Friday, September 28, 2012

Missing Persons - "Words"

Words - Spring Session M

(Debuted August 28, 1982, Peaked #42, 11 Weeks on the Chart)

Missing Persons was an L.A.-based band made up of three former Frank Zappa session performers: husband-and-wife team Terry and Dale Bozzio, along with Warren Cuccurullo. Zappa associate Patrick O'Hearn and Chuck Wild were also members. The line-up gelled after the recording of Zappa's LP Joe's Garage, which explains the rampant experimentalism behind the band's music. Dale Bozzio had her own distinctive delivery, which often included "hiccuping"as she sang...something quite evident in "Words."

"Words" and its followup "Destination Unknown" are played often of 1980s stations and appear in compilations, which obscures the fact that neither song made the pop Top 40 during its chart run. They both peaked at #42 and were as close to the Top 40 as Missing Persons would ever get. Both cuts appeared on the LP Spring Session M -- an anagram of the band's name --  and both were staples of MTV during that channel's infancy.

Strife between the Bozzios led them to split the group (and their marriage) in 1986. Cuccurullo went on to join Duran Duran later that year, cementing his standing as a figure of 1980s music even as he might not have been as warmly embraced by the fans.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Buckner & Garcia - "Pac Man Fever"

Pac-Man Fever - Pac-Man Fever

(Debuted January 9, 1982, Peaked #9, 19 Weeks on the Chart)

One of the biggest crazes of the 1980s was the video game arcade, which was home to Space Invaders, Asteroids, Berzerk, Frogger, Centipede and a whole host of electronic characters. However, the biggest video game of them all was Pac-Man. It was a phenomenon, spawning a "sequel" (Mrs. Pac-Man), a Saturday-morning cartoon series and a whole host of novelty items.

It was also the source of the biggest song of the era related to a video game. Performed by the songwriting duo of Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia, it was part of an album that was entirely based on different video games. It was also the duo's only hit under their own names as performers; they were tagged as "novelty" artists and affected by the inevitable crash of the games' popularity by 1983. Buckner and Garcia continued to write for other artists and perform their own material after that.

Sadly, Gary Garcia died in November 2011 from an illness at his Florida home.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Journey - "Open Arms"

Open Arms - Escape

(Debuted January 16, 1982, Peaked #2, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

When he came to Journey in 1981, Jonathan Cain had the music worked out for "Open Arms." He had written it while he was still a member of his previous group The Babys, but leader John Waite rejected it for being too "syrupy." However, when he joined Journey and played it for fellow member Steve Perry, he loved it and helped Cain finish the song. It was one of the early power ballads, and Waite had to wait three years before touching on his own ("Missing You").

Whaen they recorded the song, guitarist Neal Schon reportedly wasn't thrilled with the idea of a ballad, but came around after performing it live and seeing the concertgoers' response. It was something different than the band had ever tried before, and was almost kept off the Escape LP as a result.

"Open Arms" was a #2 smash, kept out of the top spot by the twin puch of "Centerfold" and "I Love Rock & Roll," showing how powerful those two songs were in 1982. It ended up being as close as the band ever got to the top of the charts. It was used twice in the 1982 film The Last American Virgin and has appeared in several movies since, in addition to becoming a standard Karaoke tune and a frequent choice of reality-based TV performance shows.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Jennifer Holliday - "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going"

And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going (Broadway Musical Version) - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Jennifer Holliday (Remastered)

(Debuted July 3, 1982, Peaked #22, 14 Weeks on the Chart)

The showstopper has long been a part of Broadway shows, but by the 1980s they weren't as much a part of the general landscape of the pop scene as they were until the 1960s. You can blame the decline of the movie musical for that, as they gave way to the rock operas and the occasional project like Grease. However, stage shows were still going strong, and one of them that premiered late in 1981 was called Dreamgirls, which was largely taken from the story of The Supremes but fictionalized just enough to keep from getting sued by Motown.

