Time out of mind: Walter Becker, RIP

steely peanuts

[Graphic borrowed from Paul Myers’ IG/FB. As big a Peanuts fan as I am, it really resonates with me.]

I’m heartbroken by the news of Walter Becker’s passing. Steely Dan are one of my favorite bands, so integral to the way(s) I hear music. At their peak, which I consider the Aja and Gaucho years, they managed to simultaneously be proto-smooth jazz and classic rock. I was stunned when, in the mid-to-late ’80s, I realized that their “Deacon Blues” was played on both my favorite classic rock station, and on my favorite easy listening station. They straddled genres in that way so effortlessly. Steely Dan’s music, especially those later years, was unlike anything else — and still is. Gaucho is probably one of my top 5 albums, all-time; I can listen to it on a loop and hear new things just about every time. That said, even their early works, closer chronologically to the ’60s than the ’80s, offer up surprises: just listen to the percussion on 1972’s “Do It Again” (which, somehow, hit #6 on the Hot 100!). Becker and Donald Fagen were a truly superb songwriting team, on par with the likes of Jagger/Richards and Tennant/Lowe. And while their comeback material isn’t necessarily on par with their original set of albums from ’72-’80, it’s not embarassing. (And it delighted me that they won the 2001 Grammy for Album of the Year over Eminem for the delightfully titled Two Against Nature.) Fagen will likely tour till he’s dead, but without Becker, it won’t ever be quite the same. Thanks for the music, Walter, and for all you and Donald have taught me.

Posted in RIP

Pop top 20: 9/5/98


1 — I DON’T WANT TO MISS A THING –•– Aerosmith – 1 (1) — They should really be ashamed of this hot garbage, but I doubt Steven Tyler is ashamed of anything. His bandmates, however… (And most of the blame, of course, goes to songwriter Diane Warren, who even at her schlockiest is better than this.)
2 3 THE FIRST NIGHT –•– Monica – 4 (2) — Now, this is the stuff. At the end of the ’90s, Jermaine Dupri was one of the straight-up dons, and Monica was one of his top priorities — for good reason. That voice, just oozing with sass and class, was capable of toplining just about any song, and Dupri wisely had her follow up her half of “The Boy Is Mine” (#5, below) with this “Love Hangover”-jacking insta-classic about not “get[ting] down [on] the first night.” It’s gross and unfortunate that “The Boy Is Mine” was knocked off the top by Aerosmith’s bleating ballad; it would’ve been beautiful serendipity for Monica to replace herself at #1. But that said, after four weeks stuck in the runner-up position (weirdly, the entire top 5 stayed static for the month of September), this punched its way to #1 and spent a fortnight there.
3 4 CRUSH –•– Jennifer Paige – 10 (3) — A lovely, frothy little bonbon of pop, but not as transcendent as I’d remembered. Where this is good, Donna Lewis’s “I Love You Always Forever” (to compare it to another female-voiced one-hit wonder) is great.
4 2 MY WAY –•– Usher – 12 (2) — Jermaine Dupri, as I noted above, made a lot of great records in the late ’90s, but this wasn’t one of ’em. This is a fairly tacky song in which Usher, getting old before his time, tells his rivals that their girlfriends like it, uh, his way. The song is both too simplistic (it sounds as if it’s based around a Casio preset) and too busy (Dupri won’t stop shouting in the background, a la Puffy) at the same time. Both Usher and Dupri are better than this.
5 1 THE BOY IS MINE –•– Brandy & Monica – 15 (1) — Just a couple weeks ago, I wrote of this single, “Darkchild and Dallas Austin teaming up to make absolute musical magic behind the boards, supporting Brandy and Monica making magic of their own, like Babs and Donna did 19 years earlier. This is the plushest, friendliest catfight ever.” This “Boy” spent 13 well-deserved weeks at #1, a feat only 10 other singles (most recently, of course, “Despacito”) have ever accomplished. Brandy’s smooth coo meshes marvelously with Monica’s grittier vocals; even though Brandy’s first single had only come out in 1994 and Monica’s arrived the following year, both exhibit the self-assurance of seasoned pros here. One of my favorite singles of the decade.
6 7 YOU’RE STILL THE ONE –•– Shania Twain – 30 (2) — It’s so sad how Twain’s marriage to “Mutt” Lange ended, because you can really feel the genuine emotion and love in not just the lyrics, but her vocal performance of this song. This is an immaculately crafted and produced love song, one which, like it or not, will be played at weddings and anniversary parties for decades and decades to come.
7 6 ADIA / ANGEL –•– Sarah McLachlan – 15 (3) — The ’90s, musically, were bad for a lot of reasons, but here’s a good one: the return of double-sided hits! It wasn’t really so far, in retrospect, from 1989’s “Vox” to McLachlan’s 1998 status as The Queen of Lilith (and the burgeoning Adult Top 40 format); sure, early McLachlan was a bit more Kate Bush and a bit less campfire singalong, but apart from that? You can hear the well-meaningness in her voice, and I like that. This isn’t some phony bullshit: she means it, maaaaaan. “Adia” is a lovely, loping reminder that “we are still innocent” (I’m not sure what that means, but okay), while “Angel” is a gorgeous, aching piano ballad on which you can almost hear McLachlan’s voice crack several times. I like, and will defend, them both.
8 8 DAYDREAMIN’ –•– Tatyana Ali – 5 (8) — A rote R&B record that interpolates the same riff from Steely Dan’s “Black Cow” that Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz used earlier in the year for their own “Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)” — and just to drive it home, Tariq and Gunz appear on this. I mean, come on. That’s about all we should expect, though, from a singer/starlet who gained fame as an actress on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
9 5 NEVER EVER –•– All Saints – 7 (4) — All Saints are legends in their home of the UK: a home-grown girl group who released nine singles, every one of which hit the top 10, with five of them going to #1. That’s an incredible strike rate. And some of those, like 2000’s “Pure Shores,” are absolute pop classics. So why is “Never Ever” — their first UK #1 and their only hit of any significance in the US — so goddamn drippy? This is a bland-as-cream-of-wheat girl-group ballad with a remarkable deficit of soul.
10 11 WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT –•– Five – 14 (10) — Another British phenom: Five had 11 hits in the UK, and all 11 of ’em hit the top 10. And like with the preceding single, this was their only bite of the hit apple in the US. However, unlike “Never Ever,” this is premium TRL fodder, an excellent (well, except for that “rap break”) boy band record on par with “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” if not “Pop.” It would, alas, get no further on the chart, and they’d never bother us in the US again.

