Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Information Society - "Walking Away"

Walking Away - Information Society

(Debuted November 26, 1988, Peaked #9, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

Yesterday, I mentioned that I was surprised to learn that "Buffalo Stance" was not taken from a New York artist, and today I have to admit that I'm once again surprised to learn about the place of origin for another act. In this case, I'm surprised Information Society was a Minneapolis-based group, since their electronic dance material sounded like it was done by a British group.

What doesn't seen to be a surprise is that there was a Star Trek fan in the group. Just as their earlier hit "What's On Your Mind" contained a sample of Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock saying "pure energy," the song "Walking Away" begins with William Shatner as Captain Kirk saying, "It is useless to resist." Though I grew tired really quickly of their first hit, there was something about "Walking Away" that caught my ear in 1989 despite the fact that I wasn't a fan of dance/pop at all.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Neneh Cherry - "Buffalo Stance"

Buffalo Stance - Raw Like Sushi

(Debuted April 1, 1989, Peaked #3, 24 Weeks on the Chart)

Sometimes even the guy who has all the answers can find something to learn. Here are some things I didn't know about Neneh Cherry: She was born in Sweden. She was based out of London. At the time the song came out, I would have bet anything that she was a New Yorker. I only would have been partially right, though. She grew up in New York City but quit school and moved to England when she was 14.

When she was working over there as a singer, she began a personal and professional relationship with Cameron McVey. In 1986, McVey was part of a duo named Morgan McVey and they recorded a B-side to one of their singles that eventually was re-recorded as "Buffalo Stance." The song was a fusion of rap, R&B, pop and the dance music that so thoroughly saturated the airwaves then. Because it was so different yet similar to other sounds heard on the radio and on MTV, it became a big hit, reaching #3 on the pop chart, topped the Billboard dance survey and reached #3 in the U.K.

On a personal level, "Buffalo Stance" taught me (and many of the kids I grew up with) what the word "gigolo" meant.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Cult - "Fire Woman"

Fire Woman - Sonic Temple (Remastered)

(Debuted May 27, 1989, Peaked #46, 11 Weeks on the Chart)

I'm amazed this was not a Top 40 song, since it was all over the radio and MTV when it was a current song. That said, I was spending a lot of time listening to rock stations and avoiding the local Top 40 station because I had gotten sick of having to hear New Kids on the Block once every other hour, mixed in several songs that seemed to have the same exact drum machine programmed behind it. And this song was tailor-made to be enjoyed by a 16 year-old boy.

The Cult was a British band fronted by Ian Astbury. Though it was their first American pop hit, they had been charting for years in their native U.K. and I had known about them from hanging around a record store while their Electric album came out in 1987. I really didn't pay any attention to them then, but that changed in '89 when "Fire Woman" blasted from my radio speakers. The guitar attack at the beginning hooked me quickly, but the relentless drive of the song was irresistable.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Siouxsie & the Banshees - "Peek-a-Boo"

Peek-A-Boo (Single) - Peep Show

(Debuted October 15, 1988, Peaked #53, 13 Weeks on the Chart)

In 1988, "Peek-a-Boo" sounded a lot different from what was being persented as hit music at the time. It was both refreshing and unsettling. And not surprisingly, it wasn't a pop hit because there was little room on the Hot 100 for nonconformity in 1988.

However, the song caught the ear of college radio, where the nonconformists tend to be more easily located. That burgeoning audience was finally served with its own survey when Billboard debuted its Modern Rock Tracks list on September 13, 1988. The very first #1 song on that chart was Siouxsie & the Banshee's "Peek-a-Boo."

Studio effects were used to give the song its distinctive sound. First, a recording that was recorded but not used on an earlier album was flipped upside down, with an accordion, bass and extra drum beat added. Siousie Sioux also recorded different lines of the song on different microphones, giving a sonic "image" of coming from different directions when listened to on headphones. The entire production took a year to finish; what was originally intended to be a B-side for another single eventually became too good to bury on a record.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Jermaine Stewart - "Say it Again"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted March 19, 1988, Peaked #27, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

For the regular readers of this blog living in the United States...Happy Thanksgiving. Today's entry will be a short one.

Jermaine Stewart has already been featured on this blog for his hit "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off" but his second biggest hit has been largely forgotten even though it would reach the Top 40 on its own. On that note, here's a video to give it a little more exposure. Although it was soon forgotten after its chart run, it actually stands out among some of the other material that hit in 1988.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Jets - "Make it Real"

Make It Real - The Jets Greatest Hits

(Debuted April 16, 1988, Peaked #4, 20 Weeks on the Chart)

Between 1986 and '88, The Jets had five singles reach the pop Top 10, which might be surprising to those who weren't around in the era. The last of those Top 10 hits was "Make it Real," which would also turn out to be the group's last Top 40 hit before the original lineup splintered apart and focused on other projects and interests. The group didn't break up in the sense that many bands do, since the members are all brothers and sisters. They were eight siblings (out of 17) from the Wolfgramm family, of Tongan ancestry but raised in Minneapolis.

