Thursday, June 30, 2011

Great White - "Rock Me"

Rock Me - Once Bitten

(Debuted August 22, 1987, Peaked #60, 14 Weeks on the Chart)

"Rock Me" was the breakout hit from Great White, but the band had been working for nearly a decade before they made it big. Originally called Dante Fox, their eventual name came from guitarist Mark Kendall's white-blond mane. He wore white suits and played a white-colored guitar in those early days, so singer Jack Russell would introduce him before his onstage solos as "Mark Kendall, the Great White" and the name eventually stuck with the band.

"Rock Me" was a cut from the LP Once Bitten... and was more than seven minutes long. While album rock stations had no problem playing the song at that length, Top 40 stations opted to play edited versions that were between three and five minutes long. A tune that started off soft and built itself up as it approached the chorus (call it similar to foreplay -- or at least the initial excitement --  before the act of sex begins), it counted Aerosmith and Van Halen as influences.

Great White would enjoy more hits through the 1980s, they were among the bands that feel out of favor after the rise of grunge in the early 90s but managed to stay together despite a series of rotating members. Sadly, it took a tragedy to bring Great White back into the spotlight in 2003. During a concert in a Rhode Island nightclub, pyrotechnics started a fire that killed a hundred people, including guitarist Ty Longley. Actually, the band performing wasn't officially Great White but a group supporting Jack Russell during one of the band's hiatuses.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Force MD's - "Love is a House"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted August 29, 1987, Peaked #78, 9 Weeks on the Chart)

Formed in Staten Island, New York in 1981, the Force MD's were a band that utilized the burgeoning hip-hop/quiet storm sound and mixed in the doo-wop influence from vocal groups of years past. Though not as well-regarded or considered to be as crucial as many other contemporary acts by the critics, they made their mark in the business. Their song "Tender Love" made an appearance in the film Krush Groove and became a Top 10 hit in 1986, giving them exposure to a wider audience. Although "Love is a Hose" failed to make the pop Top 40, it would become their first #1 R&B single and is still considered to be one of their finest singles.

However, as the "New Jack Swing" movement took hold by the end of the decade, the smoother R&B harmonies fell out of favor and the band's successes began to fade. There was some shuffling of membership, and eventually parts of the group's 1980s-era core were more permanently sidelined: Charles "Mercury" Nelson died from a heart attack in 1995 and Antoine "T.C.D." Lundy fell victim to Lou Gehrig's disease in '98. Furthermore, DJ Dr. Rock also died in the meantime.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Jets - "You Got it All"

You Got It All - The Jets Greatest Hits

(Debuted November 15, 1986, Peaked #3, 26 Weeks on the Chart)

At the time, 1987 started off as a really good year for me. I was 14 years old and beginning to experience some of the extra freedom I was being given as a result of showing that I was mature enough to handle it. One of the things I did at that time was a monthly dance my church youth group had that let me go all the way to Syracuse and meet with kids from other towns around Upstate New York. And while there was the regular church-related stuff we had to sit through, there was one reason I really looked forward to the third weekend of every month.

You probably guessed it...there was a girl there. Brenda was a redhead, which has long been a particular weakness of mine. "You Got it All" was a hit around that time, and the song was played at the dances. I must have danced with her to this song at least once, because I still think of her when I hear it.

I haven't seen or heard about Brenda since I graduated from high school. And while I'm sure she's forgotten all about me by now, it would be great to find out how she's doing. Not to see if there's any spark left (after all, I'm happily married with a child and assume she is as well); rather, I'd love to see how a long-lost friend has been spending the last twenty-plus years.

"You Got it All" was one of five Top 10 pop hits for The Jets between 1986 and '88. It was also one of two #1 adult contemporary singles for them as well. The group was a family act, consisting of eight siblings originally from Tonga. The vocals were done by Elizabeth Wolfgramm, who was the same age as I was (well, she still is, come to think of it). The song was written by Rupert Holmes, who hadn't had any hits of his own since 1981's "I Don't Need You" -- featured on this blog back in March -- and had branched out into other music-related interests.

