Saturday, October 31, 2020

"If You Let Me Stay" by Terence Trent D'Arby

Song#:  3304
Date:  10/24/1987
Debut:  96
Peak:  68
Weeks:  8
Genre:  R&B, Soul

Pop Bits:  This NYC-born singer/songwriter found himself in Germany in the early 80s via a stint in the military and while there he kicked off his music career heading up a band called The Touch. That group would record and release an indie album titled Love on Time in 1984. The LP didn't do much for his career, so D'Arby left Germany and eventually landed in  London where his performances and songs grabbed the attention of CBS Records who decided to take a chance on the soul artist. D'Arby then recorded a couple of songs with producer Howard Gray, which included this debut single. It was released in England early in '87 and quickly made the Top 10 (#7) thanks in part to appearances on TV that showcased D'Arby's performance style. With the song hitting, CBS ordered a full album. D'Arby then worked with Martyn Ware (of Heaven 17) to produce tracks for a debut LP titled Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D'Arby. Released in the summer of '87, the album debuted at #1 in the UK and would spend nine non-consecutive weeks at the top. All the hype in the UK surrounding D'Arby set him up well for success at home in the US, but when this single was finally released in the fall, it was met with a shrug. It got to #19 at R&B and #47 Dance while peaking in the lower half of the Pop chart. It seemed that America wasn't quite ready for D'Arby's throwback soul, but that would change with the release of his next single.

ReduxReview:  I had forgotten that this was the lead single from the album. There was so much hype surrounding D'Arby after his album hit #1 in the UK it seemed like a no-brainer that he was going to easily conquer his home country. Weirdly, the initial reaction was "meh" here. The retro soul of this first single just didn't click with listeners. It also didn't help that back in the UK D'Arby's ego was in full bloom with him declaring his debut album the best of the decade and better than Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. That bravado, whether for real or just for show, fed the hype beast in the US with music fans anxiously awaiting to hear what this guy sounded like. Apparently, he didn't initially impress with this single unexpectedly under-performing. The results could have killed his career in the US, but he got a second chance with his next single. As for this one, I thought it was a good soul track and a fun listen. It just wasn't one that was going to knock everyone's socks off.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  After high school, D'Arby attended college for a bit but then dropped out and joined the US Army. According to his bio, D'Arby would spend four years in the military. Three of those years would be in the US while his final year was spent in Germany, where he began to focus more heavily on a music career. However, his bio doesn't include how his military career came to an end. Apparently while in Germany, his army life and music career clashed and it forced him to make a decision. D'Arby was scheduled to play a concert with The Touch, but he was denied permission to leave the army base for the performance. With his interest in the military flagging in favor of a career in music, D'Arby chose to go AWOL. The escapade ended up getting him a dishonorable discharge from the army. A few years later, D'Arby would be worldwide star with a multi-platinum debut album.


Friday, October 30, 2020

"Power of Love" by Laura Branigan

Song#:  3303
Date:  10/24/1987
Debut:  97
Peak:  26
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:   Branigan's fifth album, Touch, didn't get off to a great start with its first single, the Stock Aitken Waterman product "Shattered Glass," stalling early at #48. Since that upbeat track couldn't gain an audience, the label then chose this ballad for a second single. It did better making the Pop Top 30 while reaching #19 at AC. The better result didn't necessarily play into album sales with Touch already topping out at #87. It was Branigan's worst showing on the album chart to-date and her second in a row to not at least reach gold level sales. This song would also prove to be Branigan's last to reach the Pop Top 40.

ReduxReview:  It's back - the song that never dies. There's not much I can really add about the tune that I haven't covered in its other versions (see below). While Branigan's take is not my favorite of the four charting version ("favorite" is a strong word here), I do admire the passion and gusto that she put into her vocal. Near the end it sounded like was gonna bust a lung, but weirdly it didn't sound as screamy and piercing and Celine Dion's massive, technically perfect wail on the tune. Thankfully, this is the last time I have to hear this freakin' song for the blog. I say good riddance to the "Power of Love."