11 10 CRUEL SUMMER –•– Ace Of Base – 8 (10) — Until I started my research for this chart, I had no idea that Sweden’s second-biggest musical exports had covered Bananarama’s 1984 gem. This version is not such a gem, however, nor is it a jam. It’s an identikit shiny, happy, pop record, scrubbed of any and all personality. Much like Ace of Base themselves.
12 12 LOOKIN’ AT ME –•– Mase Featuring Puff Daddy – 7 (12) — On its way to a high of #8, this would be Mase’s final top 10 single. He should’ve been happy to play sidekick to Puff, because goddamn, his solo work was terrible. This is an early Neptunes production, which I hope for their sakes they’ve expunged from their discography. The track is dull, and Mase is even duller.
13 14 TIME AFTER TIME –•– INOJ – 3 (13) — Another record touched by the hand of Dupri, this bass remake of Cyndi Lauper’s indelible classic was the second hit cover version from INOJ (the first being her take on Ready for the World’s “Love You Down”), a Wisconsin singer whose fame came (basically) solely from appearance on So So Def Bass All-Stars appearances. But hey, this made it all the way to #6 pop, so she grabbed that brass ring for a couple minutes, at least. As for the song itself, you needn’t trouble yourself with it.
14 9 TOO CLOSE –•– Next – 30 (1) — 5 weeks at #1, 53 weeks on the Hot 100, and the #1 pop single of 1998: not bad for an R&B trio’s second single. Lyrically, this is kinda gross — really, guys, I don’t need to hear about your erections — but musically, Naughty by Nature’s Kay Gee made a superb track for the guys to sing about their boners over. It’s rooted in a sample from Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin’,” and it’s one of the smoothest R&B singles of its era, which is precisely why it endures almost 20 years later.
15 13 MAKE IT HOT –•– Nicole Featuring Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott & Mocha – 11 (5) — From the era when everything Missy touched turned to gold (records), this fair-to-middling R&B record (produced by Timbaland, of course) by a fair-to-middling singer and featuring, in addition to Elliott, a fair-to-middling (if that) rapper, this just further proved that Missy was in the midst of her Imperial Phase. Her coat tails could bring anyone a hit, even if it wasn’t particularly compelling. Spoiler alert: the best thing on this is Missy’s bridge.
16 16 THIS KISS –•– Faith Hill – 25 (16) — A great Beth Nielsen Chapman song (she had two co-writers, but to me this is thoroughly a Chapman song) gets a sterling, big vocal from Hill and great production from Hill herself and Byron Gallimore — this sounds big, and even though it crossed over to #7 pop and #3 AC, it never sounds less than country (where it, of course, hit #1, her fifth to date). This is a song of pure joy, and everything about it delivers.
17 18 I STILL LOVE YOU –•– Next – 5 (17) — The follow-up to “Too Close” couldn’t help but disappoint, getting to #14 pop/#4 R&B on the fumes of its predecessor. It’s truly generic R&B in every way that “Too Close” wasn’t.
18 15 FRIEND OF MINE –•– Kelly Price – 8 (12) — Don’t hold R. Kelly against this single, a fine tale of infidelities (her BFF is creepin’ with her man) which R. had a hand in the production and writing of (but not the only one). But what makes this record a triumph is Price’s huger than huge voice, which can truly sing it all. Not a year later she’d have a featured role on Whitney’s “Heartbreak Hotel” — that’s how good she is. Price’s material often isn’t worthy of her, but this “Friend” is. (5 weeks #1 R&B, too.)
19 — THINKIN’ BOUT IT –•– Gerald Levert – 1 (19) — Gerald Levert was a master at making au courant R&B that was still very much grown-folks music. The stats back me up: in his post-Levert (the hit trio he started in the mid-’80s who peaked, pop-wise, with 1987’s “Casanova”) solo career, his first eight consecutive solo albums, between 1991-2003, all peaked in the top 2 on the R&B chart, and in that same stretch he hit the R&B top 10 with 10 singles, including a trio of #1s. This came close, peaking at #2 (and #12 pop, thanks to its strong sales), and is one of his best. It’s a strange single, basically a Dan Savage column in musical form, with Gerald singing to his lady that he knows she’s sleeping around on him (and that payback is a mother), along with an odd lyric about “that I should share your underwear” — after almost 20 years I’m still not sure what that’s about. Musically this is very much of its moment, ultra-contemporary, but yet doesn’t sound remotely dated. We lost quite a talent when he died in 2006 at only 40 years old; there’s no doubt in my mind that, were he still alive, he would be the king of Adult R&B right now.
20 17 COME WITH ME –•– Puff Daddy Featuring Jimmy Page – 11 (4) — Talk about an Imperial Phase: Puff got so big (and so fast), he could bring in Jimmy Page (and, in a less well-known role, Tom Morello) to replay chunks of Led Zep’s “Kashmir” for a shitty Godzilla soundtrack single. And it is as ponderous as “Kashmir,” only without any of the interesting parts.

Posted in 1990s, charts

Pop top 40: 8/27/83


Now, this is a chart, loaded with classic after classic. And some non-classics, because let’s face it, you can’t have a chart of nothing but classics — you need some non-classics to throw the classics into relief. (cf. Taco.) And here’s the accompanying playlist, for your listening pleasure and/or musical edification (in case you don’t recall, say, “Kiss the Bride”).

1 1 EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE –•– The Police (A&M)-13 (8 weeks at #1) (1) — You get the sense that, when writing the lyrics for Synchronicity, Sting wasn’t in a very good place? Just think of the album’s singles: this, “King of Pain” (see #37), “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” and “Synchronicity II.” Not a happy line between ’em, really. But that worked, somehow. “Breath” — in its eighth and final week atop the Hot 100 here, and to be named the #1 song of ’83 at year’s end — caught the zeitgeist and didn’t let go, and suddenly the Police were the biggest band in the world. Such a superb single, so dark and menacing and well-arranged. Best bit: the way the chorus is sung to fade out at the end.
2 2 SWEET DREAMS (Are Made Of This) –•– Eurythmics (RCA)-16 (2) — Dave and Annie, together in electric dreams.
3 4 MANIAC –•– Michael Sembello (Casablanca)-13 (3) — One of Phil Ramone’s best jobs behind the boards — and fun fact, it would get knocked from #1 (to which it was on its way, for two weeks) by another, much lesser Ramone production (#12 below). Sembello was the absolute essence of a one-hit wonder, but oh, what a hit. This could’ve practically been a Moroder piece of work (like its soundtrack sibling, “Flashdance … What A Feeling”), thanks to its insistent propulsion. Sembello was kind of a babe in ’83, too.
4 3 SHE WORKS HARD FOR THE MONEY –•– Donna Summer (Mercury)-14 (3) — First of all, that 1984 Grammy performance: goddamn. Through, presumably, no fault of Summer’s own, NARAS was still staging the show as if it was a fucking Vegas review. Donna sounds sensational, however, and her band is crackerjack. As for the record itself, Michael Omartian gives it the perfect new wave/pop sheen, perfect for 1983 — I’m not surprised this made it to #3 pop, but I am that it topped the R&B chart for 3 weeks — and Donna, of course, sings the hell out of a solid, tough song.
5 9 PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ –•– Taco (RCA)-10 (5) — Only in 1983 could an Indonesian-Dutch singer based in Germany (who made Tim Curry in Rocky Horror look butch) hit the top 5 with a freaky new wave Irving Berlin cover. And the thing is: it’s not very good, or even interesting. But it is very, very of its time.
6 6 IT’S A MISTAKE –•– Men At Work (Columbia)-9 (6) — Better than “Down Under,” at least, but not nearly as good as “Overkill.”
7 5 STAND BACK –•– Stevie Nicks (Modern)-13 (5) — Stevie Nicks to the late Timothy White in 1991: “I phoned Prince out of the blue, hummed [the] melody [of “Stand Back”], and he listened … I hung up, and he came over within the hour. He listened again, and I said, ‘Do you hate it?’ He said, ‘No,’ and walked over to the synthesizers that were set up, was absolutely brilliant for about twenty five minutes, and then left. He was so uncanny, so wild, he spoiled me for every band I’ve ever had because nobody can exactly re-create — not even with two piano players — what Prince did all by his little self.” And from her liners to her ’91 comp Timespace: “‘Stand Back’ has always been my favorite song onstage, because … when it starts, it has an energy that comes from somewhere unknown … and it seems to have no timespace. I’ve never quite understood this sound …. but I have NEVER questioned it.” Stevie Nicks is a very wise woman.
8 8 (Keep Feeling) FASCINATION –•– The Human League (A&M)-14 (8) — They weren’t exactly prolific hitmakers in the US — this was the second of their three top 10 singles, along with a further trio of singles that peaked between numbers 30-32 — but boy, were they important. The previous year’s #1 “Don’t You Want Me” is arguably the single that made the US charts safe for British new wave, and (to some extent) with it, the second British invasion, which by ’83 was in full force (see #9 and #15, for starters). This is a delightful little new wave pop ditty which makes good use of the entire band’s vocals. And synthesizers!
9 10 I’LL TUMBLE 4 YA –•– Culture Club (Virgin)-9 (9) — Kissing to Be Clever didn’t include any US #1s (that wouldn’t happen until the second single from their sophomore album — and amazingly, Clever didn’t get past #14 on the album chart! — but it did launch Culture Club’s career with a pair of #2s and this ebullient, upbeat third single, hitting its peak this week. If “Tumble” doesn’t make you smile, I question what’s wrong with you.
10 12 CHINA GIRL –•– David Bowie (EMI-America)-13 (10) — Also reaching its peak, the follow-up to Bowie’s uber-smash #1 comeback “Let’s Dance.” This isn’t nearly as good (and is quite questionable in terms of racial politics); blame co-writer Iggy Pop. I vastly prefer its follow-up, “Modern Love.”