That play's showstopper was "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," which was performed be the character Effie in the play and originally voiced by Jennifer Holliday. The Texas native immediately caught notice, driving the song into the pop Top 40 and the top of the R&B chart. It was the first song from a stage show in several years to hit the Top 40; even Grease had to wait for a movie version before it generated any hits.
Today, the song seems to be better known for Jennifer Hudson's rendition in the 2006 movie version of Dreamgirls, as well as the way it tends to get picked by every big-voiced ingenue on reality-based TV shows as a way of demonstrating their vocal range. While that can be occasionally disheartening, Jennifer Holliday set a pretty high bar with her performance.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Donald Fagen - "I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)"

I.G.Y. - The Nightfly

(Debuted November 27, 1982, Peaked #26, 13 Weeks on the Chart)

The I.G.Y. referred to in this song is the International Geophysical Year, and depite the futuristic and utopian lyrics the event actually took place in 1957-'58, but was propagated by a group of scientists who saw visions that were expressed in the song's words. The entire content of Donald Fagen's LP The Nightfly was based on his recollections of growing up during that time, surrounded by optimism and great hopes for the future. In a way, it was a much brighter collection than the albums of Fagen's former group Steely Dan.

Speaking of Steely Dan, while The Nightfly was a solo effort, its recording was similar to the "old days" for Fagen. With 31 session musicians supplementing the music and Steely Dan producer Gary Katz onboard, it seemed all that was missing from the project was co-member Walter Becker. It was also one of the first albums that was recorded digitally, with several audio engineers using it to check their own setups due to the way it was laid down. And this was even before the advent of the CD and the digital age that followed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Robert Gordon - "Someday, Someway"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted June 27, 1981, Peaked #76, 4 Weeks on the Chart)

 Robert Gordon was a kid who grew up in the turbulent 1960s but had an affinity for the rockabilly music from when he first remembered listening to the radio. He was able to bring that raw sound to his recordings, which ironically bridged punk, New Wave and alternative. His first chart success was a collaboration with the 1950s guitarist Link Wray called "Red Hot" that was given a bump after the death of Elvis Presley despite the fact that it wasn't a tribute to him.

"Someday, Someway" was a retro-sounding song written by Marshall Crenshaw, who was similarly interested in music from the past. Opening with a great guitar riff, Gordon rode that through the song and gave it a great vocal. When Gordon's version stalled at #76, Crenshaw recorded it himself (his version was reviewed here last year) and took it into the Top 40.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Police - "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da"

De Do Do Do, de Da Da Da - The Police (Remastered)

(Debuted October 25, 1980, Peaked #10, 20 Weeks on the Chart)

For the second day in a row, here's a song that was in the film The Last American Virgin but isn't really remembered for that. Which might be a good thing, as the scene with the song involved teenage boys trying to kill a case of of the crabs by drowning them in a pool. I really don't think Sting and company really had that in mind when they conceived the song.

In fact, when Sting wrote the lyrics, he was trying to make a comment about how people claimed to like high art but then still gravitated to songs like "Doo Wah Diddy" and "Da Doo Ron Ron." They were good songs, but their catchy refrains were essentially gibberish. So, he wrote a song that used some nonsense lyrics. However, once the band's reggae-like rhythms were added and a groove was created for it, it was easy to miss the meaning of the song.

I really don't know if that proved Sting's point or not.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

REO Speedwagon - "Keep On Loving You"

Keep On Loving You - Hi Infidelity

(Debuted November 29, 1980, Peaked #1, 28 Weeks on the Chart)

While this is another song that was included in the soundtrack for the film The Last American Virgin, it is better known on its own terms. In 1981, it hit #1 on the pop chart and solidified REO Speedwagon's stature as much more than a live band. Adding the power ballad to their arsenal, it helped gather them more fans than their vaunted live sets ever could.

A listen to the lyrics reveals that the protagonist of the song is borderline possessive. His girl is beginning to look for other men and has begun to act on those impulses. It isn't really said in the song if their relationship has ended or not (though I'm guessing it has), but this poor guy isn't ready to let go of something that once seemed so right. Seen through that lens, the lines "when I said that I loved you, I meant that I love you forever" can be ominous rather than resilient. Dude...she's moving on, you need to let her go. For your own good.

In any case, "Keep On Loving You" was the first #1 hit for a band that was poised to become one of the biggest acts of the 1980s. The song was everywhere in 1981, and soon it seemed that all of their music was pulled out of the vaults because of it. That's good, because certain songs like "Ridin' the Storm Out" were too good to merely be brushed off only when a hurricane or tornado were in the area.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jim Steinman - "Rock & Roll Dreams Come Through"

Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through - Bad for Good

(Debuted May 30, 1981, Peaked #32, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

Before it was released as a single by Meat Loaf in 1993, "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through" appeared as a Top 40 single for Jim Steinman, who wrote the material that Meat Loaf was spinning into gold. However, when the pair were recording the followup to Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf lost his voice and the material eventually appeared as a Steinman solo project. So, "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through" was written with Meat Loaf in mind; his recording of the song was essentially righting a wrong that fate played in his life.

