Country music’s biggest night: CMAs liveblog


The CMAs are live east coast, but tape-delayed west coast. I’ve purposefully avoided the internet since 5pm PST so I wouldn’t know what’s to come.

8pm: Well, goddamn, that’s a way to start: Eric Church singing “Amazing Grace” a cappella got me choked up. And Darius Rucker and Keith Urban, plus Lady Antebellum (plus the obligatory gospel choir) doing “Hold My Hand” as a kind of unity anthem? With a shit-hot guitar solo from Urban? Yeah, that’ll work fucking nicely. The haters can hate elsewhere. WAIT HOLY FUCK, an entire front row’s worth of country superstars just joined onstage for the last chorus: Garth, Tim & Faith, Little Big Town, Reba, Ronnie Dunn… Whoa. This show knows how to pull off the big performance moments, that’s for sure.

8:06pm: Brad & Carrie open, as they have for the last 10 years. Carrie: “We’re gonna do what families do: come together, cry together, pray together, and sing together.” And then the two of ’em do a bit of a spoof, as they’re wont, called “Before He Tweets,” because they’re good at that kinda thing. [Interjection: why is P!nk in the front row?!] [Another interjection: good god, Tim & Faith — especially Faith — look absolutely phenomenal. Why haven’t they ever hosted?]

8:17pm: Single goes to Urban’s “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” and I’m not mad. I called it “another career record in a career of career records” in my preview, and I stand by that. Also: mixed by Chris Lord-Alge?!? He mixed “Living In America”! And “Batdance”! And “The Best”! And the 12″ of “Dancing in the Dark”!

8:25pm: Thomas Rhett name-checks Coldplay; Darius Rucker name-checks R.E.M. That’s not just a difference in age, it’s an aesthetic difference that’s rather profound. “Unforgettable” is right.

8:28pm: Song, presented by Bobby Bones, Luke Combs, Brett Young, and inexplicably, “supermodel” Karlie Kloss. Oh, wait, could it be that they had Kloss present since she’s part of Taylor Fucking Swift’s squad? “Better Man” is a good song, and Little Big Town sing the fuck out of it, but fuck Swift, srsly. “She couldn’t be here tonight” because she’s turned her back on Nashville to make melody-lacking pop as bad as “Look What You Made Me Do,” and fuck that all the way.

8:30pm: A surprise performance which just starts, with Dierks Bentley and Rascal Flatts performing Montgomery Gentry’s “My Town” in tribute to the late Troy Gentry. OH SHIT: Eddie Montgomery walks out to take the third verse, and I choke up (and gasp) for the 2nd time this evening. That was really well-done.

8:39pm: A legend such as Reba joining Kelsea Ballerini for “Legends” is a little easy, but on the other hand, who’s ever gonna be mad at hearing Reba sing? And “Legends” earns it. Unfortunately, Reba and Kelsea don’t really seem to mesh, and compared to the fucking killer voice that is Reba, Kelsea’s can’t help but come off as a bit thin.

8:43pm: Luke Bryan’s here to sing “Light It Up” and show Thomas Rhett how one pulls off mixing in pop/R&B into your country and making it work. Also, his jeans are tight enough up top that I can clearly see the line of his boxer briefs. Not that I’m necessarily complaining.

8:52pm: Miranda! Oh wow: it’s a glammed-up Lambert showing boobies and singing the very classic-sounding “To Learn Her.” God, this is just so Tammy Wynette, it’s glorious. And was that Mary Chapin Carpenter singing backup?

8:56pm: New Artist goes to Jon Pardi in what I consider an upset! I was certain that Combs would take this. Not mad at all, though: Pardi’s even more of a new traditionalist than Combs, and his California Sunrise is a damned fine album. And he’s getting choked up while accepting! So adorable.

8:59pm: As he’s currently enjoying his biggest radio hit in 10 years, “Ask Me How I Know,” Garth shows to perform it. Since it’s Garth, he of course has his giant lower-case “g” logo over his stage. As a regular reader of the country trades, I can tell you that Garth really, really, really wants a #1 out of this. And I think he might actually get it.

9:09pm: Brothers Osborne do last single “It Ain’t My Fault,” which the entire audience seems to know. It’s fine — but then they go into the late Don Williams’ “Tulsa Time,” which the real country heads in the front row are very happy about (cf. Lambert, Bentley, Brooks, Urban). And I am, too.

9:13pm: Uh, Tyler Perry? Cool that he references Charley Pride, but I don’t get it. And no, Tyler, “we” are not “more alike than we are not alike.” The other half of this nation hates me and mine, whether you wanna admit it or not. It also rubs me the wrong way that someone with no connection to country music is handing out the award for Album. Wait, HOW THE FUCK did Chris Stapleton just win his second Album of the Year prize for his underbaked From A Room, Volume 1?! I am pissed and I am kinda livid right now.

9:18pm: Hellooooo, Faith Hill’s thigh! She’s wearing a killer, diaphanous red dress, hubby Tim McGraw’s in a white tux jacket, and they’re singing the title track from their impending duet album The Rest of Our Life. I am very, very excited to hear the full-length. I’m also very impressed that Tim’s hitting that falsetto note in the chorus, live.

9:27pm: P!nk is working the promo cycle for her new album, isn’t she? But goddamn, I just do not like her music. AND SHE’S NOT COUNTRY. As she got an inexplicable standing O, Eddie Montgomery was seen clearly smirking and sipping from a drink in the front row, I’m sure thinking “WTF was that?”

9:32pm: “No Such Thing As  Broken Heart” is sung by Old Dominion, who get the “privilege” of presenting the radio personality winners. We’re halfway through the show, and it actually already feels a little long, but I’m still excited for Carrie, LBT, Keith Urban, and new Hall of Famer Alan Jackson.

9:39pm: Little Big Town come back straight out of commercial and are doing “Wichita Lineman” with Jimmy Webb on piano, 2 acoustic guitars, and nothing else but voice. Wow. Of course, no one can top their vocal harmonies, so this is gorgeous and devastating.

9:42pm: It’s Sugarland! Here to present Vocal Duo, which they won from 2007-11. It goes again to Brothers Osborne, of course.

9:52pm: Chris Stapleton and his hippie earth mother wife sing “Broken Halos.” He’s authentic, maaaaan.

9:55pm: Maren Morris is wonderful, and I will never complain about hearing her sing “I Could Use A Love Song.” But former 1Der Niall Horan, really? Ugh.

10:04pm: Carrie sings the hymn “Softly and Tenderly,” while everyone in the arena holds fake candles, and the “In Memoriam” reel runs. It’s of course, fairly moving, because no one can nail this kind of thing like Carrie can. Oh God, gutpunch time: they end it with photos of all of those who were killed at the Route 91 Festival.

10:13pm: Vocal Group goes to Little Big Town for the 6th year in a row. I love The Breaker so much — it’s probably my favorite country album of the year. And I’m no come-lately, for the record — I gave their soph album The Road to Here an A- for Stylus back in 2005.

