Saturday, October 19, 2019

"I'm for Real" by Howard Hewett

Song#:  2926
Date:  11/08/1986
Debut:  90
Peak:  90
Weeks:  3
Genre:  R&B, Soul

Pop Bits:  In 1979, Hewett would be hired in as the lead singer for the R&B trio Shalamar. He was the group's third lead singer since their formation in 1977. He came on just in time to sing on the trio's biggest hit, 1979's "The Second Time Around" (#1 R&B, #1 Dance, #8 Pop). Hewett would stay with Shalamar through to 1985 when he chose to leave for a solo career. He got a deal with Elektra Records and began work on a debut album to be titled I Commit to Love. This first single got issued out ahead of the LP and it did well getting to #2 at R&B. It crossed over to AC for a #31 showing, but it was virtually a non-starter at Pop where it spent a minor few weeks near the bottom of the chart. Three more singles from the album would reach the R&B chart including the #8 "Stay," but none would chart elsewhere. The LP would get to #14 at R&B, but peak at a minor #159 at Pop. Hewett's second album, 1988's Forever and Ever would feature the #9 R&B hit "Strange Relationship" (a duet with Lyn Davis), but it didn't sell as well as his debut. Hewett's 1990 self-titled effort would result in his biggest charting hit, the #2 R&B/#33 AC/#62 Pop entry "Show Me." It would help the album become his best seller reaching #8 R&B and #54 Pop. Hewett continued to record over the years but could only manage to get a few minor singles on the R&B chart.

ReduxReview:  Hewett jettisoned the dance-pop that Shalamar was doing in favor of a smoother R&B sound a la Luther Vandross and it worked well for him. He co-wrote and co-produced all but one of the tracks on the album, so it really was a reflection of Hewett as an artist. This is a good quiet storm ballad sung well by Hewett and one that played well at R&B. I'm guessing it was just a bit too "urban" at the time for Pop radio. Plus, Hewett wasn't a crooner like Gregory Abbott or Freddie Jackson whose voices and more pop/AC-friendly material set them up for crossover success. This was a solid introduction to the solo Hewett and it should have done a bit better at Pop.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Although this was Hewett's first solo hit, it wasn't his first single to reach the R&B chart. After he joined up with Elektra Records, his first assignment was to record a song for the soundtrack to the 1985 fantasy/rom-com film The Heavenly Kid. Hewett recorded the song "Obsession" and it was released as a single. It made a very minor impact on the R&B chart at #90. The Heavenly Kid starred Lewis Smith, Jason Gedrick, and future Malcolm in the Middle star Jane Kaczmareck. It was not a critical or box office success.  2) Hewett's debut album was titled I Commit to Love, but it nearly could have been called I Commit to Prison. In 1985, Hewett and his then fiancée Mari Molina were indicted in Miami for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. While awaiting trial, Hewett was able to sign a record deal with Elektra and record his debut album. At the summer of '86 trial, Molina testified that Hewett was not involved in the incident that got them arrested (Molina sold cocaine to an undercover officer in a mall parking lot) and he knew nothing about her drug trafficking. A jury acquitted Hewett of all charges. Molina plead guilty. She was given probation, but was sentenced to four-years in prison for a separate drug conviction. Despite that, Hewett and Molina married. They split not long after.


Friday, October 18, 2019

"Love in Siberia" by Laban

Song#:  2925
Date:  11/08/1986
Debut:  94
Peak:  88
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Europop

Pop Bits:  The Danish duo of Laban was made up of Ivan Pedersen and Lecia Jønsson. They got together in 1982, got signed to EMI, and released their first single that year which became a Top 10 hit in Denmark. Their self-titled debut album sold well, but their next two efforts, Laban 2 and Laban 3, were not as successful. For their fourth album, the duo would switch labels to Mega Records and release the sequentially titled Laban 4. It contained the song "Kold Som Is" (translated: "Cold As Ice"), which would become their second Top 10 in Denmark. In hopes of breaking through in other countries like the US, the duo recorded an English version of Laban 4. The album was titled Caught By Surprise and its first single was an English version of "Kold Som Is" titled "Love in Siberia." The song got a little bit of attention in the States and spent a month near the bottom of the chart. Further singles failed to chart. In 1987, the duo released their fifth album in both Danish and English as well (Laban 5 / Roulette). With its more rock-oriented feel, the album failed to do much of anything and it resulted in Laban parting ways the following year.

