song of the day – “Think” | ARETHA FRANKLIN | 1968 / 1980.

It’s March 25, 2019, and today I’m remembering the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who would have been 77 years old today.

aretha 60s

Regardless of what kind of music you listen to, it’s hard to imagine a time when Aretha and her music wasn’t a part of your life.  When I really started getting into music back in 1979, my knowledge of Aretha, as well as interest in her music, was embarrassingly limited.  It took me about six years to climb on board the Aretha train, but after I did, there was no turning back.

respect

After Aretha passed away on August 16, 2018, BILLBOARD published a list of Aretha’s 20 biggest Hot 100 hits.  Overall, she made 73 appearances on the Hot 100 between 1961 and 1998, the most Hot 100 hits for women and a record she held onto until 2017.  Out of her Top 20, nine of those hits, not surprisingly, were from the 60s, including her first No. 1, “Respect,” at No. 2 on the list, “Chain Of Fools” at No. 5, “Think” at No. 12, “A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like)” at No. 14, and “I Say A Little Prayer” at No. 16.

i knew you were waiting

Out of her Top 20 hits, four of them were from the 80s, including her biggest hit ever, 1987’s No. 1 duet with George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” “Freeway Of Love” at No. 4, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” at No. 10, and her collaboration with Eurythmics, “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves,” at No. 20.

eurythmics aretha

Aretha Franklin and Eurythmics’ David Stewart and Annie Lennox, hamming it up during 1985’s “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.”

One thing I noticed about Aretha’s singles chart history is that she went 12 years without a Top 10 hit here in America.  1985’s “Freeway Of Love” returned her to the Top 10 (and Top 5) in high fashion.  Her 1985 WHO’S ZOOMIN’ WHO album was her biggest-selling album ever.  But, as awesome as “Freeway Of Love” is, it’s not what really started her comeback.  That happened years before.

freeway

When film director John Landis was putting together a movie version of the SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE skit for The Blues Brothers, Dan Aykroyd, who co-wrote the film with John Landis, lobbied, and in fact insisted, that Aretha and other R&B superstars James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles would appear in the film, replete with speaking parts that worked around the songs each of them performed in the film.  Other Blues legends like John Lee Hooker and Pinetop Perkins appear in the movie too.  The casting for this film, which also includes the wonderful talents of Carrie Fisher and John Candy, was absolutely brilliant.

BB poster

The casting of Aretha was absolutely brilliant as well.  She had gone through a rough time in the second half of the 70s, and several of her albums on Atlantic Records did not do well.  In 1979, after 12 years, she left the label for which she had much of her greatest success.

matt n aretha

Matt “Guitar” Murphy and Aretha Franklin in THE BLUES BROTHERS.

In THE BLUES BROTHERS, Aretha plays the owner of a soul food restaurant, and the wife of Matt “Guitar” Murphy, who works in the restaurant as a cook.  After John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s attempt (as Jake and Elwood Blues) to get Matt  (lead guitarist) and “Blue Lou” Marini (saxophonist; who also works at the restaurant) back into The Blues Brothers Band, Aretha memorably bursts into song and dance to try and get Matt to stay.  That song is her 1968 Top 10 hit, “Think.”  When Aretha (as Mrs. Murphy) is unsuccessful at her attempt to keep Matt (and subsequently, “Blue Lou”) from leaving with Jake and Elwood, she ends her scene with one very convincing and hilarious word: “Shit.”  Fucking brilliant.

aretha shit

Aretha Franklin at the end of her hilarious and memorable scene in THE BLUES BROTHERS. “Shit.”

And, I contend it was Aretha’s performance in THE BLUES BROTHERS that reignited her success in the 1980s, five years before “Freeway Of Love.”  (NERDY SIDE NOTE: Even though Aretha had left Atlantic in 1979, “Think” was featured on THE BLUES BROTHERS soundtrack, which was on the label of The Blues Brothers — Atlantic Records.)

soundtrack

Also in 1980, the founder and president of Arista Records, Clive Davis, signed Aretha to Arista, a label she would remain with until 2007.  Her first two albums with Arista saw her biggest album success since 1974, but it was 1982’s JUMP TO IT album that brought Aretha her first gold album in 10 years, and her first Top 40 hit on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in six years — the album’s title cut.

jump to it

The song “Jump To It” (co-written by then-up-and-coming R&B recording artist Luther Vandross) reached No. 24 on the Hot 100, No. 4 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart, and spent four weeks at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s R&B chart. 

I didn’t get to pay tribute to Aretha last year, but on her birthday, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity (same goes for Matt “Guitar” Murphy, who sadly passed away a couple of months before Aretha).

aretha by andy

The poster for Aretha’s self-titled 1986 album, with album cover art designed by Andy Warhol.

