Friday, June 29, 2012

Queen - "I Want it All"

I Want It All (Single) - Classic Queen

(Debuted May 13, 1989, Peaked #50, 10 Weeks on the Chart)

"I Want it All" was the last chart hit for Queen before the death of Freddie Mercury. It was also the first new hit the band released after my own "discovery" of their back catalog. While I was definitely aware of the group during its 1980 hit singles, I didn't really care for them until later in the decade, when a friend's older sister handed me a stack of her old records that included A Night at the Opera. I picked up on several of their 1970s hits and even had a pantomime for the bridge of "Bohemian Rhapsody" that was both symphonically inspired and comically bad. It cracked my friends up whenever I did it...and really, that was all that mattered at the time.

During the late spring of 1989, the AOR radio station that I tended to listen to started playing "I Want it All," which was great to hear because Queen had been absent for so long. As an anthemic-sounding song, I'm surprised it stopped climbing the chart at #50. However, the band never toured to support their LP The Miracle and never performed it live with Mercury.

"I Want it All" was written in 1987 by guitarist Brian May, who shares the lead vocals with Mercury. Evidently, the main lines of the chorus ("I want it all, and I want it now!") is a favorite statement by May's wife Anita Dopson.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Debbie Gibson - "No More Rhyme"

No More Rhyme - Electric Youth

(Debuted June 17, 1989, Peaked #17, 14 Weeks on the Chart)

Though Debbie Gibson was probably better-known for her dance-oriented music, her ballads were even bigger. Of her first seven chart singles -- all Top 40 hits -- the two ballad-style hits "Foolish Beat" and "Lost In Your Eyes" were #1 hits. So, it made perfect sense for another ballad to get a single release. However, it went to #17, which was the last time Gibson would make the Top 20.

The song was written by Gibson and was part of her second album Electric Youth. While the LP was an attempt to break away from the slick bubblegum material that helped her debut, she was a little trapped by the association as a teen idol. Even though she delved into more serious topics ("No More Rhyme" is about the after-effects that kick in after love isn't enough to sustain a relationsip), the public didn't seem as interested in a deeper Debbie Gibson. And that was a shame.

When the video for "No More Rhyme" was being played on MTV, I was quick to notice the appearance of Danica McKellar, who was then playing Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years. I had such a crush on her at the time (sigh).

Debbie Gibson - No More Rhyme by jpdc11

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Rod Stewart - "My Heart Can't Tell You No"

My Heart Can't Tell You No - Out of Order

(Debuted December 10, 1988, Peaked #4, 24 Weeks on the Chart)

During his career, Rod Stewart has been regarded as one of those artists who've shown a great deal of talent, and then proceeded to blow that potential away with songs that are really below their level. Critics point to the raw talent he showed on his first four albums, then toss out the comparative "disappointments" (like the boastful "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy" or the theme from Legal Eagles, "Love Touch") as examples of where he went astray. However, from time to time he comes up with material that shows why he's as great as people say he is. "My Heart Can't Tell Tell You No" is one of those times.

Written by Simon Climie (of Climie Fisher) and Dennis Morgan, "My Heart Can't Tell You No" might be infused with prototypical 1980s hooks and production tricks, but it also showcases Stewart's voice as an instrument. While the lyrics express the regret after a breakup but a longing to keep things going, the voice makes you feel he believes it with all of his heart. As a singer, Stewart brings an emotion to words written by another person, and that's exactly what he's supposed to do.

At the time this song came out, I was a lovestruck 16 year-old and was convinced it was a decent song. I'm older now, and have gone through a lot more in my own life. And Stewart's performance has only strengthened in my mind. Even when I heard Sara Evans' remake of the song on my radio recently, her version -- while good -- still doesn't make me forget that Stewart did it better.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Elvis Costello - "Veronica"

Veronica - Spike

(Debuted April 22, 1989, Peaked #19, 14 Weeks on the Chart)

In 1987, Elvis Costello sat down with Paul McCartney to write a few songs for what eventually became McCartney's Flowers in the Dirt album. Eventually they knocked out a dozen songs from the collaboration, and the highest-charting of these was "Veronica," which was on Costello's Spike LP and which McCartney provided the bass line. Costello's songwriting style was similar in some respects to John Lennon's, so it was a natural collaboration for the former Beatle.