Actually, calling it a Steinman solo project is a misnomer. While his name was on the record label for the LP Bad For Good and he was shown in the video singing the words, the vocals were actually recorded by Canadian singer Rory Dodd. It features many of Steinman's signature styles, and listening to it after Meat Loaf finally recorded really needed his wider range to work. That's not to say that Steinman's version was bad; he simply played with the cards he was dealt.

The video below has the shortened single version. On the album's extra EP, the song is faded back in and given a coda that was simply cut off for the single.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Get Wet - "Just So Lonely"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted April 25, 1981, Peaked #39, 9 Weeks on the Chart)

Here's a song that proves the maxim that everything old is indeed new again. At first, "Just So Lonely" sounded like it could have been a relic of the "girl group" sound of the 1960s with some early 1970s bubblegum mixed in. Yet it is infused with a New Wave sensibility. It's possible that the duo Get Wet were paying homage to styles they grew up with, and those were just part of the sound they wanted to project.

In any case, the record was produced by Phil Ramone, who definitely was involved in the recording of those earlier styles. He certainly had a blast putting together the record.

"Just So Lonely" was the only chart hit for Get Wet in the U.S. While they were essentially a duo of Sherri Beachfront and keyboardist Zecca Esquibel, they were supported by a backing band. On "Just So Lonely," there is a guitar solo, a sax part and a rhythm section. Those weren't done on Esquibel's keyboard. Not in 1981, at least.That type of technology was years away from being realized.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Peter Gabriel - "Games Without Frontiers"

Games Without Frontiers - Games Without Frontiers / Games Without Frontiers (Japan Aircraft - Indaba Remix) - Single

(Debuted August 16, 1980, Peaked #48, 11 Weeks on the Chart)

"Jeux sans frontieres."

That's the French translation of "Games Without Frontiers." As I've said here before, I don't understand French (I took Spanish in high school) so I spent several years trying to figure out just what the hell Peter Gabriel was singing throughout this song. I was trying to understand how "she's so funky, yeah" or "she's so popular" tied in with the rest of the lyrics, but a reading of the lyrics when the song was played on the Direct Choice service around 2001 showed me I was mishearing the lyrics because I was listening to them in the wrong language.

The rest of the lyrics have references to adults acting like children (in fact, "Games Without Frontiers" is itself a reference to the methods often used in international diplomacy). The names refer to people in history, such as Adolf -- who built a bonfire -- and Enrico, who played with the fire. This is a reference to Adolf Hitler and Enrico Fermi, the man who built the atomic bomb. As a child of the Second Wrold War who grew up under the threat of a nuclear Holocaust, Gabriel definitely used the images from his own life to frame his song.

A track from the third self-titled solo Gabriel LP -- known to fans as "Melt" to distinguish it from the others -- "Games Without Frontiers" missed the Top 40 during its initial chart run. However, Gabriel's popularity during the next decade kept it in the public stream of consciousness.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bob Seger - "Fire Lake"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted February 23, 1980, Peaked #6, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

"Fire Lake" may be a 1980 single, but its history stretches long before that. Bob Seger began writing its words in the early 1970s and recorded it for his 1975 LP Beautiful Loser. While it didn't make the final cut for that album, it sat in limbo for several years until Seger reconsidered it for the 1980 LP Against the Wind.

Rather than simply releasing the song as he'd recorded it, Seger cut it again and had three of the Eagles (fellow Michigander Glenn Frey, along with Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmidt), who gave it a characteristic feel that would be recognized by any of that group's fans. The song was different for Seger, with a rolling R&B meets country feel. The lyrics, however, were well in Seger's wheelhouse, featuring a protagonist who's ready to take a big risk and give it all up.

Seger has never spoken about the place he wrote about in "Fire Lake," and that has sparked some debate about where it is. Some fans say it's a reference of the lake of fire that was mentioned in The Bible, while some say it's a place called Silver Lake near Seger's childhood home. Others still point out that there is a real Fire Lake in Michigan. Wherever the source of the song, Seger spins quite a yarn and provides a compelling tale that was a quick Top 10 hit for him.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bette Midler - "The Rose"

The Rose - The Rose (The Original Soundtrack Recording)

(Debuted March 22, 1980, Peaked #3, 25 Weeks on the Chart)

In 1979, Bette Midler starred in a movie about a superstar whose rapid ascent to fame only fueled her self-destructive tendencies and ended up becoming the victim of an overdose. Though The Rose was a fictional account, the story was loosely based on the life of Janis Joplin but was changed after Joplin's family refused to give their consent. The movie was one of Midler's finest big-screen moments and earned her an Academy Award nomination, but the title song is perhaps better remembered than the movie was...thanks to its second life as a standard Karaoke song by drunk women to sing.

