Saturday, September 19, 2020

"Let's Work" by Mick Jagger

Song#:  3262
Date:  09/12/1987
Debut:  75
Peak:  39
Weeks:  9
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  While still fronting The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger stepped out on the side and recorded his first solo album, 1985's She's the Boss. It was a good success hitting #13 and going platinum on the strength of the #1 Rock/#13 single "Just Another Night." After completing the Stones' 1986 Dirty Work album, Jagger got back in the studio to record a second solo disc. He would work with producer Keith Diamond on five songs while Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics) would handle four including this first single. The tune would do well at Rock getting to #7, but it didn't meet expectations at Pop where it just barely made the Top 40. It also got to #32 at Dance. The lack of a better performing single hurt album sales and Primitive Cool would top out at a low #41 and miss the gold sales mark.

ReduxReview:  I didn't care much for Jagger's first solo album, so news of a follow-up didn't really excite me until I heard that Dave Stewart was on board. That piqued my interest. Then this kooky single came out. At first, I wasn't really sure about it. The production definitely had Stewart's touch and as co-writer (with Jagger) I could hear his influence. After a couple of listens I began to hook into it, but I thought it would be a crap shoot with pop radio listeners. The track sounded like a march to rally the troops. A bit of "rah-rah!" encouragement to get folks going and doing something. People were either going to hook into the quirky chorus or say "what the hell is this?" It seems like it was a bit of both, but in the end the tune just didn't connect with a big audience. I ended up liking the tune well enough to buy the album, which was miles better than Jagger's debut. Critics seemed to like the LP better too, but since this single crapped out early, not a lot of people got to hear it.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  The relationship between Mick Jagger and fellow Stones Keith Richards was always a bit up 'n' down, but one of their low points was around the time of this Jagger solo disc. Since Jagger's solo career had kind of taken off with She's the Boss and a couple of other non-album singles like the #7 duet with David Bowie "Dancing in the Street," he wanted to keep going and get out another solo effort as soon as possible. Therefore, after recording Dirty Work with the Stones, Jagger told the band he wasn't going to tour in support of the album and would instead focus on his second solo disc. This, of course, didn't set well with Richards who spouted off a bit in the press about the situation. Jagger then put his feelings about Richards in a couple of songs on Primitive Cool. During the whole time the pair stopped talking to each other. The ice was finally broken a bit when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame early in '89. With that thawing, the band got back to work and recorded Steel Wheels, which would become #3 double-platinum hit.


Friday, September 18, 2020

"Love Is Contagious" by Taja Sevelle

Song#:  3261
Date:  09/12/1987
Debut:  82
Peak:  62
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Sophisti-Pop, Soul

Pop Bits:  This Minneapolis-born singer/songwriter found herself in the Prince camp around the time he was recording 1985's Around the World in a Day. Sevelle would end up supplying background vocals on the track "The Ladder." From there, Prince decided to get the singer signed up with Warner Bros. through his Paisley Park label. Unlike a lot of Prince protégé projects where he would do most all of the writing and recording, save for a couple of songs he gave to Sevelle, the Purple One was largely hands-off on the recording of her self-titled debut. Instead, Prince got one of his new hires, Chico Bennett, to head up the project. The album got recorded and this first single was issued out. It didn't get very far missing out on the top half of the Pop chart while only getting to #58 at R&B and #48 AC. A second single, the Prince-penned "Wouldn't You Love to Love Me?" only made the R&B chart at #61. The lack of a bigger single kept the album from reaching the charts. After that, it seems Prince lost interest in Sevelle and she moved over to Warner's Reprise Records for her second album, 1991's Fountains Free. It failed to gain attention and disappeared quickly as did a third LP, 1997's Toys of Vanity for Sony's 550 label. Later in 2017, Sevelle would get on the Dance chart with "Little Diva." The tune would get to #30.

