My favorite songs: “Hurt You”

Toni Braxton & Babyface’s Love, Marriage and Divorce, as we get closer to decade’s end, increasingly sounds the decade’s best album, the R&B cousin of Shoot Out the Lights. Between ‘Face’s pen and that stunning ache in Braxton’s voice, “Hurt You” is pure pain on record. And in the second verse, when it’s spelled out that both characters in the song cheated on each other? Devastating.

Posted in 2010s, my favorite songs, R&B

Pop top 40: 3/10/79

40 years ago: arguably, peak disco. Not yet peak yacht rock, but a couple gems show up. And what’s that down below at #35: the first stirrings of the next country crossover boom? Also, the only decent Dire Straits hit! Also also, for the first time, every song is on the accompanying Spotify playlist!

1 3 I WILL SURVIVE –•– Gloria Gaynor (Polydor)-13 (1 week at #1) (1) — Even though it’s hard for me to hear this song without a didgeridoo these days, Gaynor’s crowning achievement remains a disco classic: overplayed, yes, but never cheesy.
2 1 DA YA THINK I’M SEXY? –•– Rod Stewart (Warner Brothers)-12 (1) — And yes of course this one’s cheesy, but it also works: call it a combo of smart songwriting and a singer who knew just how ridiculous what he was singing, was.
3 4 TRAGEDY –•– Bee Gees (RSO)-5 (3) — This gets lumped in with disco but really isn’t; it’s just an absurdly smart DOR record. The Brothers Gibb were geniuses.
4 2 FIRE –•– The Pointer Sisters (Planet)-18 (2) — The Pointers’ first pop top 10 (both ’73’s “Yes We Can Can” and ’74’s “Fairytale” came close) made it all the way to the runner-up position. Anita goes low and sultry on the Springsteen composition (originally written for Elvis P!); it’s fine, but doesn’t hold the excitement of their more uptempo material.
5 6 HEAVEN KNOWS –•– Donna Summer with Brooklyn Dreams (Casablanca)-9 (5) — In early ’79, Summer was moving into superstar territory, not to mention her (albeit short-lived) Imperial Phase: this was the third of eight consecutive top 5 singles she’d have in just over 18 months. This duet with Joe Esposito of Brooklyn Dreams works like a charm; it’s simultaneously fast and romantic, and what’s better for boogieing with your baby?
6 5 A LITTLE MORE LOVE –•– Olivia Newton-John (MCA)-16 (3) — For her first single coming off the mammoth success of Grease, ONJ decided to go more in a “bad Sandy” direction, bringing down the tempo and upping the sex appeal. Its parent album is titled Totally Hot, even. I’d call this more “tepid” than “hot,” but at least appreciate the rockier direction.
7 11 SHAKE YOUR GROOVE THING –•– Peaches and Herb (Polydor)-12 (7) — Now, this is disco cheese that I don’t ever need to hear again. Let’s be real: P&H were always mediocre at best.
8 10 WHAT A FOOL BELIEVES –•– The Doobie Brothers (Warner Brothers)-8 (8) — Oh look, it’s the voice of God singing to us. This went on to win both Record and Song (for writers Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins) of the Year Grammys the following year, and here’s the Doobies’ performance of “Fool” from said show, with a tuxedo’d MM at peak do-ability. Yes, this song is perfect, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. Aretha’s cover a couple years later is surprisingly fresh, too.
9 8 Y.M.C.A. –•– The Village People (Casablanca)-21 (2) — The records that Jacques Morali made on the Village People (co-writing and producing just about everything — he was the Moroder to their Summer) sound incredibly solid even today, 40 years on. The production is so crisp, and the songs, “coded” gay, are actually quite smart. Yeah, you know this song too well, but listen to it again, with headphones, and just hear it.
10 13 SULTANS OF SWING –•– Dire Straits (Warner Brothers)-5 (10) — Prior to Mark Knopfler becoming an insufferable asshole, you can actually enjoy his clever little guitar licks.

