Saturday, February 23, 2019

"No One Is to Blame" by Howard Jones

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2688
Date:  04/12/1986
Debut:  72
Peak:  4
Weeks:  23
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Jones' second album Dream Into Action was a platinum success thanks to the #5 single "Things Can Only Get Better." Two more charting singles would follow. In his UK homeland, the LP generated three Top 10's and a #14. It was a good run that set him up well for his next album. However, Jones thought that another track on the album, "No One Is to Blame," may have hit potential. On the LP, the track was mostly a keyboard/vocal take with some synth and drum additions. Jones thought a more radio-friendly version might make a good single. In order to accomplish this, it was suggested that Jones work up a new version of the song with hit maker Phil Collins. Along with Collins' co-producer Hugh Padgham, the trio remade the track with Collins playing drums. The new commercial-leaning track pretty much fell on deaf ears at Jones' label, but he convinced them to put it out as a single. In the UK, it did fairly well reaching #16, but the tune would truly find a home in the US. The song slowly took over the airways and would eventually reach the Pop Top 10 along with hitting #1 at AC (and #20 Rock). It would be Jones' biggest hit in the States and, unfortunately, his final song to make the Pop Top 10.

ReduxReview:  This Phil Collins-slicked up version of the song certainly turned a minor album track into a commercially viable single. While I like both takes of the track, I do think that Collins and Padgham did a great job polishing up the tune and making it sparkle like a pop gem. I prefer to hear this version if being played on its own. When listening to Dream Into Action, an album I love, I want to hear the original version. It's how I know and appreciate the album and the new take just wouldn't be a good fit in the lineup. It's kind of a rare case where the original and the remake both have their places.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) In the UK, this song would be a stand-alone single that would end up being a bonus track on the CD version of his 1986 album One to One. In the US, an EP titled Action Replay was created to help support the single. The EP contained the new version of "No One Is to Blame" along with three remixes of previously released songs and two other tracks that had only been available in the UK. Thanks to the hit, the EP sold well and made it to #34.  2) This song was covered by singer/songwriter Katrina Carlson in 2007. As an indie artist, Carlson has had several of her songs used in films and TV shows and has placed six song in the Top 30 of the AC chart including her remake of this tune. It reached #20.


Friday, February 22, 2019

"Crush On You" by The Jets

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2687
Date:  04/12/1986
Debut:  73
Peak:  3
Weeks:  20
Genre:  R&B, Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  Maikeli and Vak√© Wolfgramm picked up and moved from their homeland of Tonga to the US in the mid-60s. They were both performers and musicians and as their family grew (and inspired by family groups like the Osmonds), Maikeli thought that his kids should form a band. It was the late 70s and there were enough kids in the family to get started. Other siblings would join in time and soon there was a steady band of eight that had learned vocals and instruments and were out performing. They got the attention of former Motown writer/producer Don Powell who signed them to his production company. He then got the family band hook up with MCA Records. By the end of 1985 The Jets had recorded their self-titled debut solo album. It's first single, "Curiosity," became a #8 R&B hit, but it couldn't make the crossover to Pop. However, this second single did. In addition to making into the Pop Top 10, it got to #4 R&B and #4 Dance. The family band had made the big time and were on their way to stardom.

ReduxReview:  This tune was sure to be a hit with it's funky groove, synth stabs, and hooky chorus. I'm not sure why the lesser "Curiosity" was released first. My guess is that the label wanted to establish the group at R&B first before going mainstream - a not uncommon ploy at the time. Regardless, they smartly decided to unleash this and it ran amok on radio. It was just one of those mass appeal tunes that stood out and everyone jammed to. The 80s production was in full-swing and although dated now it still sounds pretty darn good. The family band certainly made a mark with this hit.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Although there were only eight siblings in the original Jets band, there ended up being a total of seventeen kids in the family. Fifteen of them were by birth and two others were adopted. As the years went by and original members dropped out of the band, they were usually replaced with younger family members.  2) The original name of the band was Quasar. Although a quasar is the name of a galactic object, it also became the brand name of a television in the late 60s. Powell wasn't impressed with the name and didn't thing the family name, Wolfgramm, was very good either. While having this on his mind, Powell happened to hear Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets" on the radio. That inspired him to dub the family band The Jets.


