Saturday, August 15, 2020

"Casanova" by LeVert

Top 10 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  3227
Date:  08/15/1987
Debut:  90
Peak:  5
Weeks:  18
Genre:  R&B, New Jack Swing

Pop Bits:  This vocal trio from Cleveland was comprised of teen brothers Gerald and Sean Levert along with Marc Gordon. They got together in 1983 and began to work on writing songs, perfecting their harmonizing, and developing dance routines. They shopped their wares to several major record labels, but none of them were interested. Frustrated and not wanting to wait around for a deal, the guys took the independent route and released the single "I'm Still" on an imprint label called Tempre. It ended up doing pretty well for a small indie release and got to #80 on the R&B chart. Two more singles would follow along with a debut album titled I Get Hot, but none of those charted. However, it was enough to finally get a major label interested. Atlantic Records picked up the trio and work began on their second album, Bloodline. Its lead single, "(Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop) Goes My Mind," would hit #1 on the R&B chart. Two more Top 30 singles would follow and that helped their album get to #8 R&B (#192 Pop). That set the stage for what would be their most successful album, The Big Throwdown. This first single kicked things off and it became their second R&B #1. It then crossed over to the Pop chart and ended up in the Top 10. It also got to #27 on the Dance chart. The single would end up being a gold seller. The hit helped the album reach #3 R&B and #32 Pop. It would be their first gold selling LP.

ReduxReview:  Others I'm sure will disagree, but I consider this song to be the first mainstream hit that would later be classified in the New Jack Swing genre. When the record came out, there wasn't a name for the style. That wouldn't come until 1988 and an article about producer Teddy Riley, who typically ends up getting credit for developing the genre. However, I'd argue that this song is at minimum among the first to be a hit in the New Jack style and producer/songwriter Reggie Calloway doesn't get enough credit for it. The song had a different feel with its swinging rhythms and syncopated lines. The production was very crisp and spot-on. It also helped that it was just a good song. Riley may have made the genre famous, but I think this tune is the one that truly kicked things off.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Fans of 70s R&B may recognize the name Levert. That's because Gerald and Sean's father was Eddie Levert, who was an original member and lead singer of The O'Jays. That vocal group began in the mid-60s, but didn't become hit makers until 1972 when their single "Backstabbers" got to #1 R&B/#3 Pop. It began a run of hits in the 70s that included eight R&B #1s, five Pop Top 10s, and eight gold or platinum albums. Their career cooled off in the 80s, but they still had the occasional hit on the R&B chart. For the longest time, Eddie Levert didn't do any solo or other work outside of The O'Jays. Then in 1992, his son Gerald got Eddie to record a duet for Gerald's debut solo album Private Line. It would be released as the LP's second single and it would hit #1 R&B/#37 Pop. That hit then led to a full duet album in 1995 titled Father & Son. It's first single, "Already Missing You," would reach #7 R&B/#75 Pop. The album would be a gold seller getting to #2 R&B and #20 Pop.  2) While the genre of New Jack Swing would mainly be credited to producer Teddy Riley and his work on Keith Sweat's #1 R&B/#5 Pop hit "I Want Her," which was released about a month after this Levert hit, hints of the genre had already been heard in works by Jam & Lewis and even hits by Timex Social Club and Club Nouveau. Producer/songwriter Reggie Calloway also contributed to the burgeoning genre with this Levert track. It doesn't get a lot of credit as being one of the first mainstream New Jack Swing hits, but it did slightly pre-date Riley's work.