10:17pm: Oh, Brad, you are capable of so much better than a bullshit jingoistic song called “Heaven South.” And why wasn’t Kane Brown given his own performance slot, instead of having to join Paisley on his song? Similarly, why does Jon Pardi, who just won the New Artist award, only get to do a verse and two choruses of “Dirt on My Boots”? It’s almost as if the CMA is afraid of giving the young bucks too much shine.

10:22pm: For some reason I can’t quite ascertain, Dan + Shay (gross) and Lauren Alaina are duetting on the Youngbloods’ hideous 1969 hit “Get Together,” from the Country Music Hall of Fame. Is this a commercial for something? I think Wal-Mart was mentioned.

10:27pm: Carrie informs us that Keith Urban has won 11 CMA awards (including tonight), intro’ing him doing his new song “Female.” This just went to radio today, so I’m guessing that for most in the audience, it’s their first time hearing it. He’s singing to track, but for once that doesn’t bother me, since this performance probably came together pretty quickly (and Urban’s off-cycle, meaning that his touring band is probably scattered to the winds at the moment). The song is a response to the glut of sexual harassment allegations in the news right now, but also has an impact in light of Urban’s wife Nicole Kidman’s Emmy Award-winning performance as an abused wife in Big Little Lies.

10:31pm: I’ll keep saying it: it bugs me when people with no (apparent) connection to country music present big awards, like an actress I half-recognize and a NASCAR driver handing out Female Vocalist. I’m of course very happy to see Lambert take it home, but I’m really surprised that it’s the only award she’s received tonight.

10:33pm: Eric Church dropped Mr. Misunderstood as a surprise album the night of the CMAs two years ago. Last year it won Album of the Year. Tonight he’s doing yet another song from it, “Chattanooga Lucy.” I do wish he didn’t have to rhyme the titular name with “juicy.” In his introduction, Brad Paisley said “this one’s gonna rock,” but it actually seems oddly restrained.

10:42pm: Trisha Yearwood presents Male Vocalist to fuckin’ dirty-looking Chris Stapleton, for the third year in a row. He’s not even a particularly compelling vocalist, which is what the category is supposed to be about!

10:45pm: Here’s how major Alan Jackson is: he’s getting a standing ovation during his performance. When Carrie and Brad introduced him, the entire audience stood immediately, as it should be. He’s won 16 CMA Awards, including Entertainer of the Year 3x, and his performance of 1990’s #2 country single “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow” reminds everyone how it’s done.

10:53pm: All of those trade ads, week after week, paid off: Reba presents Entertainer to Garth Brooks, for the 2nd year in a row and 5th overall. And then “Action” Jackson pops back up to sing “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” accompanied by Carrie on backing vocals and Brad on guitar.

There were some great performances, but overall, this year’s show felt a little “meh.” Maybe it was because the overall tone was (appropriately) a little downbeat? Until next year, when I’m guessing we have to look forward to From A Room, Volume 2 winning Album of the Year (groan)?

Posted in 2017, awards, country

CMAs 2017: preview


Yay, it’s CMA Awards time! The 51st edition of what’s truthfully advertised as “country music’s biggest night” takes place Wednesday, 11/8, with Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood hosting the proceedings for a 10th consecutive year. I dearly love the down-home pomp of the evening, and especially the performance-crammed telecast — which, I might add, never ever goes over its allotted three hours, unlike almost every other televised awards show. The performance roster this year is awfully impressive; they actually got Garth Brooks to commit to performing this year, along with Alan Jackson (I presume to highlight his recent Hall of Fame induction), Reba McEntire (with Kelsea Ballerini), and damned near every current hitmaker, from Tim & Faith to Kane Brown and from Little Big Town to Thomas Rhett. Miranda Lambert leads the noms with 5, and I fully expect her to be crowned queen of the evening yet again. To wit:

Entertainer: Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Chris Stapleton, Keith Urban. Because apparently only boys matter, or something. Where the fuck is Lambert? Church and Stapleton don’t make sense to me here — they’re not that big — while former winner Bryan hits the sweet spot of huge radio hits + big tour receipts. But I suspect that the reigning EotY, King Garth, will win again thanks to his a) massive touring numbers and b) massive industry gladhanding.

Female Vocalist: Ballerini, Lambert, McEntire, Maren Morris, Underwood. All-time champ Lambert won this 6 years in a row, 2010-15, but last year hadn’t had any industry presence and thus handed the trophy back to Underwood, who won 2006-08. Ballerini and Morris’s noms are “welcome to the big leagues” awards, and Reba’s is a “welcome back, we liked your gospel album” (she last won this award 30 years ago). Expect it to return to Lambert.

Male Vocalist: Dierks Bentley, Church, Rhett, Stapleton, Urban. Worth nothing that Bryan doesn’t show up here, and neither does shut out Blake Shelton, who won this from 2010-14. (Is Nashville pissed that he left Lambert for pop tart Gwen Stefani?). Urban and two-time reigning Stapleton are the only previous winners here, and it feels like it could be a toss-up. Bentley seems due, and the only topline award he’s won is Best New Artist, way back in 2005. Church is likely to be one of those stars who wins practically every award except the vocalist trophy. Rhett might still be seen as too young to take this, though it wouldn’t surprise me if he did get it this year. Bentley could, too. I feel like Stapleton’s last album, even though it’s up for the Album prize, was too much of a non-starter for him to threepeat here. And Urban had another big year. I’m gonna go with the beloved Mr. Nicole Kidman in a photo finish over Rhett.

Duo: I do not understand why the CMAs insist on separating duos from groups, still. But they do. Brothers Osborne, Dan + Shay, Florida Georgia Line, LOCASH, and Maddie & Tae are the nominees, and I see no reason why last year’s shocker winners Brothers Osborne won’t repeat here; if they don’t, expect FGL to take it back from ’em.

Group: Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Old Dominion, Rascal Flatts, Zac Brown Band. LBT have won this 5 years in a row, taking over after Lady A won it themselves for 4 years, prior to which Rascal Flatts took the prize for 6 years. So assume it’s one of those three, and even though The Breaker was a bit of a commercial disappoint, its lead single “Better Man” did hit #1 and is up for both Single and Song. Plus, everybody loves them, so expect LBT to tie Rascal Flatts’ mark of 6 in a row, this year. (They’d certainly get my vote.)

New Artist: Brett Young, Jon Pardi, Lauren Alaina, Luke Combs, Old Dominion. New traditionalist Combs is riding very high with back to back airplay #1s at the moment; the timing is right for him. Old D could sneak in here, but I expect that Combs’ “When It Rains It Pours” peaking at radio during final balloting tips this for him. And apart from pretty boy Young, I’d be happy with any of this crew winning. (Already hoping for Midland for 2018.)

I don’t care about the awards for Music Video or Musician, to be honest.

