Saturday, January 9, 2021

"Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley

#1 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  3370
Date:  12/19/1987
Debut:  71
Peak:  1 (2 weeks)
Weeks:  24
Genre:  Dance-Pop, Hi-NRG

Pop Bits:  While Astley's deep voice and association with the Stock Aitken Waterman production team would make him a star, he didn't necessarily start out with aspirations to become a solo star. As a teen, Astley began playing with various bands as a drummer. By 1985, he had a solid gig as drummer for the locally popular soul band FBI, but when the band's lead singer departed, Astley stepped up and took over. At one of the band's shows, Astley impressed an attendee, producer Pete Waterman, who then invited Astley to work at his London studio. It was there that the SAW team began to groom Astley for a solo career. Their first effort was a song Astley co-wrote called "When You Gonna." It was a duet between Astley and Lisa Fabien and released as by Rick & Lisa. The song went nowhere. Undeterred, SAW were determined to break Astley as a star and came up with the song "Never Gonna Give You Up." Recorded early in '87, the track was finally released in the UK in August. The song quickly caught on and ended up spending 5 weeks at #1. It was the best selling single in the UK for 1987. The hit then crossed the Atlantic and started to get traction at Dance where it would hit #1 in January of '88. A few weeks before that, the song debuted on the Pop chart and proceeded to make its way to #1. The tune would also hit #1 at AC. With the single topping three charts, it would end up being a gold seller. The hit would help Astley's debut album, Whenever You Need Somebody, peak at #10. Eventually, it would sell over 2 million copies in the US.

ReduxReview:  The SAW team wrote and produced a lot of hits, but I think this track was their defining moment. It was a hooky, well-written track with sharp production that was more sophisticated than the stuff they had been doing with artists like Bananarama. The trio elevated their game with this one and it certainly helped to have Astley's unusual voice to carry it along. I've always liked Astley's voice. It was distinct and had a richness that could enhance most any song. Although I will say that back in the day I had difficulty rectify that voice coming out of this young, hot-geek guy. It was kind of strange. Nevertheless, it all worked perfectly and an enduring hit was born.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  While this was a major worldwide #1 back in the day, the song became popular all over again in 2006 thanks to an internet prank. The administrator of an imageboard website called 4chan pulled a gag that replaced the word "egg" with "duck" on posts. In one conversation thread, the word "eggroll" was turned into "duckroll." It seems a user found that funny and created an image of a duck with wheels, aka a "duckroll." The gag expanded from there with the image getting associated with certain hyperlinks on the site. So if a person perhaps clicked a luring link like "hot babes," the duckroll image would pop up and the person had been duckrolled. Early in 2007, the trailer for the video game Grand Theft Auto IV was released, which garnered a ton of attention. As a joke, a user on 4chan created a hyperlink that looked like it would take you to the trailer, most likely to create a duckroll, but instead of the duckroll image, they had a link to Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" video. For whatever reason, people found this funny and soon others were creating false hyperlinks that sent unsuspecting clickers to Astley's video. It became known as "rickrolling" and the gag quickly spread. The viral sensation boosted views of Astley's video to over 20 million. When Astley found out about it, he thought it was both strange and funny. He also said he would not capitalize on the resurgence of the song following the viral gag. The only thing he agreed to do was to basically do a live rickroll during a performance at the 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. While the rickroll phenomenon was popular for quite a while, it eventually died down but has not completely gone away. A couple of pro sports teams did rickroll stunts during games in 2019. So did Astley ever get rickrolled? Apparently yes. Even he has been tricked into clicking links that took him to...well, himself.


Friday, January 8, 2021

"853-5937" by Squeeze

Song#:  3369
Date:  12/19/1987
Debut:  79
Peak:  32
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  Sqeeeze secured their biggest hit in the US with "Hourglass," the first single from their album Babylon and On. It would reach #15 Pop and #22 Rock. For a follow-up, this phone number-based track was released. It wouldn't do quite as well, but the track did crack the Pop Top 40 while getting to #37 at Rock. It would end up being the band's last song to reach the US Pop chart. Their next album, 1989's Frank, failed to capitalize on the success of their previous effort and they ended up dropped from their label. Still, the band soldiered on in various incarnations over the years and released albums for several labels. They had a bit of a comeback in 1993 with Some Fantastic Place, which became their best effort at home in the UK since Babylon and On thanks to a Top 40 hit. In the US, the track "Everything in the World" got to #9 on the Alternative Airplay chart.

