Saturday, March 27, 2021

"Ritual" by Dan Reed Network

Song#:  3445
Date:  03/12/1988
Debut:  85
Peak:  38
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  This band from Portland, Oregon, was formed by guitarist Dan Reed and drummer Dan Pred. They developed their own style of music that included hard rock, metal, and funk, which garnered them a sizable local following. In '86, they recorded an indie EP titled Breathless. A song from the record, "Steal Me," would end up being a local hit. The attention they got from the EP along with their well-received live shows attracted the attention of Mercury Records. The band signed on with the label and proceeded to record a self-titled full-length debut album with producer Bruce Fairbairn (Bon Jovi). This first single was issued out and it did fairly well cracking the Pop Top 40. Surprisingly, it did not reach the Rock chart. The song along with positive reviews helped the album chart at #95. With the tepid results, the band then switch management and secured Nile Rodgers for their second effort, Slam. The album was nearly DOA. With no singles reaching any US chart, it stopped at a low #160. Part of the problem seemed to be that the label didn't know how to market the eclectic band and that even spilled over to their third album, 1991's The Heat, which failed to chart. After tours and promos were finished up for the LP, the band decided it was time for a hiatus. That break lasted nearly 10 years. They would eventually get back into the studio and record albums in 2016 and 2018. "Ritual" would remain their only single to reach the US Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  I remember that this album got a solid review in Rolling Stone (4-star, I think) and it sounded interesting. A promo copy was at the local used record shop and I bought it. This was the standout track and I was glad that it at least made the Pop Top 40. The balance of the album was interesting. My guess was that the band had a more organic rock sound and Bruce Fairbairn spruced it up with 80s touches and production to make it more commercially appealing. I think it worked and didn't necessarily mess up the band's songs. The tunes just got a good polishing and it worked quite well, especially for this single.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  While the band never really found a big fan base in the US, the story was a bit different in the UK. Their debut album didn't get any attention, but then two songs from their second album made the lower reaches of the chart. That action helped the LP reach #66. Their profile was raised again around the time when they opened up for The Rolling Stones on their European tour. To keep momentum going, the band issued the one-off single "Stardate 1990," which they had recorded with Nile Rodgers, but didn't include on their second album. It would end up being their biggest hit in the UK getting to #39. That set the stage well for their third album, The Heat. Three singles would reach the chart, but even though they wouldn't crack the Top 40, the album would sell quite well and get to #15. It seemed like the European branch of Mercury Records had a handle on what to do with the band while the US branch failed. Although the band probably could have released another successful LP in Europe, the frustrations seemed to overwhelm them and they decided to break and go their own ways.


Friday, March 26, 2021

"Strange But True" by Times Two

Song#:  3444
Date:  03/12/1988
Debut:  86
Peak:  21
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  This duo of Shanti Jones and Johnny Dollar from Point Reyes Station, California, had been friends since they were eleven years old. While the pair had a love for Elvis and his music, neither had sites set on a music career. That began to change when punk music arrived in the 70s. The new genre captured their attention and like a lot of teenagers they were inspired to pick up instruments and start playing. An appearance at a talent show led to a gig and things began to pick up from there. They began writing songs and recording demos that they sent to various labels. Everyone said no except for Reprise Records and in '87 the duo signed with the label. Under the name of Times Two, Jones and Dollar recorded a debut album titled X2. This first single was released and it did pretty well nearly cracking the Pop Top 20. It also got near the Dance Top 10 peaking at #12. The song helped the album make the chart, but it could only manage to reach #137.

ReduxReview:  I'm not sure what the duo or the label were going for here, but it was all a bit odd. Not a lot of it made sense. The guys got interested in performing music thanks to punk bands like the Sex Pistols, yet this song has zero in common with that scene. Then there was the quirky video that showed the guys doing weird dance moves and Jones dressed up like the male version of Debbie Gibson (weirdly, they got the opening slot on her '88 tour). And while Jones would co-write/co-produce most of the album, he had help from established folks like Gardner Cole (on this single) and Tony Peluso. After reading about the guys, this peppy dance-pop track was not what I was expecting. It is also one of those odd songs that did well on the chart, but I don't remember it or them at all. I'm sure the two had some talent, but this almost smells like one of those stories where the label saw an opportunity to hawk a couple of cute guys with catchy pop music and took over most everything in order to groom them into hitmakers. The guys probably didn't have much choice but to go along. Regardless, the song itself was a perky little confection that was hooky and well crafted. Had I heard it back in the day, I might have even bought the single. It is pure late-80s dance-pop fluff - and I mean that in a good way.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Both artists would later connect back with their rock roots. Shanti Jones would basically become a one-man band under the name Sex & Reverb. His self-titled first LP came out in 2003 on the indie Paisley Pop label. Four more albums would follow under the Sex & Reverb name released by Jones himself. Johnny Dollar would head up his own odd brand of alt pop with his outfit El Radio Fantastique. Dropping his Johnny Dollar moniker and going by Giovanni Di Morente, he first developed the band in New Orleans in 2002. After a move back to California in 2006, Di Morente created the second incarnation of the band. They released a full album in 2012 followed by a couple of EPs. Let's just say that Sex & Reverb and El Radio Fantastique sound nothing like the bouncy dance-pop of Times Two, but at least they had the big major label, pop chart experience.


