Saturday, June 27, 2020

"Lies" Jonathan Butler

Song#:  3177
Date:  06/27/1987
Debut:  75
Peak:  27
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Pop, R&B, Smooth Jazz

Pop Bits:  This South African singer/songwriter and guitarist was just a kid when he took part in a touring show. By the time he was in his teens, Butler had signed a record deal and scored a few hits in South Africa in '75 and '76. A couple years later, the teen idol's career took a bit of a left turn when he joined the jazz-leaning funk/rock band Pacific Express. He stayed for a couple of albums before heading back out on his own. He signed on with Jive Records and in 1985 recorded a solo album titled Introducing Jonathan Butler with producer Barry Eastmond (who was just beginning to have success collaborating with Freddie Jackson). It was an instrumental LP that was more along the lines of smooth jazz with Butler's guitar taking the lead. The track "Baby Please Don't Take It (I Need Your Love)" would make the AC chart at #25 while the album got to #9 on the Traditional Jazz chart, #46 R&B, and #101 Pop. For his self-titled follow-up, Butler included a few instrumentals, but the bulk of the tracks featured him singing. He also recorded enough tunes to make it a double LP. Eastmond still stayed on as producer and co-writer on several tracks. This first single, which Butler wrote with Jolyon Skinner, got issued out ahead of the album. It would do well reaching #5 at R&B and #16 AC while cracking the Pop Top 30. In turn, the album would get to #13 R&B, #12 Contemporary Jazz, and #50 Pop. Later on, the song would earn Butler a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male. Another track from the album, "Going Home," would be nominated for Best R&B Instrumental Performance. The tune certainly put Butler's career in high gear, but unfortunately it would end up being his only single to make the Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  This is certainly one of the sunniest songs I've heard about being cheated on. The tune reminded me of something that George Benson might have done earlier in the decade. It was nice that a smooth jazz-leaning pop tune could still catch on and get inside the Pop Top 30. This was pleasant crossover ear candy with Butler selling the song well. Eastmond's production was appropriate and it let Butler shine. He was only 26 years old when he did this album and it sounded like the product of someone a bit older with more experience. Then again, Butler had been working/performing since he was a kid, so this wasn't his first rodeo. The experience paid off and Butler had a solid career after this. It's too bad he wasn't able to get back on the Pop chart.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Butler's career continued to do well following this hit. The album would generate another R&B Top 10 hit with the #10 "Take Good Care of Me." His next album, 1988's More Than Friends, featured two more R&B Top 10s. While things cooled off after that at R&B, Butler's albums became fixtures on the Contemporary Jazz chart. In all, fourteen of his albums would reach the CJ Top 10 with three of them hitting #1. Beginning around 2004, Butler also began recording gospel music. Four of his albums would reach the Top 10 on the Gospel chart.


Friday, June 26, 2020

"Jam Tonight" by Freddie Jackson

Song#:  3176
Date:  06/27/1987
Debut:  79
Peak:  32
Weeks:  13
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  Jackson's second album, Just Like the First Time, was a huge success spending 26 weeks at #1 on the R&B chart. By this point in time it had already generated a pair of #1's and a #2 hit and featured another #1 duet with Melba Moore that had been released earlier in '86. Yet the success at R&B didn't really translate to the Pop chart. Only two singles had managed to crossover to pop, but neither cracked the Top 40. With the album still selling well, this fourth solo single from the LP was released. It would easily become Jackson's sixth song to top the R&B chart. The tune then crossed over to the Pop chart and although it wasn't a major hit, it did at least become his fourth Top 40 entry. A fifth and final single from the album, "Look Around," would break his string of R&B hits and peak at a low #62. However, it didn't really matter because the LP had long hit the platinum sales level.

ReduxReview:  This easygoing track had a late-70s soul feel to it, which is not surprising since it was written near the turn of the decade (see below). The production kind of takes a backseat to Jackson's voice and that is both good and bad. The slight production allowed Jackson's terrific vocals to stand out, but the weak 80s production didn't do anything to enhance Jackson's performance. These days it nearly sounds like a karaoke accompaniment. It probably sounded better back in the day, but if the track had a meatier production and arrangement, I think this song could have done even better.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Jackson and his producer/co-writer Paul Lawrence wrote this song in the early 80s when they teamed up in New York. The track was originally titled "Jam Song" and it was first recorded by soul/disco singer Howard Johnson. Johnson had recorded two albums with the band Niteflyte whose best effort was the 1979 single "If You Want It" (#21 R&B/#37 Pop). He then set out on a solo career signing with A&M Records. Paul Lawrence would produce tracks for the album and he got Johnson to record "Jam Song" for his debut album Keepin' Love New. It would not be released as a single. The LP's lead single, "So Fine," would reach #1 on the Dance chart and #6 R&B. It was Johnson's biggest hit. He did two more albums for A&M but none of the singles would do as well and his charting days came to an end.


