Saturday, February 27, 2021

"Going Back to Cali" by LL Cool J

Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  3418
Date:  02/20/1988
Debut:  87
Peak:  31
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Rap, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  The Rick Rubin-produced soundtrack to the film Less Than Zero was on its way to being a gold seller thanks to its first single, "Hazy Shade of Winter" by the Bangles, reaching #2. The album would get a second boost with this next single from rapper LL Cool J. It was good timing as LL had just had his biggest single on the Pop chart, "I Need Love" (#14), and he was in the process of recording his third album Walking with a Panther, so this song could be used as the LP's first single as well as promoting the soundtrack. The track would almost break into the Pop Top 30 while getting to #12 at R&B. While it wasn't a major hit when first released, the single kept selling over the next couple of years and in 1991 it would be certified gold. Digital sales would later boost its status to platinum in 2017.

ReduxReview:  I can't help but think that Rubin's inspiration for this track came from Tom Waits. It was just a couple years prior that Waits had released his experimental classic Rain Dogs and the production of this track was right in line with what Waits was doing. If that was what Rubin had in mind when doing this track, then it was a good choice. Right from the opening, you knew this was a different style of rap song. The bluesy trumpet set the tone and even LL's delivery was more subtle and soulful. The addition of the horns along with the sax solo further set this track apart from other rap tracks. It was unusual and very cool. It was another new direction for rap at the time and it still sounds great.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This rap track was a bit unusual in that it used a real horn section. It would be more common to use samples as enhancements, but for this song producer Rick Rubin brought in an actual horn section and basically told them to come up with their own arrangement, which ended up including a sax solo. It seems Rubin also gave LL the concept for the song. Rubin had been toying on whether to make the move from NYC to LA since he had been traveling to the West Coast quite a bit. LL took Rubin's waffling and applied it to the track's chorus, which basically says he's going back to Cali (short for California), but then quickly backtracks and says, "I don't think so." While the track has remained one of LL's most popular in his catalog, he wasn't a fan of it to being with. In an article in Entertainment Weekly where LL was asked about some of his songs, he said that this one took him out of his comfort zone and it took him a long while to finally appreciate the track.

Friday, February 26, 2021

"All Right Now" by Pepsi & Shirlie

Song#:  3417
Date:  02/20/1988
Debut:  89
Peak:  66
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  The former backup singers for Wham! stepped out on their own and scored a bit #2 hit in the UK with "Heartache." The song was taken from their debut album All Right Now. In the US, the track was a hit on the Dance chart getting to #2, but it didn't play as well at Pop where it stopped at a minor #79. For a follow-up, this cover song was released. In the UK, it was the fourth single from the album and it got to #50. In the US, the song did a little bit better than "Heartache" on the Pop chart, but it still couldn't get close to the Top 40. It did not make the Dance chart. A third US single, "Goodbye Stranger," did not get on the Pop chart, but did reach #26 at Dance. The duo didn't capitalize on their success at home immediately. It took them four years to record their follow-up, 1991's Change. It's first single, "Someday," was written and produced by George Michael. Unfortunately, that connection didn't help and the song failed to chart. The album disappeared quickly and was not even issued out in the US. Those results brought an end to their recording career and partnership.