Thursday, March 25, 2021

"Play That Funky Music" by Roxanne

Song#:  3443
Date:  03/12/1988
Debut:  87
Peak:  63
Weeks:  7
Genre:  Funk Rock

Pop Bits:  Formed in Riverside, California, in 1986, this rock band honed their skills in the clubs around Los Angeles. They hawked their demos around town and Scotti Bros. Records bit and signed the band. They got hooked up with producer/engineer Geoff Workman, who had worked with bands like Journey, The Cars, Toto, and Twisted Sister, and recorded a self-titled debut album. All tracks on the LP were written by the various band members except for this first single. The remake would find its way to the Pop chart, but it only stuck around for a few weeks. The album failed to chart and with that result the band lost their contract and eventually faded away. After nearly a 30-year break, the original four members, Jamie Brown, John Butler, Joe Infante, and David Landry, reunited and began performing again as Roxanne. They also recorded a new album titled Radio Silence, which was released in 2018.

ReduxReview:  Here's another case where the band wrote their own material, yet the first single released was a remake. Whether it was a case of the label not hearing a single in any of the songs the band wrote and pushed for remake to get the band established is unknown, but I'm thinking that was a likely scenario since the song ended up as the last track on the LP - sort of tacked on at the last moment. The ploy sort of worked with the song getting on the Pop chart, but it didn't do well enough to break the band in a significant way. This song was ripe for an update since no act had reached the Pop chart with the classic since it originally came out in 1976. Unfortunately, Roxanne's version just wasn't all that strong They didn't do much with the tune except to just basically cover it. Thousands of bar bands across the country play this song every weekend and frankly, this just sounds like one of those. It was capably done and had good production, but the band barely did anything to distinguish their version from the original. We already had Wild Cherry's classic, why did we need a repeat? It was far from being a bad cover, but it was just basic and ultimately forgettable.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of a song originally recorded by the band Wild Cherry. Their 1976 version written by lead singer Rob Parissi was from the band's self-titled debut album. The single would reach #1 on both the Pop and R&B charts. Many artists would cover the song, but Roxanne was the first to reach the Pop chart with a remake. To-date, the only other artist to have a version get on the Pop chart has been rapper Vanilla Ice. When Vanilla Ice got his first record deal with Ichiban Records, he recorded an album titled Hooked and his version of "Play That Funky Music" (a rap track based on/around the song/samples) was released as the first single. It flopped with nearly zero interest from DJs and radio stations. However, one DJ in Georgia flipped over the record and played its b-side "Ice Ice Baby." The song started to catch on and to help it break further, Ice did a video for the tune. The burgeoning popularity of the track led to a deal with the EMI offshoot SBK Records. Ice and the label revamped Hooked and turned it into To the Extreme. SBK then pushed out "Ice Ice Baby." The single and album both shot to #1. "Play That Funky Music" would be the follow-up and it got to #4. Both songs would be the subjects of lawsuits due to the original writers of the music used for the tracks not given credit. Settlements were reached in the cases.