11 18 THE SAFETY DANCE –•– Men Without Hats (Backstreet)-10 (11) — I can’t hate this song; it’s too happy and too ridiculous and too Canadian. And you can dance if you want to, you can’t argue with that.
12 22 TELL HER ABOUT IT –•– Billy Joel (Columbia)-5 (12) — I hate this song. I hate its parent album, An Innocent Man. And for the most part, I hate Billy Joel, a pious, full-of-himself asshole. I don’t hate his entire catalog — just most of it. But the last thing I want to hear from him is a bunch of fucking ’50s white doo-wop pastiche. One of Phil Ramone’s worst productions, too.
13 15 HUMAN NATURE –•– Michael Jackson (Epic)-6 (13) — MJ wasn’t primarily a yacht rocker by any means, but remember: he worked a lot with Toto. A lot. They’re basically his backing band on Thriller, for pete’s sake. And Toto’s Jeff Porcaro co-wrote this, with yacht rock personnel from heaven on it. That’s precisely why the Beyond Yacht Rock guys (who invented the term) gave this a 95.5, which makes it Essential Yacht, on their Yachtski scale this week. And not only is this yachty as fuck, it’s also absurdly plush. Yeah, pretty much everything on the greatest-selling album of all time is great, but this single is my favorite. And its use by SWV on “Right Here/Human Nature” makes that one of the ’90s best singles, too.
14 17 LAWYERS IN LOVE –•– Jackson Browne (Asylum)-8 (14) — This song a) makes no fucking sense, and b) is proof positive that Jackson Browne had no fucking clue what to do in the ’80s, apart from banging Darryl Hannah.
15 7 IS THERE SOMETHING I SHOULD KNOW –•– Duran Duran (Capitol)-13 (4) — Slightly squishy by DD standards, definitely mid-table as far as their ’80s singles go, but that cold opening just kills.
16 23 DON’T CRY –•– Asia (Geffen)-5 (16) — Some bands can crank out the same basic record over and over and it works, cf. AC/DC. And some can’t quite pull it off, cf. Asia. Their debut album was the #1 album of 1982. Their second album, Alpha, suffice it to say, did not do the same (though it did make it to #6). This single is fine, your basic power-chord AOR, but it doesn’t have the fresh sound that Asia‘s singles (especially “Heat of the Moment”) did.
17 11 HOT GIRLS IN LOVE –•– Loverboy (Columbia)-12 (11) loverboy
18 14 TAKE ME TO HEART –•– Quarterflash (Geffen)-11 (14) — Do you want to harden it or take me (or you) to it, Rindy Ross? Make up your mind, woman!
19 19 ROCK ‘N’ ROLL IS KING –•– ELO (Jet)-10 (19) — Jeff Lynne doing a ’50s rave-up pastiche in 1983? Yeah, hard pass.
20 30 TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART –•– Bonnie Tyler (Columbia)-7 (20) — You had to have a singer as strong as Tyler to sing this grand/iose composition (and production). And because she’s such a strong singer, she fucking pulls it off, while Steinman uses every trick in his book behind her, to the song’s benefit. One of the greatest #1s in a great year for #1s. And, of course, this song/video also eventually brought us the greatest literal video ever made.

21 26 HUMAN TOUCH –•– Rick Springfield (RCA)-8 (21) — One of Rick’s more rocking efforts, which befitted him nicely.
22 13 FLASHDANCE…WHAT A FEELING –•– Irene Cara (Casablanca)-22 (1) — Glop.
23 24 AFTER THE FALL –•– Journey (Columbia)-8 (23) — For every classic Journey single, and there are plenty, there’s one or two “huh?”s from each album. And this is one from Frontiers.
24 29 PROMISES, PROMISES –•– Naked Eyes (EMI-America)-7 (24) — They flamed out quickly, but they had a real talent for catchy pop. Their cover of “Always Something There to Remind Me” was good, and this was 10x better.
25 21 ROCK OF AGES –•– Def Leppard (Mercury)-12 (16) — Pyromania is a great hard rock album, and they picked the singles from it very well: “Photograph” – “Foolin'” – “Rock of Ages.” All great, all top 20 hits.
26 32 MAKING LOVE OUT OF NOTHING AT ALL –•– Air Supply (Arista)-5 (26) — Sure, Air Supply recorded some real soupy AC ballad garbage. But they also recorded this triumphant, glorious Jim Steinman track in which they sing about “mak[ing] all the stadiums rock,” and that’s worth plenty. I love the absurd drama of this, and I also love that there’s no “radio edit”: you play the full 5:41 or you don’t play it at all. Shame that this got stuck at #2 on the chart, except that it got stuck behind a superior Steinman record (see #20, above), so you can’t really complain too much. Listened to this alongside “Eclipse” and Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” and try not to pass out from the over-the-topness of it all.
27 28 HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO LIVE WITHOUT YOU –•– Laura Branigan (Atlantic)-9 (27) — Branigan was a great singer (RIP), a belter equally comfortable with uptempo (cf. “Gloria”) and ballads (like this one). Years before Michael Bolton got his hands on it, Branigan ripped out her heart on “How Am I,” making it an all-time great song about heartbreak.
28 34 (She’s) SEXY + 17 –•– The Stray Cats (EMI-America)-4 (28) — Brian Setzer is a pox on music, because he single-handedly resuscitated not one, but two genres which didn’t need it, rockabilly (or some lame attempt at it, here) and swing (no no no). The Stray Cats were silly, dumb, and at their worst, gross. And this was them at their worst.
29 31 DEAD GIVEAWAY –•– Shalamar (Solar)-10 (29) — I don’t know why the video‘s filmed in London, exactly, except perhaps that Shalamar was always bigger in the UK: to wit, this hit #22 pop and #10 R&B (interesting, because to me this is much more rock than R&B), but got to #8 in the UK. After the release of The Look, their seventh (!) album, both Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniel (who, BTW, did the moonwalk a year before MJ) left Shalamar, but clearly, Watley stayed in England, as less than six months later, she’d show up as part of the chorus on Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” This Leon Sylvers production jams hard and relentlessly, giving Howard Hewett a hot musical bed over which to sing. And I ❤ Watley’s Bananarama-esque style in said video; this clearly wasn’t her first visit across the pond.
30 36 FAR FROM OVER –•– Frank Stallone (RSO)-5 (30) — I’ve joked for years that this song is so damn fast it might as well be Hi-NRG. Well, it turns out, according to the website Song BPM, this goddamn thing is 167bpm. In comparison, Evelyn Thomas’s “High Energy” — a milestone of Hi-NRG music which hit #1 on the US Dance Club Play chart, as well as in Germany and Spain, and #5 UK — is only 124bpm. This song is also gloriously ridiculous, from a barely passable singer. And Sly’s little brother produced and co-wrote it! But most importantly, from Wikipedia: “WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina used [the instrumental] for their Football Fridays broadcasts during the mid-1980s, as did WDIV-TV in Detroit, Michigan for its Sunday sports wrap-up show Sports Final Edition, which is still currently used today.”

31 20 ELECTRIC AVENUE –•– Eddy Grant (Portrait)-20 (2) — Electro-reggae?
32 42 TRUE –•– Spandau Ballet (Chrysalis)-4 (32) — Early sophisti-pop, which is practically the British analogue to yacht rock. But goddamn, what a 180 for Spandau. That said, I bet that at any given moment of every day of every year, this song is being played on the radio somewhere in the world. And how many can claim that?
33 16 NEVER GONNA LET YOU GO –•– Sergio Mendes (A&M)-20 (4) — Syrupy AC fodder which deserves no more thought.
34 38 DON’T YOU GET SO MAD –•– Jeffrey Osborne (A&M)-7 (34) — Osborne’s sophomore album, Stay with Me Tonight, spun off a pair of top 40 pop singles, like his debut — but notched four top 20 R&B hits, fully establishing the former LTD singer as one of the new stars of ’80s R&B. Like with his debut, jazz keyboardist and smooth jazz pioneer George Duke was behind the boards, crafting a pillowy-perfect bed for Osborne’s soaring, sharp vocals. Michael Sembello (!) co-wrote this one, the album’s lead single, on its way to peaks of #25 pop/#3 R&B. It’s classically early ’80s R&B, cool and grooving at the same time; both Osborne and Duke can basically do this in their sleep, and we should all be so glad (about it) that they got together. My favorite record in this countdown.
35 40 KISS THE BRIDE –•– Elton John (Geffen)-4 (35) — Maybe the hardest-rocking song Elton had cut since “The Bitch Is Back”? Makes some sense, since he reunited with his early ’70s band for Too Low for Zero, which spun off the big hits “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” (to which I’ve never cottoned) and “I’m Still Standing” (which is marvelous). The law of diminishing returns applied here, though, with “Bride” only making it to #25. That said, remarkably this was Elton’s first album ever to land three singles in the US top 40 since Goodbye Yellow Brick Road — largely a function of the fact that since ’77’s Blue Moves (and more significantly, his coming out as bisexual in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1976 [examined by good buddy Chris Molanphy in a recent episode of his superb Hit Parade podcast]), his chart star had been significantly on the wane here in the states. Knowing what we now know, this comes off as a more than a bit ridiculous lyrically, but still: it does rock pretty agreeably and convincingly.
36 37 ALL TIME HIGH –•– Rita Coolidge (A&M)-9 (36) — At its pop peak, a limp James Bond theme (if only it had been titled “Octopussy”!) with dreadful lyrics by Tim Rice, production by Phil Ramone (’83 was a big year for him), and a flaccid vocal from past-her-prime ’70s singer Rita Coolidge. No surprise that it spent four weeks topping the AC chart; this wasn’t a stellar year for AC. Oh, and if you’ve never heard it, you should check out Pulp’s rather bizarre 1997 cover.
37 — KING OF PAIN –•– The Police (A&M)-1 (37) — Lyrically, this is pretty goth, when you think about it. One of the highlights of Synchronicity, which is the album-length highlight of the Police’s career.
38 44 LADY LOVE ME (One More Time) –•– George Benson (Warner Brothers)-6 (38) — Before he was one of Hollywood’s scoring kings, James Newton Howard arranged strings for records like Toto IV — and co-wrote this George Benson hit (#30 pop, #21 R&B, #4 AC) with Toto’s David Paich. With Arif Mardin behind the boards and Kashif working on the vocal and rhythm arrangements (he’s also one of the backing singers), this pushed Benson into more of a contemporary, moving-into-the-mid-’80s R&B place (where his music would reside for much of the next several years). This grooves and swings, thanks to a very funky bassline (played by session god Nathan East), and the ever-nimble Benson’s vocals and guitar riffs. He even scats a bit over the bridge! Simultaneously light as air yet still grounded, this is one of Benson’s finest singles.
39 43 YOU’RE DRIVING ME OUT OF MY MIND –•– Little River Band (Capitol)-6 (39) — The final of their 13 US top 40 hits, this a) sounds nearly nothing like LRB, and b) is substantially brightened by a shit-ton of horns, including a prominent sax. The song itself is a big nothingburger, though.
40 25 SAVED BY ZERO –•– The Fixx (MCA)-14 (20) — My initial exposure to the Fixx was via AOR radio, in whose mix the likes of this, “Red Skies,” and “Stand or Fall” sounded incredibly deep. Did I mention I was also 12 at the time? Regardless, while the lyrics are fairly silly, I love the textures of this.

