Saturday, February 12, 2022

"She Wants to Dance with Me" by Rick Astley

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3752
Date:  12/17/1988
Debut:  61
Peak:  6
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  Astley's debut LP, Whenever You Need Somebody, became a #10 double-platinum seller thanks to a pair of #1 hits and the #10 "It Would Take a Strong Strong Man." It would do even better in his UK homeland reaching #1, going 4x platinum, and spawning four Top 10 hits. With that success, the pressure was on for Astley to avoid the sophomore slump. He began working on tracks with the Stock Aitken Waterman team who had written and produced the hits on Astley's debut. The team would contribute four tracks to the album while the balance, save for one cover tune, were written by Astley and co-produced by him. Things were going well until a fire at a studio destroyed some of Astley's work. The incident delayed the LP, but Astley was able to regroup and complete his second effort Hold Me in Your Arms. To kick off the album, this first single, which was written by Astley, was pushed out. It would become his fourth straight Pop Top 10 while also getting to #5 AC and #13 Dance. In the UK, the tune would also reach #6. While it wasn't a smash hit, the song did well enough to prove that Astley could write and produce hits without the SAW team.

ReduxReview:  I've always kind of considered this a sort of answer song to Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)." It had the same kind of feel and production while the lyrics were like a guy's response to Whitney's track. It was a catchy, fun tune from Astley and it separated him a little bit from the SAW production machine.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Astley would "reimagine" this song and his other hits later in 2019 for a compilation titled The Best of Me. Disc one of the set featured his original hits along with other key album tracks. Disc two had newly arranged and recorded versions of Astley's hits. "She Wants to Dance with Me" is done in a more subdued acoustic style while his signature hit "Never Gonna Give You Up" was done in a ballad style backed by a piano. The collection was a hit in the UK where it reached #4.


Friday, February 11, 2022

"Angel of Harlem" by U2

Song#:  3751
Date:  12/17/1988
Debut:  74
Peak:  14
Weeks:  15
Genre:  Rock, Soul

Pop Bits:  U2 kicked off their hybrid live/studio double-LP Rattle and Hum with the single "Desire." The gold selling Grammy winner would make it to #3 on the Pop chart. To follow it up, this next track was issued out. It would end up topping the Rock chart while getting to #3 Modern Rock and #38 AC. On the Pop chart, the tune got near the Top 10, but halted a few rungs short. By the time this single debuted on the chart, the LP had already been certified for sales of 2 million. The hit would help push the album to the 3 million mark in January of '89.

ReduxReview:  Recorded at the famous Sun Studio in Memphis with the Memphis Horns, U2 was trying to capture the root sounds of American jazz, blues, and soul with this tune and for the most part they succeed. It was a nice rollicking tune replete with references to Billie Holiday and big blaring horn lines. U2 were sort of documenting their fascination with American music via the new studio tunes on Rattle and Hum and that is what this track sounded like - a tribute to a time, a place, and a sound. Therefore, it didn't really sound like U2 song. It came off as something more akin to a side project. In that respect, it was a nice tune that was well done. The confection certainly wouldn't make it on a list of U2's greatest song, but it is a fun little oddity in their catalog.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  This song was written as a sort homage to jazz singer Billie Holiday and the roots music of America. Bono was inspired to write the song when arriving in New York for the first time. When crossing a bridge into the city, the driver of the limo they were in turned on a radio station that was playing a Billie Holiday song. The tune along with the New York skyline set Bono's mind in motion and eventually "Angel of Harlem" came out. Billie Holiday, nicknamed Lady Day, began singing in Harlem night clubs in the 30s. Revered as one of the best vocalists of the era and beyond, Holiday had a successful career with several hits to her name including the 1939 classic "Strange Fruit." Unfortunately, along the way Holiday became dependent on drugs and alcohol. When at the peak of her career in 1947, she would be arrested for possession of narcotics. She served time in a federal prison camp and was released in the spring of '48. That case was called "The United States of America versus. Billie Holiday." The incident would be captured in the 2021 film The United States vs. Billie Holiday with R&B singer/songwriter Andra Day as Holiday. The role would win her a Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Drama. She would earn an Oscar nod for the role as well. Another singer would also play Holiday to acclaim. In 1972, Diana Ross would portray Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues. Like Andra Day, the role would earn Ross a Golden Globe (for Most Promising Newcomer, although she would also be nominated for Best Actress in a Drama) and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Billie Holiday's career and personal life would be tumultuous in the 50s and ultimately she would succumb to cirrhosis of the liver in 1959.