In "Make it Real," the lyrics express a hope that -- on the anniversary of their meeting -- a couple still has a chance to get together. She still holds a flame in her heart, but he wasn't ready to settle down. There are two ways of looking at this: the first one says that she's being vigilant, while the other one wants to tell her to get over him if he isn't calling her back. In addition to reaching the pop Top 10, it was their second #1 single on the adult contemporary chart.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Climie Fisher - "Love Changes (Everything)"

Love Changes (Everything) - Everything

(Debuted May 14, 1988, Peaked #23, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

The things that get remembered from childhood...when "Love Changes Everything" was a hit single, Rosie O'Donnell was working as whatever VH-1 called its VJs. After the video played, she came on and began a bit about how Climie Fisher sounded like something you would yell when you accidentally hit your hand with a hammer. She then went on to illustrate her point by pretending to do it.

Actually, Climie Fisher's name came from the last names of its two members. Simon Climie was the singer and Rob Fisher played the keyboard. Fisher had previously been part of another hitmaking duo earlier in the 1980s called Naked Eyes. The pair had met as a result of working together as studio musicians and wrote most of their own material. They recorded a pair of albums before moving on to other projects, and Fisher sadly succumbed to cancer in 1999.

"Love Changes (Everything)" comes across as a slickly produced record awash in the synthesizers that were nearly ubiquitous in the 1980s. It's also laden with catchy hooks that will stick in the back of the mind well after the song stops playing. If you don't mind a heap of sugar in your music, this song should be a nice little trip down a nostalgic lane; however, if you like less pop and more guitar sound, this might not be your tune.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Communards - "Never Can Say Goodbye"

Never Can Say Goodbye - The Very Best of Bronski Beat & The Communards

(Debuted January 30, 1988, Peaked #51, 9 Weeks on the Chart)

For my friends who tried to tell me in 1988 that disco was a long-dead relic of the 1970s, here's part of the fodder I tossed right back at them. "Never Can Say Goodbye" is a remake of a song that was one of the earliest disco hits (by Gloria Gaynor, which itself was a remake) done in the then-current Hi-NRG dance beat. At the time I was asking what the problem was with 1970s disco when the same songs were being recycled with a new beat, and was essentially told that the beat was what made the "new" versions better. I disagreed then and still do.

The Communards were a British-based dance group led by Jimmy Somerville, who was featured here a few weeks back as a member of Bronski Beat. It was the second of two Hot 100 hits for the band, and both were songs that had been big disco singles in the 1970s. Though "Never Can Say Goodbye" failed to reach the Top 40, it was a #2 dance hit, as well as a #4 hit in the band's native U.K.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Go West - "Don't Look Down - The Sequel"

Don't Look Down - Go West

(Debuted August 1, 1987, Peaked #39, 13 Weeks on the chart)

Go West was a British duo made up of Peter Cox and Richard Drummie. Their first LP in their native U.K. came out in 1985 and included a hit song called "Don't Look Down" which would later be remixed and titled "Don't Look Down - The Sequel." That would be the version that was released two years later in the U.S. and became their first Top 40 single Stateside. They would go on to notch a couple more Top 40 hits in the early 1990s.

"Don't Look Down" was a hit song during the early months of the school year. I know that because I moved to Tennessee for a short time that year (I grew up in northern New York and went back there in 1988). The cafeteria played a local Top 40 radio station over the speakers, which was something that never happened at my old school. Anyway, hearing "Don't Look Down" today brings an image in my mind of the new school's cafeteria and of myself trying to get along as an outsider.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Kenny G - "Songbird"

Songbird - Duotones

(Debuted April 4, 1987, Peaked #4, 22 Weeks on the chart)

The instrumental was a dying format on the pop chart even in 1987. While dozens of hit songs were instrumentals during the 1950s and 60s, the form begin winding down in the 1970s and was nearly crushed by the death of Disco. By the 1980s, the few instrumentals that were hits were theme songs to movies or TV shows.

That didn't mean the format was dead, however. Jazz artists were still performing instrumentals and so were New Age artists, but they just weren't getting much attention with radio stations or music video channels. In fact, Kenny G (real last name Gorelick) had been playing professionally since he was still in high school, playing his saxophone for the Love Unlimited Orchestra, and continued as he worked his way through college. He signed his own record deal in 1982 but worked in collaboration with a number of artists as well.