11 7 LE FREAK –•– Chic (Atlantic)-20 (1) — Perhaps my least favorite of Chic’s hits, but still awesome, because Edwards and Rodgers were just that brilliant.
12 9 LOTTA LOVE –•– Nicolette Larson (Warner Brothers)-16 (8) — Neil Young wrote a great song (he’s done that a few times), Ted Templeman produced it gloriously (taking plenty of cues from his work with the Doobies), and Larson sings the hell out of it. One of my favorite records of ’79.
13 12 GOT TO BE REAL –•– Cheryl Lynn (Columbia)-15 (12) — No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you; this disco classic only peaked on the pop chart at #12. (It did top the R&B chart.) And, did you know that it was produced by Toto’s David Paich with his father, and written by Lynn, Paich the younger, and David Foster? They didn’t only make yacht rock, folks. (Lynn of course came to their attention on the recording of Toto’s “Georgy Peorgy,” to which she contributes a helluva lot of vocals, to the point where many consider the song a duet.) This single is the essence of tight.
14 17 DON’T CRY OUT LOUD –•– Melissa Manchester (Arista)-17 (14) — Produced by Harry Maslin, who’d co-produced both Young Americans and Station to Station, no shit. Written by Carole Bayer Sager and Peter Allen, which will likely surprise you much less. This sounds like overbaked Broadway, because, well.
15 20 WHAT YOU WON’T DO FOR LOVE –•– Bobby Caldwell (Clouds)-12 (15) — From Wikipedia: “According to the broadcast of American Top 40 for the week ending February 3, 1979, the week in which the song debuted at No. 38 on the Top 40, a heart-shaped pressing of the single was the most expensive single up to that point. The heart-shaped single was originally released as a promotional item only, but public demand led to 50,000 copies being pressed in time for Valentine’s Day 1979 with a retail price of $7.98—about the price of a full LP album at the time.” The song of course you should know: it’s a perfect blend of R&B and yacht rock, and it’s perfect.
16 19 EVERY TIME I THINK OF YOU –•– The Babys (Chrysalis)-10 (16) — John Waite has been a hack from day one; he got lucky when he recycled this title as the opening line of his 1984 #1 “Missing You,” triumphant in its ridiculousness. The Babys were like Kander and Ebb’s version of a rock band, and you should definitely read that as an insult.
17 16 THE GAMBLER –•– Kenny Rogers (United Artists)-19 (16) — Only his third solo top 40 hit (though his next three would all go top 10 over the next year), this was one of five country #1s in a row for Kenny. In case you’re wondering why songwriter Don Schlitz is in the Country Music Hall of Fame, this is Exhibit A.
18 18 DANCIN’ SHOES –•– Nigel Olsson (Bang)-13 (18) — If I told you this was produced by Paul Davis would that help it make more sense? Yeah, I thought it might.
19 21 LADY –•– Little River Band (Harvest)-10 (19) — Who’s in the mood for a big bowl of Australian porridge?
20 22 I JUST FALL IN LOVE AGAIN –•– Anne Murray (Capitol)-7 (20) — On its way to a #12 pop peak, this also topped both the country and AC charts and was Billboard‘s #1 country record of 1979. Apart from a little slide guitar, I don’t hear much “country” in this, but then again, people say that today about Maren Morris, and I think she’s plenty country, so as I’m fond of saying, your mileage may vary.

21 23 BIG SHOT –•– Billy Joel (Columbia)-5 (21) — I’m an avowed Joel non-fan, but have a very soft spot for 52nd Street and this single, arguably the hardest rocking he ever got.
22 24 KNOCK ON WOOD –•– Amii Stewart (Ariola America)-7 (22) — Italo-disco at its not-best.
23 25 CRAZY LOVE –•– Poco (ABC)-8 (23) — Even though Timothy B. Schmidt had already decamped for the Eagles over a year prior, this is as Eagles manqué as Eagles manqué fucking gets. Would spend 7 weeks topping the AC chart; I’m shocked it didn’t get higher than #95 country. But no matter what chart it’s on, this is horrible.
24 28 FOREVER IN BLUE JEANS –•– Neil Diamond (Columbia)-7 (24) — No.
25 30 STUMBLIN’ IN –•– Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman (RSO)-7 (25) — No.
26 27 HAVEN’T STOPPED DANCING YET –•– Gonzalez (Capitol)-10 (26) — Well, they shoot Gonzalez, don’t they? If not, someone should.
27 14 NO TELL LOVER –•– Chicago (Columbia)-12 (14) — This past year, I ended up doing a deep dive on Chicago’s ’70s work, and you know what? It’s pretty fucking great. Before David Foster got his overproducing hands around their necks, Chicago were riffy, and a little edgier than you likely think/remember. They were also the best of the ’70s slew of horn-based bands. Phil Ramone co-produced this with the band and yeah, it’s inching towards AC territory, but it’s still really organic in the best way; Peter Cetera shares the leads with drummer Danny Seraphine. Also, it’s about sneakin’ around, which makes most songs better. After “Lotta Love” (#12) and “I Want Your Love” (#39), this is my favorite record in this chart.
28 15 BLUE MORNING, BLUE DAY –•– Foreigner (Atlantic)-12 (15) — Foreigner bridged the AOR of the mid ’70s that was so pop-chart popular and the AOR of the early ’80s that was the same. This is an uptempo Foreigner song; apart from “Urgent,” I don’t really need to hear that kinda thing, but YMMV.
29 29 SONG ON THE RADIO –•– Al Stewart (Arista)-7 (29) — Stewart’s follow-up to the iconic “Time Passages” (I said “iconic,” not “good”) is less cloying but not very much better.
30 40 MUSIC BOX DANCER –•– Frank Mills (Polydor)-7 (30) — Weirdly, this easy listening piano-led instrumental went to #3 pop but only #4 AC — you’d think this kind of record would’ve spent half a year atop AC. As for the song itself, knowing my love of easy listening, you might think I’d love it. However, as much as I love “light and easy” records, I don’t love records that sound like music boxes. A bit.

