Friday, April 29, 2011

Lita Ford -- "Kiss Me Deadly"

Kiss Me Deadly - Lita

(Debuted April 22, 1988, Peaked #12, 23 Weeks on the Chart

All I really need to say is that I was 15 years old when this song came out. I'm not above admitting that the sight of a platinum blonde wearing leather and playing a hard-edged guitar might have stirred a fire inside me at that age. In fact, I'm pretty sure now that it was the entire point of her appearance.

Though "Kiss Me Deadly" was the first hit Lita Ford had on the American pop chart, she had been in the music business since she was a teenager. During the 1970s, she was the guitarist for The Runaways, a band made up entirely of teenage girls but playing a hard rock style. After that group split due to internal dissent over their musical direction, Ford released a couple of solo albums during the 1980s but didn't chart any of her singles. Then, there was a nice confluence of events when she released her album Lita in 1988: MTV had specialized programming focused of hard rock/heavy metal acts -- Headbangers Ball, then hosted by VJ Adam Curry -- as hard-edged acts began enjoying a surge of popularity and "hair bands" entered a Golden Age. Since Ford was very photogenic, the video definitely helped propel her.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Men Without Hats -- "Pop Goes the World"

Pop Goes the World - The Silver Collection

(Debuted October 31, 1987, Peaked #20, 20 Weeks on the Chart)

I really wasn't much of a fan of "The Safety Dance" when that was a hit in 1983. Even though I was in the sixth grade at the time, the song seemed a little goofy. In early 1988, I noticed the picture sleeve for "Pop Goes the World" at a mall record store and thought, "Oh great...them again" with all the sarcasm a 15 year-old can muster. A short time later, I heard the song on the radio without the benefit of the artist name and liked it a little bit.

Today, seems like a quaint little pop song; not great, not awful, but still infused with an annoying "pop" gimmick that is repeated throughout the song. The music video (shown in the YouTube clip below) featured the word "Pop!" and other interjections in a cartoon style, similar to the way certain sound effects appeared in the fight sequences of the 1960s Batman TV show. The lyrics read like a jumbled mess of abstract thoughts but appeared to make an analogy between a man and woman playing in a band to getting together and starting a family.

For a single from 1988, it's I said earlier, not great because it's watered down by the faux-symphonic electronic music that pervaded the era but not terrible either. Though it's been largely overlooked in the U.S., "Pop Goes the World" was #2 in Canada. It would be the biggest hit they ever had in their own country.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Icehouse -- "Crazy"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted October 17, 1987, Peaked #14, 20 Weeks on the Chart)

Things I learned from listening to Rick Dees' weekly countdown during the late 1980s:

"Icehouse" is a slang term for a sanitarium or a center for patients with psychological problems (funny that I can remember that and not the lessons from my algebra class). That said, it's interesting that a group with such a  name would release a single called "Crazy."

Actually, this song is more in the mold of the old Groucho Marx saying: "I wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have someone like me as a member" than it is about a person who's possibly insane.

The band had several hits in their native Australia, but only a handful of singles reached the U.S. pop chart between 1980 and 1989. "Crazy" was the first of their two American Top 40 hits, both from 1988. The song was co-written by John Oates, who was keeping busy as his partner Daryl Hall was trying a solo career.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Smithereens -- "Only a Memory"

Only a Memory - Green Thoughts

(Debuted May 21, 1988, Peaked #92, 4 Weeks on the Chart)

By 1988, I was listening to a lot less Top 40 and a lot more Rock and alternative radio. One example of how much is this song. It stalled at #92, which surprises me because if there was a personal soundtrack to the Summer of 1988, that song would be on it. However, it also hit #1 on the Modern Rock chart, which makes more sense since that was a period where I'd started turning away from Top 40 and embracing other (mainly guitar-heavy) formats.

The Smithereens came from New Jersey. Dennis Diken, Jim Babjak and Mike Mesaros were high school classmates and formed the band with singer/guitarist Pat DiNizio in 1980. They spent a few years working the clubs and bars around their home area and released an EP in 1983. A full-length LP followed in '86 but the group was still struggling to attract an audience despite very positive reviews and a cult following. That would change with the Green Thoughts album in 1988. "Only a Memory" led off that LP and was its first single.