ReduxReview:  This mid-tempo tune's phone number hook was memorable, but as a whole it wasn't quite as catchy as the more urgent "Hourglass." Still it was a good song and its Top 40 placement was appropriate. Difford and Tilbrook had a knack for writing solid pop tunes and they should have been more popular in the US. However, thanks to the success of Babylon and On, fans new to the band went and bought copies of their 1982 compilation disc Singles - 45's and Under, which peaked on the chart at #47 when first released. In January of '88, the LP would reach gold level sales. Three years later it would go platinum. It remains the only Squeeze album to have a sales certification in the US.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Is the song title a real phone number? According to band members and co-writers Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, the answer is yes. It was Glenn Tilbrook's own number. This was back in the days of folks having answering machines and many people, including yours truly, would record clever (or annoying) little songs, skits, or sayings that would play for the incoming caller when the phone went unanswered. Musicians were especially keen on writing little ditties for their machines and it seems that Glenn Tilbrook wrote one for his. Usually these messages would end up getting deleted and replaced with something else, but Tilbrook thought the one he did could be turned into an actual song. He and Difford fleshed out the tune keeping Tilbrook's own phone number. How long he kept that number after the song was released is unknown. Does the number still exist? It does in certain locations in the US. A quick look shows that the number (with the area code of 813) belongs to the Bulla Gastrobar in Tampa, Florida. There are also a couple of private residences in other area codes that have the number.


Thursday, January 7, 2021

"Dear Mr. Jesus" by PowerSource (Solo...Sharon)

Song#:  3368
Date:  12/19/1987
Debut:  82
Peak:  61
Weeks:  7
Genre:  Contemporary Christian

Pop Bits:  PowerSource was a Christian youth choir from Bedford, Texas, a town that falls between Dallas and Ft. Worth. In 1986, the group got together with songwriter/producer Richard Klender and recorded an indie album titled Shelter from the Storm. The group would sing together with various soloists being featured on the tracks. While the album may have found some fans in the Christian music community, for the most part the album came and went. Somehow, a copy of the album happened to be on-hand at a Tampa radio station and someone there began to play the track "Dear Mr. Jesus," which featured a lead vocal from 6-year-old Sharon Batts in the late fall of '87. The song was about a young girl writing a letter to Jesus after seeing a news report about child abuse on TV. The tune began to get some attention, but what really pushed the song in a bigger way was a tragic event that happened in New York City in November of '87 (see below). After details of the event came to light, a radio station in New York picked up "Dear Mr. Jesus" and put it on the air. The response was overwhelming. Soon there were requests for copies of the album since a single had not been issued out. As the song caught on in more markets, a single was finally printed. Airplay combined with sales allowed the tune to debut on the Pop chart. The message song wouldn't get too far, but it made an impression. The album would reach #10 on the Contemporary Christian chart. Batts was then courted by record labels and two years later she did record the solo album Someone to Love Me with PowerSource supporting, but it didn't get anywhere. It seems that later in life Batts remained in Texas, became a style consultant, and wrote a 2019 book on how to make clothes look good on you.

ReduxReview:  This is a difficult song to rate. On one hand, how can you say anything negative towards a tune about child abuse sung by a kid? Just saying you don't like it could bring the wrath of other people who think you are insensitive and don't get it. Basically, you are a monster. On the other hand, regardless of the subject matter it is still a musical piece that is open to criticism. People may love it, people may loathe it. It took me a minute to remember the song, but it all came back to me as soon as I heard it. I have to say, I think the same way about it now as I did back then. While I appreciate the sentiment, I have a very low tolerance for treacly tunes like this. They pander to people's emotions, are manipulative, and are usually poorly written and produced. If you compare this tune to another 1987 song about child abuse, Suzanne Vega's "Luka," it should become clear how a quality song can be composed about a tough subject. Now, I do understand that someone's Aunt Doris may not really get Vega's track and would more likely be crying in her kerchief to "Dear Mr. Jesus." That's fine. There's a place in the world for both types of tunes, but for me, this toddler-led ditty makes me cringe rather than cry. Sorry - I gotta calls it as I hears it. (Frankly, it should be a 0 or 1, but I'll add a point due to the unexpected and pretty darn good rock filler vocal at the end by some guy, presumably the writer/producer.)