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of a song originally written and performed by Jennifer Rush. Her version became a major hit in Europe and other countries in 1985. It would finally make the US Pop chart in 1986, but would only get to #57. However, before she could chart with the song in the US, Australian group Air Supply would hit the chart first with their take on the song. It didn't do well peaking at #68. Branigan would have the best result on the song with her 1987 version, but then a newly minted star came along and finally got the song to #1. Celine Dion would cover the song for her 1993 album The Colour of My Love. It served as the LP's second single and it would become Dion's first US #1 Pop hit and third US AC chart topper. The song would also earn Dion a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. With Dion creating a new standard for the song, other artists just bowed down and no one else has attempted to release a version as a single since.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

"Skeletons" by Stevie Wonder

Song#:  3302
Date:  10/17/1987
Debut:  66
Peak:  19
Weeks:  16
Genre:  R&B, Synthpop, Electro-Funk

Pop Bits:  Wonder's 1985 album In Square Circle was a double-platinum success thanks to a pair of Top 10 hits including the #1 "Part-Time Lover." Next up for Wonder was his twenty-first studio effort, Characters. Once again, the album was produced, written, and mainly performed by Wonder. This first single was released and it became a major hit at R&B reaching #1. It was his nineteenth song to reach the top of that chart. Unfortunately, the track didn't have the same mainstream appeal as some of his other hits and it stopped just inside the Pop Top 20. The album would then perform similarly. It would get to #1 at R&B while stalling at #17 on the Pop chart. It was his first album since 1972 to not make the Pop Top 10. Unfortunately, this single would also end up being Wonder's last to crack the Pop Top 40.

ReduxReview:  This single definitely showed off the funkier R&B side of Wonder's music, which was a nice change of pace following the tepid pop-leaning singles he had been releasing in the mid-80s. However, the song wasn't as catchy or memorable as some of his classic jams like "I Wish" or "Boogie on Reggae Woman." and that certainly hurt its chances over on pop radio. Once again, Wonder relied on a lot of keyboards and synths. While that was appropriate for the time, I think both he and the song would have been served better by an actual band. The song also needed a more defined chorus. While I like the groove Wonder set down, in the end the song sounded a little incomplete and the production quite mechanical.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  With this song hitting #1 at R&B, it gave Grammy voters something to chew on and in the end it would receive two nominations. One for Best R&B Song and one for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male. The single came out late in the year, but in time for Grammy consideration. The album arrived after the deadline, which then made it eligible for the following year's Grammys. The album would earn Wonder another nomination in the Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male, category. None of the three nods would net him a win, but it hardly mattered. By this point in time Wonder already had 14 Grammys to his credit. As of this posting date, he had amassed 25 wins from 74 nominations.


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

"I Do You" by The Jets

Song#:  3301
Date:  10/17/1987
Debut:  74
Peak:  20
Weeks:  15
Genre:  R&B, Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  This family band grabbed their third Pop Top 10 hit with "Cross My Broken Heart," a track that served as the first single from their second album Magic. The tune was also featured on the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop II. Next up was this second single from Magic. It would end up being just a mediocre performer barely making the Top 20 at both Pop and R&B (#19). However, it would prove to be just a very slight bump in the road with their next two singles doing much better.

ReduxReview:  This was a good album-opening track, but it wasn't the best follow-up to "Cross My Broken Heart." Since the band had scored hits with both uptempo jams and ballads, my instinct would have been to select "Make It Real," an AC-leaning track that was eventually released and reached the Top 10. Instead, I guess either the band or their label wanted to keep the kids dancing and pushed this one out. It didn't do too bad, but it would have been better as a wrap-up single from the LP. Instead it ended up being a little hiccup between bigger hits and it most likely affected album sales.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  In addition to having a song on the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop II, the band recorded a track for another 1987 film, the Whoopi Goldberg vehicle Burglar. The Jets contributed the song "Tough Guys" to the movie's soundtrack. It was not released as a single. The main single pushed out from the soundtrack was "Time Out for the Burglar" by The Jacksons. It wouldn't get much attention only peaking at #88 at R&B. That result went hand-in-hand with the outcome of the film, which was critically panned and didn't do well at the box office.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