You are definitely missed, and though it took awhile for me to jump on the Aretha train, I’m so glad I did.  I’ve always had a special amount of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for you, and your scene-stealing performance in THE BLUES BROTHERS will always make me laugh and make me THINK! about your incredible contribution to music in the 80s and for all time…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WY66elCQkYk

aretha n BB

A great shot of John Belushi, Aretha Franklin and Dan Aykroyd, 1980.

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song of the day – “On Your Shore” | ENYA | 1988.

ray lynch

The first New Age release I ever owned(!)  Holy cats!

Prior to 1988, my knowledge of New Age music was pretty limited to just one album — “Deep Breakfast” by Ray Lynch (and I still have this 1984 release somewhere on cassette).  After the September 1988 release of the wonderful album, WATERMARK, by Ireland native Enya, that all changed.

Enya (real name Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin, or Enya Patricia Brennan) had released a self-titled debut album in March 1987 that was well-received in other parts of the world, but an album that didn’t really take off until after the success of WATERMARK (and Enya’s next album, 1991’s SHEPHERD MOONS).  In 1992, the ENYA album was rebranded as THE CELTS, and was certified Platinum here in America, despite never even touching BILLBOARD’s 200-position album chart.

the celts

Enya was 27 years old when WATERMARK was released, and the album was a huge success, stopping at No. 2 on BILLBOARD’s New Age Album chart, but spending a whopping 286 weeks on that chart (5 1/2 years).  Led by the worldwide hit “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away),” WATERMARK sold four million copies here in the U.S., and 11 million copies to date worldwide.

watermark

LA story

The L.A. STORY movie poster.

“On Your Shore,” which appears as the third song (of 11) on WATERMARK, and was never officially released as a single, has been a favorite of mine for a long time.  I don’t know if my love for this song can be attributed to having been born near the ocean in Bar Harbor, Maine, having the ocean in my blood, whenever I’m visiting the ocean with Maryhope, or because it was featured in one of my all-time favorite movies and on its soundtrack (1991’s L.A. STORY with Steve Martin, who also wrote the brilliant screenplay). 

There’s a gorgeous scene in L.A. STORY where Steve Martin’s character Harris, and Victoria Tennant’s character, Sara, are walking down Melrose and, as “On Your Shore” begins in the background, they proceed into the entrance to what appears to be a neon-lit storefront, but somehow turns into an park, replete with neon and doves and a strong, warm wind.

Not long after they walk in, they are suddenly transformed into younger, child versions of themselves, holding hands and wearing the same outfits they walked in with, except wearing the adult versions of their shoes.  And, as they walk past the stone lions at the edge of the park, the lions lower their heads as if to sleep.  The scene ends with the kids and a quick, innocent kiss on the lips.

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One of my favorite scenes from the brilliant 1991 film, L.A. STORY: Steve Martin and Victoria Tennant, embarking on a wonderful journey as younger versions of themselves, set to the also wonderful “On Your Shore.”

The scene itself is only about a minute long, and, to describe this scene to anyone who’s not familiar with it, I can’t help but borrow from a line Steve Martin uses in the movie just before this scene: “Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful and yet again, wonderful.”box of dreams

I think I would also say that about Enya and her music, especially the music she released during her first 15 years.  During my last trip to Ireland back in December 1997, I picked up Enya’s special three-disc box set (not available in America), A BOX OF DREAMS, highlighting her first 10 years.  The box set is split up into three sections: Oceans, Clouds and Stars.  And I still listen to it often.

Enya’s most recent album, 2015’s DARK SKY ISLAND, took three years to record, but it paid off.  The album was a worldwide Top 10 hit and BILLBOARD’s No. 1 New Age Album of 2016, spending 42 weeks at No. 1 on the weekly chart.

dark sky island

Enya continues to live in County Dublin in Ireland, and I always look forward to anything new she releases, but I will forever have a special place in my heart for the album that introduced her music to me —1988’s WATERMARK, and especially “On Your Shore”…

“Strange how my heart beats / To find I’m standing on your shore…”

IMG_0008 sand, ships and the sea

A longtime favorite shore for me and Maryhope, Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, taken Xmas Day, 2016.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umN18Fu7y2s

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Enya, 1988.

(real) one-hit wonder of the week – “Drop The Pilot” | JOAN ARMATRADING | 1983.

Between late 1979 and the end of 1989, there were nearly 500 (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s that reached the BILLBOARD Hot 100 just one time, a list that includes Soft Cell, Gary Numan, Timbuk 3, The Church, Bronski Beat, Nik Kershaw, The Buggles, The Waitresses, Ultravox and two different bands named The Silencers.  Once a week or so, I’ll highlight a (real) one-hit wonder for you.