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

"Ooo La La La" by Teena Marie

Song#:  3442
Date:  03/12/1988
Debut:  89
Peak:  85
Weeks:  5
Genre:  R&B, Soul

Pop Bits:  Teena Marie's sixth album, 1984's Starchild, would be her second gold seller thanks to her first (and only) Pop Top 10 hit "Lovergirl" (#9 R&B). Her 1986 follow-up, Emerald City, would be a bump in the road (see below), but she returned in a big way with her next LP Naked to the World. This first single would be her fifth R&B Top 10 and her first (and only) to hit #1 on that chart. While the song was able to crossover to Pop, it just didn't click like "Lovergirl" and it stalled near the bottom of the chart. A second single, "Work It," got to #10 R&B, but failed to make the Pop chart. The album would then peak at #15 R&B and #65 Pop. Her next album, 1990's Ivory, would spawn the #8 R&B hit "If I Were a Bell." After that, Marie took a bit of a break and only released an indie album in '94. She fully came back to music in 2004 with La Doña. Her return attracted enough attention for the album to reach #6 R&B and #4 Pop. Its lead single, "Still in Love" (#23 R&B/#70 Pop) earned her a Grammy nod for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female. She would release two more album before her death in 2010. The album she was working on at the time of her passing would be posthumously released as Beautiful in 2013.

ReduxReview:  It was interesting that the label pushed out this mid-tempo ballad first instead of a more upbeat track. However, I'm sure they figured that the tune was probably the most likely candidate on the album for crossover success. It ended up being a smash at R&B, but it tanked at Pop and I'm not really sure why. Maybe folks were still looking for "Lovergirl, Pt. 2" and this just didn't fit the bill. Soul-leaning ballads were a bit of a harder sell at pop radio back then, but I thought this one straddled the line well enough to pick up interest a pop. It should have at least gotten in the Top 40. It was a shame that Marie wasn't a bigger crossover artist. She was so talented and when she hit the mark, the results were pretty awesome.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  The clout Marie built up with the success of Starchild allowed her to so something a bit more unusual with her follow-up. Instead of doing another straight-forward pop/rock/R&B album, Marie flexed her creativity and decided to attempt a concept-style piece. Titled Emerald City, which was obviously inspired by that iconic place in The Wizard of Oz, Marie followed a character named Pity who has to deal with racial and gender bias. It has been said that the storyline was based on Marie's own experience as a white woman working in the black music industry. The styles of music on the album varied from R&B to jazz to rock with some international flair tossed in as well. The songs she wrote or co-wrote weren't necessarily created with commercial radio in mind. It's unclear what anyone at her label Epic thought of the album, but they went ahead and released it. Neither of its singles reached the Pop chart and only "Lips to Find You" did anything on the R&B chart getting to #28. The LP stalled at #20 R&B and #81 Pop. Critics were not fond of the LP with several citing it as Marie's worst effort. It was a divisive work with some fans appreciating the concept piece while other not getting it at all. Retrospectively, the album has received a bit more praise these days. The momentum Marie built up with Starchild was nearly lost with Emerald City, but she rallied back quite well with Naked to the World and "Ooo La La La."


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

"My Girl" by Suavé

Song#:  3441
Date:  03/12/1988
Debut:  91
Peak:  20
Weeks:  15
Genre:  R&B, New Jack Swing

Pop Bits:  The story goes that a teenage Waymond Anderson, later known as Suavé, was at a New Edition concert in L.A. and one of the group members invited Anderson on stage to sing. This somehow led to him being discovered and getting signed to Capitol Records sometime in 1985. Over the next couple of years, Suavé would be groomed by the label while writing and producing his debut album. By spring of '88, I'm Your Playmate would be ready and this first single issued out. The New Jack take on the song became a hit at R&B getting to #3. It was able to make some waves over at Pop as well where the track just barely cracked the Top 20. The hit helped the album get to #26 R&B and #101 Pop. A follow-up single,"Shake Your Body," got to #22 R&B, but failed to make the Pop chart. Suavé would return in 1991 with his second album To the Maxx, but it failed to generate a charting single and quickly disappeared along with Suavé's recording career.

ReduxReview:  This is just a guess on my part, but I'm thinking that when the album was done the label didn't hear a hit single and pushed him to do this remake, a la Club Nouveau's "Lean on Me." I disliked that song a lot and I'm not too fond of this one either. I will say it is slightly less annoying than Club Nouveau's awful remake, but I don't think a New Jack version of this classic was necessary. Suavé sounded like a capable singer, but there was nothing about his voice that made him stand out and he practically got overrun by the track's effects and production. Indeed it seems his own songs were not all that great as his second single didn't to that well and anything further from him failed. Any talent he did have was soon squashed due to some unfortunately life choices (see below).