That's the power of music, especially music from your own youth. Even a quarter century later, hearing a song can take you back to a moment in time that would otherwise be lost forever.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Peter Wolf - "Come As You Are"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted February 28, 1987, Peaked #15, 15 Weeks on the Chart)

Memories are made of the spring of 1987, I was in the ninth grade and on the junior varsity baseball team. Before heading out to the field one afternoon for practice, one of my teammates started singing this song as we walked through the hall of the school. As he sang the lines, I went ahead and added the "woo woo" part at the end of each line for him. While my baseball "career" was over after that year (I finally realized I wasn't as good as I thought I was), this song takes me back to that moment whenever I hear it.

After leaving the J. Geils Band in 1983 to go solo, Peter Wolf had a couple of successful records and a handful of hit singles. "Come As You Are" would be his final Top 40 hit, as well as a #1 song on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks. It was another tune that seemed to show off Wolf's sense of humor and the showmanship he picked up as a radio DJ and over 16 years of fronting his former band.

That spilled over into the song's video as well (shown below). Aside from the gimmick of having Wolf jumping all over the place, the question begs to be asked: how many 1950's Middle America stereotypes can you fit in a video? The milkman is there, along with the traffic cop, the kid on the vintage bicycle, another kid dressed up like a cowboy, a barber, a street sweeper, a shoeshine boy. There's even a street sign showing he's on a state road in Missouri. It may have been a pain to get all the details straight, but that video looked like it was fun to make.

Friday, June 24, 2011

John Cafferty - "Heart's On Fire"

Hearts On Fire - Rocky IV (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

(Debuted March 1, 1986, Peaked #76, 6 Weeks on the Chart)

Last time this blog swung through the year 1986 in April, Robert Tepper's "No Easy Way Out" was one of the featured songs. At the time, I made a quick reference to a scene in Rocky IV where Sylvester Stallone ran to the top of a mountain in Russia. In fact, "Heart's On Fire" was the song that accompanied that sequence.

I have absolutely no idea how this song only reached #76 when it came out. It was a perfect soundtrack song at a time where those were certain hits. Interestingly, it was a soundtrack that propelled John Cafferty (and his Beaver Brown Band) to national prominence; his vocals used in Eddie & the Cruisers became a belated hit after that movie began playing on cable stations.

Before that, Cafferty and his band were a Rhode island-based bar band with a loyal local following. However, the hits that followed up their breakthrough "On the Dark Side" pretty much stuck to teh formula and they soon wore out their welcome on the pop charts. When Cafferty recorded "Heart's On Fire" as a solo artist, he traded in the raw guitar sound with a very 1980s-themed synthesizer. Although many synth-based songs from the era haven't dated well, "Heart's On Fire" has held up pretty well over the years.

Perhaps there's a benefit to having your song forever linked with the sight of Sylvester Stallone running up to the top of a mountain range after giving his Commie escorts the slip.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Marilyn Martin - "Night Moves"

Night Moves - Marilyn Martin

(Debuted January 18, 1986, Peaked #28, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

Shortly after she dueted with Phil Collins on the #1 hit "Separate Lives," Marilyn Martin managed to get a followup Top 40 hit. Despite that, she's been wrongly tagged as a "One-Hit Wonder" and "Night Moves" has largely been forgotten.

Martin received her recording contract after an executive heard her backing up Stevie Nicks during the recording of her LP Rock a Little and asked her for a demo. She had been doing backing vocals for several years before that, for such acts as Kenny Loggins, Tom Petty and ex-Eagles Don Henley and Joe Walsh. After "Night Moves," Martin's follow-up album and its singles failed, and she returned to session and backup work. By the 1990s, she moved to Nashville, where she's a realtor today.

"Night Moves" is definitely a 1980s tune, with its production, it's ominous synthesizer and a guitar solo that is very much a product of its time. If that's not enough, the video below is more 1980s greatness. It plays like a straight-to-VHS video release, where Martin plays a serial killer. In an era where Miami Vice was lauded for its stylistic approach because of its obvious MTV influence, music videos returned the favor.

Personally, I was surprised she never had any more success after that.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jermaine Stewart - "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off"

We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off - Frantic Romantic

(Debuted May 17, 1986, Peaked #5, 22 Weeks on the Chart)

During my teenage years, I was part of my church's youth group. Among the lessons we were taught there was the way popular music could be subversive, because it plants ideas into your head subliminally. So, after you've repeated the underlying message enough, things just seem to make sense. Those of you have been reading my reviews long enough know one of two things happened: either I paid no attention to the lessons, or the experiment was a miserable failure.

