Friday, December 30, 2011

U2 - "New Year's Day"

New Year's Day - War (Deluxe Edition) [Remastered]

(Debuted April 2, 1983, Peaked #53, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

I could have not timed this song more perfectly unless the actual New Year's Day didn't fall on a weekend this year. So, for my final entry of the year, I'll toss out this U2 song that is a lot more familiar to listeners than its #53 peak position would normally indicate. However, in its initial chart run, U2 wasn't nearly as well-known as they soon became.

A song that was ostensibly about the Polish Solidarity movement, which was subjected to a crackdown by the Communist government in December 1981. Interestingly, Bono began the song as a love song to his newlywed wife on their honeymoon and eventually reworked the lyrics. As part of the LP War, which also included "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "40" and "Seconds," it helped set the Irish band's notoriety as a group that wasn't afraid to take a political stance.

That said, the thing worth pointing out in "New Year's Day" isn't its message but a musical matter. It's one of those songs that shows how important the rhythm section (bass and drums) is to a song. In essence, the two instruments combine to form a driving force -- like the timing chain/belt in an engine -- to propel the song forward. There's other interesting elements of the song, like The Edge's dual use of the guitar and piano, a rather simple melody and that wail that Bono gives before he begins the words. However, the song's base is what allows all of that to happen.

"New Year's Day" also included the line "Under a blood red sky..." That would be the title of U2's concert LP, recorded as they supported the War album.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spandau Ballet - "True"

True (Remastered) - True

(Debuted August 6, 1983, Peaked #4, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

Spandau Ballet's name came from an inscription a friend of the band found in the bathroom of a Berlin nightclub: "Rudolf Hess, all alone, dancing the Spandau Ballet." Hess was a former deputy of the Nazi party in Germany and was the last remaining convict in Germany's Spandau Prison from 1966 until his death in 1987. That said, the song "True" has absolutely nothing to do with him or his former cronies.

Instead, "True" is a romantic ballad that was a worldwide smash. In addition to its #4 showing on the American pop chart, it was a #1 single for four weeks in the U.K. and charted highly in about 20 different countries. It would be sampled on the 1991 P.M. Dawn hit "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss" and appear in several movies over the years. The constant exposure has given "True" a place as a quintessential 1980s hit.

The song reflects the band's interests in jazz, soul and R&B and even mentions Marvin Gaye in one of its lines.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Fixx - "Saved By Zero"

Saved By Zero - Reach the Beach (Expanded Edition) [Remastered]

(Debuted May 28, 1983, Peaked #20, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

The first Top 40 hit for the British group The Fixx featured a memorable (and oft-repeated) guitar and bass riff and echoing reverberated backing lyrics that lent it an ethereal quality. It fit in nicely with much of the moody, dark material coming out in its day by synthesizer-based acts.

Written by the group's members, the title refers to a Buddhist philosophy where "zero" represents a point where all material possessions are gone, as well as the corresponding debt and the bills needed to maintain those things. In effect, having nothing is seen as not only having nothing to lose but also nothing owed to anybody.

The video for the song (shown below) features a frustrated artist who is torn by his childhood rejections and his fear of "selling out" by his fans. As an added bonus, there is imagery galore: a woman falls through a ceiling window, singer Cy Curnin smears paint over his body, wine spills, a pair of hands in shackles rips through a canvas and a blind man shows up at an art show. And a lot of paint gets splashed around.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Billy Joel - "Allentown"

Allentown - The Nylon Curtain

(Debuted November 27, 1982, Peaked #17, 21 Weeks on the Chart)

Among all of Billy Joel's albums, The Nylon Curtain is perhaps one of his best conceptual statements, as well as one that is easily forgotten amongst bigger and poppier statements like Glass Houses and An Innocent Man. One of the themes explored in that album is the one that leads it off in "Allentown," which is about the death of the steel industry and its effect on those who rely on it to make a living.

It's a message I definitely picked up on, as a kid who grew up in a Northern town that had been largely built around one industry (in my case, paper mills). I watched those mills around me shut down, one at a time, until most of them were gone. When our parents were growing up, it wasn't uncommon for them to be told to try and get a job in one of the mills and seeking the certainty of a regular check and the protection of the union. However, that same advice wasn't given to me and my peers as it became obvious that the jobs there were drying up. Instead, I was encouraged to seek my fortune elsewhere, and that's what I did.