31 26 I WAS MADE FOR DANCIN’ –•– Leif Garrett (Scotti Brothers)-18 (10) — “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” for teenagers.
32 31 SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT –•– Barry Manilow (Arista)-13 (9) — The third top 10 single from his ’78 Even Now album, this was the sound of Manilow nearing the end of his Imperial Phase. No one did overblown pop balladry the way he did, except perhaps La Streisand.
33 37 MAYBE I’M A FOOL –•– Eddie Money (Columbia)-7 (33) — Did you know that for the first single following his self-titled debut/breakthrough in ’78, Money went all DOR? And subsequently didn’t hit the top 40 again for 3+ years, LOL.
34 38 I DON’T KNOW IF IT’S RIGHT –•– Evelyn “Champagne” King (RCA)-10 (34) — King followed up “Shame” with this lesser record, which peaked at the same R&B position (#7), but 14 notches lower on the pop chart (#23 vs. “Shame”‘s #9). It’s missing a lot of the electricity that made “Shame” such a bolt from the blue.
35 39 EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE –•– Eddie Rabbitt (Elektra)-8 (35) — His fourth country #1 (and ninth top 10), but his very first pop crossover, heading to a #30 peak. Remember that for most of the 1970s, very few country records crossed over to the pop chart. Of course, Rabbitt would have a hand in turning that around in short order: within 12 months, he’d have the first of four pop top 10s, including the #1 “I Love A Rainy Night.” As for this single, the theme to a Clint Eastwood movie at the time when he was one of the biggest box office stars in the U.S.? It’s mediocre at best. Rabbitt would do (and had done) much better.
36 35 TOO MUCH HEAVEN –•– Bee Gees (RSO)-17 (1) — A perfectly dreamy white fluffy cloud of a midtempo ballad, sometimes my favorite Gibb single of all.
37 41 LIVIN’ IT UP (Friday Night) –•– Bell and James (A&M)-7 (37) — The week’s four top 40 debuts were all disco or disco-adjacent (as I’d classify this R&B groover), and three of them would go on to be million-sellers, including this one. Bell and James had put in time as songwriters for Gamble & Huff’s Philly International label before going off on their own as recording artists; they hit gold (literally!) with their debut, a song that, thanks to not being a monster hit (#7 R&B/#15 pop) still sounds fairly fresh. I myself hadn’t heard it until a chance encounter on SXM’s the Groove a few months back, and was instantly smitten.
38 42 HE’S THE GREATEST DANCER –•– Sister Sledge (Cotillion)-5 (38) — That Nile Rodgers guitar riff, fuuuuuuuuuck. I mean, every single element of this single is absolute perfection from the string arrangement to the Sledge sisters’ harmonies, but that chicken-scratch scratches every possible itch I could ever have.
39 49 I WANT YOUR LOVE –•– Chic (Atlantic)-5 (39) — Yet another testament to the brilliance of the Chic Organisation: those chimes! Who puts chimes in a pop record and makes it work? Nile and ‘Nard, that’s who.
40 44 CHASE –•– Giorgio Moroder (Casablanca)-8 (40) — I hope that M83 guy pays Moroder royalties.

Posted in 1970s, charts

Breathe with me: the Prodigy, collected

Wrote this glowing review of the Prodigy’s hits+ comp for Stylus in 2006. And fortunately, they rebounded after this. Check out last year’s No Tourists, which may be their strongest since Fat of the Land.

The Prodigy easily had more visceral impact on a large scale than any other batch of electronica would-be-world-beaters—especially in the U.S. As beloved as the Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk may be/have been in certain circles, they never got the cover of Rolling Stone; the Prodigy’s primary mouthpiece, Keith Flint, did, in the summer of 1997 (the summer of Biggie’s death and the Spice Girls’ global domination, in case you’re in need of perspective). Fatboy Slim may have had some MTV VMA-winning videos, but he never had one banished to the midnight hour, the way “Smack My Bitch Up” was (riding the crest of a kinda-zeitgeist moment + chain-jerking violence and full-frontal nudity + Oh, did I mention a #1 album? = getting loads of publicity for a video shown only between midnight and 4am). And, well, I already mentioned the #1 album (The Fat of the Land, of course), which no other electronic artist came or has come anywhere close to accomplishing. This ain’t Europe, you know.

There’s plenty more to the Prodigy than the moment they got Fat, however. Their career as singles artists extends back to the start of the ‘90s. In 1991-92 they were releasing some of the most exciting singles on the planet with an amazing quartet that made the top 11 in the U.K. singles chart: “Charly,” “Everybody in the Place” (an oh-so-close #2 behind the last week of Queen’s chart-topping rule with “Bohemian Rhapsody” / ”These Are the Days of Our Lives”), the double-sided “Fire”/”Jericho” and “Out of Space.” Back in the day, the Prodigy were on the frontlines of “rave” culture, creating a pop version of the ‘ardcore (you know the score!) records setting clubland ablaze; no less an authority than Simon Reynolds calls “Charly” and “Everybody” “all teenage rampage and sublimely vacant insurgency,” and you know he’s not wrong. This stuff was to its time as Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” was to its—nothing less than a clarion call to arms that galvanized, first and foremost, young people.

