Saturday, February 22, 2020

"Sign 'O' the Times" by Prince

Song#:  3051
Date:  03/07/1987
Debut:  59
Peak:  3
Weeks:  14
Genre:  R&B



Pop Bits:  Although Prince's second film, Under a Cherry Moon, was a box office bomb, the associated soundtrack album titled Parade, did quite well reaching #3 and going platinum. It was boosted by the now-classic #1 hit "Kiss." After the LP's life was spent, Prince didn't waste much time and he got back in the studio during the summer and fall of '86. He could have had something to release before '86 was done, but the project went through various changes (see below). As the spring of '87 approached, he was finally ready to issue out a new double-LP titled Sign 'O' the Times. After four albums with his band the Revolution, the new effort was billed as a Prince solo project. It was introduced by this first title track single. The song would reach #1 at R&B and #2 at Dance while becoming his tenth Top 10 at Pop. After a couple of albums that received mixed critical reaction, the new set was universally hailed. It would peak at #4 R&B/#6 Pop and be a certified platinum seller.

ReduxReview:  Prince changed up things again with this song. The sparsely arranged track featured a more bluesy groove that was different from any of his previous singles. It was also a bit depressing if you really listen to the words. It brings up a lot of social and political issues and includes the real downer of a line "some say a man ain't happy unless a man truly dies." Geez. It does end with a little message that kind of tells you to not be swayed by all the bad stuff going on and live your life happily, but getting to that part of the song is a little rough. Still, it's a great song and one that I wasn't sure would hit or not. I didn't know if a mainstream audience would buy into the track, but they did. It's one of Prince's Top 10s that doesn't get played much anymore, which is too bad because (sadly) the lyrics are still relevant.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Following Parade, Prince got back to the studio with his band the Revolution and started working on tracks for a new album. He sought more input from them than in his previous two albums with the Revolution and it proved fruitful. In the summer of '86, nineteen tracks were completed and compiled into the double-LP that was to be titled Dream Factory. But not long after, Prince decided to disband the Revolution. He then began work on a solo album where he experimented with altering his voice. He bumped it up to make it sound higher and more androgynous. Prince then dubbed the new voice Camille and began creating an alter-ego character. His intent was for the album to be a self-titled effort by "Camille." The LP cover would not feature an image of Prince. He also planned to distance himself from it and not claim it as his work. His label, Warner Bros., wasn't necessarily pleased with this, but the record was prepped for release and even some copies were pressed. But then Prince changed his mind once again. He decided to combine some tracks from both projects along with a few new tunes for a triple-LP released to be called Crystal Ball (not to be confused with his 1998 box set of the same name). Warner Bros. balked at releasing a three-disc set and pushed Prince to pare it back to a double album. Prince complied and Sign 'O' the Times became his next official release. Some of the tracks from the three cancelled projects that were not used on Sign 'O' the Times found their way on other releases while some still remain vaulted.

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Friday, February 21, 2020

"Boom Boom (Let's Go Back to My Room)" by Paul Lekakis

Song#:  3050
Date:  03/07/1987
Debut:  73
Peak:  43
Weeks:  13
Genre:  Dance, Hi-NRG