On the other hand, this song was pointed out as a positive message during the summer of 1986. It had lyrics that stated that promiscuity wasn't necessary: "I'm not a piece of meat, stimulate my brain" and "We don't have to take our clothes off to have a good time." Of course, the elders conveniently sidestepped the part about drinking wine (we weren't Catholic, after all) but there wasn't the "Just say no" component that other songs of the era, like "Let's Wait Awhile" and "I Wonder if I Take You Home" -- both sung by females, for what that's worth -- had.

And then there was the point that a buddy of mine brought up after seeing the video. He said, "I'm guessing he just doesn't care for the ladies." We know today that Jermaine Stewart eventually died in 1997 from liver problems brought about from his battle with AIDS, which adds a tragic angle to a statement like that. I wonder what those elders might have thought of the song if they'd have been able to know what would eventually happen with him.

Wow. That was quite a sidetrack.

Jermaine Stewart made his name as a dancer on Soul Train in the late 1970s and then as a backup singer for Shalamar. While "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off" was his biggest hit, he had a few others including another Top 40 single in 1988 called "Say it Again" that is sorely overlooked today.

Listening to "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off" today, I hear it as a relic of a time gone by. One where AIDS was a problem we knew very little about and didn't understand at all, where well-meaning elders tried to force a bunch of libido-driven teenagers to keep their pants on by making us frightened of what "might" happen. By the way, the tactic didn't work; my high school actually opened a day care center before I graduated in order to keep some of my classmates from having to drop out. Despite being obviously dated to the 1980s by its production and its music, it's actually a good, upbeat tune. It's definitely worth a few minutes to give it a listen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Oran "Juice" Jones - "The Rain"

The Rain - '80s Urban Beats & Grooves

(Debuted September 13, 1986, Peaked #9, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

Oran "Juice" Jones was a newcomer to the music business in 1986. How new, you ask? About six months before recording his debut LP, he was an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. Being born in Houston and raised in Harlem are things you'd expect to see on an R&B singer's resume, but a trip through the Naval Academy and leader of a company of troops are definitely unique.

The part that stood out for me with "The Rain" when I first heard it was the part at the end. After singing about discovering his lady was stepping out behind his back, he waits for her to come home so he can lay down The Law. However, instead of pulling out a gun and giving her a cold, hard lesson (like he says he might have wanted to), he took back all the gifts he gave her, cut off her money supply and let her walk away. That's an old school attitude: let her live with her mistake and know she did it to herself.

After further hits after "The Rain" failed to materialize, Jones eventually left the music business and took care of his mother as she battled a terminal illness. While that's not what you might expect from the guy you hear in the last couple minutes of "The Rain," it's something that you'd expect from a guy who was a Marine: duty bound and loyal to the end. Today, Jones has two children who are chasing their own musical careers.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Synch - "Where Are You Now?"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted March 1, 1986, Peaked #77, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

The numbers above may seem odd. Readers may remember this song as being a little more recent than 1986, and definitely making the Top 40. And they're right on both counts.

Synch was a band from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania fronted by Lou Butwin. Jimmy Harnen was the drummer, but was given the chance to sing vocals for "Where Are You Now" since he wrote the song. The power pop tune was a big hit around the band's home base and in a few other markets, but not enough to carry the song into the Top 40. When no more hits came, their label dropped them and the band eventually disbanded.

In 1989, "Where Are You Now" was rediscovered and began to pick up some airplay. Since power pop was much more in vogue, it eventually spread wider than it did in its initial chart run. Unfortunately, Synch had broken up and wasn't available to seize the moment, so Columbia re-released the single as "Jimmy Harnen with Synch" and Harnen was signed as a solo artist. The second wind was quite fortunate, as the song sailed into the Top 10. However, success didn't follow him again and Harnen was a two-time "One-Hit Wonder."

So...where is Jimmy Harnen now? He's still in the music business as an executive.