The band's sound was different from much of the era's synth-heavy, dance beat-driven music. Their influences lay in British Invasion rock and the guitars were more than just a simple studio calculation. There were still catchy hooks to be heard, but it stood above the morass of what was passing for pop music in 1988 because it was familiar, yet very different. Unfortunately, they may have arrived a few years early. Had they first appeared in the 1990s as grunge changed the musical landscape, they may have gained a much larger following.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers -- "I'm Not Your Man"

I'm Not Your Man (Single Version) - Rumble

(Debuted September 24, 1988, Peaked #74, 10 Weeks on the Chart)

This song was one I heard several times as a kid and really should have paid more attention to. While I was going through girl trouble as a teenager, this song could have helped me develop a better attitude. The message was: you're not going to change me, and I'm too wild to settle down with you...I'm just not ready to commit. While I was going through relationships where we just weren't compatible (though thoroughly enjoyable in their own way), such an attitude may have helped me get over when the inevitable crash came.

Tommy Conwell was a guitarist from Philadelphia who was influenced by blues as well as rock. After a successful run in his region beginning in 1986, "I'm Not Your Man" was his first nationwide single and his first pop hit. It never managed to make the Top 40, but was played heavily enough on rock stations to hit #1 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Danny Wilson -- "Mary's Prayer"

Mary's Prayer - Meet Danny Wilson

(Debuted June 6, 1987, Peaked #23, 20 Weeks on the Charts)

I knew a girl named Mary in 1987. She lived in a different town so I never got to see her that often, but I enjoyed the few times we spent together. She was a couple of years older than me, so she moved on with life by the time summer came around. Ironically, that same summer I heard this song in heavy rotation on the local radio station. I thought of her every time I heard the song that year. Actually, I still sometimes wonder how things turned out for her because I never saw her again after that.

But I'm not here to write about her.

Danny Wilson wasn't a person. Instead, it was the name of the group, which -- like Jethro Tull, Alice Cooper and others who used names -- led to a little bit of confusion. They were originally called Spencer Tracy but changed it after objections from the late actor's family. Instead, they used a fictional name, taken from the 1952 Frank Sinatra film Meet Danny Wilson. That film also served as the title of the album that included "Mary's Prayer." Despite their obvious affection for American screen legends, Danny Wilson hailed from Scotland.

While the lyrics point to the good girl who got away after the one she liked took her for granted, there certainly is a fair amount of religious imagery as well. Going beyond the use of prayer in the title, other words such as "blessed," "heaven," "save me" and "light" appear, as does the idea of saying ten Hail Marys. This may have confused listeners who assumed Mary was the one in the Bible, even though a line like "blessed is the millionaire who shares your wedding day" implies that it doesn't.

"Mary's Prayer" showed up later on in the 1998 film There's Something About Mary. It appears in a segment that was supposed to take place in 1985, which annoys the part of me that keeps shouting, "wrong year!"

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Level 42 -- "Lessons in Love"

Lessons In Love - Lessons In Love

(Debuted April 4, 1987, Peaked #12, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

While doing some background research on this song, I came across this really great comment from the AllMusic page for the album/CD Running in the Family: "the whole project reeks of 1987." That's close to what I've said about a couple of other songs this week. It's a product of its times...when something tries to sound "with it" or "modern," it risks becoming dated when the times change. I know what seems like 1987 because I was around then, and others who were there understand when I mention the era. However, it's hard for me to explain 1987 to my young daughter because she doesn't have that frame of reference.

But I'm getting sidetracked, because I actually like "Lessons in Love" as a song. It would be Level 42's biggest hit in their native U.K., but fell short of the Top 10 showing that their 1986 hit "Something About You" reached in the U.S. And even though it reached a healthy #12 peak on the Billboard pop chart, it's been largely forgotten.

