Saturday, October 2, 2021

"What's the Matter Here?" by 10,000 Maniacs

Song#:  3631
Date:  09/03/1988
Debut:  94
Peak:  80
Weeks:  8
Genre:  Alternative Rock

Pop Bits:  This band fronted by Natalie Merchant got on the Pop chart with "Like the Weather," a track from their third album In My Tribe. While it would only reach #68, exposure on MTV boosted the band and they slowly gained a following. This follow-up single was released and although its time on the chart was the same as their previous single, it peaked lower. However, it did become the band's first song to reach the Alternative Rock chart peaking at #9. By this point in time the LP had already peaked at #37 and reached platinum status. Later in 1998, it would go double-platinum.

ReduxReview:  Natalie Merchant and the band certainly had a strange way of taking heavy, sad topics and turning them into fluffy, happy sounding tracks that could make you sway and dance. "Like the Weather" was a perky tune about depression and then they followed it up with this groovy tune about child abuse. While it certainly wasn't the first time child abuse was the topic of a charting song (see "Luka" by Suzanne Vega, #3 Pop), it really wasn't the most uplifting subject for a pop single. Yet the Maniacs, like Vega, wrote lyrics from an observational point and then paired them with melodies and chords that made the subject matter easy to digest. It certainly worked well for Vega and probably should have with this single from the Maniacs, but unfortunately it just didn't catch on in a more mainstream way. Still, they were critical, college, and MTV darlings and they were far more popular than what the peaks of their first to charting singles would indicate.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  The band's In My Tribe album was produced by Peter Asher. British-born Asher got started in entertainment as a child actor appearing in several films and TV show. He discovered music while attending school and before graduating began collaborating with fellow student Gordon Waller. By 1962, the pair began performing as Peter & Gordon. They would end up getting signed by Columbia Records in the UK (Capitol in the US). The duo had a bit of a lucky break in that Peter's sister Jane started dating Paul McCartney in 1963 (they would break up in '68). That connection led to Peter & Gordon recording some songs written by McCartney that the Beatles had not used or recorded including the duo's first single, 1964's "A World Without Love." The song would hit #1 in both the UK and the US making Peter & Gordon overnight stars. Over the next three years the duo would score three more Top 10s in both the UK and the US. With their career waning in '67, the duo then went on to do other things. Asher became the A&R head at Apple Records where he signed a new artist by the name of James Taylor. Asher produced his 1968 self-titled debut album, which didn't perform well. With high believe in Taylor, Asher quit Apple, moved to the States, and became Taylor's manager/producer. They would hit it big with Taylor's second album Sweet Baby James. Asher was then introduced to Linda Ronstadt and became her manager/producer. Over the years, Asher would produce works by many artists and would win three Grammys along the way.


Friday, October 1, 2021

"Kokomo" by The Beach Boys

#1 Alert!
Platinum Record Alert!
Song#:  3630
Date:  09/03/1988
Debut:  96
Peak:  1 (1 week)
Weeks:  28
Genre:  Pop, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  Like their 70s period, the 80s were a little rough for The Beach Boys. While they did manage to get three songs in the Pop Top 20, none of them truly reignited their career. They got a bit of a boost guesting on The Fat Boys' "Wipeout! (#12), but it didn't generate enough interest for them to pursue a new album (they hadn't released one in four years). Then they got an opportunity to write and record a song for an upcoming Tom Cruise flick titled Cocktail. The filmmakers wanted a song for a scene where Cruise goes from NYC to Jamaica and asked The Beach Boys to supply one. Working with producer Terry Melcher, the group (minus Brian Wilson) came up with "Kokomo" and it would be used in the film and placed on the soundtrack album. It would be issued out as a single in July of '88 prior to the film's release, but it didn't get any attention. Then the film turned into a box office hit and people picked up on the track. It would debut low on the Pop chart, but it quickly gained speed and ended up making it to #1. The last time The Beach Boys had a chart topper was with 1966's "Good Vibrations." At the time they set a record for the longest time between #1 hits (Cher would later break that record with her #1 "Believe" in 1999). The single would sell well enough to go platinum and it would help send the Cocktail soundtrack to #4. It would eventually sell over four million copies. The unexpected hit put the band in the spotlight once again it afforded them the opportunity to assemble a new album, which would be release nearly a year later in '89. Unfortunately, their sudden resurgence faded just as quickly and this song would be the band's last to make the Pop Top 40.

