Saturday, September 24, 2022

"Friends" by Jody Watley with Eric B. & Rakim

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3936
Date:  06/17/1989
Debut:  76
Peak:  9
Weeks:  18
Genre:  R&B, New Jack Swing, Rap

Pop Bits:  Watley's second album, Larger Than Life, got kicked off in a solid way with the gold selling #2 single "Real Love." It was her fourth Pop Top 10 and she aimed for a fifth one with this follow-up single. Indeed it would make the Pop Top 10 while getting to #3 R&B and #7 Dance. By this point the album had already peaked at #16 Pop/#5 R&B and gone gold.

ReduxReview:  As unique and influential as this song was when it first became a hit, it is seemingly ignored today. I'm certain that I haven't heard this song since it was originally on the chart. However, I guess I'm not fully surprised by that. It was a good, hooky song with solid rap sections and a good new jack beat, but it certainly wasn't a classic. It also wasn't as memorable as some of Watley's previous hits. So while it helped to usher in a new era of collabs, it didn't have long enough legs to keep it alive much beyond its chart heydays.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  These days the Pop chart is littered with rap/sung collaborations between two (or sometimes more) artists and has been for decades. However, that was not the case in the late 80s with rap still trying to make further strides in gaining more mainstream acceptance. While a few rap/sung collabs did exist at the time, none were becoming major crossover hits. An argument could be made that Chaka Khan's 1984 #3 hit "I Feel for You" was the first big rap/sung collab hit, but many folks discount it because Grandmaster Melle Mel didn't get a "featured" or "with" credit on the record and the rap was more like recited rhythmic lines that mainly just repeated Khan's name. Plus, it happened without Khan's knowledge - it was sort of thrust upon her by producer Arif Mardin - and when she heard it for the first time she did not like it, but was convinced to keep it in. Therefore, most people recognize this hit by Watley and Eric B. & Rakim as the first big mainstream rap/sung collaboration. Eric B. & Rakim were given credit alongside Watley with their rap sections coming later in the song. The tactic was kind of sly. It was a way to sort of sneak rap onto pop radio giving both the genre and the rap artist further exposure. While the floodgates were not necessarily thrown open after this hit, collabs began to slowly gain in popularity throughout the 90s. The first rap/sung collab to top the Pop chart came in 1990 when crooner Glenn Medieros teamed with Bobby Brown for the gold selling "She's Ain't Worth It." Collabs became such chart staples that by 2002 a Grammy category was created just for them. Initially called Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, the inaugural award was given to the song "Let Me Blow Ya Mind" by Eve featuring Gwen Stefani. As of 2020, the title of the award was updated to Best Melodic Rap Performance to accommodate not only collabs, but also solo work that contain both melody and rap.


Thursday, September 22, 2022

"Love Train" by Holly Johnson

Song#:  3935
Date:  06/17/1989
Debut:  82
Peak:  65
Weeks:  6
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  Johnson experienced a huge amount of success as the lead singer of the British band Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Their 1984 debut album Welcome to the Pleasuredome became a triple-platinum #1 in the UK (gold, #33 US) thanks to three consecutive #1 hits including the controversial "Relax" (#10 US). Having such major success can affect the inner workings of a band and that seemed to happen with Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Following the relative failure of their more rock-leaning 1986 second album Liverpool, it seemed that Johnson and the rest of the band differed on their direction and it wasn't long before conflicts arose. Once the tour for Liverpool was finished, Johnson decided to quit and head out on a solo career. However, the band's label ZTT wasn't gonna let Johnson just walk away. They were going to hold him to a contract he had signed and took him to court to make sure Johnson could not just leave and record for another label. A two year legal battle ensued and in the end, the court found that the contract was way too restrictive and unreasonable. Therefore, Johnson was free to leave the label. He then signed up with MCA Record and began work on a debut solo album. He would finish off Blast before the end of '88 and would issue out this first single. In the UK, it would become a #4 hit. It would be followed by a second #4 "Americanos." The album would hit #1 and go platinum. With the LP doing well at home, MCA chose to push it out in the US. Unfortunately it didn't fare as well. This first single would stall in the bottom half of the Pop chart while "Americanos" would be a minor #36 Dance entry. With those results, the album would fail to chart.