ReduxRating:  2/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This is a remake of a song written by Smokey Robinson and Ronald White, and originally recorded by The Temptations. Their 1964 version would reach the tops of both the Pop and R&B charts in 1965. It was their first #1 on both Billboard charts. Many artists would cover the song with three other artists besides The Temptations and Suavé getting a version on the Pop chart. In 1968, singer Bobby Vee would pair the tune with "Hey Girl" and get to #35. In 1980, disco/soul singer Amii Stewart would do a duet with Johnny Bristol that paired the song with "My Guy." It would get to #63 Pop (#76 R&B). Then Daryl Hall & John Oates would release a live medley that included the song. Two members of The Temptations guested on the track. That version would get to #20 Pop (#40 R&B). Since those three singles were medleys, that makes Suavé the only artist to-date to have a full, complete remake of the song reach the Pop chart.  2) After Suavé's time on charts, his life went downhill fast. He apparently got involved in using and selling drugs. His spiral culminated in his arrest in 1993 for arson and murder. It was alleged that Waymond Anderson (aka Suavé) entered a house near the USC campus looking for a couple of drug users who owed him money and when he didn't find them or wasn't able to get what he wanted, he doused the house with gas and set it on fire. Unfortunately, one person didn't get out of the house and died as a result. Based on witness IDs, Anderson was arrested for the crime. He would end up going to trial and found guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison. Anderson has maintained his innocence over the years and has claimed he was out of town the day of the incident. The witnesses that ID'd him at the scene later recanted their testimony citing police pressure and a couple of other people came forward saying they saw Anderson in Jackson, MS, on the incident date. His case has still yet to be fully reviewed and as of this posting, he is still in prison. Anderson also was involved in the 1997 murder case of the Notorious B.I.G. He made a statement that implicated a police officer, but later admitted it was a lie that he told because he was offered money from B.I.G.'s family to do it.


Monday, March 22, 2021

"She's Only 20" by Tami Show

Spotlight Alert!

Song#:  3440
Date:  03/12/1988
Debut:  92
Peak:  88
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  Three sisters from Chicago, Cathy, Claire, and Kristen Massey, discovered their voices early on and in their teens formed a harmony vocal group called Sirenz that would perform around the city. Attending one of their gigs was guitarist Tommy Gawenda, who was in a local band called Pezband. He liked what the sisters were doing and asked them to help backup the Pezband for a series of shows they had lined up. The sisters agreed and began working with Gawenda. After a couple of years, Kristen would chose to depart and that led Cathy and Claire to fully join forces with Gawenda and members of the Pezband to form a new group called Tami Show. The sextet would record a demo that would end up in the hands of Blondie bassist Nigel Harrison, who happened to be working in Chicago at the time. Harrison liked what he heard and after returning to L.A. gave it to producer Mike Chapman (Pat Benatar, Blondie, Scandal). Chapman also dug the demo and helped to get the band signed to Chrysalis Records. Chapman would then produce the band's self-titled debut album. This first single was released and it was able to make the Pop chart, but only for a short month. A second single failed to chart and the album disappeared quickly. Yet all was not lost as the band would get a second chance in the new decade to come.

ReduxReview:  This is quite a nice song. Wonderfully written with appropriate production from Chapman and a performance by the band the perfectly suited the song. That said, if I was a record exec listening to the album, I'm not sure I'd call this song out as a potential hit single. In general, it was a really nice tune, but I think that may have been the issue. Nice doesn't necessarily cut it on the Pop chart. A song really has to have something that makes it stand out and as lovely of a listen as this one is, the tune just didn't have that extra oomph to make it a contender. It certainly could have done better on the chart and probably should have made the Top 40, but it wasn't destined to be a major hit. Still, it is an enjoyable song. I wasn't aware of Tami Show until their second album, which I ended up getting at a used CD shop in NYC. Their single "The Truth" definitely had more meat on the bones and did better. I remember kind of liking the album, but in the end it got sloughed off in one of my moves and I don't have it anymore. I probably should have held on to it as listening to this song and "The Truth" made me want to hear more from the band after all these years. The two charting songs showed that the band had something good going on and so I'll give this one the Spotlight treatment in hopes some other folks will go back and give them a listen.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Following their debut album, changes at Chrysalis got the band pushed over to RCA. In 1990, they would release a second album titled Wanderlust. It too would be produced by Chapman. The LP's first single, "The Truth," would end up cracking the Pop Top 30 at #28. Unfortunately, a second single failed to do anything and the album wasn't able to chart. To make things worse, Chapman had a bit of a falling out with a new person in charge of RCA and that along with the album's results didn't bode well for the band and they would end up being let go from the label. Not long after, the band would break up.  2) The band got its name from a two-night concert event in 1964 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium billed as "The T.A.M.I. Show." The acronym stood for Teenage Awards Music International and in some advertising Teen Age Music International. The shows brought together rock and R&B acts from the US and the UK. On the bill were The Rolling Stones, James Brown, The Beach Boys, Lesley Gore, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Miracles, Chuck Berry, and others. The shows were filmed and then edited together to make the concert movie The T.A.M.I. Show. While there were several good performances in the film, it is arguably most notable for James Brown's explosive performance. Released in late December of '64, the film had a short run in theaters. After that, some versions of the film would make the rounds including one that eliminated The Beach Boys. Due to legal wranglings and other issues, the movie was very rarely shown and people would have to watch it via bootleg copies. After years of never getting an official, full release for the home video market, the movie was restored and issued out on DVD in 2010. A blu-ray version would come out in 2016. A little trivia side note: the concerts also featured some go-go dancers that would appear on stage with some of the artists. Among these dancers were two future stars, actress Teri Garr and singer/dancer/actress Toni Basil.


