Monday, April 30, 2012

Lakeside - "Fantastic Voyage"

Fantastic Voyage - Fantastic Voyage

(Debuted January 31, 1981, Peaked #55,8 Weeks on the Chart)

"Fantastic Voyage" was the only Hot 100 entry for the group Lakeside, but it was the biggest of their 17 hits on the R&B chart between 1978-'90. On that chart, it went to #1 the same week it entered the Hot 100 (January 31, 1981) and stayed there for two weeks. It would later be used in a 1994 Coolio song of the same name.

Lakeside was part of Dick Griffey's Los Angeles-based SOLAR Records, but the band started in the Tri-State area around Cincinnati and Louisville and then relocated to Chicago (where their name was taken) before moving west. They were known for their electric live performances, something that didn't always translate to their studio work. With SOLAR, they were able to write and produce their own material, which they did on "Fantastic Voyage." A great funk groove drives the song and the words make it suitable for a cruise down the avenue. The band's album cover had a different kind of "voyage" in mind, showing the members on a ship and dressed as pirates.

That "pirate ship" motif and period costumes would also be used in the video for the song, shown below.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Fools - "It's a Night For Beautiful Girls"

It's a Night for Beautiful Girls - Sold Out / Heavy Mental

(Debuted April 9, 1980, Peaked #67, 4 Weeks on the Chart)

The Fools were a band from Ipswitch, Massachusetts who were incredibly popular in their home base but weren't able to break out beyond the New England area. They first made their mark with a parody of The Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" called "Psycho Chicken," which set the tone for their concert ambiance as a tongue-in-cheek band.

Their first national hit was "It's a Night For Beautiful Girls," which was written by band members Mike Girard and Doug Forman. While not as blatantly smart-ass as "Psycho Chicken" was, the humor is still there. The lyrics have the protagonist looking to find a one-night stand. However, the band's sly humor didn't help get more exposure nationally. Instead, their record company focused on their remakes; their only other Hot 100 hit was a version of "Running Scared," and a video for "Do Wah Diddy" received a lot of MTV exposure.

As a result, potential fans outside the New England area missed out on songs such as "I Won't Grow Up," "Spent the Rent" and "Life Sucks Then You Die." Since humor was largely missing from the radio during the 1980s ("Weird Al" Yankovic" notwithstanding), that was a serious loss.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ambrosia - "You're the Only Woman"

You're the Only Woman (You & I) - One Eighty

(Debuted July 12, 1980, Peaked #13, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

Ambrosia was a Southern California band who came up with the name because it wanted to represent a variety of styles. While much of the music on their albums was progressive in nature, what got played on the radio tended to stay largely in the sweet, blue-eyed soul mold. And that's the sound that most people remembered from them.

With "You're the Only Woman," the lyrics tended to stick with the "wedding/anniversary song" format that helped their biggest singles. It's a great song to help explain marital bliss, as well as something that certainly made it onto a countless number of mix tapes during the 1980s. 

When "You're the Only Woman" was making its way up the Top 40 during the summer of 1980, it was the fifth time the band appeared there in a four-year period. Two of those songs -- "How Much I Feel" and "Biggest Part of Me" -- were Top 10 hits that are still played quite often on adult-leaning radio stations, so it was assumed they'd be back. However, their next LP in 1982 was a disappointment and the band broke up soon afterward.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Teri DeSario and KC - "Yes I'm Ready"

Yes I'm Ready - The Casablanca Records Story (Box Set)

(Debuted November 17, 1979, Peaked #2, 22 Weeks on the Chart)

This would be Teri DeSario's biggest hit, and sadly, is often overshadowed by her duet partner Harry Wayne Casey, the "KC" of the Sunshine Band.

Teri DeSario and KC had attended high school together while growing up in the Miami area. He had been producing Midnight Madness, DeSario's second LP for Casablanca, and was a fan of the original 1965 Barbara Mason hit. Label president Neil Bogart smelled a hit and insisted the two artists cut the song as a duet. Doing a version that was faithful to the original, it was both nostalgic and wistful.

