Saturday, May 9, 2020

"I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" by Whitney Houston

#1 Alert!
Platinum Record Alert!
Grammy Alert!
Song#:  3128
Date:  05/16/1987
Debut:  38
Peak:  1 (2 weeks)
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  Houston's self-titled debut album was a massive success spending fourteen non-consecutive weeks at #1. It contained four Top 10 hits, including three consecutive #1's, and would go on to sell over thirteen million copies in the US alone. When it came time to follow up that LP, Arista Records label head Clive Davis stepped in once again to help guide the process, which included finding suitable material for Houston to record. Davis reached out to songwriters George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam and asked them to come up with a tune for Houston. The pair had previously supplied Houston with the #1 "How Will I Know" and Davis though that perhaps lightning could strike twice. Eventually they came up with this tune, which Davis loved. Not only did it make the album, titled Whitney, but it was issued out as the LP's first single. The song debuted inside the Pop Top 40 and then quickly made its way to the top of the chart becoming her fourth single in a row to reach #1. The tune would also reach #1 at AC and Dance while making it to #2 at R&B. With the album yet to be released, the single sold well enough to go platinum. It would also earn Houston her second Grammy win in the Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, category.

ReduxReview:  When this song first came out, it was an energetic pop track that was tailor made for mainstream radio. Producer Walden came up with a solid synth/electronic-based arrangement that didn't get in the way of Houston's all-in performance. It was a deserved #1. However, like some critics at the time, I did think it kind of came off as "How Will I Know, Pt. 2." In fact, the whole album was just an extension of her debut. There wasn't anything new or different except that the collection had less R&B influences and leaned heavier towards mainstream pop. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing as Davis was able to corral a few choice tunes, but I think they both knew a third similar album wouldn't be wise and a different path would have to be taken. In the meantime, Houston could enjoy her streak of #1's. I liked this track back in the day, but I must say it has kind of worn on me over the years, especially when contestants on vocal contest shows continue to massacre the tune.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This wasn't the first song that Merrill and Rubicam submitted to Davis for Houston's second album. The first tune they wrote got rejected by Davis. He didn't think it was right for Houston. The writers then went back to the drawing board and came up with "I Wanna Dance with Somebody." That song was then given to Houston and producer Narada Michael Walden. Walden was not all that enthusiastic about the track. Weirdly, he felt it had a country sound to it and thought it would have been a better fit for Olivia Newton-John than Houston. Still, he forged ahead and as the recording developed, he realized that it was the right vehicle for Houston. So what about the first song Merrill and Rubicam wrote for Houston? They kept it for themselves and recorded it under their duo name of Boy Meets Girl. It was released as a single in '88 and ended up becoming the #5 Pop/#1 AC hit "Waiting for a Star to Fall."


Friday, May 8, 2020

"Alone" by Heart

#1 Alert!
Song#:  3127
Date:  05/16/1987
Debut:  53
Peak:  1 (3 weeks)
Weeks:  21
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  Heart made a massive, surprise comeback to the charts with their 1985 self-titled album. It became their biggest studio effort hitting #1 and selling over five million copies thanks to four Pop Top 10 hits including the #1 "These Dream." The LP's success was due in part to a glam rock makeover, a new producer, and material by outside writers that moved the band in a more mainstream pop/rock direction. For a follow-up, the band stuck with the same formula retaining Nevison and securing some songs from A-list writers. The first single out of the gate with this big power ballad written by Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg. It crashed onto the Pop chart near the halfway mark and then made a beeline for the top where it spent three weeks. The tune also got to #2 at AC and #3 Rock. It would end up being the band's biggest hit and the second biggest charting single of 1987 (surpassed only by The Bangles "Walk Like an Egyptian").

ReduxReview:  The band could have made the safe choice and released an uptempo rock tune to introduce the album, but instead they went for the jugular right out of the gate and pushed out this giant. It was a big, bold ballad that featured a massive production and huge vocals from Ann Wilson. It was a perfect single for the late 80s and the band was rewarded with a #1 hit. After a couple of false starts (see below) and some minor rewrites, the tune finally got a chance to shine with Heart and it has been a radio staple ever since.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Heart was actually the third artist to record this song. Writers Steinberg and Kelly first recorded the song themselves in 1983. Under the name I-Ten, the pair recorded the song for their one and only album titled Taking a Cold Look. The tune was not released as a single and the album quickly came and went to little notice. The song was then picked up for use in the 1984 CBS sitcom Dreams that starred John Stamos and Jamie Gertz. The show was about a fictional band who were trying to secure a recording contract. "Alone" was used in the show and sung by Stamos and Valerie Stevenson. It was included on a soundtrack album that featured songs from the show. Twelve episodes of Dreams were filmed, but the show was cancelled after only five were aired. The song then got to Heart who made it a #1 hit. In 2004, American Idol contestant Carrie Underwood would give new life to the song when she sang it for the Top 11 show. Underwood had been doing well, but her performance of the song made Simon Cowell predict she would win the competition and sell more records than any other winner. He was right on both parts. Underwood did win that season of the show and she would eventually outsell the show's first winner Kelly Clarkson. In 2007, superstar Celine Dion would cover the tune for her album Taking Chances. She would release the tune as a single, but it would fail to make the US Pop chart.