I know what you’re saying – WHAT THE WHAT?!?!  Joan Armatrading can’t possibly be a one-hit wonder!  It’s hard to believe, I know.  The British singer / songwriter/ guitarist has released 19 acclaimed studio albums between 1972 and 2018, and a lot of singles.  But, here in America, only one of those singles reached the Hot 100 here — 1983’s “Drop The Pilot.” 

Many years ago during the time of my radio show, STUCK IN THE 80s, when I compiled my list of the (real) one-hit wonders on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, and long before I started writing the blog, Joan Armatrading wasn’t really on my radar.  But, thanks to Maryhope, I have a new respect and love for the music of Joan Armatrading, and still happily learning about her music.  She’s been making music for nearly 50 years — I’ve got some catching up to do!

love n affection

The 1976 U.K. Top 10 single, “Love And Affection.”

Joan Armatrading is really known for her albums more than her singles, though in her native U.K., she’s reached the U.K. singles chart 14 times with 13 songs, led by the wonderful 1976 hit, “Love And Affection,” which reached No. 10 there, and was reissued 15 years later, in 1991, and charting a second time (or, if you prefer, “once more with the feeling”).  Joan, whose career spans multiple music genres including Pop, Rock, Alt-Folk and Blues, has been long-established as an “album artist,” and I imagine she’s totally fine with that.

the key

In late January 1983, in advance of her eighth studio album, THE KEY, she released a song called “Drop The Pilot.”  Of the song, Joan said in a SONGFACTS interview, “‘Drop the Pilot’ just means don’t go out with that person, come out with me.  It’s just a different way of saying that.  I could have said, ‘Don’t go out with that person, come out with me,’ but it’s not as intriguing, is it?  The other words are a little more boring, this is a bit more mysterious.”

thunderWhen Joan submitted THE KEY to her record label, A&M Records, they said the album wasn’t commercial enough (record labels, am I right?), so they asked her to come up with some songs that were more commercial.  “Drop The Pilot” was one of those songs.  Some reviews panned the album for leaning more towards commercial, including ROLLING STONE, but honestly, I think Joan was just trying to do right by her record label and her fans.  And I think she had fun!

In the 2007 book, I GOT THUNDER: BLACK WOMEN SONGWRITERS ON THEIR CRAFT, Joan talked about the experience writing “commercial” songs for THE KEY: “I wanted to just write things that were catchy, and that’s when ‘Drop the Pilot’ came about.  I just wanted things that would catch people’s attention.  It’s the only time I ever sat down to do that really.  To say, ‘I’m sitting down to write a single.’  And it worked.  It was very successful, a very popular song.  Who knows why I wrote it, but it worked.’”

drop the pilot

The U.K. single cover art for “Drop The Pilot.”

Exactly three months after the release of THE KEY, “Drop The Pilot” dropped onto the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in late May 1983, debuting at No. 95.  A month later, it spent a week at No. 78 before dropping off the chart after six weeks.  On BILLBOARD’s Mainstream Rock chart, it fared better, reaching No. 33.  Across the globe, “Drop The Pilot” reached No. 6 in Australia and New Zealand, No. 11 in the U.K., and No. 35 in Belgium. 

NERDY FUN FACT: Joan Armatrading has a cameo vocal appearance on Queen’s 1986 album, A KIND OF MAGIC, on the Roger Taylor-composed, drum-heavy track, “Don’t Lose Your Head.”  This transpired because Joan and Queen were recording in nearby studios at the time she was recording THE KEY.  From a 2018 interview with THE GUARDIAN, she said, “I was in the Townhouse studio making The Key album and Queen were in the next studio to me, and Roger Taylor came over and asked me if I would just walk over to his studio and say these words on the song [the title words to the song, “Don’t Lose Your Head”], which I did, and then after I’d finished, the next thing I knew was Roger walking in with a MASSIVE bunch of flowers!”

a-kind-of-magic

Joan Armatrading released her 19th studio album, NOT TOO FAR AWAY, in May 2018.  It was her first Top 30 U.K. album since 1990’s HEARTS AND FLOWERS, and her supporting tour for the album in the U.K., Ireland, and the U.S. was nearly sold out in all three countries.

not too far away

On her website, joanarmatrading.com, she says, “I will never retire” and “I write because I love it.”  I’m still learning about Joan’s music, but I believe that sentiment.  And, as much as I love writing about (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s, in many cases, like Joan’s, “(real) one-hit wonder” is a term that’s not defining.  I’ll let her music do that; it’s more accurate…

“Animal, mineral, physical, spiritual / I’m the one you need, I’m the one you need…”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifARMmcqhD8

joan 1983

Joan Armatrading, 1983.

song of the day – “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” | CYNDI LAUPER | 1983 / 1984.

