Saturday, November 16, 2019

"Suburbia" by Pet Shop Boys

Song#:  2954
Date:  12/06/1986
Debut:  97
Peak:  70
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Synthpop

Pop Bits:  This duo's debut album Please was a platinum seller thanks to three Pop chart entries, which included the #1 "West End Girls" and the #10 "Opportunities." Feeling that there may still be some gas left in the tank, their label decided to remix this album track and push it out as a fourth single. Unfortunately, it didn't get very far. It stopped in the lower reaches of the Pop chart while only getting to #36 at Dance. It would do much better in their UK homeland where the single became their second Top 10 there (#8).

ReduxReview:  I like how the happy sounding chorus of this song plays against the darker verses. I'm sure that was intentional - trying to cover up the ugly underbelly of suburbia with some kind of fake positive spin. Musically, Pet Shop Boys' songs are fairly simple (and I don't mean that in a bad way). Their chords and progressions are not complicated and their melodies are lovely and easy to latch on to. However, because of that I think their lyrics often get overlooked. They are often sharp, witty, or poignant. Their view of a riotous suburb and its disconnected youth is front and center on this track. It's a good song and one that wasn't too bad of a choice for a single. It just came out a bit late in the LP's cycle and couldn't attract attention.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  On the back sleeve of this single, it stated that the song "was partly inspired by the film Suburbia." That 1984 movie was produced by Roger Corman and written/directed by Penelope Spheeris. It was Spheeris' first film following her acclaimed 1981 documentary about the L.A. punk scene The Decline of Western Civilization. She used elements of the punk lifestyle as inspiration for the fictional Suburbia. She even hired on a few punk musicians for roles instead of actors, such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist Flea. The film focused on a group of runaway punk kids who end up living together in abandoned homes in suburban L.A. While it wasn't necessarily a box office hit, it did fairly well with critics and has since become a bit of a cult flick. Spheeris would go on to do two sequels to The Decline of Western Civilization and in 1992 would score a big mainstream hit directing the Mike Myers/Dana Carvey SNL skit-inspired comedy Wayne's World.


Friday, November 15, 2019

"Change of Heart" by Cyndi Lauper

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2953
Date:  11/29/1986
Debut:  67
Peak:  3
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  The title track first single from Lauper's second album True Colors would go on to be her second to top the Pop chart. She would follow up that stark ballad with this heavier produced upbeat track that featured The Bangles on background vocals. It would become her seventh Top 10 on the Pop chart. It also made it to #4 at Dance. The album was certified as a platinum seller just prior to this single being released. The hit would promote more sales of the LP and eventually it would be a double-platinum seller.

ReduxReview:  This was a smart follow-up to "True Colors." It was a bit more mature than some of her previous singles, yet it kept her personality and featured a big 80s production. Both songs together seemed like a step forward for her as an artist, but the balance of the album was a mish-mash of styles and quirky tunes that didn't quite gel. The two songs were the highlights of the album and they ended up being the two main hits. She needed to break away from her kooky shabby chic personality and move towards being an artist of longevity and the two tunes did help, but it's too bad she didn't do more like them on the album. I mean, did we really need a track that featured Pee Wee Herman? Yikes. Regardless, she is one of my all-time favorite artists and this was a terrific hit for her.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This song was originally written by singer/songwriter Essra Mohawk. Born in Philly as Sandra Hurvitz, she first got noticed in the early 60s and recorded one single under the name Jamie Carter in 1964. Nothing happened with the tune, but then her songs got picked up by other artists including The Shangri-Las. This led to a record deal with Verve and her debut album, Sandy's Album is Here at Last, got released under her real name in 1967. She next got picked up by Reprise Records and recorded the 1970 album Primordial Lovers. She ended up marrying her producer, Frazier Mohawk, and by the time the album was set for release changed her name to Essra Mohawk. The LP didn't sell, but it was a critical favorite and became a bit of a cult record. She would release a few more albums over the years, but nothing much happened with them. She later recorded a demo of a song she wrote titled "Change of Heart." The song found its way to Cyndi Lauper who decided to record it. Lauper made a few lyric and melodic changes, which then gave her a co-writing credit. Mohawk would continue to write songs, record albums, and sing background vocals for major artists over the years, but this would be her shining pop moment. Her voice may be familiar to folks who grew up in the 70s. She sang three songs featured on Schoolhouse Rock!  She sang solo on "Interjections!" (Grammar Rock) and "Sufferin' 'til Suffrage" (America Rock), and was part of a quartet that sang "Mother Necessity" (America Rock).


