Saturday, May 29, 2021

"Get It" by Stevie Wonder & Michael Jackson

Song#:  3508
Date:  05/07/1988
Debut:  89
Peak:  80
Weeks:  6
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  While Wonder's album Characters would be a platinum seller and hit #1 at R&B, it just wasn't crossing over to Pop in the same way that his work had been doing for over 15 years. The album's first two singles failed to reach the Pop Top 10 even though each got to #1 at R&B. "Skeletons" did the best getting to #19. Then the album stopped at #17 becoming his first studio album since 1972 to miss the Pop Top 10. Still looking to turn things around, this third single, a duet with Michael Jackson, got released. With Jackson very hot at the time due to his run of singles from Bad, the thought may have been that his appearance on the song might push the song into hit territory. The song did get to #4 at R&B, but it was a flop at Pop. The tune hung around the bottom of the chart for only a few short weeks. It would be the last single to be issued out from the LP.

ReduxReview:  This synth-driven workout bounced and bubbled along just fine, but in the end it didn't add up to much. The verse wasn't very melodic or memorable and the wisp of a chorus over the same chords/progression wasn't enough to truly standout. Then that "pshewwww" sound throughout the song got annoying very quickly. Wonder and Jackson try to rally at the end with some fireworks of vocal ad libs, but it was a little too much and in a song crowded with synths and effects it just all got muddled together. In other words, it was a messy, forgettable track from two superstars who have done far, far, far better work.

ReduxRating:  3/10

Trivia:  Jackson's participation on this song was probably done as a thank you for Wonder appearing on one of the tracks from Bad. The tune "Good Friends," written by Graham Lyle and Terry Britten, was a duet between the two artists. It would arguably be the least liked song on Bad with critics saying it didn't fit with the other tracks on the album. Later on in a 2017 Rolling Stone interview, even producer Quincy Jones said he made a mistake with the song and that it just did not work. Jackson and Wonder had worked together on various projects since 1974. Around that time, Wonder worked with Jackson and the Jackson 5 on tracks for a potential new album. It's not really known how many tracks were recorded, but it seems the project either didn't get off the ground or was shelved and the Jacksons then recorded the LP Dancing Machine with producer Hal Davis. At least one of the songs from the sessions, "Buttercup," written and produced by Wonder, would see the light of day on the 2009 compilation I Want You Back: Unreleased Masters. Another song possibly recorded in those sessions, "A Pretty Face," has never been released. However, Wonder and Jackson re-recorded the song as a possible track for Characters. Apparently it didn't make the cut and was also shelved. Instead, "Get It" was recorded and used.


Friday, May 28, 2021

"Rush Hour" by Jane Wiedlin

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3507
Date:  05/07/1988
Debut:  90
Peak:  9
Weeks:  19
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  The former Go-Go's 1985 self-titled debut album didn't make much of an impression. It peaked at a minor #127 with its first single, "Blue Kiss," stalling at #77. After a short break from music, she signed on with EMI Manhattan and began work on a second album with producer Stephen Hague (Pet Shop Boys, Erasure). Titled Fur, the LP got kicked off with this first single. It took a while for it to catch on, but it made its way up the Pop chart and finally cracked the Top 10. It made Wiedlin the second Go-Go after Belinda Carlisle to have a Pop Top 10 hit. While the song performed well, it didn't help sales of the album, which peaked at #105.

ReduxReview:  It is just a guess, but I think EMI was looking for Wiedlin to be their Belinda Carlisle; a former Go-Go turning out pop hits. Fur was certainly more of a current, radio-friendly effort when compared to her quirky, new wave debut album. Having Hague on as producer helped shape things as well. However, the main difference between Wiedlin and Carlisle is that Wiedlin wrote her own songs whereas Carlisle relied on outside writers. In some ways, that gave Carlisle the edge because she could shop for hit songs. Wiedlin had to write them and luckily she hit the mark with this single. It was a catchy, fun pop track that was well-produced and featured Wiedlin's unique voice. It's a shame she didn't have one more surefire hit on the LP, but it did have some good tracks including the urgent synthpop jam "Song of the Factory." Still, nothing on it was quite as good or honest as the songs she wrote for the Go-Go's. It was like she was having trouble finding her solo career voice. Still, along the way she tossed of some solid pop gems like this hit.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This song was co-written by Jane Wiedlin and Peter Rafelson. Rafelson had recently just had his first major Pop chart success as co-writer of Madonna's #1 hit "Open Your Heart." He composed the song with Gardner Cole. Cole also helped out on Wiedlin's album by co-writing "Inside a Dream," which would end up being the LP's second single (#57). Rafelson would work with Wiedelin on three other tracks for the album as well. While Rafelson wouldn't have another major hit on the Pop chart, he did have four songs reach #1 on the Dance chart. One with Singaporean singer Sun (2004's "One with You") and three with Erika Jayne. Between 2007 and 2016, Jayne would have nine songs reach #1 on the Dance chart. She would only release one album, 2009's Pretty Mess, which included all her #1's written by Rafelson. Jayne would later go on to join the cast of the reality show The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. She would appear under her married name Erika Girardi and would debut on the show in its sixth season (2015).