ReduxReview:  With "Heartache" and their second UK single "Goodbye Stranger" (#9 UK) firmly planted in dance-pop territory, I thought that this track was going to be a dance-oriented over of Free's classic rock track (see below). So it surprised me when I heard the duo's version done in a heavy, 80s synth-rock style. It was quite a beefy production and it easily could have overrun the pair, but they ended up performing it quite well. Rod Stewart tried to synth-up the tune in 1984 and it was just meh. The song was definitely more in his wheelhouse, but it didn't quite work. Oddly, I like the Pepsi & Shirlie version. In some ways, they rocked it up more than Stewart did. They gave the song a tough, bluesy edge that was more in-line with the feeling of the original. Still, it can't hold a candle to Free's original.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of a song originally recorded by UK rock band Free. Written by band members Andy Fraser and Paul Rodgers, their 1970 single would get to #4 on the US Pop chart. It would be the band's only Top 40 entry in the US. In 1975, soul singer Lea Roberts would cover the tune for her second album Lady Lea. It would be released as a single and get to #54 R&B and #92 Pop. Then in 1984, Rod Steward would cover the song and release it as a single. It would get to #72 Pop. Thus far, the only other act to chart with the song has been Pepsi & Shirlie. (Interesting side note on Lea Roberts. For her Lady Lea album, she recorded the Neil Sedaka/Phil Cody-penned song "Laughter in the Rain." In 1974, Sedaka had recorded the song and it was issued as a single in the UK in the summer. It got to #15. Despite doing well there, US radio stations refused to play it. Sedaka hadn't had a charting song since the mid-60s and DJs weren't keen on helping to revive his career in the US. Around this time, Roberts had recorded the track and it was released in the late fall of '74 as her album's first single and it started to get airplay. Meanwhile, a panicked Sedaka, who was signed to Elton John's Rocket Records, pushed John and the label to rush release and promote his version. They did and it got released in December of '74. With John's help, the single finally got airplay and it would eventually climb to #1. Sedaka's hit completely overshadowed Roberts' version, which could only get to #69 R&B and #109 Pop. Roberts would then release "All Right Now," which was her last charting single.)


Thursday, February 25, 2021

"Are You Sure" by So

Song#:  3416
Date:  02/20/1988
Debut:  91
Peak:  41
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Rock, Pop

Pop Bits:  This London-based duo was made up of Marcus Bell and Mark Long. Both had been members of the post-punk band The Opposition. Formed in 1979, the band would release four albums, but after their last one in 1985, they would take an extended break. Bell and Long then went out on their own as a duo. Naming themselves So, they adopted a slicker, radio-friendly pop/rock sound and signed on with Parlophone. They then recorded a debut album titled Horseshoe in Glove and this first single was issued out. It didn't do all that well in the UK only getting to #62. It did slightly better in the US nearly cracking the Pop Top 40. The album would then be a minor entry at #124. The mediocre results didn't do much for the duo and that along with a general dislike for the machinations of being on a major label (according to an interview with Bell) led to the demise of So.

ReduxReview:  Although I don't remember ever hearing this song, I do remember the album cover. I have no idea why. It wasn't remarkable in any way, but I recognized the image right away when I saw it again after 30+ years. This song has that European arena rock sound along the lines of Simple Minds. It takes a couple of listens to hook into the tune, but it's a solid track with great production. I also like the background vocals on it as well. It nearly made the Pop Top 40 and perhaps with a bit more promotion it might have gone further. Although their background was in indie/post-punk, Bell and Long dove head first into mainstream rock with this track and came up with a winner.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  After they decided to call it quits with their So project, Bell and Long reformed The Opposition and recorded the 1990 album Blue Alice Blue. Two more albums would follow. After an extended decade break, the band returned to the studio for a few more albums. Marcus Bell would die in 2014. Mark Long would keep the band going after Bell's death.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

"Piano in the Dark" by Brenda Russell

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3415
Date:  02/20/1988
Debut:  92
Peak:  6
Weeks:  25
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary, R&B