In fact, it was the biggest U.S. pop hit of Elvis Costello's career. That is likely a surprise to many, since the song wasn't exactly targeted to the Top 40 and much of the stuff that hit the Top 40 in 1989 was from hair bands, dance groups and teen idols. Not only that, but fans of Costello's work remember him better for his earlier albums. However, as influential and ground-breaking as he was, Elvis Costello was never a draw on the U.S. singles charts.

Rather than going to safe, easily digestible material, the video for "Veronica" touched on an elderly woman in a retirement whose advancing Altzheimer's was causing her to reflect on her own past. Costello, as a narrator, was helpless to do anything but describe what he was seeing. That was a different viewpoint for 1989, but Elvis Costello -- as his body of work will attest -- wasn't afraid to put it out there.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Replacements - "I'll Be You"

I'll Be You - Don't Tell a Soul (Expanded Edition)

(Debuted April 8, 1989, Peaked #51, 10 Weeks on the Chart)

The Replacements were a very influential band during the 1980s, among the college circuit and among the rising alternative sound that was preparing to push the dance-pop and hair bands away once the decade was a mere memory. However, those who focus on the pop charts might miss the group, since their only listing, "I'll Be You," reached #51, but was a #1 hit on both the Modern Rock Tracks and Album Rock Tracks charts.

A cut from Don't Tell a Soul, which was for all intents and purposes the last album recorded by the group, "I'll Be You" was a departure from the band's mid-80s heyday. Instead of having roots in postpunk or alternative, the music was more a straightforward rock sound. While it was a minor pop hit (and the album was their highest charter), it was enough to turn off some of the band's fans who fondly remebered 1985's Tim and 1987's Pleased To Meet Me.

The video was even a more straightforward affair. Renowned for "Bastards of Young," which had a single-shot image of a kid listening to the song on a stereo and then kicking in the speaker, the video for "I'll Be You" (shown below) was a standard recording of the band playing the song in a studio. That said, the video picked below begins with Paul Westerburg -- who wrote the song -- saying he wishes he could go back and change some of the stuff done in his band's music. That was interesting to see.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Randy Newman - "It's Money That Matters"

It's Money That Matters - Land of Dreams

(Debuted November 5, 1988, Peaked #60, 11 Weeks on the Chart)

Randy Newman has often written his songs with a tongue planted firmly in his cheek, so it's often hard to tell whether he's being sincere...or just being a smart-ass. He wrote Three Dog Night's 1970 #1 hit "Mama Told Me (Not To Come)," which was about an out-of-towner experiencing a Los Angeles party. His 1972 song "Sail Away" was a sales pitch to prospective slaves in Africa. And his biggest hit, 1978's "Short People," lampooned the idea that there was discrimination by taking the side of the person doing the discriminating to a ridiculous extreme. So...20 years into his career, it's easy to be jaded when listening to what he was writing.

That said, it's hard to listen to "It's Money That Matters" and not remember the way it was at the end of the Reagan Era. It was a high-powered time, a year after a stock market crash, an era where films like Wall Street and The Secret of My Success lauded the "win at all costs" business atmosphere of the Go-Go 1980s. At the same time, there was definitely a different feel for the working class.

