Saturday, September 7, 2019

"Love Is the Hero" by Billy Squier

Song#:  2884
Date:  10/04/1986
Debut:  91
Peak:  80
Weeks:  5
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Squier's fourth album, Signs of Life, would be his third platinum seller in a row thanks to what would end up being his biggest Pop chart hit, the #15 "Rock Me Tonite" (#1 Rock). However, it came at a bit of a cost. The infamous video for "Rock Me Tonite," which had Squier prancing around in a pink tank top that he finally rips off didn't sit well with a good chunk of his rock fans. His image as a tough rock guy took a hit he was going to need something pretty fierce to gain back his audience. Two years after the video debacle, Squier came back with his new LP Enough Is Enough. This first single would set the tone for the album and unfortunately it wasn't a good one. The track did tepidly well at Rock getting to #17, but it was virtually ignored at Pop where it peaked near the bottom of the chart. A second single, "Shot o' Love," could only get to #30 at Rock while missing the Pop chart completely. With those results, the album stalled at a minor #61 and couldn't get close to gold-level sales. It was a major disappointment for Squier and it would take him nearly three years to release a new album and try to woo back his audience.

ReduxReview:  Squier definitely tried to be less flamboyant and colorful on the new album and made an attempt to get back to basics. Even the cover is sedate with just a brooding image of Squier and very little flare. He also kept the video to this song reined in and basically just did a performance video with his band. It all might have worked had the material been stronger. This song is okay and the appearance of Mercury is a nice add, but it just wasn't a strong single contender. Especially when you compare it to some of his earlier hit like "The Stroke." The balance of the album wasn't much better. He penned most of the LP himself and he probably would have benefited from having an of-the-moment songwriter to collaborate with such as Desmond Child. I think he could have overcame the backlash from the "Rock Me Tonite" video. He just needed an undeniable hit to do it and this one wasn't it.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Squier was certainly friendly with the members of Queen as some of them would lend a hand on three of Squier's albums. Both Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor supplied backing vocals on the title track of Squier's 1982 LP Emotions in Motion. Then on his next LP, 1984's Signs of Life, Brian May stopped by to do a guitar solo on the track "(Another) 1984." Then for Enough Is Enough, Freddie Mercury returned to do backing vocals for "Love Is the Hero" and he also co-wrote the album track "Lady with a Tenor Sax" with Squier.


Friday, September 6, 2019

"Stairway to Heaven" by Far Corporation

Song#:  2883
Date:  10/04/1986
Debut:  93
Peak:  89
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  German producer Frank Farian had major success in Europe throughout the mid- and late-70s with a vocal outfit he assembled called Boney M. The group would have eight #1's in Germany while getting nine Top 10's in the UK including two #1's. They were far less successful in the US where their only significant Pop chart entry was 1978's #30 "River of Babylon." As Boney M's fortunes waned in the 80s, Farian started to look for his next project. In 1984, Boney M recorded a cover of Paul Simon's "Mother and Child Reunion" for a Christmas album. The following year, Farian decided to revive the track, add some well-known musicians to it, and push it out as a charity single. Credited to Frank Farian Corporation, the song got some attention. This gave Farian the idea to form a new band that featured more well-known musicians. He assembled a group that included members of Toto, including singer Bobby Kimball who had just left Toto, and vocalist Robin McAuley. Farian shortened the name to Far Corporation and work began on a debut album that would be titled Division One. This first single was pushed out and it would do well in Europe making the Top 10 in few countries including the UK (#8). Eventually a deal was made to get the song over to the States and it was released in the fall on '86. Unfortunately, it didn't catch on and it stalled low on the chart after a short month. However, the success they had back home led to the band getting back together for a second album. A couple of singles were issued out ahead of the LP, but when they failed to chart, the album got shelved. Later in 1994, Farian would revive some of the tracks from the abandoned second album and gather a few members of the old band together for an official second album titled Solitude. However, the LP came and went to little notice and Far Corporation was laid to rest.

ReduxReview:  I have to admit that I was ready to chuck this tune aside with a low rating and move on. I mean, Frank Farian plus Toto, plus "Stairway" just seemed like a disaster in the making. Yet I have to say I didn't mind it. To me it almost sounds like an Alan Parsons Project take on the tune. As the song progresses, it gets more interesting, although the ending goes on a bit longer than necessary. It doesn't sound like they were trying to copy Zeppelin, but attempting to enhance and do something a little different. Is it among the best covers of the song? Probably not. But I found it to be interesting and a surprisingly nice listen.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Farian's name would later become more famous (and infamous) from another project he spearheaded. In 1988, he took two struggling musicians and signed them to be the faces for tracks he already recorded with other singers. The duo would be known as Milli Vanilli and they would go on to have a 6-million selling debut album that spawned five Top 10 hits in the US including three #1's. The LP would also earn Milli Vanilli a Grammy for Best New Artist. A year later, it was uncovered that the duo did not sing on the album even though they were credited as doing such and a historic music scandal was born.  2) This is a remake of a song originally recorded by Led Zeppelin. Their 1971 take was included on their biggest selling studio album Led Zeppelin IV. The eight-minute track became a rock radio staple and one of the most well-known songs in rock music history. Yet despite its popularity, the song was never released as a single. Their label, Atlantic, wanted to do so, but the band refused to have the song edited down into a much shorter single version. It was probably a good choice as it forced people to buy the album to get the song.