Thursday, June 25, 2020

"La Bamba" by Los Lobos

#1 Alert!
Song#:  3175
Date:  06/27/1987
Debut:  84
Peak:  1 (3 weeks)
Weeks:  21
Genre:  Rock, Latin Rock, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  The L.A. band's album How Will the Wolf Survive? did well reaching #47 thanks to solid reviews and the single "Will the Wolf Survive?" (#26 Rock/#78 Pop). They followed it up early in '87 with By the Light of the Moon. While none of its singles reached the Pop chart, it did feature the #4 Rock track "Shakin' Shakin' Shakes." While the LP was making its way to #47, the band got an opportunity to record songs for an upcoming film titled La Bamba that was to be based on the life of rock 'n' roll/Chicano rock pioneer Ritchie Valens. Early on it seemed that instead of using actual recordings from Valens and other artists of the era, the decision was made to record new versions of the songs. Apparently, the Valens family, after giving the go-ahead for the movie, requested that Los Lobos record Valens' tunes. The band agreed and recorded a batch of tracks for use in the film. A soundtrack album was culled and it included eight tracks by Los Lobos with a few other classic songs covered by artists like Marshall Crenshaw and Brian Setzer. About a month before the film was in theaters, this first single from the soundtrack was released. The updated classic struck a chord with a new, younger audience and the song ended up reaching #1 for three weeks. In turn, the soundtrack album to the film reached #1 for a two-week stay. By the fall it would be a double-platinum seller. With one song, Los Lobos went from critical darlings to mainstream stars.

ReduxReview:  This tune really surprised me. Probably a lot of other folks as well. It was kind of a left-field hit. Who knew that a remake of a rock tune that itself was a rock remake of a Mexican folk song in Spanish could top the Pop chart? It did help that the film generated a lot of buzz and did well at the box office, but still I don't think anyone expected the single to do so well. The other thing in its favor was that the tune was just dang catchy. It created a party vibe and everyone wanted to dance and drink to it. Mitchell Froom's production was meaty as well and it helped to make the song soar. Of course, Los Lobos is fantastic and I think they did justice to Valens' original classic. I really didn't latch on to Los Lobos until a few years later with their amazing 1992 album Kiko, but this stopover in soundtrack land was a major career booster that allowed them to experiment and push out some great albums over the years.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The film was based on the life of Ritchie Valens. Valens was an accomplished musician in his teens and got signed to a record deal while still in high school. His second single, 1958's "Donna," became a big #2 hit while its flip side, "La Bamba," a traditional Mexican folk song that Valens adapted into a rock tune, also charted at #22. His career was on the rise, but it was tragically cut short when he died in the same place crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper (the event known as "the day the music died"). Valens was only seventeen. The movie starred Lou Diamond Phillips as Valens. It ended up being a solid hit that was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Picture, Drama.  2) This was the first song in Spanish to reach #1 on the Pop chart. As of this posting date, it remains one of only three Spanish language songs to top the US Pop chart. The other two were 1996's Bayside Boys remix of "Macarena" by Los Del Rio, which spent 14 weeks at #1, and 2017's "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Justin Bieber. That song nearly broke a long-standing record tying for most weeks at #1 (16) alongside 1995's Boyz II Men/Mariah Carey track "One Sweet Day." (That 16-week record would be broken by Lil Naz X's "Old Town Road," which spent 19 weeks at #1 in 2019.) However, "La Bamba" remains the only #1 that is completely in Spanish. The other two hits included bits of English.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

"Dreamin'" by Will to Power

Song#:  3174
Date:  06/27/1987
Debut:  89
Peak:  50
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Dance-Pop, Freestyle

Pop Bits:  Miami-based radio DJ/mixer Bob Rosenberg wanted more than just toying with other people's music. He had aspirations to write and record his own original music. Rosenberg decided to get in the studio and record a song he composed titled "Dreamin'." He got some assistance via a couple of vocalists, April Newman and Laurie Miller (who earlier had been an original member of Exposé) and when the tune was finished, he issued it out as a 12" single around the Miami area on own Thurst label. Although he hadn't officially created a group, he credited the one-off song as by Will to Power. The tune ended up becoming a regional hit and Epic Records took notice. They made a deal with Rosenberg to distribute the song nationally and when released, it became a club hit reaching #15 on the Dance chart. It crossed over the Pop chart where it spent quite a few weeks trying to breakthrough, but in the end it could only peak at the halfway point. Still, that was good enough for Epic who asked Rosenberg if he had enough material for an album. Although he didn't, he said yes (of course!) and quickly set out to work up more tunes for a debut album. As it began to take shape, Rosenberg formed an official trio called Will to Power with vocalist Suzi Carr (who sang backup vocals on "Dreamin'") and saxophonist Dr. J.