Musical Event, aka collab by people who don’t normally collab together (with one notable expection): “Craving You” (Rhett feat. Morris), “Funny How Time Slips Away” (Glen Campbell with Willie Nelson), “Kill A Word” (Eric Church feat. Rhiannon Giddens), “Setting the World on Fire” (Kenny Chesney feat. P!nk), “Speak to a Girl” (Tim & Faith). So it’s funny that Tim & Faith have a duet album coming shortly; I wonder if that could sneak into the Album field next year. I’d love for that to take this, but I think that the veterans’ vote goes to Campbell/Nelson (who I fear take this in a sympathy vote). If it doesn’t go in that direction, “Craving” could be the CMA’s opportunity to award both Rhett and Morris for having impressive years (Morris won New Artist last year), though I’m hesitant to dismiss the Chesney/P!nk collab, which like “Craving,” hit #1. (“Kill” only wins if MacArthur Grants are much more impressive with the voters than I suspect they are.) I think “Craving” wins here.

Song and Single feature the exact same set of nominees: “Better Man” (Little Big Town), “Blue Ain’t Your Color” (Urban), “Body Like A Back Road” (Sam Hunt), “Dirt On My Boots” (Pardi), “Tin Man” (Lambert). As for the songwriters’ award, Hunt’s and Pardi’s songs have no chance, and while “Better Man” was written by Taylor Swift, I suspect that the CMA voters aren’t exactly eager to reward Swift for by and large turning her back on country music. Which leaves “Blue,” another career record in a career of career records for Urban, and Lambert’s “Tin Man,” still scraping its way into the airplay top 25 (but just barely). I tend to think that as has happened in the last couple years, these two categories split, and “Blue”‘s superbly understated lyrics and music win that award. Single-wise, it could easily be Hunt’s record-setting longest-#1-ever-now-that-Billboard-fucked-up-the-country-chart. Otherwise, artistry might win in the form of Lambert.

AlbumThe Breaker (Little Big Town), From A Room, Volume 1 (Stapleton), Heart Break (Lady Antebellum), The Nashville Sound (Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit), The Weight of These Wings (Lambert). First of all, let me just say: FUCK Isbell and his country-come-lately-ness; he doesn’t belong here. Lady A’s album is strong but not amazing, and Stapleton’s is all smoke and no fire. My vote goes for the hushed Breaker, the best work of LBT’s career, and they’d take this in most other years. But never bet against Lambert, who went ultra-ambitious with a great double album (which I find a touch too long, but the strong stuff is killer). She’ll win this in a cakewalk, joining other three-time winners Ronnie Milsap and Johnny Cash. Only George Strait, with 5, has won more.

Even if all she takes home is Album and Female Vocalist, I think that alone will be enough to write a narrative of “Queen Miranda” — especially because no woman has ever won Album 3x. (Or even twice!). But I wouldn’t be surprised if “Vice” won for Video, and/or if Lambert wins Song and/or Single, then: wow. And hopefully some day she’ll get nominated for, and win, Entertainer.

Posted in 2017, awards, country

Pop top 40: 10/10/87


Play along!

1 2 HERE I GO AGAIN –•– Whitesnake – 15 (1) — Undeniable. David Coverdale is one of the great voices of ’80s metal.
2 3 LOST IN EMOTION –•– Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam – 11 (2) — 1985’s Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam with Full Force was, by and large, freestyle magic, the sound of Nuyorican NYC, mixing dance music and pop with hip-hop, fronted Puerto Rican babydiva Lisa Lisa. “I Wonder If I Take You Home” and “Can You Feel the Beat” are all-time freestyle classics, credit largely due to Full Force. So why, then, did 1987’s Spanish Fly, with all of the same folks involved, fall so flat? I suspect it’s because their goal was to go for a full-on pop chart assault — and  they succeeded, ruling late summer/early fall with a pair of #1s, “Head to Toe” and this one, which would hit the top the following week. This is painfully limp pop, barely even dance-pop, and it makes me sad.
3 5 CARRIE –•– Europe – 11 (3) — These hunks of Swedish cheese are of course much more well-known for the title track from The Final Countdown, but in the US, the album’s third single was actually their biggest smash, a schmaltzy, blowsy power ballad. Lead singer Joey Tempest doesn’t so much sing as he belts like he’s on a Broadway stage without a microphone, playing to the cheap seats.
4 4 I HEARD A RUMOUR –•– Bananarama – 13 (4) — The. Best. Stock/Aitken/Waterman. Single. Ever. The production on this throbs and percolates like the greatest Giorgio Moroder work, and the record just oozes joy.
5 6 U GOT THE LOOK –•– Prince – 11 (5) — As I said when TSJ honored Prince upon his death last year, “Well, when Sheena Easton says “Let’s get 2 rammin’,” what else is there to do?” One of his greatest singles ever.
6 1 DIDN’T WE ALMOST HAVE IT ALL –•– Whitney Houston – 11 (1) — Whitney did good ballads and great ballads and bad ballads, and this falls into the last category, a slice of AC bullshit that was beneath her, even though she occasionally had a predilection for it. In this case, blame co-writer and producer Michael Masser, who can’t not do this shit. And weep for the fact that the album’s second single was originally slated to be her lovely cover of the Isleys’ “For the Love of You,” produced by Narada Michael Walden like his work on “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” at half-speed, and featuring perfect, unobtrusive sax work from Arista labelmate Kenny G. (That said, “For the Love” would’ve undoubtedly a) been a huge R&B smash b) broken her streak of pop #1s. And since Clive Davis was going hard pop with the Whitney album, there’s your answer.)
7 7 WHO WILL YOU RUN TO –•– Heart – 9 (7) — After the mondo success of 1985’s self-titled comeback — #1 album, four top 10 singles including the #1 “These Dreams” — 1987’s Bad Animals was more of the same from Heart, only with somewhat diminishing returns, with the album “only” hitting #2 and spinning off a pair of top 10s. But one of those was the forever “Alone,” and its followup, here at its peak position, is quite agreeably crunchy and rockin’, especially considering it came from the pen of Diane Warren. Their next single, the marvelous “There’s the Girl,” peaked at #12 and is my personal Heart favorite.
8 16 BAD –•– Michael Jackson – 4 (8) — All sharp elbows and hard angles, this is what I think about when I think about Bad, and I love it. Michael was attempting to be more “adult” (see also “Dirty Diana,” or better yet don’t) on this album, and largely succeeded — but at a cost. He was much, for lack of a better word, cuddlier on Thriller, and that mattered to plenty of music fans. So while I consider Bad close to an equal of Thriller, I can see why it didn’t have the same impact. That said, thanks to many factors (coughcoughpayolacoughcough), it still spun off 5 #1 singles, and that’s not too damn shabby.
9 9 PAPER IN FIRE –•– John Cougar Mellencamp – 9 (9) — So Imperial was JCM in ’87, he cranked out two top 10 singles from an album that would today be considered straight up Americana. The predominant instrument on “Paper in Fire” is a fiddle, for chrissake! He was firing on all cylinders at the time, and this song, like much of its parent album The Lonesome Jubilee (3x platinum! His last multi-platinum record in the US), is fairly impeccable.
10 11 CASANOVA –•– Levert – 9 (10) — The first, and sadly only, time that mainstream pop audiences met Gerald Levert and his buddies, “Casanova” (on its way to #5 pop) was the second of five R&B #1s and 12 top 10s overall for this killer trio. And while of course their main attraction was Gerald’s voice — which I’ll argue is even better than that of his father, the O’Jays’ Eddie Levert — don’t forget that their songs were, by and large, bangin’. And with G in the driver’s seat, they could pull off sexy balladry and club jams with equal ease. “Casanova” is still a classic, and still sounds great on the radio, crisp and clean ’80s R&B at its finest.