Posted in 1980s, charts

Pop top 40: 8/25/79


Here’s your playlist for this so-’79-it-hurts chart. Really, anything you could say about 1979 in music is right here.

1 2 MY SHARONA –•– The Knack (Capitol)-10 (1 week at #1) (1) — Heard today, it almost sounds like pop-punk. And rocks harder than 50% of the current crop. But that said: I’ve never much cared for pop-punk, or power pop for that matter.
2 1 GOOD TIMES –•– Chic (Atlantic)-11 (1) — One week atop the Hot 100, six atop the R&B chart, and one of the greatest singles of the ’70s. Even if you ignore for a moment the fact that this song had a hand in inventing recorded hip-hop, just listen to it: Nile Rodgers’ classic chicken-scratch guitar, that uber-iconic Bernard Edwards bassline, Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin’s creamy vocals, those sweeping strings. It all adds up, the sum so much greater than its estimable parts.  To diminish this as just disco music is an insult; this is dance music, soul music, pop music too. Chic are, without doubt, one of the greatest bands of all time, capable of musical twisting and turning like nobody’s business.
3 3 THE MAIN EVENT / FIGHT –•– Barbra Streisand (Columbia)-11 (3) — Marvelously ridiculous lyrics, and simply marvelous music: like “No More Tears,” a Paul Jabara/Bruce Roberts composition. Hearing Babs’ first foray onto the disco dancefloor is still a thrill almost 40 years later. Great orchestrations, too. And the full 11:44 unedited version is a marvel.
4 5 AFTER THE LOVE HAS GONE –•– Earth, Wind and Fire (ARC)-8 (4) — Yes, in fact, EWF could do anything, from hard funkin’ to tender balladry. This sumptuous slice of yacht-soul, written by yacht kings David Foster, Jay Graydon, and Bill Champlin, won a pair of R&B Grammys, for both the song itself and the performance, and made it to #2 on both the pop and R&B charts. In lesser hands this could’ve ended up as anodyne soul, but in the hands of Maurice White, Philip Bailey, and the rest of EWF, it’s a towering, soaring breath-taker of a record. Shouts to Don Myrick for that sax solo, too.
5 4 BAD GIRLS –•– Donna Summer (Casablanca)-14 (1) — No one, no one, could pull off the seamless marriages of rock, pop, and disco (and even a soupcon of soul) that Summer could do. A voice for the ages, but you knew that. This is a song for the ages, too. And that four-on-the-floor just kills. And those horn charts!
6 14 DON’T BRING ME DOWN –•– Electric Light Orchestra (Jet)-4 (6) — I’m not a particular fan of either Jeff Lynne or ELO, but this four minutes of DOR is superb. I love its sleazy beat.
7 8 THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO GEORGIA –•– The Charlie Daniels Band (Epic)-10 (7) — A crossover that can only be described as “fluky,” Daniels and his band of merry men took this amped-up bluegrass record, equal parts Ralph Stanley and Lynyrd Skynyrd, to #1 country and #3 pop. I mean, it’s hard to diss this: for what it is, and especially for that propulsion behind it, it’s pretty great.
8 13 LEAD ME ON –•– Maxine Nightingale (Windsong)-14 (8) — I seriously didn’t realize that Nightingale is a) British and b) black, until writing this; based on this slab of AC whipped cream, I’d just assumed she was a white girl. Because this is, frankly, as soulless as adult contemporary gets. Which would help explain why it spent seven weeks atop the AC chart.
9 10 MAMA CAN’T BUY YOU LOVE –•– Elton John (MCA)-12 (9) — Oh, what could have been. I dearly wish that Elton’s work with Philly soul king Thom Bell had ended up as a full album, but alas, all we got was The Thom Bell Sessions EP. But at least we got that! And included was this, which became Elton’s first US top 10 in three years. It’s hitting its peak position here, and (surprisingly to me) also topped the AC chart, in a rare instance of a disco #1 there. (Albeit relaxed, easy-grooving disco.)
10 12 SAD EYES –•– Robert John (EMI-America)-15 (10) — Once you listen to this surprisingly swinging ballad, I dare you to try to get it out of your head. By which I mean, you can’t, because it’s so fucking hooky, especially that chorus: “Saaaaaaaaaaad eeeeeeeeeyes, turn the other way… .” There’s a sweet, innocent quality to this sad breakup song that makes it kind of endearing — aided by those tinkly xylophone hits. But yet, there’s also a guitar solo! Because late ’70s.

11 6 WHEN YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN –•– Dr. Hook (Capitol)-20 (6) — Dr. Hook made some weird-ass music, but not in a Frank Zappa sense, more in a “totally scattered and unfocused” one. Their later years were largely watery disco-rock, including this, the 5th of their six top 10s. They also wrote absolutely horrible lyrics.
12 7 RING MY BELL –•– Anita Ward (Juana)-16 (1) — I hate this record, I’ve always hated this record, I’ll always hate this record. This is such generic, undistinguished disco — so of course it was a massive #1.
13 9 YOU CAN’T CHANGE THAT –•– Raydio (Arista)-18 (9) — Ray Parker, Jr.’s first taste of chart gold was this rather squishy smooth R&B groove. It’s fairly yacht-soul (RPJ has a lot of yacht bonafides, actually), but it’s also fairly bland-ish.
14 16 I’LL NEVER LOVE THIS WAY AGAIN –•– Dionne Warwick (Arista)-10 (14) — OH FUCK YES. Backstory: Warwick hadn’t had a top 10 solo hit since 1969 when Clive Davis signed her to Arista at the end of ’78. Clive, of course, wasn’t gonna let that streak continue, so he put her in the studio with his prized possession, Barry Manilow, behind the boards. And MAGIC HAPPENED. This grand, dramatic ballad by Richard Kerr and Will Jennings made it into the top 5 of both the pop and AC charts, and the Dionne-aissance was up and running. Follow-up “Deja Vu,” co-written by Isaac Hayes (!), is even better, and hit #15 pop/#1 AC. Their parent album, simply titled Dionne — there’s only one, folks, in case you needed a reminder — became her first platinum album of her career, and to this day is her best-selling long-player. Through the ’80s Warwick would notch a further six top 40 pop singles, including of course the massive #1 “That’s What Friends Are For” — notably, the first AIDS benefit single, at a time when few celebrities were even giving lip service to the disease — and an impressive 10 top 10 AC records. But it all started here, for which we should thank Clive and Barry forever. It doesn’t hurt that “I’ll Never Love” sounds tailor-made for Warwick to sing: it’s like a slow walk down a marble staircase by Krystal Carrington. As Erasure might say, Drama!
15 17 SUSPICIONS –•– Eddie Rabbitt (Elektra)-12 (15) — Said it before and will continue to do so: this is one of the all-time great songs about a lover’s paranoia. I’ve also previously called this a “sultry ’79 country-soul nugget,” and while that’s still true, these days I consider this more country-yacht. Rabbitt was a superb singer, a city boy (raised in NYC) singing country, which made him much smoother than your average, and this song was perfectly tailored for him. It’s barely country at all, but it is the essence of smooth. Also: flute solo! One of my favorites, not just on this chart but all-time.
16 11 I WAS MADE FOR LOVIN’ YOU –•– Kiss (Casablanca)-14 (11) — Absolutely shameless. Paul Stanley really should’ve done his solo album as full-on NYC disco, because he had the voice for it. The relentless chug on this is delicious, as is Paul’s falsetto.
17 23 LET’S GO –•– The Cars (Elektra)-9 (17) — The essence of new wave power pop[-rock], the Cars started a run of four consecutive top 10 albums with this song’s parent album, Candy-O. This is one of their best singles, whipsmart and tight.
18 20 GOODBYE STRANGER –•– Supertramp (A&M)-8 (18) — What an utterly boring, unexceptional band. This gang of Brits hit #1 for six weeks in the summer of ’79 with Breakfast in America, from which this was one of a trio of top 15 singles. They didn’t rock hard enough to be AOR, though; they were just a big pop-rock band who were about two steps away from prog. And they clearly thought highly of their own “musicianship,” ergh.
19 22 LONESOME LOSER –•– Little River Band (Capitol)-6 (19) — LRB had 13 top 40 singles in the US. Thirteen. This was in the middle of a stretch of three top 10s in a row, ultimately heading for #6. Leaning more heavily on the rock side of pop-rock, this is also one of their stronger singles, accordingly.
20 24 HOT SUMMER NIGHTS –•– Night (Planet)-10 (20) — If you think this sounds like studio rock, you’re right: these folks were UK studio musicians. This is so generic-sounding, 5 minutes later you forget you heard it. Most notable about Night: their guitarist, Robbie McIntosh, who went on to play with the Pretenders from 1982-87.