ReduxReview:  This is a pretty good Europop tune, but with the cool title and the fact that the duo hailed from Denmark, I was hoping for something a bit more interesting. It nearly sounded like something that Laura Branigan and her producers would have picked up in Europe and updated it for the US market (a la several of her hits and album tracks). It's a solid 80s track and perhaps if it had been promoted better via a major label, the single might have gotten higher on the chart.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  After the split, Lecia Jønsson attempted a solo career. She recorded albums in '89 and '90, but nothing much came from them. She continued on in the business mainly as a songwriter. In 2019, Jønsson wrote a tribute song to ABBA titled "ABBA We Love You Forever." It was recorded by a studio group she created called MoveOver. Jønsson sings on the song as well. Ivan Pedersen would go on to have further success with his next band called Backseat Boys (later just known as Backseat). Pedersen would serve as lead singer of the group and would co-write most of their songs. His work fronting the band earned him the Danish Grammy for Best Male Vocalist in 1996.


Thursday, October 17, 2019

"Nobody's Fool" by Cinderella

Song#:  2924
Date:  11/08/1986
Debut:  95
Peak:  13
Weeks:  21
Genre:  Hard Rock, Glam Metal

Pop Bits:  This Clifton Heights, Pennsylvania, band was formed in 1982 by musicians Tom Keifer and Eric Brittingham. Three years later, the band had a set lineup and thanks to some prodding by an established musician (see below), they got signed to Mercury. Work began on their debut album that would be titled Night Songs. The LP's first single, the raucous "Shake Me," didn't necessarily turn heads. It was only able to reach #41 on the Rock chart. For a follow-up, this power ballad was selected. It did better at Rock getting to #25, but exposure via a popular MTV video helped the song explode at Pop and it nearly cracked the Top 10. The hit boosted the album in a big way and it would reach #3 and go platinum by year's end. It would eventually sell over three million copies.

ReduxReview:  Like many of the glam/hair metal bands of the day, it would be a power ballad that would be their breakthrough. This dark, near-goth monster ballad was pretty hefty for pop radio, yet demand for the song helped it along and it did well enough in airplay and sales to push it into the Top 20. I didn't latch on to Cinderella at the time. Tom Keifer's vocals were quite similar to AC/DC's Brian Johnson and besides this song, I didn't think their material was all that great. I ended up liking them better with their next album, which started to move them closer to blues-rock. This track is still a good relic from the hair band era and it was lucky they had this in their back pocket. Otherwise, I don't think they would have broken through in such a big way and the label might have given them the boot.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  The band gained a lot of fans early on including a couple of famous musicians. Gene Simmons of Kiss saw the band and recognized their potential. He championed them at PolyGram Records, but the label just didn't have the same gut reaction as Simmons and declined to work with the band. A bit of time passed before another up-n-coming star caught one of their shows. Jon Bon Jovi heard them and like Simmons, became a fan. A big enough one to knock on the doors of PolyGram again to see if he could help get the band signed. The label still wasn't all that interested, but then finally offered the band a six-month development deal. That eventually led to a full contract with Mercury Records. It took two music stars and some prodding to get Cinderella a deal, but it finally happened and it paid off big time with their triple-platinum debut. The band would later spend eight months on the road opening up for Bon Jovi, which also raised their profile and popularity.


