Saturday, November 20, 2021

"Live It Up" by Gardner Cole

Song#:  3680
Date:  10/15/1988
Debut:  91
Peak:  91
Weeks:  3
Genre:  Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  Gardner Cole first started to make a name for himself as a songwriter. In 1984, he struck a publishing deal with Warner Bros. and became a staff writer for the them. By September of '88, six songs that he wrote or co-wrote had reached the Pop chart including Madonna's "Open Your Heart" (#1 Pop), "Strange But True" by Times Two (#21 Pop), and "Another Lover" by Giant Steps (#13 Pop). The clout he built up from penning the hits allowed Cole to sign on with Warner Bros. as a solo artist. He would then write and produce his debut album, Triangles. (Note that while the LP title was pronounced and sometimes written as Triangles, the actual title was represented by a triangle symbol followed by a plural tag.) This first single was issued out and it would do well in clubs with the song topping out at #13 on the Dance chart. The action there led to the song reaching the Pop chart, but it would only be for a few short weeks. A second single failed to do anything and with those results the album failed to chart. Cole would get a second chance in 1991 with the album It's Your Life, but it disappeared quickly. Cole would then return to his songwriting/production career working with artists like Jody Watley, Michael McDonald, Amy Grant, and Tina Turner.

ReduxReview:  These days it is nearly a prerequisite for an artist to start as a songwriter, get a publishing deal, and then after they secured hits with other artists go on to be stars themselves. It has happened quite a bit, especially in the country market. Back in the 80s it seems successful songwriters had a tougher time trying to break out on their own. I'm not sure why that was. They certainly could pen a hit, so why couldn't they write one for themselves? I can only speculate that they pushed their best material to other artists and when it came time for them to record, they may have had a few leftover songs that no one picked up and then under pressure just couldn't write that standout hit. I think most songwriters will tell you that writing for yourself is different from writing for someone else. Each has a goal, but the way there is different. As a staff writer, you are thinking of tailoring your songs for a particular artist or focusing on making something that will sell. Writing for yourself is more personal and reflects who you are as an artist. It seems Cole wrote for himself and the resulting LP most likely represented who he was as a writer/artist. Unfortunately, he just didn't write a surefire hit for himself. This track was probably the best of the bunch. It was a good tune, but it just didn't have the same memorable hooks as his hits mentioned above. In fact, I think it sort of sounds like an updated leftover Madonna track that didn't make the cut. Cole's vocals are solid, but unremarkable so that didn't help either. The tune is fine, just not outstanding or anything that was going to cut a path up the Pop chart. While his solo career didn't pan out, Cole still maintained a successful songwriting career.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  The only song Cole did not solely write for his album was this lead-off single. He co-wrote it with Danny Sembello. If that name kind of sounds familiar, that is because he was the brother of Michael Sembello of "Maniac" (#1 Pop) fame. Like his brother, Danny was also a songwriter and his tunes began to get picked up by artists in the early 80s. His first significant hit came in 1984 when he co-wrote "Don't Stop" for Jeffrey Osborne (#6 R&B/#44 Pop). Right on the heels of that success came his first Pop Top 10 with The Pointer Sisters' "Neutron Dance" (#6 Pop/#4 Dance/#13 R&B). He would then earn two more R&B Top 10s with Patti LaBelle and Pebbles. He would continue to supply songs for artists like Sheena Easton, Boy George, Cyndi Lauper, Backstreet Boys, and others. Sadly, in 2015 Sembello would drown in the Schuylkill River outside of Philadelphia while attending a music festival.


Friday, November 19, 2021

"Peek-A-Boo" by Siouxsie and the Banshees

Song#:  3679
Date:  10/15/1988
Debut:  92
Peak:  53
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Alternative Rock

Pop Bits:  Siouxsie Sioux (real name Susan Ballion) first started to gain attention when she and her friend Steven Severin saw a Sex Pistols show in London early in 1976. What the band was doing attracted them to the point where they followed and befriended the band. It wasn't long before Sioux and Severin decided to start their own band. Over the next couple of years, the band honed their skills and gained a sizable following. Although they had appeared on TV and even did a session with famed BBC DJ John Peel, record companies were either not interested or wanted to control the group. Finally, Polydor came along with an offer that suited the band and not long after signing with the label, they released their first single, 1978's "Hong Kong Garden." It became a big success reaching #7 in the UK. A debut album titled The Scream quickly followed. The critically acclaimed influential LP got to #12 in the UK. They followed that success with a series of LPs that all did well in the UK, but failed to do much of anything in the US. Their 1985 album Tinderbox broadened their audience a bit in the US with the track "Cities in Dust" getting to #17 on the Dance chart. After a covers LP, the band came back in '88 with Peepshow. It showcased some new sounds and was once again well-received by critics. The album's first single, "Peek-A-Boo," got a lot of attention at alternative/college stations and that plus some coverage on MTV led to the song becoming their first to reach the US Pop chart. It would get near the halfway mark while also getting to #14 Dance. It was enough to drive the album to #68, which was their best showing to-date. It took ten years, but Siouxsie and the Banshees were finally flirting with mainstream success in the US.