So...someday, I'll be really lazy when I'm working on songs from 1989 and toss this one in again. I promise, though, it won't be anytime soon.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Y&T - "Summertime Girls"

Summertime Girls - Ultimate Collection: Y&T

(Debuted July 13, 1985, Peaked #55, 10 Weeks on the Chart)

Y&T stands for "Yesterday and Today," which was the original name of the Oakland-based band in the 1970s. Although "Summertime Girls" is the group's biggest hit and perhaps the only one most casual listeners might recognize from them, they were a very influential group around their California home base, In fact, Lars Ulrich of Metallica has said in interviews that seeing Y&T live was one of the catalysts for his decision to become a musician, explaining that they seemed to really enjoy what they were doing.

The group broke up in 1991 but reformed several years later and continue to perform. Lead singer Dave Meniketti is the only member from the 1980s lineup left. Sadly, bassist Phil Kennemore passed away earlier this year from lung cancer.

"Summertime Girls" seemed to be playing on MTV all the time during the summer of '85. For that reason, it is another one of those songs that surprises me to see it missed the Top 40. In any case, it's a great song for the summer, regardless of the 1980s rock vibe it gives off.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Paul Hardcastle - "19"

19 - The Very Best of ....

(Debuted June 1, 1985, Peaked #15, 14 Weeks on the Chart)

Growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was a fan of American History. Particularly, I read up on several books pertaining to both World Wars. What eventually stood out for me was the realization that while there was so much information about those wars handy, the information about the Vietnam war was a lot more scarce. What made this oddly interesting is that I was a military brat at the time and my father and the fathers of many of my friends had served in that war, but many of them really didn't talk a lot about what happened there.

Since I was born in 1972 (with Dad missing my delivery because he was serving in 'Nam), I missed the events of the time the U.S. was involved in Vietnam. I never witnessed a demonstration, nor did I get conscripted into uniform because my number was called. I never saw anybody get called a "baby killer." I never knew what it was like to have a uniformed official come to the door and break the terrible news that a loved one wasn't coming back home. Instead, I grew up in an environment where many just preferred the memories would go away, in order for the wounds that were still relatively fresh to heal. It was a mess, I was told, one that was difficult to explain.

By 1985, I was no longer living on military installations because my parents were splitting up. During that summer, I heard "19" play on the radio and was naturally drawn to it. Not so much the stuttering "Nine-nine-nine-nineteen" bit that my friends poked fun at, but the sound bites of soldiers that were talking about their experience and the news reporter (find a name) that was explaining the war's effects. For a kid who liked to watch history-based documentaries and listen to the radio, the song featured elements of both. "19" was explained in the song as the average age of the Vietnam-era combat soldier, and the soldiers speaking in it sounded like they weren't much older than I was at that away, like the older brothers of some of my friends rather than our fathers. Since my frame of reference involved veterans who were already well into their thirties, hearing them as kids was a real eye-opener.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chaka Khan - "Through the Fire"

Through the Fire - I Feel for You

(Debuted April 27, 1985, Peaked #60, 19 Weeks on the Chart)

Thanks to the smash hit "I Feel For You," Chaka Khan was all over the radio in 1985. Her followup seemed to be an effort to branch out to a more adult audience, since "Through the Fire" was a much softer sound than the rap/hip hop of the earlier hit. Frankly, I'm surprised it wasn't a bigger hit, since it had several elements that made should have helped it into the Top 40.

It wasn't the first foray by Chaka Khan into an "easy listening" sound. When she was the voice of Rufus in the 1970s, she had proven with "Sweet Thing" that she could carry a torch with the best of them. However, for those of us who never heard of Chaka before "I Feel For You," it was a very different sound.

"Through the Fire" was written by David Foster as an instrumental. He then had Cynthia Weil and Tom Keane come in to help with the lyrics. At the time, it set a record for the song that spent the longest time on the Hot 100 without getting into the Top 40. It was, however, a bigger hit on the R&B (#15) and adult contemporary (#16) charts.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Animotion - "Obsession"

Obsession - Obsession - The Best of Animotion

(Debuted January 26, 1985, Peaked #6, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

In earlier entries of this blog, I've mentioned how fashion sometimes ages really badly. When it comes to 80s style, the bright colors and gravity-defying hairstyles that seemed "cool" back then aren't as trendy today. That's not isolated to the 80s, of course; every decade has had its share of similar fads and trends that weren't so interesting after they faded. "Obsession" is a prime example: the video and song are full of things that may have seemed cool back in 1985, but are a little difficult to explain today if our children ask, "why did you do that?!"