ReduxReview:  This came out at a time when freestyle was really prevalent in Miami and was breaking wider nationally. When compared to some of the other freestyle tracks making the Pop chart, this one was a bit weak. It sounded like an independent record and the hook wasn't as forceful or memorable. A good majority of the freestyle songs of the time were sung by women, so having Rosenberg's slight voice take the lead didn't help. Folks apparently danced to it in the clubs since it made the Dance Top 20, but it wasn't nearly strong enough to make headway on the Pop chart.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  Music apparently ran in the Rosenberg family. Bob Rosenberg's mother was Philadelphia-born pop singer Gloria Mann. She began singing with bands in the 40s, but it wasn't until the mid-50s that she began recording solo singles. After a couple of failed attempts for two labels, she signed on with Sound Records and recorded a version of "Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)," a song made famous by the doo-wop group The Penguins in 1954 (#8 Pop/#1 R&B). Mann's version did well enough to reach #18 on the Pop chart in 1955. She followed it up quickly with the song "Teen Age Prayer" (a #6 hit for Gale Storm in 1955), which got to #19. She then got signed to Decca, but after a series of singles, the only one that charted was her remake of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" (#59, 1956). After a brief stint with ABC-Paramount that yielded no hits, Mann's recording career faded away.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

"Jane's Getting Serious" by Jon Astley

Song#:  3173
Date:  06/27/1987
Debut:  91
Peak:  77
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  This UK engineer/producer made a name for himself when he co-produced The Who's classic 1978 album Who Are You. More work followed with The Who and for artists like Eric Clapton, Corey Hart, Marilyn Martin, and Roger Daltrey. In 1987, he got an offer from Atlantic Records to sign on as a solo artist. Astley took the chance and began work on a debut album titled Everyone Loves the Pilot (Except the Crew). Astley would write/co-write all the tracks and program much of the music via the Fairlight sampler, at which Astley had become adept. However, he deferred production duties to Andy MacPherson and Phil Chapman. This first single was released and it found a home on Rock radio and got to #7 on that chart. The song crossed over to Pop, but it didn't fully catch on remaining in the bottom quarter of the chart for several weeks. The album would top out at #135.

ReduxReview:  I'm not sure where I heard this song, but I'm guessing it was MTV as I remember the video, which featured Astley as a pilot who crashed in the jungle. It also had a trio of background dancers dressed as apes. Oh yeah. It worked. I loved the song and bought the single. The arrangement was cool, the production was hot and I really liked Astley's quirky, rough voice, which was similar to that of another producer/artist Rupert Hine. It was also catchy and memorable. I was highly disappointed at the time that the song petered out early. It really should have been a bigger hit. Now it is kind of a lost gem of the decade. For someone who didn't include being a recording artist as part of their goals (see below), Astley certainly tossed out a pretty cool debut single. It was also one that was featured in a Heinz ketchup commercial that starred a pre-Friends Matt LeBlanc.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) By the end of the year another Astley from the UK, Rick, would begin his streak of hits. However, the two Astley's were not related. Oddly, the two artists with the same last name just happened to kick off their solo careers in the same year. Although Jon was not related to Rick, Jon was for a while related to another famous musician. Jon's sister Karen was married to Who guitarist Pete Townshend. They wed in 1968 and separated in 1994. The connection to Townshend came in handy later when Jon got the chance to work with The Who.  2) Astley didn't have his sites set on being a recording artist himself. He was happy with his career behind-the-scenes and didn't seek the limelight. That changed one day when after finishing off his work on Marilyn Martin's debut album he was called in to the Atlantic Records office by its president. Astley was fearful that he had really messed something up, but instead he was asked if he'd like to record a solo album. It seems that the label head was impressed with Astley's work and thought there was a chance to turn the tech guy into a recording star. Astley ran with the offer and his first single became a #7 Rock hit.


Monday, June 22, 2020

"Holiday" by Kool & the Gang

Song#:  3172
Date:  06/27/1987
Debut:  93
Peak:  66
Weeks:  7
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  The band's seventeenth studio album Forever was doing well thanks to a pair of #10 Pop hits "Victory" and "Stone Love." Those singles would help make the LP a #25 (#9 R&B) gold seller. However, that was a quarter of the double-platinum sales of their previous disc Emergency. They needed another significant hit to keep sales going and tried to do so with this third single. It would do fine at R&B reaching #9, but it was unable to replicate that success at Pop where it stalled in the bottom half of the chart. It didn't do much to increase sales of the album and it signaled a downturn in the band's fortunes.