"Breakout" by Swing Out Sister

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3226
Date:  08/15/1987
Debut:  92
Peak:  6
Weeks:  23
Genre:  Sophisti-Pop

Pop Bits:  This British trio featuring Corinne Drewery on vocals signed with Mercury Records in 1985. Near the end of the year they released their first single in the UK, "Blue Mood." The track didn't make an impression and failed to chart. They were given another shot and chose to release "Breakout." That song did the trick and the band found themselves in the UK Top 10 at #4. It was followed up by another hit, the #7 "Surrender." Their debut album, It's Better to Travel, was finally released and it easily topped the UK chart. That success allowed for a distribution deal in the US with "Breakout" being released first. It would become a multi-chart hit reaching the Pop Top 10, #1 AC, and #12 Dance. The album would do fairly well reaching #40. Grammy folks took noticed and gave the band two nominations, one for Best New Artist and one for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Duo or Group, for this song.

ReduxReview:  This effervescent track was a fun listen. It was cool, breezy, easy, and hooky and even though it was a synthpop tune, it got jazzed up by actual horns. This track was perfect fodder for AC radio and it easily topped that chart. Yet the song's modern synthpop feel appealed to a younger pop radio audience as well. The track still has an 80s feel to it, but in a good way. It's just one of those tunes that can put a smile on your face and get you groovin'. It's also a great summer song for cocktails on the deck!

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  The group was originally just the duo of Andrew Connell and Martin Jackson. The pair had been working with other bands and had been recording some dance tracks on their own that somehow got the attention of Mercury Records The label was interested in the duo's music, but wanted to hear something with vocals. The pair then got Diane Charlemagne to provide vocals for a few demo songs. That did the trick and Mercury signed them. However, Charlemagne was committed to another group at the time and that left the guys looking for a new lead vocalist, which they found in singer/fashion designer Corinne Drewery. Charlemagne was a member of the band 52nd Street. They had some success in the mid-80s on the US Dance and R&B charts. Their biggest hit came in 1985 with "Tell Me (How It Feels)," which got to #8 R&B and #14 Dance. Charlemagne later joined the band Urban Cookie Collective. That group's 1994 debut album High on a Happy Vibe did well in the UK with two of its tracks reaching the Top 10.


Friday, August 14, 2020

"Heartache" by Pepsi & Shirlie

Song#:  3225
Date:  08/15/1987
Debut:  93
Peak:  79
Weeks:  8
Genre:  Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  As a teenager, Shirlie Holliman had intended to train horses for a career, but those aspirations got set aside due to an illness. Sitting idle and not knowing what to do, her boyfriend at the time thought it would be good for her to dance and sing behind his new band. That boyfriend was Andrew Ridgeley and the band was a then unknown Wham! Along with Holliman, Dee C Lee would also be a background vocalist/dancer. The two supported Wham! on stage and on their debut LP Fantastic while also appearing in two of their videos. Lee would take off soon after for a job with The Style Council (and would marry that band's leader Paul Weller) and she was replaced by Helen "Pepsi" DeMacque. The new background duo soon became known as Pepsi & Shirlie and they continued to support Wham! throughout they heydays. Along the way they gained some fans and when Wham! ended their partnership in 1986, the pair decided to attempt a career on their own. They signed with Polydor and issued out this debut single early in '87. It became a hit in the UK reaching #2. A follow-up track, "Goodbye Stranger" (not the 1979 Supertramp hit), would get to #9 in the summer. With two solid hits in the UK, the label then decided to try and break them in the US. This first single was released and it became a hit on the Dance chart getting to #2. The song then crossed over to Pop, but it fizzled after a couple of months. "Goodbye Stranger" made it to #25 at Dance, but failed to make the Pop chart. Their debut album, All Right Now, had been released and without a bigger hit to support it, the LP topped out at a low #133. Oddly, even though it contained two Top 10 hits, the album didn't do well in the UK stopping at #69. Their follow-up album, 1991's Change, tanked when its lone single, "Someday," written and produced by George Michael, failed to chart. The duo then split.