21 21 IS SHE REALLY GOING OUT WITH HIM –•– Joe Jackson (A&M)-12 (21) — At its peak this week, Jackson’s re-issued single from his debut album, Look Sharp! (which itself climbed to #20 on the album chart) got here — I have no clue how. To my ears a slight mix of the toughness of pub rock with the staccato textures of new wave, it feels very Stiff Records to me, even though it’s not.
22 25 HEAVEN MUST HAVE SENT YOU –•– Bonnie Pointer (Motown)-11 (22) — Bonnie left her sisters’ vocal group two years prior, and cut this obscure Holland-Dozier-Holland song from 1966 for her solo debut. Discofied with a 12/8 time signature, it made it to #11 on the pop chart, and is a perfectly pleasant disco-soul record, and little more.
23 37 SAIL ON –•– The Commodores (Motown)-3 (23) — The Commodores’s album Midnight Magic was their third consecutive to peak at #3 pop, and their fourth consecutive to top the R&B Albums chart. This lead single went top 10 pop, R&B, and AC, but peaked the highest at pop, probably due to its deep-holler country influence. Remember, this band was from Alabama, so country was in their souls — especially leader Lionel Richie’s. (Maybe you’ve heard of him.) And because this band was so flexible, and Richie’s songwriting so superb, this song flawlessly combines swampy guitar hooks, piano classicism, and sweeping almost-disco strings, yet “Sail On” never sounds jarring or jagged. The artistry on display here is stunning.
24 26 MORNING DANCE –•– Spyro Gyra (Infinity)-11 (24) — At its inexplicable peak, one of the biggest smooth jazz crossover hits pre-Kenny G, an instrumental composition which spotlights sax, tenor steel pan, and electric piano. I would love to hear from radio MDs at the time: did you get requests for this? Because I have an incredibly difficult time hearing this on a top 40 station. AC of the era, sure — and in fact, this hit #1 on said chart. But how in the world was this song (which I cherish, as a lovely little, upbeat smooth jazz jam) a pop hit?!
25 28 I DO LOVE YOU –•– GQ (Arista)-9 (25) — Billy Stewart’s lovely original version of “I Do Love You” was a hit in 1965, hitting #6 R&B/#26 pop. G.Q. played it remarkably straight on their cover, releasing it as the third single from their Disco Nights album and doing better than Stewart, making it to #5 R&B/#20 pop. The original is very much in the vein of lowrider oldies, sweet ’60s soul, and G.Q. uphold that.
26 30 BAD CASE OF LOVING YOU (Doctor, Doctor) –•– Robert Palmer (Island)-6 (26) — Palmer was capable of many things, but probably the least of them was a convincing rocker. His supple voice craved smoother material — even the Power Station (and what came after) was slicker than your average. And this song doesn’t deserve someone as talented as him.
27 29 HIGHWAY SONG –•– Blackfoot (Atco)-10 (27) — The biggest hit for a second-tier Southern rock band who wish they were the Allmans or Skynyrd. They weren’t.
28 32 BORN TO BE ALIVE –•– Patrick Hernandez (Columbia)-10 (28) — One of my least favorite disco crossover hits. Hernandez was a disco hack.
29 34 DRIVER’S SEAT –•– Sniff ‘n’ the Tears (Atlantic)-6 (29) — Well-polished pub rock.
30 33 CRUEL TO BE KIND –•– Nick Lowe (Columbia)-5 (30) — This pub rocker’s biggest hit (under his own steam) almost has an El Lay feel to it: I can nearly hear CSN doing this, based around acoustics and chorus harmonies as it is. It’s fine, but what his cult hears in him has always eluded me.

31 15 MAKIN’ IT –•– David Naughton (RSO)-22 (5) — From the men who brought you “Shake Your Groove Thing” and “I Will Survive” came this greasy slice of disco pizza, voiced by an actor and Dr. Pepper jingle singer. This is the definition of “pleasant-enough throwaway.”
32 36 DIFFERENT WORLDS –•– Maureen McGovern (Warner Brothers / Curb)-8 (32) — I didn’t remember what this was until I played it, and then I may have gay-gasped — it’s the theme from Angie! Of course I remember! Angie was a short-lived ABC sitcom (1979-1980, 36 episodes) about a Philly waitress who falls for one of the city’s leading doctors: one of those “wacky” culture-clash comedies. Donna Pescow starred as Angie, with Doris Roberts as her mother. I loved the show, even though I was barely 9 years old when it premiered. (In other news, I’m gay.) Angie‘s theme made it into the pop top 20, and was McGovern’s only AC #1 (which is bizarre, considering she sang “The Morning After” — but that pop #1 only scaled to #6 AC). It’s lovely and light, with a hi-hat disco swing, and the memories attached to Angie for me mean that I’ll forever love it.
33 35 OH WELL –•– The Rockets (RSO)-8 (33) — The Rockets were a crew of Detroit blues-rock journeymen, whose only hit was this cover of the Peter Green-led Fleetwood Mac single “Oh Well” (a big hit in Europe, but never in the US). Nothing about it stands out.
34 47 RISE –•– Herb Alpert (A&M)-5 (34) — Nothing like a soap-opera rape scene to help your song climb the charts… But then again, this is a perfect record, a surprisingly funky (well, funky-ish) locked-in-the-pocket groove over which Alpert could blow his horn. And it was Balearic before we even knew what that meant!
35 18 GOLD –•– John Stewart (RSO)-15 (5) — The essence of uber-corporate generic El Lay rock, wherein the most interesting element is the backing vocals from Stevie Nicks. This ode to “people out there [presumably Los Angeles] turnin’ music into gold” has less personality than a white v-neck undershirt.
36 40 THE BOSS –•– Diana Ross (Motown)-7 (36) — Where Diana hands herself (or more likely, Berry Gordy hands her) over to the capable hands of Ashford & Simpson for an entire album at the height of disco, and gets some superb disco out of it, especially this title cut. The album, listed as “The Boss (all cuts),” spent two weeks atop the Dance/Disco Club Play chart, while this made it to #19 pop/#12 R&B — a far cry from Miss Ross’s usual heights, yet her first top 20 pop single since the ’76 #1 “Love Hangover.” She’d explore this well-fitting jacket even further with the next year’s Chi Organisation-helmed diana, but this was a helluva fine warmup. The strings soar, as does Diana’s voice, and the groove never stops.
37 42 LOVIN’, TOUCHIN’, SQUEEZIN’ –•– Journey (Columbia)-6 (37) — You know it’s early (Steve Perry-era) Journey, because it’s a little sludgy.
38 39 GIRL OF MY DREAMS –•– Bram Tchaikovsky (Polydor)-8 (38) — Yet another pub rocker making it, during said genre’s brief hiccup of US popularity. And like most pub rock, it doesn’t do much for me at all; this sounds oddly inert.
39 51 POP MUZIK –•– M (Sire)-3 (39) — Arguably the first new wave smash in the US, only this one somehow masqueraded as disco when it was still cool to pull that. It’s cute enough, maybe even smart, but I’ve never liked it a bit: it’s too cute. The Buggles did this much, much better.
40 43 HOLD ON –•– Triumph (RCA)-11 (40) — Sub-Rush Canadian hesher AOR.