There is a story behind the song that has nothing to do with Midler or the movie. It was written by Amanda Broome in the late 1970s after she heard a line to a Leo Sayer song that stuck with her, and began leading to some other lines. Racing home to write the lines down before she forgot them, she wrote the lyrics down in about 10 minutes from the time she reached her piano. After sitting on the song for a year, she was encouraged to submit it for the producers of the film. Of course, they hated it, as producers do. In a last gasp, the song was given to Midler and she liked it enough to lobby for its inclusion.

That turned out to be a good move. Not only was it the film's centerpice song, it was one of the biggest hits Midler ever had. Not only did it reach #3 on the pop chart, it was also a #1 adult contemporary hit for 5 weeks. In 1983, a version by Conway Twitty that featured a spoken passage to bring out the power of the words went to #1 on the country chart as well.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Frank Sinatra - "Theme From New York, New York"

Theme from New York, New York - Sinatra: Best of the Best

(Debuted May 3, 1980, Peaked #32, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

Today is the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks...and here's a song that picked up airplay because of its connection to the city of New York.

However, "Theme From New York, New York" wasn't originally a Frank Sinatra song. It was originally recorded by Liza Minelli for the 1977 Martin Scorsese film New York, New York, with "Ol' Blue Eyes" adding it to his concert repertoire the next year. It was finally released as a single in 1980 and became the final Top 40 hit of Sinatra's long and storied career.

The song is now so deeply ingrained in the lore of the city it names it seems hard to imagine when it wasn't around. It's played after every home Yankees game and each Rangers contest at Madison Square Garden. It appears in commercials, weddings and bar mitvahs. And with its big band sound and its defiant and brassy "if I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere" line, it will be associated with the city for a long time.

Like the city or hate really have to admire the resilience of many people who call it home.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Molly Hatchet - "Flirtin' With Disaster"

Flirtin' With Disaster - Flirtin' With Disaster

(Debuted January 5, 1980, Peaked #42, 10 Weeks On the Chart)

Debuting the first week of the new decade, "Flirtin' With Disaster" just might be Molly Hatchet's best-known song. It was defintely their highest-charting single, just missing the Top 40 with their slice of Southern Rock.

The band hailed from Jacksonville, Florida, an area that also produced Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special, and also saw the foundation of The Allman Brothers Band. While their brand of loud guitars and Southern flair had always assured the group a fanatic audience at home, the infux of meatl bands like Van Halen into pop was a big boost for Molly Hatchet and .38 Special during the new decade.

Below is the song as performed live...the way it was meant to be heard.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Melissa Etheridge - "Similar Features"

Similar Features - Melissa Etheridge

(Debuted April 8, 1989, Peaked #94, 4 Weeks on the Chart)

A friend of mine in college clued me in to something about Melissa Etheridge's music that I never paid attention to before: she never addressed her lover by a name in her songs. While I was recounting the lyrics of the songs I knew in the back of my head, my mind focused on the lyric "Go on and close your eyes, go on, imagine me there...she's got similar features with longer hair..." My friend told me, when she's singing about the other woman but doesn't specifically say the other person is means she's a lesbian."

A couple years later, I really wasn't surprised to hear that Etheridge came out of the closet. It has nothing at all to do with the songs she sings (other than giving a frame of reference), but ever since then I've heard other songs where the "other person" was mentioned but not the lover and wondered if the singer or writer was gay.

That said, "Similar Features" works on a level for those of us who are straight as well. She's singing as a woman who realizes that her lover might be imagining another as they're getting intimate. The knowledge that her lover is still hung up on an old lover stings her. However, she realizes that the lover is where he is and lets the fantasy go on. That shouldn't be a straight or gay feeling, that's real life. It's also one of the more memorable debut albums of the era, and a shame to fall off the chart after only peaking at #94.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Great White - "Once Bitten, Twice Shy"

Once Bitten Twice Shy - Great White: Greatest Hits (Remastered)

(Debuted May 13, 1989, Peaked #5, 26 Weeks on the Chart)

There was something about "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" that wasn't mentioned out loud at the time. It was a remake of a 1975 song by Ian Hunter (the former lead singer of Mott the Hoople), and while it summed up life on the road quite nicely, it was still kept quiet because the 1970s were still equated with Disco and bad taste, even though the era was making a resurgence to anybody who really paid attention. But for whatever reason, people still chuckled about the previous decade and those of us who were fans -- like me -- just needed to be content seeing that the signs were there.

