Saturday, December 1, 2018

"Tender Love" by Force M.D.'s

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2605
Date:  02/01/1986
Debut:  84
Peak:  10
Weeks:  19
Genre:  R&B, Quiet Storm, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  This Staten Island vocal group got their start singing on street corners in NYC. Their doo-wop style mixed with a bit of hip-hop was something new and different that ended up catching the attention of Tommy Boy Records. They signed with the label and the same year issued out a debut album titled Love Letters. The LP's second single, "Tears," found its way to #5 on the R&B chart. The hit set them up well for their next album Chillin'. The first single from the album would be this ballad that was also featured on the soundtrack to the film Krush Groove. As the song was on its way to a #4 peak at R&B, it began to crossover to Pop where it became the group's only major hit reaching the Top 10. It did even better at AC making it to #2.

ReduxReview:  Right off the bat, this song had a unique sound that stood out. It would end up being a signature style that served as the basis for further Jam and Lewis hits to come such as Human League's "Human." It was so distinct that whenever I heard anything remotely similar, I figured it was a Jam/Lewis tune. This song is just beautiful and perfectly produced with that simple, yet lovely piano riff. The vocal work is excellent as well. This was unlike anything the group had recorded and it made a huge impression. I think because of that they had a difficult time maintaining their crossover success. They should have done more with Jam and Lewis, but by the time they were ready to do their third album, the pair were already deep in demand with other artists. Still, this is certainly a classic of the era and it was fortunate that this song came their way.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  This song was written and produced by the team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The pair already had some success on the R&B chart but they had yet to secure a big crossover hit. This track would be their first to reach the Pop Top 10. It would start a remarkable run of hits for the team that would continue in '86 via their work with Janet Jackson. Over the years, the pair would amass 41 Pop Top 10 hits. Sixteen of them would reach #1 making them the most successful songwriting and production team in chart history.


Friday, November 30, 2018

"Calling America" by Electric Light Orchestra

Song#:  2604
Date:  02/01/1986
Debut:  91
Peak:  18
Weeks:  15
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  By this point in time, ELO was basically done. Their popularity had been on the wane since the 80s started and various members were leaving for other projects. Yet before they could officially call it quits, they were contractually obligated to deliver one more album. So leader Jeff Lynne and two remaining member of the band went back to the studio to record Balance of Power. This track would be selected to be the first single and it did well enough to get inside the Pop Top 20. It had similar results at AC (#20) and Rock (#22). It would end up being the band's final song to reach the Pop chart. The band went their own ways after some final performances. Lynne would revive the band in 2000 and the following year put out the album Zoom. Another disc would follow in 2015 titled Alone in the Universe (credited to Jeff Lynne's ELO). Lynne would also issue solo albums in 1990 and 2012. He also became a successful producer working with artists like Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Brian Wilson, and Paul McCartney.

ReduxReview:  I like this chuggin' tune, but I was surprised that it made the Top 20. It just didn't seem in-step with what was going on at pop radio at the time. I'm glad it did well (because I love ELO), but it is certainly not one of their most memorable hits. Really, the album was kind of a lame duck thing. It was a "have to" effort, which is never going to produce great results. It was a lackluster collection with only a few bright spots. I was certainly sad that this ended ELO's run of hits, but it was probably time. Especially with Lynne focusing his energy elsewhere.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This song was ELO's twentieth Pop Top 40 hit. At the time, they set a bit of an unfortunate chart record. They became the band with the most Top 40 entries who never had a #1 hit. Out of their seven Top 10's, the closest they got to the top spot was 1979's #4 gold record "Don't Bring Me Down."  2) Lynne would be back on the charts in 1988 as part of the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys. Consisting of Lynne, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Bob Dylan, the band's first LP was a #3 triple-platinum hit that featured the #2 Rock track "Handle Me with Care." They would have a platinum follow-up in 1990.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

"I'd Do It All Again" by Sam Harris

Song#:  2603
Date:  02/01/1986
Debut:  94
Peak:  52
Weeks:  9
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  The original Star Search vocalist winner Sam Harris grabbed a Top 40 entry with "Sugar Don't Bite," a single from his self-titled debut album. The song and the publicity boost from Star Search helped the album go gold. Harris then had the task of trying to follow it up and seeing he could maintain a career a bit longer than the 15-minutes the show afforded him. His next LP, Sam-I-Am, found Harris taking a bit more control and sitting in the producer's chair on a few tracks including this first single. Unfortunately, the song didn't have the strength to carry Harris after the Star Search shine wore off and it stopped nearly halfway up the chart. It did a little better at Dance getting to #31. It would be Harris' last single to reach the Pop chart. Afterward, Harris retreated from the music industry and turned to one of his first loves, musical theater. He would return to recording music in 1994 with a standards album and would issue out a few more LPs over the years.