ReduxReview:  Sevelle was a talented singer/songwriter (she composed this song) and it's a shame her career didn't fully take off. Although she was young, she had a more sophisticated adult sound, as apparent on this single, and it may have been difficult to promote her to a demographic that was eating up catchy Madonna and Whitney Houston tunes. I like the mid-tempo groove of the track and the production fits it well. Sevelle has a voice that might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I like it. She shows off her range without being to "screamy." This silky track was going to be a hard sell and indeed it had troubles trying to catch on in the US (other countries dug it - see below). Had I heard the song back in the day, chances are I would have bought the single.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) While this song didn't make an impression in the US, the news was different over in the UK. The song became a hit reaching #7. The album then sold a few copies there and made it to #48. The song was also a Top 10 hit in the Netherlands.  2) In 2005, Sevelle took $5,000 of her own money and founded Urban Farming, an organization that plants food gardens in urban areas. The first Urban Farming gardens were created in Detroit. From there, the organization grew significantly and had a hand in developing over 65,000 gardens in over 60 different countries.


Thursday, September 17, 2020

"Sugar Free" by Wa Wa Nee

Song#:  3260
Date:  09/12/1987
Debut:  91
Peak:  35
Weeks:  13
Genre:  Synthpop, Electro-Funk

Pop Bits:  This Aussie band was formed by lead vocalist/keyboardist/songwriter Paul Gray and guitarist Steve Williams in 1982. Over the next three years the pair filled out the other positions in the band, began working the club circuit, and recorded a demo. In 1985, the band got signed to CBS Records. The label tested out the band by releasing a single titled "Stimulation" in April of '86. The song took off reached #2. On the heels of that hit, a second single, "I Could Make You Love Me," also did well getting to #5. The band assembled a self-titled debut album and by the time it was ready in November of '86, "Sugar Free" was issued out as a third single. The track made it to #10 while the LP peaked at #29. A fourth single made the Top 20 early in '87. The success at home prompted the label to expand the band into other territories including the US where "Sugar Free" was issued out as a first single. It got a little bit of attention and ended up cracking the Pop Top 40. The album sold a minor few copies and made it to #123.

ReduxReview:  This was a blast from the past. The title/band name sounded familiar, but I couldn't even remotely remember the song. Yet it immediately came back to me once I heard the chorus. This was a fun track and I'm not sure why I didn't hook into it more back in the day. It was a goofy funk tune that was in a similar vein as "Funkytown" by fellow Aussies Pseudo Echo. Not surprisingly, the two bands shared the same bill on tours. I prefer the funk-based pop of Wa Wa Nee over Pseudo Echo's synth-rock. Wa Wa Nee had better, catchier material that grooved along quite well. This track is a bit of a lost gem from the decade.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  What's in a name? Apparently not much for this band. According to a 1987 article about the band that ran in the Los Angeles Times, the name Wa Wa Nee has no particular meaning. Nothing was mentioned about how the band chose the name. The article also mentioned that Wa Wa Nee was the the first Australian band to have two singles ("Stimulation" and "I Could Make You Love Me") reside in the Australian Top 10 at the same time.


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

"Come On, Let's Go" by Los Lobos

Song#:  3259
Date:  09/12/1987
Debut:  92
Peak:  21
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  This East L.A. band grabbed a #1 hit with a remake of Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba," a song they recorded for the soundtrack to the Valens biopic of the same name. The hit would help drive the soundtrack album to the top of the chart. The week that it hit #1, this follow-up single debuted on the Pop chart. It would just miss out on the Pop Top 20 while getting to #33 Rock and #35 AC. Just prior to this song making the chart, the album was certified double-platinum. Unfortunately, Los Lobos would never have a song reach the Pop chart again. They would go on to record a series of acclaimed albums that earned them three Grammy awards and eight other nominations including two for their experimental 1992 album Kiko, which was produced by Mitchell Froom.

ReduxReview:  This was a natural follow-up to "La Bamba." While it may not have been quite as catchy, the retro rock track was another showcase for Los Lobos. Thanks to the soundtrack, Los Lobos became stars and it expanded their audience. However, they weren't ones to get caught in the hit making machinations of the music business and they stayed true to what they wanted to do as artists, which then didn't result in charting singles or gold records. However, they maintained a big following and have remained popular over the years. I've always like them, but I really became a fan with 1992's Kiko. That LP led me to their back catalog and I've been a big fan ever since.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of a song originally recorded by Ritchie Valens. The tune was co-written by Valens and it was his first single to chart getting to #42 in 1958. Besides Valens and Los Lobos, one other artist has reached the Pop chart with a version. The Indiana pop/rock band The McCoys made it to #22 in 1966. The McCoys were formed by brothers Rick and Randy Zehringer. The band scored a #1 hit in 1965 with "Hang on Sloopy" and followed it up with the #8 "Fever." They broke up later in 1969. Rick Zehringer later went by the name Rick Derringer and his first solo album, 1973's All American Boy spawned the #23 rock classic "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo." Derringer would mainly work with Edgar and Johnny Winter and their bands, but would also play/write/produce for many other artists including Weird Al Yankovic. Derringer produced Weird Al's first six albums.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

