Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Regina - "Baby Love"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted June 21, 1986, Peaked #10, 20 Weeks on the Chart)

If this sounds like a lost Madonna outtake, there's a good reason. Regina (whose last name was Richards) wrote "Baby Love" with Stephen Bray, who'd already penned several hits for Madonna such as "Angel" and "Into the Groove." When Madonna turned it down, Regina's record company requested the Brooklyn-born singer to put it on her album. Although it was a #1 dance hit and a Top 10 pop song, it would be Regina's only chart single.

While "Baby Love" was a great example of the dance sound that permeated much of the music in the 80s, it wasn't in tune with the material Regina wanted to record. Her ideal sound was more in line with the alternative material that wouldn't hit for another 4-5 years. Although that may have put her in a prime position to capitalize, her record company wasn't all that patient. When her 1988 followup LP didn't sell, she was dropped from the label.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Journey - "Girl Can't Help it"

Girl Can't Help It - Raised On Radio

Debuted August 30, 1986, Peaked #17, 14 Weeks on the Chart)

From his judge's seat on American Idol, Randy Jackson never misses any chance to remind everybody he was once a member of Journey. While he wasn't with the group during their Escape/Frontiers heyday, he was definitely there before the group split apart for the first time. He's onstage in the video below (sporting an awesomely awful 80s "high-top" hairdo), playing the bass.

After the success of those two LPs I mentioned before, there was a little housecleaning in regards to the band members. By the time Raised On Radio was recorded, only Steve Perry, Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain were left after Steve Smith and Ross Valory were fired. They would be replaced by session musicians (like Randy Jackson), but it was a signal that the years of performing and the toll of the road had begun to wear down on the group. And sure enough, after all the singles were culled from the album, the band would take an extended hiatus.

"Girl Can't Help it" debuted in the Billboard survey exactly twenty-five years ago. While it was a decent song, it wasn't really up to the standard of the group's earlier hits like "Don't Stop Believin'," "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)" or "Any Way You Want it." The Arena Rock staples had given way to a still-professional but more generic pop/rock sound.

But...Randy Jackson was there to be a part of it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Gwen Guthrie - "Ain't Nothing Going On But the Rent"

Ain't Nothin' Goin' On But the Rent - Gold - '80s Soul

Debuted August 2, 1986, Peaked #42, 13 Weeks on the Chart

It's unfortunate that Gwen Guthrie is mainly known for this song, which makes her appear to be a gold digger who's more interested in what a man has in his bank account than what is in his heart. Before this song was a #1 R&B and dance hit, Guthrie had enjoyed a decent career providing backing vocals for studio sessions and writing hit singles for artists like Ben E. King, Sister Sledge and Sly & Robbie.

The lyrics (written by Guthrie) express the reality that she has her own problems without wanting to add another's debt to her own, so she's letting it be known that "you've got to have a J-O-B if you want to be with me." While that seems a little shallow, it was a perfect expression of the go-go 1980s and probably has some validity today with the economic realities of the past few years.

Sadly, there won't be an updated version of the song by Guthrie. She died from uterine cancer at a young 48 in 1999.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Temptations - "Treat Her Like a Lady"

Treat Her Like a Lady (Single Version) - Gold - '80s Soul

(Debuted December 15, 1984, Peaked #48, 13 Weeks on the Chart)

This wasn't your parents' Temptations record. But then again, these weren't the same Temptations that racked up the hits for Motown during the 1960s and 70s. Although Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin were still there, the lead vocals were now being done by Ali-Ollie Woodson, who was a teenager during the group's "classic" era.

Their backing music was a lot different, too. While The Funk Brothers had helped make the group's hits memorable in years past, the 1985 version of the Temptations was relying on electronic accompaniment like drum machines and synthesizers. Despite the "gentlemanly" lyrics, the music really dates the song to 1985.

