Saturday, January 12, 2019

"I Can't Wait" by Nu Shooz

Top 10 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  2646
Date:  03/08/1986
Debut:  92
Peak:  3
Weeks:  23
Genre:  Synthpop, Dance-Pop, Blue-Eyed Soul

Pop Bits:  Valerie Day and John Smith were teenagers when they happened to meet at a Portland, Oregon, area commune in 1975. A love of music connected them and they eventually started to hone their skills in clubs. At the time their focus was on Latin jazz, but then before the turn of the decade they formed a four-piece band whose focus was more soul oriented. As the band grew in size (to at least nine members), so did their popularity around Portland. They recorded and released an indie soul/jazz album titled Can't Turn It Off, which didn't do much to advance the band's career. After that, the band trimmed down in size and Smith began to work on new material for an EP titled Tha's Right. A local radio station began to play "I Can't Wait" from the EP and soon the track was in the station's Top 10. Yet despite the local success, no major labels were interest in the band. Then they got a lucky break. A Dutch DJ happened upon the track and he decided to do a remix. It started to get attention and soon the import vinyl of the remix became popular in the US. This finally prompted Atlantic Records to sign Nu Shooz. The label issued out the new version of the song, known as the Dutch Mix, and it quickly headed to #1 at Dance. The song then slowly gained momentum at Pop and it finally peaked at #3. It also made it to #2 at R&B and #38 AC. The crossover hit eventually went gold as did their associated Atlantic debut album Poolside (#27). It did well enough to earn the band a Grammy nod for Best New Artist.

ReduxReview:  The band's original version of this song was quite solid on its own, but the remix took it to a whole other level. It modernized the tune for the 80s and gave it hooks galore. Given the chance, there was no way this song was gonna miss. I remember back in the day all it took was that opening riff and folks ran for the dance floor. It's a great jam and no 80s playlist should be without it. The big joke around our house is that if anyone mentions they need new shoes, someone immediately goes "ba-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum, ba-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum." An everlasting gem from the decade.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  The DJ who came up with the remix for the song was Peter Slaghuis. He felt that the track really needed a hook of some kind and used a sampler on Valerie Day's voice to create the stuttering effect. Slaghuis did many remixes, but this one remained his most famous. In 1984, Slaghuis had his own unusual hit. He along with singer Bianca Bonelli formed the Euro disco duo VideoKids. Their song "Woodpeckers from Space" would be a left-field hit in Europe that got to #1 in Spain and Norway. It would have been a major hit for them in South Africa, but due to the political issues of the country they refused to let the single be released there. A producer named Costa Anadiotis jumped at the chance to do the song and got his studio group Café Society to record a cover version. It would end up topping the South African music chart for eight weeks.


Friday, January 11, 2019

"Shelter Me" by Joe Cocker

Song#:  2645
Date:  03/08/1986
Debut:  95
Peak:  91
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  The career-reviving #1 duet "Up Where We Belong" with Jennifer Warnes provided Joe Cocker with an opportunity to re-establish himself as a viable solo artist. Unfortunately, his first album after the hit, Civilized Man, failed to generate a single chart entry and the album quickly disappeared.  Undeterred, Cocker went back into the studio to record a follow-up. The album, simply titled Cocker, would be a mix of originals and remakes helped along by five different producers. The song selected to be the first single was this more rock-oriented track and indeed it would do well at Rock reaching #11. It was his first entry on that chart. Despite doing well there, the song just couldn't make any inroads at Pop and it fell off the chart after a month. However, the action at Rock helped the album sell much better than his previous effort and it ended up getting to #50.

