Saturday, October 5, 2019

"Coming Around Again" by Carly Simon

Song#:  2912
Date:  11/01/1986
Debut:  97
Peak:  18
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  The 70s were a great decade for Simon. She scored five Top 10 hits including the 1972 #1 "You're So Vain" and earned five gold or platinum albums. But like many artists who were superstars in the 70s, the 80s proved difficult. Simon started off on a good note with the #11 gold record "Jesse" (1980), but everything else after that fell flat. Her albums sold less and less. She switched labels from Warner to Epic, but they dropped her after the poor performance of her 1985 LP Spoiled Girl. Then Clive Davis and Arista Records came calling. They decided to give Simon a shot and work began on her thirteenth studio album Coming Around Again. Simon would write or co-write the majority of songs for the album, but the tracks were helmed by eight different producers and Davis oversaw the entire project. To get things started, this title track would be issued out as the LP's first single. It debuted near the bottom of the Pop chart, which is usually not a good sign, but it slowly gained an audience and eventually wound up in the Top 20. It did even better at AC reaching #5 (her eleventh Top 10 there). The hit sparked sales of the album, which made it to #25. It would eventually be a platinum seller. Simon would earn a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, for the album. It was a significant comeback for Simon and although this would end up being her last solo Pop Top 40 entry, she was able to parlay the success of the album to other projects over the next few years.

ReduxReview:  When this came out it was like a sigh of relief - ahhh yes, Simon is back to being Simon! Whether it was her or her label(s), Simon spent the first half of the decade trying to figure out how to be a viable artist in the 80s.  She tried a standards album and took detours into diva synthpop, but most of it sounded forced and just didn't work. Finally, it seemed that Clive Davis allowed Simon to write songs and choose material without worrying about trends or hits. When allowed to breathe, Simon got back to the solid songwriting that made her a star in the 70s. Just like this first single, it all sounded so easy and relaxed. The producers also did well by adding modern nuances to the arrangements without overwhelming Simon with walls of synths and effects. I quickly fell for this track and enjoyed the album as well. It was easily her best effort since her 70s heydays and Simon sounded excellent. Like many comebacks, Simon's proved to be brief, but it was an important one because after this it seemed she stayed true to herself instead of buckling to trends or whims of label execs.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  In addition to this song being on Simon's album, it was also used in the rom-com flick Heartburn. The film starred Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson and was directed by Mike Nichols. The screenplay was written by Nora Ephron and was based on her book of the same name. In addition to its two superstar leads, the movie also featured other big names like Stockard Channing and Jeff Daniels. With everyone involved, it seemed like a can't-miss hit. Unfortunately, critics were not kind and it happened to debut the same week as a little sci-fi film titled Aliens. The movie did well enough at the box office to cover costs, but it was not the hit some expected.


Friday, October 4, 2019

"Goin' to the Bank" by Commodores

Song#:  2911
Date:  11/01/1986
Debut:  98
Peak:  65
Weeks: 12
Genre:  R&B, Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  The Lionel Richie-less Commodores finally proved they could be a success without him with the #3 Pop/#1 R&B hit "Nightshift." The song earned them a Grammy and their album of the same name would be a gold seller. Wanting to continue their success, the band got into the studio to record their next album. It would be titled United and this first single from the LP was issued out. It was a winner at R&B becoming their sixteenth Top 10 hit on that chart (#2). The song crossed over to Pop, but it didn't really take off and ended up stalling in the bottom half of the chart. It would end up being the band's last song to get on the Pop chart. Two more singles from the album had mixed results with one getting to #38 at R&B and the other #22 at AC. The album got to #17 at R&B, but could only manage a minor #101 showing at Pop. The band would release Rock Solid in 1988, but it failed to chart. It would be their last major label effort. They would then go through personnel changes and independently release a couple of album, but after 1993 they stopped recording. They have continued to tour over the years still attracting crowds.