ReduxReviewAmerican Idol, The Voice, and other shows like that all have their roots in Star Search. Harris was a first season winner and basically the poster child of the show. Yet even after winning, I don't think anyone was sure what was going to happen or even if anything would. It was uncharted territory. So getting a couple of minor hits wasn't too bad of a result. But I think what happened to Harris is something that still happens with contestants and winners on shows even today. Harris was a great vocalist and folks loved to hear him sing, but on the show he was never able to establish a musical direction. So when he signed with Motown, they had to try and figure it out and they basically threw various styles at him to see what would stick. He needed an out-of-the-gate smash hit to get him established and it didn't happen. When it came time for the second album, Harris had a bit more control and the album was actually better than his first, but it was like he was starting over and the folks who loved him from the show just didn't follow along. They were busy watching new winners on Star Search. It's actually too bad because Harris was an awesome singer and had the ability to write good tunes. He had a lot more to offer than the tepid pop of this single, which he did not write.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Harris would have a successful stage career performing in various musicals. He appeared in the 1994 Broadway revival of Grease, which earned him a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical. That was following up by a role in the 1997 musical The Life. Harris grabbed another Drama Desk nomination along with a Tony nomination for Featured Actor in a Musical. He would also write and perform in several of his own shows including Ham: A Musical Memoir, which won three Ovation awards (for Los Angeles/SoCal theater) in 2016 including Lead Actor in a Musical for Harris and Best Musical Production.  2) Lauren Wood co-produced and sang background vocals on this song. Wood had a hit of her own back in 1979. The lead single from her self-titled debut album, "Please Don't Leave," made it to #5 AC and #24 Pop. Michael McDonald helped out providing the harmony vocals. Her follow-up album in 1981 failed to generate interest and that ended her major label days. She turned to writing and production after that. However, she did record a song called "Fallen" that ended up on the successful soundtrack to the 1990 hit film Pretty Woman.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"Lying" by Peter Frampton

Song#:  2602
Date:  02/01/1986
Debut:  97
Peak:  74
Weeks:  8
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Frampton tasted success at an early age. When he was sixteen, he was a member of the British band The Herd. They captured two UK Top 10's beginning in 1967. The following year he left that band and joined Humble Pie. That blues-rock band would have good success in the US in the early 70s, but by 1971 Frampton was done and ready to move out on his own. His first three albums were low-charters that failed to yield any charting singles. The tides began to turn with his fourth album, 1975's Frampton. A couple of songs from the album got some attention and even though none of them charted, the album grew in popularity and made it to #32 on the chart. That set him up for one of the biggest albums of the 70s, Frampton Comes Alive! It hit #1 thanks to two Top 10 hits ("Show Me the Way" and "Do You Feel Like I Do") and another that got to #12 ("Baby, I Love Your Way). Although he'd been a star for years, it seemed like overnight Frampton was a superstar. His next studio LP contained the #2 title track "I'm in You," but the #2 platinum album was considered a disappointment after the multi-platinum live set. Things tumbled from there with his next three albums successively doing worse. Due to a dispute with his label (A&M), Frampton didn't record anything for four years. He finally moved over to Atlantic Records for 1986's Premonition. This first single would be his first Top 10 on the Rock chart getting to #4. That result allowed the song to cross over to Pop for a couple of months. It wasn't a major hit, but it got Frampton back in the game. Although it would be his last charting Pop single, the boost helped his career and he would go on to have some good successes such as 2006's Fingerprints, which won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album.

ReduxReview:  Guitar wizard Frampton returns after a four years absence and glosses up his sound with a slick 80s synths and production. It worked well enough to get him back on the Pop chart, but critics weren't all that kind. I remember the album coming out and hearing this song on the radio. I thought it was a pretty good track that fit in at the time with stuff being pushed out by Huey Lewis, Don Henley, and Steve Winwood. Is it the same 70s classic rock Frampton? Nope. But that is fine. He took a stab at keeping up with trends and I thought it worked out fine.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Back in 1970, Frampton was having issues with his guitar during some Humble Pie shows in San Francisco. An audience member got Frampton's attention and said he had a modified Les Paul guitar available if Frampton wanted to give it a try. Frampton tested it out and immediately fell in love with the guitar. For the next decade he used that guitar in all his performances including the one for his famous Frampton Comes Alive! album (the guitar is on the cover of the LP). In 1980 between stops on a South American tour, the guitar was loaded on the cargo plane that was to take the gear to the next gig. Unfortunately, the plane crashed just after take off killing the pilot. Frampton assumed that his guitar was destroyed in the crash. Yet, it was not. It somehow survived with some bumps and bruises and ended up with a musician who lived in CuraƧao. He played it for decades and sometime in 2009 the guitar needed a fix and he took it to a local guy who does repairs. As it happens, that repair guy's main job is as a customs agent and being a collector of guitars, he noticed the modifications on the instrument and thinkg started to click. He identified it as Frampton's guitar and sent pictures to Frampton so that he could verify. It did indeed look like Frampton's guitar, but the current owner wasn't very willing to part with it. After two years, the guy finally sold it to the custom's agent who then presented it back to Frampton. After 31 years, Frampton's guitar was finally back home.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

"Life's What You Make It" by Talk Talk

Song#:  2601
Date:  02/01/1986
Debut:  98
Peak:  90
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  This English band broke through in the US in 1984 with the hooky synthpop song "It's My Life," the first single and title track from their second album. While the hit brought a lot more attention to the band, they didn't seem all that happy by the success, the pressures it brought, and their more commercial synthpop sound. The band decided to change course for their next LP The Colour of Spring. The shimmery synthpop of their previous LP was traded in for a fuller band sound that leaned towards experimental rock while retaining a bit of commercial appeal, as typified by this first single. The new sound was warmly received in the UK where the single got to #16 and the album #8. In the US, the news wasn't quite as good. Although the song got to #20 at Dance and #26 Rock, it just couldn't make it out of the basement at Pop. It would be their last charting single in the US.