ReduxRating:  2/10

Trivia:  This song played on people's emotions, especially in New York. On November 1, 1987, criminal defense attorney Joel Steinberg struck his adopted daughter Lisa, age 6, in the head. He left their home and eventually Steinberg's common law wife, Hedda, called the police. Lisa would die three days later from her injuries. Apparently, Lisa and a young toddler that Steinberg had taken in but not adopted, were being abused for quite a while. Both Steinberg and Hedda were arrested. Hedda, in exchange for her testimony, would not serve time. Steinberg would be convicted for manslaughter and serve a prison term. He was paroled in 2004. The crime caught the nation's attention and this song, sung by a six-year-old, happened to get discovered just after the Steinberg incident.


Wednesday, January 6, 2021

"She's Like the Wind" by Patrick Swayze (featuring Wendy Fraser)

Top 10 Alert!
One-Hit Wonder Alert!
Song#:  3367
Date:  12/19/1987
Debut:  84
Peak:  3
Weeks:  21
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  Although Patrick Swayze became known for his acting, he had other talents as well. He was a trained ballet dancer as well as a musician. He put both of those skills to use early on in his career when he became part of the replacement cast of Grease during its Broadway run. Swayze got the lead role of Danny Zuko. After that, his acting career began to slowly take off. His breakout role came in 1987 via a low-budget film called Dirty Dancing and once again his two other talents were put to use. Swayze was not only able to show off his smooth moves playing a resort dance instructor, but he also got to show off his musical side by recording a song for the film's soundtrack. Swayze co-wrote and sang "She's Like the Wind," which ended up being released as the third single from the soundtrack album. With the film becoming a success and with two other songs from the soundtrack already becoming hits, "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" and "Hungry Eyes," not to mention Swayze's new star status, the song began to take off. It would eventually reach #3 at Pop and stay there for three weeks while hitting #1 at AC. Unfortunately, it would end up being Swayze's only song to reach the charts making him a true one-hit wonder.

ReduxReview:  I've always been 50/50 on this song. It kind of sounds like a relic from the late 70s spruced up with 80s production. I don't like Swayze's voice and the lyrics are awful. Yet there is something oddly endearing about the tune. The mysterious verse followed by a quick two measure chorus/hook was a bit unusual as was the outro that was different from the rest of the song and added a female voice. It really shouldn't have worked at all, but in the end it kind of did. Would this have been a hit if it wasn't attached to the movie and Swayze's newfound star status? I dunno. I just think it was one of those songs that found its opportunity at the exact right moment. While the song makes me cringe sometimes, by the end is has usually won me over in a guilty pleasure kind of way.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) Swayze did not write this song specifically for Dirty Dancing. He actually wrote it for another movie he was in, 1984's Grandview U.S.A. Swayze was cast as one of the leads along with Jamie Lee Curtis and C. Thomas Howell. At some point, Swayze learned that the producers were assembling a soundtrack for the film and were looking for songs. Swayze had an idea for a tune, but was having trouble fleshing it out so he called on his friend, songwriter Stacy Widelitz, to help out. The pair finished "She's Like the Wind" and recorded a demo. Swayze presented his song to producers, but they nixed it. In 1986, Swayze got a role in the film Youngblood, which starred Rob Lowe. According to an interview with Lowe, Swayze brought the tune around for soundtrack consideration, but it was rejected again. The following year, Swayze once again hawked his song, this time to the folks behind his new flick Dirty Dancing. It seems third time was the charm and not only did the song make the film and soundtrack, it became a hit.  2) The female vocal part on the song was done by Wendy Fraser. Fraser was Stacy Widelitz's girlfriend and had sung the part on the original demo for the song. When it came time to formally record the track for the movie, the producer just called her in to do the part instead of hiring in someone else. While the hit didn't present Fraser with an opportunity for a solo career, it did offer her the chance to work as a background vocalist for many artists including Cher, Hall & Oates, Jimmy Barnes, and Neil Diamond.  3) When an actor gets an unexpected hit song, the typical next step is to record an album. This can be driven by the actor's management or even the star thinking - yeah, I can have a music career too! Most of the time it doesn't work out and the actor returns quickly to their day job. Swayze did not do that. He chose to focus on acting. However, that didn't mean he couldn't dabble a bit in music on the side. In 1989, Swayze would star in two films, Road House and Next of Kin. For Road House, he would record two songs for the soundtrack, one of which he co-wrote. For Next of Kin, Swayze would do a duet with country star Larry Gatlin on "Brothers," a song Gatlin wrote.