"Solitude Standing" by Suzanne Vega

Song#:  3258
Date:  09/12/1987
Debut:  94
Peak:  94
Weeks:  3
Genre:  Contemporary Folk

Pop Bits:  Folk singer/songwriter Vega scored a left-field hit with "Luka," a track from her second album Solitude Standing. The song would reach #3 on the Pop chart and would earn Vega three Grammy nominations. For a follow-up this title track song would be released. Unfortunately, it just didn't catch on and it ended up being a blip at the bottom of the Pop chart for a few weeks. It also was a minor entry at Rock getting to #43. The failure of the second single didn't matter too much because the album had already peaked at #11 and was certified gold back in July. Later in 1997 it would go platinum. Vega's next album, Days of Open Hand, didn't generate any charting singles, but it still reached #50 and earned two Grammy nods. The LP won one for Best Album Package. Vega's fourth album, the more experimental 99.9F° produced by Vega's soon-to-be husband Mitchell Froom, generated two hits on the Modern Rock chart including the #1 "Blood Makes Noise." The album would be a cult favorite and five years after its release, it would receive a gold certification. Her 2007 album Beauty & Crime would win a Grammy for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

ReduxReview:  With the exception of "Luka," Vega didn't write her Solitude Standing LP with an eye towards the Pop chart. She was a modern folk artist, not a hit maker. So it wasn't really a surprise that a second single failed to do well. It was kind of a crap shoot as to what other track on the album to push out as a single. This one wasn't a bad choice. It along with the modern rock-leaning "In the Eye" were probably the best candidates. Still, neither were hooky tracks that would garner much attention at Pop. This dark track was well-written and nicely produced in an 80s college/indie radio way, but it just wasn't going to retain listeners who loved the quirky, memorable folk-rock of "Luka." I became a bigger fan of Vega's with her 99.9F° album. That gem along with its follow-up Nine Objects of Desire were two of my favorite albums of the 90s. If you don't know them, check 'em out.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  The Solitude Standing album started off with an a cappella track titled "Tom's Diner." The inspiration for the song was Tom's Restaurant, a diner along Broadway in NYC. While not necessarily famous at the time, the restaurant would gain notoriety when its exterior would be used for Monk's Café in the hit TV show Seinfeld. "Tom's Diner" was released as a single in a few European countries including the UK where it peaked at #58. That might have been it for the tune, but in 1990 a pair of British producers going by the collective name of DNA decided to do a remix of the song. They took Vega's original vocal, edited it, and then put it over a dance beat. Pleased with the results, the duo then pushed the recording out to clubs under the title "Oh Suzanne." It was all done without consent from Vega or her label. Of course, both found out about the song and its growing popularity, but instead of suing the duo, they made a deal to get it officially (and legally) released as a single as by DNA featuring Suzanne Vega. The song became Vega's second unexpected hit reaching #2 in the UK and #5 on the US Pop chart (#10 R&B/#13 Dance). It would end up being a gold record in the US.


Monday, September 14, 2020

"Rev It Up" by Newcity Rockers

Song#:  3257
Date:  09/12/1987
Debut:  95
Peak:  86
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Hard Rock

Pop Bits:  This Boston band formed by radio personality Bob Rivers grabbed a low-charting single with their remake of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" (#80). It was from their self-titled debut album as was this second single. It performed nearly the same peaking low on the chart after a month and missing the Rock chart. Neither single generated much interest in the album and it failed to chart. With those results, Rivers decided to call an end to his rock 'n' roll project. Rivers would continue his career as a radio personality for various large market stations. Along the way he would release numerous novelty records of songs and sketches from his radio programs with most of them included in his "Twisted Tunes" series. In 2014, Rivers would hang up his microphone and retire after 42 years in radio.