IWD19It’s March 8, 2019, and International Women’s Day today!  Today, and all through the month of March (and, really, every day), is a celebration of women that began when the Socialist Party of America organized a Women’s Day on February 28, 1909.  The following year, it was suggested that it be held annually.  It became a national holiday in Soviet Russia on March 8, 1917, and in 1975, the United Nations officially chimed in.  In 2019, it’s embraced in many places and ignored in others.  I say let’s go to embrace International Women’s Day!

Over the course of writing this blog, my love of radio has been mentioned a lot.  And why not — it’s a huge part of who I am today.  I also may have mentioned my love / hate relationship with radio.  I have loved radio for 40 years, but apart from my wonderful time at college stations like WUMF and WHSN, and community stations like WMPG, radio has not loved me…yet.  And, the radio I listened to at age 12 vs. the radio I listen to at 52 is far from the same.

WMPG 45

A potential bumper sticker for WMPG’s 45th birthday, designed by my friend and former radio neighbor, the incredibly-talented DJ Shaxx.

One thing I’ve noticed as of late on commercial radio, namely Classic Rock or Oldies stations (OMG 80s is Oldies now!  Holy cats!), and the question I ask more than any other — where are the women at?!  Yesterday (March 7, 2019), I researched a few radio stations around Portland, Maine, Boston and New York just to compare how many women are represented in playlists today.  And, apart from Top 40, which has always had a large representation of women played on their stations, even dating back to when I listened to Top 40, the playlists at the Classic Rock and Oldies stations I researched were sadly dominated by men.

radio tuning

Apparently (and unfortunately), the whole “recently played” feature has yet to catch on in the three major Portland, Maine radio stations I researched.  C’mon Portland, you’re the 96th radio market in America!  Act like it dammit!

So, when I struck out in Portland, Maine, I went down to the No. 1 radio market in the country — New York — to find a Classic Rock station.  And success!  Well, depending on how you look at it. 

In the three-hour period I first researched of this iHeart radio station that brands itself as “New York’s Classic Rock,” Pat Benatar was played once, and Fleetwood Mac was played twice.  I go back another three hours, and Fleetwood Mac is there again!  I get it!  RUMOURS is one of the biggest albums of all time, an rightfully so; it’s an incredible album.

rumours

But, in the six hours I researched, so many great male artists were played more than once, and yet no Joan Jett, no Heart, no Janis Joplin, no Go-Go’s.  Hey, Men At Work is in there, and I love Men At Work!  So, why not The Go-Go’s?  In six hours, three songs by Fleetwood Mac (two featuring Stevie Nicks on vocals) and one Pat Benatar song.  Three songs featuring women on vocals in six fucking hours.  Where are the women at?!  And no proper 80s radio station in New York?  What the what?!  I’ll have to get right on that.

I then went up to Boston to the station formerly known as “Boston’s Greatest Hits.”  This was promising.  Then the station recently rebranded itself as “80s & More.”  I was intrigued.  Apparently, “80s & More” for this station means they play 70s and 90s with an emphasis on 80s.  Still intrigued. 

In the same six-hour research time period, Stevie Nicks and Don Henley’s “Leather And Lace” kicked things off.  Then it took almost 90 minutes for Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” to be played.  That was followed later by Scandal, Eurythmics, The Go-Go’s (!), Fleetwood Mac, Pat Benatar again (three hours after “We Belong”), Nena, and Cyndi Lauper’s gorgeous “Time After Time.”

time after time

So, compared to the other station, seven female artists (or female-led acts) were played on eight songs in the same six-hour timeframe vs. three female artists.  That’s better, but still not great.  After the 90-minute wait between Stevie Nicks and Pat Benatar, it was a 45-minute wait between Pat and Scandal, another 45 minutes between Scandal and Eurythmics, 40 minutes between Eurythmics and The Go-Go’s, and so on.  An average of six to eight songs by men vs. one song by a woman in the average span of 45-60 minutes.  It’s better than the New York station, but it’s not enough.  You play Michael Jackson, why not Madonna?  And where’s Aretha?  The Motels?  Janet Jackson?  Tina Turner?!  I shouldn’t have to get angry about this shit.

Back in mid-December 1983, more than three months after its release, a new single by a relatively unknown 30-year-old woman by the name of Cyndi Lauper made an unassuming debut on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 80 with “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” (which features Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian of The Hooters, Jules Shear, and David Letterman’s house drummer, Anton Fig).