Pop Bits:  This singer/songwriter (born Brenda Gordon) from New York City began performing in local bands as a teenager. In the mid-60s, she became part of the Canadian girl group The Tiaras. They supported a few other acts and tried to break out on their own with a couple of singles, but nothing panned out. She got married to another musician, Brian Russell, and the pair began to work together as producers, songwriters, and backing vocalists. Eventually, they secured their own recording deal with Elton John's Rocket Records and released albums under the moniker Brian & Brenda in '76 and '77. Following a divorce, Russell struck out on a solo career and got signed to A&M Records. Her 1979 self-titled debut album generated the minor hit "So Good, So Right," which got to #8 AC, #15 R&B, and #30 Pop. A second LP for A&M didn't do as well while a third album for Warner Bros. disappeared quickly. After seven years, Russell rekindled her relationship with A&M, recorded the 1988 album Get Here, and released this first single. It was a slow-burner that took a while to catch on. Once it did, the tune made its way to #3 AC and #8 R&B while cracking the Pop Top 10. The LP would then get to #20 R&B/#49 Pop. Three more tracks from the album would be minor entries on the R&B chart. Her next album didn't perform as well and it left this song as Russell's first and only Pop Top 10 and her last one to make the Pop chart. Russell would record a few more albums over the years while writing and producing for other artists.

ReduxReview:  I remember that I bought this single without hearing it. I found the title intriguing and I liked the photo/sketch of Russell on the 45's sleeve jacket. Luckily, it ended up being a great selection. The sleek, mysterious groove of the verse was sexy and alluring while the chorus boosted the song to another level. It wasn't a typical, hooky pop chorus, but it was memorable and it played well on the radio. I also like the piano part in the arrangement. The way it was done made it sound like someone was actually playing a meandering tune in the background in order to capture another person's attention. Russell co-wrote and co-produced the track and it was her shining moment.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) This song earned Russell two Grammy nominations including one for Song of the Year. The album would get her a Grammy nod for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. 2) The male voice on the track was supplied by Joe Esposito. He was formerly with the band Brooklyn Dreams and is perhaps best known for the single "Lady, Lady, Lady" (#36 AC/#86 Pop), which was from the multi-platinum Flashdance soundtrack.  3) In 2004, Russell would co-write the song for the musical version of The Color Purple. The show would make it to Broadway in 2005 and would earn 11 Tony nominations winning one. Russell would earn a nomination for Best Original Musical Score. The cast album would earn Russell another Grammy nod. The show would be revived in 2015 and win two Tony awards including Best Revival of a Musical. Russell would once again get a Grammy nod for the revival's cast album.


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

"Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car" by Billy Ocean

#1 Alert!
Song#:  3414
Date:  02/13/1988
Debut:  49
Peak:  1 (2 weeks)
Weeks:  20
Genre:  Pop, R&B

Pop Bits:  The mid-80s were highly successful for Ocean. He earned a pair of double-platinum albums that between them generated two #1 Pop hits along with four other Top 10s. He then set out to try for a third hit LP with 1988's Tear Down These Walls. This first single was released and it ended up keep his hot streak going. The bubbly tune would become his third #1 at Pop and his fourth #1 at R&B. It would also get to #5 AC and #25 Dance. The success of the single seemed to indicate that Tear Down These Walls would be another Pop Top 10'er for Ocean, but it ended up stalling at #18. It still went platinum, but the result might have been a signal that Ocean's time ruling the charts was nearing its end. Indeed, this single would become his final Pop Top 10 entry and he would only have one more song after this to make the R&B Top 10.

ReduxReview:  I always thought that this song with its screaming synths and "Ghostbusters"-like driving rhythm was just plain silly. It was so loud and goofy. I didn't buy into it and pretty much ignored the tune. In the long run, I don't mind it as much. I still think it is kooky, but if in the right mood the song can be fun with its huge 80s production (courtesy of Robert John "Mutt" Lange) and catchy chorus. It is nothing I'd call up on purpose, however if it somehow gets played I don't recoil in horror.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) While not necessarily made for the film, the song ended up on the soundtrack to the teen comedy flick License to Drive. Released in the summer of '88, the film famously starred the two Coreys - Haim and Feldman. The movie was not a critical success, but it did fairly well at the box office. The soundtrack would fail to chart.  2) Here is an odd little fact. Billy Ocean would earn three #1 hits on the Pop chart. Each #1 had a title that contained eight words. In addition to this song, Ocean scored with "Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)" and "There'll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)." Weirdly, the title of his song "When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going" contained nine words and perhaps that extra word weighed down the single as it stopped at #2.