In the song, the lyrics mention that there are people who are incredibly smart and barely eke by, and there are also successful men who do well despite the fact that they might not conform to the ideal. The big difference? The fat guy in the jumpsuit with a trophy wife had money. All the while, Mark Knofler lends his distinctive guitar riff in the background.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Crowded House - "Better Be Home Soon"

Better Be Home Soon - Temple of Low Men

(Debuted July 9, 1988, Peaked #42, 11 Weeks on the Chart)

When Crowded House recorded the followup LP to their successful self-titled debut, chief songwriter Neil Finn dug a little deeper into his emotions and his moodiness. Unfortunately, he kept that feeling in the songs rather than glossing them over with the catchy hooks he used on that first album, as well as his earlier material with the band Split Enz. As a result, the material fared moderately well in the U.S. and U.K. even as it hit big in their native Australia and New Zealand.

The first single taken from Temple of Low Men was the record's finale, "Better Be Home Soon." Since moody reflection rarely results in commercial success at a time when pop and dance songs are the vogue, it fell short of the Top 40 and would be the only Hot 100 listing from the album. That said, it's definitely worth a listen if you're not familiar with it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Terence Trent D'Arby - "Sign Your Name"

Sign Your Name - Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D'Arby

(Debuted May 28, 1988, Peaked #4, 21 Weeks on the Chart)

One of 1988's best new artists was Terence Trent D'Arby. Born in New York but raised in Orlando, he was sent to West Germany while serving in the U.S.Army. While there, he began his musical career, staying after his discharge. By 1986, he moved to London, where he signed a record deal.

He wrote most of the material and played several instruments on his solo debut, Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D'Arby, and saw two songs reach the Top 10 in the U.S. The second of those hits was "Sign Your Name," a slow, deliberate burner. However, D'Arby's claims that the album was as important as Sgt. Pepper rubbed critics the wrong way, and his later LPs -- while definitely pushing limits -- were largely ignored.

D'arby changed his name to Sananda Maitreya in 1995 and has been releasing music under that name ever since. He currently lives in Milan, Italy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Vixen -- "Edge of a Broken Heart"

Edge of a Broken Heart - Vixen

(Debuted September 17, 1988, Peaked #26, 20 Weeks on the Chart)

What did the 1984 T&A classic Hardbodies have to do with the group Vixen? An early lineup of the band appeared in that film as Diaper Rash, the all-female band that played at the house party. At the time, they were moving from St. Paul, Minnesota, a different scene altogether, to the L.A.-based circuit that was breeding harder-edged rock acts.

By 1988, however, EMI downplayed any connection to the film and targeted the band as a more rocking version of The Bangles. It was a good move on paper, coming the same year that Guns 'n' Roses broke out. Poison, Cinderella and Bon Jovi were poised to issue their new albums and the L.A. hard rock scene was producing dozens of new acts at the time. To give Vixen an air of authenticity, Richard Marx was called in to help with their first single for the label.

That song was "Edge of a Broken Heart." Marx co-wrote it with Fee Waybill of The Tubes, played keyboards on it and even produced the song and made a cameo in the video. It definitely gave them a kick-start, making the Top 40 and establishing them as an all-female alternative in the male-dominated "Hair metal" genre.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Billy Idol -- "Hot in the City"

Hot In The City - Billy Idol

(Debuted December 12, 1987, Peaked #48, 10 Weeks on the Chart)

If the peak position listed above surprises you, or if you distinctly remember Casey Kasem debuting "Hot in the City" on his American Top 40 radio countdown, you're not having what our parents call a "senior moment." Actually, the song was originally a #23 hit in 1983 when it was taken from Billy Idol's self-titled debut solo LP. In 1987, it was included -- as a different mix -- as part of his compilation album Vital Idol. That second time, it fell short of the Top 40 after MTV refused to air the video (shown below) due to some religious imagery involving actress Perri Lister nailed to a cross.

The re-release was a remixed version of Idol's first Top 40 hit, extending the track to a five-minute "dance mix" but without speeding its tempo. The single version reduced the song back down to its original three-and-a-half minute length.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Paul Lekakis - "Boom Boom (Let's Go Back to My Room)"

Boom, Boom (Let’s Go Back To My Room) (Re-Recorded / Remastered) - Boom, Boom (Let's Go Back To My Room) (Re-Recorded / Remastered Version)

(Debuted March 7, 1987, Peaked 43, 13 Weeks on the Chart)

Well, you can't say that Paul Lekakis spends a lot of time beating around the bush here. He gets straight to the point and lets you know exactly what he's aiming for.