ReduxReview:  The duo tried to parlay their Wham! fame into their own career and it worked, if only for a short time. This song was a solid piece of commercial dance-pop that I thought might have done better on the Pop chart. It was a hit in clubs, but for some reason it didn't get the same attention on pop radio. Perhaps it seemed to blend in too much with other similar songs and just couldn't break out. It's nothing special for sure, but it was a fun little tune that certainly made them famous in the UK.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) At some point in time, Shirlie and Andrew Ridgeley broke off their relationship. However, Shirlie would still end up marrying a musician. George Michael introduced Shirlie to Spandau Ballet member Martin Kemp. The pair hit it off and would marry in 1988 and have two kids.  2) Pepsi & Shirlie would reunite a few times over the years. The first time was when they were invited to supply backing vocals on a song by ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell. Halliwell was recording her 1999 debut solo album Schizophonic and the duo sang on the track "Bag It Up." The tune was the last single released from the album and it reached #1 in the UK. In 2011, Pepsi & Shirlie got together and performed on the Here and Now tour. The annual show/tour would bring back acts from the 80s and tour the UK. The 2011 tour marked the show's 10th anniversary.


Thursday, August 13, 2020

"I Just Can't Stop Loving You" by Michael Jackson

Top 10 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  3224
Date:  08/08/1987
Debut:  37
Peak:  1 (1 week)
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Pop, R&B, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  By the end of 1984, Jackson's Thriller had been certified for sales of over 20 million copies. Obviously he had to follow up that mega hit but thanks to the pressure from that along with all the focused attention on Jackson, his tours, and other projects it would take him five years to complete his new album titled Bad. Co-produced once again by Quincy Jones, the LP took some of the same music styles found on Thriller and expanded upon them. It has been said that Jackson's goal was to sell 100 million records worldwide with the album (Thriller would have about 47 million in certified sales with another 19 million in claimed sales). He wanted the album to have a harder edge and was encouraged by Quincy Jones to write more songs for it than his previous efforts. Jackson apparently wrote about 60 songs and ended up recording thirty tracks. In the end, the album would contain eleven songs (ten on the vinyl version) with Jackson writing all but three of them. When it came time to select a lead single, Jackson and his label decided to follow the formula set by Thriller's "The Girl Is Mine" and release this duet ballad. Also like "The Girl Is Mine," the song would not have an associated video. The track would debut inside the Pop Top 40 and climb to the #1 spot becoming Jackson's seventh to top that chart. It would also reach #1 at R&B and AC. It would quickly become a gold-selling single. The album would be released by the end of the month and debut in the #1 spot. The next era of Jackson's music was off to a good start.

ReduxReview:  Arguably, Bad was the most eagerly anticipated album in music history up to that point. Everyone knew that it was ready and on the way so the arrival of this single was big news. I think no matter what Jackson had released, it would have done well due to the anticipation factor. This track may have caught folks by surprise. I think a lot of people expected a big splashy dance track and video, but then this ballad arrived instead with no video support. At the time I thought it was a terrific track. I loved the breezy feel of it, the big chorus, and the tympani accents. The tune was well executed and it did the job in getting people interested in the album. While I still like the song, it hasn't aged as well as some of Jackson's other hits. The schmaltzy lyrics are now more apparent and while making it a duet was a good idea, having Garrett do it (see below) maybe wasn't the best choice. For me, she sounds too much like Jackson. I think a more distinctive vocalist would have worked better. Plus, looking at the song's chart stats now (#1 for one week, 14 weeks on the chart), it wasn't all that impressive, specially as the song to announce Jackson's return. My guess is that they wanted a true mainstream hit to kickoff the album to get a wide, diverse audience interested before unleashing the harder edged tracks. If that was the case, then this song did its job.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia: Jackson's duet partner on this tune was singer/songwriter Siedah Garrett. Garrett got started in the music business as a member of the band Plush, who released a self-titled album in 1982 for RCA Records. She then set out on a solo career and in 1984 found herself recording "Don't Look Any Further" with Dennis Edwards. The duet would be released as a single and reach #2 R&B/#72 Pop. The following year she wound up over at Quincy Jones' Qwest Records and recorded a couple of singles including "Do You Want It Right Now," a song from the film Fast Forward. It got to #3 Dance/#63 Pop. During this time, Garrett was also honing her songwriting skills and thanks to her Quincy Jones connection, one of her tunes, "Man in the Mirror" (co-written with Glen Ballard), got to Michael Jackson, who decided to record it. At one point, Garrett was called to the studio to work and she thought that it had to do with vocals or something for "Man in the Mirror." To her surprise, she got there and was asked to do the duet vocal for "I Just Can't Stop Loving You." Originally, Jackson had asked Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston to record the tune with him, but both declined. Since Garrett was already on Jones' roster, they decided to give her the job. Although Garrett was credited with vocals on the album and on the back of 45 sleeve, the single was credited solely to Jackson. Obviously, had he got one of the other superstars on the track they would have gotten billing alongside Jackson and promotion of the tune would have been much different.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

