Saturday, March 28, 2020

"Don't Disturb This Groove" by The System

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3086
Date:  04/11/1987
Debut:  97
Peak:  4
Weeks:  21
Genre:  R&B, Sophisti-Pop

Pop Bits:  This duo of Mic Murphy and David Frank were last on the Pop chart in 1983 with their single "You Are in My System" (#64 Pop/#10 R&B). It was from their debut album Sweat. Two more albums would follow, but besides a couple of minor R&B chart entries and the #8 Dance hit "This Is for You," nothing really pushed them into the mainstream spotlight. That is until this title track single was released from their fourth LP Don't Disturb This Groove. The song would take off at R&B and reach the #1 spot. As it neared that peak, the single debuted on the Pop chart. It started out low, but gained momentum and eventually reached the Top 10. It would also get to #35 at AC. In turn, the album would become their biggest seller reaching #13 R&B and #62 Pop. The single would end up being their first and only Pop Top 10.

ReduxReview:  Right from the get-go this song established exactly what it was selling - a groove. And yeah, don't freakin' disturb it! These guys knocked it out of the park in both writing and production. Besides the sleek, silky R&B rhythms, the chorus was hooky, and the arrangement spot-on. It was also perfectly produced by the pair for the late 80s. The duo just got everything right. While the album didn't contain anything as in-tha-pocket as this song, it was still full of solid tracks along the same lines. The System would never be able to replicate the success of this track, but having this memorable gem to their credit was still a great accomplishment.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  David Frank would have success outside of The System as a songwriter and producer. His biggest hit as a songwriter came in 1999 when he co-wrote and co-produced Christina Aguilera's #1 debut single "Genie in a Bottle." The following year he would score another hit co-writing/co-producing "He Loves U Not" for the female vocal group Dream. That song would be a #2 hit. Frank was also a prolific session musician who worked with superstar artists like Phil Collins, Destiny''s Child, Chaka Khan, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and many others.


Friday, March 27, 2020

"I Know What I Like" by Huey Lewis & the News

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3085
Date:  04/04/1987
Debut:  54
Peak:  9
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  By this point, the band's fourth album, Fore!, had reached #1 and had spawned three Top 10 hits including the #1 "Jacob's Ladder." As a follow-up to that third single, this fourth one got issued out. Prior to the tune getting an official single release, it had already garnered enough airplay at Rock to reach #25 on that chart in late September of '86. After the single came out, the song became the band's ninth consecutive Pop Top 10 hit (tenth overall). It also got to #30 at AC. Like the their previous #3 hit from the LP "Hip to Be Square," this tune featured background vocals by members of the San Francisco 49ers football team. The song helped sell more albums and a little over a year later, it would be certified at triple platinum.

ReduxReview:  I really wasn't connecting with the band at the time and had been ignoring them, although that was a bit difficult to do with their songs all over the radio. However, in retrospect I perhaps didn't give a fare shake to a couple of their tunes from Fore! . This was one of them. It was more in-line with the rock side of the band that I preferred over their retro old school pop/R&B stuff. The song is good, the band is crankin', and the chorus is solid. This tune and "Jacob's Ladder" were easily the two best tracks on the LP. It's also one in their catalog that doesn't get played much anymore.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Besides being a best-selling album, Fore! also had a pop culture moment later in 2000. In 1991, author Bret Easton Ellis published his controversial book American Psycho, which centered on a serial killer character named Patrick Bateman. The graphic book had its share of detractors, but it ended up being a best-seller that many critics liked. In the book, Bateman basically gives critiques on albums by Phil Collins and Whitney Houston. Nearly a decade later, the book was adapted into a film starring Christian Bale. Like the book, the film used several music references, which included the use of "Sussudio" by Phil Collins. The filmmakers also wanted to use "Greatest Love of All" by Whitney Houston, but were denied the rights (they used an instrumental version instead). Yet instead of dissecting the discographies of those two artists, the movie version of Bateman waxes poetically on the career of Huey Lewis & the News. In particular, the album Fore!, which Bateman says is the band's "most accomplished album." After his speech, Bateman then kills another character (played by Jared Leto) while the song "Hip to Be Square" plays on his stereo. It became one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. The song was cleared for use in the film, but someone dropped the ball and didn't get the rights to include it on the film's soundtrack album. The LP initially got released with the track, but then was pulled and reprinted after the rights issue was discovered. Later in 2013, the book/film was adapted into a stage musical (with original music/lyrics by Duncan Shiek). It premiered in London and was then taken to Broadway in 2016. The musical included the Bateman character and his victim performing "Hip to Be Square." Also in 2013 for the sketch channel Funny or Die, Lewis parodied the "Hip to Be Square" scene from the movie with "Weird Al" Yankovic.