Mark King was the singer and bassist, as well as one of the co-writers of "Lessons in Love." His nimble fingers helped popularize a "slap and pop" bass playing style that is on display in the song. While that was a big part of the band's jazz/funk roots, their long-time fans were beginning to feel that they were abandoning the sound for catchy hooks and pop craftmanship at that point. The success wasn't as fleeting as one might expect; brothers Boon and Phil Gould left the band late in '87, after an exhausting tour schedule. Level 42 still continued to hit at home through their first breakup in 1994, but "Lessons in Love" would be their final American Top 40 hit.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Boston -- "Can'tcha Say (You Believe in Me)/Still in Love"

Can'tcha Say (You Believe In Me) [Still In Love] - Third Stage

(Debuted March 7, 1987, Peaked #20, 13 Weeks on the Charts)

To a 14 year-old's ears, Boston's music was like candy. Since I was too young to really get into the band when they released their first two albums, I really didn't understand what was so great about them when Third Stage came out. "Amanda" was a #1 single, but it was kind of lame to me. The followup, "We're Ready" was a little better but still not as great as the adults were claiming the group was. Then, one day while doing my homework with the radio on, I heard the guitar solo for "Can'tcha Say" and it made me want to find their other records.

At that age, I wasn't disappointed when I discovered the earlier records. They were much better than the neo-Adult Contemporary sound I was hearing from the Third Stage singles. In the process, I begame a big fan and began exploring some of the other 1970s bands known as Classic Rock today. As for the 1980s version of the band, it would be the final hit single they had before needing another long period to put out another record.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Other Ones -- "Holiday"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted August 1, 1987, Peaked #29, 17 Weeks on the Charts)

"Holiday" was a hit in the autumn of 1987. At the time, I had just moved to another state and was still getting used to my new high school and distinctly remember hearing this song during that time period. It would be the only American hit The Other Ones ever had.

They were a mulitinational group, made up mainly of Australian natives, but based in Berlin, West Germany. The main vocalists were Jayney Klimek and her brother Alf. Another brother, Johnny, was in the group on bass guitar. The Australian and European connection explains the use of the term "Holiday" in the song. In the U.S., a holiday is a day off from work or school, but in places like Europe, the U.K. and Australia, the word "holiday" is synonomous with what we call a "vacation" on this side of the ocean. Perhaps this played a small part in why the song wasn't a bigger hit here.

Though I remember it, the song really doesn't stand out much from other music from 1987. It features a steady beat on a drum machine, liberal use of synthesizers and a clean production, but also an unusual use of the saxophone to accent the lyrics.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Kane Gang -- "Motortown"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted October 17, 1987, Peaked #36, 16 Weeks on the Charts)

You might expect a song called "Motortown" to be a salute to the 60s R&B that made Motown records call itself "The Sound of Young America." Instead, it's very much a 1980s-sounding song. While it was obviously influenced by soul (or Northern Soul, since they were English), the song wasn't going to be mistaken for something that came from Berry Gordy's label. Nor was the electronic studio music used on the track going to be compared with The Funk Brothers.

The Kane Gang followed this record up with their version of a song that was originally done by a Motown act, Dennis Edwards of The Temptations. It didn't make the Top 40, though, and they never managed to get another hit in the U.S. after that. Singer Martin Brammer went on to become a songwriter after the band broke up in 1991.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sade -- "Never As Good As the First Time"

Never As Good As the First Time - Promise

(Debuted March 29, 1986, Peaked #20, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

Last week, I mentioned a short relationship I had with a girl named Sherry. It didn't work out then, but we decided to give it another try a year later. However,a couple days later, I came to the understanding that she was using our "relationship" to get an excuse to get over by where I lived so she could see a guy she really liked. While I went through the normal range of emotions a teenager experiences during a disappointing episode like that, the current Sade single that was playing on my radio station gave me some advice.