Thursday, May 7, 2020

"Every Little Kiss" by Bruce Hornsby & the Range

Song#:  3126
Date:  05/16/1987
Debut:  61
Peak:  14
Weeks:  15
Genre:  Pop, Soft Rock

Pop Bits:  Hornsby and his band became music stars after their debut The Way It Is album scored two Top 10 hits and won them the Grammy for Best New Artist. Following that win and the LP's third single, the #4 "Mandolin Rain," it was decided that a fourth single should be pushed out. But instead of picking a fourth track from the album, the label chose to give the LP's first single, "Every Little Kiss," a second shot. The first time around, the track made a modest impact on the Pop chart peaking at #72. For its re-release, the tune was given a slight makeover in the form of a remix and thanks to that along with Hornsby's newfound popularity, the single did far better on its second chart appearance. It would get to #3 AC while nearly cracking the Pop Top 10. The tune would complete the run of singles from the album. In the end, Hornsby's debut album would be a #3 triple-platinum seller.

ReduxReview:  This "remix" was not all that different from the original. I think it just got a bit of a sound boost to make it more pop radio friendly. It has kind of been forgotten about as it seems the only way to get the remix version now is via the old 45 (which someone put on YouTube - above). Hornsby's The Way It Is album along with subsequent compilation collections seem to all contain the original album version. Still, the ploy of reissuing the song as a remix worked and the tune became a deserved hit on its second go-around.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Back when he attended Boston's Berklee College of Music, Hornsby would utilize the album rental offering of the Boston Public Library and explore various styles of music including classical. Among his favorite composers was Connecticut-born modernist composer Charles Ives (1874-1954). Ives' experimental style didn't bring him much notoriety or accolades during most of his life, but an appreciation of his works started to come about in the 1930s. In 1947, Ives would win the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his Symphony No. 3. Hornsby was drawn to Ives' experimental style and he paid a sort of homage to Ives with "Every Little Thing." Hornsby based a part of the opening piano section of the song on Ives' Piano Sonata, No. 2 (aka Concord Sonata). Inspiration for Ives' work came from popular writers and poets of Concord, Massachusetts, who were associated with the philosophical movement of transcendentalism. Each movement was inspired by one or two people (in movement order Emerson, Hawthorne, The Alcotts, and Thoreau). It was the opening phrase from the third movement The Alcotts (as in Bronson and Louisa May) that Hornsby borrowed for the opening of "Every Little Kiss." In an NPR interview, Hornsby said his use of the passage nearly got him sued, but apparently it all worked out as his recordings of the song still contain the Ives-inspired opening.


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

"Funkytown" by Pseudo Echo

Top Ten Alert!
One-Hit Wonder Alert!
Song#:  3125
Date:  05/16/1987
Debut:  83
Peak:  6
Weeks:  15
Genre:  Synth Rock, New Wave

Pop Bits:  After having some good success at home, this Australian band decided to give America a shot and pushed out a revamped version of their 1985 LP Love an Adventure. Its first single, "Living in a Dream," made the US Pop chart, but it stalled at a minor #57. Next up for single release was this track that was included on the US version of the LP. The tune had been recorded and released as a one-off single back in Australia following the success of Love an Adventure. It ended up being a massive hit spending seven weeks at the top of the chart. When released in the US, the tune took off and it landed Pseudo Echo in the Pop Top 10 while also reaching #4 at Dance. The hit would help the album reach #57. Unfortunately, it would be the band's last single to reach a US chart. Back home in Australia, their fortunes also dried up. Their 1988 follow-up LP Race could only generate a couple of Top 40 entries and it sold far less than their previous two efforts. By 1990, the band had broken up.