One thing that stands out in "Yes I'm Ready" is that Teri DeSario was a much better singer than KC (who sounds much different without his Sunshine Band backing him up). However, she wasn't all that thrilled with the recording process or the music business and walked away from any additional hits.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Neil Sedaka and Dara Sedaka - "Should've Never Let You Go"

Should've Never Let You Go (With Dara Sedaka) - The Definitive Collection

(Debuted March 29, 1980, Peaked #19, 19 Weeks on the Chart)

"Should've Never Let You Go" works on a couple of different levels. On the surface, it expresses the regret somebody feels after a loved one walks away. Add to that the fact that it is a duet between Neil Sedaka and his then-17 year-old daughter Dara, and that brings up an entirely different vibe. That's an age where both a parent and child are beginning to realize that the day that the child strikes out on her own is fast approaching. That gives the song an entirely different feel.

It's also one of those songs I probably wouldn't have picked up on before I became a father myself. My own daughter is 13 and while I have a few years before I have to worry about her leaving the nest, the day is coming a lot sooner than I am going to be ready for. I understand that, and know it's perfectly normal to wonder how she'll do when she takes on the world without the help of either parent. While I hope she'll remember the lessons she's been taught, it'll still be hard to let go of the little hand that you once held while crossing the street.

In short, I'll be wondering whether I should be repeating the title of this song.

When "Should Have Never Let You Go" hit the Top 40, it made Sedaka the first artist to have a Top 40 hit in the first four decades of the Rock Era. It would also be his last ride in the Top 40. He's still active today, recording new material. Dara is also a singer whose voice is heard in TV and radio commercials.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dolly Parton - "Starting Over Again"

Starting Over Again - I Will Always Love You - The Essential Dolly Parton One

(Debuted March 29, 1980, Peaked #36, 10 Weeks on the Chart)

As this blog returns to 1980, "Starting Over Again" makes an appropriate title to feature today.

For her first single of the new decade, Dolly Parton went with a song written by the soon-to-be husband-and-wife team of Donna Summer and Bruce Sudano. At the time, Summer was widely identified as the Queen of Disco and Sudano was one of the three members of Brooklyn Dreams (a native of that borough and proud to have been from there). While neither of those backgrounds would indicate success in the country genre, they collaborated on a song that went to #1 in that format.

The subject here is divorce, and was written after Sudano's own parents split after several years of marriage. That reality was far removed from the Disco world that both writers were a part of through their association with Casablanca records, but it's still something that can affect anybody...and a writer can draw on the strength of a pen and paper to help work out the little snags that life can serve up.

As for Dolly Parton, she is blessed with a tremendous voice, which she puts to good use on this song. She shows that -- despite taking her sound in more of a pop-oriented direction -- she can still put some raw emotion into songs that tackle a more adult topic. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Fine Young Cannibals - "Don't Look Back"

Don't Look Back - The Raw and the Cooked

(Debuted August 12, 1989, Peaked #11, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

Those who pay attention to this blog on a regular basis might have picked up on the way the songs are set up. Each week, I feature songs that peaked in a specific year in the U.S. And the next week, I feature the following year. When a week featuring songs from 1989 (as this one does) winds down, the wheel starts rolling again at 1980. Since today is Friday, we're once again to the end of the decade and it's time to reset...which makes today's song title ironic.

Actually, "Don't Look Back" is an ironic title to feature in a retrospective blog anyway. Where the earlier hits off The Fine Young Cannibals' The Raw & the Cooked LP ("She Drives Me Crazy" and "Good Thing") had their roots in R&B, "Don't Look Back" was a guitar-driven song. Specifically, the guitar sound of the 1960s by groups like The Beatles and The Byrds was the main influence, keeping with the band's style of updating sounds of the past for a modern synthesis. The lyrics were purely modern, though, reflecting a more negative and downbeat point of view than those 1960s bands had.

