Saturday, July 25, 2020

"Fake" by Alexander O'Neal

Song#:  3205
Date:  07/25/1987
Debut:  85
Peak:  25
Weeks:  15
Genre:  R&B, Electro-Funk

Pop Bits:  Originally from Mississippi, O'Neal made the move to Minneapolis in the early 70s and began performing with several local bands. After nearly being part of a Prince-signed band (see below), he ended up getting signed as a solo artist with Tabu Records. The writing/production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who had already been writing and producing for other Tabu artists like The S.O.S. Band and Cherrelle, were brought in along with Monte Moir to write and produce O'Neal's 1985 self-titled debut album. It would do well spawning a pair of R&B Top 20s and reaching #21 on the R&B chart. Then O'Neal got an extra boost when he recorded "Saturday Love," a duet with Cherrelle that was from her second solo disc High Priority. That song got to #2 R&B and #26 Pop. This setup O'Neal well for his second LP, Hearsay. All tracks save for one were written by Jam and Lewis with the duo producing the whole album. This first single was released and it became O'Neal's first and only song to top the R&B chart. It also hit #7 at Dance. The song then crossed over to Pop where it got to #25, which would end up being his best effort on that chart. The album would become O'Neal's biggest hit reaching #2 R&B/#29 Pop. It would also reach gold-level sales.

ReduxReview:  This definitely had Jam and Lewis' hands all over it. The funky Minneapolis groove, staccato keyboards, synth sweeps, and crisp production were telltale signs of their work. It was also quite reminiscent of work they did as members of The Time. It was another hit for the team and it didn't hurt that their former Flyte Tyme lead singer O'Neal was up front. The trio's history together certainly worked in O'Neal's favor as he sounded perfectly at home on this track. While Jam and Lewis would have far bigger crossover hits, this was still a tasty single from the earlier part of their career. Unfortunately, it has kind of gotten lost over time. Also, I think O'Neal's album may be the first headed up by Jam and Lewis to incorporate interludes between songs. They would apply that technique to great effect on their second LP with Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation 1814.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  In the late 70s, O'Neal would become the lead singer of Flyte Tyme, a popular Minneapolis funk band that included future superstar songwriters/producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. O'Neal got the job after original lead singer, Cynthia Johnson, left the band (she would go on to sing the lead vocals on "Funkytown," the 1979 #1 hit by Lipps Inc.). When Prince was looking to expand his footprint and form a band that would basically be the face for his own songs and productions, he found Flyte Tyme. He would get the band signed but there would be changes. O'Neal would be out as lead singer and replaced by Morris Day and the band's name would change to The Time. That band would go on to have some solid success, but by 1983 Jam and Lewis had been fired from the band. They had already been writing/producing for other artists, so being free of The Time gave them the opportunity to expand their new business, which included working for Tabu artists The S.O.S. Band and Cherrelle. With O'Neal now on the label, that gave the old Flyte Tyme members the opportunity to work together again.


Friday, July 24, 2020

"Jump Start" by Natalie Cole

Song#:  3204
Date:  07/25/1987
Debut:  87
Peak:  13
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Dance-Pop, R&B

Pop Bits:  Cole's career in the 70s was red hot. She accumulated five gold and two platinum albums, had five R&B #1 hits and three Pop Top 10s. She also had three Grammys to her credit. But then came the 80s. She recorded four albums for three different labels and none of them yielded anything close to a significant hit with the exception of "Someone That I Used to Know" (#21 Pop/#21 R&B/#3 AC) from her 1980 album Don't Look Back, which was her first LP to not go gold. To make matters worse, Cole had been struggling with drug addiction for years and it was taking a toll personally and professionally. She began to get cleaned up in 1983, but was still having a difficult time reestablishing her career. She signed on with Manhattan Records in '86 and they brought in some hit makers to help create an album that would put her back on the charts. This cast included brothers Reggie and Vincent Calloway who had been having solid success with their own group Midnight Star along with producing/writing hits for Klymaxx and The Whispers. They recorded a couple of tracks with Cole including this first single that they wrote. The song was well received at R&B where it became Cole's first Top 10 (#2) since 1979. That success then bled over to the Pop chart where it nearly made the Top 10. It also got to #28 at Dance. It was a significant comeback for Cole, but it would only be the start to a highly successful second act.

