Saturday, January 15, 2022

"The Only Way Is Up" by Yazz and the Plastic Population

Song#:  3727
Date:  11/26/1988
Debut:  99
Peak:  96
Weeks:  4
Genre:  Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  Yazz, not to be confused with UK duo Yaz (US)/Yazoo (UK), is British singer Yasmin Evans. After a stint as a model Evans turned to singing and in '83 joined the dance music trio The Biz (with Austin Howard and Suzette Smithson). While they had a couple of songs that got some attention in the clubs, they didn't really break through and Evans moved on. In '88 she hooked up with the electronic duo Coldcut and was featured (credited as Yazz and the Plastic Population) on their song "Doctorin' the House." Released as a single, it became a #6 hit in the UK. It also got to #3 on the US Dance chart. With that boost, Yazz was able to secure a record deal. To test the waters, this first single was recorded (with Coldcut producing) and released in the UK in the summer of '88. Credited to Yazz and the Plastic Population, the song became a smash hit in the UK reaching #1 and staying there for five weeks. It then made its way over to the US where it reached #2 on the Dance chart. That led to the song crossing over to the Pop chart, but it would only spend a brief month near the bottom. With that success, Yazz would then toss out the Plastic Population part of the name and record her debut solo album Wanted. A second single, "Stand Up for Your Love Rights," would reach #2 in the UK while going to #5 US Dance. The album would do well in the UK reaching #3, but it would fail to make the US chart. A third single would make the UK Top 10. After that, a couple singles came out in anticipation of a second album, but it seems Yazz had label issues. They shelved the album and she left. She wouldn't get to record another album until 1994 and by then her momentum had slowed with her singles only being mid-charters. A third album would come in '97 that didn't do much to revive her career. After spending time reevaluating her career and life, Yazz would emerge in 2008 as a Christian artist.

ReduxReview:  I found this song years (actually probably decades) after it initially came out via a British 80s hits compilation. It quickly got my attention because it was a fun, catchy club track that featured a nice vocal performance. It did well in US clubs, but for whatever reason the track could not catch on in a more mainstream way. That was too bad as it deserved a better fate in the US than its piddly #96 peak. Otis Clay's original (see below) should have also done a lot better, but at least it found a home in Northern Soul clubs.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This is actually a remake of a song originally recorded by soul singer Otis Clay in 1980. Written by George Jackson and Johnny Henderson, the song was issued out as a single, but it failed to reach any chart. It would later become a popular song in the UK's Northern Soul clubs, which is perhaps it was heard by Coldcut and/or Yazz. They then recorded the tune and made it a #1 hit. Otis Clay was a popular performer in the US, Europe, and Japan, but he never was able to secure that one big hit that would take his career to the next level. He recorded for several labels in the 60s and 70s, but none of his singles would get close to the R&B Top 10. His best known effort came in 1972 when he recorded the song "Tryin' to Live My Life without You." That single would be his best showing at R&B reaching #24 (it bubbled under at Pop at #102). The song would later be made more famous in a live cover version by Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band (#5 Pop, 1981).


Friday, January 14, 2022

"Two Hearts" by Phil Collins

#1 Alert!
Grammy Alert!
Song#:  3726
Date:  11/19/1988
Debut:  47
Peak:  1 (2 weeks)
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Pop, Soundtrack

Pop Bits:  While the film Buster, which starred Phil Collins, was a box office dud in the US, its soundtrack would become a gold seller. That album basically consisted of some pop oldies along with sections of Anne Dudley's score. However, it also featured three new tracks from Phil Collins, two of which would be issued out as singles. First was Collins' remake of "Groovy Kind of Love," which became a #1 Pop/#1 AC gold record. Then there was this second single that would also reach the top of both the Pop and AC charts. While it wouldn't be a gold seller, it would go on to win the Grammy for Best Song Specifically Written for a Motion Picture or Television. It was Collins' seventh Grammy (six solo, one with Genesis). That same stat applied to his Pop #1s as well. This was Collins' seventh #1. Six of those were from his solo career while one, "Invisible Touch," was with Genesis. This song was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song.