ReduxReview:  The band tried to rescue this song from obscurity (see below), but they didn't make much headway, which is too bad. It's a terrific arena rock track in the Bon Jovi/Ratt/Mötley Crüe vein. The original by Treat was better. The production on that version aimed for a big Mutt Lange sound and succeeded. The Newcity Rockers tamped down the glam rock a bit and that made the song sound more like a lost Loverboy track. It still turned out pretty good and it's a shame it couldn't get much traction at Pop or Rock. If a rock band on a major label had recorded this tune and it got good promotion via MTV, I'm sure this would have at least made the Top 40. It's now just a fun, lost artifact from the 80s (although I'm pretty sure the Treat version is going to make its way into a couple of my playlists).

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of a song originally recorded by the Swedish hard rock band Treat. Written by two of the band's members and their producer, the song was included on their second album, 1986's The Pleasure Principle. The band did fairly well at home and in a few European countries, but they were overshadowed by another highly successful hard rock band from Sweden that they were compared to named Europe ("The Final Countdown"). Treat would release five albums between '85 and '92, but none achieved widespread success. They would break up in 1993, but reunite later in 2006. Somehow either Rivers or someone in his camp discovered the Treat song and Rivers' Newcity Rockers decided to record a version for their album.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

"It's a Sin" by Pet Shop Boys

Top 10 Alert!

Song#:  3256
Date:  09/05/1987
Debut:  70
Peak:  9
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Synthpop, Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  Pet Shop Boys' 1986 debut album Please became a platinum success reaching #7 thanks to two Pop Top 10 hits including the #1 "West End Girls." Following its success, the duo retreated to the studio to record a follow-up. It would be titled Actually and this first single got things kicked off. In their UK homeland, the song was a major hit topping the chart for three weeks. In the US, the tune steadily climbed the chart until it finally became their third Pop Top 10. It also got to #3 at Dance.

ReduxReview:  The timing of this post is odd, yet fitting, publishing on a Sunday. The lyrics were sort of a satirical eff-u to band member Neil Tennant's Catholic school upbringing and at least one former teacher wasn't too pleased spouting off in the press. Tennant's lyrics courted a little controversy as did the tune's melody (see below), but it all worked in favor of the song with it hitting #1 in the UK. At the time I loved the track. It was the height of theatrical excess for the duo and I bought into it. I wasn't sure if the rest of the US would, but luckily it cracked the Top 10. What is unusual about the song is the lengthy opening. Typically, a pop song will have reached (or even finished) its chorus by the 1 minute mark. Vocals on this track don't even start until 45 seconds in with the chorus beginning around the 1:18 mark. That's a long time in the pop world to make folks wait for a hook, yet the song was strong enough to keep folks interested while building to the chorus. I still like the song, but these days I'm less intrigued by the bombastic 80s production, which kind of overwhelms the track. I prefer when the Boys are more sparse and less dramatic as I think it serves their songs better.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Not long after this song hit #1 in the UK, it became a subject of controversy. Jonathan King, a singer/songwriter/producer who had also been a TV show host and a columnist in The Sun (a UK tabloid newspaper), publicly accused Pet Shop Boys of stealing the melody of Cat Stevens' 1971 hit "Wild World" and using it for "It's a Sin." He talked about it on the radio and wrote about it in The Sun. King, who himself wasn't shy about creating controversy, was so adamant about his accusations that he went into a studio and recorded his own version of "Wild World" in a synthpop/dance style like "It's a Sin" just to prove his point. It was released as a single, but it failed to chart. Pet Shop Boys were not going to take King's accusations lying down and sued him for libel. The case didn't get very far with King settling out of court with the duo. Pet Shop Boys then donated the settlement to charity. Under his own name or pseudonyms, King scored five Top 10 hits in the UK in the 70s and 80s. He also set up a record label (UK Records), hosted and produced the Brit Awards for a few years, and was involved in finding the UK entry for Eurovision in the 90s, which culminated in the 1997 winner "Love Shine a Light" by Katrina & the Waves. King also was the first person to sign a little teenage band that he would christen Genesis. King would produce the band's first album, 1969's From Genesis to Revelation. It was unsuccessful and the band parted ways with King. Their next LP, 1970's Trespass, would kickoff their career. King later found himself in trouble when he was investigated for child (teenage) sexual abuse in 2000. It led to a trial where King was found guilty and sentenced to serve seven years in prison. After serving four, he was paroled. He was again arrested in 2018 and brought up on charges, but the handling of the investigation by the police came under scrutiny and the trial cancelled. King adamantly proclaimed his innocence throughout it all.