"Never Let Me Down" by David Bowie

Song#:  3223
Date:  08/08/1987
Debut:  75
Peak:  27
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Bowie's seventeenth studio album, Never Let Me Down, got kicked off with the #21 single "Day-In Day-Out." While his previous two albums both started off with Top 10 hits, the near Top 20 results wasn't too bad for Bowie, who was never really considered a singles-oriented artist in the US. To follow it up, this title track single was released. It didn't do great, but it gave Bowie a pair of Top 30s from the LP. The song also made it to #15 at Rock and #17 Dance. The album had already reached its peak of #34 becoming a gold seller. It would be Bowie's last solo LP until 1993's Black Tie, White Noise, which contained the #6 Dance hit "Jump They Say."

ReduxReview:  Bowie rarely wrote songs that were personal in nature, but this is one. He wrote it about his long-time personal assistant Corinne "Coco" Schwab. Schwab began to work for Bowie in 1973 and remained with him until his death in 2019. Bowie has mentioned that she was not only a PA and best friend, but a person who basically saved his life a couple times over the years. It was really a nice track and you can feel Bowie's sincerity in it. The song also has a bit of a John Lennon feel. It was a highlight from the album, but I had my doubts that it would make a good pop single. It ended up doing fairly well reaching the Top 30. I was already a big fan of Bowie by this point and over time he became one of my all-time favorite artists. The deaths of artists I love don't affect me emotionally all that much because I don't personally know them. Just their work. However, the day after Bowie died I was in a bar and the jukebox played "Changes" and I nearly lost it. I think part of that had to do with the realization that there would be no more new music from Bowie. No new creations. He was done and that kinda got to me. Plus he was the first on my all-time favorite artists list to pass away and I hadn't experienced that before. He was such an amazing artist and he left a treasure trove of work behind that I'll be playing for the rest of my life.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  After Never Let Me Down, Bowie decided that he wanted to work as a member of a band again and formed Tin Machine with Reeves Gabrels along with brothers Tony and Hunt Sales. Their self-titled debut album got issued out in 1989. It had a hard rock edge, which worked well for rock radio with the first single "Under the God" reaching #8 on the Rock chart, but none of the LP's singles found their way on to the Pop chart. The album got to #28, but missed out on the gold sales mark. Bowie decided to leave his long time label EMI following friction between the two over the album. Tin Machine would then release 1991's Tin Machine II on the indie Victory label. The album didn't perform well (#126 US) and Tin Machine came to an end. Bowie then picked back up on his solo career with 1993's Black Tie, White Noise. Seven more solo albums would follow culminating in the critically hailed Blackstar, which was released two days before Bowie's death in 2016. It would end up being Bowie's first #1 album in the US and it spawned his last Pop Top 40 entry with the #40 "Lazarus."