Thursday, February 21, 2019

"Hands Across America" by Voices of America

Song#:  2686
Date:  04/12/1986
Debut:  88
Peak:  65
Weeks:  8
Genre:  Pop, Charity

Pop Bits:  Following his work with the USA for Africa charity project, entertainment mogul Ken Kragen thought that more could be done to fight hunger and homelessness and he came up with an idea that would get everyday Americans involved. The essence of the plan was simple - get approximately six million Americans to form a coast-to-coast human chain and all join hands for fifteen minutes. Donations would roll in from participants (who were expected to give between $10-35 for a space in line and a t-shirt) and others who could give to the charity. Kragen took charge and it would take a committee of over 400 people a year to plan the event that would be held on May 25, 1986. Of course, a theme song would be necessary, but since music wasn't the main focal point as it was for USA for Africa's "We Are the World," it would be a star-less recording. Three jingle writers were assigned the task of writing "Hands Across America" and the background music would be performed by members of Toto. The New Jersey Mass Choir would help on vocals with pro sessions singers Joe Cerisano and Sandy Farina handling the leads. Collectively they would be credited as Voices of America. The single was completed and released about a month and a half before the main event. It was able to get on the Pop chart and at least stay logged there until a couple weeks after the event, but it didn't get very far. Without the participation of any major stars either singing or writing, the single was a bit of a hard sell and it fell far short of expectations. The full event fared better, but in the long run it would be known more for being an odd pop culture moment (and the butt of jokes and parodies).

ReduxReview:  It's so hard to judge these charity songs. On one hand, these are created to do something good and no matter the quality, the intentions are valid and admirable. On the other hand, these are songs that people are supposed to listen to and buy just like any other music product. So they should be pretty darn good and listenable. Most of them are not. I do know these are not easy songs to write. They have to be catchy, appeal to a very broad audience, need relatable lyrics, and have to be singable by most everyone. It's like trying to write a Christmas song that will become popular for decades to come. It's a thankless and dreadful task. If I were to judge this song on it's mission, I'd say it was fine. If it made some bucks and brought attention to the subject matter, that's cool. But judging it as an actual song is different. If a band did this track with an everyday set of lyrics and put it out, what would I think? I'm pretty sure it would rank about a 2 or a 3. I'm certain I'd find it an annoying and pandering attempt at some kind of arena rock anthem. So I gotta take both into account. Since I don't like the song itself and I don't think it really did the job it was supposed to for the charity, I'd have to call this a dud instead of a success.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) In the long run, the Hands Across America event would be successful. Just not as successful as organizers wanted. They expected to raise between $50-100 million that would go to various charities. When it was all over, the final take was around $34 million. However, expenses had to be taken out of that and once everyone got paid, the amount that would benefit charities came to $15 million. While it was a nice amount, it was nowhere near the goal.  2) Did hands really stretch across America?  Not quite. While big cities had droves of people packed up in groups, there were gaps in the line in sparsely populated areas, such as the desert Southwest. However, it was surmised that if the estimated amount of people who took place in the event actually stood about four-feet apart in a single line, there would have been a solid line from coast to coast.  3) Two of the theme song's writers, Larry Gottlieb and Marc Blatte, had written a significant hit back in 1981. The pair wrote "When She Was My Girl," which became a #1 R&B/#11 Pop hit for The Four Tops. The two would also write several other songs together including the 1986 #4 Country hit "Read My Lips" by Marie Osmond. Gottlieb also co-write Trisha Yearwood's 1996 Country #1 "Believe Me Baby (I Lied)."


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"Somebody Somewhere" by Platinum Blonde

Song#:  2685
Date:  04/12/1986
Debut:  89
Peak:  82
Weeks:  5
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  This Toronto trio that featured British-born vocalist/bassist Mark Holmes first got their feet wet as a Police cover band in the late 70s. While honing their chops in clubs, the band began to work on their own music and in 1980 they issued out an indie single under the name Platinum Blonde. Nothing much came from it and eventually Holmes' bandmates got frustrated and took off. Holmes found two replacements and the new trio made a home demo of songs that they forwarded to producer David Tickle, who had success producing Split Enz. Tickle liked what he heard and quickly ushered the band into a studio to formally record an EP. It got picked up by CBS Records and pushed out in 1983 along with a single titled "Doesn't Really Matter." The tune got to #31 in Canada and it helped the EP sell well. CBS then wanted to flesh out the EP into a full album. Standing in the Dark became the band's debut LP. Thanks to three additional charting singles, the album became a big seller and it would earn the band three Juno nominations including for Breakthrough Group. For their follow-up LP, Alien Shores, the trio became a quartet with the addition of a keyboardist and adopted a more commercial rock sound. The album's first single, "Crying Over You," became a #1 hit in Canada. A second single also made the Top 10. Meanwhile across the border, no one was paying much attention to the band. That changed a bit when this third single managed to crack the US Pop chart. It wouldn't hang around for long, but at least they were able to grab a charting single. It would be their only one to chart in the US. The song did better in Canada reaching #23. Three more Juno nods would come there way.