It's not like very many of us are going to say it was the cocaine talking. Even in the cases where that might have been true.

In hindsight, the song was catchy enough, but in the MTV age a new band needed to stand out with a memorable video. So, the members of the band staged a costume party. There was Antony and Cleopatra, an Arabian sheik who arched his brow, a guy dressed as a court jester, and even an astronaut. The video was shot in front of the famed "Hollywood" sign, which only added to the absurdity.

That said, I remember wanting to watch that video when it came on. Even today, I remember the video more than I do the song. In that respect, it must have worked.

Animotion had some membership issues after "Obsession" fell off the charts. When they finally shed the dreaded "One-Hit Wonder" status with 1989's "Room To Move" they had a very different lineup, including two different lead singers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

John Paar - "Naughty Naughty"

Naughty Naughty - John Parr

(Debuted December 15, 1984, Peaked #23, 19 Weeks on the Chart)

Before hitting #1 with the theme song from St. Elmo's Fire, John Parr was touring in support of his self-titled LP. He had three singles from that album reach the Hot 100, with "Naughty Naughty" making the Top 40 in the spring of '85. The guitar-fueled rock song was a nice break from the formulaic nature of Arena rock and a welcome change from the synthesizers found in so many songs of the era. It would also hit #1 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart.

After the breakout success he enjoyed in 1985, Parr moved to other interests: soundtracks, producing and acting. He left the music business for over a decade beginning in the 1990s. He hasn't had any American hit singles since 1986, but still continues to record and tour today.

Despite the U.S. flag art on his guitar in the video below, John Parr is an Englishman.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Teddy Pendergrass & Whitney Houston - "Hold Me"

Hold Me (Duet With Whitney Houston) - Love Language

(Debuted June 9, 1984, Peaked #46, 18 Weeks on the Charts)

This was the song that introduced Whitney Houston to the Billboard pop chart. While she was a backup singer on a few songs that had charted previously (like Chaka Khan's "I'm Every Woman"), this was the first single to list her on the label. While it wasn't a Top 40 pop hit, it managed to reach the Top 10 on both the R&B and adult contemporary charts. In fact, the first few times I ever heard it was on an AM station that skewed more toward adult contemporary.

That's right...where I grew up, the main radio stations were still on the AM band as late as 1984 and the FM stations that were any good were either from Canada or Syracuse, which were affected by weather patterns. That would soon change later in the year, but that part of northern New York was behind the times when it came to a lot of things. But I digress...

While Whitney Houston is arguably the bigger star on this song, when it was released, the "name" was Teddy Pendergrass. He had been involved in a serious car accident in 1982 that left him paralyzed from the waist down. There had been two Pendergrass albums since the accident, but both included material that was already "in the can" before the brakes failed on his Rolls. After a long period of physical therapy, he signed with a new record company and recorded the LP Love Language, which included "Hold Me." Despite the injury, the record proved that Pendergrass could still carry a torch with the best of them even when confined to a wheelchair.

Listening to "Hold Me" with the benefit of nearly 30 years of hindsight, it's easy to see that the female vocal is quite talented. It's safe to say that from the standpoint of a listener in 1984, few knew just how big that voice would become as the 1980s progressed. Yes, she was able to hold her own against the powerful voice that Teddy Pendergrass possessed on the single, but it was difficult to guess that she was about to turn out seven #1 singles before the decade was over.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Laid Back - "White Horse"

White Horse (U.S. Edit) [1983 Remaster] - Good Vibes - The Very Best of Laid Back

(Debuted February 25, 1984, Peaked #26, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

Laid Back (or Laidback, as they're also called) was a Danish group led by John Guldberg and Tim Stahl. "White Horse" was their biggest single in the U.S., reaching the pop Top 40, Top 5 on the R&B chart and #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club chart (the one that was once called "Disco"). That's fitting, since it comes across as disco with synthesizers where the orchestra used to be.

