Saturday, March 16, 2019

"Chain Reaction" by Diana Ross

Song#:  2709
Date:  05/03/1986
Debut:  88
Peak:  65
Weeks:  8
Genre:  Pop, R&B

Pop Bits:  This second single from Ross' Eaten Alive album was basically a non-starter when it was first released back in November of '85. It stayed on the Pop chart for a short three weeks peaking at a lowly #95. However, the fate of the song was far, far better in Europe where it reached the Top 10 in several countries including a three week stay at #1 in the UK. In late January of '86, Ross was tapped to host the American Music Awards and during the show she sang "Eaten Alive" and this song. Her performance reignited interest in the tune. That along with its European success prompted Ross' label to give the song a second chance. A "special new" mix of the song was put together and issued out as a single. On its second go-around, the tune did better but it was far from being a hit as it still couldn't get near the top half of the Pop chart. With that result, the cost of the reissue probably wasn't worth the effort.

ReduxReview:  There is not much more I can say than what I did in the original post for this song. The Gibb brothers did a nice job creating this for Ross, but it just wasn't what US listeners wanted, especially after the failed "Eaten Alive."

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  The American Music Awards were developed by Dick Clark and began in 1973. Clark was still hosting American Bandstand at the time, which was famous for having performers lip sync their songs on the show. At the time, it wasn't that unusual for some acts to lip sync due to logistics or heavily choreographed routines. Unlike the Grammys where everyone is to perform live (or live plus backing track enhancements in the case of dance-heavy performances), the AMA's sometimes opted for lip syncing. For Ross in '86, it was half n' half. She opened the show with a live performance of "Eaten Alive." But for "Chain Reaction," which featured a cast of male dancers and Ross involved in the routine, Ross opted to lip sync. At one point near the end, she seemed to forget where she was in the song and missed a cue, but she quickly recovered. Yet no one said anything about it at the time. People kind of forget now, but when Michael Jackson did his famous moonwalk routine on Motown 25, he was lip syncing. No one seemed to care and he moonwalked his way to an Emmy nomination for his performance. These days, you can't do that. Artists are being called out all the time for lip syncing. The Milli Vanilli scandal certainly played a role and scrutiny has gotten worse since. Several artists have been accused of lip syncing at the AMA's including superstar Mariah Carey in 2018. She hadn't appeared on the show in a decade and she debuted an upcoming single "With You." While many fans applauded her performance, others called her out for lip syncing. These days, that's what a singer can expect - is it live for Memorex? If Memorex, don't look at your Twitter feed...


Friday, March 15, 2019

"Digging Your Scene" by The Blow Monkeys

Song#:  2708
Date:  05/03/1986
Debut:  89
Peak:  14
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Blue-Eyed Soul, Sophisti-Pop

Pop Bits:  This UK band was headed up by singer/songwriter Robert Howard, aka Dr. Robert. They formed in 1981 and after a couple of years gigging and gaining a following, they were signed to RCA Records. A debut album in 1984, Limping for a Generation, wasn't a hit, but RCA saw potential in the band and asked for a follow-up. They recorded Animal Magic and pushed out a first single titled "Forbidden Fruit." The song was barely a blip on the UK chart, which didn't bode well for the band. But then this second single was released and things turned around. It became their first hit in the UK reaching #12. The US branch of RCA got the single out and it too did well hitting the Pop Top 20 while getting to #7 at Dance. Follow-up singles were middling affairs in the UK and didn't make any chart in the US, but this song set them up well for their next LP, She Was Only a Grocer's Daughter. In the UK, the album did well getting to #20 thanks to the #5 hit "It Doesn't Have to Be This Way." In the US, it seems label politics may have doomed the song and it failed to chart. The Blow Monkeys would never chart again in the US. They continued to be mildly successful in the UK until their break up in 1990.