11 14 CAUSING A COMMOTION –•– Madonna – 5 (11) — So here we have, in the top 11, the three biggest stars of the decade: Michael, Prince, and Madonna. And two weeks later, we’d get something quite incredible, as for the only time in the decade (or ever), they’d occupy the entire top 3: 87

That’s always struck me as one of the great unsung chart weeks of the ’80s, frankly. As for the single itself, it’s one of Madonna’s finest #2 singles (of which she’s had six, in addition to her 12 #1s!), and also one of her best second singles. As Alfred and I have discussed more than once, her second singles were often better than most artists’ first singles from albums — and not only is this a great single, it wallops all over its predecessor, the all-too-slight “Who’s That Girl.” Whereas she wrote and produced that #1 with Patrick Leonard, “Commotion” bears the imprimatur of her old pal Stephen Bray, and sounds like it: play this back-to-back with Breakfast Club’s “Right on Track” and tell me you disagree. This also has an urgency and a punch that “Girl” sorely lacks.
12 15 LET ME BE THE ONE –•– Expose – 9 (12) — Commercially speaking, Expose were unquestionably the queens of freestyle. Their debut album Exposure spawned four top 10 pop singles across 1987 — and their sole chart-topper was its fourth single (“Seasons Change,” of course). This, on its way to a #7 peak, was the third single from the album, following a pair of #5s, and Lewis Martinee’s production on it is absolutely masterful. There’s a reason Pet Shop Boys had him produce “Domino Dancing,” folks. Pretty much every uptempo Expose single jams, and this is no exception. Perfect freestyle pop.
13 13 JUMP START –•– Natalie Cole – 12 (13) — Until 1987, Cole’s last top 40 pop hit dated back to 1980, and her last visit to the top 20 was a full decade in her rear view mirror. So for 1987’s comeback bid Everlasting, she hooked up with the Calloway brothers, ex of Midnight Star, who’d written machine-funk hits for the likes of Klymaxx, Teddy Pendergrass, and whaddaya know, Levert (#10 above). (They’d go on to have their own hit as Calloway some three years later with “I Wanna Be Rich.”) And lookie here: it worked! Not only did Cole earn a trio of R&B top 10s from the album (including this one, which made it to #2), but for the first time ever, she earned as many pop hits from one album, with a pair of #13s (including this one) and the #5 cover of Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac.” I actually like this one quite a bit, as it’s got some tough Calloway production, and a well-matched vocal from Cole: she clearly knew what was on the line here, and went all the way for it.
14 10 ONE HEARTBEAT –•– Smokey Robinson – 13 (10) — Unpleasant adult contemporary ooze from a guy who, for all his brilliance, has never known better.
15 21 I THINK WE’RE ALONE NOW –•– Tiffany – 7 (15) — I’ve never cared for Tommy James and the Shondells, except for “Crimson & Clover.” Most of their catalog has been improved upon by its covers, including this one. But just because this mall-trash cover is better than the original doesn’t actually mean it’s any good.
16 19 LITTLE LIES –•– Fleetwood Mac – 7 (16) — The sad truth is that, on Tango in the Night, Stevie Nicks’ contributions are largely crap. Blame the cocaine. But you know whose are great? Christine McVie’s. And of the four US top 20 hits off the album, one was Lindsey’s, one was Stevie’s, but two — this and “Everywhere” — were Christine’s, and “Little Lies” was the album’s biggest hit overall, making it to #4. Lindsey does a superb job arranging his and Stevie’s backing vocals to best complement Christine’s lead, but none of it matters if not for the superlative song that McVie contributed.
17 24 MONY MONY –•– Billy Idol – 6 (17) — Oh, fuck off, Billy. You’re smarter, if not better, than this. At least, I thought you were.
18 26 BREAKOUT –•– Swing Out Sister – 9 (18) — Peak, ace sophisti-pop, even if personally I’ll take follow-up single “Twilight World” over this one.
19 23 YOU ARE THE GIRL –•– The Cars – 7 (19) — This was the era of AOR titans going down dubious roads (#7, #22, etc.), and the Cars were no exception. “You Are the Girl” is limp soft pop with none of the spark nor energy of their earlier work. There’s no excuse for this shit.
20 8 WHEN SMOKEY SINGS –•– ABC – 15 (5) — Yeah, it sparkles, sure, fine. But it’s no Lexicon of Love — and ironic that Smokey himself is in this same countdown, not making anyone excited except perhaps his accountants.