ReduxReview:  This song had such a retro sound that I was wondering if it was a cover of a long lost Supremes record. Alas, it was a brand new tune from Collins and Lamont Dozier (see below). Collins had visited the Motown sound before with his first US Top 10 (again, see below), so he was comfortable with the style of this throwback. At the time the song came out, I wasn't a fan. It just didn't grab me. I didn't dislike it; just thought it was meh. I like it a bit more these days and can appreciate the way Dozier reached back and was able to revive his old 60s Motown writing style for the tune. The Collins-Dozier partnership was a good one and it would have been cool if they had done a full album together.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This song was written and produced by Phil Collins and Lamont Dozier. Dozier had been part of the famous Motown writing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. As a writer, Dozier had hit #1 twelve times on the Pop chart (thirteen if you count Steve Winwood's "Roll with It" on which the HDH team was credited after a lawsuit). Most of those hits were by The Supremes. Those songs certainly influenced Collins. He would even earn his first US Top 10 hit with a cover of the HDH-written tune "You Can't Hurry Love" (#10). When it came time to write songs for Buster, Collins wanted a retro 60s sound that would fit the film's timeline. To accomplish that, he reached out to Lamont Doizer for help. Dozier responded by writing the music to "Two Hearts." Collins then supplied the music and the pair got it recorded. They would also write and produce two other tunes for the soundtrack including "Big Noise" and "Loco in Acapulco." For the latter, Collins and Dozier brought in the Four Tops to perform the tune. It would be released as a single in the UK and reach #7. While mainly known as a writer, Dozier was also a performer and recording artists. He first began with a few groups in the late 50s, did a few solo efforts around 1960, recorded as Holland-Dozier with Brian Holland in the early 70s, and then returned to a solo career starting in 1973. With Holland-Dozier, he scored a #9 R&B hit (#57 Pop) in 1972 with "Why Can't We Be Lovers." As a solo artist, Dozier got three consecutive #4 R&B hits in '73 and '74 including "Trying to Hold On to My Woman," which also got to #13 Pop. Oddly, that song was not written by Dozier but by McKinley Jackson and James Reddick.


Thursday, January 13, 2022

"Armageddon It" by Def Leppard

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3725
Date:  11/19/1988
Debut:  65
Peak:  3
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Hard Rock, Glam Metal

Pop Bits:  By this point in time, Def Leppard's Hysteria album had spend six non-consecutive weeks at #1, was just about to pass the 8 million mark in sales, and had spawned five charting singles including the #1 "Love Bites." It was a huge success, but it was not done yet. With "Love Bites" topping the chart, the label decided to go ahead and toss out a sixth single. This next track was selected and it ended up being the right choice. The song would reach #3 at Rock while becoming the fourth single from Hysteria to make the Pop Top 10. The hit would push more albums out record shop doors and in January of '89 it would reach the 9x platinum mark. This song would end up being the band's final Pop Top 10 hit.

ReduxReview:  Producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange said he wanted to create an album with Def Leppard that was chock full of single-worthy songs. Basically, he wanted the glam metal version of Michael Jackson's Thriller. Lange and the band certainly achieved that goal. Here is the sixth single from the album and it was just as radio-ready and catchy as the previous hits. It was a perfect rebound single following the big #1 power ballad "Love Bites" and it easily made its way into the Top 10. The band seemed unstoppable, but as the decade turned a newer, edgier sound from Seattle that would get tagged as "grunge" would come in and nearly kill off 80s hair/glam metal. Luckily before that happened, Def Leppard got to rule the world with Hysteria.