In 1987, his Duotones LP let the rest of the world that wasn't focused on the jazz world know who Kenny G was. "Songbird" would become the first instrumental track to reach the pop Top 10 that wasn't a theme song in over a decade, and he soon became the biggest-selling instrumental artist in history.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Billy Idol - "Sweet Sixteen"

Sweet Sixteen - Whiplash Smile

(Debuted April 25, 1987, Peaked #20, 14 Weeks on the chart)

While it may seem contrary to Billy Idol's stage presence and image nowadays, in 1987 it really didn't seem like such a stretch for him to do a softer song. By that time, he had already done songs like "Eyes Without a Face," "To Be a Lover" and "Don't Need a Gun," so it wasn't too far out of left field for him. This time, however, he is accompanied by an acoustic guitar, which did seem to drop the pretense of his reputation.

I was a teenager at the time this song came out. In fact, my girlfriend at the time turned 16 during the song's run up the chart so the words stuck with me. However, today I'm struck how weird it is to have a thirty-something year old man singing what is essentially a love song to a sixteen year-old girl. However, despite the fact that Idol wrote the song, the story in the song is supposedly inspired by the story of an eccentric named Edward Leedskalnin, who is shown in a picture during the beginning of the video for the song. A girl he was engaged to in his native Latvia was called his "Sweet Sixteen," and she walked away shortly before the wedding. Later in life, he built a monument to her in Florida called the Coral Castle that is still open for tourists to see.

It wasn't exactly the "candy castle" that was mentioned in the words of the song, but perhaps "coral" didn't sound right in the lyrics.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dan Hill & Vonda Shepard - "Can't We Try"

Can't We Try (Single Version) - 80's Pop Hits

(Debuted June 6, 1987, Peaked #6, 24 Weeks on the chart)

During the late Spring and throughout the Summer of '87, it was hard not to notice "Can't We Try" because they tried to kill it with airplay. At the time, I was listening to both a Top 40 station and a station that leaned more toward adult contemporary and both had the song in heavy rotation. The video was a staple of VH-1 at the time as well. As a result, I got really sick of hearing the song. Now that the years have allowed me to put the song into its proper context, I really like it for its confessional nature and its melody. But it took several years to pass before I wanted to revisit it.

"Can't We Try" was a return to the chart for Dan Hill, who had scored with "Sometimes When We Touch" in 1978 and an introduction to Vonda Shepard, who would reappear on the show Ally McBeal a decade later. In both cases, the decade-long absence seemed like a comeback, but neither artist had stopped performing in the meantime.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Kenny Loggins - "Meet Me Halfway"

Meet Me Half Way - The Essential Kenny Loggins

(Debuted March 7, 1987, Peaked #11, 25 Weeks on the chart)

In the 1980s, Kenny Loggins was the undisputed "Sultan of Soundtrack." If there was a movie that had a hit soundtrack, you could bet that there would be a Kenny Loggins song on it somewhere. And for the 1987 Sylvester Stallone film Over the Top, there was "Meet Me Halfway."

The movie hasn't exactly weathered the decades well, but had a soundtrack that was prototypical for its era, and Loggins' song was the biggest hit. The funny thing, that I rarely think of the film when I hear it. At the time, I had just started dating the girl I saw for the bulk of my time in high school. She lived about 2 miles from my house and I had to go all the way over to her house to visit her (as a parent today, I have less of a problem with that now than I did then). I specifically remember thinking at that time how nice it would be to meet her halfway occasionally.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sting - "Russians"

Russians - The Dream of the Blue Turtles

(Debuted January 18, 1986, Peaked #16, 13 Weeks on the chart)

Today is Veterans' Day here in the United States. It was once called Armistice Day, a time to remember the sacrifices made by soldiers in what we now call World War I. In 1918, it was hoped that lessons would be remembered and that no war on that horrible scale would ever be waged again. Sadly, the next generation was left to conduct another war that was even larger. After the second World War, it appeared there was always going to be a looming threat due to nuclear weapons. That is the driving force behind of Sting's song "Russians."

The song is definitely a relic of the Cold War. For those who weren't around then, there was a long period where the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were locked in a long battle that was more of an ideological war than one that had soldiers shooting at each other, but it was a real concern for more than forty years. At the heart of the threat was the understanding that both nations had nuclear arsenals that could easily ensure mutual destruction once a dispute went from a diplomatic matter to a more military one. The problem was felt around the world, as Sting (who wasn't Russian or American) pointed out.