Those early singles still pack a punch some 15 years later; I honestly wonder sometimes if the Prodigy were rave/techno’s Sex Pistols in terms of the kick-in-the-ass they gave the pop charts (and pop music in general). The abovementioned quartet of singles—all eventually part of the Prodigy’s debut album, Experience—are included on their new singles collection, Their Law: The Singles 1990-2005, along with a further five from sophomore album Music for the Jilted Generation (which gatecrashed the U.K. album chart at #1), the trio of utterly iconic singles from Fat, and three more from 2004’s expectation-deadening Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. And therein lies the problem most people having in evaluating the Prodigy as artists.

The singles from Jilted were the equal of, if not better than, those from their debut, and Jilted itself was rightly considered a monstrous classic upon release. (Still is today.) Fat shot Liam Howlett and co. through the pop roof like Willie Wonka’s glass elevator, making them globe-conquering, stadium-filling stars. Then: nothing. Apart from putting together the genius 1999 mix album The Dirtchamber Sessions, Howlett seemed to crawl up his own ass for the next half-decade, only popping up to drop the ’97-redux of “Baby’s Got A Temper” (wisely omitted from Their Law) in 2002, and to occasionally assure NME readers that “the new album is coming soon.” 2004 finally saw the release of album-teaser “Girls,” which certainly raised expectations—this was some different shit, squelch-bass and some keyb squiggles atop what basically amounts to a hotter-‘n-hot 1986 hip-hop track. But Outgunned didn’t measure up, whether it could or not (as evidenced by the singles “Spitfire” and “Hotride,” pale xeroxes of stuff done better years earlier). For the most part, it sounded like the previous seven years had passed Howlett by without his noticing.

Know what, though? Who gives a good damn, I say. Their Law is a testament to the Prodigy’s place in history, even if it doesn’t exactly hold promise for their future. Their run through most of the 90s is searing, which means that some of that decade’s greatest singles are compiled here in one tidily messy package. (A deluxe edition is also available, with a second disc showcasing b-sides, remixes [including a great Audio Bullys re-rub of “Out of Space,” and a “Thriller”-sampling live remix of “The Way It Is”] and five incendiary live tracks. [Their show-closing stint headlining Lollapalooza 1997 is still one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever witnessed.]) If you give any sort of damn about techno of the last 15 years, you need this collection of the Prodigy’s biggest (and largely best) moments like you need bottled water and a glowstick. [Originally published 5/8/06]

Grade: A

Posted in reviews, Stylus

Pop top 40: 2/26/83

If a chart could be said to be “peak ’83,” it might well be this one. One iconic song after another, along with a few, er, ringers, as you can hear, as you “take it to the nth degree.”

1 1 BABY, COME TO ME –•– Patti Austin with James Ingram (Qwest)-24 (2 weeks at #1) (1) — Rod Temperton with the words and music, Quincy Jones behind the boards, and a pair of fucking superlative voices in Austin and Ingram equals a perfect pop/soul ballad. This is all so good it doesn’t even need the gravy that’s some low-in-the-mix backing vocals on the chorus from Michael McDonald! And Q’s about to replace himself at the top… (see #4).
2 3 SHAME ON THE MOON –•– Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band (Capitol)-11 (2) — Written by Rodney Crowell! A bit less energy than I’d like, but not a bad take, and it plays to Seger’s strengths. His biggest hit until the delightful/appalling “Shakedown,” his only #1, four years later. And there’s one Seger himself wrote down at #9!
3 4 STRAY CAT STRUT –•– The Stray Cats (EMI-America)-10 (3) — Brian Setzer brought not one deservedly-dead genre back to life, but two: rockabilly with his Stray Cats, and swing as a solo artist in the ’90s. I’m not sure which is worse, or why America seems so enamored of him.
4 6 BILLIE JEAN –•– Michael Jackson (Epic)-6 (4) — (see #1) …with this legendary record. It’s funny to recall today that this was Thriller‘s second single, its leadoff being the you’d-think-it-would-hit-#1 Paul McCartney duet “The Girl Is Mine.” But for whatever reason/s (perhaps its utter and complete slushiness, saith the pop critic behind the keyboard?), its fate was three weeks at #2, behind “Maneater” (see #30) for a week and, urp, “Down Under” (see #8) for two. This opened on the Hot 100 at #47 during “Girl”‘s final week in the runner-up slot, and started its upward trajectory going 47-37-27-23 before revving up and leaping to #6 the following week; from there it landed here and then hit the top the next week, spending seven weeks at #1. And had it not been for a certain band of British ragamuffins (see #31), MJ would’ve replaced himself atop the chart, as “Beat It” (debuting at #78 this week) was just one week short. “Billie Jean,” of course, is masterful pop, written and sung by a peak-of-his-powers Jackson and produced by a peak-of-his-powers Quincy Jones.
5 8 DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME –•– Culture Club (Virgin)-13 (5) — I’m generally no fan of lovers rock, but this hits on each and every cylinder, thanks (of course) in largest part to the perfect, delicate voice of Boy George.
6 9 HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF –•– Duran Duran (Harvest)-10 (6) — That arpeggiated synth riff (bow down before Nick Rhodes), Roger Taylor’s pounding drums, Simon LeBon’s louche vocal: they all combine to add up to a sum much greater than its parts. And what masterful production!
7 7 YOU AND I –•– Eddie Rabbitt with Crystal Gayle (Elektra)-21 (7) — David Malloy sure could produce some smooth country-pop. He was one of the go-to guys for both Rabbitt and Kenny Rogers, and this is easily one of his best. Rabbitt and Gayle sound superb together, almost frictionless.
8 2 DOWN UNDER –•– Men At Work (Columbia)-17 (1) — “Who Can It Be Now?,” sure, but this string of Aussie clichés, not so much, thanks. But goddamn: Business As Usual was knocked off the top of the album chart this very week (by Thriller), after an astounding 15 weeks ruling the roost.
9 21 WE’VE GOT TONIGHT –•– Kenny Rogers & Sheena Easton (Liberty)-5 (9) — Their voices a little leather & lace, the song a little dull. Made it to #1 country.
10 13 PASS THE DUTCHIE –•– Musical Youth (MCA)-12 (10) — Kidz Bop Reggae!