ReduxRating:  7/10

TriviaHysteria would be the last album to featured co-lead guitarist Steve Clark. Clark joined Def Leppard in 1978 when the band was looking for a second guitarist. The band's original guitarist Pete Willis had spotted Clark and after a couple of audition attempts, Clark finally showed up and secured a position in the band. As Def Leppard was recording their third album, 1983's Pyromania, Willis was let go from the band and he was replaced by Phil Collen. Clark and Collen hit it off both personally and professionally and created a new dual-guitar sound for the band. Clark and Collen spent a lot of time hanging out together drinking, which resulted in some rock 'n' roll bad behavior and that got them tagged as The Terror Twins. Unfortunately, Clark's drinking kept increasing and it wasn't long before he was a full-blown addict. During the sessions for Def Leppard's 1991 album Adrenalize, Clark's drinking was affecting progress so the band gave him a six-month leave along with a tour in rehab to help Clark's situation. Of course, he left rehab early and began heavily drinking again. On January 8, 1991, Clark was found dead at home. An excessive amount of alcohol was found in his system along with morphine that caused respiratory failure. Def Leppard would continue on and finish Adrenalize without replacing Clark. In 1992, the band would hire in Vivian Campbell as Clark's replacement.


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

"Killing Me Softly" by Al B. Sure!

Song#:  3724
Date:  11/19/1988
Debut:  88
Peak:  80
Weeks:  11
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  Al B. Sure's debut album In Effect Mode would become a #1 R&B/#20 Pop platinum seller thanks to a pair of #1 R&B hits including "Nite and Day," which also got to #7 Pop. A third single, "Rescue Me," would keep his hit streak going at R&B getting to #3, but the song was unable to reach the Pop chart. The label then went ahead and issued out this fourth single. It got near the R&B Top 10 making it to #14. This time around, the tune was able to get Al B. Sure! back on the Pop chart. It hung around for nearly three months, but the best it could do was reach #80. A fifth single, "If I'm Not Your Lover," would be released. It would do very well at R&B reaching #2, but it would miss the Pop chart. That single would wrap up things for In Effect Mode, which would eventually sell over two million copies.

ReduxReview:  This song started out fine with an interesting samba-like feel, but then once Al B. Sure! and the programmed drums kicked, it went downhill real quick. The drum parts were so loud and distracting that they overshadowed anything else that might have been good about the song. I was also not a fan of the vocal choices by Al B. The ad libs were out of place and I hated the way he ended the chorus with "song" being weirdly stretched out. While the song was not a complete disaster, it wasn't very good either. Al B. might have had something really cool had he eliminated the loud drums, kept that samba feel throughout the tune, and dialed back his vocals. It could have been a groovy, smooth, sophisticated take on the tune. Instead, some arrangement/production choices nearly derailed the classic song.
ReduxRating:  3/10

Trivia:  This is a remake of a song originally recorded by singer/songwriter Lori Lieberman in 1972. Her single version would not chart, but a 1973 remake by Roberta Flack would become a major #1 hit that would win the Grammys for both Record and Song of the Year. The well-known story behind the song is that in 1971 Lieberman attended a concert by Don McLean at the Troubador in L.A. Taken by his performance, as he began to sing his song "Empty Chair" Lieberman began to write poetic lines on a napkin. She then shared what she wrote with Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, a pair of writers she had recently gotten hooked up with in a publishing deal. What Liebman wrote reminded Gimbel of a song title idea he had written down and from there he wrote the lyrics to "Killing Me Softly." Fox then wrote the music. While Gimbel was inspired by and even formed some lyrics around Lieberman's musings, she did not get a writing credit on the song. In the late 90s, for whatever reason Gimbel and Fox (Lieberman had left the partnership in the late 70s on negative terms) began to state more or less that Lieberman had nothing to do with the song. However, newspaper interviews with Gimbel were dug up from the early 70s with quotes from him that supported the Lieberman origin story. It was perhaps a case of soured feelings as Lieberman and Gimbel had an affair back then (Gimbel was married at the time) and after their relationship ended and Lieberman left the publishing trio, old wounds on both sides surfaced in various ways that kept the three at odds. Regardless, "Killing Me Softly" became a classic thanks to Flack's version. Many artists have covered the song, but besides Al B. Sure! the only other artist to reach the chart with a version was one by Fugees in 1996. It was a major hit reaching #1 R&B, #2 Pop, #30 AC, and #48 Dance. It would earn Fugees the Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Duo or Group.