ReduxReview:  This is a tune that I think is both loved and reviled. While a ton of people have enjoyed the breezy, Caribbean feel of the track with its sing-a-long lyrics, many folks have hated it with the tune even ended up on a few "worst" lists. I'm sort of half 'n' half. Sure, it's a goofy tune and when compared to a lot of The Beach Boys' catalog it pales in comparison. However, it is catchy ear candy and I find it difficult to not get caught up in its escapist sound and theme. It's fun to hear, but definitely not all the time. Once in a great while I'll get a kick out of the tune, but frankly I'd rather listen to most anything in the band's earlier catalog, especially Pet Sounds.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Many folks have heard of the town in Indiana by the name of Kokomo, but the song alludes to it being a place in the Florida Keys. Well, that place does not exist. The song's co-writer, John Phillips (of the Mamas & the Papas) thought Kokomo fit the tune well and chose it to represent a tropical paradise where folks could escape.  2) While Cocktail did do well at the box office, it was pretty much savaged by critics. It would go on to win two Golden Rapsberry Awards; Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay. Cruise was nominated for Worst Actor. Oddly, later in '88 Cruise starred in Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman. The film went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. That made Cruise thus far the only actor to star in a Worst Picture and Best Picture in the same year.


Thursday, September 30, 2021

"The Loco-Motion" by Kylie Minogue

Top 10 Alert!
Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  3629
Date:  08/27/1988
Debut:  80
Peak:  3
Weeks:  27
Genre:  Dance-Pop, Hi-NRG

Pop Bits:  The Aussie singer got hooked up with the British Stock Aitken Waterman songwriting/production team and recorded her debut album Kylie. Its first single, "I Should Be So Lucky," performed fairly well reaching #28 Pop (#10 Dance). Next up for release was this cover tune. Minogue had recorded a version of the song earlier in '87 with producer Mike Duffy and it became a huge #1 hit in Australia. She then re-recorded the track with the SAW team for her debut album. It would be issued out as a single (except in Australia/New Zealand) and would become her second major hit making the Top 10 in many countries. In the US, the tune would get stuck in the #3 spot for a couple of weeks while getting to #12 Dance. It remained on the chart for quite a long time and that helped the single go gold. Minogue's debut album would then top out at #53. Eventually it would go gold.

ReduxReview:  The timing of this single was perfect. With Tiffany hitting #1 with her updated remake of "I Think We're Alone Now" and Rick Astley topping the chart with an SAW track, that combo of nostalgia along with a hip sound from a hot new production team was ideal for Minogue. It appealed to a wide audience and nearly topped the chart. I initially liked the song and even bought the single, but it soon wore me out. I tired of the track quickly and it became a bit annoying. But that was back when the song was constantly on the radio. These days I find it a fun little tune that has double nostalgia - first as a remake of a classic and then for its 80s trademark SAW production.
ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of a song that was originally a hit for Little Eva in 1962. Written by the famous team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Little Eva's single would hit #1 and be her only Top 10 hit. Later in 1974, American rock band Grand Funk Railroad covered the song and released it as a single. It too would reach the top of the Pop chart. "The Loco-Motion" then became only the second song to reach #1 by two different artists (seven other songs would later achieve that feat). The first instance occurred when Donny Osmond hit #1 in 1971 with another King/Goffin song "Go Away Little Girl." It had previously been a #1 single for Steve Lawrence in 1962. With Minogue's version reaching #3, "The Loco-Motion" then sort of set a record as being the first song to make the Pop Top 3 three times in three different decades. Oddly, although the lyrics stated that "everybody's doin' a brand new dance now," there was no specific loco-motion dance when the original single was released. As it started to become a hit, Little Eva had to create one for her performances.


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

"Ship of Fools" by Robert Plant

Song#:  3628
Date:  08/27/1988
Debut:  91
Peak:  84
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Plant's fourth solo album, Now and Zen, would be his biggest selling eventually going triple-platinum. That was in part thanks to the Led Zeppelin sample-laden track "Tall Cool One" that got to #1 at Rock and #25 Pop. The LP also included three other Rock Top 10s including the #1 "Heaven Knows" and this ballad which made it to #3. The song crossed over to the Pop chart, but it only hung around for a brief month. Plant's next album, 1990's Manic Nirvana, would yield his last Pop chart single with the #46 "Hurting Kind (I've Got My Eyes on You)" (#1 Rock). The LP would be a gold seller as would his 1993 effort Fate of Nations. After that LP, Plant took a bit of a break from being a solo artist and released a couple of albums with his ol' Zep bandmate Jimmy Page. He would pick back up on his solo career in 2002 and has since released several albums. He started picking up Grammy nods as a solo or collaborative artist beginning in 1993 and has since won seven Grammys from fifteen nominations. In addition, as part of Led Zeppelin he received one Grammy from two nominations generated by their 2012 live album Celebration Day.