Pop Bits:  Born in upstate New York, Lekakis quickly learned as a teenager that his good looks could open doors for him. He dropped out of school and after turning 17 he made the move to NYC. He basically became a club kid and floated around. At one point he met a fashion photographer who ended up snapping some test shots of Lekakis. These led to Lekakis signing up with modeling agencies in New York and Milan. While most of the modeling work he did was low-key, he did score a couple of major jobs including one for Emporio Armani. While in Italy, he continued to frequent the clubs and one night he met a record producer who thought Lekakis might have the goods to record some dance tracks. A demo of a song called "Boom Boom" was done and it got Lekakis a deal with XYZ Records. The song was officially recorded and released and it began to make waves. In the US, the song filled club floors and it eventually got to #6 on the Dance chart. It then crossed over to Pop where it nearly cracked the Top 40. It put Lekakis in the spotlight and he wanted it to continue. He came back to the States hoping to secure a contract with a major label. None bit until finally Sire Records decided to take a chance on him. Lekakis then recorded a debut album titled Tattoo It that came out in 1990. Only one of the LP's tracks, "My House," got anywhere reaching #17 on the Dance chart. The album disappeared quickly as did Lekakis' contract with Sire. With the exception of a couple of singles, Lekakis wouldn't record again until the 2000s. This song remains his lone entry on the Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  I was familiar with this song back in the day, but it kind of escaped me, which is a bit weird. I had long known I was gay by this point in time, but I wasn't one who frequented the clubs (probably a good thing in retrospect). So I didn't hear this tune a lot and I didn't made the connection between it and gay culture. Plus I thought it was just a stupid, trashy song. And kind of an irresponsible one since it came out at a time then AIDS was killing thousand of people. It wasn't until decades later when the song sprang up through friends that it all made sense to me. I still think the song is pretty trashy. It plays like a weak Stock Aitken Waterman knock off with cheeky lyrics and Lekakis certainly wasn't the most gifted vocalist. However, these days I do find it kind of fun and can recognize that it kept a lot of people dancing at a time when the gay community was struggling. It's a product of its time that brings up memories both good and bad for a lot of folks and it occupies a small spot in gay culture. It also still keeps many folks dancing including me on occasion.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  When an artist's career takes a nose dive after a hit or two, it can certainly lead to tough times and hard decisions. For some, they end up being successful in other careers or take different roles in the music industry. For others, the fall takes them to dark places and that happened with Lekakis. When his music career stalled, he was basically left with nothing but his good looks. He performed in the gay clubs for a while, but it seems his shows went from being music based to something along the lines of stripping. He changed things up and moved to L.A. hoping to pursue acting. That wasn't working out and so he decided to use his good looks to make money and became a male prostitute. He did this for a three-year period starting around 1994. He was making money, but he also got addicted to drugs and alcohol. He was also was also HIV-positive and not disclosing this to his clients (Lekakis had known about his status since 1989). It took a while, but Lekakis finally cleaned up his act. He did get some acting jobs and began recording music again. He returned to the Dance chart in 2012 with the appropriately titled song "I Need a Hit," which made it to #35.

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Thursday, February 20, 2020

"Can'tcha Say (You Still Believe in Me)/Still in Love" by Boston

Song#:  3049
Date:  03/07/1987
Debut:  74
Peak:  20
Weeks:  13
Genre:  Rock



Pop Bits:  Boston's Third Stage did something their previous two albums were unable to do - score two Pop Top 10 hits ("Amanda," #1 and "We're Ready," #9). They decided to try for a third one with this next single. At Rock, the song actually became the LP's fourth track to hit the Top 10 (#7). In addition to their two previous hits, another track, "Cool the Engines," which served as the b-side to "Can'tcha Say," had hit #4 at the end of '86. At Pop, the song couldn't quite reach the intended goal. It just made the Top 20 before petering out. It was still a good result and helped to sell a few more albums. Third Stage would end up selling over four million copies. This song would be the band's last one to chart in the 80s and their final one to reach the Pop Top 40. 

ReduxReview:  This song played more like a medley with its varying sections. A loud a cappella intro quickly turned into a quiet ballad that then changed to a mid-tempo rocker followed by a Led Zeppelin-ish bridge section that was nothing like the rest of the tune. It was a bit odd, especially for a pop single, but in the end it all kind of worked. As a whole, I didn't really care that much for the album, but its three singles were quite good and stood right alongside the band's best material.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This song seems to switch gears a bit. It's not like a typical pop single that flows evenly. There is a reason for this. Apparently, the track was created from a couple of songs that were written between '81 and '83. The credits list Gerry Green, Tom Scholz, and Brad Delp as songwriters. Scholz was really the main guy in Boston writing, producing, and playing a good chunk of the instruments on all their material while Delp served as lead singer. Most likely, Scholz developed the initial songs and with the help of Delp and Green molded the tunes into one piece of work. However it came about, the band ended up with their fifth Pop Top 20 hit.  2) Like the previous break between their second and third albums, it would be eight years before another Boston effort would appear. Walk On would come out in 1994. Band leader Scholz was a notorious perfectionist and that played a part in the long absence. The other issue was that Scholz and singer Delp began to butt heads and that led to Delp departing the band in 1989. Scholz would find a new lead singer for the project in Fran Cosmo. While Cosmo would sing all the song on the album, Delp would later return to the band, help compose a couple of tracks and then share lead vocal duties with Cosmo on the associated tour. The album was far less successful than their previous three multi-platinum LPs, two of which hit #1. Walk On would reach #7 and just go platinum. Not a bad result, but nowhere near the 4x platinum of Third Stage. It also featured no Pop chart hits. "I Need Your Love" would only get to #51. It did better at Rock getting to #7. Over the years, the band would put out a couple more albums, but none sold very well or featured any charting tracks.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

"(I Just) Died in Your Arms" by Cutting Crew

#1 Alert!
Song#:  3048
Date:  03/07/1987
Debut:  80
Peak:  1 (2 weeks)
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Rock