ReduxReview:  I got hooked on this song about 10 seconds after first hearing it. The reversed backing track along with the keyboard flute/woodwind riff got my attention immediately. The tune only progressed from there with the addition of Siouxsie's unmistakable voice and, of course, the accordion. It also helped that the song was catchy as hell. It was all fun, unusual, and even a little creepy in a sideshow kind of way. I ran out and got the single and then later the album, which was brilliant. I had heard of the band before this single, but never explored them. They were definitely not your typical mainstream band and their earlier LPs were an acquired taste, at least for me. Peepshow saw the band hitting their stride with more accessible tunes for the mainstream, but they were not selling out. It was just yet another side of the Banshees and I loved it. This single should have easily made the Top 40 and I was so disappointed when it stopped short. Both the song and album are still awesome.

ReduxRating:  9/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) On September 10, 1988, Billboard magazine introduced their latest chart. Titled Modern Rock Tracks, the 40-slot list tallied the most played songs on modern/alt rock and college radio stations. The first #1 song on the new chart was Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Peek-A-Boo." It would stay there for two weeks. The band's follow up single "The Killing Jar" would later nearly top the chart getting to #2. In 2009, the chart would change names to Alternative Song. Then in 2020 it would change again to Alternative Airplay.  2) A lyrical passage in the song ended up causing a bit of a headache for the band. The line "Golly jeepers, where'd you get those weepers? Peepshow, creepshow, where did you get those eyes?" seemed just a bit too much of an infringement of the old 1938 standard "Jeepers Creepers." That song was written by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer and first appeared in the '38 movie Going Places. It would go on to get an Oscar nod for Best Original Song. When Siouxsie's song came out, Warren and Mercer were dead, but the estates took notice and thought the band was a bit too liberal in taking lyrics from the original song. To avoid any legal action, the band opted to add Warren and Mercer as composers to the song's credits.  3) The unusual sound of the track came via another recording from the band. For their previous album of covers, 1987's Through the Looking Glass, they covered the John Cale song "Gun." At a point during the recording of that song, producer Mike Hedges on a whim turned the tape upside down and played it. The sound was so cool that the band decided to try and create another song from it, which became "Peek-A-Boo." Originally they though it could be a b-side to a single, but as the song developed they thought it was too special for that and saved it for Peepshow.


Thursday, November 18, 2021

"Don't Break My Heart" by Romeo's Daughter

Song#:  3678
Date:  10/15/1988
Debut:  94
Peak:  73
Weeks:  7
Genre:  Pop, Rock

Pop Bits:  Olga Lange, the second wife of famed songwriter/producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, happened to be in a pub outside of London and heard a band called Arctic Fox. She was drawn to them and approached them about becoming their manager. The band bit due in part to her connections. Of course changes ensued and eventually the two main contributors to the band, Craig Joiner and Tony Mitman, were singled out and paired with singer Leigh Matty, who won the spot via an audition. The new trio became Romeo's Daughter and to help record some demos, Lange cashed in one of her connections and brought in John Parr to produce. The demos helped get the band signed to Jive Records and by that time, Mutt Lange got interested in the trio and decided to co-write/produce several tracks for their self-titled debut album. This first single was issued out and it started to gain some attention, but then could only make it about a quarter of the way up the Pop chart. The album would then make a brief appearance at #191. A second single failed to chart and with those results, the trio was left off of Jive's roster. They would return with an indie album in 1993, but nothing much came from it and the band would later split.

ReduxReview:  With Mutt Lange on board, I knew this song would sound great and indeed it does. It sounds huge and not out of line with the work he did with Def Leppard. The song is good too. It's a hooky, radio-ready track that should have gotten more attention. I wouldn't say it was Top 10 worthy, but it certainly should have cracked the Top 40. Joiner and Mitman had a knack for writing solid rock tunes, but having Lange come in to help shape them into something more immediate and radio friendly was certainly lucky. The fact that other artists ended up covering tracks from this semi-obscure LP (see below) is a tell-tale sign that the trio were on to something. Unfortunately, it just didn't pan out for them on the charts.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Although the trio's debut album didn't sell well, several songs from the LP would find their way to other artists. Heart would record "Wild Child" for their 1990 album Brigade. The song would not be an official single, but it picked up enough airplay to reach #3 on the Rock chart. "Heaven in the Back Seat" would be recorded by Eddie Money for his 1991 album Right Here. It would be the lead single from the album and get to #6 Rock/#58 Pop. Bonnie Tyler would record "I Cry Myself to Sleep at Night" for her 1992 album Angel Heart. The track would not be issued out as a single. Popular British dance-pop group Steps would cover "Stay with Me Tonight" for their 1998 debut album Step One. It would not be released as a single. All four tracks were co-written by Mutt Lange, Joiner, and Mitman with Matty helping on one.