And somehow, it's that pessimism that makes "Don't Look Back" more interesting to my ears.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tiffany - "All This Time"

All This Time - Hold an Old Friend's Hand

(Debuted November 5, 1988, Peaked #6, 20 Weeks on the Chart)

Confession time.

Yes, I liked Tiffany back in the 1980s. I've already mentioned the fact that I have a weakness for redheads here, and Tiffany was just a year older than I was. Mix into that caustic solution the fact that I was an adolescent when she began having hits and the resulting Puppy Love can cloud somebody's judgement. That said, enough time has passed to allow me to do my thinking with the right head when it comes to music...and "All This Time" has actually grown on me as the years have passed.

Ironically, as the "shine" faded from Tiffany's star and changing musical tastes cast her aside like so many pop confections, she was beginning to show a more versatile style. Personally, I find "All This Time" to be a lot more memorable than the two songs she took to #1, and can even look beyond the generic studio backing music that fills in around her voice.   

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Kix - "Don't Close Your Eyes"

Don't Close Your Eyes - Blow My Fuse

(Debuted September 9, 1989, Peaked #11, 22 Weeks on the Chart)

Stylistically, Kix was in the right place in 1989. However, that ended up being the wrong place a couple of years later. Thus, the story of a band that began a dozen years earlier and paid its dues several times over before finally getting its just reward with an MTV-friendly song ended up becoming a One-Hit Wonder thanks to the fickle finger of changing musical tastes.

The Hagerstown, Maryland-based band formed at the height of the Disco era in 1977. At the time, they were called The Shooze and worked on their heavy rock sound. By 1980, the band had settled on the name Kix and began releasing records the following year. From there, they grew to a Baltimore-area favorite and began playing with nationally-known bands by the mid 1980s. When the band issued their LP Blow My Fuse, they were playing arenas. Even then, it still took a year for"Don't Close Your Eyes" to hit. When it did, it was a monster MTV hit, its anti-suicide message striking a chord with the teenaged audience that watched the video.

And then it was over. As Grunge and Alternative rock displaced the so-called "Hair bands" from the music charts, Kix was caught in the debris and never registered another hit single. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cyndi Lauper - "I Drove All Night"

I Drove All Night - A Night to Remember

(Debuted May 6, 1989, Peaked #6, 15 Weeks on the Chart)

I featured a Cyndi Lauper song on this blog last summer, mentioning that she was something of a "wild child" during her breakout years. She was a perfect antidote to the Reagan years, providing us with anthems ("Girls Just Wanna Have Fun") and even sang about pleasuring herself ("She Bop"). The music landscape was a different place in 1989, and so was America...even Cyndi Lauper was different. Her LP A Night to Remember was a more mature effort, with the outrageous costumes toned down. That said, she was proving that she actually had vocal talent to anybody who wanted to listen. Unfortunately, few did when it came to the album, even though this single reached the Top 10.

"I Drove All Night" was written by Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, the team that wrote Lauper's 1986 #1 hit "True Colors." They wrote it with Roy Orbison in mind and were surprised when he agreed to record it. Unfortunately, that version wasn't released until after Orbison's death...and after Lauper had a hit with it. The song agrees with Lauper's range and has proven versatile over the years. It was a minor country hit for the Canadian group Pinmonkey in 2002 and was given a typically over-the-top performance by Celine Dion the next year. It says something when a rendition by Cyndi Lauper is considered "toned down" to your own.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Indigo Girls - "Closer to Fine"

Closer to Fine - Indigo Girls (Expanded Edition)

(Debuted July 22, 1989, Peaked #52, 9 Weeks on the Chart)

During the summer of 1989, I was still 16 years old and about to start my senior year of high school. And when it came to music, I was fairly open to stuff that took me away from the Top 40 material my girlfriend liked (yes, she was a fan of New Kids on the Block). My male friends liked hard rock, and when I was alone I tended to raid my parents' record collection for older material, listened to different radio stations and late at night I watched 120 Minutes and Post Modern on MTV. Those shows introduced me to this song.