21 30 IT’S A SIN –•– Pet Shop Boys – 6 (21) — Of course the throbbing, pulsating first single from the sophomore album by the Pets went straight to #1 in the UK — but delightfully, it also ascended to the top 10 (peaking at #9) in the US. (Its follow-up, the classic Dusty Springfield duet “What Have I Done To Deserve This,” would do even better, making it all the way to #2.) Actually saw Neil and Chris go full-on Imperial Phase, which makes sense, as they were without question the most exciting, thrilling pop act of the second half of the ’80s. There are some great singles in this chart, like “U Got the Look” and “Fake,” all-time classics both of them. But absolutely fucking nothing in this top 40 can touch “It’s A Sin.” Nothing.
22 29 IN MY DREAMS –•– REO Speedwagon – 13 (22) — One of the last gasps of Illinois’s other late ’70s/early ’80s AOR titans (besides Styx), 1987’s Life As We Know It saw Kevin Cronin and company working with song doctors like Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly (the latter of whom co-wrote this steaming pile of studio wussiness with Cronin), akin to their contemporaries like Heart and Starship. With even lesser results, which you didn’t think was possible.
23 12 I JUST CAN’T STOP LOVING YOU –•– Michael Jackson & Siedah Garrett – 10 (1) — Just as he did with Thriller, MJ released a duet ballad as the first single from Bad. Unlike with “The Girl Is Mine,” which got stuck at #2, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” hit #1. But really, Jackson could’ve released a cover of John Cage’s “4’33″” as the album’s first single and it would’ve hit #1, so hungry was the public for anything from him — this was the follow-up to Thriller, for pete’s sake! I’m a “Just Can’t Stop” defender: I think the song itself (written solely by Jackson) is lovely, and both his and Garrett’s vocals are just perfect for the recording. It’s sweet, tender, and explodes (politely) into a great chorus.
24 35 WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME –•– U2 – 5 (24) — “I think we’re bein’ shut down!” I am utterly incapable of hearing this song without saying that, uttered by Bono during the song’s brilliant, real-time-L.A.-traffic-nightmare video. My favorite of The Joshua Tree‘s singles, this hit #13 on the heels of back-to-back #1s which catapulted them to global superstardom, from which they’ve never recovered. Oh, and look who’s next door…
25 20 LA BAMBA –•– Los Lobos – 16 (1) — …it’s the opening act from the Fall ’87 US leg of the Joshua Tree tour! Said concert, in Indianapolis, was my first-ever secular show, to which a plane mishap made Los Lobos, hot off the heels of their incredibly fluky #1 Richie Valens cover, late. So U2 came on in disguise as a country band and played a mini-set (four songs, I think?), including Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” I remember nothing of Los Lobos’s performance.
26 18 WIPE OUT –•– Fat Boys & Beach Boys – 14 (12) — No. Just no. Never. (Amusingly, the only song in this chart missing from Spotify.)
27 17 TOUCH OF GREY –•– Grateful Dead – 12 (9) — Words cannot properly express my loathing of the Grateful Dead. I hated this then, I hate it now. Were they fine musicians? Undoubtedly. Did they ever create anything I want to hear? Nope.
28 36 DON’T MAKE ME WAIT FOR LOVE –•– Kenny G – 7 (28) — Now, here’s a fun fact: you likely think that “Songbird” was Kenny G’s first pop top 40 single, because everyone thinks it was his first pop top 40 single. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t even the first single from his breakout album, 1986’s Duotones — it was the album’s third single. After working with Kashif on his second and third albums (1983’s G Force and 1985’s Gravity) and getting some R&B traction with them as what we now know as smooth jazz was starting to really grow commercially, Kenny G collaborated with Narada Michael Walden and his buddy Preston Glass on Duotones, and that was the magic he (apparently) needed. Its first single was this original, sung by Tower of Power’s Lenny Williams, which made it to the top 20 of both the pop and R&B charts, and all the way to #2 AC. (And regarding the song, it’s a lovely little composition well sung by Williams and played even better by G; I especially like his vamping over the song’s final minute or so.) Its follow-up was a cover of the 1969 Jr. Walker & the All-Stars smash “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love),” which was another top 20 R&B record but didn’t chart anywhere else. Only then was “Songbird” unleashed on the world; it hit #4 pop and #3 AC, Duotones eventually was certified 5x platinum, and the rest, as they say, is history for the former member of Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra and the Jeff Lorber Fusion, the Seattleite with the big frizzy hair and gorgeous tone on the soprano sax.
29 34 SOMETHING REAL (INSIDE ME/INSIDE YOU) –•– Mr. Mister – 8 (29) — This practically sounds like Wang Chung with Richard Page on vocals, which is definitely an improvement over Mr. Mister.
30 40 BRILLIANT DISGUISE –•– Bruce Springsteen – 2 (30) — After becoming the biggest name in North American rock & roll with 1984’s Born in the U.S.A., what does the Boss do? He releases a box set covering a decade of live performances with the E Street Band, and then goes quiet for a bit, returning with a solo, downbeat, divorce album: not only had his marriage collapsed, he’d decided to break up the (E Street) band. So what we got on Tunnel of Love is a dozen songs, written solely by Springsteen and largely played solely by him, too. It would’ve been shocking if the album had been a commercial dud, and indeed it wasn’t, with this lead single making it to #5 (and a further two singles hitting the top 15). Max Weinberg’s drumbeat gives this a slightly ’50s feel, in spite of the mid-’80s production gloss. (Not that there’s anything wrong with gloss.) The song is one of the Boss’s finest, a brutal breakup ballad played at midtempo. (And for my money, Tunnel is his best album, too.)

31 22 CAN’T WE TRY –•– Dan Hill & Vonda Shepard – 19 (6) — Almost a decade prior to her brief “fame” due to Ally McBeal, Shepard was on a dire duet with the “Sometimes When We Touch” guy. Sometimes, people get what they truly deserve.
32 27 FAKE –•– Alexander O’Neal – 12 (25) — I’ve said for years, decades actually, that O’Neal’s Hearsay is the finest R&B album of the 1980s not recorded by Prince. Instead, it was recorded by the original lead singer of the Time in concert with two former members, Jimmy “Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis. This is state-of-the-fucking-art R&B made by three men who knew just what they were doing. Jam & Lewis took the lessons they learned making Control and trumped it here, working with the finest singer they’d ever work with. “Fake” is perfection.
33 32 VICTIM OF LOVE –•– Bryan Adams – 8 (32) — His saddest ’80s single, a real downer. So perversely, I love it; it’s my favorite of his decade, besides the Tina Turner duet “It’s Only Love.” And knowing now what would come after, goddamn I wish this had killed his career.
34 38 I’VE BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE –•– Cutting Crew – 6 (34) — Sure, this British dorks weren’t very good, but I’ll take this #9-bound, weirdly strummy number over their overbaked #1 — to say nothing of “One for the Mockingbird.” (Really, please, say nothing of it.) A #2 AC record! The bridge is kinda pretty, even with that oddly misplaced guitar solo.
35 54 (I’VE HAD) THE TIME OF MY LIFE –•– Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes – 3 (35) — At the time I despised this and the entire Dirty Dancing phenomenon. I still think the film is insipid, and don’t like anything else on its soundtrack, but I’ve softened quite a bit on its lead single. This not only went to #1 but won both the Golden Globe and the Oscar for Best Original Song — and one of its co-writers was Franke Previte, he of early ’80s three-hit wonders Franke & the Knockouts, best known for their 1981 #10 hit “Sweetheart,” much beloved by — well, me! Not a fan of Medley’s voice, whether with the Righteous Brothers or solo, but I’m a big Jennifer Warnes stan, so I’ll never begrudge her a #1 single. (Of which she’s had two, both duets with men from huge films. Weird.)
36 42 HOLIDAY –•– The Other Ones – 11 (36) — This sounds like an ad agency’s idea of what “the kids” were listening to in 1987.
37 31 ONLY IN MY DREAMS –•– Debbie Gibson – 23 (4) — Sure, it’s a bit thin, but all pure pop should be this ebullient. Sung like only a teenager can sing it, and you’d better believe that, in this case, that’s a compliment.
38 25 DOING IT ALL FOR MY BABY –•– Huey Lewis & The News – 13 (6) — If this is all you’re doing for her, Huey, I don’t think it even matters how big your cock is — she’s not sticking around.
39 43 NOTORIOUS –•– Loverboy – 8 (39) — One notch away from its #38 peak, Loverboy’s ninth and final top 40 single (including a pair of top 10s) desperately wants to have it both ways, opening with waves of synthesizers, but also mixing in a harmonica for that “barroom” affectation. It’s also absurdly fast: 157bpm! Sadly for them, it’s the sound of a band past their prime who’ve run out of things to say, or ways to say them. But hey, in only 23 years they’d be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame!
40 56 HEAVEN IS A PLACE ON EARTH –•– Belinda Carlisle – 3 (40) — Undeniable.

Posted in 1980s, charts

Demi Lovato, ‘Tell Me You Love Me’

Demi Lovato’s “Cool for the Summer” was my #1 single of 2015, and follow-up “Confident” was great too, but parent album Confident didn’t quite get across the finish line as a whole record. I’m happy to report, then, that Lovato’s new Tell Me You Love Me does the job. This is an album that plays to Lovato’s strengths, showcasing not just her big-ass voice — and BTW, between her, Kesha, P!nk, and Kelly Clarkson, big-voiced female pop singers are having a moment right now, aren’t they? — but her personality, on a set of songs that, even though they’re produced and written by different folks, are remarkably cohesive.