Thursday, September 5, 2019

"Welcome to the Boomtown" by David & David

Song#:  2882
Date:  10/04/1986
Debut:  94
Peak:  37
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  David Baerwald and David Ricketts began collaborating on music after meeting in a club. They recorded a demo and thanks to a connection, it wound up in the hands of a rep for A&M Records. The label signed the duo and they began work on a debut album. It would be titled Boomtown and this first single was issued out. It did well on the Rock chart getting to #8. It would crossover to Pop and after a slow climb it peaked just inside the Top 40. While it wasn't a huge hit, it got the duo noticed and that along with solid reviews helped album sales. It would reach #39 and eventually be certified as a gold record.

ReduxReview:  If Bruce Springsteen was born in L.A. instead of New Jersey, he might have written a song like this. Or maybe even John Mellencamp. It has a heartland, blue-collar rock feel yet there is also a sharper, West Coast edge that provides a bit of bitterness. I remember liking this song and nearly buying the album, but for some reason did not. Both the song and album have held up well over the years. It can be a bleak listen as it highlights the darker side of L.A. instead of its stereotypical sunny, dreamland image, but it's quite good and this hooky tune was it's best single candidate.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Later on in 1992, David Baerwald and a few other L.A. musicians including engineer/producer Bill Bottrell started a collaborative songwriting group that would gather at Bottrell's new recording studio once a week. They became known as the Tuesday Music Club and it was at one of their gatherings that regular member Kevin Gilbert introduced his girlfriend. She was trying to work up material for an album and began sitting in with the group. Soon the meetings turned into work sessions that in the end would result in the debut album by Sheryl Crow, appropriately titled Tuesday Night Music Club. Baerwald would get writing credit on seven of the LP's songs including its #2 Grammy-winning hit "All I Wanna Do." David Ricketts was also around for some of the sessions and co-wrote four of the tracks. Bottrell would produce the album. It would be a hugely successful debut album selling over 7 million copies and generating three Grammy wins.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

"Stand By Me" by Ben E. King

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2881
Date:  10/04/1986
Debut:  95
Peak:  9
Weeks:  21
Genre:  Soul, R&B, Pop, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  As a member of The Drifters, King sang the lead on two of their biggest hits, "There Goes My Baby" (#1 R&B/#2 Pop, 1959) and "Save the Last Dance for Me" (#1 R&B/#1 Pop, 1960). He left the group in 1960 for a solo career and had immediate success with the 1960 #10 Pop/#15 R&B hit "Spanish Harlem." His follow-up single that he co-wrote, "Stand By Me," would be his biggest solo hit reaching #4 Pop and #1 R&B. He would continue to place songs on the Pop and R&B charts throughout the 60s, but nothing would come close to the success of "Stand By Me." As the 70s began, King's career was floundering and he couldn't get anything on the charts. He signed on with Atlantic Records in 1975 and recorded the LP Supernatural Thing. The title track became a left-field hit reaching #1 at R&B and #5 Pop. He'd grab four Top 30 entries at R&B over the next few years, but his time recording for Atlantic came to an end after the disappointing performance of 1981's Street Tough. He'd then rejoin The Drifters and go out on successful tours with the group. Then in 1986 a film named after his biggest solo hit came out and King was suddenly in the spotlight again. Rob Reiner's coming-of-age film Stand By Me was set in 1959 and used hit songs from the era throughout including King's hit. The film was a box office success and led to King's tune being reissued as a single. Listeners young and old were drawn to the song and it ended up cracking the Pop Top 10 for a second time. It also made it to #10 at AC. The soundtrack album would do well getting to #31. The hit revived King's career. He signed a deal with EMI Manhattan and recorded a new album in 1987 titled Save the Last Dance for Me. The title track was a new version of the old Drifters hit and it was issued out as a single, but did not chart. Although King's revival period would be short, he would still continue to record and perform. King died in 2015.