That said, the song's performance was the best the group had experienced in years. Despite missing the pop Top 40, it would reach #2 on the R&B chart. It also ushered in a more adult contemporary sound for the group, which they continue to carry today despite a revolving door of members and the passing of many of those voices.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Edition - "Mr. Telephone Man"

Mr. Telephone Man - New Edition

(Debuted December 22, 1984, Peaked #12, 15 Weeks on the Charts)

I've mentioned before in this blog that I was once a technician for a phone company. Over the several years I did that, some of my customers had really interesting explanations for what they thought was going on, as well as strange requests. I was asked to check the line for electronic bugs. One guy started his explanation about his broken junction box with the words "I was a little drunk last night" and a story involving a baseball bat. I received a page from my dispatcher to fix lines that were cut by a drug dealer. I found shorts that were caused by hungry dogs. I even once searched for two hours to find a short that turned out to be a phone in the garage (which nobody in the house remembered was even there) that had fallen off the hook.

In all of that time, I never got a call explaining that the customer was getting disconnected after calling only one specific number. That's the complaint New Edition is lodging here. Written by Ray Parker, Jr., the song has a similar vibe to his own early 1980s hits. Ralph Tresvant, Ricky Bell and Bobby Brown trade turns on the vocal, while Michael Bivins does the spoken-word part in the middle. It just missed the pop Top 10, but went all the way to #1 on the R&B chart.

The video below was taken from an episode of the syndicated Solid Gold program, with Rick Dees doing the introduction. For some reason, Ronnie DeVoe didn't perform on the show. As a lip-synch, perhaps the fact that he had no lines to sing on his own would be considered confusing to the viewers?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Duran Duran - "Save a Prayer"

Save a Prayer - Rio (Collectors Edition) [Remastered]

(Debuted February 2, 1985, Peaked #16, 14 Weeks on the Chart)

The girls in my school loved Duran Duran. As for the boys? Well, most of us said we kinda liked the music because the girls liked it. However, three decades later, I've grown to appreciate the group's sound better now that I'm not immediately thinking of them as the cover subjects of the issues of Tiger Beat I saw on the magazine rack.

Originally, "Save a Prayer" was a cut from the band's 1982 Rio LP. It was released as a single in England and Europe, but not in the U.S. even though the song's video was placed rather quickly into heavy rotation on MTV. When the group released their live album Arena in late 1984, it was something of a disappointment. The critics were quick to point out that the sound was much too slick to have been truly "live," while the band members didn't seem too interested in promoting it. After the added studio track "The Wild Boys" was a hit, the record company had a dilemma...which "live" track would be the next single?

In the United States, there was an obvious answer. Since "Save a Prayer" was already familiar to Americans due to its play on MTV, the next single would be an edited version of the six-minute album version, with the new live recording on the B-side. As a result, the band notched another Top 20 hit before moving on to their next project, a James Bond theme.

Personally, I think the song is one of the group's best from their 1980s material. The guitars and synthesizers work well, and Simon LeBon's vocal lets him show off his talent a lot more than the simple posturing he seemed to do on the band's other hits.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

John Fogerty - "Rock and Roll Girls"

Rock 'n' Roll Girls - Centerfield (Remastered)

(Debuted March 16, 1985, Peaked #20, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

After several years away from the spotlight, John Fogerty was back with a vengeance in 1985. The former Creedence Clearwater Revival front man came out with a great album called Centerfield that gave many of us who were too young to have heard that band a taste of what we were missing. The LP's three singles were each different, but all were great in their own way. The first was "The Old Man Down the Road," which sounded so much like a CCR track that it would lead to a lawsuit from the group's copyright holder. The title track was an homage to baseball, a topic that is as near and dear to me as music.

The other single was "Rock and Roll Girls," a song that recalled late 1950s/early 1960s rock & roll at a time when I was really becoming interested in rock's roots. It was a three-minute blast of sound punctuated by a wailing sax solo that really stood out among the other stuff on the radio during its all-too-brief time on the charts. It was written and produced by Fogerty, who also played all of the instruments himself on the recording.