Thursday, May 27, 2021

"Route 66/Behind the Wheel" by Depeche Mode

Song#:  3506
Date:  05/07/1988
Debut:  91
Peak:  61
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Synthpop, Alternative Rock

Pop Bits:  The band's album Music for the Masses became their highest charting to-date at #35 thanks to a pair of singles including the #1 Dance/#76 Pop track "Strangelove." To keep momentum going, a third single was selected for release. In the UK, the track "Behind the Wheel" was given a remix and released with a just recorded cover of the old standard "Route 66" as the b-side. It did fine getting to #21. However, for the song's US release it was given a different remix with "Route 66" getting combined with "Behind the Wheel." The special mix would do well in the US clubs and reach #3. It would then get on the Pop chart, but couldn't crack the top half.

ReduxReview:  I have to say that combining these tracks was pretty inspired. From what I've read, the band wasn't all that thrilled that "Route 66" was getting attention as they considered it was just a quick, matching song for the b-side to "Behind the Wheel" and it was taking the focus away from their original songs. Apparently, they settled on doing the cover because they didn't have any extra original tunes sitting around and needed something to quickly record. Regardless, it ended up being a pretty great pairing and it earned them their second US Dance Top 10. While you can readily stream the two songs separately, it seems that this combo remix for the US hasn't sprung up on any compilation or reissue. It's too bad because it turned out kinda cool.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  When the band decided to release "Behind the Wheel" as a single, they wanted some kind of driving song that would pair well with it for the b-side. The tune they chose was the US road song "Route 66." The band recorded and mixed the song in a couple of days mainly as a lark to compliment "Behind the Wheel." It surprisingly became popular in the UK and thinking that the tune might also grab ears in the US, the tune got combined with  "Behind the Wheel" for the US release. "Route 66" was written in 1946 by Bobby Troup. He wrote the tune while on a cross country trip with his wife. Nat King Cole and his trio were the first to record the song in 1946. Bing Crosby with the Andrews Sisters also charted with a version the same year. In the rock era, the only act to reach the Pop chart with a full version of the song was the Manhattan Transfer. Their 1982 cover got to #78.


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

"Like the Weather" by 10,000 Maniacs

Song#:  3505
Date:  05/07/1988
Debut:  94
Peak:  68
Weeks:  8
Genre:  Alternative Rock

Pop Bits:  This Jamestown, New York, band began in 1981 as Still Life. As the group took shape, they brought aboard a 17-year-old singer named Natalie Merchant to do some vocals. She soon became the lead vocalist as the band changed names to Burn Victim and then to 10,000 Maniacs. Early in '82, they released an indie EP titled Human Conflict Number Five. After some lineup changes, they recorded a full album in 1983 called Secrets of the I Ching. It gained some attention, especially in the UK where the band got to tour. It wasn't long before connections and their increased popularity got them signed to Elektra Records. They would release their major label debut, The Wishing Chair, in 1984. It didn't chart, but it received better critical notices and helped to expand their audience. For their next Elektra album, the band got to work with producer Peter Asher (James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt). Released in the summer of '87, the LP didn't get off to a good start. Its first single, a remake of the 1971 #7 Cat Stevens hit "Peace Train," failed to chart, yet it seemed Elektra wasn't ready to give up on the album and decided to push this next single. It took a while, but the tune finally began to click and it ended up making the Pop chart where it stayed for a couple of months. It also got to #37 at Rock. While it wasn't a major hit, exposure at MTV boosted the band and the album ended up peaking at #37. A year after it was first released, it would go gold. A year later, platinum.