Monday, February 22, 2021

"Devil Inside" by INXS

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3413
Date:  02/13/1988
Debut:  65
Peak:  2
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  INXS scored their first and only US #1 with "Need You Tonight," the first single from their sixth album Kick. On the strength of that song, the album would peak at #3 just two weeks after this follow-up single would debut on the Pop chart. It would continue to ride high on the chart thanks to "Devil Inside" nearly becoming their second #1. Overall, it was their third US Top 10 hit. The track would also peak at #2 on the Rock chart. By March, the album would be certified for sales of over 3 million.

ReduxReview:  This sleek, sexy song was the perfect follow-up to "Need You Tonight." Like that song, this one also had a memorable guitar lick that drove the song. What I also like is the quietly menacing chorus. Typically, the chorus for a pop/rock song should rise above the verse. The tone may be higher than the verse and could also be louder. It is the main hook of the song so it needs to soar and be memorable. A chorus that goes quiet and is lower in tone is not usual and something that is sort of an unwritten no-no in pop songwriting (I was even told that at music college). However, there are songs that can pull off the trick of making an undercutting chorus work and this is one of them. Michael Hutchence's lead vocal approaches a beckoning whisper and it makes you lean in because he's quietly offering something alluring, dark, and maybe a tad evil (but in a hot, good way...). It was another great track from the band.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  The video for this song was directed by Joel Schumacher. Schumacher started to direct films in the early 80s and secured his first major hit with 1985 Brat Pack classic St. Elmo's Fire. He followed it up with another box office winner, the teen vampire flick The Lost Boys. For that soundtrack, INXS supplied a couple of songs they recorded with Jimmy Barnes including the cover tune "Good Times" (#47 Pop). Perhaps as a sort of "thanks," Schumacher decided help them out with "Devil Inside." It was Schumacher's first foray into the music video world. He would only direct a minor few more over the years with perhaps his most viewed one along with "Devil Inside" being Seal's #1 song "Kiss from a Rose." That song/video was a tie-in to Schumacher's first Batman film, 1995's Batman Forever.


Sunday, February 21, 2021

"Thinking of You" by Earth, Wind & Fire

Song#:  3412
Date:  02/13/1988
Debut:  79
Peak:   67
Weeks:  8
Genre:  R&B, Dance

Pop Bits:  After a four-year absence, ETW returned with their fourteenth studio album Touch the World. While its first single, "System of Survival," would get to #1 at R&B and Dance, the song stalled early on the Pop chart at #60. Hoping for a better mainstream result, this next single was pushed out. The results were nearly the same. The song was able to reach #1 Dance and #3 R&B, but failed to gain an audience at Pop. Still, the album did well enough to top out at #3 R&B/#33 Pop and it got the band back to gold level sales, which they missed out on with their previous LP, 1983's Electric Universe. The Touch the World album would generate two more R&B Top 30 singles and the band would have an addition R&B Top 30 with a single from their 1988 compilation The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 2., which would wrap up the 80s era of the band.

ReduxReview:  Like "System of Survival," this was another pretty good jam from the band and one that  recalled their earlier sound. However, also like "System," it just wasn't the most pop-friendly tune. It was an old school tune dressed up in 80s clothes and that wasn't what was happening on pop radio at the time. Although they would get one more R&B Top 10 single in 1990, Touch the World would pretty much close out the band's heydays as hit makers. It also became their last studio LP to go gold.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  In 1990, the band would return with their final album for Columbia, Heritage. The title track would be the first single and it would get to #5. It would be the band's final R&B Top 10 hit. The song failed to reach the Pop chart. Their last Pop chart entry would be the lead single from their next album, 1993's Millennium. "Sunday Morning" would get to #53 Pop/#20 R&B. The band would continue to record albums over the years and it seems like fans stuck with them as albums like 2013's Now, Then & Forever would get to #6 R&B/#11 Pop.