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

"Cross My Heart" by Eighth Wonder

Song#:  3723
Date:  11/19/1988
Debut:  96
Peak:  56
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  This English band was initially known as Spice in the early 80s and lead by Jamie Kensit. When their lead singer quit, Kensit decided to bring his 15-year-old sister Patsy on board as a replacement. By the mid-80s, the band had updated their name to Eighth Wonder and were seeking a record deal, but it would be a film director that would give the band their first break. Documentary/music video director Julian Temple was in the process of making his first major film Absolute Beginners when he saw the band perform. He was captivated by Patsy Kensit and offered her a role in the film. In addition, the band would get to contribute a song to the soundtrack ("Having It All"). This led to the band getting signed to CBS Records and in 1985 they recorded and released their first single "Stay with Me." It would only get to #65 in the UK, but it ended up topping the chart in Italy. A couple more singles would follow including another Top 10 hit in Italy "Who Will Remember?" A six-track album titled Brilliant Dreams would be assembled, but it was only released in Japan in '87. Working with various producers, the band then assembled their first full-length debut LP Fearless. The lead single would be "I'm Not Scared," a song written and produced by Pet Shop Boys. The song would take off and reach #7 UK and #1 Italy while making the Top 10 in several other European countries. Next up for release was "Cross My Heart." It would do well again in Europe reaching #13 UK/#10 Italy. The song got a push in the US and it would hit #10 at Dance. It then crossed over to the Pop chart where it stalled just shy of the Top 50. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to sell the album and it failed to chart in the US.

ReduxReview:  I was a bit surprised that this tune didn't crack the Top 40. It was a fun, catchy dance-pop tune that was well-produced. It sounded current for the time period and I bought the single. It did well on the Dance chart, but perhaps it just didn't get enough of a promotional push at pop stations. "I'm Not Scared" was the big hit in Europe for them. That Pet Shop Boys-produced track was quite good, but it wasn't one that a US audience would embrace. "Cross My Heart" had a better shot here and indeed it did make the charts. It just should have been a bigger hit.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  This song certainly got shopped around in '88. Written by Michael Jay, the tune was first picked up by 11-year-old Star Search winner Tracie Spencer for her debut album. Then Eighth Wonder was able to secure it for their Fearless album. Around the same time, Jay began to work with teen singer Martika and had her record the song for her '88 debut album (the same one that would spawn the #1 hit "Toy Soldiers"). Also in '88, Hong Kong singer/actress Sandy Lam recorded the song for her album City Rhythm. For her version, there was a lyrical translation into Cantonese with the title then being "Once We've Touched." Of the four versions recorded in '88, the only one released as a single was the one by Eighth Wonder.


Monday, January 10, 2022

"You Got It (The Right Stuff)" by New Kids on the Block

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3722
Date:  11/19/1988
Debut:  97
Peak:  3
Weeks:  26
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  This boy band nearly went extinct when "Please Don't Go Girl," the first single from their second album Hangin' Tough, initially got nowhere. They were on the verge of losing their recording contract, but luckily a Florida radio station began to spin the tune and it started to gain attention. Eventually it would make the Pop Top 10 at #10. With a temporary reprieve, the group went out on the road opening up for Tiffany and then this second single was issued out. This time around, MTV started to play the song's associated video and it helped to bring more fans on board. Like their previous hit, it slowly caught on and weaved its way all the way up the Pop chart to #3. It also got to #20 Dance and #28 R&B. It would sell well enough to go gold. The hit kicked off albums sales and around the time this single peaked, the LP would be in the Top 20 and already gold. NKOTB mania had begun.