Posted in 1970s, charts

The double-digit ones: in review

When you take this list, of all the songs to top the Billboard Hot 100 for 10+ weeks (published on the occasion of “Despacito” making it to 14 weeks atop the chart), in its entirety, it’s actually kind of depressing. Notably, all but two of these 35 #1s came in the past 25 years; “End of the Road,” which was the first one to go past 10 weeks, first hit #1 this very week in 1992. Listen along here.

Weeks at No. 1, Title, Artist, Date Reached No. 1

16, “One Sweet Day,” Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men, Dec. 2, 1995 — Almost 22 years later, this is actually a quite lovely ballad in tribute to lost loved ones. And of course, with the vocal talents of Carey and the men of BIIM, this sounds absolutely gorgeous. The biggest single of the ’90s.

14*, “Despacito,” Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber, May 27, 2017 (*as of the chart dated Aug. 26, 2017) — Axe Bieber’s opening English verse and it’s pretty great, a sexy reggaeton grind. And even with him there — well, he’s fairly easily ignored.
14, “Uptown Funk!,” Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, Jan. 17, 2015 — What I wrote for The Singles Jukebox on 11/28/14 still goddamn applies: “Greasy like Timberlake wants to be but is afraid to be, this is the best James Brown single since “Unity” – though the best comparison is “Living In America,” with Ronson as the Dan Hartman to Mars’s JB. This is clean but it’s still funky, and Bruno Mars further proves that he might be the baddest motherfucker around right now cuz he can do anything he damn well wants. [10]”
14, “I Gotta Feeling,” The Black Eyed Peas, July 11, 2009 — My loathing of BEP runs very deep; this song perfectly exemplifies why. It’s completely vapid, and exists only to be a “party starter.”
14, “We Belong Together,” Mariah Carey, June 4, 2005 — Oh look, Mariah had the biggest single of the ’00s, too — and in this case, with one of her all-time best singles, from her best front-to-back long-player, The Emancipation of Mimi. Give Jermaine Dupri lots of the credit, but also credit Mariah’s pipes and smarts.
14, “Candle in the Wind 1997″/”Something About the Way You Look Tonight,” Elton John, Oct. 11, 1997 — Sure, “Candle ’97” is well-meaning but turgid. But the other half of this double A-side is one of his most elegant ballads ever, produced note-perfectly by Chris Thomas, with some magnificent Bernie Taupin lyrics (and a great performance from Dame Elton herself).
14, “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix),” Los Del Rio, Aug. 3, 1996 — Much better in its non-remixed version, the English-language lyrics make it sound ditzy. The music and original Spanish-language lyrics are plenty fun, though.
14, “I’ll Make Love to You,” Boyz II Men, Aug. 27, 1994 — Not my favorite Babyface composition; I prefer his production here to his lyrics. Of note: BIIM are the only artists with three songs on this list.
14, “I Will Always Love You,” Whitney Houston, Nov. 28, 1992 — The smartest thing David Foster did with Whitney’s version of this was to leave the first 0:42 a cappella. No one who’s ever heard it will ever, ever forget it. The second-smartest was that thwack! drum he uses at 3:08 to punctuate the song — from here on, it’s just Whitney singing her fucking lungs out. And that she does.

13, “The Boy Is Mine,” Brandy & Monica, June 6, 1998 — Darkchild and Dallas Austin teaming up to make absolute musical magic behind the boards, supporting Brandy and Monica making magic of their own, like Babs and Donna did 19 years earlier. This is the plushest, friendliest catfight ever.
13, “End of the Road,” Boyz II Men, Aug. 15, 1992 — They were better on uptempo material, or at least ballads that weren’t so damn sappy.

12, “Shape of You,” Ed Sheeran, Jan. 28, 2017 — Please shut the fuck up, you red menace. One of the worst singles of not just 2017, but the entire decade.
12, “Closer,” The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey, Sept. 3, 2016 — This one’s actually gotten better with time and exposure; there’s a sadness to the lyrics that kinda gets to me. But I still think the Chainsmokers are dicks.
12, “See You Again,” Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth, April 25, 2015 — Weird that Puth is the hook of the song, but his whiny-ass nasal voice is also the worst part of the song. Khalifa acquits himself nicely on this tribute to departed loved ones. (A theme that pops up numerous times in this list.)
12, “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke featuring T.I. + Pharrell, June 22, 2013 — a/k/a the song that kept “Get Lucky” from #1. Also a/k/a “the rapey one.” Additionally a/k/a the one that, inexplicably, killed Thicke’s career, by & large.
12, “Boom Boom Pow,” The Black Eyed Peas, April 18, 2009 — As bad as “I Gotta Feeling” is, this is about 20x worse. They’re the personification of a Jock Jams album.
12, “Yeah!,” Usher featuring Lil Jon & Ludacris, Feb. 28, 2004 — See, BEP, this is how you make a party-starter that doesn’t sound so fucking cheap. Lil’ Jon got his shot at a massive pop phenomenon and he took advantage of it, producing the #1 single of ’04 and the #2 single (behind “We Belong Together”) of the whole damn decade — and he won a Grammy in the process. This is peak mid-’00s, crunk&b perfection.
12, “Lose Yourself,” Eminem, Nov. 9, 2002 — A bit too full of itself, but at the same time, that’s what anthems do, don’t they? And it’s certainly better than “Eye of the Tiger” (with which it shares its DNA).
12, “Smooth,” Santana featuring Rob Thomas, Oct. 23, 1999 — I’m actually okay with “Smooth.” I know it’s easy to hate on it, but when you hear it in the wild, on an AC station, it still stands out, 18 years on, and sounds like nothing else surrounding it. (Especially as AC has become the format of the Sheerans, Swifts, and Perrys.) It’s a well-constructed song, well-sung — I’ve no use at all for Matchbox 20, but Rob Thomas has a strong voice, just in need of generally stronger material, and “Smooth” is that.

11, “Independent Women Part I,” Destiny’s Child, Nov. 18, 2000 — I thought then as I still do, that this is one of DC’s worst, limpest singles.
11, “I’ll Be Missing You,” Puff Daddy & Faith Evans featuring 112, June 14, 1997 — Here’s what it comes down to: this is effective, no matter who you’ve lost. Puff was a genius when it came to re-using well-known classics and giving them new spins. (cf. “I’m Coming Out”->”Mo Money Mo Problems”)
11, “Un-Break My Heart,” Toni Braxton, Dec. 7, 1996 — A fascinating entry on this list, in that I think it’s the only entry whose stock was greatly beefed up by a remix — in this case, the Soul-Hex Anthem Radio Edit, done by Soul Solution and king-of-the-late-’90s-club-mix, Hex Hector. Many top 40 stations rotated said mix alongside the original ballad version of the song, with some even splicing the two together, which extended the shelf life of “Un-Break” greatly. The original is pure class — what David Foster did for Whitney on “I Will Always Love You,” he did for Toni here, and it’s one of Diane Warren’s best compositions as well. And the remix sizzles politely.
11, “I Swear,” All-4-One, May 21, 1994 — For those who thought to themselves, “I wish Boyz II Men weren’t quite so, y’know, black.”