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

"At This Moment" by Billy Vera & the Beaters

#1 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  2923
Date:  11/08/1986
Debut:  96
Peak:  1 (2 weeks)
Weeks:  21
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Some songs are just destined to be hits. It could be upon initial release, or years later as in the case with this track. Back in 1981, Vera and his band recorded a live album titled Billy & the Beaters. The LP's first single, "I Can Take Care of Myself," just barely made the Pop Top 40 at #39. For a follow-up, they issued out "At This Moment." Unfortunately, the song didn't get promoted well and it ended up being a #79 blip on the chart. Vera then followed up the album with a self-titled solo effort, but it disappeared quickly. Vera then spent his time making money as an actor while performing in clubs on the weekends. In 1985, a producer from the hit TV show Family Ties happened to be in the audience for one of Vera's shows and heard "At This Moment." The show had been looking for a sad/romantic song for an episode and the producer thought Vera's song would be perfect. The song got played on the show and it caused a bit of a stir. People wanted to know who the singer was and where to get the song. The problem was that single wasn't available. Vera tried to get labels interested in distributing the tune or letting him re-record the song, but no one was bit. Then he got hooked up with Rhino Records, who were in the business of reissuing recordings. A deal was struck to reissue Vera's live album with a couple of track from his solo disc. Unfortunately, by the time records were ready, the hubbub over the song had died down. But luck seemed to be on the song's side as it got used again on Family Ties and this time around the interest in the tune was even stronger. With records now available, folks began buying them and the song started to hit the airwaves. It slowly caught on and finally reached the top of the Pop chart. It also made it to #1 at AC. The song's broad appeal also allowed it to chart at Country (#42) and R&B (#70). It would end up being a gold seller. The reissued album titled By Request: The Best of Billy Vera & the Beaters would do well getting to #15 and it would also go gold. A follow-up single from the album didn't chart, but the hit helped land Vera a contract with Capitol Records. He and the band would issue out the 1988 album Retro Nuevo. It failed to chart but did generate the #9 AC single "Between Like and Love."

ReduxReview:  There's not much more I can add to what I wrote in my original assessment. It was a terrific song that was lucky to get a second lease on life. The one note I would have is that I think "Between Like and Love" was unjustly ignored. My guess is that might have been a bit too similar to "At This Moment" and folks figured it to be a rehash and ignored it. Plus, it didn't have the benefit of being featured on a big TV show. The track did well at AC, but it really deserved to reach the Pop Top 40.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) In 2013, Vera would win a Grammy, but not for writing or performing music. In addition to his music and acting careers, Vera was also a music historian. He was tapped to write the liner notes to the Ray Charles compilation box set Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles. His work on the collection earned him the Grammy for Best Liner Notes.  2) "At This Moment" was used in Family Ties during scenes that featured the characters Alex Keaton (Michael J. Fox) and Ellen (Tracy Pollan). Alex and Ellen would get together as a couple during the show's fourth season. Fox and Pollan later moved their relationship from the show into real life. The pair would marry in 1988.


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

"Notorious" by Duran Duran

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2922
Date:  11/01/1986
Debut:  56
Peak:  2
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  After a whirlwind few years touring and making hits, Duran Duran decided to take a break. They were supposed to lay low and recover, but instead the members got itchy to do other things and off-shoot bands like Arcadia and Power Station popped up. By the time their side projects were wrapping up, the band had to get back into the studio to record their fourth album. However, time away had an effect on certain members and as the sessions commenced with producer Nile Rodgers, the band was whittled down to a trio - Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, and John Taylor. They finished up the LP they called Notorious and this title track was issued out as the first single. They hadn't had a song on the charts for about a year and a half and in the fickle 80s that was quite a stretch. It was unknown if their audience would still embrace the band. Luckily, this was the right song to release at the time and after a fairly high debut, the song made its way up to #2. It also made an appearance on the Dance chart at #26. The hit would help the album get to #12 and go platinum. It was a good return for the band, but it was also a turning point. Their Beatle-esque popularity of the early 80s was certainly over, so they had to figure out how to navigate the business and stay relevant in the years to come.

ReduxReview:  This song was a bit of a departure for the band. It was a bit funky with a punctuating horn section. Nile Rodgers did a solid job of updating the band's sound. He helped them move away from their new wave synthpop into something more mature. The album wasn't perfect, but it was a good first step on their way to something better. I wasn't all that enamored with this song when it first came out, but it grew on me in later years. It still sounds pretty good these days.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Since the band was down two musicians, a guitarist and a drummer, they had to find replacements for recording the album. For a drummer, they hired in Steve Ferrone who had been a member of Average White Band. Producer Nile Rodgers was a guitarist and contributed a bit to the album, but they needed someone to come in and really take over on guitar. They ended up with Warren Cuccurullo whose previous band, Missing Persons, was just breaking up. He helped on the album and then also went out on tour with the band. Cuccurullo would also contribute heavily to Duran Duran's next LP and by the time the supporting tour was over, Cuccurullo was made an official member of the band. He would stay with them until 2001.


Monday, October 14, 2019

"Land of Confusion" by Genesis

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2921
Date:  11/01/1986
Debut:  64
Peak:  4
Weeks:  21
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  The band's album Invisible Touch was their first to produce two Top 10 hits in the US including the title track, which was their first #1. After their ballad "Throwing It All Away" got to #4, they released this more rock-leaning political track. It did fine at Rock getting to #11, but it was more successful at Pop where it hit the #4 mark. The hit kept sales of the album strong and eventually it would be their most successful studio album selling over six million copies.