ReduxReview:  Although the band did collaborate with a few outside writers for the album, I think the problem they had was in direction. People loved the smooth groove of "Nightshift" and they probably should have kept things headed that way and perhaps collaborated with someone like Babyface that would have given them a modern R&B sheen. Instead, they tried to secure crossover hits by employing dance-pop songwriters and in doing so lost their personality. This song is a great example of that. It plays like a weak Janet Jackson or Pointer Sisters track with a groan-inducing spoken word section featuring one of them using an accent (WTF?). He then later does a sort of rap section. It's just weird and it doesn't work at all. Contrary to what people might think, not all of their earlier hits were written by Lionel Richie, so the band had the talent to write good songs. It just seems like they couldn't decide on a direction after he left and that pretty much did them in.

ReduxRating:  3/10

Trivia:  One of the Commodores' mellowest hits, 1977's #4 Pop/#1 R&B "Easy" written and sung by Lionel Richie, has been covered by many artists, but only one other act has reached the Pop chart with a version. Alternative Rock/Metal band Faith No More began to include the song in their shows as a bit of a lark to toy with their audience. Surprisingly, it kind of caught on and the band decided to go ahead and record the tune in the sessions for their fourth album, 1992's Angel Dust. The tune didn't make it onto the standard version of the album, but it was eventually released as a single later in 1993 and tacked on to later pressings of Angel Dust. The song was just a minor hit in the US reaching #58, but it went on to become their biggest overall hit in Europe reaching the Top 10 in several countries. It did even better in Australia where it reached #1.


Thursday, October 3, 2019

"Is This Love" by Survivor

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2910
Date:  10/25/1986
Debut:  74
Peak:  9
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  The band's fifth album, Vital Signs, was their first with new lead singer Jimi Jameson. It proved to be a million-selling success thanks to three Top 20 hits including the #4 power ballad "The Search Is Over." After a soundtrack detour with the #2 hit "Burning Heart" from Rocky IV, the band got back in the studio to record their next album, When Seconds Count. They basically stayed on the commercial rock course they established with Vital Signs with members Frankie Sullivan and Jim Peterik writing the songs (with a few assists from Jameson) and Ron Nevison producing. The formula worked well for this first single as it became their fifth Pop Top 10. It didn't do quite as well at Rock where it only managed a #27 showing. It also got on the AC chart at #25. While it wasn't a massive hit, it was a solid way to get the album kicked off. Unfortunately, it would be the last time Survivor would be in the Pop Top 40.

ReduxReview:  While their music was always riding the thin line between pop and rock, this tune was probably their most commercial pop effort - and it was a solid one. It had nice melodies, a hooky chorus, cool bridge, and quality Heart-ish production courtesy of Nevison (see below). The key change for the final chorus was a nice touch as well. It deservedly became a hit, but it came at a bit of a cost. Rock radio was beginning to ignore the band and their more mainstream sound (this song did better at AC!) and the lack of support there played into album sales and performance of their next singles. Still, this was a terrific single and it's one that doesn't get played any longer, which is too bad.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This was Ron Nevison's third album with Survivor. In addition to Vital Signs and When Seconds Count, Nevison co-produced the band's 1979 self-titled debut album. The 80s was a a great decade for Nevison. In addition to working with Survivor, he also helmed Heart's two comeback albums, Heart and Bad Animals, along with producing hits for artists like Jefferson Starship, Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss, Chicago, Europe, and Damn Yankees. He began his career as an engineer working on classic albums like The Who's Quadrophenia  and Tommy, and Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti. He began to move over to the producer's chair with Thin Lizzy's 1974 album Nightlife. His first taste of success as a producer came in 1977 when he produced The Babys' Broken Heart, which spawned their first hit, the #13 "Isn't It Time."


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

"Don't Stand So Close to Me '86" by The Police

Song#:  2909
Date:  10/25/1986
Debut:  76
Peak:  46
Weeks:  9
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  After everything was wrapped up from their massively successful 1983 LP Synchronicity, The Police took a break. Sting ended up releasing a hit solo album while Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland worked on their own projects. The trio got back together for a few Amnesty International-related concerts before heading back into the studio to record what would be their sixth studio album. Unfortuantely, drummer Copeland fell off a horse and broke his collarbone right before the sessions were to begin and that left him out of commission. The trio still got together, but making new music seemed to be out of the question without Copeland playing drums. They then decided to try and update some of their older hits. Copeland would program electronic drums for the songs since he could not perform. The sessions were tense and arguments ensued. In the end, two songs got recorded. With no prospects for a new album, this track would be pushed out as a single and then included on a compilation LP titled Every Breath You Take: The Singles. The remake got some attention and was able to reach #10 at Rock, but it fell short of making the Pop Top 40. Following the release of the compilation, the trio called it quits. Their legacy includes five multi-platinum studio albums, six Top 10 hits, six Grammys, and a 2003 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