Lekakis was a model of Greek descent who moved over into the high-NRG dance genre while working in Italy. "Boom Boom" was his first single and immediately attracted attention in the dance clubs due to the explicit nature of its lyrics. Oddly enough, no video was shot for the song at the time (despite coming out around the same time as George Michael's "I Want Your Sex") so no MTV exposure likely had as much to do with the fact that it stopped at #43 as its subject matter.

That said, it should be mentioned that the lifestyle of gratuitous, casual sex mentioned in the song can lead to trouble down the road. That message was a staple of public service announcements in the age of AIDS, but in Lekakis's case, it was all too real. He was diagnosed as HIV-positive later on.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ready For the World - "Love You Down"

Love You Down - Greatest Hits: Oh Sheila! - Ready for the World

(Debuted November 29, 1986, Peaked #9, 19 Weeks on the Chart)

It takes some guts to call your group Ready For the World. In fact, that kind of confidence in your abilities demands that you be more than a One-Hit Wonder. For this Flint, Michigan-based unit, they proved (albeit briefly) that they could back up their claims. Though they only had three Top 40 pop hits, they amassed seven Top 10 songs on the R&B survey through 1991 and had two #1 R&B hits. The second of those was "Love You Down," a ballad that also reached the pop Top 10 in early 1987.

Unfortunately, the sound of R&B was moving in a different direction. As New Jack Swing and Rap began to take hold, the more sophisticated urban material and the dance-based groove was pushed away, Ready For the World found that their later albums were being overlooked. By 1991, they split up. A reunion came in 2004, and the band still performs today.

However, "Love You Down" would be the band's last blast on the pop chart. A slightly sped-up remake by R&B singer INOJ returned the song to hit radio in 1997. Her album, incidentally, was also called Ready For the World.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kansas - "All I Wanted"

All I Wanted - Power

(Debuted November 1, 1986, Peaked #19, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

This certainly wasn't your older brother's Kansas record. "All I Wanted" was the fourth Top 40 hit for Kansas, and it was more of a pop confection than anything they'd ever come out with. However, it was a good piece of 1980s music and fit well with its time.

Kansas had split up in 1983. It ended up becoming a three-year hiatus after Steve Walsh brought original members Phil Erhart and Rick Williams together with new guitarist Steve Morse. While recording their LP Power, the band decided to use a syntesized pop approach rather than the progressive feel of their mid-70s to early-80s heyday. "All I Wanted" represents that new direction; it's a bright, bouncy single that is immediately noticeable.

The new direction didn't last long, though. Eventually, Kansas returned to its progressive roots and it's been years since they've performed the song in concert.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Nylons - "Kiss Him Goodbye"

(Na Na Hey Hey) Kiss Him Goodbye - Happy Together

(Debuted May 16, 1987, Peaked #12, 17 Weeks on the Charts)

For many, "Kiss Him Goodbye" was close to their first exposure to the art of a capella singing. That was the case for me, as Rick Dees was quick to point out on his weekly countdown show that -- save a drum kit in the background -- it was the biggest song in several years to feature voices only. However, when Bobby McFerrin came out a year later with "Don't Worry, Be Happy," The Nylons were relegated to the pages of history, only to be revisited as an oddity of its era (or by certain bloggers who tend to showcase obscure 1980s music).

Having said that, The Nylons weren't a flash in the pan. In fact, the group is still together (though only Claude Morrison is left from the lineup that recorded "Kiss Him Goodbye"). They formed in Toronto in 1978 and have underwent a number of personnel changes in the intervening years. "Kiss Him Goodbye" was a remake of the 1969 #1 hit "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" by the studio group Steam, a song that was originally recorded as a quick B-side for a single but became a huge hit when the A-side flopped.