"Special Way" by Kool & the Gang

Song#:  3300
Date:  10/17/1987
Debut:  88
Peak:  72
Weeks:  14
Genre:  R&B, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  While the band's seventeenth album, Forever, was able to generate two Pop and R&B Top 10 hits, it didn't sell as well as their previous multi-platinum Emergency. Forever topped out at #25 on the Pop chart (#9 R&B) and only managed to go gold. This third single from the album didn't do much to help sales. While it did become a Top 10 at AC (#6), the tune failed to catch fire at Pop and wasn't even able to get on the R&B chart. The track would be the band's last to reach the Pop chart. Apparently the band's formula for success was getting stale and it seems that lead singer James "J.T." Taylor knew that and took the opportunity to leave for a solo career after things for Forever wrapped up. As sort of a conclusion to the era of the band, the compilation Everything's Kool & the Gang: Greatest Hits & More was released in 1988. It included the new track "Rags to Riches," which could only manage to reach #38 at R&B. After more personnel changes, the band would return with 1989's Sweat. Drubbed by critics, the album sold poorly and it would be the band's last album to make the R&B chart until 2007.

ReduxReview:  This single pretty much served as the swan song for Kool & the Gang's most popular and productive era. By this point I wasn't paying attention to the band. Their tracks had become formulaic and the group just sounded tired. This tune didn't change my mind, but it was a bit better than some of their previous singles. It did have a bit of a flaw though in that the track became unfocused and meandering in its second half. It was as if they wrote a good 2-minute, 30-second song, but then tried in vain to stretch it another three minutes. I'm kind of baffled as to why. The heart of the song was just fine. Still, it wasn't too bad of a song to go out on.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  After leaving Kool & the Gang, James "J.T." Taylor quickly got to work on a solo career. One of his first efforts was "All I Want Is Forever," a duet with Regina Bell. The song, written by Diane Warren, was selected for use in the Gregory Hines drama film Tap. Released as a single, the tune would get to #2 at R&B and #34 AC. It failed to make the Pop chart. The track would be included on Taylor's debut solo album, Master of the Game. It would be Taylor's only effort outside of Kool & the Gang to reach the R&B Top 10. Two other singles would be released from the album, but both stayed in the lower half of the chart. His next album, 1991's Feel the Need, wouldn't make the charts, but it did contain the #13 R&B "Long Hot Summer Night." A third album in 1993 failed to do much and that ended Taylor's initial foray into solo work. He would then return to Kool & the Gang in 1995 and stay until 1999.


Monday, October 26, 2020

"So the Story Goes" by Living in a Box

Song#:  3299
Date:  10/17/1987
Debut:  89
Peak:  81
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Synthpop, Sophisti-Pop, Blue-Eyed Soul

Pop Bits:  This British group grabbed a #17 Pop hit (#6 Dance/#74 R&B) with "Living in a Box," the first single from their self-titled debut album. For a follow-up, this next track was selected. The song was unable to do much and after a short month it fell off the chart. It would end up being the group's last single to reach the US Pop chart. Another track from the LP,  "Love is the Art," would get to #12 on the US Dance chart. Back home in the UK, "Living in a Box" would get to #5 with the album becoming a #29 gold seller.