ReduxReview:  This is an odd song. It has a British new wave feel to it (Psychedelic Furs?), thanks in part to Holmes vocals. It's quite a bit different from the rock tunes that first got them on the Canadian charts (although their #8 Canadian hit from the album "Situation Critical" sounds like it could have been a rejected Duran Duran song.) I guess I was expecting something more along the lines of arena rock with this one so it was a bit of a surprise. It's an interesting tune with a nice chorus and it sounds like it could have been one of those songs included on a John Hughes movie soundtrack. It's also not what I expected from four glam rock looking guys with massively teased platinum blonde hair. I don't think the tune was strong enough to be a Top 40 contender, but a little extra promo push might have driven it up the chart further.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Lending a hand on the Alien Shores album was fellow Canadian Alex Lifeson, guitarist for Rush. He would perform guitar solos on a couple of songs including the #1 hit "Crying Over You." Later in 1993, Lifeson may have given a shout-out to the band as a track on Rush's album Counterparts was titled "Alien Shore."  2) The success of Alien Shores set them up well for their next effort that would be titled Contact. The guys went for broke using several producers (including Bernard Edwards of Power Station fame) and pumped out songs in varying styles in hopes of securing bigger hits and a wider audience. It didn't really work out. The title track would get to #13 in Canada, but further singles fared worse and virtually no one in the States paid attention. Label issues and internal struggles followed and by 1988 the band was done. After some personnel changes, the band reformed as just The Blondes and put out an album in 1990 to little notice.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"Pretty in Pink" by The Psychedelic Furs

Song#:  2684
Date:  04/12/1986
Debut:  90
Peak:  41
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Alternative Rock, New Wave, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  The Furs had been slowly breaking through in the US with their first three album and along the way they nearly cracked the Pop Top 40 with the single "Love My Way" (1982, #44). Yet it would be a track from their second album, Talk Talk Talk, that would help spawn a movie and get them near the Top 40 again. Film producer/writer John Hughes was inspired to write a screenplay based on the title of one of the LP's tracks, "Pretty in Pink." Apparently, he had become aware of the song thank to Molly Ringwald, who had previously starred in two Hughes films, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. The song had been issued out as a single in 1981, but it failed to chart in the US (it got to #43 in the UK). Since the tune was basically Hughes' muse, it seemed logical to use the song in the film. But instead of using the original track, the Furs agreed to record a new version of the song specifically for the film and its associated soundtrack. Working with producer Chris Kimsey, the band adjusted the tune to make it a bit more pop/commercial friendly. It would be issued out as the soundtrack album's second single and would just barely miss the Pop Top 40 peaking at the dreaded #41 spot. Still, it was the band's best showing to-date and thanks to the movie and its soundtrack, the Furs jumped into the mainstream.

ReduxReview:  I don't remember hearing this version of the song back in the day. I later got familiar with the original version and I guess didn't realize that the one on the soundtrack was different. That's probably because I didn't own the soundtrack and over the years any compilation by the band contained the original version. It seems the only place they put the song out was on the soundtrack, as a single, and as a bonus track on the European CD version of their next album Midnight to Midnight. I'm not sure why that is, but I guess they just wanted folks to know the original and skip the movie version (or there were rights issues involved). It's kind of too bad because the slicker update is pretty cool. I think it sounds very polished and radio-ready without taking away from the spirit of the song. I do kind of prefer the grittiness of the original, but this remake is just as satisfying. Either way you can't go wrong.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  While the title may have been inspiration for Hughes, the song's actual lyrics had nothing in common with the movie. In fact they were a bit more grim than the teenage rom-com. The song talks about a girl, Caroline, who thinks its cool to sleep around with various guys and she also thinks it makes other people like her. The truth though is they don't and in the end everyone is just using her. That dark tale is nothing like the film's innocent high school prom Duckie vs. Blane storyline. Yet the song got so tied to the film that folks didn't really pay attention to the actual lyrics and just applied their own feeling/meaning to it based on the movie. In the end it probably didn't matter and it was most likely a good thing Hughes didn't write a film that had Molly Ringwald giving it up to all the guys. That probably would have been an R-rated fiasco.