A song with a title like “Sexy Dirty Love” could’ve easily been a crass come-on, but instead, this is a sleek little, genuinely sexy, R&B/pop number that Lovato, crucially, undersells. “Daddy Issues” is the album’s let’s-bang-it-out song, but even that doesn’t come on hard, slinking where it could storm. Lovato’s ace in the hole on both tracks, along with three others on the album, is Warren “Oak” Felder, half of producing team Pop & Oak, who’s hand a hand in marvelous songs from Alicia Keys/Maxwell’s “Fire We Make” and Usher’s “Good Kisser” to last year’s Alessia Cara breakthrough “Here.”

Felder’s also one of the sets of hands in lead single “Sorry Not Sorry,” which has touches of the au courant while still managing to sound like nothing else currently on the radio. (And for a great explanation of why the song works the way it does, I highly recommend the recent episode of the Switched on Pop podcast dedicated to “Sorry.”) It’s pop, it’s a little hip-hop, it’s even R&B-ish, and it all comes together under Lovato’s more than capable voice, even more confident than, well, “Confident.” It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a lip-smackingly delicious kiss-off record, which is always refreshing.

Lovato can pull off balladry, too: “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore” goes in an Adele direction without being quite so stodgy, while “Only Forever” (on which Felder gets sole producer credit) has a ghostly feel like something from Beyoncé, all woozy and disjointed (in a good way). I appreciate so much that Lovato could go in a big-ballad Aguilera direction (and interestingly, she’s said in recent interviews that Xtina’s Stripped was an inspiration on Tell Me You Love Me), she chooses not to, instead embracing more interesting paths. And she flips the traditional “big voice” script, instead wailing and belting big on the uptempo tracks and restraining herself, generally, on the quieter numbers. “Lonely” is a prime example, a DJ Mustard (!) production, spare and sad with a Lil Wayne cameo (!!), that Lovato sings gorgeously and, at the same time, exposes all kinds of raw emotion through said vocal. It shouldn’t work at all, but instead it’s damned near the centerpiece of the album. Frankly, it could just as easily be a Keyshia Cole song: think about that for a minute.

Tell Me You Love Me is a pop album, to be sure, but it’s one heavily threaded by R&B; there’s no way that Lovato’s unfamiliar with Kehlani and SZA. But at the same time, the album is entirely, utterly hers and hers alone, stamped with her identity from start to finish. This deserves to send Lovato into the true big leagues of pop, as she’s shown she’s more than up to the challenge. This is not only her best album by far, it’s one of 2017’s best overall.

Posted in 2017, reviews

Pop top 20: 10/4/75


This is a couple of weeks late, but I think this chart is pretty interesting, so I’m still putting this out — but in the interest of finally getting it finished, I chopped it in half. The accompanying Spotify playlist includes the entire top 40.

1 2 FAME –•– David Bowie (RCA)-15 (2 weeks at #1) (1) — One of Bowie’s most famous singles is thanks to a single day popping into the studio in NYC with his (then) new buddy John Lennon — who’s credited not only with backing vocals (the falsetto returns on the chorus) but guitar and, maybe most importantly, tape loops. The opening of the song is Lennon’s! The genius guitar line is Carlos Alomar’s. The overall genius is, of course, Bowie’s. This killer one-off was the outlier on the Young Americans album, which was largely Bowie’s NYC R&B album (with a very young Luther Vandross all over the backgrounds) — and talk about a “one-off,” it was also Bowie’s first US and Canadian #1. In the rest of the world, it was generally a top 10 or top 20 hit, but nothing to write home about (in the UK this only hit #17!), but here it was an unqualified smash. Also note that it was returning to #1, a week after having been deposed by John Denver (below), and that didn’t happen often at all in the American charts. So big it ended up as the #7 single of 1975, and apart from the next single, Station to Station‘s leader “Golden Years” (which rode “Fame”‘s coattails to #10), Bowie wouldn’t hit the US top 10 again until 1983. You may have heard of that one, which became his second #1.
2 1 I’M SORRY / CALYPSO –•– John Denver (RCA)-8 (1) — This double A-side topped the pop, country, and AC charts. It was Denver’s third and final country #1 (he’d make the top 10 two more times — surprisingly, not again until 1981, and then again in ’85), his fourth and final pop #1 (he’d never trouble the pop top 10 again, but would chart top 40 infrequently through 1982), but the fifth of a whopping nine AC chart-toppers. And those stats alone should tell you both how cross-format and how ubiquitous Denver was, particularly in the first half of the ’70s. (Fun fact: “I’m Sorry” topped the country chart a full six weeks after it made the AC and pop summits, and in a beautiful example of the diversity of the country format at the time, it was preceded at #1 by Don Williams’ “[Turn Out the Light and] Love Me Tonight,” and followed by Waylon Jennings’ classic “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.”) “I’m Sorry” hews pretty closely to Denver’s blueprint of the era, with his voice and acoustic guitar accented by a string section, and while the Jacques Costeau ode “Calypso” largely does too, its production (both were done by legendary music man Milt Okun) is much more full and lush. Apart from the Carpenters, John Denver was my Mom’s favorite artist when I was a kid, so I know both of these quite well; my scale tips toward’s “Calypso”‘s production, but both are fairly lovely.
3 3 RHINESTONE COWBOY –•– Glen Campbell (Capitol)-19 (1) — This country-pop star has always come off as a bit too white bread for my tastes. “Wichita Lineman” is sad and pretty, but this is just — I dunno, it makes me think of NFL halftime shows, and not in a good way. It’s aspirational pop in an icky way.
4 5 RUN JOEY RUN –•– David Geddes (Big Tree)-10 (4) — The ’70s really did love their story songs, didn’t they? And somehow, every goddamn one of them was sung poorly and featured awful music. This one is particularly egregious: Joey’s girlfriend, Julie, has a father who’s clearly mad that she’s been having sex with Joey. So he goes out with a gun (!) in search of Joey, and just as he’s about to shoot Joey, Julie steps in his line of fire. I mean, really?!
5 14 MR. JAWS –•– Dickie Goodman (Cash)-5 (5) — Dickie Goodman was arguably the king of novelty records, charting seven top 40 singles (under a variety of names) with a technique he pioneered, the “break-in” record. Wikipedia calls it “an early precursor to sampling, that used brief clips of popular records and songs to “answer” comedic questions posed by voice actors on his novelty records.” With this leap into the top 10, Goodman set a chart record he’d hold for 14 years, as his last appearance in the top 10 had been with 1956’s “The Flying Saucer” — a gap of 18 years between top 10 appearances! (The record was broken by Roy Orbison in 1989 with “You Got It.”) Goodman’s catalog is actually a fascinating series of snapshots of pop music in various years, as most of his records use snippets of that year’s popular hits. (Featured in “Mr. Jaws,” for example, are among others Olivia Newton-John, the Eagles, and the song just two notches above him, “Rhinestone Cowboy.”) I highly recommend a spin through his oeuvre, available on his greatest hits album on Spotify. (Jaws was such a phenomenon that John Williams’ “Main Title” theme was at #32 this week.)
6 25 BAD BLOOD –•– Neil Sedaka (Rocket)-4 (6) — You wanna talk comebacks? Before Tina Turner did it almost a decade later, arguably the biggest pop chart comeback of the modern era belonged to Neil Sedaka. Yeah, Neil Sedaka. From 1958-63, this teen idol with the gorgeous voice notched up 14 top 40 hits, including the 1962 #1 “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.” And then he didn’t hit the top 40 again for 11 years, before returning with the biggest possible bang: another #1. He signed with Elton John’s Rocket label in 1974, and his first release was that year’s “Laughter in the Rain,” a pop and AC #1, and Sedaka followed it with a pair of top 30 hits. Then in ’75 came this smash, on its way to spending three weeks on top, thanks in at least small part to uncredited vocals from his label boss, Mr. John himself. Sedaka co-wrote it and produced it himself, so I give all the credit for its white boy funkiness to him. This is a tight record. (Though he also loses points for that flute, LOL.) “Bad Blood” went gold and by both sales and chart performance is the biggest single of Sedaka’s career; he’d continue charting here and there (especially at AC) through 1983.
7 9 BALLROOM BLITZ –•– Sweet (Capitol)-17 (7) — Sweet had an incredible run of six consecutive top 5 singles in the UK from 1972-74, none of them on an album. They were, at their prime, the epitome of a classic singles band, capable of making the catchiest, chewiest glam pop-rock. And since pop music is at its heart a single medium, they were one of the best, because their singles run(s) could compete with just about anybody’s. They were also the only major UK glam act to break through with any sustained success in the US, notching a quartet of top 10 records from 1972-78, including this one. Originally a #2 UK smash in 1973 (one of three #2s in a row, along with “Hell Raiser” and “Teenage Rampage”), it was released two years later in the US and made it to #5 here. “Blitz” is utterly unhinged, completely deranged, and absolutely perfect: glam at its finest.
8 12 DANCE WITH ME –•– Orleans (Asylum)-12 (8) — No, this isn’t from Waking and Dreaming, their album with the most amazing cover; that would come the next year and feature the hit “Still the One.” This is from its predecessor and is much more quasi-folky, definitely a product of the early ’70s, based around acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies, like a perkier Bread. Respond accordingly.
9 11 AIN’T NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY –•– Helen Reddy (Capitol)-9 (9) — From 1972-76, Reddy had a run of 12 consecutive top 5 AC hits, all but one of which hit either #1 or #2; this was the 7th of her 8 #1s on said chart. All of those 12 also made the top 40 on the pop chart, with a full half of those going top 10. “Ain’t No Way” was the last of those, making it one notch higher than it is here. As with most of her catalog, it’s commercially-inclined pop that spotlights her made-for-TV voice, with faux-feminist lyrics.
10 24 ROCKY –•– Austin Roberts (Private Stock)-12 (10) — Not that Rocky, but an insipid story song, wherein “Rocky” is the narrator’s name. This features the jaw-dropping lyric “Rocky, I’ve never had to die before/I don’t know if I can do it.” Roberts went on to a fairly successful career as a songwriter, earning an Oscar nod for a song from 1983’s Tender Mercies, as well as a pair of Grammys for songs by Lee Greenwood and Take 6. Really!

