Friday, January 15, 2016

Superhits 1980-1984, Part 2

 More hits from the first half of the 1980s.

 “Rock With You,” Michael Jackson, #1, 1/19/80
Second hit from Jackson’s breakthrough solo album Off the Wall (he made four solo albums with Motown in the early 1970s, but to put it a little unkindly, they weren’t very good).  To me, this song was a breakthrough as well (even though it was written by Rod Temperton, rather than Jackson himself).  “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” seemed a little gimmicky to me, especially given the falsetto throughout; this served as a good radio hit and could be played in clubs as well.  Jackson had definitely arrived as a solo performer, which completely changed the dynamic within the family’s main act, The Jacksons.

“We Don’t Talk Anymore,” Cliff Richard, #7, 1/19/80
On the other hand, Cliff Richard’s first hit in Great Britain, “Move It,” was released on August 29, 1958 – the same day Michael Jackson was born.  Sir Cliff has been a huge star in the UK for over a half century, with over 130 top 20 disks between the singles, album, and EP charts – but in America, not so much (up until this point, his only top 20 was the 1976 hit “Devil Woman”).  This song changed the game a bit.  A bit of synthpop (the synthesizer dominated the song, as opposed to guitars), the cheery melody was a stark contrast to the lyric about the end of a relationship, and the singer’s denial of same (“But I ain’t losing sleep/I ain’t counting sheep”).  Added as an afterthought to his UK release Rock ‘n’ Roll Juvenile, the song became the title track for the US version, and heralded a period where Richard put nine songs in the Billboard Hot 100 between 1980 and 1983.

“Cool Change,” Little River Band, #10, 1/19/80
A song about getting away from your troubles by getting in your boat and going out on the water – one of two 1980 songs on the theme (although I’m pretty sure Christopher Cross had already recorded his song “Sailing” by the time this one hit the charts).  Second top 10 hit from the band’s album First Under the Wire, and their fourth one overall in the United States to this point.  Written by lead singer Glenn Shorrock – or, I should say, former lead singer (as some of you may know, the group traveling under the name Little River Band today features precisely zero people who played on this song).

“Better Love Next Time,” Dr. Hook, #12, 1/19/80
Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show arrived with a bang in the early 1970s, mainly riding on the material of songwriter, humorist, and children’s book writer Shel Silverstein (“Sylvia’s Mother,” “The Cover of The Rolling Stone,” etc.).  But by the mid-1970s, he’d stopped writing songs – which left Dr. Hook (their new, shortened name) at the mercy of whoever produced the band, since there were no songwriters in the group.  As a result, their later output, while hitting higher positions on the singles charts (the two aforementioned songs were their only top 40 hits during the first era) were all by outside anonymous songwriters or remakes – and, to put it less kindly, were the typical soft rock pap you’d think this band would have made fun of early on.  “Better Love Next Time” is a good example – nothing special, written by three outside songwriters, missed the top 10 in the U.S. pop chart but made it in the U.K. (and hit #3 on the adult contemporary chart here in the States, their best showing ever).  Next.

“Jane,” Jefferson Starship, #14, 1/19/80
On the other hand, “Jane” shows the Jefferson Starship (temporarily) making a move to the other direction.  Their big hits over the previous few years – “Miracles,” “With Your Love,” “Count On Me,” and “Runaway” – were all ballads/midtempo songs written for lead singer Marty Balin.  (Balin wrote the first two; outside songwriters submitted the others.)  But by 1979, Balin was gone (and so was Grace Slick, although she would return in 1981), so with new lead singer Mickey Thomas on board, the band moved back into rock – which is where it had been for a long time under the original name Jefferson Airplane, as well as the early Starship days before Balin came back.  “Jane” is nothing special, but it showed that the band hadn’t forgotten how to rock – and as a result, it’s still played on classic rock stations (perhaps the only Jefferson Starship song you’ll hear in that format).  Grace Slick is in this video, so it must have been recorded after 1981.