ReduxReview:  This was a good vehicle for the return of Cole. The Calloways had the right song for her and their production reflected the day's trends. It was a fun, catchy tune that was made all the better by Cole's voice. Of course, she was far better than this song, but the tune was what she needed to get back on the charts and on that level it succeeded. The track has lost its luster over the years and has nearly become a forgotten hit in her catalog. Still, it went a long way in reestablishing Cole's career.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  The album would secure Cole her first Grammy nomination in eight years. She would get a nod for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female. The winner that year would be Aretha Franklin for her Aretha album, which for Franklin could have been interpreted as a revenge win. Back in 1967 and 1968, the Grammy organization made changes to the R&B categories and created separate male, female, and duo/group awards. Franklin won the very first award for her hit "Respect." Then amazingly, she kept winning the award for the next seven years. Then in 1976 along came Natalie Cole. Cole's debut album, Inseparable, included songs written by the team of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy that had originally been turned down by Franklin. Still needing a hit for LP, Jackson and Yancy came up with "This Will Be." It did the trick reaching #1 R&B/#6 Pop. The single put Cole on the map and also got her compared to Aretha, who was none to pleased with that. At the 1976 Grammys, Cole would be the singer to end Franklin's streak of wins. In that competition year Franklin wasn't nominated as she didn't secure a sizable hit. However, for the '77 Grammys, both Cole and Franklin were nominated. Cole won for her #1 R&B hit "Sophisticated Lady (She's a Different Lady)." Apparently that win along with the attention given to Cole and some possible miscommunication/gossip being tossed around about Cole was enough for Franklin to basically dismiss Cole and the pair were never friendly after that Grammy show. Cole wasn't the first and wouldn't be the last singer that Aretha would either feud or have issues with (lists can be found online...). So it was probably a sweet victory for Franklin to win over Cole following Cole's comeback. However, in 1992 Cole would win in a Grammy category that Franklin would never get a nomination in, Album of the Year. Cole's Unforgettable...With Love would snag that top award.


Thursday, July 23, 2020

"Strangelove" by Depeche Mode

Song#:  3203
Date:  07/25/1987
Debut:  88
Peak:  76
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Synthpop, Alternative Rock

Pop Bits:  The UK band broke through on the US charts with their fourth album Some Great Reward. It would be a gold seller (later going platinum) thanks to the #13 hit "People Are People." Their follow-up studio LP, Black Celebration, was a bit of a setback only reaching #90 with none of its singles making the US Pop chart (it would eventually go gold by the end of the decade). For their next effort, Music for the Masses, the band decided to change producers and work with David Bascombe, who recorded/engineered two major hit albums, Tears for Fears' Songs from the Big Chair and Peter Gabriel's So. The tone of the album remained dark and didn't pander to commercialism despite the jokey title of being accessible to everyone. Despite that, it ended up being the band's biggest success in the US to-date. This first single was pushed out and it became their first to reach #1 on the Dance chart. It was then able to crossover to Pop, but its stay was short-lived. Thanks to the single and a rabid college campus/radio fan base, the LP got to #35 and it would go gold early in '88 and eventually become a platinum seller.

ReduxReview:  While not as hooky as "People Are People," this was still a solid single for the band. Not only does the chorus grab you, but the keyboard line is even catchier. This single version (see below) has its merits and still works well, but I'm a bit partial to the LP version. It sounds meatier to me and the remix gave the song a chance to breathe. The band was inching their way towards a sound that was distinctly theirs while still pulling in some mainstream sensibilities that would help to gain a bigger audience. It would culminate for them with their next LP, 1990's Violator.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This is a case where the song heard on the single was different from the one heard on the album. When first recorded, the song had an upbeat pop feel, which seemed appropriate for radio. That version was the one released as a single. However, it just didn't fit with the darker tone set by the other tracks recorded for the album. Instead of trying to force it on the record or even leave it off, a slightly slower, more sparse remix of the tune was created in order for it to gel with the balance of the album. These two version were not the end of the road for this song. In '88, a new remix of the track would be created and released as a single. It would end up doing better on the US Pop chart than the original reaching #50.