ReduxReview:  I liked this smooth groovin' tune when it first came out and bought the single. I ended up getting a little tired of it because I had a boss at the time that loved this song and played it all the time. It's one that you don't hear too often any more and it is kind of refreshing when it does get played. The band had some other good tunes to offer including "It Doesn't Have to Be This Way," but besides this track they failed to fully catch on in the US.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Dr. Robert is not a real doctor, obviously. It came about when on the band's first single, Robert Howard got credited as Dr. Robert. It was just a lark at at the time, but it ended up sticking. The name came from the 1966 Beatles song "Doctor Robert," which originally appeared on the UK version of Rubber Soul (in the US it appeared on Yesterday and Today).  2) Although the band would only get one song on the US charts, a cover tune they recorded was featured on one of the biggest soundtrack albums in music history. RCA Records was in charge of the soundtrack to the film Dirty Dancing, starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. The label tapped The Blow Monkeys to supply a track for the album and given limited time to record one, the band selected to do a cover of Lesley Gore's 1963 #2 hit "You Don't Own Me." The film became a big box office success and the soundtrack did even better spending 18 weeks at #1 and selling over 32 million copies worldwide making the fourth biggest selling soundtrack of all time after The Bodyguard, Saturday Night Fever, and Grease.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

"A Different Corner" by George Michael

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2707
Date:  04/26/1986
Debut:  57
Peak:  7
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  The spring of '86 was both good and not so good for the duo known as Wham! George Michael and Andrew Ridgely had just scored their fifth Top 10 hit in a row with "I'm Your Man," yet Michael wanted to move on from the teen pop sounds of Wham! into something more mature. To do that, he needed to go solo so the duo decided to split. But before going their separate ways, they decided to record a few more songs and issue out a last album. In the UK and other territories, the duo assembled a more compilation-like double album titled The Final. For the US and a couple other countries, a single album called Music from the Edge of Heaven was released. "I'm Your Man" was included on the disc as well as this single, which was solely credited to George Michael. The plaintive ballad made it into the Pop Top 10 while also reaching #6 at AC. It would help push the album to #10 and go platinum.

ReduxReview:  I was a little taken aback when I first heard this track. Coming off the goofy "I'm Your Man," this lovely tune was so unexpected. I think folks knew that George Michael had some skills going on, especially after "Careless Whisper," but this song confirmed that he had the chops to carry a solo career with something more than the bubblegum pop of Wham. This is an elegant track with a new maturity and a terrific vocal. Sadly, I rarely hear this song anymore. It comes up in my playlists, but it has kind of taken a back seat to Michael's bigger hits out in the world. Although his Faith album would be the one to cement his solo career, this is the song that really signaled the beginning.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This song was George Michael's first solo hit in the US. Elsewhere in the world it was his second. When the song "Careless Whisper" was first released as a single in 1984, it was credit only to George Michael except for in the US. Apparently, his US label wasn't sure Michael's sole name could carry the single so they decided to credit it to Wham! featuring George Michael. Therefore it's not been considered a Michael solo song in the US. In the UK it was considered a solo effort and credited as such. The song reached #1 as did "A Different Corner." That made Michael the first solo act in the UK to hit #1 with their first two singles.


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

"Rain on the Scarecrow" by John Cougar Mellencamp

Song#:  2706
Date:  04/26/1986
Debut:  64
Peak:  21
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Mellencamp's Scarecrow album was on its way to selling over five million copies thanks to three Top 10 hits. After the third single, "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.," made it to #2 this album opening track was selected to be the follow-up. The song reached #16 at Rock while just missing out on the Pop Top 20. It was Mellencamp's twelfth Top 40 hit. In addition to being a big hit, the Scarecrow album would also be a critical success. It would later be placed at #95 on the Rolling Stone list of the 100 Best Albums of the 80s.