11 8 WASTED DAYS AND WASTED NIGHTS –•– Freddy Fender (ABC / Dot)-16 (8) — Ostensibly country-ish, but really just slushy pop by a Tex-Mex guy who should’ve known better.
12 16 FEELINGS –•– Morris Albert (RCA)-16 (12) — Whoa-oh-oh, feeeeeeeeee-lings. The careers of thousands upon thousands of lounge singers were built on the back of this one solitary, well, lounge singer and one-hit wonder. The fact that he’s Brazilian doesn’t make this song a whit more interesting or notable.
13 17 IT ONLY TAKES A MINUTE –•– Tavares (Capitol)-11 (13) — Amazingly, the first of two songs in this top 20 covered (ably!) in the early ’90s by British boyband Take That (#16 below). Criminally, this was Tavares’ only US top 10 pop record; it was the second of their three R&B #1s. I love the full-bodied disco-soul arrangement here, and their kick-ass vocal harmonies. And I will most certainly take this over…
14 18 THEY JUST CAN’T STOP IT THE (Games People Play) –•– The Spinners (Atlantic)-9 (14) — I have never, ever liked Bobby Smith’s lead vocals on this. Nor Thom Bell’s overly string-heavy production. Nor Evette Benton’s additional vocals. Nor the simplistic song itself. Everything about this record, down to the title’s punctuation (which makes me shudder), irritates me. With a few exceptions, the Spinners have always seemed to me one of the most overrated ’70s R&B groups.
15 15 I BELIEVE THERE’S NOTHING STRONGER THAN OUR LOVE –•– Paul Anka with Odia Coates (United Artists)-11 (15) — Because apparently foisting “You’re Having My Baby” on the world wasn’t enough punishment. Anka makes Pat Boone sound (relatively speaking) like James Brown, for chrissake.
16 6 COULD IT BE MAGIC –•– Barry Manilow (Arista)-15 (6) — If you’ve any doubts about Manilow’s prowess as a songwriter, just listen to this: the lyrics aren’t his, but the music is, based around Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor, Opus 28, Number 20 — I mean, c’mon, the guy’s a piano player, so that isn’t surprising. This is what a grand ballad should sound like, anchored by Manilow’s piano and strong vocals. After his 1974 single “Mandy” hit the top (and “It’s a Miracle” followed it into the top 15), Arista re-released his debut 1973 debut album, as Barry Manilow I. He re-recorded “Magic” for it, and was rewarded with another top 10 (reaching its peak this week). And the song wasn’t done: Donna Summer’s splendid uptempo disco version, recorded for her album A Love Trilogy, wasn’t a pop hit but made it to #21 R&B and #3 on the disco chart in early ’76. 18 years later, Take That — with a certain Robbie Williams on leads — based their Eurodance take on Summer’s uptempo version and hit #3 in the UK. And just to square the circle, in 2013, at the BBC’s Children in Need concert, Barry sang the first verse at its original ballad tempo, and then brought out Take That’s Williams and Gary Barlow to join him, finishing the song uptempo. I highly recommend you watch it: it’s showbiz at its finest.
17 30 WHO LOVES YOU –•– The Four Seasons (Warner Brothers / Curb)-7 (17) — Much like Neil Sedaka’s comeback (#6), wow: the Four Seasons hadn’t tasted top 10 glory since mid-1967, until lead singer Frankie Valli primed the pump in early ’75 with the top 10s “My Eyes Adored You” (#1) and “Swearin’ to God” (#6) — and figured out disco in the process. This rocketed to #3 in short order and spent 20 weeks on the Hot 100, longer than any of their previous hits. And, of course, this set them up nicely for their next single, the #1 “December, 1963.” Which is gross. This is at least serviceably slick disco-pop (though oh-so-white).
18 40 LYIN’ EYES –•– Eagles (Asylum)-4 (18) — You want gross? Try this Glenn Frey-sung slab of country-rock misogyny! Appallingly, this would hit #2, win a Grammy, and even make the country top 10. Musically it’s fine and all, but those lyrics: UGH.
19 23 BRAZIL –•– The Ritchie Family (20th Century)-10 (19) — The perfect way to wash those Eagles out of your head is with a trip to “Brazil” courtesy of Jacques Morali’s Ritchie Family (spoiler alert: they weren’t actually a family). This cover of a 1939 samba-exaltação composition by Ary Barroso, popularised in the 1942 Disney film Saludos Amigos, spent five weeks atop the Dance/Disco charts and made it to #11 pop. It’s got that classic disco high-hat running through its length, and is a ridiculous, gorgeous disco fantasia.
20 21 HOW LONG (Betcha’ Got a Chick On the Side) –•– The Pointer Sisters (Blue Thumb)-12 (20) — At its pop peak, this third top 20 pop single for the Pointers was also their first and only R&B #1. It’s also — surprisingly, if you only know them for their late-’70s yacht-soul and ’80s pop-R&B output — funky as fuck.