10, One Dance,” Drake featuring WizKid & Kyla, April 23, 2016 — So weird that this is Drake’s biggest hit ever: does anyone even remember it, a year later? “Hotline Bling,” I’d understand. That was iconic. But that was largely kept from #1 by…
10, “Hello,” Adele, Nov. 14, 2015 — Meet the new Adele, same as the old Adele.
10, “Happy,” Pharrell Williams, March 8, 2014 — Pure, unadulterated joy for all ages.
10, “We Found Love,” Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris, Nov. 12, 2011 — Can we blame this for the EDM-ification of pop music?
10, “Low,” Flo Rida featuring T-Pain, Jan. 5, 2008 — Flo Rida is trash.
10, “Irreplaceable,” Beyonce, Dec. 16, 2006 — Sure, it’s got attitude, but it doesn’t feel sincere the way that, say, anything from Lemonade does. It feels pre-packaged.
10, “Gold Digger,” Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx, Sept. 17, 2005 — One of Kanye’s laziest singles, and after seeing Ray once (and it was fine), I don’t ever need nor want to hear Foxx’s Ray Charles schtick again. It saddens me that to much of the world, this is the most well-known Kanye record.
10, “Dilemma,” Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland, Aug. 17, 2002 — That flip/interpolation (it’s both!) of Patti LaBelle’s “Love, Need and Want You” is just brilliant, Rowland’s vocal is great, and this kind of soft hip-hop becomes Nelly more than any attempt at “hardness.” Everything about this single is smart.
10, “Foolish,” Ashanti, April 20, 2002 — So Biggie’s “One More Chance” sampled DeBarge’s “Stay With Me,” and this sampled both of ’em. Putting Ashanti’s pretty vocals on top — “pretty” is the perfect descriptor of her voice — was a perfect combo. Still holds up, too.
10, “Maria Maria,” Santana featuring The Product G&B, April 8, 2000 — As opposed to “Smooth,” this is annoying. Blame Wyclef, and whoever the Product G&B are.
10, “Physical,” Olivia Newton-John, Nov. 21, 1981 — Fun fact: co-writer Steve Kipner went on, almost 20 years later, to write Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle.” That’s not a bad retirement plan, is it? This is one of the funnest, most entertaining, showbizzy pop singles of the early ’80s, completely succeeded in finishing the transformation of ONJ’s image to boot.
10, “You Light Up My Life,” Debby Boone, Oct. 15, 1977 — It’s as bad as you remember. Maybe worse. I mean, it’s a love song sung to Jesus. No, no, no.

Posted in charts

We might be lovers if the rhythm’s right: MLVC


I really, really wish that Madonna would accept that she’s a legacy artist now; pretty much all of her last decade’s output has been embarrassing at best — I mean, “Bitch I’m Madonna”? You’re better than this! You are, in fact, MadonnaBut goddamn, what a rich catalog, still capable of offering up surprises, 34 years since the release of her self-titled debut album (an album which has aged extremely well — and arguably sounds better today than it did at the time).

She’s in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame because she fucking deserves to be there. (Though so do those who came before her, like Kate Bush and Pat Benatar.) She’s had (in the US) 12 #1 singles and a further six that peaked at #2, and those 18 are just part of her 38 top 10s — still a record. She’s not just an icon, for entire generations (yes, plural), she’s the icon, and for plenty of reasons. Her music speaks for itself. Here are 30 of my favorite Madonna records, basically in order. Happy birthday, Madge.

  1. “Open Your Heart” (True Blue, 1986)
  2. “Physical Attraction” (Madonna, 1983)
  3. “Vogue” (I’m Breathless: Music from and Inspired by Dick Tracy, 1990)
  4. “Into the Groove” (single, 1985)
  5. “Angel (Extended Dance Mix)” (12”, 1985)
  6. “Deeper and Deeper” (Erotica, 1992)
  7. “Erotica (Underground Club Mix)” (12”, 1992)
  8. “I’d Rather Be Your Lover (featuring Me’shell Ndegeocello)” (Bedtime Stories, 1994)
  9. “Jump (Axwell Remix)” (12”, 2006)
  10. “Human Nature (Radio Edit by Danny Tenaglia)” (single, 1995)
  11. “Burning Up” (Madonna, 1983)
  12. “This Used to Be My Playground” (single, 1992)
  13. “Bedtime Story” (Bedtime Stories, 1994)
  14. “Dress You Up (The 12” Formal Mix)” (12”, 1985)
  15. “Lucky Star” (Madonna, 1983)
  16. “White Heat” (True Blue, 1986)
  17. “Justify My Love” (The Immaculate Collection, 1990)
  18. “Bad Girl” (Erotica, 1992)
  19. “Get Together” (Confessions on a Dance Floor, 2005)
  20. “I Want You (with Massive Attack)” (Inner City Blues: The Music of Marvin Gaye, 1995)
  21. “Inside of Me” (Bedtime Stories, 1994)
  22. “Love Song (with Prince)” (Like A Prayer, 1989)
  23. “Causing A Commotion” (Who’s That Girl Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 1987)
  24. “Shoo-Bee-Doo” (Like A Virgin, 1984)
  25. “Keep It Together (7” Remix)” (single, 1990)
  26. “Think of Me” (Madonna, 1983)
  27. “Sidewalk Talk” (Jellybean featuring Madonna) (single, 1984)
  28. “Papa Don’t Preach” (True Blue, 1986)
  29. “What It Feels Like for a Girl (Above & Beyond Club Mix)” (12″, 2001)
  30. “Something To Remember” (I’m Breathless: Music from and Inspired by Dick Tracy, 1990)
Posted in best of, pop

Pop top 40: 8/16/86



1 2 PAPA DON’T PREACH –•– Madonna – 8 (1st week at #1) — God, when she nailed it, she really nailed it, didn’t she? “Papa” is strongly written by Brian Elliot (M just contributed a few lyrics), but it’s produced in a “wow”-inducing manner by Stephen Bray and Madonna. Its arrangement — listen with headphones, and hear how that bassline pops! not to mention the backing vocals — is aces, and this also has one of Madge’s strongest early vocals. You can hear her straining to wring every ounce of emotion she can, out of her voice. And she pulls it off, while still sounding raw and unformed. Hands down, one of her greatest singles.
2 1 GLORY OF LOVE –•– Peter Cetera – 11 (1) — Oh, Peter. You didn’t have to go down the soft-pop road. But you chose to go down the soft-pop road. And sure, you hit #1 with your first two solo singles, but where did it ultimately get you?
3 3 MAD ABOUT YOU –•– Belinda Carlisle – 14 (3) — Belinda Carlisle is one of my BFF Tim’s favorite artists ever. Duran Duran is one of his least, so I love the not-really-ironic-except-for-him fact that Andy Taylor (#38 below) contributes the guitar solo on this, with bigger hair than Belinda’s. This is summertime, beach bonfire fluff, which I think could only have been a hit at this time of year. While she may have started out rooted in L.A. punk, Carlisle is ultimately the essence of a southern California summer.
4 8 HIGHER LOVE –•– Steve Winwood – 10 (4) — I’d happily live in a world in which I’d never heard this Brit bleating, regardless of decade or collaborators. In the mid-to-late ’80s, he was the epitome of “beer commercial rock” (and I use the word “rock” very loosely), which I suppose explains his absurdly massive success, including a pair of #1 singles. Even Chaka Khan’s backing vox can’t save this, and that’s saying plenty.
5 5 WE DON’T HAVE TO TAKE OUR CLOTHES OFF –•– Jermaine Stewart – 14 (5) — There’s a really beautiful joy in this song that I think is attributable to two factors: one is Stewart’s vocal, which practically jumps off the record. As for the other, well, do you think this sounds like “How Will I Know”? Because it certainly does, because it was also co-written and produced by that song’s chief, Narada Michael Walden. Also of note is its video, which features some stylish bits of framing and was directed by a very young David Fincher.
6 9 VENUS –•– Bananarama – 8 (6) — Fun ‘n frothy enough, I suppose, but only mid-tier ‘rama.
7 13 DANCING ON THE CEILING –•– Lionel Richie – 5 (7) — More like coasting on the ceiling, off the success of Can’t Slow Down.
8 10 RUMORS –•– Timex Social Club – 10 (8) — Musically tight, if a bit limp. Lyrically, ridiculous in a stupid way. Club Nouveau were much better, apart from their Bill Withers cover.
9 18 TAKE MY BREATH AWAY –•– Berlin – 9 (9) — The #1 single that killed Berlin as a band — and it wasn’t even worth it, because this is bottom-of-the-barrel Giorgio Moroder, drenched in Casio presets. The best thing you can say for it is that Terri Nunn sings it beautifully, but that shouldn’t be a shock; she’s always been an underrated vocalist.
10 12 THE EDGE OF HEAVEN –•– Wham! – 7 (10) — George Michael at his most Wham!-ebullient, turning classic Motown inside-out and somehow ending up with something purely 1986. We should’ve known what was to come, because he certainly gave us enough road markers. Absolutely perfect pop, of its era but still timeless.