Using a classical suite from the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, Sting asks the musical question about whether the Russians love their children while musing about how the concept of an "unwinnable war" was false. One line stands out for me, though: "There is no monopoly on common sense...on either side of the political fence." That's advice that still needs to be heeded.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - "If You Leave"

If You Leave - Pretty In Pink (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

(Debuted March 8, 1986, Peaked #4, 20 Weeks on the chart)

I've mentioned on this blog before that I've always held a soft spot for redheads. And yes, that means I had a crush on Molly Ringwald when I was a teenager. I know I wasn't alone in that feeling, but I sometimes wonder whether my interest in redheads stems from her or if it's simply a matter of liking Molly Rongwald because I was predisposed toward redheads. It's the classic "chicken vs. egg" dilemma.

In any case, hearing this song immediately brings up an image of Molly Ringwald, thanks to the way it was linked with the film Pretty in Pink in 1986. If you watch the video below, you'll see that her image was even incorporated into that. It was the song played at the climactic moment of the film, when the "happy ending" gets ready to take place.

"If You Leave" was all over the radio and MTV in 1986. While I usually found myself growing tired of songs that have been grossly overplayed then, I somehow never felt that way about this one. I guess that was the effect the red hair had on me. Which was funny...because my girlfriend at the time was a brunette.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

'Til Tuesday - "What About Love?"

What About Love - Welcome Home

(Debuted September 20, 1986, Peaked #26, 14 Weeks on the chart)

In 1985, 'Til Tuesday made quite an impression with the hit single "Voices Carry." It would reach the Top 10 and featured a video about an oppressive relationship that was played heavily on MTV. However, the video focused more on the band's singer Aimee Mann and kinda pushed the three other members into the shadows during their scenes. That often spells trouble for a band's future direction, but they soldiered on the next year with a second LP called Welcome Home.

The album featured a lot more of Mann as a songwriter (the full group was credited for most of the songs the first time around) and was more earthy, which was quite a statement in the heavily synthesized, dance-friendly music landscape of the mid 1980s. One song that still pointed to the previous year's hit was "What About Love," a track that is sometimes forgotten even by the experts (in fact, Allmusic claims it missed the Top 40 when it went to #26).

Though sometimes seen as a low-key hit, "What About Love" was a nice single and played well among much of its competition in 1986. It also showed a blossoming talent for songwriting that Mann would enjoy during her solo career in the 1990s.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Talking Heads - "Wild Wild Life"

Wild Wild Life (2005 Remastered) - True Stories (Remastered with Bonus Tracks)

(Debuted September 6, 1986, Peaked #25, 20 Weeks on the chart)

The Talking Heads were one of those groups whose music is quite entrenched into 1980s culture, as well as its style. However, their songs aren't the big hits many would have expected. "Wild Wild Life" was their final hit, but it was only their third to reach the Top 40. Two of the band's more memorable hits -- "Once in a Lifetime" and "Road to Nowhere" -- didn't get into the Hot 100 during their initial chart runs (though the former scraped its way to #91 as a live track from Stop Making Sense).

By 1986, the band was beginning its breakup after more than a decade together. "Wild Wild Life" was taken from the "soundtrack" album from lead singer David Byrne's film True Stories. Only it wasn't really a soundtrack album at all. Instead of featuring the songs in the movie as sung by John Goodman (who appears in the video below), "Pops" Staples and others, they were performed by Byrne and his band as a condition of the financial backers of the film as a way of ensuring that some profit would arise.

Today, the song is probably better-remembered than the movie is.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Art of Noise - "Peter Gunn"

Peter Gunn - Reconstructed…For Your Listening Pleasure

(Debuted May 17, 1986, Peaked #50, 11 Weeks on the chart)

Around 1986, I placed a bunch of quarters into a video game called Spy Hunter. It the game, you were driving a tricked-out "spy" car equipped with a machine gun and your job was to eliminate the bad guys around you using a variety of weapons that could be picked up along the way, including oil slicks, smoke screens and missles. Evidently, there were also levels of the game that took place on the water and on icy roads, but I never got that far. I may have played it a lot, but I never said I was ever good at the game.

The theme music that played all through the game was an electronic adaptation of the Peter Gunn theme. I wasn't around during the TV show's 1958-'61 run, so I didn't know the song was a theme song to a TV show. Instead, I knew it because it showed up in some movies (like The Blues Brothers and Sixteen Candles), as well as that video game. The tune is incredibly catchy, though and I definitely was exposed to it at an early age.

The original version of the song was recorded by Henry Mancini, who composed the song. In 1959, Duane Eddy contributed his signature "twangy" guitar line to the song and took it to #27 on the chart. For Art of Noise's version, Eddy was called in to recreate his own sound to give it an air of "authenticity" among the electronic sound the band used. It would be the first of three singles the group would place in the Billboard Hot 100, each of which featured a guest artist.

