Wednesday, March 17, 2021

"Samantha (What You Gonna Do?) by Cellarful of Noise

Song#:  3435
Date:  03/05/1988
Debut:  94
Peak:  69
Weeks:  7
Genre:  Power Pop, Synth Rock

Pop Bits:  Avsec had been working with rocker Donnie Iris since the late 70s when both were briefly members of the funk-rock band Wild Cherry. After Wild Cherry broke up in '79, Iris and Avsec teamed up to form Donnie Iris & the Cruisers. Over the course of five albums, which were credited solely to Donnie Iris on the covers, Iris and Avsec collaborated on the majority of the band's material including what is arguably their most recognized hit, 1980's "Ah! Leah!" (#29 Pop/#19 Rock). Sometime in '84, Avsec decided to write a bunch of songs on his own to see what would come up. He made some demos that through his manager ended up over at CBS. The label liked what they heard and wanted to release the demos as an album. Under the moniker Cellarful of Noise, Avsec released his first album apart from Iris in 1985 on the CBS Associated label. Nothing much happened with the LP, which seemed okay with Avsec as he considered his main job to be with Iris and the Cruisers. Unfortunately, the band ran into label issues twice and as of '86 were left on their own. With the Cruisers on a bit of a forced hiatus, Avsec decided to revive the Cellarful of Noise name and record a new album titled Magnificent Obsession. This time around, he asked Iris to lend a hand. Iris would co-write one song and provide the lead vocal on several of the tracks including this first single. Pushed out once again on CBS Associated, the song got a bit of attention and was able to spend a few weeks on the Pop chart. However, it wasn't enough to get the album on the chart. After the lackluster results, Avsec and Iris got the Cruisers back to work. They would release several indie albums over the years and would remain a popular touring act.

ReduxReview:  Although there are a lot of songs out there surrounding the subject of abortion, only a minor few have actually become hits. "Brick" from Ben Folds Five (1998, #19 Airplay, #6 Modern Rock) comes to mind along with The Verve Pipe's 1997 "The Freshmen" (#5 Pop). And perhaps even Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach" (#1 Pop), which contained the line "but I've made up my mind, I'm keeping my baby." It's a controversial subject and one that, for many folks, isn't necessarily suited for pop radio, so I think most labels shied away from pushing out singles that hit on the topic. However, CBS got this one out and on the chart and I can't find any evidence that there was a negative reaction to it based on the lyrics. I'm thinking what sort of kept it from being controversial was that the title question was never answered. Samantha was trying to make a difficult choice and we never find out what happened. Therefore, the listener could interpret it any way they choose. It was an interesting approach, but still odd for a single. The song is memorable to me for the near-yodeling chorus followed by the high-pitched "Samantha!" in the background. It grabs your attention and makes you want to listen. The production is dense, meaty, and definitely loaded with 80s synth rock sounds. Then there is a sneaky key change after the bridge. It's a terrific power pop track from the late 80s and one that should have probably cracked the Top 40.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) The band name came from Brian Epstein's 1964 autobiography A Cellarful of Noise. The book was mainly about Epstein's early years with The Beatles. The title was most likely a reference to the underground venues such as The Cavern Club where The Beatles first performed. Although I can't find proof, several sites state that in an interview, John Lennon once mentioned that he thought the book should have been titled A Cellarful of Boys, which was an allusion to Epstein's homosexuality that a close circle of folks knew about, but was not publicly known or acknowledged until after his death due to accidental overdose in 1967.  2) In the mid-80s, Avsec was sued for copyright infringement for the song "Ah! Leah!" While he was encouraged to settle the case, Avsec knew he was absolutely innocent and decided to fight the suit. He ended up winning, but it cost him all the royalties he had earned to that point from the song for all the legal fees. The unfairness of the situation prompted Avsec to pursue a law degree so that he could help others in similar situations. He graduated from law school at the age of 40 and went on to work for law firms in addition to teaching law. Along the way he continued a music career with Iris and the Cruisers.


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