11 19 BACK ON THE CHAIN GANG –•– The Pretenders (Sire)-12 (11) — It’s not just Chrissie Hynde, it’s that perfectly chiming guitar, too.
12 12 GOODY TWO SHOES –•– Adam Ant (Epic)-16 (12) — When your single features 3/5 of Adam and the Ants, that’s basically what you’re gonna get. That’s a good thing. This is “Antmusic” made more palatable for the mainstream market (whether intentionally or not).
13 14 YOUR LOVE IS DRIVING ME CRAZY –•– Sammy Hagar (Geffen)-12 (13) — Perfectly slick.
14 18 YOU ARE –•– Lionel Richie (Motown)-7 (14) — Following up the #1 “Truly,” this ups the tempo substantially and went #1 AC ( weeks!), #2 R&B (stuck only behind “Billie Jean”) and #4 pop, and to my ears is quite an improvement. I especially like the farty keyboard lines.
15 15 HEART TO HEART –•– Kenny Loggins (Columbia)-14 (15) –“Heart to Heart”‘s chart journey from the start of ’83 to this point: 22-20-17-16-15-15-15-15-15, no joke. That’s five consecutive weeks at #15. Ah, payola! But goddamn what a song, forever my favorite by Loggins, a perfect yacht rock single. (And the second-highest-ranked on the official Yachtski Scale!)
16 16 ALL RIGHT –•– Christopher Cross (Warner Brothers)-6 (16) — Fun fact: the same week that “Billie Jean” debuted at #47, this debuted at #28. Which makes some sense, coming off both Cross’s monumentally successful (and Grammy-sweeping) debut album and “Arthur’s Theme.” But while “Billie Jean” went on to spend almost two months at #1, this didn’t even crack the top 10. Poor Chris Cross; he deserved better. “All Right” features some ebulliently sparkly Michael Omartian production and a great vocal from Cross.
17 17 ALLENTOWN –•– Billy Joel (Columbia)-14 (17) — The early ’80s were a prime time for producers, and Phil Ramone made Joel’s Nylon Curtain sound marvelous. I’m no fan of Joel, but this one’s not a bad album at all, and the piano-driven “Allentown,” an elegy for the middle class, absolutely works.
18 20 TWILIGHT ZONE –•– Golden Earring (21 Records)-14 (18) — The kind of schlocky AOR that was endemic to northern Europe at the time.
19 5 AFRICA –•– Toto (Columbia)-18 (1) — YMMV, but I think it’s perfect yacht rock.
20 22 SEPARATE WAYS (Worlds Apart) –•– Journey (Columbia)-4 (20) — YMMV, but I think it’s perfect AOR.