ReduxReview:  Releasing a ballad after the bombastic "Tall Cool One" was a good choice, but this song wasn't necessarily Pop chart material. It sort of meanders about with not much in the way of a hooky chorus. Let's just say it wasn't going to be any competition for the hard rock power ballads storming the chart. It was a better fit for Rock radio and it indeed did well there. I like the song. It's atmospheric and kind of gently rolls along like a ship on the water. It was a lovely album track that didn't translate well to a pop single.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Amazingly, during Led Zeppelin's main era from 1969 to 1980, the only Grammy nomination they ever got was for Best New Artist. Considering that six of their eight studio albums all reached #1, sold millions of copies, and were critical favorites, the lack of any other Grammy nods is mystifying (note that their second album in 1970 did get a tech nomination for Best Recording Package, but that nod went to the artist, not the band). They were, however, awarded the non-competitive Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Plant later made up for the lack of nods and wins later on in his post-Zep career with his biggest haul coming with his 2007 collaboration album with bluegrass star Alison Krauss Raising Sand. The Americana project would be nominated for five Grammys and would win all five including Album of the Year and Record of the Year. The LP would be a #2 platinum seller.


Tuesday, September 28, 2021

"Powerful Stuff" by The Fabulous Thunderbirds

Song#:  3627
Date:  08/27/1988
Debut:  93
Peak:  65
Weeks:  7
Genre:  Blues-Rock, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  Following the platinum success of their 1986 LP Tuff Enuff (#13) and its #10 title track, the band returned with 1987's Hot Number. With its first single, "Stand Back," only getting to #76 on the Pop chart, the album failed to capitalize on the success of their previous LP and it wasn't even able to reach gold level sales (#49). As they began to record their next LP, the band got an opportunity to contribute a song to a film soundtrack. "Powerful Stuff" would be selected for use in the Tom Cruise comedy/drama Cocktail. It would be issued out as a single and would become their fourth Top 10 at Rock getting to #3. It wouldn't do as well on the Pop chart falling short of the Top 50 mark. It would be their last single to make the Pop chart. The song would also be included on and become the title track to the band's next LP release in '89. A follow-up single, "Rock This Place," would again do well at Rock reaching #10, but it failed to make the Pop chart. With those results, the album stalled at a low #118. It would be the band's last LP to reach the Pop chart. Their final charting single over on the Rock chart was 1991's "Twist of the Knife," which made it to #7. Band leader Kim Wilson would continue The Fabulous Thunderbirds over the years with various lineups and along the way would record a few albums. Wilson would also record several solo albums.

ReduxReview:  Blues-rock is a bit of a tricky genre for the Pop chart. If an act can get that one song that is catchy and has mass appeal, then it can certainly ignite their career. The Thunderbirds got that with "Tuff Enuff." However, trying to sustain a mainstream singles career doing blues-rock is certainly, well, tuff and the band found that out quickly. Still, their tunes got some good action on rock radio, which kept them going for a bit. Then having this tune featured in a hit film helped out as well. It was another good track from the band, but it really wasn't much different from what they had been slingin' out for the past few years. Still, Kim Wilson and company's time in the spotlight helped gain them a loyal fan base and a long career.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  The original guitarist for The Fabulous Thunderbirds was Jimmie Vaughan. He would be an influence on his younger brother Stevie Ray Vaughan. Both guitarists had success in the 80s, Jimmie with the Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray with his band Double Trouble. Stevie Ray would record four albums in the 80s all of which reached platinum or double-platinum in sales. By 1990, the Thunderbirds' time in the sun was waning and Jimmie had the itch to do his own thing. He would leave the band for a solo career but before fully kicking it off, he and Stevie Ray decided to work on an album together. Billed as The Vaughan Brothers, the pair would record the LP Family Style. Unfortunately, after the album was finished Stevie Ray would die in a helicopter crash. He and members of Eric Clapton's team were taking the copter from a concert venue in Wisconsin to Midway Airport in Chicago. Flying in fog, the copter crashed into a hillside not long after takeoff. The Family Style album would be released a month after the crash in September of 1990. It would reach #7, go platinum and win two Grammys. Jimmie would then set out on his solo career. He would win two more Grammys along with way including one in 2001 for Best Traditional Blues Album.


Monday, September 27, 2021

"When I Fall in Love" by Natalie Cole

Song#:  3626
Date:  08/27/1988
Debut:  95
Peak:  95
Weeks:  1
Genre:  Pop, Standards

Pop Bits:  It took over ten years, but Natalie Cole finally got back into the Pop Top 10 with "Pink Cadillac" (#5) her remake of a Bruce Springsteen track. It was the third single from her album Everlasting. With that song doing so well, Cole's label needed a follow up and chose this cover tune. It wouldn't get anywhere on the Pop chart briefly appearing near the bottom for a week. However, it did a little better at AC (#14) and R&B (#31). By this point in time the album had already peaked at #8 R&B/#49 Pop and had gone gold; her first album to do so since 1979.