ReduxReview:  This is certainly one of pop music's most enduring hits. In addition to being covered by scads of musicians, seven other artists besides King reached the Pop chart with versions including two in the 80s from Mickey Gilley (#22, 1980) and Maurice White (#50, 1985). Like I mention in those blog posts, I've never much cared for the tune. Yes, it's a well-written classic with a sing-a-long chorus that is hard to beat, but for some reason I just never gravitated towards it. I don't hate the song and King's original version is not necessarily something I'd turn off if it came on the radio or in a playlist, but I've just always felt meh about it. Still, the song has more than withstood the test of time and the fact that the original recording became a hit again 25 years after it was first released certainly says something. It's really hard to be mad at a true classic like this one.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Stand By Me was the third film that Rob Reiner directed. The screenplay was an adaptation of a 1982 novella by Stephen King titled The Body. The film was a well reviewed box office hit. At the time, Stephen King thought it was the most successful transfer of any of his works to the screen. The film would earn an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.  2) "Stand By Me" is one of a minor handful of songs where the same version by the same artist reached the Pop Top 10 twice. The first song to do so was Chubby Checker's 1960 #1 "The Twist." The tune was successful when first released, but it seemed that people weren't ready to give it up yet and in 1961 it got back on the chart and went to #1 for a second time. Bobby "Boris" Pickett's holiday hit "Monster Mash" got to #1 in 1962 and then #10 in 1973. Queen's rock classic "Bohemian Rhapsody" went to #9 on it's initial release in 1976 and then did better in 1992 reaching #2 after being featured in the hit comedy film Wayne's World. Along with "Stand By Me," these are the only songs to reach the Top 10 twice as actual reissues of the original singles. In these modern times of streaming, reissues are not necessary. Most all chart hits are available on some platform and songs can regain popularity on their own and make it back on the charts. When Prince died in 2016, two of his original Top 10 hits, "Purple Rain" and "When Doves Cry" briefly made the Top 10 again mainly based on streaming and social media popularity.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

"Fall on Me" by R.E.M.

Song#:  2880
Date:  10/04/1986
Debut:  96
Peak:  94
Weeks:  3
Genre:  Alternative Rock

Pop Bits:  R.E.M.'s first two albums were critically lauded and sold fairly well with each getting into the Top 40 of the Album chart without the aid of hit singles. With their audience growing, the band decided to switch things up and for their third album, Fables of the Reconstruction, they changed producers and recorded in England. The darker, Southern gothic-themed LP didn't charm the critics like their previous two and it failed to place a single on the Pop chart. Two tracks did okay on the Rock chart and that helped the album reach #28. The results were a bit disappointing as it did not advance the band's status or take them further into the mainstream. The band stayed in the States to record their fourth album, Lifes Rich Pageant. They recorded it at John Mellencamp's studio in Indiana and used Mellencamp's producer Don Gehman. Critical praise once again came the band's way and this lead single became their first to hit the Rock Top 10 (#5). Unfortunately, pop radio still wasn't on board with the band and the single stalled at the bottom of the Pop chart after a minor few weeks. Still, the album brought aboard more fans and by January of '87 it became R.E.M.'s first gold seller. It was a much needed improvement and the band was only going to go up from here.

ReduxReview:  This song inched the band closer to a more mainstream sound. Gehman's production worked well, Stipe was singing clearer, and the chorus was quite hooky. They still had some work to do to gain a wider audience, but this showed that they were on their way. I like the way that Stipe and Mike Mills snake the two melodies around each other. It's very effective and other songs on the album like "Hyena" do the same thing. This song should have done better than a measly #94, but at least Rock radio was on board and it gained the band a lot more fans.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Apparently, the album's title comes from a comedy film. The 1964 Blake Edwards flick A Shot in the Dark was the second to featured Peter Sellers and the bumbling detective Inspector Clouseau. In a scene where Clouseau opens a car door and falls into a water fountain, a maid named Maria (played by Elke Sommer) suggests the Inspector should get out of the wet clothes before he catches pneumonia. The Inspector replies to her: "Yes, I probably will. But it's part of life's rich pageant." The phrase "life's rich pageant" is an old English idiom that basically means accepting the unenjoyable things that happen in life. R.E.M. took the phrase, minus the apostrophe, and turned it into an album title.


