Saturday, May 30, 2020

"One for the Mockingbird" by Cutting Crew

Song#:  3149
Date:  06/06/1987
Debut:  78
Peak:  38
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  This UK band grabbed a major hit with their very first single "(I Just) Died in Your Arms." The song would hit #1 on the US Pop chart and lead them to a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. For a follow-up, this next track was selected. It didn't catch on quite as well and after making the Pop Top 40, it stalled. It did only slightly better at Rock getting to #29. By this point, the album had already peaked at #16 and gone gold. This track didn't promote it all that well, but a third single would help spur some sales of the album.

ReduxReview:  While this song didn't have the mainstream appeal of "(I Just) Died in Your Arms," I thought it was a worthy follow-up. In addition to being nicely written and produced, the song had a good hook and it showed a different side of the band. It may not have been destined for the Top 10, but I thought it would do better than a minor Top 40 showing.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Not long after Cutting Crew broke up, lead singer/songwriter Nick Van Eede ended up on the ground floor of what would become one of the biggest hits of the 90s. Van Eede produced a demo of a song that was written by Brian Higgins, Matthew Gray, Stuart McLennen, and Timothy Powell. The little ditty floated around at Warner Bros. for a long time, but it generated little interest. Then a lucky break came in 1998. Warner was seeking material for a new Cher album that was to have a Eurobeat flavor. Producer/songwriter Mark Taylor was already working on the project and was given the demo to see if he could do something with it. He enlisted the help of a couple other staff songwriters and in the end they came up with the song "Believe." Of course that song went on to become an iconic worldwide #1 hit for Cher. Van Eede had nothing to do with the song beyond producing the original demo. All he got out of it was a good story and as he has stated in interviews, "I got a bottle of whiskey for my work!"


Friday, May 29, 2020

"Rock Steady" by The Whispers

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3148
Date:  06/06/1987
Debut:  84
Peak:  7
Weeks:  23
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  Although The Whispers hadn't been in the Pop Top 40 since 1981's "It's a Love Thing" (#28 Pop/#2 R&B), it didn't mean their success had waned. Over the course of three albums (one of them going gold) the group scored four R&B Top 10s between 1982-84. They took a bit of a break after that run of hits and finally returned with their fourteenth album Just Gets Better with Time. For the recording, they were paired with the new songwriting/production team of L.A. Reid and Babyface, who were members of the band The Deele. The Whispers recorded two songs with the pair including this first single. It would be an immediate hit at R&B easily reaching #1 on that chart. A week before it would hit that peak, the single debuted on the Pop chart. After a leisurely climb, the tune would become the first Pop Top 10 for the group. In turn, the album would become their second platinum seller hitting #3 R&B/#22 Pop. The song would be the group's last to reach the Pop chart in the 80s.

ReduxReview:  When an artist has been around for a long time and have remained popular like The Whispers (since 1970), sometime a boost of new blood is needed in order to keep them viable on the charts. The Whispers had been doing consistently well on the R&B chart in the 80s, but they still hadn't managed to breakthrough to Pop in a big way; and with their albums in '83 and '84 not going gold, it was time for a change. Luckily, they got hooked up with L.A. Reid and Babyface and that breath of fresh creativity gave them this hit, which became the biggest of their career. It was a terrific, hooky track with a nice 80s-oriented production. The song took its time breaking through to Pop even though I thought it was an instantly likable tune. The group was never able to replicate its success, but at least they were able to cap off their career with this memorable hit.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) After another break and a label change to Capitol Records, the group returned with 1990's More of the Night. It would do well going gold and reaching #3 R&B/#83 Pop thanks mainly to the #8 R&B/#55 Pop single "Innocent." Two more R&B Top 10s would follow, but after that the group's fortunes began to dwindle and their hit-making days came to an end.  2) This was the first major hit co-written and produced by L.A. Reid and Babyface. Two big crossover hits with R&B singer Pebbles would quickly follow. Then their career as ace writers/producers blew up big time when they worked on former New Edition member Bobby Brown's massively successful second album, 1988's Don't Be Cruel. They then became one of the most successful writing/production teams of the 90s. The duo would end up winning the Grammy for Producer(s) of the Year in 1993.


Thursday, May 28, 2020

"Hypnotize Me" by Wang Chung

Song#:  3147
Date:  06/06/1987
Debut:  87
Peak:  36
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Pop, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  Wang Chung scored their second Pop Top 10 hit with "Let's Go" (#9), the second single from their album Mosaic. With the duo hitting new heights in popularity, it was hoped that this third single would follow the others into the Top 10. Unfortunately, once it got into the Top 40 it faltered and couldn't make the rest of the trip up the chart. Still, the singles would help the album sell and it would end up with a gold certification. Sadly this song would end up being the duo's final Top 40 entry.