Kicking off with an acoustic guitar, the thing about the song that made me take notice was the lyric about getting through college and how it seemed (at least to my own ears) to be saying that it was all a formality. I was considering college at the time and that lines "I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper and I was free" scared me a little  

Today, I'm well beyond the college years (and served in the military before I went to the State U. of New York) and understand that the song continued beyond that. Now I see the song as a message that life is a series of roads, and everybody needs to navigate their own. The key lyric for me now is "there's more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line," and there really is no definitive "doctor," "mountain," "fountain" or anything that will provide one. That's what the song means to me now: Life is a journey, and you need to set your own course.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Stevie B - "Spring Love (Come Back to Me)"

Spring Love - Best of Stevie B

(Debuted July 9, 1988, Peaked #43, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

Stevie B was the stage name of Steven Bernard Hill, a freestyle dance artist from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He crossed over from the dance chart to pop in 1988, and his second hit just missed the Top 40. While the big hits were ahead for Stevie B (he had eight Top 40 hits between 1989 and '95 including the #1 "Because I Love You"), "Spring Love" was a large breakthrough for him.

A song where the singer is remembering a past love that slipped away, it's ironic to think that there are people sitting back and reminiscing about the "good old days" when songs like this drift into the air. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

When in Rome - "The Promise"

The Promise - When in Rome

(Debuted September 3, 1988, Peaked #11, 24 Weeks on the Chart)

When in Rome was a three-man synth-pop group from Manchester, England. Since 1988 was a very good time to be a syth-pop act, their sound was welcome on hit radio. Their debut single was "The Promise," a song that just missed the pop Top 10 but got more exposure than its peak position showed. Although the synthesizer was pretty much de riguer, it came off as both familiar and multi-layered. For instance, it was a #1 dance hit even while it had a slower beat than what most people want to hear when they hit the clubs.

However, the band failed to get another single to sustain the momentum; the follow-up single "Heaven Knows" only reached #95. The band eventually had the dreaded internal strife and broke up in 1990 without recording a second LP. Years later, two reformed line-ups of When In Rome appeared that were fronted by former members of the original trio. In the U.S., the group featured Michael Floreale (who held the trademark). When his former bandmates Clive Farrington and Andrew Mann formed their own version of the reformed group in the U.K., the lawyers got involved. 

"The Promise" was also used at the end of the 2004 film Napoleon Dynamite, bringing it to another generation of listeners.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Was (Not Was) - "Spy in the House of Love"

Spy in the House of Love - What Up, Dog?

(Debuted October 1, 1988, Peaked #16, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

Was (Not Was) was a group formed and led by two friends from Detroit. David Was (or Weiss, as he was born) was the keyboard player, and Don Was (whose real last name was Fagenson) played the bass guitar, and both would take up a place behind the glass as producers. The rest of the "group" was largely studio musicians, with Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens as the primary singers by 1987-'88. "Guest stars" were known to pop up on their records, such as Elvis Costello and Frank Sinatra, Jr, who appeared on a song featured on their LP What Up, Dog?

That album was released in 1988 but included material that had been recorded as early as 1984. With four years' worth of studio time putting together a record and having solid studio musician support, it is hard to imagine much of it being bad. In the end, the album was the group's breakthrough and helped usher both of the Was "brothers" into positions as producers.