ReduxReview:  I really like the groove of this song with that deep piano riff leading the way. The production of the song is terrific. It's moody and atmospheric and I really dig listening to it. However, I can see why it didn't really do much in the US. There is nary a hook in the thing, which is a near necessity for US pop radio. Yet I don't think the song needed one. The jam stands out on its own and makes an impression. It's just a shame that US listeners weren't patient enough to give the song a chance. They missed out.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This song was basically a forced write. It seems their management didn't think there was anything on the new album that was single-worthy and asked them to write another song. They were reluctant at first, but then came up with this tune, which helped the album become their best selling studio album in the UK. After this, the band dove even further into experimental territory for their next album Spirit of Eden. Although it featured no hits, the album sold well and critics applauded their new sound. Feeling that their label, EMI, was not in-tune with what they were doing, they sought to dissolve their contract, which they eventually did. They signed up with Polydor and issued out the post-rock album, 1991's Laughing Stock. While critically well-received, the album was not a big seller. The following year, the band decided they had other interests broke up.


Monday, November 26, 2018

"Sanctify Yourself" by Simple Minds

Song#:  2600
Date:  01/25/1986
Debut:  64
Peak:  14
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Simple Minds got their second US Top 10 hit with "Alive and Kicking," the lead single from their album Once Upon a Time. It was a big hit at Rock getting to #2 and this next single got very close to that reaching #3. On the Pop chart, it couldn't quite make it to the Top 10, but it still did well getting to #14. The songs would help the album reach #10 and go gold. It would be the band's only LP to hit the US Top 10. In the UK, it would be their second of four #1 albums.

ReduxReview:  Around this time the "sounds like U2" phrase was pushed on a lot of bands including Simple Minds (who got dubbed by some as the Scottish U2). It's really unfair to do that because in most cases that was not the intent of the band. Yet when you do something like this song, I almost think you are daring to invite the comparison. Frankly, it wouldn't surprise me if Jim Kerr and the band actually wanted to do U2 better than U2. I doubt that was their true goal here, but dang whenever I hear this song I can hear Bono's voice. If they were trying to outdo U2 here, I think they succeeded. That's because by this point in time U2 hadn't quite found their commercial rock voice yet and Simple Minds kind of beat them to the punch. It was a worthy follow-up to "Alive and Kicking."

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  At the end of the song, you can hear a male gospel-ish voice taking off in the background. That vocal was provided by Michael Been the lead singer of the US rock band The Call. It seems that Simple Minds and The Call had toured together and that led to Been lending a hand on Once Upon a Time. To return the favor, Simple Mind's lead singer Jim Kerr did some background vocals on The Call's 1986 album Reconciled. The track "Everywhere I Go" featured both Jim Kerr and Peter Gabriel on background vocals. The song was able to make it to #38 on the Rock chart.


Sunday, November 25, 2018

"No Easy Way Out" by Robert Tepper

Song#:  2599
Date:  01/25/1986
Debut:  80
Peak:  22
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Rock, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  This New Jersey singer/songwriter had been performing in bands and on his own since he was a teen in the late 60s. After supplying a couple of hits for other artists, Tepper ended up with a solo contract of his own with Scotti Brothers in 1985. Around that time, the soundtrack to Sylvester Stallone's film Rocky IV was being assembled, which was to be released on Scotti Brothers. The connection led to Tepper contributing this song to the film's soundtrack. It would end up being issued out as the third single from the soundtrack in addition to serving as the first single from Tepper's debut album of the same name. The song would do well at Rock getting to #12 while nearly breaking into the Pop Top 20. These results plus Tepper's sound was enough for Stallone to lift another track from Tepper's debut album, "Angel of the City," for the soundtrack to his 1986 film Cobra.

ReduxReview:  The unmistakable 80s production on this track is massive and awesome. Luckily, it was paired with a good song with a solid hook. I liked it right off the bat and got the single. It might have been too heavy of a song to reach the Pop Top 10, but it really should have. Tepper is a good vocalist, but there is nothing really unique about his voice to make it stand out from other singers so he was going to need some A+ material to really make it. Unfortunately, that didn't happen and this ended up being his only major hit.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Tepper's first song to reach the chart was one that he wrote with Madeline Sunshine titled "This Is Love." The tune was picked up and recorded by Paul Anka in 1978. The single would get to #3 AC and #35 Pop. Tepper then hooked up with singer Benny Mardones and the pair wrote "Into the Night," a #11 hit for Mardones in 1980 (the song later re-charted in 1989 and got to #20). Tepper would also co-write "La Bel Age," at #54 Pop/#19 Rock entry by Pat Benatar.