Friday, October 5, 2012

Mtume - "Juicy Fruit"

Juicy Fruit - Juicy Fruit

(Debuted August 6, 1983, Peaked #45, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

If you're a little young to remember the 1980s and anyone tries to tell you that the music that's made nowadays is more graphic or is somehow less "pure," here's a song you can ask about. The "Juicy Fruit" in this song isn't about a stick of gum, it's about cunnilingus. That's right, oral sex given to a female...and the words don't really skirt the subject, either: "I'll be your lollipop, you can lick me everywhere."

Mtume was a funk/soul combo named after percussionist James Mtume, a protege of Miles Davis. Peaking at #45, it was as close to the U.S. pop Top 40 as the group would ever get. Despite that, the song was a million-seller and has provided sample material for a whole host of songs, notably The Notorious B.I.G.'s debut hit "Juicy" and Keyshia Cole's 2007 hit "Let it Go."

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Robert Plant - "Big Log"

Big Log - The Principle of Moments (Remastered)

(Debuted October 15, 1983, Peaked #20, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

I guess I have to preface this with the fact that I turned 12 in 1984. At the time, I (along with my friends) found the title "Big Log" to be rather funny for purely juvenile reasons. Besides that, there was a friend's older brother, a Led Zeppelin fanatic, who just didn't like the way the song went. Since Robert Plant had been the lead voice of Led Zep, he just found it atrocious that he was willing to do such "soft" material.

Time has passed, and I can listen to the song today without snickering (much) at its title -- which, by the way, is never actually mentioned in the words of the song -- and find it to be a great 1980s single. From the casual guitar to the mellow synthesizer lines, the music suits the mood. Not only has Plant explored his vocal range in the years since, he has also branched out into totally different genres that make this song seem not so "soft" anymore. As for the friend's brother who argued that the voice of Led Zeppelin shouldn't be on this single, I lost track of him 25 years ago. I'd be interested to hear what he had to say about it today.

Actually, he might be pretty favorable with it, too. He was about 18 at the time and life's lessons often have a way of changing our outlook on things. I know my own view of things is a lot different than I saw things back then.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Pretenders - "Back On the Chain Gang"

Back On the Chain Gang - The Singles

(Debuted December 11, 1982, Peaked #5, 23 Weeks on the Chart)

"Back On the Chain Gang" was really supposed to be about Kinks leader Ray Davies, who was part of a couple with Pretenders leader Chrissie Hynde and had a child with her. However, the song became an epitaph of sorts for band member James Honeyman-Scott when he died in July 1982 after battling heroin addiction. The group was understandably devastated, with the death coming just two days after bassist Pete Farndon was fired from the band after his own addiction to the drug (he would die soon afterward, in April 1983).

Undaunted, Hynde finished writing the song and recorded it with a revamped Pretenders lineup that now featured her, drummer Martin Chambers, former Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner and future Big Country bassist Tony Butler. Beginning with a Byrds-inspired 12-string guitar and using similar grunting sound effects that linked it to Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang," the song was a recap of what happened with Honeyman-Scott but also a restatement that the band could carry on despite what happened to him. Released on a single with "My City Was Gone" (another great song in its own right), it didn't see an official album release until Learning To Crawl came out at the beginning of 1984.

By that time, Hynde had revamped The Pretenders' lineup again and continued the process of moving on, just as she promised to do in "Back On the Chain Gang." It ended up being their biggest U.S. hit.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Saga - "On the Loose"

On the Loose - Defining Moments:Volume 1

(Debuted February 26, 1983, Peaked #26, 17 Weeks on the Chart)

Saga was a band from Canada who were an even bigger success in Europe -- Germany specifically -- than they were in their own country. In fact, the band is still together and still charting in Germany. In the U.S., however, they only managed three Hot 100 singles, with "On the Loose" being their only Top 40 hit.

Despite being a hit in the spring of 1983, "On the Loose" Appeared on Saga's '81 LP Worlds Apart. And though it sounds like a generic early to mid-1980s rock hit, it was actually different than they'd ever recorded before. In fact, producer Rupert Hine told singer Michael Sadler to "stop singing like a choirboy" for the album and ordered him on the roof of a barn to get the "proper attitude" for the song.

It's their most recognizeable hit in the States, with a video that matched the manic performance they gave it.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Wham! - "Bad Boys"

Bad Boys - Fantastic

(Debuted September 17, 1983, Peaked #60, 9 Weeks on the Chart)

It's easy for Americans to forget the pre-stardom days of Wham!, when seen through the spectrum of the band's mid-1980s success and singer George Michael's monster solo career. But before their 1984 breakthrough, they were known as Wham! UK here in the states because of conflicts with a similarly-named band and were much more of a group effort, giving more credit to the backing dancers/vocalists (a la The Human League) and sported a different look with their leather jackets and outwardly rowdy behavior.

That behavior was at the center of "Bad Boys." While on its surface, it was a song about being rebellious -- reflecting the 19-year-old age of George Michael at the time -- there was a middle eight that featured the parents' viewpoint as well. It was their fist appearance in the Hot 100; however, when Michael and bandmate Andrew Ridgely began having success with their LP Make it Big, they quickly distanced themselves from the earlier material as a way of forgetting what brought them to the dance to begin with.

In fact, when Wham! issued it greatest hits compilation, there was no mention of "Bad Boys" at all. Like the older brother on Happy Days, it was never spoken of again.

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.