It also helped one certain young fan want to see what else was out there. Granted, I really didn't need much of a push...but it helped tip me over the line.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Gino Vannelli - "Hurts to Be in Love"

Hurts to Be In Love - These Are the Days

(Debuted September 21, 1985, Peaked #57, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

American listeners know Gino Vannelli best for his 1978 hit "I Just Wanna Stop" and his lesser 1981 single "Living Inside Myself." The Montreal native had been working steadily since the early 1970s, however, and racked up several hit singles in his home country as well as a handful of lesser-charting songs in the U.S. By 1985, the music business had been changed by the advent of MTV and his LP Black Cars features layers of synthesizers (a Yamaha model, specifically) on every track. Vannelli had been an early proponent of the synthesizer -- his first Top 40 hit "People Gotta Move" featured one in 1974 -- but the sound and production style of the album definitely dates it as a 1985 artifact.

There was a song by Gene Pitney in 1964 called "It Hurts to Be in Love," but this is not a remake. It's a new song written by Vannelli.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Billy Rankin - "Baby Come Back"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted March 10, 1984, Peaked #51, 11 Weeks on the Chart)

"Baby Come Back" was the title of several songs through the years. Here in the U.S., it was a #1 single for three weeks by the L.A. studio group Player. In the U.K., it was a chart-topper for The Equals (a band that included Eddy Grant) in 1968. Both have been remade several times, but this is neither of those songs.

Billy Rankin was from Scotland and a former member of Nazareth, which he had joined in 1980. "Baby Come Back" was the first song on his debut solo LP Growin' Up Too Fast. A high-energy guitar driven song, it's a wonder it didn't get into the lower reaches of the Top 40 like many other songs that it sounded like.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cyndi Lauper - "She Bop"

She Bop - She's So Unusual (Remastered)

(Debuted July 21, 1984, Peaked #3, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

In ten days, my little girl turns 13. While I'm enjoying watching her grow up, I am still aware of how I was at her age and that fact frightens the hell out of me. She's still her Daddy's little girl, but I know I'm going to have to deal with boys soon, and those boys are going to have an agenda that is a complete opposite from the one I want for my daughter. In a way, I realize it's payback for what I did when I was younger...but I don't have any intention of letting up when that first boy comes over to visit.

This has very little to do with "She Bop," except for the fact that the song came out when I was just a little younger than my daughter is now. When it came out, it didn't take long for the older brothers and sisters of my friends to start whispering to us what the song was about. Masturbation. And not just masturbation, but female masturbation. At that age, I had no idea that girls did stuff like that.

So, any "No way!" retorts were met with words from the lyrics. From the pages of a magazine, to a mention of "going south" and the line, "They say I better stop or I'll go blind," the arguments were persuasive. Since we saw the free-spirited Cyndi Lauper as a little weird in the more straight-laced Reagan years, perhaps some dismissed the subject of the song as a play for attention. In that sense, it probably worked.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Huey Lewis & the News - "Walking On a Thin Line"

Walking on a Thin Line - Sports

(Debuted October 20, 1984, Peaked #18, 14 Weeks on the Chart)

During the mid 1980s, there was a reconsideration of America's role in the Vietnam War. From the vantage point of a decade away and a new generation begining to grow up who didn't have to worry about getting called to serve there, or have to wonder whether their friends or loved ones would make it home from there, the time had come to understand what had happened. "Walking on a Thin Line" was a part of that conversation (as was Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." and Paul Hardcastle's "19").

At that time, Huey Lewis and the News was best known for lighter material and a series of fun videos on MTV. By that yardstick, "Walking on a Thin Line" was a serious song. It went against the grain and addressed an uncomfortable topic, which is often good art. However, the reception was mixed: some wondered which side the band was taking (which is ironic, since it was about the individual, not the cause), and it ended up being the only chart single from the Sports LP to miss the Top 10.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Night Ranger - "When You Close Your Eyes"

When You Close Your Eyes - Midnight Madness

(Debuted July 14, 1984, Peaked #14, 17 Weeks on the Chart)

After time has passed and life goes on, it's perfectly natural to wonder about whether those whose paths once ran along with yours and then diverged ever think back to "those days." I can relate to that; sometimes I wonder how old friends and girlfriends turned out after we lost touch. That seems to be the idea behind this song.