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

"Montego Bay" by Amazulu

Song#:  3202
Date:  07/25/1987
Debut:  94
Peak:  90
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Pop, Calypso

Pop Bits:  This British band was initially an all-female outfit, but after personnel changes the lineup consisted of five women and one man. They recorded a couple of singles for the indie label Towerbell in 1983 with their first effort, "Cairo," making a brief appearance on the UK chart at #86. That result attracted the attention of Island Records who decided to give the band a shot. More singles would follow including a pair of Top 20s. Then their remake of The Chi-Lites' 1974 song "Too Good to Be Forgotten" (a #10 hit in the UK) put them in the UK Top 10 at #5. A self-titled debut album was finally assembled, but by the time it was released in '86, the band had been reduced to a trio. Their next single was "Montego Bay" and it got to #16 in the UK. It took a long while, but Island then tried to break the band in the US on their affiliated Mango label. "Montego Bay" was released and it got just a minor bit of attention spending a month near the bottom of the Pop chart. However, it did far better in Canada where it got to #6. The band then fizzled out soon after. Their 1987 follow-up album Spellbound failed to gain an audience anywhere and by 1988 the band was done.

ReduxReview:  The band could have really spun this in a very 80s way, but for the most part they stayed grounded in the original (see below). The horn lines are a nice add and the layered background vocals contribute depth. All in all, it wasn't a bad remake. I just think it wasn't the right style of song at the time for US pop radio. Had it been promoted better at AC where the nostalgia factor of the older hit might have kicked in, the song might have done well there. It was a good attempt to revive a 70s hit, but it didn't stand out enough to get noticed.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of song originally co-written (with Jeff Barry) and recorded by US singer/songwriter Bobby Bloom. His version would reach #8 in 1970. Bloom would not be able to follow-up that Top 10 success and would end up getting tagged as a one-hit wonder. Prior to his solo career, Bloom scored a hit as a songwriter when he co-wrote "Mony, Mony" for Tommy James & the Shondells (#3, 1968). The tune would also be a #1 hit for Billy Idol in 1987. He remained a successful songwriter penning tunes for The Archies and The Monkees. Sadly, Bloom died in 1974 from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound.


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

"Doing It All for My Baby" by Huey Lewis & the News

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3201
Date:  07/18/1987
Debut:  63
Peak:  6
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  Four was a good number for Lewis and the band. Their fourth album, titled Fore!, had spawned four Top 10 hits with two of them hitting #1 spending a combined four weeks at the top of the Pop chart. But I guess stopping at four wasn't enough and it was decided to push out this fifth single from the LP. The tune ended up doing very well reaching #2 at AC while hitting #6 at Pop. With that last result, Lewis and the band became only the second group to achieve five Pop Top 10 hits from one album (Genesis was the first earlier in the year). The album would eventually be a triple-platinum seller.

ReduxReview:  This tune drags us back to the retro rock/doo wop style of song that they had previously hit with like "Stuck with You." It's a good little tune, but by this point they had practically beaten this formula to death. Yeah, it was kind of their signature sound, but you can only take it so far before people start to get bored. When this record came out, I was really bored with it. I preferred their rock-leaning tracks or more adventurous fare like "Jacob's Ladder." I still get tired of Lewis' shufflin' old-school tunes, but it is hard to rank this one too low because it actually is a nice song.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  This song was written by Mike Duke and Phil Cody. Duke was a struggling musician and songwriter who in 1974 joined up with the Southern rock band Wet Willie. His first album with the band, Keep on Smilin', produced the #10 title-track hit. Later on in 1977, the band would reach #30 with a song Duke co-wrote called "Street Corner Serenade." After Wet Willie faded in the early 80s, Duke started his own band called Mike and the Maximums (which referred to that statures of its members). They sought to get a record deal, but with the advent of MTV, the band was basically deemed not camera-ready and no one would sign them. Luckily, in the meantime a demo of a song Duke wrote made it over to the Huey Lewis camp. Lewis recorded "Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do" for the band's second album Picture This. It was released as a single and it made the Pop Top 40. Duke then co-wrote this song for the band. They would also record Duke's "Let Her Go and Start Over," which appeared on their 2001 album Plan B. That song would make it to #23 on the AC chart.