21 24 ONE ON ONE –•– Daryl Hall & John Oates (RCA)-5 (21) — I love the soft synthy-ness of this; my favorite of their ’80s ballads. On its way to the top 10 of both pop and R&B.
22 10 YOU CAN’T HURRY LOVE –•– Phil Collins (Atlantic)-17 (10) — A perfectly serviceable cover of a Supremes staple, with someone singing who’s not as good a singer as Diana Ross. Easy enough.
23 27 BREAKING US IN TWO –•– Joe Jackson (A&M)-7 (23) — I vastly prefer pop Joe Jackson to pub Joe Jackson. This is a beautifully aching ballad anchored by a samba metronome (not precisely, but you know what I mean) and Jackson’s own piano, and I will never tire of it.
24 34 MR. ROBOTO –•– Styx (A&M)-3 (24) — You can find this entertaining, but you really can’t try to tell me it’s any good. Because this is some hot garbage.
25 32 I KNOW THERE’S SOMETHING GOING ON –•– Frida (Atlantic)-17 (25) — Credit Phil Collins, who produced (I love the way he gives the track such space, and the way he mixes Frida’s vocal to sound almost sinister) and plays those WAY-up-in-the-mix drums. Also credit Frida for knowing how to coax something different from her voice.
26 28 ON THE LOOSE –•– Saga (Portrait)-13 (26) — A perfect, perfectly cheesy new wave/AOR blend, like cheddar mixed with American for max meltiness. From Canada, of course.
27 33 FALL IN LOVE WITH ME –•– Earth, Wind & Fire (Columbia)-6 (27) — On its way to #17, this was the end of the line for EWF on the pop chart, their last-ever top 40 pop single. One of the 1970s’ biggest bands in any genre found the going far tougher in the ’80s (well, after 1981’s “Let’s Groove,” a #3 pop/8 weeks #1 R&B colossus), though they did make four more visits to the R&B top 10 through 1990 (including the 1987 #1 R&B smash “System of Survival” and its #3 follow-up, “Thinking of You”). Apart from some slight production touches, “Fall in Love” isn’t all that different from most of what EWF has spent the last, oh, seven years doing, which I suspect was their chart problem; the nature of hit music in the ’80s was passing them by. That and the fact that R&B crossovers were becoming much fewer and further between, post-disco years. Personally, I find this record invigorating, its horns ebullient, its guitar solo kinda rippin’. And of course, those stacked vocals.
28 11 THE OTHER GUY –•– Little River Band (Capitol)-15 (11) — LRB had done, and could do, better. This positively plods.
29 23 SEXUAL HEALING –•– Marvin Gaye (Columbia)-18 (3) — I mean, it’s one of the greatest records of the ’80s — what more do you need to know? Its backbone, arguably, is the Roland 808, not that that matters a whit without Gaye’s perfect vocal and lyrics. “Healing” spent 10 weeks atop the R&B chart — the longest such run since 1962 — and four weeks at #3 pop, which is a little amazing when you think about it. I was in 7th grade at the time of this chart, having recently turned 12, and was in the throes of my first true obsession with pop music; I remember hearing this song on the radio a lot in its moment, surprising because it was (for its era, at least for the radio) so racy. But its titillation factor undoubtedly played a large factor in its success.
30 25 MANEATER –•– Daryl Hall & John Oates (RCA)-20 (1) — Nasty in the best way, pop in the best way, seductive in the best way. You’re in bed with “Maneater” right now and didn’t even realize it.

31 42 COME ON EILEEN –•– Dexys Midnight Runners (Mercury)-6 (31) — This is one where I bet it wouldn’t be as annoyingly cloying if I hadn’t heard it thousands on thousands of times since 1983. But I have.
32 40 I’VE GOT A ROCK N’ ROLL HEART –•– Eric Clapton (Duck)-5 (32) — My favorite Slowhand is laid back-but-not-uncaring Slowhand. i.e., this. Clapton attempting to figure out what to do about the ’80s is fascinating to watch.
33 37 THE WOMAN IN ME –•– Donna Summer (Geffen)-11 (33) — Nothing about this, one of the most limp Quincy Jones productions ever, rings true — especially not that horrific spoken-word intro, which sounds like something out of a bad Braodway musical.
34 39 DREAMIN’ IS EASY –•– Steel Breeze (RCA)-7 (34) — Fun fact: Steel Breeze’s debut album was the last album produced by Kim Fowley. Un-fun: this song, like a mouthful of cold oatmeal.
35 35 I’M ALIVE –•– Neil Diamond (Columbia)-7 (35) — Neil’s mostly trying to sell this David Foster co-write; he fails. (Ergo, it didn’t make any higher than this on the chart, and likely only made it this far because it was following up the E.T.-inspired smash “Heartlight.”)
36 36 THE CLAPPING SONG –•– Pia Zadora (Elektra)-12 (36) — Yes, this is a thing that actually happened, I assume its top 40 appearance (this was its peak) thanks to some radio MD palm-greasing, though I can neither confirm nor deny that of course. Especially considering that on this week’s MTV playlist, as appeared in Billboard, this was nowhere to be found. And there was a video. Oh, was there a video. At the time, Zadora was known (such as it was) for being an ingenue with a rich husband, who many thought helped “buy” her 1982 New Star of the Year Golden Globe award for Butterfly. This remake of a 1965 top 10 single by Shirley Ellis sounds like a bad, early ’80s (fittingly) Broadway-via-Vegas take on “African” music, and is completely ridiculous, astoundingly bad, and at the same time actually somewhat entertaining, in a very “so bad it’s almost good” way. It was, not surprisingly, Zadora’s only US top 40 hit, but her Jermaine Jackson duet from ’84/’85 did hit #1 in Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. All nations known for their superb musical taste.
37 41 MY KIND OF LADY –•– Supertramp (A&M)-5 (37) — Because you know what everyone wants to hear Supertramp sing? Love songs.