ReduxReview:  While I think this was a good single choice, it was pretty dark and serious for pop radio. The story of a third generation farmer losing his land and most all that goes with it was not necessarily something synthpop loving teeny boppers could relate to, yet the song nearly cracked the Top 20. It think it showed how popular Mellencamp and his music was at the time and demonstrated that if done right, listeners can relate to a serious, topical song. I also think that the song's MTV video and the issues raised by Mellecamp's Farm Aid concert effort certainly helped. It's one of Mellencamp's hardest hitting songs and as the opening track of Scarecrow it set the tone for the LP and showed that Mellencamp was maturing as a songwriter. And if I haven't mentioned it before, Kenny Aronoff's drumming on this album is master class killer.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  The lead single from the album, "Lonely Ol' Night," wasn't the only song on Scarecrow to contain a movie reference. This track did too. The lyrics go: "He said 'John, it's just my job and I hope you understand.' Hey calling it your job old hoss sure don't make it right." This line stems from the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke starring Paul Newman. In the film, Newman's character, Luke, is in chain gang prison and at one point he is sent to a tiny solitary confinement area called "the box." When being taken there, the guard says, "sorry Luke, I'm just doing my job. You gotta appreciate that." Luke then replies "nah, calling it your job don't make it right, Boss." The film was a box office hit and was nominated for four Oscars including Best Actor for Newman. George Kennedy won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

"Vienna Calling" by Falco

Song#:  2705
Date:  04/26/1986
Debut:  70
Peak:  18
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Europop, Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  Austria's Falco made an indelible mark on the Pop chart when his "Rock Me Amadeus" spent three weeks at the top. The quirky German-language talk/rap tune became an 80s camp classic and made Falco a one-hit wonder in the US, even though technically he wasn't due to this follow-up track that made the Top 20. It was just that "Rock Me Amadeus" was such an overpowering hit that it far overshadowed this tune, which most folks have forgotten. Like "Rock Me," this song was a new edit/remix done specifically for the US single release (it was titled "The New '86 Edit/Mix) . The version found on the US release of Falco 3 was much longer (at 7+ minutes) and different from the four-minute one found on the original European album. It would end up being Falco's final single to reach the US Pop chart. His next album, Emotional, would contain the single "The Sound of Musik," which was able to get to #16 on the US Dance chart. After that he would mainly just have hits in Austria and Germany. Sadly, Falco died from injuries he sustained in a car accident in 1998.

ReduxReview:  How do you follow up a kooky hit? With another one, of course! While not quite as off the rails as "Rock Me Amadeus," this track was still fun even though I had zero idea as to what it was about. Its mix of German and English certainly didn't help. The chorus was strong and the US mix of the track was better than the album versions. I thought it might dip into the Top 10 but it stopped a bit short. At the time, I enjoyed this track just as much as I did "Rock Me." Unfortunately, this one quickly faded and became a "lost song" of the 80s while "Rock Me" lived on.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  A third single, "Jeanny," would be issued out from the album. The original version of the song had Falco doing a spoken word section in German that led to a chorus sung in English. For the US single release, a special radio edit of the song was done with Falco doing the spoken word section in English as well. While the song was a big hit in several European countries, it failed to chart in the US. The song would be highly controversial in Europe. Falco has said that the lyrics were just point-of-view musings of a stalker, but many interpreted that Jeanny was eventually raped by the stalker. It didn't help that there was a "news flash" included in the song that talks about missing persons including a 19-year-old girl, which alluded to murder. The song was outright banned by several radio stations while others only played it at night or with a front-loaded warning. Of course, the controversy probably helped sell records and it hit #1 in at least six European countries. On his next album, Falco continued the story of Jeanny with the track "Coming Home (Jeanny Part II, One Year Later)." It would also reach the Top 10 in several countries.


Monday, March 11, 2019

"Who's Johnny" by El DeBarge

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2704
Date:  04/26/1986
Debut:  75
Peak:  3
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Dance-Pop, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  The family band DeBarge had their peak moment with their #19 gold selling album Rhythm of the Night. It should have led the siblings to something even greater, but drug addiction and other factors took a toll on the group and their leading force El DeBarge finally decided to exit and try for a solo career. Staying with Motown's Gordy label, DeBarge moved forward and recorded his self-titled debut solo album. The first single from the LP would be this track, which also served as the theme song to the sci-fi comedy film Short Circuit. The tune took off and hit the #1 spot at R&B while reaching the Pop Top 10. It also made it to #10 Dance and #18 AC. The hit helped to make the album a gold seller. DeBarge's solo career was off and running.