Thursday, November 14, 2019

"Love You Down" by Ready for the World

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2952
Date:  11/29/1986
Debut:  76
Peak:  9
Weeks:  19
Genre:  R&B, Quiet Storm

Pop Bits:  This Flint, Michigan, band scored a #1 Pop/R&B/Dance hit with "Oh Sheila," a track from their self-titled debut album. The LP would turn platinum thanks to three other R&B Top 10's. As soon as they could, they went back into the studio to record a follow-up. It would be titled Long Time Coming and this first single, written by lead singer Melvin Riley, got issued out. It would easily top the R&B chart becoming their second to do so. It crossed over to the Pop chart and became their second Top 10. It also got on the AC chart at #24. The band seemed to be poised to match the success of their debut, but further singles from their second LP didn't crack the R&B Top 10 and failed to reach the Pop chart. Still, this song helped push the album to #5 R&B/#32 Pop and it would be a gold seller. Unfortunately, this would be the band's last single to reach the Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  This was an unusual move for a band whose two biggest charting songs were uptempo workouts. A ballad as a first single wasn't necessarily risky, but it wasn't all that common either. I'm guessing that the label thought this was the strongest single contender on the LP and went ahead and released it. Indeed, it got them the hit they needed and further singles didn't perform well so they were fortunate this one got out the gate first. The ballad sounds less like their Prince-ish tracks from their debut album and more like they were taking notes from Jam & Lewis. It worked out well with this slinky quiet storm ballad heating up the airwaves. The lyrics deal with a May-December romance, but with a small twist - the guy is the younger one. It was kind of refreshing since most songs around this time focused on young, hot women (especially in hard rock and R&B). A solid outing for the band, but unfortunately, they just couldn't grab another crossover hit.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The band returned in '88 with their third album Ruff N' Ready. It featured the #6 R&B single "My Girly." A second single was a minor chart entry and further singles failed to chart. Without a significant crossover hit, the album didn't sell well.  They gave it one more try with 1991's Straight Down to Business, which did generate the #9 R&B "Can He Do It (Like This, Can He Do It Like That), but it didn't lead to album sales and that ended their days as a major label artist.  2) This song was later remade in 1997 by Pop/R&B/Dance vocalist INOJ. It was her debut single and it got to #25 on the Pop chart. Her next single would also be a remake. She covered Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" and pushed it out in 1998. It would get to #6 at Pop. This led to her recording a full album the following year for Columbia's So So Def label that included the two hits. It was weirdly titled Ready for the World. Further singles failed to chart and the album suffered the same fate.


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

"Every Beat of My Heart" by Rod Stewart

Song#:  2951
Date:  11/29/1986
Debut:  83
Peak:  83
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  Stewart's fourteenth studio album, Every Beat of My Heart, was not performing well. It had already peaked at a low (for him) #28 and was not on track to becoming a certified gold seller. Despite the previous single, "Another Heartache," not doing well (#52), Stewart's label went ahead and issued out this title-track follow-up. It did even worse by peaking where it debuted on the Pop chart. It failed to reach any other chart as well. With those results, the label called it a day and the album fell off the chart. That left it being one of Stewart's worst performing albums to-date. Only his 1969 debut LP and 1983's Body Wishes did worse.