38 38 TIED UP –•– Olivia Newton-John (MCA)-7 (38) — I sincerely wonder if part of the reason for this single’s underperformance — it was following up the #3 smash “Heart Attack” — was its horrendous video (above). Someone was paid to say “Yes, this looks great!” I can’t emphasize that enough, I really can’t. Though to be fair, the song, which I personally enjoy, is an odd throwaway. I love ONJ’s early ’80s attempts at a marriage of new wave and soft pop.
39 45 POISON ARROW –•– ABC (Mercury)-5 (39) — The Lexicon of Love is one of my all-time top five albums, all the evidence you ever need that Trevor Horn was a genius behind the boards and Martin Fry was a genius behind the microphone. This follow-up to “The Look of Love (Part 1)” may — I’m not saying is, I’m saying may — be even better than its predecessor. It certainly sounded like the future to a midwestern preteen in early 1983. This is as state of the fucking art as new wave/pop ever got.
40 43 DON’T TELL ME YOU LOVE ME –•– Night Ranger (Boardwalk)-7 (40) — Their first top 40 hit, at its peak — though it did hit #4 on the AOR chart. “Sister Christian” was over a year away. This is easily their most rocking (or, “rocking” — YMMV) single, and I don’t mind it one bit.

Posted in 1980s, charts, pop

Pazz & Jop ballot 2018

It’s alive! IT’S ALIVE! P&J has risen from the grave!

à la Anthony, here’s my P&J ballot, slightly tweaked from my Uproxx ballot, along with points and comments.

1 Jeremy Dutcher, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (23) – Jeremy Dutcher’s marriage of his classically trained vocals and composition with 100+-year-old recordings of his First Nations tribe in New Brunswick is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. The power in both Dutcher’s tenor and the way in which he’s arranged his music and these vintage Wolastoqiyik recordings in dialogue is stunning, and shocking, and so emotional. His being openly two-spirit just renders this all the more powerful; I don’t speak this language, but can’t help but be moved. God bless Canada’s Polaris Prize, which, upon awarding this year’s accolade to Dutcher’s debut album, introduced his work to legions of people, including myself.

2 Me’shell Ndegeocello, Ventriloquism (21) – Me’shell Ndegeocello, one of America’s trickiest and smartest R&B reconstructionists of the past quarter-century, may have outdone herself on her thirteenth album. She took a stack of some of the best R&B singles of the 1980s and reverse-engineered them, turning these digital, largely synth-laden marvels (in their original form) into analog songs suitable for the campfire. Some of her re-arrangements here are shocking, such as the way she gives Force M.D.’s’ “Tender Love” the Harvest treatment, but every one of them works, thanks to the unifying power of Ndegeocello’s vocals and the love pouring from each re-versioning.

3 Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour (10) – It took Kacey Musgraves’s CMA Awards performance of “Slow Burn,” in November, to open this record up for me beyond the “country for people who don’t like country” bullshit hype. And I’m glad it finally happened, because goddamn the songwriting here. And — much less credited, but no less deserving — her singing! The epitome of gorgeous.

4 Pusha T, Daytona (9) – Say what you will about the year in Kanye, but at least he gave Pusha T his best work in 2018, producing an incredibly tight, taut album for the rapper of the year. I’ll stack Daytona up against We Got It 4 Cheap — either volume.

5 Mariah Carey, Caution (9) – Welcome back, Mimi. Working with 10 different producers across 10 different tracks? Smart. Knowing how to best use your voice across these songs? Smarter. And your songwriting? Smartest. Not to mention that as great as “GTFO” is, it’s not even the best track on Caution: that award goes to the “Crush on You”-twisting “A No No,” which sends me into paroxysms of glee with each and every play.

6 Hubert Lenoir, Darlène (7)
7 Emery, Eve (6)
8 Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth (5)
9 Toni Braxton, Sex & Cigarettes (5)
10 Tracey Thorn, Record (5)

1 “End Game” – Taylor Swift feat. Ed Sheeran & Future – I didn’t care much for Reputation (and loathed its first single, “Look What You Made Me Do”), can’t stand Ed Sheeran, rarely find Future pleasurable, and am no fan of Max Martin nor any of his proteges. So what the fuck is this doing as my single of the year? Frankly, I’m as surprised as anyone. “End Game” is the exception that proves every rule, a collision of musical elements I generally can’t stand that, somehow, works as a sum. T-Swift sounds sincere, I love the song’s sentiment, the synth chords behind the chorus sound gorgeous and expensive, the too-loud-but-so-right drums sound delightfully cheap — and honestly, you know when Sheero is at his least annoying? When he’s rapping. Really. I first heard this on top 40 radio just after the first of the year, and nothing ever topped it. I’m befuddled that this flopped.

2 “GTFO” – Mariah Carey – Not just the source of a million Gay Twitter™ memes in 2018, “GTFO” is also Mariah’s best single since “Touch My Body,” and maybe even longer. Nineteen85 somehow flips a Porter Robinson sample into a delicate R&B record, Mariah smartly sings against the beat, and when she sings the “get the fuck out” chorus, of course I believe her. I’m befuddled that this flopped.

3 “joy.” – for KING & COUNTRY – Spent a lot of 2018 dealing with depression and anxiety, and “joy.” truly provided what it promises in its title. A trop-house record by a pair of Aussie brothers/Christian music superstars — with a 100-person choir on its chorus, no less — shouldn’t work. But this does more than work; it felt life-changing. At a minimum, every time I heard “joy.” this year, it was mood-elevating, better than an antidepressant.