ReduxReview:  This infectious piece of pop candy was one of those love-it-or-loathe-it kind of songs. For me it was quirky fun. I got a kick out of the track even though it was nothing like the smooth sounds DeBarge had been doing with his family. It was an in-your-face 80s synthpop tune boosted by a popular film. The bummer part was his album. DeBarge had proved himself to be a good songwriter and producer, yet when it came to his solo debut, he did neither. All the songs were written by A-list songwriters supplying their best B-list material. Established writers included Diane Warren, Jay Graydon, Burt Bacharach, Robbie Nevil, Randy Goodrum, and in the case of this song Peter and Ina Wolf, the husband/wife team that had just scored a #1 with Starship's "Sara." Peter Wolf and Graydon would co-produce the LP. I'm guessing the label wanted to turn DeBarge into a big crossover artist and took over control of content and production in order to make it happen. It resulted in a gold album, but in the process they eliminated the soul that made DeBarge famous. The LP is full of mediocre AC-leaning pop tracks. It's a shame they didn't let DeBarge take full control. He might have created a special debut. But it seems the music machine was in full motion and DeBarge was caught in it. This song was really the only bright spot on an otherwise bland album. DeBarge deserved better.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  The film Short Circuit, which starred Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg, was mainly about an escaped robot named Number 5 that ends up being befriended by Sheedy's character. This song was written to be used in the film and those involved in the making liked it so much that they included a scene near the end where Number 5 changes his name to Johnny 5. Although the movie received a mixed critical reaction, it was a sizable box office hit. It did well enough to warrant a sequel that came out in 1988. Sheedy and Guttenberg did not appear in the film. It starred Fisher Stevens, who was a side character in the original. The film was far more expensive to make and took in only half of what the original did making it a box office dud.


Sunday, March 10, 2019

"Out of Mind, Out of Sight" by Models

Song#:  2703
Date:  04/26/1986
Debut:  90
Peak:  37
Weeks:  13
Genre:  Rock, New Wave

Pop Bits:  This Australian band was formed in 1978 by singer/guitarist Sean Kelly. Two years later they were signed to Mushroom Records and proceeded to release three albums with each one more successful than the last. When 1985 rolled around, they got their first Top 10 hit in Australia with "Barbados," the second single from their fourth album Out of Mind, Out of Sight. The title track was select as the follow-up single and it went straight to #1. The success of the songs and the LP led to an international distribution deal with Geffen Records. The title track was issued out as a single in the US and it gained some attention at Rock getting to #22. The tune was also able to cross over to the Pop chart where it got inside the Top 40. Another track from the LP, "Cold Fever," got to #29 at Rock as well. Unfortunately, the band's follow-up album, 1986's Models' Media, failed to produce similar results and by 1988 the band had split.

ReduxReview:  I remember liking the bluesy rock feel to this song and the honking synths. I ended up buying the single. At the time they kind of had an INXS feel to them and I thought this song would do better than it did. It was a major hit in their homeland and probably still gets airplay there, but in the US it became a lost Top 40 single. It's a hooky track that is still a fun listen.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  The band's first bass guitarist was Pierre Sutcliff, aka Pierre Voltaire. Sutcliff stayed with the band during its first six months, but then left due to creative differences and was replaced. Sutcliff played with other bands, but ultimately chose a different career path once the rock 'n' roll dream faded. Later in 2014, Sutcliff would become a celebrity in Australia thanks to a game show. As a contestant on Million Dollar Minute, Sutcliff would end up winning over $500,000 (somewhere around $440,000 in US money at the time). It was the largest amount won by a contestant on an Australian daytime game show. Sutcliff had the option of playing for the full million, but opted to take the money and run. Had he played on and answered incorrectly, he would have forfeited the $500,000 and only received $75,000. Three other contestants would follow in Sutcliff's footsteps and take home the half million. In 2015, a contestant became the first and only to win the full million. After three seasons, the show was cancelled (probably due to running out of prize money...).