When Great White did its version of the song, I actually knew a girl who reminded me of the groupie in the lyrics. Even today, I have a visual of her while I hear the song. That's the power of music...a girl I haven't bumped into in 20 years comes to life in a song when I hear it, even though she may have grown up to straighten her ways, I will always remember her as she was at the time.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tears For Fears - "Sowing the Seeds of Love"

Sowing the Seeds of Love - The Seeds of Love (Bonus Tracks)

(Debuted September 2, 1989, Peaked #2, 15 Weeks on the Chart)

As the 1980s came to an end, there was a renewed interest in music from the 1960s. Whether that was a factor of the Baby Boomers looking back at "their" music as they started turning 40 and the "new" stuff didn't hold as much appeal to them...or if it was a way for the younger fans to go back an appreciate music back when it seemed simpler and was unadorned by such things as synthesized lines and drum tracks, I have no idea.

The sound of "Sowing the Seeds of Love" recall the late 1960s sound of The Beatles, with its dreaminess and the layers of music used (although there was a synthesizer in the instrumental bridge), even using the line "all you need is love" in the lyrics. The video made for the song recalled the era as well, with a series of psychedelic images. What seems to get lost in the song is that it was born out of a political issue: it was written shortly after Margaret Thatcher was returned to office and wasn't exactly supportive of her remaining in power.

The song was a rush of day-glo sugar, enough to float to #2 on the pop chart in the U.S. and helping to inspire more 1960s reflections to come, from Manchester-based bands the next year.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Art of Noise featuring Tom Jones - "Kiss"

(Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted December 3, 1988, Peaked #31, 10 Weeks on the Chart)

At the time this version of "Kiss" came out, the spring of 1986 seemed like such a long time ago. I was still in the 8th grade when Prince took the original to #1 on the pop chart, but I was a high school junior now. I'd picked up a great deal of life experience in the meantime and all, so by late 1988/early 1989 I thought it was novel for a song from my past to make a comeback.

And the new version of "Kiss" was definitely different. The original by Prince was a funky falsetto, but the new version had the twin talents of 1960s/70s singer Tom Jones and the 1980s band The Art of Noise, who used the instrumental bridge to riff on their earlier hits "Dragnet," "Peter Gunn" and "Paranoimia." While the original had a funky vibe, this one crossed the line to pure camp.

It ended up being the group's biggest hit, and introduced Tom Jones to a new fan base. Suddenly, it was cool to like him without people wondering what was wrong with you.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Living Colour - "Open Letter (To a Landlord)"

Open Letter (To a Landord) - Vivid

(Debuted July 8, 1989, Peaked #82, 5 Weeks on the Chart)

Yes, the title of the band is right. Living Colour's name uses the British spelling, because founder Vernon Reid was born in the U.K. even though the band hailed from New York. While often tagged as a novelty because hard rock groups of the era weren't usually ethnic, Living Colour was the real deal; they proved it by opening for acts Guns 'N' Roses and The Rolling Stones.

"Open Letter (To a Landlord)" was one of my favorite songs from the group's LP Vivid. At the time, I was still in high school and really didn't understand the landlord vs. tenement argument as much as I do today. However, I did get that the words of the song were socially aware and that the lyrics expressed the plight of those being forced out of their homes. In New York, rent control had made it tough for some to move out of their tenements, so some unscrupulous landlords took the step of hiring
hoodlums to rob the tenants. In some cases, they had the hoods burn the houses (mentioned in the lines of the song) so that people had to leave. Then, the tenements were razed for new and more expensive units.

From the opening guitar riff to the final "fight for your neighbor," vocalist (and occasional actor) Corey Glover told it like it was for a group of people living in New York at the time. He's backed up by a solid guitar attack and some of the finest music on what may be one of my favorite 1980s hard rock albums. While many focused on the group's race, their message has remained just as true today as it was than. That isn't something you can say about all of the era's rock acts.