Monday, December 5, 2022

"When the Radio Is On" by Paul Shaffer

Song#:  3993
Date:  08/12/1989
Debut:  97
Peak:  81
Weeks:  8
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  This multi-talented singer, songwriter, musician, actor, conductor, etc., is perhaps best known for being David Letterman's bandleader and second banana, a job he held from 1982 through the end of Letterman's late show run in 2015. Born in Canada, Shaffer got his first break when he became the musical director for the Toronto production of Godspell, a show that featured pre-SNL/SCTV alums Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas, and Andrea Martin. That gig led him to working on a Broadway show in New York and then a spot in the house band for Saturday Night Live. Save for a year, Shaffer would be with the show from '75 to '80. Not long after that, he got hooked up with Letterman. Over the years Shaffer would record with numerous artists, appear on TV shows and in films, and compose songs for others including the 1982 #1 Dance hit "It's Raining Men" by The Weather Girls. However, the one thing Shaffer had not done was record his own solo album. That changed when Capitol Records issued out Shaffer's debut LP Coast to Coast. Recorded throughout '88 in multiple studios, Shaffer used his musical connections to get as many famous singers and musicians to contribute on the tracks. The LP featured a mix of originals (some penned or co-penned by Shaffer) and covers plus two live tracks. For anyone familiar with Shaffer from Letterman, the selections and plethora of contributions was not out of character for him. To kick things off, this first single was issued out. It featured nine vocalists including Shaffer, Dion, Carole King, Ellie Greenwich, and the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith. The tune got a little bit of attention and was able to crash the Pop chart for a couple months. However, it wasn't enough to sell albums and it failed to chart. On the bright side, it earned Shaffer his first Grammy nomination. The instrumental track "Late Night," which was the studio version of the Letterman show theme song written by Shaffer, would get a nod for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.

ReduxReview:  I get that this oddball rap/sung doo wop influenced tune was meant to be a sort of nostalgic tribute to hearing music on the radio via Shaffer's kooky persona. However, it really didn't excuse the fact that it was a big kitchen sink mess. There was just too much going on. The rap sections were painful to hear and didn't fit. The myriad of voices really made no sense except for Shaffer to capitalize on the names involved. Then trying to wrap it all up in some kind of late 80s beats production made it all even worse. I could hear that there was probably an original idea and perhaps even a good song underneath all the chaos, but it was completely lost under the weight of it all. Let's face it. As talented as Shaffer is, he just wasn't meant to be a solo artist unto his own. He's better as a supporting player and personality.

ReduxRating:  2/10

Trivia:  While Coast to Coast was Shaffer's first solo album, it wasn't his first where he was given top billing. In 1977, Shaffer left his gig at SNL to co-star in a TV sitcom. The show was called A Year at the Top and Shaffer co-starred along with Greg Evigan. The script was based on Faust and had Shaffer and Evigan as two struggling musicians who make a pact with the devil's son to have one big successful year. The show was for CBS and the executive producer was music impresario Don Kirshner. It seems Kirshner and CBS were expecting the show to be a hit, so a soundtrack album was recorded. The show debuted in September of '77 and it flopped. It was cancelled after five episodes. Despite the show's demise, the album had already been produced so it was released as A Year at the Top by Greg & Paul. With little to promote it, the LP quickly disappeared along with the show. Shaffer would return to SNL for a few more seasons. Evigan would quickly get picked up to star in hit trucker show B.J. and the Bear, which lasted for three seasons. Evigan would co-star in another three season show, the sitcom My Two Dads, and grab a lot of guest spots on various TV shows.


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