ReduxReview:  Pseudo Echo took a disco classic and cranked the volume on it for the late 80s. Blaring synths and screeching guitars overrun the production and an increased tempo made the dance tune even more urgent. Why the band chose this song to cover is a mystery, but it worked out well for them. Unfortunately for the US audience they didn't have any originals as captivating as this remake and they got ignored afterward. This is certainly a relic of its time and one you really don't hear anymore. You could say that the original was also of its time, but that track was a classic of the disco era and it continued to be popular over the years, especially in the mid-90s when the genre experienced a revival of sorts. Pseudo Echo's take was kind of fun at the time, but it just didn't play as well as time went by. It was an interesting hit, but one that has remained overshadowed by the original.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Despite having another minor charting single, thanks to this lone Top 10 hit the band would later be tagged by some as a one-hit wonder. However, some lists of one-hit wonders of the 80s often excluded the band mainly because their hit was a remake of one that had already been an even bigger one-hit wonder of the decade. The studio group Lipps, Inc. originally recorded "Funkytown" and it became a big #1 platinum hit in 1980. It was their only major hit and like Pseudo Echo, despite a second minor charting song, Lipps, Inc. was tagged as a one-hit wonder (#36 on VH1's list of Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the 80s).


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

"Flames of Love" by Jennifer Rush with Elton John

Song#:  3124
Date:  05/16/1987
Debut:  86
Peak:  36
Weeks:  13
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits: US-born Rush scored a massive hit in Europe with "The Power of Love," a song she co-wrote and included on her self-titled debut album. The tune would spend five weeks and #1 in the UK becoming the best-selling single of 1985. However, the tune failed to break for her on home turf the following year (#57 US Pop). Her next album, 1985's Movin', was a big success in Germany and a few other countries despite not containing a sizable across-the-board hit. For her third album, Heart Over Mind, Rush's label CBS decided to pull out the stops and give Rush access to heavy hitting producers, songwriters, and musicians. Among those supplying songs were Desmond Child, Michael Bolton, Harold Faltermeyer, Bruce Roberts, and Andy Goldmark with all but Bolton helping on production as well. To attract even more attention, Elton John was secured as a duet partner for this single. Upon release, the song was more or less greeted with a shrug. While it went Top 10 in a couple of countries, it failed to make an impression elsewhere including in John's UK home where it stalled at #59. The news would be only slightly better in the US where the song was able to crack the Pop Top 40 while getting to #32 at AC. In turn, the album would make it to #113. It would be Rush's best and last single to reach the US Pop chart. The title track would make a slight impression on the Dance chart at #42. Rush would continue to release albums over the years having success in Germany and Switzerland. Elsewhere she would more or less be remembered as a one-hit wonder for "The Power of Love." In her home country of the US, Rush was never able to really break through. However, thanks to other artists covering the song she co-wrote, "The Power of Love," specifically the 1993 #1 version by Celine Dion, Rush certainly made some money off of an American audience.

ReduxReview:  This is a good song. Not a great one. Unfortunately, Rush needed a great one to reestablish herself in various countries following the massive success of "The Power of Love" and to finally have a major hit in the US. It's hard to believe with all the big names involved in making the album that none of them could give her any material above b-grade. The fact that this song was considered among the best of the bunch for single release says a lot. Again, I like the track. It's nicely done and Rush's voice sounds better and stronger. The song also sounded like something Sir Elton might have recorded himself around this time. The problem was that the tune wasn't very memorable. It perhaps might have served as a good follow-up to a much bigger hit, but I think they were counting on this one to be the big hit and it didn't work out. At least Rush finally made it to the Top 40.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Rush's next album, 1988's Passion, also enlisted major songwriters. There were some new ones on board like Diane Warren and Keith Forsey while a couple others made a repeat performance including Michael Bolton. He would co-write three songs for the LP including "Same Heart" on which he would duet with Rush. At the time Rush's album came out, Bolton was just beginning to emerge as a solo artist with a couple of Top 20 entries in the US. By the end of the decade he would be a major worldwide star with his 1989 album Soul Provider, which was far too late for Rush to capitalize on their duet. Over the years she remained popular around Europe and that afforded her opportunities to record with other major artists including Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, and Brian May from Queen.


Monday, May 4, 2020

"Kiss Him Goodbye" by The Nylons

Song#:  3123
Date:  05/16/1987
Debut:  87
Peak:  12
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Pop, Vocal

Pop Bits:   This Canadian group consisted of four actors who would often sing together in between jobs and auditions. They wanted to form a band, but realized none of them knew how to play any instruments. Undeterred, the quartet decided they could become a band using instruments they already had - their voices. The a cappella outfit began performing for audiences in 1979 and over the next couple of years they became a successful club and cabaret act across Canada performing a cappella versions of pop hits along with original material. They secured a deal with Attic Records and in 1982 issued out a self-titled debut album. It became a hit in Canada as did their follow-up One Size Fits All. This led to more touring, which included opening spots for acts like The Beach Boys and The Pointer Sisters. Their popularity soon stretched across the border into the US and that allowed their 1984 effort Seamless to get on the album chart and reach #133. For a long while, original member Paul Cooper had been pestering the group to record the classic tune "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye." They finally gave in and the track was included on their next album Happy Together. It was then pushed out as a single and to everyone's surprise it started to climb the Canadian chart. It ended up peaking at #21. The unusual track then gained an audience in the US and eventually the song would nearly crack the Pop Top 10 while reaching #10 AC. The unexpected hit helped their album get to #43. It would end up being the quartet's peak commercial moment.