ReduxReview:  Although this tune wasn't quite as in-your-face hooky than the duo's previous two hits, I thought it was good enough to at least get near the Top 10. I was a bit surprised it stopped just after entering the Top 40. I'm guessing their label was banking on the tie-in to a movie (see below) to help promote it, but when the film didn't become the expected summer box office hit, it was too late to come up with another strategy. Nevertheless, it was another solid single for the duo.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  In addition to being on the Mosaic album, this song was also included on the soundtrack to the sci-fi comedy flick Innerspace. The single was released a few weeks prior to the film's opening. Innerspace starred Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, and Meg Ryan. It took the basic plot point of the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage and framed it within a new story. In both films, scientists in a spaceship-like vessel are miniaturized and injected into a human. While Fantastic Voyage was more of a sci-fi adventure film, Innerspace combined sci-fi with comedy and even a little romance. Both films did well with critics, but neither became a box office hit. However, both found sizable audiences via home video. Both were also Academy Award winners. They both won Oscars for Special/Visual Effects while Fantastic Voyage also won for Art Direction.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

"Can't We Try" by Dan Hilll with Vonda Shepard

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3146
Date:  06/06/1987
Debut:  91
Peak:  6
Weeks:  24
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  This Canadian singer/songwriter got his first break when he signed with RCA Records in 1972. Unfortunately, nothing came from his association with the label and after getting out of the contract he gave it a go with the indie label GRT. His 1975 self-titled debut album yielded three charting singles in Canada. 20th Century Fox picked Hill up for distribution in the US and one of his singles, "Growin' Up," made a minor impression on the US Pop chart at #67. A second album wasn't quite as successful, but a single from his third album, 1977's Longer Fuse, would turn him into a star. "Sometimes When We Touch" would top the Canadian chart while getting to #3 US Pop and #10 US AC. The hit would help send his album to #21 in the US. After that, things tapered off quickly for Hill in the US with only the 1978 song "All I See Is Your Face" doing anything (#41 Pop/#8 AC). Hill would grab a few minor chart entries in Canada through to 1983, but after two label changes over the course of three albums, Hill's career stalled. Then in 1986, Columbia Records decided to give him a shot at a comeback. He recorded his second self-titled album and this first single was issued out. It debuted low on the Pop chart and began a long, slow climb. Aided by it being used in the soap opera Santa Barbara, the tune ended up cracking the Pop Top 10 while hitting #2 at AC for three weeks. The hit would help Hill's album reach #90, his first showing on the chart since 1978. It would take ten years, but Hill would finally lose the tag of being a one-hit wonder.

ReduxReview:  This is a terrific late 80s AC ballad. It was well-written and wonderfully performed by Hill and Shepard. I also appreciated the arrangement and production, which made the song sound grand and emotional without going over the top. Imagine if David Foster was in charge. His bigger-is-better approach would have buried the tune and the vocalists. Luckily, that didn't happen and what we got was one of the best AC ballads of the late 80s. On a side note, even though this song got locked out of the top spot at AC, its three weeks at #2 and longevity on the chart made it the #1 AC charting song for 1987. It was quite rare for the top song of the year for any chart to have not peaked at #1.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Joining Hill on this track was singer/songwriter Vonda Shepard. Shepard had been working with other artists as a backup singer and/or keyboard player and had a couple of close calls at getting a solo career going. In addition to being considered for the lead in the film Light of Day (Joan Jett got the part), Shepard was also a candidate for Peter Cetera's duet partner on "The Next Time I Fall," but someone suggested Amy Grant and she got the job. Then she was tipped off that Dan Hill was looking for a duet partner for a song he was recording at a local studio that Shepard frequented. She auditioned and the next day recorded the song with Hill. This hit helped Shepard secure a deal with Reprise Records and her self-titled debut came out in 1989. Unfortunately, it only yielded the #17 AC entry "Don't Cry Ilene" and her time with Reprise came to an end. The next eight years found Shepard touring with other artists, putting out a couple of indie albums, and performing solo club shows. It was at one of those club shows that Shepard was spotted by TV writer/producer David E. Kelly. He cast her and her and her music in his new show Ally McBeal. Shepard would co-write and perform the show's theme song "Searchin' My Soul." The show was a hit and by the time the first season was ending in 1998, the theme song became a #22 hit on the AC chart (#16 Pop Airplay). The associated soundtrack album, which featured Shepard doing cover tunes, her theme song, and another original was an even bigger success getting to #7 and going platinum. A second soundtrack would get to #60 and go gold the following year.


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

"Mary's Prayer" by Danny Wilson

Song#:  3145
Date:  06/06/1987
Debut:  92
Peak:  23
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Sophisti-Pop

Pop Bits:  This Scottish trio was made up of brothers Gary and Kit Clark along with Ged Grimes. Gary and Ged had known each other since their school days and at one point ended up in London together trying to get a music career going by joining a couple of bands. When nothing was working out, they moved back to Scotland and with Kit started their own group. Eventually, they were spotted by a Virgin Records rep and in 1986 they signed on with the label. A debut album titled Meet Danny Wilson was recorded and this first single was issued out. In the UK, the song initially didn't make much of an impression peaking at #86. Despite those results, the plan for a US launch proceeded. The song debuted low on the chart and after three weeks it looked as if the song was going to peak, but then the track picked up some momentum and slowly started to climb. It would eventually get near the Pop Top 20. It did even better at AC getting to #6. The album sold a few copies and peaked at #79. Unfortunately, it would be the trio's only song and album to reach the Pop chart. Their second album, Bebop Moptop, disappeared quickly with the track "If Everything You Said Was True" only getting to #49 at AC. Plans for a third album were scrapped after the band decided to split.