Monday, July 20, 2020

"I Heard a Rumour" by Bananarama

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3200
Date:  07/18/1987
Debut:  74
Peak:  4
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Dance-Pop, Synthpop, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  The trio's third album, 1986's True Confessions, would be their best selling studio album in the US reaching #15 and going gold. That was mainly due to their #1 cover tune "Venus," which was their first track produced by the Stock Aitken Waterman team. That success then led Bananarama to hiring on SAW to head up their next album Wow! Both trios would co-write nearly all the songs with SAW producing all tracks. This first single continued in the tradition of the SAW Hi-NRG synthpop formula and it proved to be a good fit for pop radio. It would become the trio's third US Top 10 hit. The track also got to #3 at Dance and #32 AC. Oddly, it didn't really do much for sales of the album, which topped out at #44. In addition to being the first song from the trio's album, the track also served as the second single lifted from the soundtrack to the comedy film Disorderlies.

ReduxReview:  This was one of the trio's catchiest songs and is one of SAW's best productions. The keyboard line at the top of the song was memorable and set up the song well. The instrumental and vocal arrangements were top-notch. The producers were really perfecting their trademark sound with this track, which would then lead to their work with Rick Astley. Their productions would get a bit samey and monotonous by the end of the decade, but this single showed growth and sounded great on the radio.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This song borrowed heavily from the 1986 Eurobeat hit "Give Me Up" performed by Italian music star Michael Fortunati. That song was written by Michel Jean Machtergaele (aka M. De San Antonio), Mario Nigro, and Pierre Nigro, and produced by Machtergaele. While the song did well in a few European countries, it was a major hit in Japan. Several Japanese music artists would later cover the tune. According to a couple of sites, it seems that SAW may have contributed or worked on a remix version of "Give Me Up" and then decided to transfer some of the work they did over to the Bananarama song. However, the original writers were not credited on the Bananarama track. The sites also say that the writers were eventually compensated by SAW.


Sunday, July 19, 2020

"In My Dreams" by REO Speedwagon

Song#:  3199
Date:  07/18/1987
Debut:  82
Peak:  19
Weeks:  30
Genre:  Soft Rock

Pop Bits:  REO grabbed their seventh Pop Top 20 hit with "That Ain't Love," the first single from their album Life As We Know It. It was a good, but not great, start to the LP. Looking for something better, they issued out the second single "Variety Tonight." Unfortunately, the single tanked at a low #60 putting the album in danger of quickly disappearing. Desperately needing a turn around, the band then issued out this third single. The pop-leaning ballad had more mainstream appeal and it caught on at AC reaching #6 on that chart. It also got them back in the Top 20 on the Pop chart. The hit did extend sales of the album, which ended up going gold. However, that was a significant drop from their three previous studio albums that all went multi-platinum. It seemed to signal that the Speedwagon was running out of gas.

ReduxReview:  Kelly's pop touch could certainly be felt on this song and most likely helped to turn it into a hit. However, it sounded nothing like an REO song. Even the sweet production that framed the tune was far from REO's brand of guitar-driven radio-ready rock. I think some older fans of REO were hanging on by a thread at this point in the band's career and I think this song may have been the last straw for a lot of them. They wanted to rock, not sway along to a pretty little pop tune. The band had been revving up to jump the shark for a while, but with this song they gave it the gas and took off. It ended up being a middling, forgettable hit for them that somewhat helped to salvage an album that was on the verge of tanking. If I'm being honest, this is a nice pop tune. The lyrics aren't the best, but the lovely melodies make up for it. The problem was that this came from REO and it just about erased any rock credibility they had.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  For their previous album, Wheels Are Turnin', the band got a little boost on a couple of tracks from hit songwriter Tom Kelly ("True Colors," "Alone"). For Life As We Know It, the band kept up the association and also brought along Kelly's songwriting partner Billy Steinberg. Kelly and Steinberg would co-write three of the LP's tracks with a couple of REO members while Kelly would co-write "In My Dreams" with the band's lead singer Kevin Cronin. It seems that Kelly's hitmaking ability helped as the song was able to crack the Pop Top 20 and AC Top 10.