ReduxReview:  While the quartet started out as an a cappella group, they began to enhance their arrangements with electronic percussion around the time of their album Seamless. They continued it on Happy Together, especially with this track. So while not a strict a cappella performance, their voices remained the stars and the driving force behind the song. Save for a stray Beach Boys song or tunes from Billy Joel's An Innocent Man, harmonies and vocal arrangements like this were not the norm in the 80s and their old school vocal approach combined with some modern touches on a catchy classic captured the ears of a mainstream audience. I thought it was cool and ended up buying the single. It was an enjoyable, quirky track that was perfectly arranged and recorded. It's still a fun little lark to hear these days, but it hasn't necessarily aged well. Living now in an age where a cappella has really expanded and pushed boundaries, thanks in part to the Pitch Perfect flicks, this track sounds dated. Still, it provided a very interesting moment on the Pop chart in the 80s.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of a song originally released by the band Steam in 1969. Their version spent two weeks at the top of the Pop chart. Like many hits in the 60s and even the 70s, this song was recorded by a studio group. There wasn't an actual band named Steam when the song was released. It also wasn't intended to be pushed out as the a-side of a single. Back in the early 60s, Paul Leka, Gary DeCarlo, and Dale Frashuer were members of a Connecticut doo-wop outfit and while with them the trio began to write a tune for the group to sing. Unfortunately, the group fell apart and the song was scrapped. Leka and Frashuer then moved to New York and began writing/producing for other artists. In 1968, Leka got DeCarlo into the studio to record a few tunes. Mercury Records liked what they heard and wanted to release each song as a single. B-sides were then needed, so for the first single to be released, Leka and DeCarlo revived the little ditty they had written years earlier. They quickly enhanced it with a chorus and with little time to get the song done stitched together a new keyboard track with drums and a conga solo that were recorded at other sessions. DeCarlo sang the lead vocals. To everyone's surprise, when the single went to radio, the tossed together b-side of "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" started to get airplay. It was then officially released as an a-side single and it would eventually reach #1. An actual Steam band was then assembled and an album released. A follow-up song would barely crack the Top 50 and that was the end of Steam. It left the "band" as a one-hit wonder.


Sunday, May 3, 2020

"Right Next Door (Because of Me)" by Robert Cray Band

Song#:  3122
Date:  05/16/1987
Debut:  94
Peak:  80
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Blues-Rock

Pop Bits:  The blues guitarist and his band scored a left-field hit with the #22 "Smoking Gun." The success of the song made the associated album Strong Persuader a Grammy-winning #13 platinum seller. To follow up that song, this second single was issued out. It didn't catch on as well and could only get to #27 at Rock and #80 Pop. Regardless of the results, the fact that the first single was a hit and that a blues album went platinum in the 80s was a big deal. It didn't necessarily pave the way for other blues artists to have hits, but it did get a younger generation interested in the genre, which helped put a spotlight on other blues musicians.

ReduxReview:  This is a good track and perhaps the best one to follow up "Smoking Gun," but it just wasn't as catchy or memorable as that hit. It was highly unlikely that Cray or even his label thought the album would do so well and even generate a hit, so I'm sure when the LP was assembled the focus wasn't on creating tracks with mainstream chart appeal, so this song not doing well was probably not a huge surprise. In the long run, it didn't matter. The first hit was enough to establish Cray's career and make the album sell over a million copies.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Before "Smoking Gun" became a hit, Cray was already a well-respected Grammy-winning musician. In the fall of '86, Cray was given the opportunity to perform in a film. Director Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman) was heading up a concert documentary about the legendary Chuck Berry. For the film, two concerts given by Chuck Berry to celebrate his 60th birthday were set up in St. Louis, Berry's hometown. Backing Berry would be a sort of all-star band assembled by The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards. The main band was made up of Berry, Richards, Eric Clapton, and Berry's former piano player/collaborator Johnnie Johnson. Others would be invited to perform alongside Berry and the band including Etta James, Julian Lennon, and Linda Ronstadt. Richards reached out to Cray and asked him to play as well. Cray would supply guitar and vocals on several songs during the concerts. The documentary also featured commentary from contemporaries like Bo Diddley and Little Richard. Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll was released in the fall of '87. It received good notices, but it didn't do all that well at the box office even taking into account it was a documentary. The film is famous for spotlighting Berry's off stage prickly personality.