Today, there is a lot of talk about jobs and workers, not only from the politicians but from the voters as well. If anything, it's not a new concept; here are lines of a song from 30 years ago that explains the same situation as others are living through now.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Berlin - "The Metro"

The Metro - Pleasure Victim

(Debuted May 28, 1983, Peaked #58, 10 Weeks on the Chart)

Despite having the name of a German city and featuring other European locales in this song, Berlin was one of the many groups to emerge from the Los Angeles scene in the late 1970s. Founded by bass guitarist John Crawford, the band was influenced by keyboard-driven acts like Kraftwerk and Ultravox rather than the "skinny tie" guitar-based power-pop of many of its contemporaries.

"The Metro" was one of the band's highlights. A synth-heavy, atmospheric tour de force, the song features random images from what appears to be a sudden breakup and the train ride back. It also was a great use of singer Terri Nunn's vocal range. The video (shown below) made use of Nunn's good looks and was a staple of MTV programming in 1983, which might surprise those who see the song only peaked at #58 on the pop chart.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - "Hooked on Classics"

Hooked On Classics, Pts. 1 & 2 - Hooked On Classics

(Debuted October 31, 1981, Peaked #10, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

When Stars on 45 took a medley of Beatles songs to #1, it began a short-lived craze of merging a number of songs together into a single track united by an electronic drum beat. Stars on 45 released followup singles honoring Stevie Wonder and ABBA, and medleys of Elvis, the Beach Boys and one featuring the real Beatles (a mash-up of songs from their movies) appeared from those artists' record companies.

And then there was a series of "Hooked On..." records that saluted different styles. Swing had an album, as did country, but the first of them was called Hooked on Classics. It was essentially a medley of classical music set to a disco beat and was arranged by Louis Clark, who once directed the backing musicians for The Electric Light Orchestra. This time, he directed the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. The album and single were so successful they spawned four more sequel LPs.

Surprising those who may have guessed there would be a limited interest in classical music by casual fans, the single made the Top 10 on the pop chart. In the case of younger listeners like me, it helped me to realize that some of it was already familiar from cartoons and movies. If anything, it gave me another musical outlet to look into, even if I didn't bother looking too deep into it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jeffrey Osborne - "I Really Don't Need No Light"

I Really Don't Need No Light - Jeffrey Osborne

(Debuted June 5, 1982, Peaked #39, 15 Weeks on the Chart)

After singing on a number of hits in the late 1970s as the singer of the group L.T.D., Jeffrey Osborne went his own way in 1982. His first solo single was "I Really Don't Need No Light," which Allmusic describes as "moody and rhythmic." It features a pulsing synth line, which lends it a contemporary feel, to go with a string arrangement that gives it a fuller sound.

It barely reached into the pop Top 40, but was a solid #3 hit on the R&B chart and crossed over to the adult contemporary chart as well.  It would quickly be overshadowed by its followup single "On the Wings of Love," but Jeffrey Osbourne made it clear he was striking out on his own right out of the box.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Glenn Frey - "The One You Love"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted August 21, 1982, Peaked #15, 17 Weeks on the Chart)

When The Eagles broke up in 1980, it wasn't long before its members were releasing solo material. Since Joe Walsh had already recorded solo material, it was natural for him. Former member Randy Meisner also appeared late in 1980 with a hit single, but the main creative members of the band didn't get started right away. In Glenn Frey's case, he released his first solo LP No Fun Aloud in 1982.

"The One You Love" was the second single from that album and the one that charted the highest. Frey's style with The Eagles had been described as "laid back," but his rendition of "The One You Love" is a little too laid back in places. The song is a lamentation about being on the wrong end of a love triangle, so its low-key mood is appropriate. However, the saxophone solo by Jim Horn that glides throughout makes the song even better.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts - "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)"

Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah) - Bad Reputation (Remastered)

(Debuted July 31, 1982, Peaked #20, 14 Weeks on the Chart)

One of the biggest hits of 1982 was "I Love Rock & Roll," which seemed to be everywhere that spring. After spending six weeks at #1 on the pop charts, Joan Jett was suddenly a bigger star than even she probably expected to be. As a result of this sudden newfound fame, a single was issued from her previous Bad Reputation LP, which received little attention when it came out in 1981.

"Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)" was -- like many of Jett's singles -- a remake. It originally was a #2 U.K.  hit for Gary Glitter in 1973 but wasn't a hit in the U.S. With its straightforward beat and crunching guitar riff, it was a perfect match for her style. For its second wind, it made the Top 40; not bad for an "old" song that was overlooked the first time around.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sparks - "I Predict"

I Predict - Angst In My Pants

Debuted May 15, 1982, Peaked #60, 7 Weeks on the Chart

Sparks was a duo made up of brothers Russell and Ron Mael. They were Los Angeles natives but moved to England in the early 1970s when they began to attract a cult following that weren't able to get in their home country. Despite a handful of hit singles in the U.K., they never had their first American hit until 1982 when "I Predict" was tagged as the only single from their Angst in My Pants LP.

The reason for their decade-long drought in the U.S. is apparent in "I Predict": they have a quirky nature and a twisted sense of humor. Neither of those qualities will make friends among American radio programmers, but the English audience clued in on it quickly.  Despite their short list of hit songs on this side of the Atlantic, the brothers are still recording as Sparks and still have a rabid fan base.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Rovers - "Wasn't That a Party"

Wasn't That a Party? - The Irish Rovers Collection

(Debuted February 21, 1981, Peaked #37, 17 Weeks on the Chart)

This is an appropriate song to take into the weekend. Explaining the happenings of a party where many of the participants probably aren't likely to remember what happened the next day, it was nice for somebody to put down the words so they knew what had happened when they woke up in the cooling tank at the local jail.

The Rovers were originally known as The Irish Rovers and had three hit singles in 1968 including the #7 song "The Unicorn." The band was formed in Canada but consisted entirely of members who had been born in Ireland or Northern Ireland. "Wasn't That a Party" was a song written and originally recorded by Tom Paxton, who had even more lyrics to describe the action.

The version of the song in the video below (as well as in the Amazon and YouTube links) is a new recording made after it was a hit. For some reason, the original version is hard to find in a video.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jim Photoglo - "Fool in Love With You"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted April 18, 1981, Peaked #25, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

Jim Photoglo (who sometimes recorded simply as Photoglo) was a singer/songwriter from the Los Angeles area. He charted two Top 40 singles in the early 1980s, and "Fool in Love With You" was the second and higher-charting one. His material wasn't much different from other L.A.-based material of its era, so his career fizzled out rather quickly. He would move on to Nashville and write country music, but returned to his solo career in the 1990s.

"Fool in Love With You" isn't likely to change anybody's outlook on whether it deserved a better shot (in fact, #25 is probably right where it should have gone) but it's not a bad song at all. In fact, I don't understand why it doesn't get played over the sound systems at supermarkets today. It has that inoffensive vibe to it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Moody Blues - "The Voice"

Long Distance Voyager - The Moody Blues

(Debuted August 8, 1981, Peaked #15, 17 Weeks on the Chart)

The British Invasion brought some significant changes to pop music in the 1960s, but changes in taste and generational shift have a way of altering the landscape. By the early 1980s, many of the bands that came ashore in the wake of The Beatles were nothing more than a pleasant memory. There were exceptions: The Rolling Stones were as vital as ever in 1981, The Who had not yet given their first farewell tour (though they clearly lost something when Keith Moon died) and The Kinks were still making solid albums. In the case of The Moody Blues, they evolved with the times.

In the late 1960s and early 70s, The Moody Blues experimented with classical music as they developed a unique sound. After a short hiatus in the mid 70s that saw various members work on their own projects, they returned in 1978 and featured more of an electronic sound that was more keyboard-oriented. That would be a very good thing as the 1980s dawned.

"The Voice" was the song that led off the group's 1981 Long Distance Voyager LP. It was partially a concept album inspired by the Voyager spacecraft that had made news in 1980-'81, so many of the songs were given an ethereal quality that pointed to the Cosmos. It was written by Justin Hayward, who also sings the lyrics.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chilliwack - "My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)"

My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone) - Wanna Be a Star

(Debuted September 26, 1981, Peaked #22, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

Chilliwack is a Canadian group that had been together in one form or another since 1964. Their name was a native term for "going back up," as well as a small town located east of the band's home city of Vancouver. Their lineup fluctuated over the years, with singer/guitarist Bill Henderson being a constant member. Though a fairly continual presence on the hit charts in their own country, Chilliwack managed to get four singles into the Billboard Hot 100 during the 1970s, although none would reach the Top 40.