Posted in 1970s, charts

Like a transmission from somewhere distant: on “You Got Lucky”

I highly recommend you read the entire TSJ tribute to Tom Petty, but I’m particularly pleased with what I contributed, on his late 1982 single “You Got Lucky,” so I’m reposting it here for posterity.


In the fall of 1982, I was in 7th grade, and thanks to a contest at school (which involved selling tickets to a “variety show” put on by the parents of the band and choir members in grades 7-12), I won my first stereo of my own. It was a Panasonic boombox (very similar to this one), and I was very quickly in its thrall. I was already a huge fan of American Top 40, and now, whenever I was in my room after school, the radio was on, tuned to the local top 40 station. Top 40 radio as 1982 became 1983 was a fascinating thing: there were still plenty of soft, AC/pop records on the charts (from “Baby, Come to Me” to “You and I”), along with a heavy dose of AOR from the likes of Journey, Don Henley, Sammy Hagar, and John Cougar — but there was also the creeping influence of Britain’s new wave, as Culture Club and Duran Duran were each on their first US hits, and A Flock of Seagulls their second. And while Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “You Got Lucky” was ostensibly AOR — by this point Petty, alongside the likes of Cougar and Bob Seger, was one of the kings of “heartland rock” — this single was different, too. It was the first of Petty’s singles I remember knowing when it was out, and it opened with (and was based around) eerie keyboards from Benmont Tench. “You Got Lucky” sounded futuristic in a way that, say, “Jack and Diane” didn’t, and it was fitting that its video (whose concept was the band’s own) echoed the prior year’s Mad Max, because this wasn’t regular old meat & potatoes rock ’n roll. This sounded unusual, especially to a 12-year-old whose musical tastes were just forming. I’d often play the radio low, after I had to turn out my bedroom light, listening to every bit of top 40 magic I could before falling asleep, and “Lucky” sounded even better, and eerier, at night, like a transmission from somewhere distant, coming to me through the night sky, bouncing off the stars. I’d later learn that being synth-based, it was a bit of an outlier in the Petty catalog, but in a way that makes it even greater. “You Got Lucky” is still one of my favorite Tom Petty songs, and it still, 35 years later, sounds better (long) after dark.

Posted in 1980s, RIP, rock

He was born a rebel: Tom Petty, RIP

I grew up in the ’80s (I was born at the end of 1970), so Tom Petty was everywhere: on the radio, on MTV, and on the cover of Rolling Stone. His 1981 cover, where he’s ripping a dollar bill in half, is I think his most iconic, though — being a weirdo, and also the age that I am — the one I remember most vividly is the ’86 dual cover with Bob Dylan (“The Summer’s Hottest Ticket”!). But my god, he really was everywhere. As my pal Chris Molanphy wrote today, Petty was truly “universally appealling,” charting top 40 singles in the US from 1978-1995, making better use of the music video art form than any other ’70s rockers (ZZ Top came close, but Petty was still in heavy rotation into the mid-’90s!), notching AOR hits without even seeming to try (1989’s solo record Full Moon Fever placed an astounding seven tracks on the Album Rock chart), and going from new wave-marketed skinny tie-wearer in the late ’70s (as silly as that was) to would-be grunge forefather in the mid-’90s (slightly less silly). He even (ahem) waited until 2014 to finally land a #1 album, with Hypnotic Eye.

Alongside John Mellencamp and Bob Seger, Petty was seen as the essence of a heartland rocker throughout the ’80s, even though he came from Florida and was based in Los Angeles for most of his career. I’ll certainly argue that his songs were more universal in their appeal than those of the guy looming over all of the era’s blue collar rockers, Bruce Springsteen. (These days, I’ll take both Mellencamp and Petty over Bruce, and increasingly maybe even Seger, too — nothing against Bruce.) And much like Seger, and his predecessors the Eagles and the Steve Miller Band, Petty’s hits just sell and sell and sell. Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 1994 Greatest Hits has been certified 12 times platinum by the RIAA — that’s just ridiculous. And you know every single one of the songs on it, chances are. Petty’s in the ether, and it feels like he always has been. His songcraft has an uber-timeless quality to it, and like Mellencamp, if he came out, fully formed, today, I wonder if he’d be classified as a country artist. (I’m shocked that there has yet to be a country tribute album to either of ’em.) Tom even had a pair of #1 country singles, one as a writer, the other as a featured artist.

Petty and his keyboard player, Benmont Tench, co-wrote “Never Be You” for Maria McKee in 1983; her version showed up on the Streets of Fire soundtrack but never went anywhere. Rosanne Cash covered “Never” for her 1985 album Rhythm and Romance, and it was not only the album’s second single, but the second consecutive #1 country single from the album. Her sweet vocal, paired with the song’s achingly sad lyrics, is a killer combination.

And the following year, 1986, Petty showed up — perhaps surprisingly, but not completely out of left field — as a guest, alongside Reba McEntire, evangelist Reverend Ike, and Willie Nelson, on a cover of Hank Williams’ “Mind Your Own Business” by his son Hank Jr. As Jr. was just about the hottest thing in country except for Alabama in the ’80s, it was no shock that “Business” became his 19th consecutive top 10 single, and his seventh #1 of the decade: thus giving Mr. Tom Petty a #1 country record as an artist.

I’m not gonna spool off a list of my Petty & the Heartbreakers favorites; there are so damn many. I will tell you that I’m particularly partial to 1982’s “You Got Lucky,” 1981’s “A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me),” 1999’s “Swingin’,” 1995’s “It’s Good to Be King,” and the title track from 1985’s Southern Accents. The Stevie Nicks duet “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” is, of course, eternal. There’s an awesome 2-CD bootleg of one of the Australian shows from 1986’s True Confessions tour, which saw the Heartbreakers backing up Dylan, which I highly recommend. (You can find it on Amazon.) (There was an HBO special from said dates, which I pray gets a DVD spruce-up on a future volume of Dylan’s Bootleg Series.) If you need a good Petty comp, skip Greatest Hits and go for the 2000 double Anthology: Through the Years — the more Petty, the better.

They’ll never be another like Tom Petty, there really won’t. And I’ll miss him.



Posted in RIP, rock