When The Nylons reworked it, they took it to a respectable #12. It was their biggest hit and really didn't deserve to be forgotten. The clean sound and simple production stand out here, and even the percussion used in the background doesn't overpower the vocals. When you talk about music from 1987, that isn't a bad thing at all.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Yello - "Oh Yeah"

Oh Yeah - Stella

(Debuted August 8, 1987, Peaked #51, 11 Weeks on the Charts)

"Oh Yeah" was a perfect example of what can happen if you place something in context. When it was originally released in 1985, the song passed with little notice. However, it was used in the 1986 film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, where it became one of the decade's most-recognized songs. In fact, the song still shows up in commercials, where it's used to convey desire or attention. Oddly, it sill took another full year to release the song as a single again, which helps explain why it only peaked at #51.

Yello was a Swiss electronica band formed in 1979 whose work featured modulated effects and vocals played at various speeds, qualities that essentially define "Oh Yeah." The 1987 re-issue of the song was actually a remake, as a few new lyrics were added to the song. Though the band (which was eventually reduced to a duo) is still together, "Oh Yeah" would be their only single on the Hot 100.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Phyllis Nelson - "I Like You"

I Like You - All of Phyllis Nelson (including

(Debuted February 8, 1986, Peaked #61, 11 Weeks on the Chart)

Sometimes a life in the music business is rough, and other times it's just unfair. In the case of Phyllis Nelson, it was both. She never managed to reach the Top 40 in her home country during her career despite a U.K. #1 single and scattered success in France. Her biggest Stateside success came with "I Like You," a #1 dance club hit which only managed a #61 peak on the pop chart.

Born in Indiana, Nelson worked during the Disco era as a studio singer. In the early 1980s, she branched out into a solo career and had a minor dance hit called "Don't Sop the Train" in 1982. While primarily focused on dance hits, Nelson wrote an inwardly-looking song called "Move Closer" that topped the U.K. charts. She finally made the Hot 100 with "I Like You," but the success couldn't be sustained. Sadly, breast cancer claimed her in 1998.

Her son, Marc Nelson, continues her legacy. An original member of Boyz II Men, he is a singer and producer today.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Daryl Hall - "Foolish Pride"

Foolish Pride - 3 Hearts In the Happy Ending Machine

(Debuted October 18, 1986, Peaked #33, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

Even though he was part of a very successful duo, Daryl Hall ventured away from John Oates from time to time to do his own projects. One of those efforts was his solo LP Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine, which he co-produced with Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics. That album charted three singles and two reached the Top 40. "Foolish Pride" was the second of those.

The song appeals to three of Hall's core audiences (pop, R&B and adult contemporary) and charted in all three of those formats. While the drum kit and production values date it as a 1986 recording, it's still a decent recording for the time. In a way, it shows what Hall wanted to say without Oates, but it also begs the question to how it might have sounded if he'd recorded it with his partner.

Here's a trivial mention I figured I'd toss out: For those of us who remember the two-sided vinyl LPs and cassettes, most were given Side 1/2 or Side A/B. With Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine, the two sides were labeled Side 1 and Side A. Apparently, Hall felt neither side should be considered inferior.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Falco - "Rock Me Amadeus"

Rock Me Amadeus - Falco 3

(Debuted February 8, 1986, Peaked #1, 17 Weeks on the Chart)

The first time I heard "Rock Me Amadeus" was early in 1986, the week it debuted on Casey Kasem's American Top 40 radio program. I listened to that show weekly (on WTNY from Watertown, New York) because it was one of the few places I could hear certain material on the radio. Normally, the station (which was AM; an FM sister station called T93 would debut later in 1986) leaned toward adult contemporary material, while MTV was still staying away from most of the R&B material the show would play.