ReduxReview:  The opening synth line (and really throughout the song) was a little heavy-handed, but once the song settled into its groove it ended up being a pretty good tune. It wasn't the hookiest of tracks, but the tune chugged along quite well. It was a nice change of pace from the more urgent dance-pop of "Living in a Box." The song fell in line with other British sophisti-pop that was hitting the chart at the time, but it just wasn't quite as catchy or mainstream as some of the others. Still, it was a solid song that should have received a bit more attention.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The band issued out their second album, Gatecrashing, in 1989. It's first single, "Blow the House Down," would be their second UK Top 10 (#10). It would make the US Dance chart at #19. The LP would generate a bigger hit in the UK with the #5 "Room in Your Heart." The dual hits would send the album to #21 and it would be their second gold seller at home. With momentum behind them, the group went back into the studio to record their third album. Unfortunately, issues with their label arose along with some internal disputes and in the end the band decided to just call it quits.  2) The 12" vinyl version of this song included the "Club Mix," which featured vocals by soul star Bobby Womack. The connection to the band helped Womack a little bit as he recorded his own version of "Living in a Box" for his 1987 album The Last Soul Man. The single would get to #70 in the UK while failing to chart in the US.


Sunday, October 25, 2020

"Crazy World" by Big Trouble

Song#:  3298
Date:  10/17/1987
Debut:  90
Peak:  71
Weeks:  7
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  This all-female band was an assembled outfit created by TV mogul Fred Silverman. It seems that Silverman's plan was to create a Monkees-like band that would eventually be featured in their own show. Auditions were set up and four women were selected to become Big Trouble; Bobbie Eakes (lead singer), Julia Farey, Rebecca Ryan, and Suzy Zarow. After getting together, Silverman then cast them as the house band in his new 1985 late night variety sketch show Comedy Break. Eventually the band got a deal with Epic Records and thanks to Silverman's connections, they were hooked up with superstar composer/producer Giorgio Moroder. The band's first effort was the song "All I Need Is You," which appeared on the soundtrack to the Sylvester Stallone flick Over the Top. Next up was a full self-titled debut album and it featured this first single. It was able to make the Pop chart, but it didn't get far. A second single failed to make the chart and with those results Big Trouble called it a day.

ReduxReview:  This entry was quite interesting. I'd never heard of Big Trouble and I'm not sure how they escaped my radar. Although this wasn't a bit hit, the fact that they were an assembled band by Fred Silverman would have gotten my attention had I saw a story about them in Billboard. Yet I missed out. The timing for them was right. With the Go-Go's already split and the Bangles reaching their peak, another all-female outfit could have swooped in and done well. Even thought they were a manufactured group, if everything clicked they might have had a good shot at becoming stars. Unfortunately, I think they may have come off as a bit too slick with Moroder's heavy-handed 80s production not allowing the band to develop an identity of their own. The Go-Go's and the Bangles sounded like bands. Big Trouble didn't. Their tracks sounded like studio creations with sessions musician that featured a terrific vocalist (Eakes). The album had some good material, but nothing that had big hit potential, including this single. It was a nicely written pop tune that was well crafted by Moroder, but it just didn't have that extra oomph needed to get noticed on pop radio. Still, it was a fascinating project that I kind of wished I'd known about back in the day. (Note: for any Burt Bacharach/Hal David fan, the album contains an interesting remake of "Trains and Boats and Planes. The band also weirdly covers "Cool Jerk," which the Go-Go's did on their second album Vacation. Probably not the smartest move...)

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Fred Silverman ran each of the three major networks (CBS, ABC, and NBC) at some point in time, but by 1981 he was done working with them. He started his own production company and began creating shows to sell to the networks or be used in syndication. The company created hits like Jake and the Fatman and Matlock. There were ventures into other types of shows including sketch comedy. The show Comedy Break was developed for late night viewing and starred the comedy duo of Mack and Jamie. The program first aired in 1985 and lasted for 125 episodes. Big Trouble would get their initial break as a regular act on the show. It also featured a few people who would go on to much bigger success including Jan Hooks (SNL) and Kevin Pollak.  2) Lead singer Bobbie Eakes would become better known for her acting. After leaving Big Trouble, she made guest appearances on several of Fred Silverman's shows, but then got a major break when landing a role on the TV soap The Bold and the Beautiful. Her run as Macy Alexander would begin in 1989 and she would stay until 2000. Eakes would return to the show for short periods in the few years following. She continued to sing over the years and even released two duet albums with her Bold co-star Jeff Trachta.