Wednesday, November 17, 2021

"Put This Love to the Test" by Jon Astley

Song#:  3677
Date:  10/15/1988
Debut:  95
Peak:  74
Weeks:  8
Genre:  Alternative Rock, New Wave

Pop Bits:  Astley's offbeat 1987 single "Jane's Getting Serious" became a #7 Rock hit that was able to reach #77 at Pop. It got a boost from its quirky video that got a lot of airplay on MTV. The song was taken from Astley's debut album Everyone Loves the Pilot (Except the Crew). Although the LP halted at #135, it was enough for his label, Atlantic, to request a second effort. Astley came back with The Compleat Angler and this first single was issued out. The tune would do well on the new Modern Rock chart reaching #3. However, at Pop it fared about the same as his previous single stopping near the bottom quarter of the chart. The album failed to chart. With that result, Astley's time at Atlantic as a recording artist was done.

ReduxReview:  This quietly groovy tune has new wave feel that seems more early 80s that near 90s. The verse kind of reminds me a bit of SinĂ©ad O'Connor's "The Emperor's New Clothes." Astley's voice is certainly unique and perhaps for some folks an acquired taste, but I like it and it suits the song well. Like "Jane's Getting Serious" this is another little buried gem from the 80s. The album is also quite good. It's a shame that neither of his albums have been reissued.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Although it may have been disappointing, Astley was probably not all that sad about his solo career ending. He had been growing a career behind the scenes as a producer and did not have his eye on being a recording artist. But then a fluke opportunity came his way so he gave it a shot. After his solo career ended, Astley went back to work behind the scenes mainly as a producer. Then in 1996, another opportunity came his way. Pete Townshend, who happened to be Astley's brother-in-law, asked Astley to oversee the remastering/reissuing of The Who's catalog. Astley took a leap of faith and began to learn the art of remastering. After working on The Who's catalog, other mastering work came his way. Eventually he opened up his own mastering studio called Close to the Edge. There he has done mastering work for a wide variety of artists including Tori Amos, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, ABBA, and many others.


Tuesday, November 16, 2021

"Louie, Louie" by The Fat Boys

Song#:  3676
Date:  10/15/1988
Debut:  97
Peak:  89
Weeks:  3
Genre:  Hip-Hop

Pop Bits:  This rap trio earned a pair of Pop Top 20 hits with their own updated versions of two rock classics. "Wipeout!," which featured The Beach Boys got to #12 while "The Twist (Yo, Twist!)" featuring Chubby Checker made it to #16. Their near-novelty remakes were crowd-pleasers and so the trio kept them coming and issued out this single. Unlike their previous two hits, this one didn't feature any guests. The Boys were on their own. However, the third time wasn't the charm and it seemed like audiences were tiring of the trio's formula. The song stalled quickly on the Pop chart while not even cracking the R&B chart. By this point in time, the album the track was from, Coming Back Hard Again, had already peaked at #33 Pop/#30 R&B and had gone gold. Unfortunately, interest in the trio would quickly wane and after a pair of LPs that did not perform well, they disbanded.

ReduxReview:  The Fat Boys found a gimmick in doing these cover versions and they basically beat it to death quickly. Once they backed themselves into the corner, they couldn't get out. Their next LP featured no cover tunes and it sank upon release. The remakes kind of turned the trio into a comedy/novelty act and once the joke work off, no one was interested in them. Still, they certainly did well in the 80s with three gold and one platinum album. That is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but had they not got caught in the remake trap they might have been able to carry on for longer. If you liked their "Wipeout" and "The Twist," chances are you will like this one too. I didn't like the first two and my opinion doesn't change with this one.

ReduxRating:  2/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of a song originally written and performed by Richard Berry. His original recording of the song was done along with his band the Pharaohs in 1956, but despite strong regional support, the tune never took off nationally and failed to chart. Then in 1958 a Washington State musician named Rockin' Robin Roberts discovered the obscure tune and began performing it with his band. He got it recorded in 1960 and the following year it became a #1 regional hit. Yet the song still failed to chart nationally. That might have been it for the tune, but then in 1963 the Portland, Oregon, band The Kingsmen recorded and released the song. Their rockin' guitar driven take began to catch on and eventually it would reach #2 on the Pop chart. Part of the song's popularity came from the way lead singer Jack Ely slurred the lyrics, which made them difficult to understand. That led to people believing he was intentionally doing that to cover up salacious lyrics. It led to the song being banned by many radio stations and even led to an FBI investigation, which came up empty. The Kingsmen had recorded a rock 'n' roll classic and it became their main claim to fame. They would only have one other Pop Top 10 hit with 1964's "The Jolly Green Giant" (#4). "Louie, Louie" would go on to be the most recorded rock song in history with an estimated 1,600-2,000 version released. The Fat Boys' take has been the fourth and thus far last version of the song to reach the Pop chart. It followed The Kingsmen's classic, the Sandpipers' 1966 #30 version, and John Belushi's 1978 #89 take. A 1966 reissue of The Kingsmen's single would get to #97.