11 6 LOVE TOUCH –•– Rod Stewart – 12 (6) — “No” means “no,” Rod.
12 15 SWEET FREEDOM –•– Michael McDonald – 10 (12) — Based on the way MTV rotated this video in the summer of ’86, you would’ve thought it was a 6-week #1 single rather than a #7 pop hit. (It also scaled its way to #4 AC, #8 Dance Club Play (!), and #17 R&B (!!).) Said video, however, is so endearingly goofy, mixing clips of its parent movie, the Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines vehicle Running Scared, with scenes of them cutting up with McDonald in a “tropical” locale, it’s hard (I’d argue impossible) not to be charmed by it. And as for the song: well. Written and co-produced by the king of blue-eyed soul, Rod Temperton, and belted by McDonald as if his life depended upon it, this was his last top 10 pop hit, and is actually my favorite McDonald single, solo or Doobies. There’s a simple, breezy magic to this that you didn’t find a lot of in ’86 pop, and dear sweet christ, I love it.
13 4 SLEDGEHAMMER –•– Peter Gabriel – 15 (1) — Smart art-pop, so smart it somehow got to #1 (give a lot of credit to its groundbreaking visuals) and turned Gabriel into a global star in the process.
14 16 YOU SHOULD BE MINE (THE WOO WOO SONG) –•– Jeffrey Osborne – 13 (14) — For decades, my friends have known that there are few lyrics I love quoting more than the simple, direct “Can you woo woo woo?” And I don’t even really know what that means — I suspect it can mean anything, which is the point. I wonder if Osborne, an incredibly rich-toned, supple singer, knows what it means himself? He’s traditionally weaker on balladry and strong on uptempo numbers (just wait till next week’s countdown), and he makes this midtempo groove(r) sound like the easiest thing ever. I can happily report that, having seen him live on an unseasonably hot summer’s afternoon a handful of years back, he’s still got it. And he can still woo woo woo.
15 23 FRIENDS AND LOVERS –•– Gloria Loring & Carl Anderson – 7 (15) — A delightfully dippy duet between a soap star (Loring, also Mrs. Alan Thicke and mother to future chart-topper Robin) and a Broadway baby (Anderson, who did his best to make an entire career playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar) whose pairing seems utterly random. The two have no vocal chemistry, but the song’s sentiment was enough to get this to #2 pop/#1 AC. And a concurrently released country version by Eddie Rabbitt and Juice Newton reached the top of the country chart.
16 7 DANGER ZONE –•– Kenny Loggins – 15 (2) — Practically Hi-NRG, it’s so frantic.
17 20 SUZANNE –•– Journey – 9 (17) — Even more frantic — I’ve no idea where in Journey this came from. Okay, technically it came from the pens of Steve Perry and Jonathan Cain, but good god this is fast. Like, aerobics-speed fast. It’s kind of an outlier in the Journey catalog, accordingly. It’s not bad — very little Journey is bad — but it’s kinda weird.
18 26 BABY LOVE –•– Regina – 9 (18) — aka the sole hit from the most successful “Madonna, Jr.”
19 22 ALL THE LOVE IN THE WORLD –•– The Outfield – 11 (19) — If you wanna hear the absolute bottom of the barrel of corporate rock in the mid-’80s, look no further than the personality-less Outfield.
20 27 WORDS GET IN THE WAY –•– Miami Sound Machine featuring Gloria Estefan – 10 (20) — Written by Gloria and produced by husband Emilio, this was their first top 5 pop single — and their first #1 on the AC chart — and signaled a change in their air: from here on, ballads would be their biggest successes. This is sweet but a bit saccharine. Better ballads would come.

21 11 INVISIBLE TOUCH –•– Genesis – 12 (1) — This should be subtitled “(A Tribute to Synth Drums),” which is much of the reason I guilty pleasure this. (It’s also a strong reminder that Phil Collins knows his damn way around a melody.) Someone should put together a mash-up of this and #11, “Invisible Love Touch.” Or better yet, not.
22 24 ONE STEP CLOSER TO YOU –•– Gavin Christopher – 13 (22) — A pastel candy that melts in your mouth quickly, leaves a delightful aftertaste for about five minutes, and you forget you’ve eaten a further 10 minutes later.
23 28 YANKEE ROSE –•– David Lee Roth – 7 (23) — GUESS WHO’S BACK IN CIR! CU! LA! TION! It’s the man who should’ve, by all rights, been the king of the mid-late ’80s hair metal mountain, but made a series of stupid decisions, sadly. The entirety of DLR’s full-length solo debut, Eat ‘Em and Smile, is brilliant trash, which in its sound harkens back to early Van Halen at their hard-rocking-est. Credit to producer Ted Templeman, and also to Roth’s band, which included Billy Sheehan on bass and guitar wiz Steve Vai. And I cannot recommend enough the — no joke — Spanish-language version of the entire album, Sonrisa Salvaje, which is even more bananas than its English-language parent.
24 33 STUCK WITH YOU –•– Huey Lewis & The News – 3 (24) — 1986-87 were coasting years for a lot of artists who became superstars in the pop heyday of ’83-’84. Lionel Richie (#7) was one prime example, and Huey and his News are most definitely another. Fore! was a huge #1 album, and this lead single became their third #1 single, but compared to much of what preceded it, this is pretty damn soulless. (And they weren’t exactly a band known for soul.)
25 29 THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW –•– The Monkees – 7 (25) — I’ve hated few comebacks more, ever. Didn’t like the Monkees originally, and positively hated their freeze-dried comeback on the back of MTV’s airing of their ’60s TV series. This has nothing to recommend it.
26 14 NASTY –•– Janet Jackson – 14 (3) — Talk about a statement of intent — even moreso than “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” this showed us what Janet (and Jimmy & Terry) had up her sleeve. Guileless perfection.
27 31 MAN SIZE LOVE –•– Klymaxx – 7 (27) — Klymaxx were a great band, but this soundtrack cash grab is as bloodless as it comes. Much like with Debarge, soundtracks did these ladies no (artistic) favors.
28 30 RUMBLESEAT –•– John Cougar Mellencamp – 8 (28) — The perfect marriage of his earlier, slightly trashier work (lyrics), with what was to come (music).
29 19 OPPORTUNITIES –•– Pet Shop Boys – 12 (10) — A smart counterpunch, singles-wise, to its predecessor, “West End Girls,” this helped fully show what PSB were capable of (as did, of course, the entirety of their stunning debut, Please). This hits harder than you think, too.
30 43 WALK THIS WAY –•– Run DMC & Aerosmith- 4 (30) — Rick Rubin is a very rich man because Rick Rubin is a very smart man, and this is Exhibit A.

31 36 DON’T FORGET ME (WHEN I’M GONE) –•– Glass Tiger – 6 (31) — Oh, but we’ll try our best.
32 32 TAKEN IN –•– Mike + The Mechanics – 8 (32) — Pillowy-soft balladry that deserved someone better than M+tM to deliver it.
33 40 LOVE ZONE –•– Billy Ocean – 4 (33) — Now, this is plush, sexy balladry with just the right singer.
34 37 THE CAPTAIN OF HER HEART –•– Double – 8 (34) — Of course they were Swiss — and their name is pronounced “doo-BLAY.” It’s just so… continental, all sax and Montreux piano bars and steak tartare on fine china. Naturally, it makes me swoon beyond belief.
35 35 HANGING ON A HEART ATTACK –•– Device – 10 (35) — How were Device and Animotion not the same band? I actually prefer the slightly more quote-unquote rock edge of Holly Knight and friends, and of course thanks to her prowess, their song structure is solid. This song is deliciously absurd; $5 to anyone who can adequately explain the title phrase to me.
36 21 DIGGING YOUR SCENE –•– Blow Monkeys – 16 (14) — Note-perfect sophisti-pop.
37 17 MODERN WOMAN –•– Billy Joel – 11 (10) — Shitty soundtrack work-for-hire even by his low standards. And considering his marital record, I doubt he knows much about women from any time period, modern or otherwise.
38 25 TAKE IT EASY –•– Andy Taylor – 12 (24) — Tim (see #3 above): “This sounds like Rick Springfield covering T. Rex, in a very bad way.”
39 44 DREAMTIME –•– Daryl Hall – 3 (39) — I ❤ Daryl Hall, as anyone reading this should know. But thanks in large part to producer Dave Stewart, this song is a clattering mess. There are fine singles on Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine — especially “Someone Like You” — but this isn’t one of ’em. Another one that, based on its MTV rotation, you’d be forgiven for assuming was a #1 record. (It peaked at #5 in
40 46 TWO OF HEARTS –•– Stacey Q – 6 (40) — Friends are often perplexed as to the depth of my rancor for this top 10 hit, and the reason is fairly simple: it’s as vapid as dance-pop of the era got. Even Regina had more going on. And good god, Stacey Q was a horrid singer.

Posted in 1980s, charts