ReduxReview:  I think two things helped to make this tune a hit. First was the "oh, oh, oh, oh, oh" part of the chorus, which was annoyingly catchy and difficult to ignore. Second was the associated video. Shot in black and white, it featured the guys doing a choreographed routine that fans started to imitate and others mocked. Still, both added up to a formula for success and the song took off. I wasn't into it at the time and had difficulty taking these tossed together groups seriously, but they did have their place and the music wasn't all that bad. Maurice Starr did a solid job in writing/producing tracks that were appropriate for the group, their attitude/style, and their age. This hooky pop track with an undercurrent of R&B was a good vehicle for the boy band and it was really the one that truly sparked their career. The song was pure pop marshmallow fluff, but it was well done and memorable.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  NKOTB was formed by songwriter/producer Maurice Starr. Starr had initially discovered New Edition and would write/co-produce their 1983 debut album Candy Girl. Starr worked on the LP in conjunction with producer Arthur Baker along with a few side musicians. After issues arose with New Edition that led to them parting ways with Starr, he then turned right around and developed NKOTB. For their 1986 self-titled debut album, Starr would mainly write, produce, and play the instruments, but there were some collaborators as well. However, for Hangin' Tough, Starr decided to just take it all on himself. Star would fully write eight song for the album, co-write two, produce them all, and perform all the instruments. The only area of the recording he had help with was the engineering and mixing. Other than that, Starr did it all himself. That formula would be in place again for the group's Christmas album along with their third studio LP 1990's Step By Step. But then like New Edition, NKOTB decided to separate themselves from Starr in order to go in a new direction for 1994's Face the Music. It didn't quite work out and it brought an end to their hit making days.


Sunday, January 9, 2022

"Smooth Criminal" by Michael Jackson

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3721
Date:  11/12/1988
Debut:  66
Peak:  7
Weeks:  15
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  After a record setting five #1 Pop singles from the album Bad, Jackson's sixth single, "Another Part of Me," faltered in two ways. Not only did it fail to reach #1, but it missed the Top 10, which brought a screeching halt to his tally of 17 consecutive Top 10s from his albums Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad. To add insult to injury, the label then decided to push out this seventh single and it ended up making the Pop Top 10. Had "Another Part of Me" made the Top 10, with this single Jackson would have tied his own record at the time of most Pop Top 10 singles from one album with seven, which he first achieved with Thriller. Still, six Top 10s with a record setting five #1s was impressive. Other countries would see a further two singles released with "Leave Me Alone" and "Liberian Girl," but neither would be issued in the US. Bad would end up selling over 11 million copies in the US, which was about a third of what Thirller sold. Some considered that a disappointing results, but in reality Thriller was an odd phenomenon that was just not going to be replicated so the fact that Jackson sold over 11 million (35 million worldwide) was quite the achievement. He would do nearly as well with his next effort, 1991's Dangerous, which sold 8 million US/32 million worldwide. That LP would have seven Pop chart singles including four Top 10s. Jackson's final Pop Top 10 hit before his death in 2009 came with 2001's "You Rock My World" (#10), which was from the LP Invincible.

ReduxReview:  This should have been the sixth single, no question. Had it been, the song not only would have continued Jackson's Top 10 streak, but it probably would have done better than #7. Instead, the far lesser "Another Part of Me" got issued and it put a pin in Jackson's pop hit balloon. Ah well. "Smooth Criminal" was one of the best tracks on Bad and is one that has continued to sound good decades later. Its mysterious, intense groove combined with the "Annie are you OK?" made it instantly memorable. I'd say it was the one song on the album that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Thriller. It was a great song to end the run of Bad singles. We wouldn't hear from Jackson again until 1991's "Black and White" with its face morphing video and controversial extended ending.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  This song was remade in 2001 by the US rock band Alien Ant Farm. Apparently, the idea to record the song came about when the band would play the main riff of the song during their stage warm ups. People who heard them do it then started to ask them to do the full song and they eventually did. It went over so well that they decided to recorded the tune for their second studio album Anthology. Its popularity led to the track being released as the second single from the album. It would end up reaching #1 on the Alt Rock chart, #18 Rock, and #23 Pop. It would become their most successful single and would help their album reach #11 and go platinum.