At the time the song came out, I really didn't care for Sade or her sound. It just wasn't the style I was interested in hearing at the age of 13. As the years have passed and my age fell more in line with the audience the music was originally geared to attract, I picked up on some nuances that I never noticed when I was younger. Perhaps that's the whole point of the was an adult subject, told from a point of view an adolescent just couldn't understand. Not that I would have listened even if it were explained to me at the time.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

John Cougar Mellencamp -- "Rain On the Scarecrow"

Rain On the Scarecrow - Scarecrow

(Debuted April 26, 1986, Peaked #21, 12 Weeks on the Charts)

It was interesting to see John Mellencamp mature during the 1980s. At first, his hit singles were pop tunes that fans liked but critics weren't all that crazy about. After his breakthrough LP American Fool, he began changing his image and the songs that would make it to Top 40 radio. The first order of business was to take his name back: John Cougar became John Cougar Mellencamp in 1983 and the "Cougar" was dropped altogether later on. His 1983 LP Uh-Huh featured a couple of singles that were less record company-dictated attitude and more of the material people might expect from an Indiana boy.

And then came Scarecrow. At the time, the plight of farmers in Mellencamp's home state was becoming a big deal, and he saw a need to help do something about it. The record was filled with images that related to those of us in small-town America (even if my particular small town wasn't located in the Midwest). It was a very blue-collar record.

To prove that he wasn't just trying to sell records, Mellencamp was a part of the group that organized Farm Aid to benefit farmers and has played in most of the events since 1985. Say what you will about his outspoken political stance, but there's no denying the man is fiercely proud of where he came from.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Robert Tepper -- "No Easy Way Out"

No Easy Way Out - Rocky IV (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

(Debuted January 26, 1986, Peaked #22, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

Among the songs from the film Rocky IV, "Burning Heart" and "Living in America" were both bigger hits. However, neither of them was as good as "No Easy Way Out," and in my opinion, neither was given as good a scene in the movie as the montage where the hero drives around in his Lamborghini trying to get over the death of his friend Apollo Creed. While it wasn't quite as good as the scene where he runs to the top of a mountain and trains in the uncompromising winter cold in order to get the chance to kick some steroid-injected commie ass, it's a scene that evokes an era where a well-placed song (preferably upbeat) can help a montage tell a story. 

Come to think of it, that is something that died in the movies shortly after MTV began cutting back on showing music videos all day in favor for regular programs. Coincidence?

I thought it was great song at the time, and it would pop up in the weight room at my high school for the next several years as we worked out for the football team. In fact, that was a great song to hear while working out.

Despite being seen as a newcomer, Tepper had previously co-written a song called "Into the Night" with fellow One-Hit artist Benny Mardones. The New Jersey native received little support from his record company after Rocky IV left the movie theaters, however.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A-Ha -- "The Sun Always Shines on TV"

The Sun Always Shines On T.V. - Hunting High and Low

(Debuted November 30, 1985, Peaked #20, 16 Weeks on the Charts)

As much as I feel A-Ha's #1 hit "Take on Me" was played to death both on my radio and on MTV during its chart run, I feel that its followup "The Sun Always Shines on TV" was underrated. Not just the single, but the video as well. Personally, I felt the music was more complex. The synthesizer parts were more layered, and the vocals were more interesting. It definitely deserved a better run, especially on teh heels of such a massive hit.

Interestingly, I remember that I first heard "The Sun Always Shines on TV" during the winter. I lived in nothern New York (which is usually really cold at that time of year), but that particular winter gave us a lot more snow than normal. However, consideing the band's Norwegian roots, the line "the sun always shines on TV" doesn't seem odd if you're snowed in. I definitely remember seeing shows that were set in California and Miami and thinking that -- despite the violent crime in some of those shows -- it was better than where I was because nobody worried about getting two feet of snow out of the driveway.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Divinyls -- "Pleasure and Pain"

Pleasure And Pain - Essential

(Debuted January 25, 1986, Peaked #76, 7 Weeks on the Chart)

For those who weren't aware of Divinyls before 1991's "I Touch Myself," here's proof they were at it long before that hit.