ReduxReview:  As I mentioned in the posts for their previous two hits, the band was nearly out of gas and running on fumes. They were just coasting along on the same formula they had been tossing out in songs for several years an it showed. This track sounded like they were trying to write another "Celebration," which was quite obvious since it actually contained the word "celebrate." It didn't work. The band just sounded tired. The background vocals in the chorus sounded like they were on the verge of falling asleep and JT Taylor didn't sound all that vested either. And while a song about a fun holiday wasn't a bad thing, in the era of Madonna I'm not sure it was so smart to release a single with the same name of her 1983 debut single, especially when hers also contained the word "celebrate." I dunno. It just sounded like they weren't even trying.

ReduxRating:  2/10

Trivia:  This song would end up being the band's final one to reach the R&B Top 10. Eight years prior, the band got their first #1 R&B hit following the addition of lead singer James "JT" Taylor and choosing to work with producer Eumir Deodato. "Ladies Night" would become a gold single that also got to #8 at Pop. The tune was named after the popular bar promotion that sought to lure in more female clientele with drink and other specials. The hit helped turn their same-titled album into their first platinum seller. Several artist would cover the tune including a 2003 version by the UK girl group Atomic Kitten. Apparently, Kool & the Gang had reached out to the trio to collaborate on a track for the band's upcoming duets-style album The Hits: Reloaded. They suggested "Ladies Night" to the trio and they liked the idea so much that they asked if they could also put the song on their upcoming third album. Agreements were ironed out and the song was completed and released as a single. It would do well reaching #8 on the UK chart. The song didn't reach the US charts. In fact, while Atomic Kitten were highly successful in the UK getting twelve Top 10 hits including two #1's, they remained relatively unknown in the US. In fact, it seems as if their recordings weren't even released in the US. After three successful albums, the trio ended up splitting in 2004, although they would reunited several times over the years.


Sunday, June 21, 2020

"Seven Wonders" by Fleetwood Mac

Song#:  3171
Date:  06/20/1987
Debut:  52
Peak:  19
Weeks:  13
Genre:  Soft Rock

Pop Bits:  After a five-year hiatus, the Mac returned with their fourteenth album Tango in the Night. Its first single, the Lindsey Buckingham-led "Big Love," became the band's eighth Pop Top 10 hit reaching #5. Next up to be released was this track with lead vocals by Stevie Nicks. It would be another hit at Rock for the band with the track reaching #2. The tune would also do fairly well at AC getting to #13. However, the song unexpectedly stopped a bit early on the Pop chart after cracking the Top 20. Even though it wasn't a major hit at Pop, it kept sales of the album going. By the end of the year it would reach double platinum certification.

ReduxReview:  This song is a rarity in the Buckingham/Nicks version of Fleetwood Mac as it was not written by any of the band members (although Nicks gets a slight writing credit for changing a line - see below). However, the song was a natural fit for the band and for Nicks on lead vocals. It was a solid pop song and I expected it to crack the Top 10. The fact that it stopped short of that mark was a bit surprising especially after hitting #2 at Rock. It may not be a classic Mac song, but it was another quality track from them.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This song was written by Sandy Stewart. She had worked on Nick's 1983 solo disc The Wild Heart performing background vocals, playing keyboards, and co-writing three songs including the #14 "If Anyone Falls." Stewart's attempts at a solo career didn't really pay off, but her songs got recorded by several artists including Nicks. Stewart wrote this track and recorded a demo of it that she sent over to Nicks without including a lyric sheet. Nicks decided to record it as a Fleetwood Mac track and thought she had the lyrics correct when she went to record it. However, there was a line in Stewart's original demo that Nicks heard wrong and she ended up singing "all the way down to Emmeline" instead of the original lyric "all the way down you held the line." Nicks decided to keep her little update and because of that she ended up with a songwriting credit.  2) This song experienced a bit of a revival thanks to a TV show. It was used for the opening segment of the 2014 season finale of American Horror Story: Coven. Done in a music video style, it featured the cast along with an appearance by Stevie Nicks. The episode itself was titled "The Seven Wonders," which was a reference to a test a witch took in order to become the "supreme" witch. The revival of the Mac tune was received well and it ended up making the US Digital Rock Tracks chart at #18. It was Nicks' second appearance on the series. She was in an earlier episode titled "The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks" where she accompanied herself on piano singing "Rhiannon." She would also make an appearance on AHS: Apocalypse where she would sing a live version of "Gypsy" with a piano accompaniment.