Sunday, March 21, 2021

"Pink Cadillac" by Natalie Cole

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3439
Date:  03/05/1988
Debut:  67
Peak:  5
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Dance-Pop, R&B

Pop Bits:  After having a lackluster 80s, Cole returned to the charts in a significant way with her album Everlasting. By this point in time, the LP had spawned two #13 Pop tracks, "Jump Start" (#2 R&B) and "I Live for Your Love" (#4 R&B/#2 AC). Those hits certainly put Cole back in the spotlight, but it was this third single that truly completed her comeback. The song sailed into the Pop Top 10 while getting to #9 R&B and #16 AC. It also became her first #1 on the Dance chart. It would be her biggest crossover hit since 1977 when she got to #5 Pop/#1 R&B with "I've Got Love on My Mind." The song would also be Cole's biggest hit internationally. It would make the Top 10 of several countries including the UK (#5). The success of "Pink Cadillac" helped sales of the album, which would turn gold by the end of March.

ReduxReview:  I thought this was a great vehicle (so to speak...) for Cole. It was kind of like her equivalent of "Freeway of Love," which also returned Aretha Franklin to the Pop Top 10 after an extended absence. Oddly, that song featured a pink Cadillac in its lyrics as well, so some folks got these songs and artists confused. The charging dance-pop production was spot-on for the song and Cole easily drove through the tune adding her own little turns along with way. Add this song to the list of ones written by Bruce Springsteen that he let get away from him only to become hits for other artists.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This is a remake of a song originally written and recorded by Bruce Springsteen. He began writing the song in '81 and recorded an acoustic version of it during the sessions for what would become his 1982 album Nebraska. A year later, he would record the tune with the E Street Band during sessions for Born in the U.S.A. The track was initially included on the final version of the LP, but at the last minute ended up getting replaced with "I'm Goin' Down" (#9 Pop). The song was then used as the b-side to the album's lead single, the #2 "Dancing in the Dark."  2) Cole was not the first artist to cover this song. Another female star had recorded it, but the track never saw the light of day. Back in 1982, producer Chuck Plotkin was working on a new album for Bette Midler. Plotkin had previously worked with Springsteen and according to one account, Springsteen dropped by the studio Plotkin was working in with Midler. Chuck was familiar with "Pink Cadillac" and since it wasn't being used asked Springsteen to use the song with Midler. Springsteen agreed and Midler later cut the track. In the meantime, Midler went out on tour and ended up using the song as her concert opener combined with the 1977 track "Cadillac Walk" by Mink DeVille. The studio version was set to be included on Midler's 1983 album No Frills, but then Springsteen heard the track. The story goes that Springsteen didn't think the song was appropriate for a female to sing (the lyrics loaded with euphemisms for sex and body parts) and would block its release. However, in a book by Brian Hiatt (Stories Behind the Song), he quotes Springsteen after hearing Midler's track as saying "I mean, it's just in your face!" Most likely, the way Midler's ribald take put everything out there didn't sit well with Springsteen, whose own rock jam was more subtle and wink-wink. Whatever the case, Springsteen withdrew the song for use and Midler had to find another track for the album at considerable expense, which did not please the Divine Miss M. She ended up covering The Rolling Stone's "Beast of Burden" (#71 Pop) for the album. A few years later, Springsteen would approve of Natalie Cole's take and even thought that it was "cool" that a woman could sing the song and make a great version. He most likely green-lit the recording because her dance take and vocal delivery were more inline with his more nuanced version.