There's a little confusion with the lyrics, though. Since "horse" is a slang term for heroin, the lines "if you want to ride, don't ride the white horse" came across as a warning to stay away from smack (but not necessarily saying it might be wise to also avoid other pharmaceuticals; this wasn't a "Just Say No" song by any means). To many, that was something that made it a uniquely 80s tune. Ironically, the sly drug reference may not have been a factor in the song's limited pop success. The use of the word "bitch" -- which is edited out of the video below --  near the end was more of a concern to radio programmers.

Laid Back recorded a few followup LPs and singles, but never made it back to the U.S. pop charts despite success in several European countires. They're still together today, recording and doing some sporadic live dates.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Van Stephenson - "Modern Day Delilah"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted April 21, 1984, Peaked #22, 17 Weeks on the Chart)

During the 1990s, I worked for several years in the radio business as a disc jockey. One of the stations played country music, and one of the groups in our rotation was called Black Hawk. As it turned out, Van Stephenson was a member of the band. Since I'd remembered him from "Modern Day Delilah," it seemed odd at the time for him to be doing country. However, Stephenson had grown up in Nashville and got his start writing country songs for artists like Crystal Gayle, Janie Fricke and Kenny Rogers. For him, it wasn't a profit-minded career change, but a true return to his roots.

Even now, "Modern Day Delilah" seems like an odd choice for a singer whose roots were based in Nashville. Yes, the Bible story of Samson and Delilah might point more toward country, but the guitar attack of the song was the antithesis of that sound in 1984. Perhaps his record company or his management felt he would be a better fit for pop and marketed a very MTV-friendly video. However, "Modern Day Delilah" was one of only two three Stephenson songs to reach the Hot 100 (and the only one in the Top 40). Before long, Stephenson was dropped by his label as a solo artist and was once again writing songs for Restless Heart (including their #1 single "The Bluest Eyes in Texas") and other country artists. He would form BlackHawk in 1992.

Sadly, Van Stephenson was diagnosed with melanoma in 1999 and eventually left Black Hawk. He died from the disease in 2001. He was 47 years old.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Romantics - "One in a Million"

One In a Million - The Romantics: Super Hits

(Debuted February 25, 1984, Peaked #37, 12 Weeks on Chart)

"One in a Million" was the second Top 40 hit for the Detroit-based power pop band The Romantics, as it came right on the heels of their Top 10 hit "Talking in Your Sleep." However, neither of those hit songs seem to be as well-remembered as an earlier hit that originally missed the Top 40 altogether: 1980's "What I Like About You."

The Romantics formed on Valentine's Day, 1977 and took their name from the day they became a group. Though often lumped in with the New Wave bands of the early 1980s as a result of their fashion (rather than their music style), The Romantics were more of a pop band whose influences were the British Invasion bands the punks struggled to rebel against. "One in a Million" features a lot of guitar licks to support that, even if there is an occasional syth line.

"One in a Million" would be the band's final Top 40 hit, as they were prevented from recording for several years due to a discovery that their management was abusing their earnings. The lawsuit that resulted kept them out of the studio until the mid-90s. By that time, they had long been relegated to "has been" status even as they were still able to perform. The group is still active today, with only the drummer from the hit singles having left.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Al Jarreau - "After All"

After All - The Very Best Of: An Excellent Adventure

(Debuted October 13, 1984, Peaked #69, 9 Weeks on the Chart)

By 1984, Al Jarreau had enjoyed a couple of pop Top 40 hits ("Mornin'," "We're in This Love Together") but was already one of the giants in the jazz field. As the 1980s wore on, Jarreau would continue to get exposure, performing a line of "We Are the World" and singing the theme for the TV show Moonlighting. "After All" didn't become another Top 40 hit, but was still a memorable performance that is played with some regularity today on one of the local radio stations near where I live.

In fact, I was on my way home from work one day shortly after beginning this blog and the song came over the radio. I was immediately taken by his performance: it was seemingly effortless, but you knew right away that it was a Jarreau performance. Since it had been some time since I'd actually heard it, the song stayed with me for the rest of my commute. Getting home, I went right into my reference materials and was happy to see that "After All" was a Hot 100 single, so it was placed on the short list to share with my readers.