Monday, February 18, 2019

"Living in the Background" by Baltimora

Song#:  2683
Date:  04/12/1986
Debut:  91
Peak:  87
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Europop, Synthpop

Pop Bits:  This studio project assembled by Italian producer Maurizio Bassi and fronted by Irish performer Jimmy McShane unexpectedly grabbed a worldwide hit with the novelty-ish tune "Tarzan Boy." It would reach the Top 10 in many countries and although it would just miss that spot in the US (#13), the song made the band and McShane instant celebrities. Bassi then quickly got the band's debut album, Living in the Background, assembled and issued out. By the time "Tarzan Boy" had been on the Pop chart for a lengthy six months, this title track song would finally serve as the LP's second single. Of course, the tough thing about getting an instant hit out of nowhere is trying to follow it up and indeed Baltimora couldn't pull off a second hit. This song disappeared quickly after a month and that left the band caught in one-hit wonder world. As far as a career in the US, Baltimora's 15-minutes was up.

ReduxReview:  Let's face it - when an artist has a goofy, left-field hit like "Tarzan Boy," the odds of them scoring a second hit are decidedly not in their favor and indeed Baltimora fell to the follow-up jinx. In reality, this more serious song is not bad at all. It's an acceptable 80s synthpop tune that sounds good and was well-produced. However, it was nowhere near strong enough of a single to make people pay attention to Baltimora after "Tarzan Boy." But hey - the hit made Baltimora famous for a minute and folks still remember the song. That's not too bad of an outcome from a studio project that just happened to result in a quirky, unexpected hit. Someone is still making money off of it somewhere.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  While Bassi, McShane, and the "band" weren't able to capitalize on the success of "Tarzan Boy" in the US, they were able to do a little bit more over in Europe - especially Bassi's home country of Italy. Two other songs from the album were able to reach the Italian Top 20, "Woody Boogie" (an odd Woody Woodpecker-inspired track) and "Juke Box Boy." It was enough for EMI to spend a little money on a second album, but its release would be limited to a few countries. The album Survivor in Love sank quickly when its first single, "Key Key Karimba," only got to #37 in Italy. After the poor results, Bassi moved on and Baltimora was no more. Apparently, McShane retreated from the music business after the experience. In 1995, he would die of AIDS in his hometown of Derry, Northern Ireland.


Sunday, February 17, 2019

"Mutual Surrender (What a Wonderful World)" by Bourgeois Tagg

Song#:  2682
Date:  04/12/1986
Debut:  92
Peak:  62
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Pop, Synthpop, Blue-Eyed Soul

Pop Bits:  Dallas area friends Brent Bourgeois and Larry Tagg were members of a band called Uncle Rainbow in the mid-70s. The band was encouraged to take their career to the next level and move to one of the coasts. They decided to give the San Fransisco area a try and made the move. The band became a popular live act and they caught the attention of Riva Records. A deal was signed and an album was recorded, but then music business rigamarole stymied the band and the LP never got released. Up-n-coming producer/artist Narada Michael Walden showed interest in the group, but a failed audition at Geffen left the band on their own again. Frustration within the band and lack of progress finally led to their demise in 1981. Bourgeois and Tagg remained together and set out to start a new band. They moved to Sacramento and with three other musicians began Bourgeois Tagg. Over the next few years they honed their sound and became locally popular. Island Records came calling and signed the band. They recorded their self-titled debut album and this first single was issued out. It got a little bit of traction and was able to make it over a third of the way up the Pop chart. It was enough to get the album on the chart at minor #139. While the results weren't spectacular, Island decided to invest in a second album, which would end up doing better.

ReduxReview:  This song is sneaky. It slowly creeps up and begins to infiltrate your brain after a few listens. At first, I really wasn't sure where the chorus was. In my head I seemed to be going " this it? No - this is it - or is it?" The pre-chorus sounds like a chorus, but then they actually get to the chorus. And then it isn't until after the second real chorus that the main title is mentioned. It's all kind of odd, but something about it caught my ears. I needed to hear it again. And one more time. While it doesn't have a hook that bangs you over the head, it's a really interesting tune and I like the progression of it and how it is written. Although I ended up liking it, I don't think it was Top 10 material. However, it could have done a bit better and maybe made the Top 40.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Brent Bourgeois posted a funny story on his website about the cover of the band's self-titled debut album. The artwork for the cover was done by his sister Coral. At the time, the Tower Records store in San Fran would create these masonry squares that featured the art of newly released albums up on the top of their building. After a while, these squares would be removed and recovered with the latest album covers up for promotion. When some of these squares would come down, the store would offer them up to anyone who might want them. Being that it was Brent's band and that it was Coral's artwork, their mom decided she wanted the square. She lived back in Dallas, so she paid to have the piece shipped to her. It ended up becoming a fixture in the family home. Bourgeois' site even has a pic posted of the square being delivered. It was not small and apparently weighed about 600 pounds! That is definitely a mother's dedication and support to her kids' careers.