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

"Rhythm of Love" by Yes

Song#:  3366
Date:  12/19/1987
Debut:  86
Peak:  40
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Prog Rock

Pop Bits:  After a three-year absence, Yes returned with their twelfth studio album Big Generator. Its first single, "Love Will Find a Way," became a big hit at Rock reaching #1. Over on the Pop chart, it didn't do as well halting at #30. However, the results called for a follow-up and this next track was selected. The song predictably did well at Rock getting to #2, but like their previous single, this one stalled early at Pop after just cracking the Top 40. Still, the airplay on rock radio was enough to help the album get to #15.

ReduxReview:  This track was in-line with what that band was pushing out at the time. It was a good song that had an ear towards rock radio, but it wasn't as commercially appealing as their #1 hit "Owner of a Lonely Heart." In other words, it was typical 80s Yes. It didn't move the band forward, but didn't necessarily set them back. While that was not necessarily a bad thing, the problem was that the tunes became forgettable. Been there, done that.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  With the two main singles from the album not doing all that well on the Pop chart, the label decided no further singles would be formally released. However, two other track from the album would receive enough airplay to get on the Rock chart. "Shoot High Aim Low" would nearly crack the Top 10 at #11 while "Final Eyes" would get to #20. These two tracks along with the two proper singles helped the album sell well and in April of '88 it would become a platinum seller. At the time of certification, it was the band's third platinum LP following 1978's Tormato and 1984's 90125. However, after a 1998 review of their catalog sales, four of their albums turned platinum while another was certified 2x platinum. The review also boosted the sales of 90125 from platinum to triple-platinum.


Monday, January 4, 2021

"I Need a Man" by Eurythmics

Song#:  3365
Date:  12/19/1987
Debut:  87
Peak:  46
Weeks:  10
Genre:  Synth Rock

Pop Bits:  Five albums into their career, Eurythmics (Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart) had earned two gold and two platinum LPs, which spawned three Pop Top 10 singles. Their fifth album, 1986's Revenge, signaled a slight dip in popularity peaking at #12 and only going gold. For their sixth album, they needed something bolder to win back some of the audience they had lost. They came up with Savage, a collection of songs that saw the duo reaching back to their more experimental days by toying with the new sound sampling techniques of the day. Lennox and Stewart wrote, produced, and performed everything on the album with only Olle Romo lending a hand with programming. This near-solo effort was different from their previous two LPs, which saw them expand from a synthpop duo into a more full-on rock band with side musicians. To introduce the album, this first single was pushed out. The song was unable to catch on and it fizzled before it could reach the Pop Top 40. It also got to #32 at Rock. (The tune combined with another album track was able to reach #6 at Dance.) The results were disappointing and played into album sales. Savage peaked at #41 and missed the gold-level mark. It was the duo's worst showing since their non-charting 1981 debut album In the Garden.

ReduxReview:  The rollout of Savage was similar to their previous LP Revenge in that the singles initially released in the duo's home UK territory was different from the US. In October of '87, the track "Beethoven (I Love to Listen To)" was released in the UK. I remember seeing it in Billboard on the UK chart and couldn't wait to hear it because the title was so intriguing. I assumed it would be the first single in the US, but then "I Need a Man" came out. I was hardly disappointed though because I absolutely loved the song. It was a balls-to-the-wall bluesy rock jam with a killer performance by Lennox. I'm guessing it was selected first for US release because the experimental "Beethoven" only got to #26 in the UK and the previous album's rock-leaning lead single "Missionary Man" did well in the US (#14 Pop/#1 Rock). I thought for certain "I Need a Man" was going to sail into the US Pop Top 10, but then it stalled outside of the Top 40. I'm not really sure why. Maybe folks (especially straight guys) didn't want go around singing "I Need a Man." Or maybe it was just too loud and in-your-face for pop radio. Despite the failure of the single, the song had remained popular with fans, as has the album. Critics were not that kind to the LP when it came out, but it has gained a better reputation over the years and even Lennox and Stewart have said it was their favorite album in their catalog. I loved Savage and thought folks missed out at the time. It really should have been a much bigger hit and this song should have made the Top 10.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  To help promote Savage, Eurythmics teamed up with director Sophie Muller to create an accompanying video album. A video would be shot for each track on the album and would then be loosely tied together with a concept. Throughout the videos, Annie Lennox appeared as herself, as a mousey housewife, and as an extroverted vamp. The video album was received well and would go on to receive a Grammy nomination for Best Long Form Music Video. Two of the album's videos would receive MTV Music Video Award nominations. Muller, who directed all but two of the Savage videos, would later do another concept video album with Annie Lennox for her 1992 solo debut Diva. It would go on to win the Grammy for Best Long Form Music Video.