I remember the first time I heard it because it immediately jumped out at my radio and caught my ear. I obviously wasn't the only one who took notice, as it rose fairly quickly and was the #1 song that March. As it turned out, there were a few different versions of the song; the one I heard on Kasem's show wasn't the same one in the MTV video, and neither matched the one the station played in its normal hours. It sounded different than anything I'd ever heard before.

"Rock Me Amadeus" was the biggest American hit from Falco, which was a stage name for the Austrian artist Johann Holzel. Although he enjoyed three Hot 100 singles (including the original German-language version of "Der Kommisar"), Falco is often misidentified as a One-Hit Wonder due to the fact that this elegy to fellow Austrian Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was such a big hit.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Outfield - "All the Love in the World"

All the Love - Play Deep

(Debuted June 7, 1986, Peaked #19, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

I really have no idea what it is that causes me to pay attention to lesser-charting follow-ups to big hits, but it seems to be something I do. Anybody who's read this blog on a regular basis has likely picked up on the fact that I tend to feature them more often here than I do the bigger and better-known singles. Part of that is because I'm saving the better stuff for later (avoiding the inevitable "blow out" that comes once the bigger stuff is brought out), but the truth is, I'm drawn to stuff that wasn't appreciated more in its own time.

In fact, people who remember the rest of the stuff (and not just the songs that get played on "all hits all the time" radio) tend to be bigger fans. Maybe that's why I feature those songs...I am aiming this blog at the deeper fan and the curious seeker, rather than the casual listener.

One song that fits into the "under-appreciated" file is "All the Love in the World." The second single from The Outfield's debut LP Play Deep (which, by the way, is a nice baseball reference, and a sly pun by the English group), it fell short of the Top 10 status of the previous single "Your Love." However, it had a great guitar-based ryhthm to it and an echoed vocal that -- while not as "poppy" as its predecessor was -- was pleasant in its own way.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Midnight Star - "Midas Touch"

Midas Touch - Midnight Star: Greatest Hits

(Debuted September 20, 1986, Peaked #42, 14 Weeks on the Chart)

Midnight Star was an influential R&B group in the 1980s, recording a number of classics in the electro-funk genre. On the pop chart, tough, they only managed a single Top 40 hit (1985's "Operator") and a handful of songs that made the Hot 100. Of all of those tunes, "Midas Touch" was the closest they would get to another Top 40 pop hit, as it stalled at #42.

Part of Dick Griffey's SOLAR constellation, Midnight Star was able to tap the production skills of one of its own members, Reggie Calloway. After a string of hits like "Freak-a-Zoid," "No Parking On the Dance Floor" and "Wet My Whistle," as well as three Top 10 R&B LPs, internal dissension within the group forced Calloway out, along with his brother Vincent. The change effectively ended the group's influence; they recorded two more albums but clearly weren't the same group they had been before the brothers split.

In 1990, Reggie and Vincent formed Calloway and scored another One-Hit wonder with "I Want to Be Rich." They have continued songwriting and producing for other artists and are still active in the business.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Billy Crystal - "You Look Marvelous"

You Look Marvelous - Mahvelous

(Debuted July 27, 1985, Peaked #58, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

Comedian Billy Crystal spent a single season on NBC-TV's Saturday Night Live and developed a character during his time on the show. Based on real-life actor Fernando Lamas (who died in 1982), Crystal used two phrases Lamas once used on an appearance on Johnny Carson's show: "It's better to look good than to feel good" and "You look marvelous." Both of those phrases are in the lyrics of Crystal's novelty recording "You Look Marvelous."

The bit was a sensation. Not only did Crystal do the bit several times on SNL and on other NBC-related broadcasts (like the 1985 All-Star game's pre-game show, where he "interviewed" Yankees owner George Steinbrenner), he also incorporated the character into his own stand-up act. It was also included in his 1985 LP Mahvelous! which contained the single.

As with many fads, the "Fernando" bit ran its course fairly quickly.