That said...enjoy.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sheena Easton - "Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair)"

Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair) - Sheena Easton: Greatest Hits

(Debuted August 20, 1983, Peaked #9, 21 Weeks on the Chart)  

One of the jobs I've held over the years was a technician for a broadband company. My duties involved installation and repair of customer telephone lines. Yes, I was a telephone man. As a result, songs about phones catch my ear, whether I actually like them or not: Skyy's "Call Me" was already featured in this blog, New Edition's "Mr. Telephone Man" could have been one of my service calls, Tommy Tutone's "867-5309 (Jenny)" was another one and several ELO songs through the years addressed telephone lines.

This song by Sheena Easton really isn't about a telephone, though, even while it uses the device in its actions. The "long distance" refers to a personal connection rather than an electronic one. While the lyrics imply there's an ocean keeping them apart ("Operator, give me Transatlantic"), the words may simply be a metaphor for the gulf between two lovers who are about to split. In any case, she's calling and he isn't responding. Whether the two are on separate continents or just a few blocks apart, that's never a good thing.

The YouTube video below comes from the Solid Gold TV show. As usual, I'm enough of a sucker to show this one instead of a more official promo video from the era.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bob Seger - "Roll Me Away"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted May 28, 1983, Peaked #27, 10 Weeks on the Chart)  

Those who read my 1970s music blog have likely read that I wasn't much of a Bob Seger fan while growing up. While adults seemed to love his stuff, I never really understood then what was so great about it. However, once I got older and begin to actually listen to the lyrics in his songs, I began to understand what he was singing about. Since a lot of those songs were about growing older and slowly discovering what it's like to be on the other side of adolescence, I realized that I had very little frame of reference regarding his song when I was a teenager.

That said, I really didn't pay attention to "Roll Me Away" during the era when it was a Top 40 hit. I first heard it a couple of years later as it played in the closing credits of the film Mask. While the imagery in the lyrics about the biker taking whichever road he felt like following matched the motorcycle gang in the film, as well as Rocky Dennis's desire to ride his motorcycle across Europe, the song has other elements that aren't as evident. The freedom of the open road is one thing, then there's the optimism expressed in the final line of the song, "I said next time, we'll get it right." It expresses the idea that things can always get better, regardless of what we do. That's where the maturity pops up in the song.

In his book The Heart of Rock & Soul,  Dave Marsh explains that the end of the song is essentially what happens after the final scene of The Searchers. That's actually a pretty good explanation. It's more than the rolling piano that marks the long stretches of the song that are wordless, or how tightly Seger's band plays. I love this song because of the sentiment behind the words.

Since Seger's material isn't available on either iTunes or Amazon, I've added a link to the Marsh book on Amazon, which can be picked up really cheaply there. It's a good read.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Earth, Wind & Fire - "Magnetic"

Magnetic - The Eternal Dance

(Debuted November 12, 1983, Peaked #57, 8 Weeks on the Chart)  

"Magnetic" is a largely forgotten tune in the vast repertoire of Earth, Wind & Fire songs. When released, the song wasn't on the charts long before it dropped off. The album that contained it, Electric Universe, was the band's first LP that failed to go gold or platinum since 1972 and led to a short hiatus for the band. Group leader Maurice White blames the album's failure on the fact that it had come out so soon after their previous LP Powerlight, but perhaps the band's "electronic period" was too different from what the hits from their 1970s halcyon days had sounded like.

While the band was known for their horn sections and forward-looking lyrics, the early 1980s marked a different musical vision for the group. They were increasingly relying on synthesizers and electronic effects, and by 1983 the horns were gone from their new records. This new sound -- "Electrofunk" -- mirrored the shift among post-disco funk groups, but it was so much different than what the group was putting out just a few years before. Maybe the hiatus (which lasted for four years) was needed to let the group get a long-deserved break.

The thing I remember most about "Magnetic" from 1983 was its video, which I watched on HBO's Video Jukebox program when I was in the sixth grade. I wondered at the time if the game shown was real. Now, I look at it and see that it seems to be inspired by both Rollerball and Blade Runner. For a group whose vision embraced a positive vibe, the action is definitely violent. In a way, it's interesting to see what once was considered "futuristic."