were shuffling off their lesser extra tracks to other artists, they occasionally tossed out a good one like this. I think had "After the Fire" done better, this single might have had a good chance to move up the chart. Adams probably should have kept this one himself, but actually his recorded version is a bit bland. Daltrey's take is much better. It has a richer production with crunchy guitars and Daltry is totally on and engaged. It's a hit that everyone missed.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This song was written by the team of Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. The mid 80s were a very productive period for the composers and many of the songs they wrote during this time were pegged for other artists and not necessarily for any of Adams' albums. Vallance has said that this particular song is one that they wrote specifically with Stevie Nicks in mind. Apparently they did submit the tune to Nicks' camp, but did not hear anything back. It ended up with Daltrey who recorded it for his album. Adams' own demo version of the song would later appear as a bonus track on the 30th anniversary of his hit album Reckless.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"Strength" by The Alarm

Song#:  2574
Date:  12/28/1985
Debut:  91
Peak:  61
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Alternative Rock

Pop Bits:  After various iterations and name changes, this Welsh band finally settled on a line-up and became The Alarm in 1981. Their reputation as a solid live band got them noticed and a few gigs opening up for bigger acts like The Fall and U2 helped them to secure a deal with I.R.S. Records. A few singles and a self-titled EP did well enough to set the band up for their debut full-length album, 1984's Declaration. It would be a Top 10 hit in the UK bolstered by the #17 single "68 Guns," which made it to #39 on the US Rock chart. The album would also do well in the States getting to #50. After touring the US, the band headed back home to work on their second album to be titled Strength. This title-track would be the first single and it got to #40 in the UK. In the US, the track would do very well at Rock getting to #12 while becoming their first song to cross over to the Pop chart. It wouldn't crack the top half of the chart, but it was enough to help send the album to #39.

ReduxReview:  I had heard of The Alarm, but I wasn't familiar with any of their material. I remember that they were often compared to U2 and songs like this one certainly invited the comparison. On this track I think they sound like a mix of U2 and The Cult. I don't think they were ripping off either band but they did wear their influences on their sleeves. Even the album track "Spirit of '76" sounds like they had been listening to a lot of Born to Run era Bruce Springsteen. This is a solid rock track that probably sounded great on the radio, but it is awfully serious and the hooks aren't necessarily ones that work at pop radio.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Lead singer of The Alarm, Mike Peters, started his first band in 1977 after seeing the Sex Pistols. His punk influenced band would be called The Toilets and one of the songs Peters wrote for the band was titled "Alarm Alarm." Later on when Peters' next band Seventeen evolved, it was decided that the new band's name would be after the song title - Alarm Alarm. The story then goes that legendary English DJ John Peel made an on-air comment about the band's name stating something like - there is Duran Duran and Talk Talk, now there is Alarm Alarm...maybe I should change my name to John Peel John Peel. That little swipe prompted a name change to simply The Alarm.


Monday, October 29, 2018

"Kyrie" by Mr. Mister

#1 Alert!
Song#:  2573
Date:  12/21/1985
Debut:  61
Peak:  1 (2 weeks)
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  The band got their first #1 with "Broken Wings," the lead single from their second album Welcome to the Real World. This next track would give them their second chart topper. It would also reach #1 at Rock and #11 AC. Based on the strength of this song, their album would finally make it to the #1 spot in March of '86 the week before Whitney Houston's debut LP would start it's run at the top. The album would soon be certified platinum.

ReduxReview:  With this song, Mr. Mister cranked out two outstanding back-to-back #1's, which was a pretty rare feat for band whose first album was barely a blip on the chart. It was quite impressive and seemed to signal that they had the goods to make it. Yet the band virtually imploded with their next album. At least they had these two iconic songs from the 80s. I just remember picking up the single of this song and pissed to find out that it had an edited fade-out ending instead of the original a cappella ending. I then had to buy the album. Besides the two #1's, not much on the LP interested me and it quickly got set aside. I loved the opening of this song. It really set a tone just as the opening of "Broken Wings" did. The chorus is terrific and gets even better after a "whoa-whoa" bridge and key change into a big arena rock hand clap moment. The song was spot-on and I still enjoy hearing it.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Music for this song was written by band members Richart Page and Steve George while the lyrics were done by John Lang. Lang, who is Page's cousin, co-wrote all but one of the songs on Welcome to the Real World and all of the songs on their debut LP I Wear the Face. The phrase that starts the chorus, "kyrie eleison," is Greek for "Lord, have mercy." Although Mr. Mister were not considered a Christian band, the lyrics to a few of their songs had spiritual elements. At the time this song came out, many listeners didn't know what "kyrie eleison" meant and even though the song was titled "Kyrie," they had trouble figuring out the chorus lyrics. This led to the song have a lot of "misheard lyrics" associated with it. A common one was that the chorus was "carry a laser down the road that I must travel." Others heard "carry an angel" while some thought it was the name Carrie. Whatever they heard, they all made it a #1 song. What's funny is that many folks who sang along to the song had no idea they were really singing "Lord, have mercy"... including atheists.


Sunday, October 28, 2018

"Stacy" by Fortune

Song#:  2572
Date:  12/21/1985
Debut:  88
Peak:  80
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  This L.A. band was started by brothers Richard and Mick Fortune in the late 70s. With Richard's wife Colleen and Mauren Thornton on vocals, the band got signed to Warner Bros. and issued a self-titled debut album in 1978. Working with soul producer Mark Davis, the band's sound at the time was a mix of rock, blues and soul. After two failed singles, the band was back on their own again and they decided to change direction and head towards a more commercial pop/rock sound. It paid off a little bit for them when a song they recorded, "Airwaves," got picked up by Columbia Records and placed on the soundtrack to the teen sex comedy The Last American Virgin. At that time they were listed as The Fortune Band. Despite some attention and opening slots for major artists, the band couldn't secure a second deal and basically disbanded sometime in '84. But then MCA came calling and was willing to give the band a chance. By this time, Colleen and Mauren had left the band and new lead singer Larry Greene was in place. They recorded a second self-titled LP that featured this first single. It was able to reach the Pop chart for a few weeks, but the rock ballad just couldn't break any wider. The band was then once again without a label and for a second time they split up.

ReduxReview:  This soft rock ballad is pretty nice. It seems a bit on the 70s side, but the production keeps it up-to-date. There are parts of it that remind me of Starship's "Sara," which was probably recorded about the same time and would hit the chart the week after "Stacy" debuted. It's a good track, but the style of the song wasn't in tune with the Pop chart at the time. The band had a few good Foreigner-esqe tracks on their album, but again, that was more appropriate for the late 70s/early 80s. This effort came a few years too late.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  The second single from Fortune's 1978 debut album was "Squeeze Me, Please Me." Written by famous songwriter/producer Norman Whitfield, it was originally recorded by the psychedelic soul group The Undisputed Truth. It was included on their 1975 album Cosmic Truth. It was not issued out as a single. The song most likely was brought to Fortune via their producer Mark Davis. Davis had played keyboards on the Cosmic Truth LP. The Undisputed Truth had a few Pop chart entries and several middling R&B singles with their biggest hit being 1971's "Smiling Faces Sometimes," which got to #3 Pop/#2 R&B. Norman Whitefield wrote that song as well and recorded it with The Temptations first for their 1971 album Sky's the Limit. Their 12+ minute version was not issued as a single. Whitfield then took it over to The Undisputed Truth the same year and cut a 3-minute version for their debut album. It ended up being a hit.