ReduxReview:  Politics and world views are not necessarily subjects that pop hits are made of, but sometimes one will break through and Genesis was able to do it with this charging track. However, I do think what helped it become a hit was the associated video (see below). The single may have been able to stand on its own and still do well without the video, but it most likely would not have done nearly as well. I was actually a little surprised this song got selected for release. It has hooks and a chorus, but the darker music and subject matter made it seem more like an album track rather than a single. Still, it worked out rather well and I liked the tune. Is it among my favorites from Genesis? Not really, but it is still an interesting listening.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia: Double Shot!  1) While the song was a hit, it was certainly propelled into the Top 10 thanks to its memorable video that was heavily aired on MTV. All the characters in the video were puppets from the hit British satirical show Spitting Image. The only puppets not from the show were the ones that represented the three members of Genesis (apparently, each of those puppets cost $10,000 to make). Spitting Image used exaggerated puppets of famous politicians and celebrities for sketches that skewered politics, entertainment, and pop culture. It aired from 1984 to 1996. Among the musicians that were satirized via puppets on the show was Phil Collins. The sketch poked fun at Collins and his music with the puppet performing an intense, depressing song about his marriage breaking up and being lonely. The original song was sung by a person who was imitating Collins' voice. It seems Collins happened to see the sketch and though that using the Spitting Image puppets would be ideal for the "Land of Confusion" video. The video featured the Genesis puppets playing the song as Ronald Reagan has a massive sweat-inducing nightmare. The video would win a Grammy award for Best Concept Music Video (an award category that lasted only two years). It would also be nominated for six MTV Music Video awards, but was aced out of all of them by a video from their former bandmate Peter Gabriel ("Sledgehammer").  2) This song was remade by the US heavy metal band Disturbed. It was the fourth single from their 2006 album Ten Thousand Fists. It would be the band's first #1 hit at Rock. It did not make the Pop chart.


Sunday, October 13, 2019

"Victory" by Kool & the Gang

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2920
Date:  11/01/1986
Debut:  72
Peak:  10
Weeks:  18
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  This band's 1984 album Emergency would be their best-selling studio album going double-platinum. It was thanks to three Pop Top 10s and four R&B Top 10s, which included the triple-charting ballad "Cherish" (#2 Pop/#1 R&B/#1 AC). It would take two years before they would release their next album, Forever. This first single got things kicked off. It did well getting to #2 at R&B while becoming their twelfth Pop Top 10. The tune was also a minor entry at AC (#35) and Dance (#35).

ReduxReview:  Now, I'm certain I heard this song back in the day because it was a Top 10 hit and I would have heard it on the Top 40 countdown. Yet I don't remember it at all. It's like I've just heard this song for the first time (and likely the last). I think the reason I don't remember the tune is because it is so dull. It's just one long groove with barely a chorus over the top. In fact, the last half of the song is just sputtering horns and various "victory" vocal stabs and ad libs. For a song that is supposed to be energetic, it practically puts me to sleep. It didn't help that I was pretty much over Kool & the Gang's pop/R&B formula they had spread over the past few albums. They were becoming less interesting with each release and this song certainly didn't help.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  Since their debut album in 1969, Kool & the Gang had been on the same label. De-Lite Records was started in 1967 and began putting out records in 1968. One of the first artists they signed was Kool & the Gang. The band's first single, 1969's "Kool & the Gang," would be the label's first hit. The tune got to #19 R&B and #59 Pop. A long string of hits from the band would follow. De-Lite would get distributed by Pickwick for a good chunk of the 70s. Then PolyGram took over in 1977. Then in 1985, PolyGram decided to fold De-Lite into one of their bigger labels, Mercury. De-Lite was then de-funked. Kool & the Gang was then moved over to Mercury and Forever was their first album for the label. De-Lite also had some success in the mid-70s with the R&B/disco outfit Crown Heights Affair. Their biggest hit was the 1975 #1 Dance/#5 R&B/#43 Pop hit "Dreaming a Dream." They would go on to have two more Dance Top 10s and four R&B Top 20s. The label would have a few other artists to have songs reach the charts, but none were as successful as Kool & the Gang.