4 “Long As I Live” – Toni Braxton – The natural follow-up to her 2013 Babyface collabo. Parent album Sex & Cigarettes rides the coattails of this sterling, heartbreaking single. Her voice is still devastating.

5 “Back & Forth” – MK, Jonas Blue, & Becky Hill – “Back & Forth” fills my USDA requirement this year for uplifting-as-fuck hit-the-floor piano house. Becky Hill sounds like Lorde if Lorde had really gone for it in her bid for the dancefloor, and Marc Kinchen is of course a legend. He can do this shit in his sleep, but luckily for us he doesn’t; he puts much more effort into it, crafting perfect 3:30 pop singles out of house heaven.

6 “Come e Baza” – Titica feat. Pabllo Vittar – Titica’s hips really don’t lie; neither do Pabllo Vittar’s. And the fact that this high energy team-up single by an Angolan transwoman and a Brazilian drag queen was a huge smash in Brazil, in a year when the country elected a new head who makes 45 look moderate, means plenty.

7 “The Story of Adidon” – Pusha T – The year’s finest hip hop single was made by the same guy who made the year’s finest hip hop album, but “The Story of Adidon” doesn’t feature on Daytona, because this was Pusha T’s sharpest, most on-target arrow in his musical feud with Drake. And when was the last time you heard a beef single this good? “Ether,” maybe? Over the track of Jay-Z’s “The Story of O.J.,” Push lacerates Drizzy with surgical precision. “Adidon” is shockingly brutal, and 100% on point.

8 “Lady” – Yubin – Yubin, the former rapper for K-Pop girl group legends Wonder Girls (RIP), returned in 2018 with a total surprise, going full-on city pop on her debut solo single. And of course, as the Wonder Girls were always the masters of successfully executed retro styles, it works like crazy.

9 “APESHIT” – The Carters – a/k/a Beyoncé’s “I can rap, too, motherfuckers” moment, even if her husband got the most quotable lines — “Tell the Grammys fuck that 0-for-8 shit” — but then again, Bey did tell us to “get off [her] dick,” so maybe it was a draw? Also, the year’s best Migos single.

10 “Nice for What” – Drake – More than any song on my list, this got better every time I heard (or watched) it, all year long. I love the use of Big Freedia (though I dearly wish the label credit on this had read “Drake featuring Big Freedia” — how amazing would it have been to see THAT ruling the Hot 100 for eight weeks), I love that BOOM! bassline, I love the stupid sped-up Lauryn sample, and I love that for once in his life Drake is neither a) posturing nor b) whining. It makes MY ass jump, too. And the video rules.
Posted in 2018, best of, lists

My favorite songs: “Late Nights and Early Mornings”

This song is the single greatest Prince rip of all time — yes, even moreso than “Oh Sheila” — and it’s not just due to the highly effective way that Marsha Ambrosius uses the Linn drum here. No, it’s also the song’s subject matter (sex, of course) and the way she teases it out, very much a la “Do Me Baby.” This isn’t just a song about sex, it’s a sexy song about sex. Oh, and her falsetto? Total Prince, too.

Posted in 2010s, my favorite songs, R&B

My favorite songs: “Sanctified Lady”

I recently had a moment of reckoning with Marvin Gaye’s “Sanctified Lady.” I was driving north up the California coast on US 1, from Santa Cruz (which I call home) to San Francisco (where I lived for 9 years and still have friends). The windows were down, this song was cranked, I was singing along and occasionally laughing — because the song’s lyrics are in many ways ridiculous. And then the chorus comes in, after the second (?) bridge, and starts singing about all-caps “JESUS!” Because Marvin wants a woman who’s a freak in the sheets (he sings the title phrase as “sanctified pussy” numerous times throughout the song) but also really, really loves Jesus. No: JESUS!

I laughed aloud and said something along the lines of, “Marvin, mister, you had some issues!” But then I stopped myself, almost immediately, and said: waitadamnminute. I’m a churchgoing freak in the sheets, so why can’t (couldn’t) Marvin openly call for that, albeit on a much more public scale? (To be fair, “Lady” was an outtake from the Midnight Love sessions, so maybe he didn’t intend for it to be heard?) (OTOH, who are we kidding?)

I needed to hear that message, I needed to call myself on that shit. And I especially needed to do so in the service of this sensational, body-rockin’ anthem. I love the ur-cheesy simple synths that Marvin’s brother-in-law Gordon Banks added, I love the silly vocoder at the song’s start, and bringing in the Waters to do the backing vocals is genius. Semi-minimalist ’80s R&B? I’m here for that all day. And when you add in that it’s Marvin Gaye singing about how much he wants a “girl” to “suck,” etc., and to be a “good ol’ church girl”? I mean, c’mon, how obviously great does this song have to be? Now, I just need to find a guy with the same qualifications for me as Marvin had for his ladies…

Posted in 1980s, my favorite songs, R&B, RIP