The group's first hit on the pop chart was "Spy in the House of Love," which had originally appeared as a single in 1987 but took a year and a half to chart. The song featured slickly-produced but hook-laden R&B/jazz-influenced elements and came up with a nice pop confection that shows its age today but sounded pretty bright when it came out.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Church - "Under the Milky Way"

Under the Milky Way - Starfish

(Debuted April 9, 1988, Peaked #24, 15 Weeks on the Chart)

Released during the hail of dance-mix hits, non-offensive AOR-friendly singles and synth-pop tunes that were common during 1988, "Under the Milky Way" might have come across as a refreshing change of pace. The Church had been a major act in Australia and was helped by a rising interest in rock bands from Down Under around that time (Midnight Oil, INXS, Icehouse). Signed to Arista, they went to Los Angeles to record their LP Starfish.

By all accounts, the band hated their experience in California. They were ill-suited to deal with the L.A. studio heads and producer Waddy Wachtel. They felt homesick, and the sights and sounds of the unfamiliar country really grated on them. Ironically, the result was the band's best-known LP in the U.S. and their only Top 40 hit. While much of the album's material was either a response or reaction to their "fish out of water" experience making the record, "Under the Milky Way" wasn't one of them. Inspired by a place in Amsterdam, Holland, the song was written by group leader Steve Kilbey and his then-girlfriend Karin Jansson.

Many of the group's songs are known for their obtuse lyrics; in the case of "Under the Milky Way," the message was clearer. It made for a decent shot at a hit, even if it really wasn't an example of what the group's other material sounded like. The "hook" in the tune was caused by using a device called an EBow on a guitar, which made the notes resemble the sound of bagpipes.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Depeche Mode - "Strangelove 88"

Strangelove - The Best of Depeche Mode, Vol. 1 (Deluxe Version)

(Debuted September 1, 1988, Peaked #50, 9 Weeks on the Chart)

There were actually two versions of "Strangelove" that charted on Billboard's pop chart. The first was the 1987 recording that appeared on the band's LP Music For the Masses. It reached #76 and was a #1 single on the dance chart. Considered a little too sonically "bright" when compared to the rest of the music on that album, it was remixed and made a little slower and darker. The "new" version returned to the chart and reached #50, making it the highest-peaking of the three singles the group had from the album.

While having three songs fail to hit the pop Top 40 may seem like a disappointment, Depeche Mode was slowly building a small but rapid fan base in the U.S. as well as their home in the U.K. By the time the next decade rolled around, they found the success that had largely escaped them in the 1980s.

Depeche Mode - Strange Love 88 (88 Version) by Dmode59

Friday, April 6, 2012

Will To Power - "Dreamin'"

Dreamin' - Will to Power

(Debuted June 27, 1987, Peaked #50, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

Will To Power was a Miami-based act that was essentially made up of Bob Rosenberg and whoever he happened to be working with at the time. Rosenberg had been a radio DJ and worked on remix projects in his spare time. When he crossed paths with singer/songwriter Suzi Carr, another Miami local, they worked on several projects including "Dreamin'," which Rosenberg wrote as a tribute to his late sister.

"Dreamin'" was a massive hit in the Miami area, but failed to break through in enough other regions to make it more than a minor hit nationally. However, Miami was a major center for dance music and 1987 was a big year for dance-based songs, and that influence sent the song to the #1 position on Billboard's dance clubs chart. For those who were there at the time, "Dreamin'" was part of the soundtrack to the Summer of '87.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

ABC - "When Smokey Sings"

When Smokey Sings - Lexicon of Live

(Debuted July 4, 1987, Peaked #5, 19 Weeks on the Chart)

 The last time this blog took a swing through 1987, one of the songs featured was Smokey Robinson's hit "Just to See Her," which was his first pop hit in years. Smokey would be remembered as an influence in a song later that year by the British group ABC. The recognition was more than simply lip service, as group members Martin Frye and Mark White (who co-wrote the song) were fans of Northern Soul and Motown.