In 1984, you had to be living under a rock to miss the mania that was "Sister Christian." Heck, I lived in the middle of nowhere at the time and it was part of the soundtrack of the Summer of '84 for me. Then, one day I saw the video for "When You Close Your Eyes" on MTV and immediately took to it. Perhaps the line about learning about love "in the back of a Chevrolet" caught my attention (I was still a little young to do anything but hope when it came to that subject), but I'm sure the melody and guitar lines hooked me as well. I still don't have any idea how the song wasn't as big a hit as "Sister Christian" was.

It's interesting to say, but hearing "When You Close your Eyes" immediately takes me back to that summer and memories of things that are long gone. Such is the power of music.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Genesis - "Taking it All Too Hard"

Taking It All Too Hard - Genesis (Remastered)

(Debuted September 1, 1984, Peaked #50, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

Genesis's evolution from an art-rock combo to a pop juggernaut was still in progress with the Genesis LP in 1983. While some long-time fans shook their heads at the prospect, the group would become even more popular as the decade wore on. While some say Genesis was the moment the band stepped over the line to become a full pop band, it's worth noting that the album's four singles only netted one Top 40 pop hit. The other three -- including "Taking it All Too Hard" -- fell short of the chance to have Casey Kasem play them on his show.

Looking at those three singles, "Illegal Alien" was a borderline novelty and a little touchy for widespread airplay in the U.S. "Mama" had a sinister vibe that may have hurt its chances on this side of the Atlantic (yet became a big hit in their native U.K.). "Taking it All Too Hard" is surprising that it missed the Top 40, as it still gets airplay on adult-leaning radio stations.

The album was named after the band because it was the first to have all the members contributing songs to it on an equal footing. That was likely a healthy direction, as all three members were also contributing to other projects outside of Genesis at the time. "Taking it All Too Hard" was a Mike Rutherford composition that featured a big help from Tony Banks' electric piano. A song whose lyrics are about the aftermath of a separation, it probably deserved a bigger chance in its original release. It definitely seems to have lasted longer in the collective memory than many other (bigger) hits of the era.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Tubes - "Tip of My Tongue"

Tip of My Tongue - Outside Inside

(Debuted July 23, 1983, Peaked #52, 7 Weeks on the Chart)

There are likely other songs from The Tubes that come to mind from the 1980s, but here at 80s Music Mayhem the lesser-known singles often get to have their moment in the sun. So, this time, the spotlight is going to focus on the forgotten follow-up single to "She's a Beauty."

If you've never heard it before (and given its poor chart performance, there's a good chance you may not have), click the video below. You may be surprised at how good it is.

"Tip of My Tongue" was co-written by Earth, Wind & Fire frontman Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, who helps out with the performance as well. That gives the song a funkier beat that a listener might expect from a band that was known for its theatrics. On the other hand, producer David Foster lends his own skills to the record, so the instrumental break that sounds like it came from a mid-1980s Chicago outtake is no accident, since Foster was behind the board on those, too.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Little River Band - "The Other Guy"

The Other Guy - Little River Band: Greatest Hits

(Debuted November 20, 1982, Peaked #11, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

Divorce seemed to be a touchy subject in the 1980s, as it was becoming more obvious that the rate was rising. As a kid, I remember hearing the results of studies that showed that divorce led to bad things in the future for the affected children, and then heard all of that amplified in 1986 when my own parents decided to call it a marriage. We lived in a small town...which meant that people talked behind our backs, and well-meaning people said things that were probably inappropriate.

Fortunately, I didn't end up in reform school (or worse) as a result of not having Dad around. But heck, the guy was in the Navy and seemed to be gone all the time anyway. The divorce just made the arrangement more permanent. In my case, my wife and I both came from divorced parents and don't want to subject our child to what we went through. So much for the "studies" 30 years ago that said we were more likely to split up because that's what we would think as "normal."