Monday, November 15, 2021

"Kissing a Fool" by George Michael

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3675
Date:  10/08/1988
Debut:  47
Peak:  5
Weeks:  15
Genre:  Pop, Jazz-Pop

Pop Bits:  By this point, Michael's debut solo album Faith had generated five hit singles. The first one got to #2 while the following four each topped the Pop chart. After the last one, "Monkey," hit #1, Michael's label decided to roll the dice and release a sixth single. This low-key jazzy ballad was selected and pushed out. It would be a perfect fit for AC radio and indeed it would reach #1 on that chart. Over on the Pop chart it wouldn't continue his streak of #1s, but it would do well enough to become his seventh post-Wham! Top 10. Sales of the album continued and by February of '89 it would reach the 7 million mark.

ReduxReview:  While it wasn't necessarily a bold choice for a single, it was an unexpected one. The retro jazzy ballad was a highlight from the album yet it most likely was never considered as a single candidate early on. Then after four straight #1s and Michael still a hot commodity, the label needed something to push out and my guess it was either this track or the quietly groovy "Hard Day," but since "Hard Day" had already made the rounds in a 12" remix version in '87 (#5 Dance/#21 R&B), that made "Kissing a Fool" the last viable single candidate on the LP. Sounding like a pop standard from maybe the 40s or 50s, I wasn't sure how the song would fare, but it ended up doing well and it was a nice song to round out the singles from the LP.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  In 1996, Faith would be certified for sales of over 10 million copies in the US. While that amount was impressive, it would only put the album in the Top 40 of best sellers. With other newer LPs selling more, it has slipped down the list further. Worldwide Faith sold an additional 15 million copies for a total of 25 million copies. That puts it in the Top 50 of the best selling albums worldwide.


Sunday, November 14, 2021

"Small World" by Huey Lewis & the News

Song#:  3674
Date:  10/08/1988
Debut:  66
Peak:  25
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  The band's fifth album, Small World, got kicked off with the #3 single "Perfect World" (#5 Rock/#2 AC). The result was positive and it should have driven the album straight into the Top 10 especially following a pair of multi-platinum #1s, but it halted shy at #11. They needed another big hit to help the LP rebound and this title track was selected. Unfortunately, it didn't do the job. The song could only make the Top 30 at Pop while reaching #28 Rock and #19 AC. It was a big disappointment considering that their previous album generated five Pop Top 10 hits including two #1s. The lack of a second hit certainly played into sales of the album, which could only manage platinum status. It was a sign that the band's signature rock sound was losing favor as the 90s approached.

ReduxReview:  It is difficult to constantly come up with hit after hit and Lewis & the News certainly found that out with Small World. Whether it was rushed or they just didn't have the ideas, the LP was quite weak and lacked the hooks and fun tracks that made their previous two album sail to multi-platinum levels. "Perfect World" was a pretty good track and would serve as their last Top 10, but after that the LP didn't have anything that was going to keep up their string of hits. This title track tried to lure folks in with its initial riff, but after that, the song couldn't really get off the ground. The verse was lackluster and kind of boring while the chorus failed to kick the song into gear - except maybe park. Even Lewis sounds bored here, which is unusual. Definitely one of their most forgettable singles and it was the one that ended their streak of seven consecutive Top 10 hits.

ReduxRating:  4/10

Trivia:  While the single lists this song as just "Small World," on the album it is the opening track and is titled "Small World (Part One)." That is because the song is revisited later as the LP a-side closer and is listed as "Small World (Part Two)." Basically, the original song was over 7 minutes long and instead of putting the whole song on the LP as one track, it got split into two. Part One fades out following a guitar solo while Part Two picks up and fades in where that guitar solo was ending and it moves into a sax solo. Most all of Part Two is instrumental. On the single, Part One acted as the a-side. On the b-side both parts were combined into one solid track and listed as "Small World (Part 1 & 2)." The sax solo on the track was handled by jazz legend Stan Getz. Apparently Getz met Lewis at a benefit concert and offered to perform on a track whenever the band was to record again. Lewis took Getz up on his offer for "Small World."