Friday, November 4, 2011

General Public - "Tenderness"

Tenderness - Classic Masters

(Debuted November 17, 1984, Peaked #27, 17 Weeks on the Chart)

General Public was started from the ashes of the breakup of The Beat (known as The English Beat in the U.S.). Two members of that group, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger, joined up with former Clash guitarist Mick Jones, Specials bassist Horace Panter and two ex-members of Dexy's Midnight Runners to forma a "supergroup" of sorts among English punk/ska/mod groups. Jones would leave the band during the recording of their first LP All the Rage, which included "Tenderness."

"Tenderness" would end up being the band's only chart hit in the U.S during the 1980s. It was well-received at the time, though not enough to be a major hit; however, time has been kind to the song due to its cheerful melody. It has appeared in several movies over the years, including Sixteen Candles and Weird Science, which have helped to keep it identified with the decade.

(Thanks to regular reader Brian for pointing out that General Public did have a pair of chart hits in the U.S. during the 1990s as well.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ray Parker, Jr. - "Jamie"

Jamie - Ray Parker, Jr.: Greatest Hits

(Debuted November 17, 1984, Peaked #14, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

When "Jamie" came out, I was in the seventh grade. At that time, I was starting to see the way some of my friends and classmates would start getting jealous over girls, even those who'd told them to buzz off. Though I wasn't yet learning the lessons of jealousy yet from a personal point of reference (that would come along about one year later), a song like "Jamie" made perfect sense to me at the time. Today, a man singing the words of this song may be called a stalker and slapped with a restraining order.

"Jamie" was Ray Parker, Jr.'s follow-up to the smash hit "Ghostbusters," which may have helped propel it a little higher than it may have otherwise finished. However, it was as high as he would ever get on the charts from that time forward. A lawsuit over plagiarizing the Ghostbusters theme would keep him busy and eventually sidetrack Parker's career. He managed to get a couple/ more singles into the Top 40, but neither would rise very high. For all intents and purposes, "Jamie" was his last decent hit song.

It's a shame that a guy who made his name playing guitar for Stevie Wonder, Barry White and Freda Payne and then enjoyed several hits as the force behind Raydio would be silenced due to a business matter. However, it may have seemed odd that the person who sang about leaving his "property" alone would be accused of plagiarizing, too.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Phil Collins & Marilyn Martin - "Separate Lives"

Separate Lives (Love Theme from White Nights) - White Nights (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

(Debuted October 5, 1985, Peaked #1, 20 Weeks on the Chart)

Here's a song whose impact on me has changed over the years. When it first came out in 1985 and went to the #1 spot on the pop chart, I thought it was a decent song and hoped to hear more from Marilyn Martin in the future. I also thought it was a better song than the other #1 hit from the movie White Nights (Lionel Richie's "Say You, Say Me," which wasn't actually included on the soundtrack LP). 

However, I was about to turn 13 at the time and was a lot less experienced in the way of relationships. So I missed a lot of the message of the song, which happens on the other side of a split, with both parties getting used to a new life trajectory that didn't include the other. The song was written by Stephen Bishop, best known for the songs "On and On" and the Tootsie theme "It Might Be You." Setting it up as an adult-styled duet paid off; in addition to reaching the top of the pop charts, it also went #1 on the adult contemporary survey as well. 

It's heart-wrenching to those who've been in that situation. But that's part of what makes music great.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pat Benatar - "Invincible"

Invincible - Seven the Hard Way

(Debuted July 7, 1985, Peaked #10, 17 Weeks on the Chart)

I remember seeing the video for this song on MTV during the Summer of '85. The video above was a recording from its early run there, when it still was tagged as an "Exclusive" that couldn't yet be seen on Night Flight, Friday Night Videos or HBO's Video Jukebox. Not only did I immediately recognize it as the best thing I'd heard from her since "Love is a Battlefield" two years earlier, I was hopped up to see the movie The Legend of Billie Jean. With the music video as an introduction, it looked like it would be really good.

Today, I still think the song is one of the best she's ever done. As for the movie...let's just say it was a major disappointment when I saw it. Time hasn't changed that fact at all. In fact, even Pat Benatar makes a point of expressing her displeasure about the film when she sings "Invincible" in concert. I still wonder how many tickets were sold for that movie on the basis of this song alone, rather than Helen Slater's immense hotness.

That said, it was still included on her next LP Seven the Hard Way, so Benatar fans weren't forced to also buy the soundtrack in order to have her complete body of work.