"The Other Guy" isn't about divorce per se, but that is where the couple in the song's lyrics are heading. The lady is looking elsewhere, and the man is pleading to work things out. It doesn't mention that they're actually married, but the word "kids" in the chorus leads the listener (in 1982-'83, at least) to assume that they are.

The song was recorded as an extra track for the band's Greatest Hits LP. It just missed the pop Top 10 and was The Little River Band's final appearance in the Top 20. Given the adult subject matter, it was also a Top 10 song on the Adult Contemporary chart. The revolving door of members that had been going on for the group finally claimed singer Glen Shorrock in 1983 and the hits tailed off soon afterward.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

DeBarge - "I Like It"

I Like It - The Ultimate Collection: DeBarge

(Debuted February 5, 1983, Peaked #31, 17 Weeks on the Chart)

This is the song that introduced most music listeners to DeBarge, a group of five siblings from Grand Rapids, Michigan. The DeBarges actually had ten musical members. Older brothers Bobby and Tommy were part of the late 1970s/early 80s Motown act Switch, and younger siblings Chico, Darrell and Peaches were also singers (though not part of the group). Their sound featured the unique high register of El DeBarge, who was eventually thrust into the spotlight as the group's "leader" even though he wasn't the only lead vocalist.

"I Like It" was the family act's first hit on the pop chart, and also went to #2 R&B. It's still quite popular in R&B circles, having been sampled a number of times over the years. Randy DeBarge takes the verses, while El handles the bridge after the chorus and shows off what would become his trademark falsetto at the song fades out.

The video below is from the Soul Train TV show. Although it's a lip-synched performance, it shows the switch between lead singers as well as the way El DeBarge had a definite presence when his turn came to sing.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Asia - "Don't Cry"

Don't Cry - Alpha

(Debuted July 30, 1983, Peaked #10, 13 Weeks on the Chart)

Asia was a supergroup made up of four members who'd already been members of British prog-rock bands. John Wetton had been in King Crimson, Geoff Downes had been in Yes as well as The Buggles, Steve Howe was also a member of Yes, and Carl Palmer was one of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Their self-titled debut LP was a smash, with two Top 20 hits on the U.S. pop chart and an amazing six songs on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

Their second LP was called Alpha, and its lead single was "Don't Cry," which was a Top 10 pop single and #1 Mainstream Rock Track. However, there were tensions between the band members during the making of that album that soon caused Wetton to leave the band by the end of the year. He would eventually return, but the band's history has been marked by a seemingly quickly-moving revolving door of noted musicians, before a reunion of the original band in 2006.

"Don't Cry" had a video that was in fairly heavy rotation on MTV. Shown below, it featured some kind of story about adventurers lured into a pyramid by a mysterios woman, only to meet an unfortunate end. The video effects were state-of-the-art in 1983, but seem rather amateur by today's standards.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Men At Work - "Overkill"

Overkill - Cargo

(Debuted April 9, 1983, Peaked #3, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

Men At Work's fourth Top 10 hit was something of a departure from their earlier singles. While the others had an upbeat sound, this one seemed more sinister. Yes, "Who Can it Be Now?" seemed to be brought about by paranoia, but it seemed he was fine as long as he didn't answer the door. The mood of "Overkill" has the narrator seemingly descending into his own madness, with that incessant saxophone punctuating the feeling and the guitar solo sufficiently disjointed to match. While it seemed to be weird to me at the time, the song has really grown on me in the time since it first played on my radio.

What's more...I was in the 5th grade when this song came out, and it helped expand my vocabulary. As a guy who now writes for a living, that may be an important milestone. In any case, it was a lot more effective than anything I was learning in school.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Jerry Reed - "She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)"

She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft) - The Essential Jerry Reed

(Debuted July 24, 1982, Peaked #57, 9 Weeks on the Chart)

As a kid, I was most aware of Jerry Reed from his movie roles, especially as Cletus Snow in Smokey & the Bandit. Since my parents were also fans of country music, I also picked up on his novelty tunes when they came out. However, it wasn't until much later before I ever realized what an immense talent he was on the guitar.