ReduxReview:  Remaking your own hit is a risky proposition. The new versions will nearly never outshine the original one. On rare occasions it does work like when Neil Sedaka revamped his teenybopper hit "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" into a mature ballad. Sedaka's second reading gave the song a whole new perspective and meaning. It went from a sassy high school dramady to a nostalgic weepy. Artist may do acoustic versions of their old song and those can be interesting, but usually unremarkable. Then in many cases the remake just falls flat as this one did from The Police. I mean, why on earth would they do a remake of a song that was a hit just six years earlier? No one really wanted to hear this and though time had passed, it wasn't like a brand new generation of kids were going to all of a sudden discover this song and the band. It was just weird. Maybe it was just a desperate way to try and stay together. Whatever the reason, it didn't work. The spark that make the intense and mysterious original so good was nearly extinguished by a languid new age arrangement. Perhaps if they had attempted this a couple decades later, it might have been better. At the time they just weren't mature enough to try and give a new perspective on one of their hits. Not enough time had passed and the band was in a bad place. The "De Do Do Do" remake (see below) was even worse. They should have just quit and walked away instead of forcing these tracks out.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) This is a remake of a song The Police originally recorded in 1980. It was the lead single from their third album Zenyatta Mondatta and was their first Top 10 hit in the US. In their UK homeland, it was their third #1 hit. This makes The Police one of only three artists to have had a hit, and then got on the chart again with a newly recorded version of the song. The first to do so was The Ventures. They reached #2 in 1960 with "Walk, Don't Run." Then four years later they recorded a new version titled "Walk, Don't Run '64." The new single got to #8. Neil Sedaka also accomplished the feat with his song "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." His original upbeat take reached #1 in 1962. In 1976, he recorded a ballad version that got to #8. There are other artists who have done this, but their second versions were either collaborations with other artists (Elton John's live duet with George Michael on "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me") or done as a solo piece (Eric Clapton's MTV Unplugged remake of his band Cream's "Layla") or lyrically altered (Elton John again with his Princess Diana revision of "Candle in the Wind").  2) The other song The Police recorded before they broke up was a remake of their second US Top 10 hit "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da." It was supposed to be included on the compilation LP, but they weren't happy with the finished tune and scrapped it. However, it did later get issued out on an updated 1995 special version of the compilation that was re-titled Every Breath You Take: The Classics.  3) Although this single was the last to be officially released by The Police, they did reach the chart again later in 1997. In preparation for a new compilation album, Sting worked with Puff Daddy on a remixed version of The Police's 1978 classic "Roxanne." It was titled "Roxanne '97 (Puff Daddy Remix)" and was credited to Sting & The Police. It was included on the compilation The Very Best of Sting & The Police and was issued out as a single. It got to #59 Pop and #20 R&B while reaching #17 in the UK.


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

"Love Is Forever" by Billy Ocean

Song#:  2908
Date:  10/25/1986
Debut:  77
Peak:  16
Weeks:  16
Genre:  R&B, Adult Contemporary, Pop

Pop Bits:  Ocean's sixth album, Love Zone, would be his second multi-platinum success thanks in part to three Top 10 hits including the #1 "There'll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)." This fourth single was selected for release and it would end up doing very well at AC reaching #1 and staying there for three weeks. It was his third (and final) #1 on that chart. The tune would also be a success at R&B making it to #10. It crossed over to the Pop chart, but just couldn't quite make it into the Top 10. Still, the run of hit singles was impressive and they helped the album sell over two million copies.