Pop Bits:  The basis for this UK band actually started in Canada when Nick Van Eede was on tour in Nova Scotia with his band The Drivers. He met up with Canadian Kevin Macmichael whose band Fast Forward was doing some shows with The Drivers. The pair hit it off and by 1985 they were in London writing and recording demos. Those songs got them signed to Siren Records, an offshoot label of Virgin UK. They brought on board two more members and the first lineup of Cutting Crew began recording. This first single was released in the UK in the summer of '86. It became a hit reaching #4. Their debut album, Broadcast, was then issued out in the fall. Wanting a stronger foothold in the US, Virgin decided to open up their new Virgin Records America label and it was decided that the Cutting Crew's album would be its first release in the States. It was preceded by this single, which became both Virgin's and the band's first #1 hit on the US Pop chart. It also got to #4 at Rock, #24 AC, and #37 Dance. The album then became a gold seller reaching #16. It was a significant debut by the band and one that helped to earn them a Grammy nod for Best New Artist.

ReduxReview:  Back in the day, this was one of those songs you could identify within a few seconds after it started playing. That windy, tooting synth line was a dead giveaway. It was a bit cheezy too, but luckily it led to quality song with a memorable chorus. For a debut single in the 80s, this one was pretty spot-on. It was well-written, had good production, and sounded great on the radio. It would later be used in several films and TV shows. Just a week or so before I wrote this post, the tune got used in a high-profile commercial. The somewhat infamous ad where Mr. Peanut of Planters Peanuts died included the song. In the ad, Mr. Peanut, Wesley Snipes, and Matt Walsh are in a peanut-mobile driving on a mountain road. Snipes and Walsh are singing to this song, which is playing on the radio. Then they crash and Mr. Peanut dies. Frankly, it's a stupid commercial and ad campaign, but at least this song got some attention again.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Lead singer and songwriter Nick Van Eede basically began a professional career in music when he was still in his teens. He ended up getting a deal with Barn Records and released a few solo singles for them in '78 and '79. The tunes didn't get him anywhere, so a couple years later he formed a band called The Drivers. They ended up signed with a Canadian label and scored a Top 40 hit in 1983 with "Tears on Your Anorak." The associated debut album, Short Cuts, sold fairly well. A tour of Canada ensued and that is when Van Eede met his future Cutting Crew bandmate Kevin Macmichael.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

"Looking for a New Love" by Jody Watley

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3047
Date:  03/07/1987
Debut:  82
Peak:  2
Weeks:  19
Genre:  R&B, Dance



Pop Bits:  Watley was an original member of the R&B vocal trio Shalamar. But after scoring several hits including the 1979 #1 R&B/#8 Pop hit "The Second Time Around, Watley left the trio in 1983. She took off for London and while there got hooked up with Mercury Records. She co-wrote and recorded a couple of singles for the label and released them in the UK under the single name of Jody in '84 and '85. Nothing much happened with the songs, so Watley headed back to the US. Still wanting to make a go of it as a solo artist, she secured a deal with MCA Records. She began recording songs for a self-titled debut album including five tracks that she co-wrote with producer AndrĂ© Cymone. One of those songs, "Looking for a New Love," would serve as the LP's first single. It first took off at R&B where the tune reached #1. It then got to #1 on the Dance chart. That momentum allowed it to cross over to the Pop chart and eventually it would just miss out on the top spot peaking at #2 for an extended four-week period. The album would be a #1 R&B/#10 Pop platinum seller. The song would earn Watley a Grammy nod for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female. She would also be nominated for Best New Artist, an award she would end up winning.

ReduxReview:  Watley only got to co-write a few minor songs for Shalamar, so her taking control and co-writing the majority of this album established her as a lot more than just a voice in a vocal trio. This track was really quite defiant and it made a statement. The groove set by AndrĂ© Cymone was fierce as was the production. Watley's voice was solid, but it wasn't real strong or unique. Yet she made you pay attention with a confident and sassy delivery. This was super groovy ear candy that was hard to resist. It can definitely be counted as one of the best dance tracks of the decade.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Watley's win for Best New Artist was a tad controversial at the time. The category had already seen its share of issues over the years (and still does), so it didn't seem unusual that some folks balked at both her nomination and win. There were a couple of reasons for this. First, she was already an established artist who had accumulated hits with Shalamar. That alone probably should have taken her out of contention considering that many former group/band members later hit it big as solo artists but were not nominated (Paul Simon, Don Henley, etc.). Second, she had already released two solo recordings in previous years. That was a stickler that took Whitney Houston out of contention a couple years before. But apparently because those singles were not issued in the US and they were not released as by Jody Watley (just "Jody"), those didn't seem to count. Both were minor, but fair points that probably would have been forgotten had she not won. She ended up winning over Breakfast Club, Cutting Crew, Swing Out Sister, and Terence Trent D'Arby, who everyone thought would take the trophy. Granted, it was a very weak year of candidates since three of them pretty much had one hit and disappeared, so sneaking Watley in was probably a way to boost up the category. In the end, the win was the right choice as she outlasted all the others on the charts scoring six Pop Top 10s.