ReduxReview:  This track has Cocker outfitted in a full-on 80s rock production and it kind of works. There's not a lot to this song. Both the verse and chorus have minimal melodies and chords so it's the kind of tune that needs to be committed to and sold by the band, the production, and the vocalist. I think all parties involved do the job very well, yet it's a song that just doesn't have the right stuff to make it as pop hit. That was the problem Cocker was having at the time. After the AC balladry of "Up Where We Belong," he seemed to be having a hard time trying to decide which audience to play to. Should he keep along the AC lines? Should he go back to his blues-rock? Should he do more modern 80s pop? He ended up doing a mishmash of them and in doing so kind of lost his audience. "Shelter Me" was a good stab and 80s rock, but it wasn't going to endear him to the masses. Actually, the best parts of the song are the guitar and sax solos on the album version. Those are worth tuning in for.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Also included on the Cocker album was a song that would become quite famous even though it would not be a hit single. For the LP, Cocker chose to record the Randy Newman-penned tune "You Can Leave Your Hat On." Newman originally wrote and recorded the song for his third album, 1972's Sail Away, which was his first to reach the album chart (#163). It was not issued out as a single, but the song would be picked up and recorded by a few artists including Etta James and Three Dog Night. After Cocker recorded his version, it was decided that the track was perfect for a scene in a film. Director Adrian Lyne used the tune for the famous striptease scene in his erotic drama 9 1/2 Weeks, which starred Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger. The movie was a box office dud when released in 1986, but it gained a cult following later on home video. It was a hit in other countries and in the end made over $100 million worldwide. Cocker's song was released as a single, but it failed to hit the Pop chart in the US. It did get to #35 at Rock. In countries where the film was a hit, the song fared much better on the charts. Although the song was not a hit in the US for Cocker, it did become one of his most recognizable and popular tracks thanks to the movie.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

"I Engineer" by Animotion

Song#:  2644
Date:  03/08/1986
Debut:  98
Peak:  76
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Synthpop

Pop Bits:  Animotion's 1984 self-titled debut album was a success thanks to two Pop Top 40 hits including the #6 "Obsession." After a couple of personnel changes, the band retreated back to the studio to record their follow-up. All the songs for the LP were co-written by at least one band member except for this first single, which was written by hitmakers Holly Knight, Mike Chapman, and Bernie Taupin. Despite the pedigree, the song just wasn't clicking with listeners and it ended up falling far short of expectations peaking in the bottom quarter of the Pop chart. It did slightly better at Dance getting to #27. The results were a big disappointment on their home turf. However, the news was much better overseas where the song became a hit in several European countries like Germany where the single reached #2. The lack of a bigger hit single in the US caused the album to not sell well and it stopped at a low #71.

ReduxReview:  This song should have worked. It had a cool title, top-notch songwriters, and excellent production from Richie Zito. The chorus wasn't too bad either. Yet for some reason it was unable to capture people's attention. It's definitely not the most fantastic song, but I think it should have done better. My guess is that the band's label didn't hear a hit among the tracks the band wrote and pushed them to record a song by established writers, much in the same way they did on the first album ("Obsession" was by Holly Knight and Micheal Des Barres). Since a Holly Knight tune worked the first time, why not try it again? It didn't work out, but it is kind of an interesting "lost" 80s track.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  The video for this song was film at the abandoned Royal Herbert Hospital in Blackheath, England. The military hospital opened in 1865 and was meant to promote better health care, something which lacked at the time and was brought to the forefront by Crimean War legend Florence Nightengale. In fact, it was Nightengale's nephew by marriage who designed the hospital with input from Nightengale herself. At the time it was considered one of the best hospitals in the world. The building remained active throughout both World Wars and later also became a teaching facility. However, by 1977 the military decided to close the hospital since they had little use for the huge building and the upkeep was becoming ramshackle and too costly. Demolition seemed to be its destiny, but it ended up being part of an historical conservation area and the building was spared from the wrecking ball. While still abandoned, Animotion filmed their video there. Not too long after, Kate Bush filmed parts of the video to her 1986 song "Experiment IV" in the hospital. Two future TV stars, Dawn French and Hugh Laurie, appeared in that video. The hospital was sold to a developer in 1990 who turned the hospital into a luxury condo community that was named the Royal Herbert Pavilions.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

"So Far Away" by Dire Straits

Song#:  2643
Date:  03/01/1986
Debut:  66
Peak:  19
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Soft Rock

Pop Bits:  After two Pop Top 10 hits including the #1 "Money for Nothing," Dire Straits issued out this third single from their #1 album Brothers in Arms. Although it was the third track released in the US, it was the first single pushed out in the band's UK homeland. It did fine reaching #20. Oddly, it nearly matched that peak on the US Pop chart. It did much better at AC where the song got to #3. It also made it to #29 at Rock. The tune would end up being the band's last one to reach the US Pop chart. The unexpected massive success of the album and the associated tour took a toll on the band and by September of '88, leader Mark Knopfler announced the end of Dire Straits. However, Knopfler resurrected the band three years later and they recorded their sixth studio album On Every Street. It wasn't nearly as successful as Brothers in Arms only selling platinum and reaching #12. None of the LP's singles hit the US Pop chart, but three tracks from the album reached the Top 10 of the US Rock chart including the #1 "Heavy Fuel." After a nearly two-year worldwide tour, Knopfler and the band were stressed and worn out. Not wanting to go through it again, the band broke up for the final time.