ReduxReview:  This was meant to be one of those big sentimental sing-along songs that would cross international boarders and make everyone weepie and nostalgic. It had a vague Irish feel to it and indeed mentioned the "Emerald Isle," but it was still generic enough for non-Irish folk to catch on and apply their own meaning. The person in the lyrics is headed home, but I'm not sure from where. From war or a war-torn country? From military service? I dunno. The song is fine, but a little slow and a bit boring. There's just not enough memorable lines or melodies to make it catch on in a bigger way. It strives to be a classic longing-for-home song that everyone rallies around while toasting their pints, but it doesn't quite make it there.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  In the UK, one further single was released from the album. Stewart's remake of The Beatles' "In My Life" would just scratch the chart at #80. "In My Life" was recorded for Rubber Soul, the Beatles' 1965 album. Although it was not selected to be a single, the song became a fan and critical favorite over the years. On Rolling Stone's 2004 list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time," the tune was ranked at #23. Although many artists have covered the song, as of this posting date none have been able to reach the Pop chart with a version. However, one artist did manage to reach the AC chart with the tune. Bette Midler recorded the song for the soundtrack to her 1991 movie For the Boys. It was the second single released from the soundtrack and it got to #20 at AC.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

"Big Time" by Peter Gabriel

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  2950
Date:  11/29/1986
Debut:  88
Peak:  8
Weeks:  23
Genre:  Pop, Rock, Funk Rock

Pop Bits:  Gabriel's follow-up to his #1 smash "Sledgehammer," "In Your Eyes," didn't quite set the chart afire. It stalled at #26 despite reaching #1 at Rock. Still, it did well enough to push out a third single from his album So. This funky track was selected and it seemed to be what pop listeners wanted. It became Gabriel's second Top 10 at Pop while getting to #3 at Rock. It was certainly helped along by its associated video that got heavy airplay on MTV. The hit would further spur sales of the album, which would go double-platinum by the summer of '87. Eventually it would sell over five million copies.

ReduxReview:  This should have been the follow-up to "Sledgehammer," but my guess is that they needed time to make the video so they tossed out "In Your Eyes" instead. Probably not, but seems logical to me. Luckily, this single overcame its predecessor's mediocre showing at Pop and made the Top 10. It was another terrific track by Gabriel. He turned up the funk on this one while still giving it a commercial sheen. Although "Sledgehammer" is the classic track, this is the one that I end up adding to my playlists more often. It's a great workout tune. I seem to recall back in the day a rumor that this song was a bit of a swipe at Gabriel's former bandmate and newly minted superstar Phil Collins. I can't find anything to corroborate that, but it seems to fit. From what I understand, Collins and his ego were not necessarily well-liked during his heydays and Gabriel and Collins weren't exactly besties. So perhaps a bit of an unintentional skewering. Regardless, it remains a top-notch song in Gabriel's catalog.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The video for this song built upon the innovative filming methods that made the one for "Sledgehammer" such a huge MTV hit. There were various styles of animation and claymation combined other special effects. Gabriel shows up playing his ego-driven character to the hilt. While it was another highly successful video, it was unfortunately released in the same year of eligibility for the MTV Music Video awards as "Sledgehammer." That video would receive ten nominations winning nine. "Big Time" would only get two nominations (Best Concept and Best Special Effects) and no wins. Still, it was another influential and memorable video from Gabriel.  2) This song led to the invention of a music product. Looking to get a more percussive sound from the bass on this song, bassist Tony Levin and drummer Jerry Marotta worked together on a new technique that created the sound Gabriel and producer Daniel Lanois were looking for. While Levin fingered the notes on his fretless bass, Marotta would hit the strings with his drumsticks. The method added a percussive sound to the base that was unique. Levin then further developed this technique into an actual product called funk fingers, which were mini-drumsticks that could be attached to a bassists fingers and used to create the same effect.


Monday, November 11, 2019

"Brand New Lover" by Dead or Alive

Song#:  2949
Date:  11/29/1986
Debut:  92
Peak:  15
Weeks:  22
Genre:  Synthpop, Dance-Pop, Hi-NRG

Pop Bits:  This UK band headed up by Pete Burns grabbed a #4 Dance/#11 Pop hit with their single "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)." It was the first single lifted from their second album, the gold selling Youthquake. For their third album, the band stayed with the production team of Stock Aitken Waterman and recorded Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know. This lead single got things started and it became their first to reach #1 on the Dance chart. Pop responded well and sent the song into the Top 20. Despite having similar results to "You Spin Me," the single didn't do as well promoting the album. It stopped at #52 and failed to go gold.