ReduxReview:  I'm not 100% sure, but I believe this was the first time that Cole recorded a song that was strongly associated with her father. She would later go all-in on that theme with her Grammy-winning 1991 album Unforgettable...with Love, which used traditional arrangements. This one was an attempt to frame the classic in a more modern way. It definitely had a different feel from Nat King Cole's version, which featured leisurely lush strings. Natalie's attempt tried to put the song in a more structured time and tempo. Knowing earlier versions of the tune, I found this new one quite staid. It was like someone forced a beat to the song and it didn't quite work. Cole's vocals are more relaxed and help to elevate the track, but the arrangement was just so rigid. The song was a good fit for AC, however there was just no way it was going to climb the Pop chart.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of a song written by Victor Young and Edward Hayman. It was first recorded by Jeri Southern in 1952 and featured in the romantic war drama One Minute to Zero starring Robert Mitchum and Ann Blyth. That same year, Doris Day recorded the tune and took it to #20 on the pre-rock era Pop chart. After that, many artists recorded the song including Cole's father Nat King Cole. His 1957 take is one of the most popular versions of the song. Recorded for one of his albums, the track was used in the crime noir film Istanbul. Nat King Cole would appear in the film and perform the tune. It would not be released as a single in the US, but it was pushed out in the UK where it reached #2 (a 1987 reissue would get to #4). Four other artists beside Natalie Cole would reach the Pop chart with the song. R&B singer Etta James would get to #65 in 1961. The Lettermen would be the only act to make the Top 10 with the song. Their version reached #7 in 1962. Donny Osmond would reach #53 in 1973. Then in 1993, a duet version between Celine Dion and British singer Clive Griffin would get to #23. Their take on the standard was used in the hit rom-com film Sleepless in Seattle. Over in the UK, pop star Rick Astley would release his version as a single near the end of '87. It would become a #2 hit. Natalie Cole would later record another version of the song. For her 1996 standards LP Stardust, Cole would record a version as a virtual duet with her late father. It was issued out as a single, but did not chart. Despite that, the song went on to win two Grammys; one for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals and one for Best Instrumental Arrangement with Accompanying Vocal(s). The album would be a #20 platinum seller for Cole.


Sunday, September 26, 2021

"Don't You Know What the Night Can Do?" by Steve Winwod

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3625
Date:  08/20/1988
Debut:  61
Peak:  6
Weeks:  17
Genre:  Soft Rock

Pop Bits:  Winwood scored the biggest chart hit of his career with "Roll with It," the first single and title track of his fifth solo album. It would spend four weeks at #1 on the Pop chart while also hitting #1 AC and #1 Rock. For a follow-up, this next track would be selected for release. It would be another #1 for him at Rock while reaching #2 AC. It would also become Winwood's sixth Pop Top 10 hit. Unfortunately, it would end up being his last single to make the Top 10. This hit would help sell more copies of the album (which had already peaked at #1) and by November of '88 it would reach double platinum status.

ReduxReview:  This rolling, atmospheric track was a good foil to Winwood's previous #1 hit. While the chorus was certainly hooky, I almost think that the mood, tone, and groove of the song is what really attracted listeners. It was one of those tunes that you'd put on when an evening out or a party was beginning to wind down late at night. A few somewhat inebriated people standing around the room with a drink still in their hand, a smile on their face, their eyes half shut, swaying (maybe inadvertently) to the tune and thinking "ah, what a great night." Not that I've ever done that...

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Prior to this single being released, it was being used in a series of ads for Michelob beer. Some critics and other folks tossed out accusations of Winwood writing the song specifically for Michelob - in other words, selling out to corporate interests. However, that wasn't the case. Michelob was brought on board to sponsor Winwood's tour for the Roll with It album. When the LP was finished, but not yet released, it seems the deal was that Michelob could select a track and use it in their advertising. They chose "Do You Know What the Night Can Do?" and quickly worked to make a commercial and it actually started airing prior to the release of the album. The early airing made it seem like Winwood wrote the song specifically for the commercial, which he did not. The ad was one in a series that went along with their slogan at at the time "The Night Belongs to Michelob." Winwood's song was one of several rock tunes used in the campaign. The first was Eric Clapton's 1970 #18 hit "After Midnight," which he re-recorded for the ad. Then came Genesis' "Tonight Tonight Tonight" followed by Winwood's track. Wang Chung got two of their songs picked up. "To Live and Die in L.A." and their #2 hit "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" got tapped by the beer company.