ReduxReview:  This mid-tempo album opener was a snoozer for me. It just drones along mainly on three chords and a nap. I have no idea why they chose this as the opening track on the LP when the exciting opening of "Money for Nothing" would have been so much better. This is like one of those mediocre filler songs that you put near the end of the album. There is just not a lot going on here and it fails to keep me interested. It is musical melatonin.

ReduxRating:  3/10

Trivia:  Following the success of Brothers in Arms, Knopfler decided he wanted to do a little side project with a few of his friends. They got together in '86 and began playing some classic country and blues tunes. They recorded some of these in the studio along with a couple of originals. The tracks were all recorded in a studio in the Notting Hill section of West London, so the band took on the name The Notting Hillbillies. The band then decided to take their act on the road and did a small tour of the UK. However, their recordings didn't get released until 1990 when the album Missing...Presumed Having a Good Time was finally issued. It did well around Europe including in the UK where it got to #2. In the US, the album would reach #52 and the track "Your Own Sweet Way" got to #30 on the Rock chart. It would be their only album. The band would reunite on occasion for little tours and one-off shows including being the musical guest on a 1990 episode of Saturday Night Live.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

"West End Girls" by Pet Shop Boys

#1 Alert!
Rated 10 Alert!
Song#:  2642
Date:  03/01/1986
Debut: 71
Peak:  1 (1 week)
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Synthpop, Dance

Pop Bits:  The two people who make up the duo Pet Shop Boys, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, first met in a London electronics store. The pair shared an interest in dance music and it wasn't long before they were working on their own material. Both were fans of American dance music producer/artist Bobby Orlando (aka Bobby O) and when Tennant got an opportunity to travel to New York, he sought out Orlando. Orlando listened to the duo's demos and decided to work with them. He produced several songs including one titled "West End Girls." It was pushed out to clubs in various cities and it ended up being local club hit in L.A. and San Francisco. Two more songs were released, but nothing much came of them. The duo then parted ways with Orlando and signed on with Parlophone Records. They connected with producer Stephen Hague and re-recorded "West End Girls." Released in October of '85 in the UK, the song started slow but eventually it would take off and reach #1. The hit then crossed the pond and followed suit hitting #1 at both Pop and Dance. It also got to #26 AC, #36 R&B, and #37 Rock. The duo then quickly got their debut album, Please, recorded and pushed out. It would be a #7 platinum hit in the US.

ReduxReview:  This track was certainly unusual back in the day. Initially, I'm not sure what people knew what to make of Tennant rapping/singing Euro-centric lyrics in his British accent over slick dance beats and sophisti-pop synths. Yet there was something totally alluring about the track and it just became irresistible. Hague knew exactly what to do with this song and his production was key in making this a hit. Because this song was so unusual, it could have easily made Pet Shop Boys one-hit wonders, but luckily they had solid material to follow it up and they would return to the Top 10 four more times. By the time their second album arrived, I knew I'd be a life-long fan.


Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Initially, the duo called themselves West End. They would later change that to Pet Shop Boys. The name stems from some friends who worked in a pet shop, hence they were the pet shop boys. The duo liked the name because it sounded like an English rap group. 2) Bobby Orlando was one of the most prolific producers of dance music in the late 70s and 80s. He had his own label, "O" Records, which allowed him to write, produce, and release hundreds of dance tracks. Orlando was one of the first producers whose music was being associated with the Hi-NRG genre. Since his music was more club oriented, Orlando didn't have any big mainstream hits. However, he did have quite a few that did well on the Dance chart. He developed a female vocal trio with a revolving lineup called The Flirts and seven of their Orlando-written/produced tracks hit the US Dance chart including the 1985 #1 "You & Me." Orlando was also known for his work with infamous drag queen/film star Divine, which included the club hits "Native Love (Step By Step)" and "Shoot Your Shot." Orlando also grabbed for the spotlight himself and under the moniker Bobby O, he hit the Dance chart three times with 1982's "She Has a Way" doing the best getting to #10. After a decade of recording tracks, Orlando closed up "O" Records and left the music industry. Apparently, he went to law school and wrote an anti-evolution theory book in 1987 titled Darwin Destroyed. Later in the 90s, he briefly started a new label titled Reputation Records and since 2010 he has recorded several albums as Bobby O on his Bobco Music Inc. label.