ReduxReview:  I vaguely remember this album closer. It's a lovely little tune that sounds like something Burt Bacharach and Carol Bayer Sager might have written for someone like Dionne Warwick. (Ocean co-write the song with producers Barry Eastmond and Wayne Braithwaite.) While it is pretty and well-done with a nice vocal from Ocean, it's not as memorable as Ocean's other hit singles. Perhaps a bigger, more effective arrangement might have sold the tune better. As-is it is pleasant, if unremarkable, listen.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Ocean's first hit came in 1976 with "Love Really Hurts Without You." The song did okay in the US reaching #22, but it did much better in Europe, especially in the UK where it got to #2. Ocean would remain popular in England where he resided and the Love Zone album would be his best effort there reaching #2 and going gold. In addition to the four singles that were released in the US, the UK saw one additional track released. "Bittersweet" would be a minor hit getting to #44. After a five-single run from the album, Ocean's first hit would get a new dance remix and be issued out as a single. The '86 dance mix of "Love Really Hurts Without You" would grab a little bit of airplay and make it to #81 on the UK chart. The track was released in a few other European territories, but it was not put out in the US.


Monday, September 30, 2019

"Crazay" by Jesse Johnson with Sly Stone

Song#:  2907
Date:  10/25/1986
Debut:  78
Peak:  53
Weeks:  16
Genre:  R&B, Funk

Pop Bits:  The former Time member's first solo album, Jesse Johnson's Revue (which was credited to that "group"), did quite well getting to #8 R&B and #43 Pop. It included three R&B Top 10's including the #4 "Be Your Man" (#61 Pop). It sold well enough to call for a follow-up album and Johnson came up with the solo billed Shockadelica. This first single, a duet with the legendary Sly Stone, was pushed out and it was a winner at R&B reaching #2. It would be his biggest hit on that chart and also the Pop chart where it nearly cracked the Top 50. It also got to #12 at Dance. It was a solid hit, but further singles couldn't keep pace and would only reach the R&B Top 30 while missing the Pop chart. The lack of further hits took a bit of a toll on album sales and it would top out at #15 R&B and #70 Pop, which was a slight dip from his debut effort.

ReduxReview:  The Prince influence is still on full display here with this track's Minneapolis sound. What's good is that it doesn't sound like a ripoff. Johnson just took what he learned from his Prince/The Time days and applied it to his own songs. It worked well and this song ranks among Johnson's best efforts. It's a cool, hooky jam that could have been a solid entry in either Prince's or The Time's catalog. The tune should have done better on the Pop chart. I think the only thing I quibble with is the addition of Sly Stone. It was probably great to work with him and have his name to promote, but I don't think he really adds anything here. It's fine to have him aboard, but I think Johnson could have handled this on his own.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  The Shockadelica title gained an usual history. The word was something that Johnson had been using as a descriptor for a few years and he thought it would be a good album title. Johnson's former boss Prince got to hear the album prior to its release and Prince's only quibble was that the LP had a fantastic title but there wasn't a track on the album with the same name. He thought there should be. Johnson disagreed and it seemed that would be the end of it. However, Prince couldn't seem to get the title out of his head and it apparently bothered him to the point where he went to his studio and wrote one. He then sent it over to Johnson for him to use, but Johnson said no thanks. He wanted to do his work independently without the help or influence of Prince. According to Johnson, that is when Prince told him that if he didn't record and put it out, he would and when people hear the word "shockadelica", they would think of him, not Johnson. Johnson still declined. Prince then did record a version of the song and prior to Johnson's album being released, Prince got the song played on a Minneapolis radio station. Some folks say that this was a joke that Prince pulled on Johnson, but we all know that Prince could get...well...Prince-ly at times and chances are he was a little miffed that his song was rebuffed by Johnson. I mean...who would dare turn down Prince? Around the same time, Prince then was assembling a new album titled Camille and he decided to include the song on the project. Camille was a feminine alter-ego that Prince came up with and he wanted to release the album under the name and not associate his own. That project ended up being shelved, but then the song was going to part of his new triple-disc LP Crystal Ball. It was also slated to be the first single. But then his label balked at a triple album and it was pared down to his 1987 classic Sign o' the Times. "Shockadelica" did not make the album, but it did get released as the b-side to the set's second single "If I Was Your Girlfriend" (#12 R&B/#68 Pop). Note that Prince did release a triple-CD set in 1998 titled Crystal Ball, but only the title track was used from the original 1986 version.