 “Rotation,” Herb Alpert, #30, 1/19/80
“Rise” was a pleasant surprise for Herb Alpert; it was his first top 40 single in 12 years – in fact, the song hit #1 (with a lot of help from its placement in General Hospital, where it was used during a scene showing Luke Spencer raping seducing doing something with Laura Webber.  (It seems repugnant that the show would ever have called the scene a seduction, but I really don’t have the time to delve into the program’s history.)  In any case, “Rotation” was the followup single, and not dissimilar in sound – a light disco beat and Alpert’s lead trumpet lines.  It didn’t do anywhere near as well as “Rise,” but a top 30 single is nothing to sneeze at.  All of which meant Alpert would have additional duties at his record label beside overseeing the entire operation.

“She’s in Love With You,” Suzi Quatro, #41, 1/19/80
I’ve never quite figured out why Suzi Quatro didn’t make it bigger in the United States – which, of course, is her home country.  She was a much bigger star in the United Kingdom (this was her tenth Top 40 hit there), she’d just had a huge duet hit with “Stumblin’ In,” and her recurring role as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days certainly made her better known to the public.  (It might have helped if she’d actually been able to perform her own songs on the show, but they didn’t really fit the format.)  However, “She’s in Love With You” was the second of three consecutive singles to just miss being played on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40, all peaking between #41 and #45.

“Money,” The Flying Lizards, #50, 1/19/80
Another song that became a top 40 hit in ten countries, but not the United States.  This was The Flying Lizards’ one major hit single (they did notch a second chart hit in the UK), and it may be the best known of the various versions of “Money,” with a unique reading from lead singer Deborah Evans (although the group was primarily David Cunningham’s creation).  The song’s highest chart performance was the #16 version by The Kingsmen, although Barrett Strong’s original version hit #23, and The Beatles’ version certainly has many fans as well.

“Dirty Water,” The Inmates, #51, 1/19/80
A second revival of a 1960s American hit by a contemporary British band, although The Inmates were more of a pub rock group.  The original, by California-based band The Standells (although the song is specifically based in Boston), hit #11 in 1966; this version moved the location to London (and switched the Charles River for the Thames).  The Inmates probably helped themselves by distributing promo versions to radio stations across the United States, substituting local markets and rivers near them.  This was their one and only American hit, but they’re still extent and playing in the UK (although they might want to update their MySpace and record label pages).

“Stargazer,” Peter Brown, #59, 1/19/80
Fifth and final chart hit for the singer-songwriter, who recorded with TK Records (KC & The Sunshine Band’s label), but came from the Chicago suburb of Palos Heights.  After his recording career ended, he still kept writing (he’s currently collecting royalties thanks to his cowrite on Madonna’s “Material Girl”), but tinnitus ended his music career.  He’s now working full time in design and architecture.  The one video I found for this song couldn't be embedded; click here for the link.

“Star,” Earth, Wind & Fire, #64, 1/19/80
Perfectly good EWF single, the fourth from their album I Am, that probably didn’t chart higher because radio and record buying might have had enough for awhile.  (From February 1978 to September 1979 Earth, Wind & Fire put six singles in the top 40, four of which made top 10.)  There also might have been a little confusion with their earlier hit “Shining Star,” for that matter.  Cowritten by Allee Willis, who has written lots of songs you’ve heard over and over again – “September” and “Boogie Wonderland” for EWF, “Neutron Dance” for The Pointer Sisters, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” for the Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield, and “I’ll Be There for You,” the theme from Friends.

“Volcano,” Jimmy Buffett, #64, 1/19/80
One of “The Big Eight” – eight songs you will almost always hear at a Jimmy Buffett concert.  (The others are “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Come Monday,” “Fins,” “Margaritaville,” and “Why Don’t We Get Drunk [And Screw]” – although the latter has been modified somewhat over the years.)  Second single from the album of the same name, this album was his first release for MCA Records; the label had folded up ABC Records, Buffett’s longtime label, in mid-1979 after purchasing it earlier that year.  23rd Street was always on my way.

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