Thursday, March 26, 2020

"Day-In Day-Out" by David Bowie

Song#:  3084
Date:  04/04/1987
Debut:  72
Peak:  21
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  After Bowie's 1983 album Let's Dance became a #4 platinum seller, there was pressure on him to deliver another commercial-leaning hit. The following year he put out Tonight and although it wasn't as well-received, it would still reach #11 and go platinum. For his next LP, Bowie wanted to nix the forced commercialism and return to his rock roots. His idea was to create an album that would be the basis for a large-scale tour. With producer David Richards, Bowie crafted his seventeenth studio album Never Let Me Down. This first single was released and it was a hit at Rock getting to #3. Remixes of the song got folks moving in the clubs and the tune reached #10 on the Dance chart. It didn't do quite as well at Pop where the single just stopped shy of the Top 20. That result combined with a lack of critical support kept the album from going any further than #34. Still, it would end up being a gold seller.

ReduxReview:  The Never Let Me Down album was much maligned at the time. Critics really tore it to shreds. I sometimes find that the albums that critics love from a specific artist I don't like while the ones they hate I gravitate towards. This was one of those albums. I loved it at the time and played it a lot. Yes most of the songs are clouded with way too much production making them sound muddy, but I was mainly drawn in by the songs. Bowie even said later in retrospect that he didn't like the album mainly because of the production and arrangements, but he did like several of the actual songs. The material was there, it just wasn't showcased in the best light. (In 2018, the album got a do-over that corrected a lot of the problems, but more on that in another post.) I especially loved the fake band/music biz/60s influenced "Zeroes" and the theatrics of "The Glass Spider." Elements of previous Bowie personas were all over the place including on this R&B styled jam that in another arrangement might have fit well on Bowie's 1975 Young Americans album. I really didn't know how this song would do on the chart when I first heard it, but it ended up doing better than I thought. I still like the Never Let Me Down album despite its flaws and consider it underrated in Bowie's catalog.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Bowie wrote this song as a sort of social commentary about the treatment of homeless folks in the US. For the accompanying video, Bowie worked with director Julian Temple to create a reflection of the song's lyrics. It follows a young homeless couple struggling to survive in the streets of L.A. The video contained a few moments that got censors a little riled up. An implied rape scene along with a kid spelling out a foul word and a guy peeing on Ronald Reagan's star on the Walk of Fame got it banned from some stations. The video was re-edited to appease some folks, but it still didn't get the same airtime as videos from other superstars.  2) After the album's released, Bowie launched his theatrical Glass Spider tour. The name and inspiration for the tour's theme came from one of the songs on the LP. It was a high concept production that featured one of the largest stage sets ever done for a music concert. Also on board was Peter Frampton, who played guitar and did background vocals. While audiences flocked to the show and loved it, critics panned it calling it pretentious and overblown. In the end, the tour was highly successful bring in over $86 million. Decades later, critics who revisited the show were more favorable and praised many aspects of it.


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

"Lessons in Love" by Level 42

Song#:  3083
Date:  04/04/1987
Debut:  81
Peak:  12
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Synthpop, Sophisti-Pop

Pop Bits:  This UK band broke through in the US in the spring of '86 with their #7 single "Something About You." The hit would help their album World Machine get to #18. Both the single and the album had been hits in the UK the previous year, so while the US was catching up the band recorded and issued out this song in the UK to keep interesting in the band going. It ended up being a major hit reaching #3. They would then continue to work in the studio to come up with their follow-up album, Running in the Family. By the time it was ready, a second single from the LP would be issued in the UK while this song would be the first one released in the US. The tune did well reaching #12 at both Pop and Dance. On a worldwide scale, the song would be the band's biggest hit reaching #1 in several countries. The album would also be their biggest worldwide seller. In the UK it would reach #2 and eventually spawn four Top 10 singles. The album wouldn't be as popular in the US, but it was able to reach #23.