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

"Be There" by The Pointer Sisters

Song#:  3222
Date:  08/08/1987
Debut:  81
Peak:  42
Weeks:  9
Genre:  Dance-Pop, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  The sisters hit a bit of a slump with their 1986 album Hot Together. It failed to go gold and contained only one minor charting single, the #33 "Goldmine." As they were getting ready to record their next LP, they got another opportunity to supply a song to a film soundtrack. Their first one, "Neutron Dance" from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, was a winner reaching #6. So when Beverly Hills Cop II came about, the sisters were asked back for another song. This time they went into the studio with producer Narada Michael Walden and recorded "Be There." By this point in time, three singles from the soundtrack had already reached the Top 10 including the #1 hit "Shakedown" by Bob Seger. The Pointer Sisters' track would then be selected as the fourth single. The tune just missed out on the Pop Top 40 and failed to reach the R&B and Dance charts. Unfortunately, it would be the trio's last song to reach the Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  This energetic track was not all that different from the material the trio had been slinging out with Richard Perry for the past few years. Not surprisingly, it comes from Allee Willis who also co-wrote "Neutron Dance." Like the movie, this track nearly played like a sequel. Unfortunately, it wasn't as hooky, kooky, or memorable as "Neutron Dance." It just sounded like any other track from the trio. Even Walden, who took the place of the trio's regular producer Richard Perry, couldn't do much to boost the track basically imitating Perry's production style. The fact of the matter is that the sisters and Perry beat their formula to death and folks were tired of it. After the failure of Hot Together (actually it should have been before that LP), the sisters should have dumped Perry and sought a new, hip producer who wouldn't have relied on the same old songwriting pool. Or done something different like a set of R&B covers or a standards LP. Instead, they slogged on with one more Perry album that tanked. After that, it was too late for the trio. Kinda sad, but at least they had a really good run of terrific hits in the 80s.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  The trio's next album, Serious Slammin', would be their ninth and last with producer Richard Perry. None of its singles reached the Pop chart and only one made the R&B Top 40. The album tanked and it really signaled the end of their charting days. They moved over to Motown for an album and then one for SBK, but neither charted or contained hit singles. They continued to perform over the years, but by 2002 they were experiencing some inner struggles with June leaving the group (she would pass away in 2006). Ruth's daughter, Issa, would be her replacement. Ruth's granddaughter Sadako would join the group in 2009. In 2015, Anita would decide to retire. As of this posting, Ruth, Issa, and Sadako were still performing as The Pointer Sisters.


Monday, August 10, 2020

"Running in the Family" by Level 42

Song#:  3221
Date:  08/08/1987
Debut:  87
Peak:  83
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Sophisti-Pop, Synthpop

Pop Bits:  The UK band's seventh album, Running in the Family, got off to a fairly good start with the first single, "Lessons in Love," reaching #12 at Pop. The hit helped the album reach #23. Next up for release from the album was this title-track single. The song was unable to break through and dropped off the Pop chart after a brief month-long stay. A follow-up single, "It's Over," didn't reach the Pop chart and was prophetic in a way because the band was never able to chart again in the US. However, they would continue to do well in the UK and other European countries. They would breakup in 1994, but return in 2001 with a new lineup. As of this posting they are still together and touring.

ReduxReview:  This band had (and still has) a loyal following, but from what I understand via someone I know who follows the band is that a good chunk of fans prefer their earlier jazz-funk albums. Once they moved towards a more commercial pop sound with 1986's "Something About You" (#7), early fans were not as impressed. Still, the band continues to have rabid fans. The Running in the Family album was probably their most commercial effort and it paid off for them in Europe and somewhat in the US. "Lessons in Love" was a good song and this follow-up wasn't too bad either. The problem with it was that it just didn't contain a big hook. The keyboard line at the top of the song is probably the most memorable thing about it. Oddly, I believe it is the same melody as the verse, yet the synth stands out more than the vocal. Again, it is not a bad song. It just wasn't a very good single for the US pop listeners who liked their hooks big and catchy.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  While the Running in the Family album did okay in the US (#23), it was a smash hit in Europe reaching the Top 10 in many countries and even spawning four Top 10 hits in the UK and five Top 10s in the Netherlands. After the tour for the album died down, two of the band's original members, brothers Phil and Boon Gould, would leave the band (although Boon would help co-write several tracks for the next album). A new lineup would record the 1988 album Staring at the Sun. While not as big as Running with the Family, it did quite well in Europe. Their next two albums would manage to do fairly well, but each had diminishing returns and by 1994 the band was done. After a new lineup was formed in 2001, they got back to recording new music and in 2006 issued out Retroglide. It didn't make a huge impression, but did at least reach the UK chart at #78.