Thursday, February 10, 2022

"If We Never Meet Again" by Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers

Song#:  3750
Date:  12/17/1988
Debut:  91
Peak:  48
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  The Philly rocker and his band scored a #1 Rock track with "I'm Not Your Man," the first single from their second album Rumble. The song crossed over to Pop, but it could only reach #74. For a follow up, this track was selected for release. It would once again do well over at Rock where it topped out at #9. The single would cross over to Pop and it would do better than the band's previous entry, but it still couldn't crack the Top 40. The performance of the two songs helped the album reach #103.

ReduxReview:  While I prefer the original version of this song (see below), the heartland rock approach to it by Conwell was a good effort. The song had a pop feel and that made it more suitable for airplay beyond rock radio. It got near the Top 40, but couldn't quite make it even though it should have cracked that barrier. Sadly, I think Conwell got caught between what he wanted to do vs. what the label want him to do which then led to his two Columbia albums being mixed bags that didn't fully pay off. Conwell was an above average barroom rocker that got a deserved shot at the big time, but it seems the ever grinding wheels of the music biz kind of chewed him up.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Conwell's third album, Guitar Trouble, wasn't able to capitalize on the momentum generated by Rumble and it would fail to chart. Still, it contained two tracks that made the Rock Top 30 including the #15 "I'm Seventeen." Conwell would then be dropped by Columbia, but MCA swooped in and signed him. Along with the label change came changes in the band and Conwell dropping the Young Rumblers moniker. He recorded an album with an edgier sound (grunge had begun to explode around the same time), but it seems MCA was not a fan of it and the LP that was to be titled Neuroticus Maximus was shelved. Along with it went Conwell's contract.  He returned to Philly and played with a few local bands before joining the power pop outfit Buzz Zeemer. Cornwell would record two albums with the band. He would also return to the stage as a solo artist with his new band The Little Kings. In 2009, Cornwell would self-release his long shelved Neuroticus Maximus LP under the wink-wink title Thanks But No Thanks. He would eventually reunite with the Young Rumblers and in 2019 they would push out their first album together in nearly 30 years.  2) This song was written by Jules Shear and first recorded by his band Restless Sleepers. Following his 1985 solo effort The Eternal Return, which spawned the #57 "Steady," Shear would go on to form Restless Sleepers. They would sign with I.R.S. Records and record their 1988 debut album Big Boss Sounds! The Shear-penned "If We Never Meet Again" would be issued out as a single, but it would not chart in the US (it did reach #89 in Canada). However, some of Shear's cohorts were involved with making Conwell's Rumble album and got Shear to help out. The band recorded "If We Never Meet Again" along with "Tell Me What You Want Me to Be," which Shear co-wrote with Conwell.


Tuesday, February 8, 2022

"Doctorin' the Tardis" by The Timelords

Song#:  3749
Date:  12/17/1988
Debut:  94
Peak:  66
Weeks:  13
Genre:  Dance-Pop, House, Novelty

Pop Bits:  This UK duo was made up of musicians/producers Bill Drummond (formerly of the UK punk band Big in Japan) and Jimmy Cauty (of the pop/rock band Brilliant and later the husband of Alannah Currie of Thompson Twins). Their first venture together was as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu aka The JAMs. Their initial tracks mainly consisted of samples along with their vocals/raps. Their unusual approach gained them a cult audience with three of their singles making the UK Indie chart. They would also release two albums that made the UK Indie Top 10. After those successes, the pair started working on a new track where the idea was to make something out of the theme from the hit UK sci-fi TV show Doctor Who. Cauty was apparently working on some beats/rhythms for the track which to Drummond sounded like something from Gary Glitter's 1972 hit "Rock and Roll Part 2" (#2 UK/#7 US). They developed the track further and discovered they had created something totally mainstream and hit-worthy. The duo then took the song to another level by crediting it to The Timelords (a reference to characters in Doctor Who) and adapting the aliases Time Boy and Lord Rock. Released in June of '88, the quirky tune caught on quickly in the UK and reached #1. The song would end up making it over to the States where it got to #16 Dance and #17 Modern Rock. It crossed over to Pop, but couldn't quite made it into the top half despite spending over three months on the chart. The one-off novelty hit was reviled by critics in the UK with words like "rancid," "excruciating," and "nauseating" being tossed around. Yet the reviews didn't matter to UK listeners who pushed it to #1.