ReduxReview:  With Frankie Goes to Hollywood hitting it quite big in the UK, folks there were familiar with frontman Holly Johnson. While the band's first album did well in the US, they were not the superstars that they were in Britain. Therefore, Holly Johnson was not necessarily known, especially since four years had passed since "Relax" became a hit. With a good built-in audience in the UK, this song was able to grab attention at make the Top 10. However, in the US it was like Johnson was a brand new unknown artist and so the song had to be pretty dang good if he was going to breakthrough in the States. Unfortunately, this tune didn't fit the bill. It was actually quite a nice track that chugged along well and featured Johnson's unique voice. It was a tasty slice of Euro dance-pop, but I don't think it was strong enough to draw in a US audience that was more into hair metal, freestyle, and Madonna. The album was pretty good as well.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) Queen guitarist Brian May supplied the guitar solo for this song  2) On first glance at the title, some folks may have thought this was a cover tune. Alas it was not. The song was an original written by Johnson. It had nothing to do with the 1973 #1 Pop/#1 R&B hit of the same name by The O'Jays.  3) In the UK, Johnson would follow up the success of Blast with 1991's Dreams That Money Can't Buy. Its first two singles failed to generate much interest and that left the album off the chart. After that disappointment, Johnson turned to his other love, painting. He would focus most of the 90s on his art, but would return to music in 1999 with the indie album Soulstream. He would not record again until 2014 when he released the critically well-received Europa.


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

"Cover of Love" by Michael Damian

Song#:  3934
Date:  06/17/1989
Debut:  84
Peak:  31
Weeks:  12
Genre:  Pop

Pop Bits:  After a few early attempts, Young and Restless soap star Michael Damian finally grabbed his first Pop Top 10 with the #1 "Rock On," a remake of the 1973 #5 David Essex hit. Initially included the soundtrack to the comedy flick Dream a Little Dream, it would also be included on Damian's third album Where Do We Go from Here. To follow up the hit, this next track was selected for release. The song was an original co-written by Damian and producers Larry Weir and Troy Johnson along with Janeen Best. The track just missed out on the Pop Top 30. That result didn't do much for sales of the album, which had already peaked at #61.

ReduxReview:  It's not a bad thing to have a cover tune become your first major hit, but the trick is that you gotta have an original that is just as good or better to follow it up in order to keep folks interested. Damian gave it a go with this tune that he co-wrote and although it wasn't a bad song, it wasn't nearly as catchy or memorable as "Rock On." Thanks to that hit, this tune was able to make the Top 40, but had it been released ahead of "Rock On," I don't think it would have charted. It was a good album track, but it just wasn't single material.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  This song was co-written by Larry Weir and produced by him along with Tom Weir. Both are the brothers of Michael Damien, whose given name was Weir. The Weir family consisted of nine siblings and in the early 70s, they all got together to form the family band The Weirz. They would release three indie albums from '75-'82 with Larry writing most all of the songs and producing along with Tom. They grabbed enough attention to get signed to Curb Records and were able to issue out a couple singles for the label in '83 and '84, but neither charted. Meanwhile, Michael was appearing on The Young and the Restless and trying to kick off a solo career. His brothers helped and it paid off when "Rock On," which was produced by Larry and Tom (with Michael), made it to #1.


Tuesday, September 20, 2022

"Angel Eyes" by The Jeff Healey Band

Top 10 Alert!
One-Hit Wonder Alert!
Song#:  3933
Date:  06/17/1989
Debut:  85
Peak:  5
Weeks:  22
Genre:  Blues-Rock

Pop Bits:  This Canadian musician began to play a few years following the loss of his eyes at the age of one due to a rare cancer. He developed his own unique way of playing guitar, which had Healey playing it flat on top of his lap. He increased his skills over the years until finally forming his own band, Blue Direction, when he was fifteen. In 1985, he would start the Jeff Healey Band with bassist Joe Rockman and drummer Tom Stephen. They quickly picked up club work around the Toronto area along with a sizable following. In 1986, they would record the indie single "Adrianna / See the Light." That single along with a video for "See the Light" finally caught the attention of Arista Records and in 1988 the trio was signed to the label. Work began on a debut album titled See the Light and the first single released from it was the John Hiatt-penned "Confidence Man." While it would do well at Rock and get to #11, it would failed to make the Pop chart. The album's title track would be next and it would reach #33 Rock. By this point in time, the album had sold a few copies and initially peaked at #68. Still believing the album could do better, Arista went ahead and released this third single, which was co-written by John Hiatt and Fred Koller. The soulful ballad would catch on and become the trio's breakthrough. The single would be able to crack the Pop Top 10 while also getting to #7 AC and #24 Rock. The hit helped the album rebound and it would end up reaching #22. Eventually it would become a platinum seller. Unfortunately, beside a very minor #91 single in 1993, this would be the band's only significant entry on the Pop chart. Although they would go on to have hits at Rock, this lone Pop hit often got them tagged as a one-hit wonder.