One of my favorite Jerry Reed songs is "She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft), a lesson about what happens when you get divorced. It failed to make the pop Top 40, but was Reed's third (and final) country #1. Yes, it's a funny story...but sometimes the best comedy has an element of truth to it. And if that's true, the story behind this song is as painful as it is funny.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Frank Zappa - "Valley Girl"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted July 17, 1982, Peaked #32, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

Believe it or not, "Valley Girl" was the only Top 40 song Frank Zappa ever had. But judging from some of his better-known material, it really isn't hard to realize his better material wasn't exactly safe for radio consumption.

The voice in the song belongs to Zappa's 14 year-old daughter Moon Unit. During the song's time in the Top 40, Casey Kasem related a story about Zappa waking his daughter up in the middle of the night to record the vocals, but that ended up being debunked. While Zappa was working out the song, he gave his daughter an idea of what to say, and she mocked some of the girls from her school, using the "Val-Speak" slang they used.

A lot of listeners missed the point of the song, though. It should be little surprise that many listeners saw it as a novelty and missed Zappa's wry delivery of lines like "she's got a whole lot of nothing in there." Perhaps that was the point all along...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Neil Diamond - "Heartlight"

Heartlight - Heartlight

(Debuted September 11, 1982, Peaked #5, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

In 1982, the film E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial became the all-time box-office champ with its story about a boy who befriends a visitor from another planet. Among the several million who watched the movie were husband-and-wife songwriters Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager, who attended the showing with Neil Diamond. The three joined together to write a song that was full of images in the lyrics that were clearly inspired by the film.

The connection to the film wasn't necessary since Diamond was one of the biggest stars in music and recognizable to fans of many genres, but it sure didn't hurt, either. It was a #5 pop hit and #1 on the adult contemporary chart. For me, the song has actually grown on me. As a youngster, it wasn't what I cared to hear. However, after having a family and responsibilities, the words "home's the most excellent place of all" resonates with me in a way I just couldn't grasp at that age.

I've said it before: becoming a father has apparently turned me into a pansy when it comes to certain things. However, talking with other men -- including battle-hardened veterans I know -- I'm not anywhere close to being alone in that regard.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

America - "You Can Do Magic"

You Can Do Magic - Struttin' Our Stuff

(Debuted July 31, 1982, Peaked #8, 20 Weeks on the Chart)

The band America's heyday was definitely 1972-'76, when they enjoyed six Top 10 singles (including two #1 hits) and a string of million-selling albums. The group -- formed in England by the sons of American servicemen stationed there -- suffered after Dan Peek left for a successful solo career in the contemporary Christian genre. As a duo, America continued on but the hits just didn't get as far up the charts as they once did.

"You Can Do Magic" returned them to the Top 10 hit for the first time in six years. Written by Russ Ballard, the song would be their final Top 10 hit and the biggest hit for them in the 1980s. A very accessible and hook-laden pop song, it even contained the wordless refrain that seems to show up in all of the band's greatest hits.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Sugarhill Gang - "Apache"

Apache (Single / LP Version) - Rapper's Delight: The Best of the Sugarhill Gang

(Debuted February 13, 1982, Peaked #53, 11 Weeks on the Chart)

Today's slice of "old school" is a remake of a 1973 song by The Incredible Bongo Band that contains an instrumental break that has been used for countless hip-hop records over the years. However, that record was itself a remake of a song that had been recorded several times since it was first composed in 1960. Inspired by an instrumental score of the 1954 film Apache, its first hit version was by The Shadows in the U.K.

When the sound that later morphed into rap/hip hop began during the 1970s, DJs would often pull out certain records to provide the beat for their friends to rap over, and instrumentals provided great accompaniment. And "Apache" was very well-received by crowds. It was only a matter of time before the groove was laid down in the new format.