Monday, September 2, 2019

"For Tonight" by Nancy Martinez

Song#:  2879
Date:  10/04/1986
Debut:  98
Peak:  32
Weeks:  21
Genre:  Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  This Canadian singer started gaining experience as a background vocalist before stepping out on her own. She had a couple of singles under different stage names (Nancy Martin and Jade) that got a little bit of notice. Then under her given name Martinez signed with an indie label and pushed out a debut album in 1983 titled Lay It Down. Her singles did fairly well in Canada and in Europe and a couple more post-album singles were released including a duet with her husband Allen Harris, "Sunshine Reggae/La Vie en Rose," which did well in Canada. She finally got a bigger break when Atlantic records picked her up and release her new single, "For Tonight," in the US. The song became popular in the clubs and it would eventually get to #2 on the Dance chart. The single would then crossover to Pop where it debuted low on the chart. It floated around the chart for quite a long time before finally peaking inside the Top 40. An album, Not Just the Girl Next Door, would follow and it would reach #178. A second single, "Move Out," would get to #12 at Dance, but failed to reach the Pop chart. "For Tonight" would end up being her only song to reach the US Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  I had forgotten about this Latin-tinged, Hi-NRG track. It's a solid piece of dance-pop and Martinez had a voice that rose above the typical thin-voiced dance divas. The balance of material on her album wasn't too bad, but beyond this song there wasn't another that could break her further into the mainstream. It's a shame that after this she just didn't get paired with the right material as she had the goods to be a bigger star.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Following the album, it seems Atlantic gave Martinez another shot at getting a big hit. She recorded the song "Can't Wait" and it was issued out as a single. While it was able to reach #17 at Dance, it failed to get on the Pop chart and that ended Martinez's days at Atlantic. It took a couple of years, but she was able to sign with the A&M subsidiary Vendetta. Her third album, Unpredictable, was issued out in Canada. Singles from the LP didn't do much and that ended her time with A&M. Martinez was fluent in French and in 1990 signed with Quebec label ISBA. She would record three francophone albums for the label. Martinez would continue to perform and record over the years, but her peak of popularity came with "For Tonight."


Sunday, September 1, 2019

"Amanda" by Boston

#1 Alert!
Song#:  2878
Date:  09/27/1986
Debut:  51
Peak:  1 (2 weeks)
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Formed by multi-instrumentalist Tom Scholz, this arena rock band burst onto the charts in 1976 with their #5 hit "More Than a Feeling." Their self-titled debut album would hit #3 and would be a consistent seller for years after eventually selling over 17 million copies making it one of the biggest albums of all-time. It would also earn them a Grammy nod for Best New Artist. They followed up their debut with the 7 million selling Don't Look Back in 1978, which featured the #4 title track. They were one of the biggest acts in music, but on their way to record a third album, problems arose. Issues and a lawsuit with their label Epic (CBS) combined with Scholz's non-hurried, perfectionist style in the studio kept the band on the sidelines for several years. Yet Scholz continued to record over a six-year period and after the lawsuit was settled, the band finally issued out their third album, Third Stage, for MCA Records. Of course one of the biggest questions about their return was if anyone cared. Nine years is a long time between recordings and with a new generation of kids buying records and new styles of music on the charts, would anyone want to tune into Boston's old school arena rock. With the results of this first single, the answer was an overwhelming "yes." The tune nearly debuted in the top half of the Pop chart and then steadily climbed until it reached the apex. The song would easily top the Rock chart while also getting to #13 at AC. The album then quickly shot to #1 and stayed there for four weeks. It would eventually sell over 4 million copies. Boston's return was a surprising success.

ReduxReview:  This song was a good one to re-introduce Boston. Power ballads were becoming more in-style at the time and the nostalgia factor of the band's return certainly helped. The tune was written and initially recorded in 1980 and it does have that late-70s arena rock band feel to it. I'd venture to say that if released in 1980 or '81, it might have been an even bigger hit riding the chart alongside similar acts peaking at the time like Journey and REO Speedwagon. Still, a couple weeks at #1  in '86 was quite the accomplishment. I wasn't a big Boston fan save for "More Than a Feeling," but I did appreciate this tune. It was expertly crafted by Scholz. It took six years to get out, but the song had a timeless feel that allowed it to still be a hit. Oh - and it hit #1 without the aid of an MTV video.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Back in the 60s and 70s, artists typically would release a new album a year with concert and compilations pushed out in between. For example, The Rolling Stones released fourteen studio albums in a ten-year period ('64-'74). That doesn't include two concert albums and at least five compilations. So when Boston signed their contact it called for ten albums over a six year period. Well, that's just not how Tom Scholz worked. It took two years for him to record Don't Look Back, which was a lengthy gap back then. And Scholz felt it was a rush job at that pace. When it looked like the third album was going to take even longer, CBS balked and filed a breach of contract lawsuit for failing to deliver product on time. Scholz then filed a counter-suit. The lawsuits took up the first half of the 80s and by 1985 Scholz's lawyers finally got him out from under CBS, which allowed him to move to MCA and release Third Stage. Yet the lawsuits weren't fully over and continued through to 1990 when Scholz proved victorious. These days, it's not unusual for an artist to take their time between albums. It took Adele four years to follow-up her mega-hit LP 21. Pink had a five year gap between a couple of her albums while it took ten years for Gwen Stefani to put out her third solo disc. The average gap between albums these days seems to be about two-to-three years. Still, that would be too short for Scholz. It would take eight years before Boston would put out their fourth album.