ReduxReview:  Is it a guy? Is it a group? What's a Danny Wilson? I hate it when a band uses a person's name that has nothing to do with the people in the band. It's just so confusing. The band later admitted that it wasn't the smartest thing they did as people would assume that the lead singer was Danny Wilson. Yeah, not smart guys. But then again, it kind of worked out okay for Alice Cooper. Regardless of the name, this single was breezy and refreshing. It had some nice chord progressions, especially the one that came at the end of the chorus that gave off a feeling of uncertainty. It was a lovely tune and I bought the single. The album was also interesting and engaging. It's too bad they couldn't replicate the success of this song.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The song's success in the US prompted a re-release in the UK. It did better, but not great topping out at #42. Later in '87, a radio program asked listeners what song released that year should have been a top hit but wasn't. "Mary's Prayer" ended up topping the poll. The record company decided to give the song another shot and pushed it out again. Third time was the charm with the song reaching #3.  2) When the Clark brothers and Grimes got together, they called their new band Spencer Tracey, after the actor. After getting signed by Virgin, the plan was to keep that name. After the LP was completed and most all the details in place including cover art, they got a legal warning from Spencer Tracey's estate saying they could not use the name and that they would sue the label and band if they did. The band was then instructed by Virgin to get a new name pronto so that they could still get the album released on time. Apparently still liking the idea of a person's name for the trio, the Clark brothers remember that a favorite film of their dad's was the 1952 Frank Sinatra musical drama Meet Danny Wilson. They decided on Danny Wilson for the band name and then utilized the film title for their album title. The film came at a time when Sinatra's career was at a low point. It got middling reviews and was not a box office hit. The film may be known more for what happened behind the scenes. Legend has it that Sinatra and his co-star Shelley Winters hated each other and it got so bad on the set that during an argument Winters hauled off and punched Sinatra. Sinatra's career would be revived in a big way with his next film, 1953's From Here to Eternity, for which he would receive the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Winters wouldn't be far behind as she would get her first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for 1959's The Diary of Anne Frank.


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.


Sunday, May 24, 2020

"Rhythm Is Gonna Get You" by Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3143
Date:  05/30/1987
Debut:  66
Peak:  5
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Latin Pop, Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  After seven Spanish-language albums and one in English, Miami Sound Machine's Latin pop sound broke through to the US mainstream with the left-field hit "Conga" (#10 Pop) from their LP Primitive Love. It can sometimes be difficult to score a second hit after a uniquely styled single, but the band easily managed that and ended up scoring two more Top 10 hits. The album would then go on to be a triple-platinum seller. Their next hurdle would be to record a successful follow-up album. Although Let It Loose would be their tenth LP, it acted more like a sophomore effort after such a major breakthrough. Any doubts about whether they were a flash-in-the-pan were quickly put to rest when this first single was issued out. The song would get to #5 at both Pop and Dance while reaching #31 at AC. The hit helped the album become their first to make the Top 10 (#6). It would quickly go gold and eventually it would match the three-million mark of Primitive Love.

ReduxReview:  Miami Sound Machine came along at the right time. Thanks to Latin freestyle expanding on the charts and the success of other Latin pop artists like Julio Iglesias, the band's mix of Latin music with contemporary pop was a natural extension. They weren't strictly Latin-based either and dabbled in straight-up pop and AC, which gained them an even bigger audience. This single certainly had a lot of international flair and it was the perfect track to kick off their album. The call-and-response was a memorable, crowd pleasing add while the roar and punctuated keyboards added emphasis. The beat and rhythm kept things moving with Estefan letting you know that her rhythm was gonna get you, so watch out. It certainly did and it was easily a Top 10 hit. The song was just a lot of fun and it became another signature tune for Estefan and the band.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  The success of Primitive Love brought changes to the band that would be reflected with Let It Loose. After a big worldwide tour, several members left the band. When the dust settled, the only original members remaining were Gloria Estefan and drummer/songwriter Enríqué "Kíki" García. Even Estefan's husband Emilio, who founded the group, decided to take a role behind the scenes. With the changes and Gloria Estefan's star rising thanks to here leading position, it was decided that she should get top billing on the new album. Therefore, Let It Loose was credited to Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine. The success of the album pushed Estefan even further into the limelight and it provided proof that her name could sell records. Because of that, Let It Loose became the last album credited to Miami Sound Machine. While they would usually remain Estefan's backing band on tour and sometimes on record, further albums by Estefan would be solo efforts.