Divinyls was a group led by singer Christina Amphlett and guitarist Mark McEntee. formed in 1980 in Australia and had some hits in their home country. To help break them in the U.S., the band recorded "Pleasure & Pain," a song co-written by 1970s super producer Mark Chapman and Holly Knight. They had previously collaborated on Bat Benatar's hit "Love is a Battlefield." Chapman produced their LP What a Life! and a video of "Pleasure and Pain" was filmed. 

Despite Amphlett's good looks and the S&M angle of the song's lyrics, the single didn't do as well as expected. It was the band's only pop hit in America until 1991, when they went with a female masturbation angle and took it into the Top 10. Since "Pleasure and Pain" missed the Top 40, Divinyls is sometimes tagged as a One-Hit wonder. However, it deserved to be a bigger hit than it was.

Friday, April 8, 2011

REO Speedwagon -- "One Lonely Night"

One Lonely Night - Wheels Are Turnin'

(Debuted May 30, 1985, Peaked #19, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

Yesterday's blog entry featured a song from a band whose sound has aged the last three decades well. As for today...well, let's just say they're often viewed better in the perspective of their time.

I remember hearing "One Lonely Night" in 1985 and thinking it was a better song than the single it followed, "Can't Fight This Feeling." However, I felt both songs were inferior to the first single that came off the Wheels Are Turnin' album, "I Do' Wanna Know." At the time, I didn't appreciate the soft ballads and didn't understand their appeal beyond the fact that the girls liked them. Today, I've come to realize why one song is still remembered and the other isn't.

That's not to say that "One Lonely Night" should be forgotten. While its synthesizer part dates it, it features a guitar solo -- remember when every other song that played on the radio had to have a guitar solo tacked onto the middle eight? -- that probably dates it even further. Having a rock-styled guitar solo in the middle of a ballad is sometimes a tough sell, but it sure shows up in a lot of the ones that came out back then.

"One Lonely Night" was written by keyboardist Neal Doughty, a departure for the group since the hit singles mainly came from singer Kevin Cronin. What made the song memorable to me as a 12 year-old listener, however, was the video that accompanied the tune on MTV. Shown below as a YouTube video, it uses a pun on the work "night" and features a Medieval knight who searches for his true love. Like I said, I was 12 then, living in a small town and easily amused at that age.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hall & Oates -- "Possession Obsession"

Possession Obsession - Big Bam Boom (Remastered)

(Debuted June 1, 1985, Peaked #30, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

Today is John Oates's birthday (he's 62 now), so here's a rare hit record featuring him on lead vocals.

While many casual fans think of Oates as the silent partner of the duo due to the fact that Daryl Hall handles much of the microphone time on their hit records, it's easily forgotten that Oates has a voice as well. In fact, he was the singer on the duo's version of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," a big part of the Voices LP that helped kick-start their career in 1980.

The video (shown in the YouTube video below) is interesting. For all the criticism Hall & Oates received back then for being "hacks," Oates literally plays a hack...a New York City cab driver. I often wonder whether that was a subtle jab at the critics, but it's safe to say that time has been much kinder to the duo than it has for many artists from the 1980s who were better regarded by the snobs in the music press. Two big parts of the sound are featured in the video: bassist T-Bone Wolk and guitarist G.E. Smith. I never considered it a mere coincidence that the band's greatest success came while they were part of it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kate Bush -- "Running Up That Hill"

Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) - Hounds of Love

(Debuted September 7, 1985, Peaked #30, 19 Weeks on the Chart)

I know I heard this song a few times when it was new, but didn't remember much more than the name of the artist. At 12 years old, I wasn't exactly tuned into Kate Bush's material, except to notice she was a redhead (a weakness I've dealt with my entire adult life). Instead, I learned to appreciate this song as I matured, which seems to be the case with a lot of songs.

Notice I said "matured" there. I'm still not convinced I've grown up yet.

I've seen some different interpretations about what "Running Up That Hill" means. Some have said it was about a woman getting in touch with her own sexuality, others have noticed the "make a deal with God" line and said she was finding religion. Those two interpretations alone show how different people can see vastly different things from the same words.