ReduxReview:  I remember someone saying back in the day that this was the happiest song about depression ever made. That did pretty much sum up the track. It's peppy little beat, hand claps, and major chords made for irresistible ear candy over lyrics about grey skies, nearly crying, and not wanting to get out of bed. It was unusual pop fare for sure, but it was a bit magical when matched with Natalie Merchant's distinct, melancholic voice. The band quickly became more popular than what the peak of this single would indicate. MTV helped in that. I believe that was the first place I heard the song and I ended up buying the album. Although probably more soft rock now that alt rock, the LP still holds up and this ode to having a bad day will oddly still make me smile.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Early on, the band wanted a name that would truly stick out, especially from all the other college bands that were popping up all over. Their second name, Burn Victim, was a tad gruesome and didn't quite bring the right attention their way. Their third choice, 10,000 Maniacs, seemed to fit the bill better. They got the name from the 1964 horror flick Two Thousand Maniacs!, however it seems that someone remember the title wrong and they ended up as 10,000 Maniacs instead of 2,000. The low-budget splatter movie would later be considered the second in director Herschell Gordon Lewis' "Blood Trilogy," which began with 1963's Blood Feast and ended with 1965's Color Me Blood Red. The drive-in b-movie would grow into a cult film and would even influence other horror classics like "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Lewis oddly based his film on the 1947 Broadway show and 1954 movie musical Brigadoon, which was about a Scottish village that would reappear for one day every hundred years. In Lewis' take, the town of Pleasant Valley and the ghosts of Southerners who died in the Civil War return every 100 years to kill Northerners that they lure into their town. The movie was remade in 2005 as 2001 Maniacs.


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

"Forgive Me for Dreaming" by Elisa Fiorillo

Song#:  3504
Date:  05/07/1988
Debut:  96
Peak:  49
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  The first single from Fiorillo's self-titled debut album, "How Can I Forget You," was a minor chart entry getting to #60 at Pop (#47 Dance). Hoping for something better, this second single was issued out. It would get a little further cracking the top half of the chart, but without a stronger performing single, the album would stall at a low #163. A third single, " You Don't Know," would get to #50 Dance, but would fail to make the Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  Fiorillo sort of got established as a dance-pop artist with her Jellybean collaboration "Who Found Who" and "How Can I Forget You," so it was a slightly surprising that the label issued out this ballad as the second single. I figured they would do another dance oriented track followed by this song. Either way, it was probably destined to do the same amount of business. It was a nice pop ballad that was easy on the ears, but it wasn't quite strong enough to get much further on the chart.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  With her first LP showing promise, Chrysalis Records gave the go-ahead to do a follow-up. Fiorillo didn't necessarily like the pop direction the label was sending her in and wanted to do and R&B album. Apparently, Chrysalis didn't have an R&B department, but let Fiorillo give it a go anyway. She called on producer/engineer David Z who worked with Prince at the Paisley Park Studio and he agreed to helm her second album. While they were working in the studio, Prince unexpectedly stopped by. He asked Fiorillo to sing for him, which she did. Then challenged her to write some lyrics and bring them in the next day so that they could work on a song together. She did and not only did Prince assist with that song, but he took enough interest to write and produce three more songs and collaborate with David Z on another. When finished, the album would be titled I Am and its first single was the Prince collaboration "On the Way Up." It would end up being Fiorillo's second Pop Top 40 hit getting to #27 (#31 Dance). A second single, "Oooh This I Need," one of Prince's songs, would only get to #90. Oddly, the album would fail to chart. Those results left her off the Chrysalis roster. However, she continued to work with Prince and supplied backing vocals on the Batman soundtrack, Graffiti Bridge, and Diamonds and Pearls. She also toured with Prince for several years beginning in 2009. Over the years she would release a few indie albums.


Monday, May 24, 2021

"The Valley Road" by Bruce Hornsby & the Range

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3503
Date:  04/30/1988
Debut:  58
Peak:  5
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Soft Rock, Americana

Pop Bits:  Hornsby's Americana sound seemed to come along at just the right time. His 1986 debut album The Way It Is captured people's attention with its homespun, modern country/folk feel. The LP would end up reaching #3 and go triple-platinum thanks to three Pop Top 20 hits including the #1 title track. It also earned Hornsby and his band a Grammy for Best New Artist. Now they had the task of following up that major success. Working with producer Neil Dorfsman, the band finished off their second album Scenes from the Southside. This first single was issued out and it did quite well becoming their third Pop Top 10 hit. It also reached #1 at both AC and Rock. The hit helped the album get to #5 and it would quickly go platinum in July of '88.

ReduxReview:  For this song and the album, Hornsby didn't mess with the formula that garnered him his first hits and I think that worked in his favor. Folks were still interested in his music and this track just seemed like a natural extension from ones on his debut LP while not sounding like a repeat. Dorfsman's production gave the track a little extra boost and commercial appeal while also being able to show off Horsnby's skills as a musician. It was a good track and a worthy hit, but unfortunately it would be Hornsby's last to crack the Pop Top 10.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This song would end up earning Hornsby his second Grammy, but it wasn't for this first original version. In 1989, Hornsby would re-record the song with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for their album Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume Two. The LP  was a follow-up to the band's classic 1972 album Will the Circle Be Unbroken which had them covering classic country and bluegrass tunes with artists who made them famous. The sequel album had the same concept, but just with newer country/bluegrass stars and songs. The band recorded a neo-bluegrass version of "The Valley Road" with Hornsby. The track would go on to win the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Recording. Hornsby's win kind of wrankled the ol' guards of bluegrass music since Hornsby was really a bluegrass artist. The album would win the Grammy for Best Country Performance, Duo or Group with Vocal.