Sunday, September 29, 2019

"The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades" by Timbuk 3

Song#:  2906
Date:  10/25/1986
Debut:  85
Peak:  19
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Alternative Rock, Folk-Rock

Pop Bits:  In 1978, musician Barbara Kooyman was getting herself established in Madison in order to attend the University of Wisconsin. She happened to walk into a coffee shop where Pat MacDonald was performing. She loved his songs and it wasn't long before they were dating and each was maintaining and performing with their own bands. Eventually, Kooyman (her stage name was Barbara K) decided to break up her band and she joined up with MacDonald's outfit. Along the way, the two got married. After MacDonald's band called it quits, the couple came up with the idea to perform together and create their own rhythm section without hiring other band members. They moved to Austin, Texas, and soon began to get gigs around town as Timbuk 3. They got a break when the MTV show The Cutting Edge came to town. The monthly program showcased new talent from a few regions of the country. It was a joint venture between MTV and I.R.S. Records. Scouts for the show liked what the duo had to offer and they got on the show. They were also invited to perform at an event for the show in L.A. It was there that the head of I.R.S. heard the duo and decided to sign them. Work began on a debut album with little expectations to become a major success. In fact, just a few thousand vinyl LPs and cassettes were pressed for release. The final product was titled Greetings from Timbuk3 and it was decided that this song would be the first single. Promos got pressed and passed around while the duo hit the road to perform. Unexpectedly, DJs began spinning the promo and the song started to catch on. The label had to quickly get singles, LPs and CDs pressed as demand began to grow for the duo's music. By the end of '86, the single made the Pop Top 20 while getting to #14 at Rock. A second single, "Life Is Hard," got to #35 at Rock, but failed to make the Pop chart. Still, the album did well getting to #50. All together, it was enough to capture the attention of the Grammy folks and the duo got a nomination for Best New Artist. The duo certainly hit the big time, but keeping their audience proved to be difficult. Their second album was far less successful peaking at #107 with no singles charting at Pop. They would record two more albums for I.R.S. that didn't chart followed by two indie LPs and one EP. By 1995, Timbuk 3 called it a day professionally and personally with the pair getting a divorce.

ReduxReview:  Yeah, this just wasn't my cup of tea. It's like some goofy tune from the Woodstock era that despite its frivolous sunny disposition had a cynical dark side. Come for the hippie-ish, hooky, folk-rock...stay for the deceptively smart lyrics that most people didn't get (or really want to)! I've seen acts like this before. Quirky musicians that perform locally and gain a solid following. Sure they may have higher aspirations than playing the local venues, but sometimes their music just doesn't translate to a wider, mainstream audience. I think Timbuk 3 were like that, however what they had over other similar artists is this song. Even though I didn't much care for it (I smelled one-hit wonder from a mile away), I did recognize that it was a cute little jam with a hooky, quotable title that would play well to a lot of people. The problem was that offbeat acts like this don't tend to last long. They were not going to be commercially viable like other pop artists. They were not going to purposely write a hit song and were not going to let others write for them, so their shelf life was limited before this hit was even off the chart. Still, they had their moment in the sun and even got a Grammy nod.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Pat MacDonald would go on to record some solo albums, but he also collaborated with a few high-profile artists. Songs he co-wrote showed up on albums by Night Ranger, Peter Frampton, and Alannah Myles. He also co-wrote a few with the legendary Cher. These were songs that Cher had lyrically started at a songwriter's workshop and via connections, MacDonald was brought in to flesh out the tunes. These songs plus others that Cher co-wrote created an album she wanted to release, but her label deemed it uncommercial and refused to put it out. The project sat around for several years before Cher just decided to release it digitally on her own. It was issued out on Cher's website in 2000 as  2) This song's sound and title certainly made it one that had a lot of appeal to advertisers. Yet it's never been heard in any commercial or featured in any ad campaign. Why is that? It is because both MacDonald and Kooyman have refused to grant the rights for use. They have their own reasons why, but it kind of boils down to them not wanting their artistic vision commercialized or used to sell masses of products. The companies they have turned down are not minor players - Ford, Ray-Bans, and even the US Army have come calling to no avail. It was even reported that they turned down an offer of $900,000 from AT&T. Like they say, money can't buy everything.