The song was originally written by Bush as "A Deal With God," but title was changed when she realized it wasn't going to get played on the radio or sell any copies to people who weren't already fans of hers. It went on to be her only Top 40 American hit despite her popularity in the U.K. and among college radio types.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Greg Kihn -- "Lucky"

Lucky - Lost Hits of the 80's (All Original Artists & Versions)

(Debuted February 16, 1985, Peaked #30, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

Talk about being taken to a place in your life when you hear a song...

This song was a hit right when I had a girlfriend named Sherry. Since I was listening to Casey Kasem's American Top 40 show every Sunday at that time, I remember that whenever I hear the song. Ironically, its short lifetime within the Top 40 (four weeks) was about the length of time I went out with Sherry. As a result, this song and a few others from that month will be forever meshed in my mind with the memory of an old girlfriend. I'll be sure to mention this again in future entries.

Since Greg Kihn seemed to always use a pun on his last name for his albums, "Lucky" was from one called Citizen Kihn. It was Kihn's only Top 40 single after "Jeopardy" -- his biggest hit -- in 1983. After trying and failing with a few other singles, Kihn eventually went into the radio business, where he remains today. He still performs from time to time with his band, but his hitmaking career basically ended here.

That said, Greg and the band members seemed to have a lot of fun when they made the video below, even considering the bad graphic effects in it that definitely date it as a 1985 artifact. A Russian sub sinking a cruise ship, a studio alley scene, resless natives, comically bad superimposed extra elements, even a guy in a gorilla's almost like the record company said, "Here's $250, Greg...go make a video so we can get it on MTV in three days."

(Edited...YouTube pulled the video I had originally posted, so the previous paragraph makes little sense now. Instead, I put on a performance from the Solid Gold TV show to keep the music available.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart -- "People Get Ready"

People Get Ready (With Rod Stewart) - Flash

(Debuted June 15, 1985, Peaked #48, 10 Weeks on the Chart)

I must have seen the video for this song 50 times when it was new. It was definitely played often enough on MTV, I'd have guessed it went higher on the charts than it did. However, I'm not quite as surprised today, since songs with such an overt religious message don't generally do well on the pop charts.

That said, this was a remake of a 1965 hit by The Impressions that went to #3. It was written by group member Curtis Mayfield and was likely inspired by the Civil Rights movement as it was by his religion. Those of us who missed the 1960s probably also missed the historical component of a train carrying people of all stripes and walks of life. The idea was echoed in a 1973 O'Jays song called "Love Train" but without any religious references, and it went to #1. When Jeff Beck decided to give it a try, he put his own stamp on it. Getting Rod Stewart -- who sang lead in The Jeff Beck Group before he became a superstar -- was a nice touch, even if Beck's guitar could have carried the song by itself.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sergio Mendes -- "Alibis"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted May 26, 1984, Peaked #29, 19 Weeks on the Chart)

Today is April Fool's Day, but I'm not the type to trick my readers. Instead, I'll present this song about a man who is saying he's not about to get fooled.

This song was a hit during the summer when I was 11 years old. At that age, the entire gist of the song went way over my head. How was I to know that the lyrics were spelling out the reasons a man knows he about to get dumped? For crying out loud, I didn't even know what an alibi was when I first heard the song. One day at the community swimming pool, one of the lifeguards sitting at the guard shack explained it while the song was playing on the radio.

I learned to really appreciate this song over the years. Despite a nice little groove, the lyrics are actually cynical. I've never determined whether the narrator was suspicious, paranoid or delusional. However, since we're only getting one side of the story in the song, that really isn't revealed. Later on, when I was in a relationship where I was slowly realizing that I was dealing with a cheater, the words made a lot more sense. After swinging between jealousy and despair, I finally came to my senses and realized she had two-timed me one time too many and I told her to have a great life.

I do remember something else about "Alibis" as well. I definitely remember watching the episode of Solid Gold that was the source of the YouTube video below. Sergio Mendes is actually the smiling guy behind the keyboard, and the vocals are done by Joe Pizzulo, who had also lent his voice to an earlier hit called "Never Gonna Let You Go."