Sunday, August 9, 2020

"Oh Yeah" by Yello

Song#:  3220
Date:  08/08/1987
Debut:  88
Peak:  51
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Synthpop, Electronic

Pop Bits:  This Swiss group was originally formed by Boris Blank and Carlos Perón in the late 70s. By 1979, they brought on board Dieter Meier and the trio became Yello. Their sound, which included a lot of samples (created sounds, not samples of other music/songs), danceable rhythms, and the unique voice of Meier, attracted Mercury Records. They would record two albums that didn't attract much attention except for a couple of minor entries on the US Dance chart. Their third album, You Gotta Say Yes to Another Excess, did better with two tracks reaching the US Dance Top 20 and one song hitting the Swiss Top 10. After that step forward, Perón left. Blank and Meier continued on and recorded their fourth LP, 1985's Stella. That album topped the Swiss chart and would contain their second Swiss Top 10 and first US Dance Top 10, "Vicious." Also on that album was the track "Oh Yeah." That song got picked up for use in the comedy flick Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but there was no soundtrack album released. Due to the song getting attention from the film, it got released as a 12" single in the fall of '86 and got to #35 on the US Dance chart. Then the tune ended up in the 1987 film The Secret of My Success, which helped garner it more attention. It wasn't put on the movie's soundtrack, but since its popularity increased, a slightly updated version was pushed out as a single. It made the US Pop chart and just missed out on the Top 50. The song would then be included on the US version of Yello's 1987 album One Second, which topped out at #82. The duo wouldn't reach the Pop chart again, but through the 90s they would have several songs on the Dance chart including two more Top 10s. They would also score a #1 Dance hit in 2006 when a remix of this song titled "Oh Yeah 'Oh Six" got released.

ReduxReview:  For a long while I thought this song was put together by Art of Noise. The sound of the track went right along with what that group was doing at the time. It took a while before I figured out it was Yello. While it wasn't a big chart hit, the song has had a long life of its own. Pretty much everyone knows it. Just go up to someone and go "bonk-bonk, chk-a-chk-a-chk-ahhhh" and they know exactly what you are referring to. They may not know the name of the performer, but they know that catchy little riff and groove. I'm guessing it didn't become a chart hit because it is one of those little ditties that is fun for a party or one-time listen. You don't really want to have it repeated every hour on the radio as it would become annoying. Still, it didn't need to be a hit. I'd describe it as a musical catchphrase. Once it entered pop culture, it had a place to live and thrive. As a single, the track is a fun listen once in a great while. The genius of it is how well it worked in other areas of entertainment and marketing.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Due to its use in movies, this song has been associated with lust. Not just for a person, but even products such as when the Ferrari is first seen in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It has been used in many films, TV shows, and ad campaigns including She's Out of Control, Opportunity Knocks, South Park, American Dad, The Simpsons, The Office, Glee, The Goldbergs, Twix candy, Honda cars, and Dominoes Pizza. The prolific use of the tune made it instantly recognizable for decades. It's one of those tracks that you'd swear was a hit, yet it barely made it halfway up the Pop chart. Blank and Meier smartly pushed their recordings out for movie/TV/ad use early on, including this song, and it paid off well for them. The duo are still together as of this posting date and making music. In 2020, they released their first album in eight years, Pulse. Its first single "Waba Duba" has a vertigo-inducing video to go along with it.