Monday, January 7, 2019

"For America" by Jackson Browne

Song#:  2641
Date:  03/01/1986
Debut:  72
Peak:  30
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  While some of Browne's previous songs had touched on political or social issues, it wasn't until his eighth studio album, Lives in the Balance, that his tunes were more direct in commenting on the political landscape of the day, specifically Reagan-era meddling in countries south of the US border. This first single certainly gave a taste as to what the album had to offer. The anti-war track was welcomed at Rock where it ended up peaking at #3. However, Browne's politico-rock wasn't as embraced at Pop radio and it would only manage to make the Top 30. It also got to #31 at AC. While the album and its themes may have turned some listeners away, others seemed to appreciate Browne's world view and bought the album. The mixed reaction had the new LP only peaking at #23, which was his lowest result since 1973. After a string of platinum sellers, the album could only manage gold level sales.

ReduxReview:  I'm not a big fan of Browne and political songs are not necessarily my thing, yet I kind of like this rockin' tune. I also dig Browne's beefier, modern production. It sounds really good. The drawback here for pop radio is that there is no real hook. The individual sections of the song are well done, but there isn't a bold chorus to keep it in your memory after it has played on the radio. Yet I still like to tune and I don't find its message too over the top.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  While this album found Browne becoming more forward in his world views, he had been an outspoken activist for many years. He has performed concerts for various organizations (Farm Aid, Amnesty International, etc.) and has spent a lot of time promoting and doing work for environmental causes. Because of these efforts, Browne began receiving various awards for his humanitarian and charitable work. His most recent one (as of this posting date) was the 2018 Gandhi Peace Award. Given to individuals who promote worldwide peace and goodwill, the award (along with a cash prize) has been given out annually since 1960. The first recipient was Eleanor Roosevelt. Other notables to have received the award are Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Ralph Nader. Browne is the first artist/entertainer to receive the award.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

"Heart's on Fire" by John Cafferty

Song#:  2640
Date:  03/01/1986
Debut:  88
Peak:  76
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Rock, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  The soundtrack to Sylvester Stallone's Rocky IV had three hits still in the Pop Top 40 when this fourth track from the album was issued out. Survivor's "Burning Heart" and James Brown's "Living in America" were already Top 10'ers (#2 and #4, respectively) and Robert Tepper's "No Easy Way Out" was on its way to #22. Hopes were high that this song would join those three in the upper reaches of the Pop chart. Unfortunately, it couldn't gain an audience and the tune dropped off the chart after a short month and a half. Oddly, the track didn't make it on to the Rock chart where Cafferty and his Beaver Brown Band had previously scored four Top 10 hits. Although performed by Cafferty and his band, the song was credited as a Cafferty solo song.

ReduxReview:  I imagine the reason this ended up a solo Cafferty credit instead of with his band is because it sounds nothing like the heartland retro-rock they had been pushing out the previous few years. This was a pumped up 80s rock number with screaming synths, big production, and an arena-ready hook. I thought it was a pretty good track, but it may have been just a bit over the top for pop radio. At least it worked well in the film being played over a training session.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This song was co-written by Vince DiCola, Joe Esposito, and Ed Frugé, and was produced by DiCola and Frugé. DiCola got involved with the Stallone family when he was chosen to co-write songs with Frank Stallone for the soundtrack to the Sylvester Stallone-directed Staying Alive. One of the tracks from the album, "Far From Over," which was co-written by DiCola and Frank Stallone, would be a #10 hit for Stallone in 1983. DiCola would get a Grammy nomination for his work on the score and a Golden Globe nomination for the song. DiCola then went on to co-write a couple of songs and compose the instrumental score to Rocky IV. This time around he would win an award, but probably not one he wanted. He received a Golden Raspberry award for Worst Musical Score for Rocky IV.