ReduxReview:  This was another urgent track from the band and basically cut from the same vein as "You Spin Me." While that song was a more memorable hit, I actually think this song was better written. It had nice, warm chord changes and good melodies. It's a song you could easily transfer to an acoustic setting. I had hopes that it would go Top 10, but like their previous hit it stopped short. SAW's production was big and bangin' with Burns' voice cutting right through. Since "You Spin Me" became an indelible 80s track, this one got left along the wayside and hardly gets attention anymore. That's too bad as it is just as good of a song.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  "You Spin Me" was the first UK #1 for the Stock Aitken Waterman production team. While this song wouldn't do as well there (#31), the team was beginning to stack up more and more hits. In 1986 they would have three of their productions reach the Top 10 in the UK. The results were certainly turning heads and more artists began to request their services. The hits would increase over the next few years. They would score ten Top 10s (four of them #1) in 1987 and twelve Top 10s in 1988 (one #1). That would lead to their peak year of 1989 when they garnered eighteen Top 10s with five of them hitting #1.  Of all those hits, thirty-one of them were also written by the team. It made the trio one of the most successful writing/productions teams of the decade. Their success started to decline as the 90s started and later in 1991 Matt Aitken decided to depart. Stock and Waterman continued on, but success was spotty. The pair ended their partnership later in 1994 after a decade of hits. The final Top 10 for the SAW team was Kylie Minogue's 1991 #6 hit "Shocked." Stock and Waterman's last Top 10 came in 1993 with Sybil's "When I'm Good and Ready" (#5). SAW's work was less popular in the US where they only scored six Top 10 hits between '86 and '89. They were mostly know for their work with Rick Astley, Bananarama, and Donna Summer, who gave them their final Top 10 in the US with 1989's "This Time I Know It's for Real" (#7).


Sunday, November 10, 2019

"Caught Up in the Rapture" by Anita Baker

Song#:  2948
Date:  11/29/1986
Debut:  93
Peak:  37
Weeks:  18
Genre:  R&B, Adult Contemporary, Quiet Storm

Pop Bits:  Baker's "Sweet Love" would be her breakthrough hit reaching #2 R&B, #3 AC, and #8 Pop. It was the second single from her second album Rapture. For a follow-up, this next track was selected. Once again, R&B and AC ate it up and it became a Top 10 hit on both charts (#6 and #9, respectively). However, the sleek ballad couldn't quite push through the din of other songs on the Pop chart and it could only crack the Top 40. Still, the tune would keep sales of the album going, It had already been certified platinum in October of '86 and a year later it would go triple-platinum. By 1994 it would reach five million in sales.

ReduxReview:  This silky smooth jam is just gorgeous. Right from the start it set a romantic tone that was perfect for an evening by the fireplace with a bottle of wine. Baker sold the song in a very effective way starting with her little "buh-buh-boya-buh-buh" melody line and then continuing on in such a relaxed manner that she practically sounded drugged (or drunk on wine n' love). Her chilled out performance fit the song perfectly. The single was a solid fit for R&B and AC, but I think the storm was just a bit too quiet for Pop. It was a mature tune that wasn't going to attract a younger audience who were clamoring for Madonna, Janet Jackson, and Bon Jovi. Still, it's a beautiful track that sounds just as good now as it did back in the day.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Baker's Rapture album was a consistent seller for a long period of time. Although it would only reach #11 at Pop, it would stay on the chart for 157 weeks (just over three years). Because of that, the LP made it to the year-end album chart for three years in a row. In 1986, it made the list at #59. The following year would be its peak time and it ended up at #9 for the year. It continued to sell in '88 and was able to finish the year at #51. The album would peak at #1 on the R&B chart for three weeks and remain on the chart for 108 weeks.