Monday, May 25, 2020

"Luka" by Suzanne Vega

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3144
Date:  06/06/1987
Debut:  93
Peak:  3
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Alternative Rock, Folk-Rock, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Vega and her music weren't necessarily made for mainstream consumption. She began as a folk artist playing guitar and singing in venues around Greenwich Village while attending Barnard College. As she gained popularity, live recordings of her songs popped up on albums culled by Fast Folk magazine. Vega appeared on several issues/albums starting in 1982 and the exposure there helped her secure a deal with A&M Records in 1984. A self-titled debut album was issued out in 1985 and thanks to solid reviews and a little exposure on MTV with a video for the track "Marlene on the Wall," the album got to #91. It did even better in the UK getting to #11. It was a terrific result for a folk-based LP and after getting a song on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack ("Left of Center" with Joe Jackson), expectations were a bit high for her next effort. Solitude Standing would be a more cohesive album that expanded Vega's sound. This first single got things kicked off and its alt-rock sound combined with its subject matter (child abuse) grabbed people's attention. After a low debut on the Pop chart, it began a steady climb that took it all the way to the Top 3. It also hit #3 at AC and #15 Rock. The unique tune spurred sales of the album, which made it to #11. By the fall it would be a certified platinum seller.

ReduxReview:  For some hit songs, it was all about timing. This one certainly came along at just the right moment. Pop music of the 80s needed a reminder that not everything was about dancing with somebody who loved you or having the rhythm get you. Pop songs could also be about more serious topics and when done well might even make you want to hear it again and again. This was one of those tunes. In addition to injecting something to think about, the arrangement and style of this song was right in line with the burgeoning alt-rock format. Then there was the unique, plaintive yet assuring voice of Vega. She sounded like a therapist trying to make sense of things. It all added up to a very memorable song that came along at just the right time. For a folk-oriented artist, it was quite the breakthrough as well. It was a great song then and it still holds up.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) The lyrics of the song made an impression on folks. The subject matter was an unusual one for a pop hit. Vega wrote the song from the point of view of an abused child. In a video interview, inspiration for the song came when she met a kid that lived in her building. She resided on the ground floor and he lived on the second. She encountered him at one point and asked his name and he said "my name is Luka." Having been wanting to write a song about abuse and after listening to Lou Reed's Berlin album and how he approached writing about social issues, Vega ran with the Luka character and in one fell swoop wrote the song. Apparently, when she played the song for people, it didn't get the best reactions. She thought the song would just be set aside and forgotten, but then her manager thought it could be a hit single and encouraged her to record it. Vega thought it was a ridiculous idea, but gave in. Ended up he was right.  2) The song was a hit and that got the attention of the Grammy folks. "Luka" would grab nominations for Record and Song of the Year while Vega would get one for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. The video would also gain a lot of attention on MTV and it would get three MTV Music Video Awards nominations. It would win one for Best Female Video.  3) The video featured a child actor playing the part of Luka. That young actor was Jason Cerbone. He would set aside acting in favor of college, but afterwards got back into the business. He would end up doing small parts on TV shows like Law & Order and CSI. He would have a recurring role on The Sopranos as Jackie Aprile, Jr.


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