While the song predictably features a soul-influenced sound, it also spotlights the slick production and pop sheen that marks ABC's material. And listening to the song now, it reminds me of a line I misheard all those years ago: where the line went, "When Smokey sings, I hear violins"... I heard the latter part as "I hear violence," which made me wonder just what type of memory was brought up by "Ooh Baby Baby" and "Tracks of My Tears" that brought about such a reaction.

During the period where "When Smokey Sings" was making its way onto the pop chart, Robinson was there also, with his single "One Heartbeat." In fact, both songs were in the Top 10 at the same time. It was one of the few times a tribute song was a hit when the honoree was present as well.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bananarama - "I Heard a Rumour"

I Heard a Rumour - The Very Best of Bananarama

(Debuted July 18, 1987, Peaked #4, 19 Weeks on the Chart)

Chart buffs should easily remember that Bananarama's biggest hit in the U.S. was their remake of "Venus," which hit #1 in 1986. However, when asked what their second biggest hit, their 1984 hit "Cruel Summer" might often be mentioned (as it's their other widely-played tune), but that would be wrong. That song hit #9, while "I Heard a Rumour" -- note the distinctively British spelling of the title -- actually hit #4 in 1987. It would also be the trio's final Top 40 hit in America as well.

The song was a fairly typical Stock Aitken Waterman production style-wise, which was becoming relatively common by that time. They had produced the trio's version of "Venus" and helmed their entire Wow! LP as a result of that success. The producers' "assembly line" methods towards studio craft and insistence on writing credits exposed some friction in the band, however, and member Siobhan Fahey would leave soon after "I Heard a Rumour" fell off the pop chart.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Glenn Medeiros - "Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You"

Nothing's Gonna Change My Love for You - Glenn Medeiros

(Debuted February 14, 1987, Peaked #12, 25 Weeks on the Chart)

For the first half of the 1980s, there were no teen singers who hit the charts at all. Unlike previous decades that saw legions of singers who weren't yet 20 and targeted directly at the young girls who encouraged their fathers (and boyfriends) to buy their records, the early-to-mid-1980s saw groups of teenagers -- Menudo, New Edition, Musical Youth -- but no solo stars. That changed in 1986, when Charlie Sexton hit, and the floodgates opened for teenaged solo stars for the rest of the decade. Among those singers was Glenn Medeiros, 17 at the time of his first hit.

The hit was "Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You," a song co-written by Michael Masser and Gerry Goffin that appeared on George Benson's 20/20 LP in 1984. Medeiros's version was fairly consistent with Benson's, which appeared during the era where he put aside the guitar that brought him his reputation and focused on being more of an AC crooner. A radio executive visiting Medeiros's home state of Hawaii heard the song, took a copy of the single home and spread it once he got there. Medeiros hit #12 with the song in the Summer of 1987, but had a #1 single in the U.K. with it in 1988.

Today, Glenn Medeiros still deals with the kids. He's the vice principal of a grade school.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Anita Baker - "No One in the World"

No One In the World - Rapture

(Debuted August 22, 1987, Peaked #44, 17 Weeks on the Chart)

Rapture was Anita Baker's second solo LP, and the one that catapulted her to fame on the strength of the Top 10 single "Sweet Love." It was the hit that her debut LP The Songstress failed to become, and showed that the R&B audience was ready for a more adult sound. Baker took four singles from that album into the pop chart; surprisingly, none were as big as "Sweet Love" was despite being just as good. "Caught Up in the Rapture" barely made the Top 40, but "Same Ole Love" and "No One in the World" missed it. All four songs did manage to reach the Top 10 on both the R&B survey as well as the Adult Contemporary chart, though.

Looking at it now, I'm a little surprised that the last two songs charted outside of the Top 40. At the time, the local radio station I listened to leaned pretty hard on the AC side, so I definitely heard them in steady rotation. But I'm a little surprised that they peaked as low as they did, since both were solid songs.

It's a little blurry, but the video for the song (shown below) features a young Spike Lee. He appears as a stand-up comedian who literally dies on stage, and is shown again in a cameo at the end.