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Monday, February 17, 2020

"The Boy in the Bubble" by Paul Simon

Song#:  3046
Date:  03/07/1987
Debut:  91
Peak:  86
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Pop, World



Pop Bits:  Simon's Graceland LP had been around since late summer '86. Its first two singles weren't major hits, but solid reviews of the album and interest in its worldbeat style helped it reach #6. Then in late Feburary '87, the album got a significant boost when it won the Grammy for Album of the Year. Graceland was still in the Top 20 at the time, but due to the win it did a turnabout on the chart and headed up to a new peak of #4. The Grammy win coincided just right with the release of this third single. It would do quite well at Rock reaching #15. Unfortunately, it couldn't make much headway on the Pop chart and fell off after a short month.

ReduxReview:  This was the first track on Graceland and with the opening accordion line along with the big drum bang, you knew you were in for something completely different than Simon's normal pop fare. The driving rhythm created by the accordion and the bass were just so cool. Add to that Simon's near-stream of consciousness lyrics and you had a truly unique and memorable track. There was something earthy and mysterious about the song and I liked it from the get-go. As a Pop single? Well, it wasn't necessarily built for that. However, it was interesting and groovy enough that it might have had a chance to catch on and be one of those strange radio hit oddities. Rock radio played it, but the track just wasn't cutting it next to Madonna and Bon Jovi. I don't think the pop radio audience was quite ready for worldbeat music.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This was among the first songs Simon attempted to record when he went to South Africa. Before arriving, he had heard a song by a group called Tau Ea Matsekha that he particularly liked. Simon decided to record a version of the tune and he asked the group's leader, songwriter, and accordionist Forere Motloheloa to join him in the studio. They reworked the tune with other musicians and completed the backing track. When he got back to the US, Simon wrote the lyrics and recorded the main vocal part. Motloheloa received a writing credit on the song alongside Simon.

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Sunday, February 16, 2020

"Meet Me Half Way" by Kenny Loggins

Song#:  3045
Date:  03/07/1987
Debut:  95
Peak:  11
Weeks:  25
Genre:  Pop, Soft Rock, Soundtrack



Pop Bits:  Loggins had previously worked with producer/songwriter Giorgio Moroder on two songs for the hit soundtrack to the film Top Gun. Both ended up being singles with "Danger Zone" cruising up to #2 and "Playing with the Boys" making it to #60. So when Moroder began writing songs with Tom Whitlock again for the soundtrack to the Sylvester Stallone sports drama flick Over the Top, it seemed logical to reach out to Loggins for another assist. He obliged and recorded this ballad. It would be released as a single a few weeks after the soundtrack's first single, Sammy Hagar's "Winner Takes It All" (#54), was issued out. While that rock track didn't make much headway on the Pop chart, Loggins' ballad slowly cut a path up until it finally peaked just outside the Top 10 at the dreaded #11 spot. It was his sixth song from a film to reach the Pop chart. The song did even better at AC where it got to #2.

ReduxReview:  I hadn't heard this song in ages. It's one of Loggins' hits that seems to have gotten lost over the years. It's a lovely song with a nice vocal performance from Loggins and was well-written by Moroder and Whitlock. The production was a bit stiff in an 80s kind of way, but it seemed to work okay at the time. The single was certainly a slow burner on the Pop chart. It debuted way low and really had a tough climb. It got to #11 in its fifteenth week, stayed there for one more week, then finally ran out of gas. Yet it stayed on the chart for another two months. It would have been an impressive run for any song, but especially for one that didn't make the Top 10. The tune was another worthy addition to Loggins' run of soundtrack hits.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This song remained Loggins' biggest hit on the AC chart (#2) for nearly ten years. He would finally top that chart later in 1996 with another film song. Loggins record "For the First Time" for the George Clooney/Michelle Pfeiffer rom-com One Fine Day. The song was serviced around to radio stations for airplay, but for whatever reason it was not made commercially available as a single. Consequently, even though it became a #1 AC hit, the song didn't make the Pop chart as chart rules dictated that in order to make the chart, the song had to be release commercially as a single. While that may not have seemed like a good decision, the upside was that if people wanted to own the track they had to buy the soundtrack album. It would do well reaching #52. The song, written by James Newton Howard, Jud Friedman, and Allan Rich, would later be nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song.

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