ReduxReview:  This has a nice, easy, groovy feel along the lines of "Something About You," but it  doesn't have the same memorable hooks as that song. The chorus here is more subtle with just the title of the song standing out. It kind of meanders in the mid-section as well. Europeans went koo-koo for the track and it is probably still a very well-known song there. In the US, this tune kind of disappeared after it's initial run while "Something About You" maintained some popularity over the years. I prefer that song as well. This one just doesn't stay in my mind for long.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This song was co-written and co-produced by Wally Badarou. Born in France, Badarou became a prolific session keyboard player in England. In addition to co-writing and producing for Level 42, he also would play keyboards and do backing vocals. He worked with the band on nearly all of their albums with his production skills utilized on five of their LPs beginning with World Machine. His relationship with Level 42 most likely began in the late 70s when Badarou worked with British musician Robin Scott, who was better known under the pseudonym of M. Badarou played the keyboard parts for M's debut album, 1979's New York-London-Paris-Munich, which included the #1 US Pop/#2 UK hit "Pop Muzik." Also playing on that album was drummer Phil Gould. Badarou and Gould would also perform on M's follow up, 1980's The Official Secrets Act. That LP also featured Mark King on guitar. Not long after, King and Gould, and Gould would begin to form Level 42. Badarou would help the new band out beginning with their 1981 debut LP, but would never officially become a member.


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

"Don't Give Up" by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush

Song#:  3082
Date:  04/04/1987
Debut:  91
Peak:  72
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  Gabriel was at a career peak with his album So. Three singles had already hit the Pop Top 40 including the #1 "Sledgehammer" and the #8 "Big Time." To follow up the latter tune, this next single was issued out. The duet had already been a hit in the UK reaching #9, but it couldn't get anywhere in the US. It stumbled after a few weeks and fell of the chart. By the summer of '87, the album would be a double-platinum seller. Just over a decade after it was released, the LP would reach the five-million mark.

ReduxReview:  This is a beautiful and inspirational song. Gabriel and Bush were much bigger stars in the UK than the US so I'm not surprised this was a hit at home for them. It was like a major superstar duet. Although Gabriel had broken through in the US with his two previous Top 10's, Bush was still a mystery to most Americans, so the duet didn't have the same allure. It also wasn't the most pop radio-friendly track. I figured that it wasn't going to get anywhere on the chart. Regardless, it was one of the highlights from the LP and Bush's haunting voice was an inspired add.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Photographer Dorothea Lange captured some of the most striking and memorable images from the days of the US depression and the Dust Bowl. It was her photos that served as inspiration for this song. Gabriel wanted to make the song a duet with a US country singer whose roots would be reflective of the song's message. His ideal partner was Dolly Parton, but she ended up turning down the offer. He then turned to his friend Kate Bush and she accepted.  Several artists have covered this song over the years. Due to the lyrics, it has become a bit of a go-to charity song and most remakes have been recorded as benefit singles. In 2005, Alicia Keys and U2's Bono did a version to benefit the charity Keep a Child Alive. The tune was retitled "Don't Give Up (Africa)" and it got to #79 on the Pop chart. Australian singers Shannon Noll and Natalie Bassingwaighte hit #1 in their home country with a version that benefited Beyond Blue, an organization that addresses depression, suicide, and other mental disorders. Besides charity singles, other artists have recorded the duet including versions by Willie Nelson and SinĂ©ad O'Connor, P!nk and John Legend, and even Gabriel himself with two different partners. He performed the song on tour with Paula Cole, which ended up on his 1994 Secret World Live album. Then he did the tune with Norwegian singer Ane Brun for his 2011 LP New Blood, which featured Gabriel remaking his older songs in new orchestral arrangements.


Monday, March 23, 2020

"Baby Grand" by Billy Joel with Ray Charles

Song#:  3081
Date:  04/04/1987
Debut:  94
Peak:  75
Weeks:  7
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary, Blues