They finally got that elusive Top 40 American hit with "My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)" in 1981. It was also their first (and only) #1 single in Canada. The song was a catchy tune, featuring a chant that would remain in the listener's head once it stopped playing. The song brought two more albums and some minor hits, but the band ended up taking a lengthy hiatus in 1984.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Spinners - "Yesterday Once More/Nothing Remains the Same"

Medley: Yesterday Once More / Nothing Remains the Same (Remastered Remix Version) - Smooth & Sweet: The Spinners

(Debuted February 14, 1981, Peaked #52, 8 Weeks on the Chart)

The Spinners started off 1980 with their biggest hit in years by recording a medley. It combined one hit song from the past with a new song: "Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl" was a Top 10 hit. Their next single was "Cupid/I've Loved You For a Long Time" and it returned the group to the Top 40. Not wanting to mess up their hot streak, they went to the 1970s and a Carpenters song called "Yesterday Once More" but the good luck didn't stick around.

In all three of these singles, producer Michael Zager was the author of the "new" half of the medley. While releasing the medley was likely overkill, it was probably seen as a "safe" move by Atlantic records. However, the near-disco beat of "Yesterday Once More/Nothing Remains the Same" was out of place in 1981. In fact, it was probably about two years past its expiration date.

One last thing: while John Edwards does a good job singing the words of "Yesterday Once More," he shows once again how great Karen Carpenter's rendition was.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Korgis - "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime"

Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime - The Korgis Kollection

(Debuted October 11, 1980, Peaked #18, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

Today's entry features a song I didn't care for when I first heard it. At the time, it was too slow and plodding for my young hyperactive brain to focus on. It wouldn't be until literally decades later that I heard it on a rerun of Casey Kasem's American Top 40 radio shows (here's a list of stations that run the show weekly, complete with links to listen live) in 2008 and heard it with an entirely new perspective. In my case, the experiences of adulthood gave me a deeper appreciation of the lyrics.

Written and sung by Korgis member James Warren, "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime" evokes John Lennon's early post-Beatles work both vocally and instrumentally. It's ironic that the song was sitting near its peak position on the chart just as Lennon was murdered. The haunting ballad would be the only chart hit The Korgis would get in the U.S. and would be re-recorded by the band as well as others over the years.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

John Lennon - "(Just Like) Starting Over"

(Just Like) Starting Over - Power to the People - The Hits (Remastered)

(Debuted November 1, 1980, Peaked #1, 25 Weeks on the Chart)

Since the 80s Music Mayhem blog is focusing on the year 1980 this week, there is no more appropriate song to feature today than this one. There really isn't more that I can add about the song that isn't covered (and usually better) somewhere else. Most fans understand the significance of "(Just Like) Starting Over," and how the words took on a different meaning after Lennon's short encounter with Mark David Chapman.

On December 8, 1980 I was 8 years old and had little idea who The Beatles were. So when the news broke about John Lennon's murder, I wasn't really affected by it, but I definitely saw that many around me were. So I listened to what they were saying, and eventually tuned in to his music (and that of his former group) as I grew older. Just a few years later, I was hooked on Lennon's message and was conversant enough in The Beatles' material to know which album most of their songs were on.

I'm sure I'd have eventually gotten around to listen to his material, but Lennon's senseless death was the event that caused me to pay attention to his message. And it's a message that I'm already passing along to my own daughter, who is already listening to my Beatles CDs as she does some of her chores around the house.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

John Cougar - "This Time"

This Time (Single Version) - Nothin' Matters and What If It Did (Remastered)

(Debuted September 27, 1980, Peaked #27, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

As a young up-and-coming artist, John Mellencamp made several compromises on the way to his big break. First, he was given the name Johnny Cougar by his first manager because he thought "Mellencamp" sounded too ethnic for Americans to handle, despite that fact that he was the personification of middle America. He was also given a reputation as a Hell-raiser which was only partially warranted. Finally, despite the fact that he wrote his own material, his producers and record company had the final say about what his songs would sound like.

When he recorded the LP Nothin' Matters and What if it Did, he was still under that arrangement. Legendary guitarist Steve Cropper produced it, but Mellencamp didn't have a lot of say in what the finished product would sound like despite sinking a huge amount of money into it. Though it produced two Top 40 singles that helped keep his name in the spotlight and  led to his breakthrough American Fool album, he has downplayed the result ever since.