ReduxReview:  This was a song that sounded like it should have been included in some romantic comedy or drama. It just has that feel. Of course it was well-crafted by one of my favorite artists John Hiatt. I'm sure Hiatt wasn't sad that Healey got the song into the Top 10, but it was a bummer that it couldn't have been Hiatt accomplishing that. He was never able to get a song on the Pop chart. However, in '88 he did take "Slow Turning" to #8 on the Rock chart. Three songs that Hiatt had written also became Top 10 Country hits including Rosanne Cash's 1987 #1 "This Is the Way We Make a Broken Heart." Healey did a fine job with Hiatt's song and it was a well deserved Top 10. Healey was an excellent musician. I got to see him once when he opened up for Bonnie Raitt back in the day. While he never had another major Pop hit, this one was enough to keep him popular with audiences for many years.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Included on See the Light was a cover of the blues standard "Hideaway." The instrumental was recorded by Freddie King in 1960 and issued out as a single. In 1961, it would reach #5 R&B and become King's biggest hit on the Pop chart getting to #25. King and Sonny Thompson were credited as composers. The song would be on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. It would also be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Healey's instrumental version would end up receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. It would be the first of two nominations for Healey and the band in that category. The other came when they did an instrumental version of The Yardbird's "Shapes of Things" for their 1995 album Cover to Cover.  2) Of course any artist in an offshoot genre like blues rock was going to have a hard time having hits on the Pop chart and Healey hit that wall with his second album 1990's Hell to Pay. While it would featured a pair of Rock Top 10s, none if its singles made the Pop chart. Still, the rock radio action along with a loyal audience helped the LP get to #27 and go gold. The band would do two more albums for Arista that performed less well. Over the years Healey would continue to record with his band and also as a solo artist. For much of his solo work he moved from the blues to jazz. Unfortunately, Healey would die from cancer in 2008 at the age of 41.


Monday, September 19, 2022

"Dancing in Heaven (Orbital Be-Bop)" by Q-Feel

Spotlight Alert!

Song#:  3932
Date:  06/17/1989
Debut:  96
Peak:  75
Weeks:  7
Genre:  Synthpop

Pop Bits:  Q-Feel was a British synthpop outfit headed up by Martin Page and Brian Fairweather. They caught the ear of Jive Records who signed on the band. An initial single titled "Doctor on the Radio" was issued out in 1981, but it didn't make an impression. Still, this second single with its unusual subtitle would be pushed out in '82. It would end up becoming a major hit around L.A., which helped it get to #18 on the Club Airplay chart. Unfortunately, the song couldn't catch on elsewhere and that left it peaking outside of the Pop Chart at a very minor #110. The band would issued a self-titled album in '82, but it and two more singles failed to chart. Page and Fairweather then put Q-Feel on hiatus and went on to work behind the scenes writing and producing. Still, folks around L.A. remembered the tune and when it came time to assemble songs for the 1985 rom-com Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, the track was revived for the movie and the soundtrack album. It would not be released as a single. The charting song from the soundtrack was "(Come On) Shout" by Alex Brown (#76). Then came the old songs revival period of the late 80s where past singles would find a new audience usually thanks to a DJ who would put the tune back in rotation. It seems like this Q-Feel tune may have gotten caught up in that revival hype and as summer arrived in '89, the track started to get enough attention that the single got reissued. This time it made the Pop chart, but it wouldn't get very far. While Page and Fairweather probably appreciated the additional attention the song got, they were already on their next career paths.

ReduxReview:  This definitely has that early 80s Euro synthpop feel along the lines of Ultravox, Thomas Dolby, etc. The urgent track was hooky and fun and it seemed to catch on out in L.A., but for some reason it just didn't click elsewhere. That was kind of too bad as I probably would have bought this single back in the day. This '89 revival hooked in a few more people and I think its popularity has actually continued to grow over the years. Still, it is more of an 80s cult song. The album was a fun listen as well. Definitely deserving of a Spotlight and hopefully some folks will finally discover this quirky gem.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) Thanks to the success of "Dancing in Heaven" in the L.A. area, Martin Page and Brian Fairweather moved to the city and began working with other artists. They had a minor hit right out the gate writing "Invisible Hands" for Kim Carnes (#40, 1983). They would write a few other charting songs for Carnes along with ones by Earth, Wind & Fire. Page would then go off on his own and co-write two major hits with Bernie Taupin, Heart's "These Dreams" and Starship's "We Built This City," both of which reached #1. Page would set out on a solo career in 1994 and score the #14 Pop/#1 AC hit "The House of Stone and Light."  2) Q-Feel got its name via a suggestion from Page's father, who had worked in the aerospace industry. It seems that the force a pilot feels when using the joystick on a jet plane was known as the q-feel. Page's dad seemed to think that would be a cool name for the band and they apparently agreed.