ReduxReview:  I remember buying this song on a total whim. I saw the title and then looked at the 45's sleeve with the car (see below) and thought...why not? When I first heard it, I knew something was up with it. I'd heard this before. It took me a bit to realize it was the Gary Glitter riff. The track was kind of fun, but at the time it was totally lost on me. Mainly because I had no idea about Doctor Who. I'd never seen an episode or even heard about it and therefore didn't know the theme. Seems weird now especially since the show had been on since '63 and might have been shown on our local PBS station, but I was clueless. Had I known something, the song would have made a lot more sense. I mean, I had zero clue as to what a Tardis was. I have a feeling I wasn't alone on this because the single didn't do that well in the US. With Doctor Who huge in the UK, it made sense the song would do better there. Hearing it now, the track does make more sense, but not fully because I still have yet to see an episode of the show (but at least know about it now). The tune still comes off as a novelty lark, but its references and goofiness makes it kinda fun.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) On the back of the single, the credits stated that Navigation was by Time Boy (Drummond) and Controls by Lord Rock (Cauty). The pair also included one more credit for "Talent" and that went to Ford Timelord...aka Cauty's 1968 Ford Galaxie. The car was formerly an American police vehicle that had been used by the duo in images for their JAMs releases. The car had been jazzed up with various JAMs themes and logos. For this single, they placed the car front and center on the cover and even included a blurb that said "Hi! I'm Ford Timelord. I'm a car, and I've made a record." The car was then featured in the video of the song.  2) Following the #1 success of the single, Drummond and Cauty wrote a manual on how to make a hit without any money or musical talent. Titled The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way) the book was a commentary on the pop music industry, yet laid out detailed instructions on how to create a hit. It would go on to influence artists like Edelweiss ("Bring Me Edelweiss," 1989, #5 UK/#7 US Dance) and The Pipettes ("Pull Shapes," 2006, #26 UK).  3) After The Timelords, Drummond and Cauty moved forward as The KLF. They would have major success in 1991 and 1992 garnering six straight UK Top 10s including the #1 "3 a.m. Eternal." That single would also be a big hit in the US getting to #1 Dance/#5 Pop. Another single, "Justified and Ancient," which featured country music star Tammy Wynette, got to #11 Pop/#2 Dance/#21 Modern Rock in the US.


Sunday, February 6, 2022

"Perfect" by Fairground Attraction

Song#:  3748
Date:  12/17/1988
Debut:  95
Peak:  80
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Pop, Folk-Rock, Singer/Songwriter

Pop Bits:  This London-based band was formed in 1987 by songwriter/guitarist Mark Nevin and Scottish singer Eddi Reader. Their unique alt/indie pop sound that had shades of skiffle, jazz, country, and Cajun music quickly gained attention when they began playing in clubs. It didn't take long for them to get an offer from a record label and they would end up signing on with RCA. Work began on their debut album The First of a Million Kisses and upon completion in the spring of '88 this first single was issued out in the UK. It became a major hit reaching #1. A second single, "Find My Love," would also do well peaking at #7. The singles sent the album to #2 and it would become a double-platinum seller. Eventually, the band would secure a US distribution deal and "Perfect" would finally be pushed out near the end of '88. While it wouldn't be a big hit, it's unusual sound worked for several radio formats and it would get to #23 Modern Rock, #31 AC, #80 Pop, and #85 Country. The album would then reach a minor #137. Their success at home in the UK would end up earning them two BRIT Awards for Best British Single ("Perfect") and Best British Album. It was an amazing start for the band, but then it all imploded. While prepping their second album in the fall of '89, Nevin and Reader were not getting along. Stories vary on what happened, but it seems like jealousy and ego got in the way. By January of '90, it all collapsed and the band was no more. After the break-up, RCA assembled an album of b-sides and other unreleased tracks titled Ay Fond Kiss which got to #55 in the UK.  

ReduxReview:  I'm not exactly sure where I first heard this song, but I know I loved it right away and went out to buy the single. It wasn't long before I bought the album and it quickly became a favorite. Nevin's tunes and Reader's voice along with the alt-folk sound of the band was just magical. It was music that came from old souls. "Perfect" was just an excellent single and it should have been a much bigger hit. However, I knew the style of it was going to be a hard sell at US pop stations despite it being so fun and catchy. I'm glad that I was able to hear it somewhere and that it led me to the album, which I still listen to every now and then. I was truly bummed when the band split. I wasn't much into Reader's solo career, but her second effort was quite good. I think that was because Nevin was on board for some of it. Such a shame that this band came and went so quickly.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Eddi Reader would start a solo career following the band's breakup. Her first four LPs would all reach the UK chart with her 1994 self-titled effort getting to #4. It would also earn her a BRIT for Best British Female Solo Artist. By the time Reader was recording the album, she and Nevin had set aside whatever happened with Fairground Attraction and they would work together on occasion. Nevin would contribute four songs to the Eddi Reader album including one he wrote with Kirsty MacColl titled "Joke (I'm Laughing)."  2) This song was remade by the American country band Baillie and the Boys. Their 1990 version was released as a single and it would make it to #23 on the Country chart. The band was headed up by lead singer Kathie Baillie and her husband, guitarist Michael Bonagura. Over the course of three albums from '87 to '90, the band scored seven Country Top 10s. Their chart success came to a sudden halt after their third album, but the band continued to tour and occasionally record in the years following.