Actually, I like "This Time" as a song. It was a single that stood out among the material around it in late 1980, even if it offered little insight into the material he would bring out once he became famous enough to revert to his given name later in the decade. However, I know from experience that things that were painful to live through aren't always great places to revisit; besides, as his own song, John Mellencamp is free to feel as he wishes about it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Andy Gibb and Olivia Newton-John - "I Can't Help it"

I Can't Help It (Duet with Olivia Newton John) - After Dark

(Debuted March 29, 1980, Peaked #12, 13 Weeks on the Chart)

As 1980 dawned, both Andy Gibb and Olivia Newton-John were superstars. There were other similarities, too: both were born in England (he in Manchester, she in Cambridge), both were raised in Australia and both were living at that point in the United States. At the time, there was very little downside to having the two perform a duet, so they recorded two that would appear on Gibb's After Dark LP.

After Dark produced three hit singles. Despite having one Top 10 hit and the other two reaching #15 or better, it was a relative disappointment in the face of his first two albums that sold better and produced huge #1 singles. At the same time, Gibb's behavior was becoming erratic due to what turned out to be substance control issues. As a result, Gibb would be dropped from RSO Records' roster. He turned to acting, performing in the Broadway play Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and hosting Solid Gold, as well as turning in guest roles on the shows Gimme a Break and Punky Brewster. Sadly, he passed away in 1988 just five days after turning 30.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Kenny Nolan - "Us and Love"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted February 21, 1980, Peaked #44, 8 Weeks on the Chart)

Fans of 1970s music have heard Kenny Nolan's work, even those who only know him from his 1977 hit "I Like Dreamin'." He was a writer, producer and session performer before that hit brought him out front. Among his written material are the #1 singles "My Eyes Adored You" by Frankie Valli and "Lady Marmalade" by LaBelle, and his falsetto was heard in Disco Tex and the Sex-o-Lettes' "Get Dancin'." His solo career brought "I Like Dreamin'," followed by the Top 20 "Love's Grown Deep."

"Us and Love" would be Nolan's final chart hit as a performer. While not as memorable as his earlier hits were, it still managed to barely miss the Top 40. A new album appeared in 1982, but Nolan seemed to drop from the new music landscape as fast as he seemed to appear.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Hooters - "500 Miles"

500 Miles - Hooterization: A Retrospective

(Debuted December 9, 1989, Peaked #97, 4 Weeks on the Chart)

For the final entry from 1989, here's a song that was literally charting at the very end of the year. It was on the Hot 100 for exactly four weeks (though one of those weeks was frozen because Billboard releases a double-length holiday issue at the end of the year). When the first survey of 1990 appeared, this song had dropped away.

This is not a version of the 1993 Proclaimers hit "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles);" instead, it's a remake of a song that was written by Hedy West and performed by several acts during the 1960s folk revival including Peter, Paul & Mary, The Journeymen and The Kingston Trio. A version with new lyrics called "500 Miles Away From Home" was a huge country/pop crossover hit for Bobby Bare in 1963.

Featuring backing vocals by Peter, Paul and Mary (clearly heard as the song fades out), the lyrics explain that a man is far from home, out of money and either too proud or too ashamed to return. It ended up being the final Hot 100 listing for the Philadelphia-based band The Hooters before being dropped bu their record label. The new decade saw them gain popularity in foreign countries just as their fortunes flagged in the U.S., so they would focus on the international market before taking a hiatus in 1995.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tone-Loc - "Funky Cold Medina"

Funky Cold Medina - Lōc-ed After Dark

(Debuted March 4, 1989, Peaked #3, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

"Funky Cold Medina" is definitely a relic of the late 1980s. Built on top of a sample (from Van Halen's "Janie's Cryin'"), the song's lyrics mention Spuds McKenzie, the Love Connection TV show and even mentions the decade in one of its lines. A somewhat humorous look at dating, the narrator is relying on a potion to get lucky with the ladies but things keep going wrong. First, his dog gets the action. Next, he picks up "Sheena" at a club only to find out it was another man. Then, he finds a lady who wants to get married, which makes him get up and leave.

While it was a #3 hit, it was very similar in style, tone and subject to Tone-Loc's earlier hit "Wild Thing" and used the same guitar riff as its sample. While the kids definitely knew the difference, others may have thought they were listening to the same song. Even though both singles went platinum and the Loc-ed After Dark LP went to #1 on the album chart, the similarity may have killed his career momentum. He never had another Top 40 hit again.