Sunday, May 23, 2021

"Alphabet St." by Prince

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3502
Date:  04/30/1988
Debut:  62
Peak:  8
Weeks:  13
Genre:  R&B, Funk

Pop Bits:  After his critically hailed 1987 double-LP Sign o' the Times, Prince didn't waste any time basking in its success and quickly got back to work in the studio. He recorded an album that was set for released in early December of '87, but at the last minute killed it (see below) and decided to replace it with something else. In a quick seven-week sprint, Prince recorded his tenth studio album Lovesexy. With the exception of one full band track and a few musicians on others, the bulk of the LP was fully done by Prince. This first single was pushed out a few weeks ahead of the LP's release. It ended up doing well getting to #3 at R&B and becoming his thirteenth Pop Top 10. It also got to #22 at Dance. It was a good start, but things went downhill quickly. The next two singles failed to make the Pop chart and couldn't crack the R&B Top 10. Reviews were also mixed and the album's continuous sequencing (bleeding song to song without any break) didn't seem to work well for many listeners. As a result, the album stopped short of the Pop Top 10 at #11. It was his first album to miss the Top 10 since 1981's Controversy. It did better at R&B getting to #5. The album would be certified gold and not get to the platinum level sales he had been used to. His last album to only reach gold level sales was 1980's Dirty Mind. No one knows if the album he intended to release would have fared better at the time, but Lovesexy would go down as one of Prince's least successful and least popular LPs of his prime era.

ReduxReview:  Although Prince would have a couple of dog albums late in his Warner Bros. days as his hits were dwindling (namely 1994's Come and 1996's Chaos and Disorder), I've always considered Lovesexy one of his messiest efforts during his 80s/early 90s hitmaking days. It was kind of a meditation on sex and spirituality that was tossed together as a quick replacement for The Black Album (see below) and it just didn't work for me. It wasn't a total loss as there were a few good tracks, but none of them would make any kind of "best of" Prince list and that included this first single. It was a fun, funky jam that even included a rap (by dancer/singer Cat Glover), yet it paled in comparison to his previous hits. It did crack the lower end of the Top 10, but it wasn't an overwhelming success. I'd venture to guess that if a poll was taken to rank all of Prince's Pop Top 10 hits, this one would be at or near the bottom of the list. It quickly became forgettable, as did the LP.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  For his follow-up to Sign o' the Times, Prince wanted to channel his Camille character that he toyed with earlier in '86 on another scrapped album. The new work had more elements of funk and R&B, along with hip-hop, than previous efforts due to a feeling from some folks that he had become too pop-oriented. When completed, the album was a single disc that was packaged in an all-black sleeve with no title. Because of that look, it became known as The Black Album. It went to press with an intended release date of December 8, 1987. However, on December 1, Prince abruptly cancelled the release and recalled any and all albums that had already been shipped. The main reason given was that Prince thought the LP's message was too dark and negative and it wasn't the direction he wanted to go. Not long after, stories started to circulate about why Prince truly made his decision. The most common story was that Prince had a bit of a bad trip when taking ecstasy for the first time and hallucinations lead him to believe that the album was evil. Therefore, he took back the LP and then recorded the antithesis, which was Lovesexy. Of course the sudden withdrawal of the album and stories around it made people interested in hearing it and soon bootleg copies of it made from pre-release promo copies started to circulate. It became one of the most famous cancelled LPs since The Beach Boys' 1967 Smile. Most folks who heard the album thought it was great and that made demand for the bootleg increase and it is often reported to be the heaviest bootlegged album of all time. Then in 1994, Prince finally agreed to let Warner Bros. officially release the LP. Apparently, the label, perhaps noting how much money they lost with the bootlegs and seeing the legendary recording as a potential cash cow, gave Prince $1 million for his okay and money being a motivator, he accepted. The Black Album would finally be released in November of '94 with no singles to be issued out. Unfortunately, it was a little too late. It became Prince's lowest peaking studio album (#47) since his 1978 debut and it failed to reach gold-level sales. While critics were still enthusiastic about the LP upon its official release, it was noted that changes in the musical landscape over the previous six years made it sound a bit dated. In other words, it was just a legendary curiosity in Prince's catalog and not a hidden masterpiece.