Pop Bits:  Joel's album The Bridge would be a double-platinum seller thanks to a pair of Top 10s. A third single would only reach the Top 20. By that point it seemed like the LP was losing steam and its run ready to be wrapped up. Still, the label decided to push out one more single before calling it a day. This duet track was selected and it was a good fit for AC where it reached #3. The more old-fashioned tune couldn't find its footing at Pop and it faltered and fell off after a few weeks. No further singles would be released from the album. It would be two and a half years before Joel would be back on the Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  Joel's musical hero was Ray Charles. He even named his kid after Charles - Alexa Ray. So when he got the chance to have Charles guest on one of his recordings, Joel crafted this tune to sound like one of Charles' old songs. He even affected a vocal style to match that of Charles' so that they would meld well together. It was all lovingly done and it was probably a thrill for Joel to work with Charles. That's all great, but in the end the song was a bit of a snoozer. It was just too laid back. If it had a better arrangement that gave the song a boost it might have been better. Charles sounded good. Joel sounded...well...interesting. I appreciate what Joel was going for here, but in the end it just lacked spark.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  The last time Ray Charles was on the Pop chart was in 1975. His version of Stevie Wonder's 1973 #1 R&B/#8 Pop hit "Living for the City" would get to #22 R&B and #91 Pop. It wasn't a major hit, but it did earn Charles a Grammy award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male. Although Charles was not active on the Pop and R&B charts for most of the 80s, that doesn't mean he wasn't having hits. They were just at a different format. From '83 to '87, Charles placed eleven singles on the Country chart. His biggest hits came from his duets album Friendship, which was released in 1984. That album made it to #1 on the Country chart thanks to five Top 20 hits including the #1 "Seven Spanish Angels," a duet with Willie Nelson.


Sunday, March 22, 2020

"Songbird" by Kenny G

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3080
Date:  04/04/1987
Debut:  95
Peak:  4
Weeks:  22
Genre:  Smooth Jazz, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Kenny Gorelick started to play sax at the age of ten. By the time he was seventeen, he was already a pro player working with Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra. At the beginning of the 80s, Gorelick became a member of the Jeff Lorber Fusion and recorded two albums with them for Arista Records. Lorber saw potential in Gorelick and recommended him to Arista label head Clive Davis, who decided to take a chance on the young musician. Rechristened Kenny G, the sax player recorded a self-titled debut album in 1982. Although it wasn't a huge seller, it did well enough to reach #10 on the Jazz chart. It led to a second album, G Force, that expanded Kenny G's sound to include shades of R&B, courtesy of producer/artist Kashif. A single from the LP, "Hi, How Ya Doin'?," sung by Barry Johnson, got to #23 at R&B. Kenny G's next album, Gravity, following along the same lines and produced the #24 R&B track "Love on the Rise," with Kashif on vocals. Both albums ended up on the Pop and R&B charts. Kenny G was doing well, but no one expected the massive success of his fourth album Duotones.  This single from the album, an instrumental written by Kenny G, became a surprise mainstream hit that got to #23 R&B, #3 AC, and #4 Pop. Folks then began to buy the album and it would end up reaching #6 Pop, #8 R&B, and #5 Jazz. By the end of the year, it would be a double platinum seller. Eventually it would sell over five million copies.

ReduxReview:  With smooth jazz on the rise, Clive Davis took advantage of it and tried to push a few artists towards the mainstream by combining their lite-jazz sounds with slick R&B and incorporating vocals. He did that with Jeff Lorber and it kind of worked with his "Facts of Love" getting to #17 R&B/#27 Pop. Kenny G came next. However, the difference between Lorber and Kenny G was that Lorber didn't like doing it and basically took off. Kenny G bought into it and wanted to be a star. He succeeded on a level that probably even Davis hadn't imagined. These days, Kenny G is often the butt of jokes, but truth be told he is an excellent musician and a smart businessman. I even bought into this single back then. It was just unusual for pop radio and the tune was lovely and memorable. While dated now, the 80s production on it certainly gave it a current, mainstream sheen. His formula wore on me quickly and I didn't become a fan, but I will say that this was the right single at the right time and it was a well-deserved hit. For everyone who dislikes Kenny G, you can blame this song and everyone who bought it - including me. We all unleashed the Krusty the Clown-haired soprano sax monster on y'all.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Although this was the song that broke Kenny G to the masses, it was not the first single from the album. It was actually the third single released. The first one to be issued out was "Don't Make Me Wait for Love," which featured Lenny Williams on vocals. On initial release, it would only get to #77 at R&B (it would later be reissued to bigger success following "Songbird"). The second single released was "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)," a remake of the 1969 #1 R&B/#4 Pop hit by Jr. Walker & the All Stars. Ellis Hall handled the vocal part for the Kenny G version. That single would do much better hitting #15 at R&B. At the time it was Kenny G's most successful single. It is most likely thanks to that hit that Arista decided to take a chance on "Songbird" as a follow-up. It was a very wise choice.