CYNDI_LAUPER_GIRLS+JUST+WANT+TO+HAVE+FUN-55188

Three months later, in March 1984, the native New Yorker reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 and had a huge hit with “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” but was denied the No. 1 spot by the four-man Pasadena, California Hard Rock band, Van Halen, and their hit, “Jump.”

she's so unusual

“Girls Just Want To Have Fun” was written and recorded in 1979 by Robert Hazard (whose “Escalator Of Life” was a moderate hit in the Spring of 1983), but when Cyndi recorded her version for her brilliant album, SHE’S SO UNUSUAL, it took on a whole new meaning and a whole new life. a memoir

As Cyndi mentioned about “Girls” in her 2012 autobiography, CYNDI LAUPER: A MEMOIR, “I said to myself, ‘Hell yeah, I’ll make [it] an anthem!  Maybe it’ll be something that will bring us all together and wake us up.’  It would be a movement right under all the oppressors’ noses, and no one would know about it until there was nothing they could do to stop it.

“It was very blatantly feminist [and] it doesn’t mean that girls just want to fuck.  It just means that girls want to have the same damn experience that any man could have.”  And absolutely should have. 

“Girls Just Want To Have Fun” may have stopped at No. 2 here in America, but globally, it was the fourth-biggest single of 1984, reaching No. 1 or the Top 10 in at least fourteen countries around the globe.  And, its staying power and strong message has lasted through generations and I know it will continue to be an inspiration for women (and girls) for generations to come. 

Every time I’ve seen Cyndi perform “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” in concert, I often find myself looking at the crowd, and I see so many girls dancing to this song with their friends or sisters or mothers or aunts or grandmothers, and it’s beautiful.  The last time I saw Cyndi was in Bangor, Maine on a July 2017 double bill with Rod Stewart (and her first time performing in Maine since the TRUE COLORS tour!).  I was near the front, and reveled in the excitement over Cyndi performing this amazing anthem for those in attendance.  I look forward to the next time I can experience that again.

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Cyndi Lauper, amazing and on the big screen, live in Bangor, Maine, 7.14.2017.

For 35 years, Cyndi Lauper has been a beacon of hope and love and peace and music and togetherness for everyone, especially for those who don’t get the respect and love and peace they deserve and then some.  TRUE COLORS UNITED (formerly the TRUE COLORS FUND; truecolorsunited.org) exists to combat homeless youth, especially LBGT youth, who, as of 2016, made up 40% of the homeless youth population in the United States.

true colors united

And for 35 years, Cyndi’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” has conveyed that all women truly want to have the same experiences that men have.  And I know that could be conveyed to radio, too. 

So, if there are any actual program directors left out there who might be reading this (and not some stupid computer-generated program which predicts what people want to hear, as opposed to listening to what people really want to listen to), Cyndi’s right. 

For those stations out there (in any genre) already playing women in heavy rotation, I applaud you.  I love you, radio, I always have.  And I have always believed in you.  But, you can do better… 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIb6AZdTr-A

CyndiLauper

Cyndi Lauper, 1983.

song of the day – “It Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It)” | FUN BOY THREE with BANANRAMA | 1982.

What do you get when you combine three former members of The Specials, a relatively unknown pop trio from London, and a 1939 Jazz classic by Ella Fitzgerald?  Well, in this case, an 80s global sensation that was meant to be.

In 1981, not long after singer Terry Hall, percussionist and vocalist Neville Staple, and guitarist and vocalist Lynval Golding left the legendary U.K. Ska band, The Specials, their formed their own New Wave / Pop / Ska trio and called themselves the Fun Boy Three.

FB3LP

For their debut album, Terry Hall recruited a Pop trio from London – Keren Woodward, Sara Dallin and Siobhan Fahey – called Bananarama.  Terry Hall owned a copy of Bananarama’s first single, a 1981 song called “Aie a Mwana,” a mainly independent single on Demon Records that reached No. 92 on the U.K. singles chart and No. 66 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart.

aie a mwana

After seeing Bananrama in the British magazine, THE FACE, Terry Hall asked – based on the fact he liked their look – if they would sing background vocals on four songs on their eponymous debut album.  One of those four songs was a Pop / Ska cover of a 1939 Jazz classic, originally titled “‘Tain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It),” first recorded by Jimmie Lunceford, Harry James and Ella Fitzgerald.  And wow, this simple, vocal and percussion-heavy cover really worked!

it aint

The second single from the FUN BOY THREE album, the slightly-renamed “It Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It)” was released in late January 1982, became the band’s first Top 10 U.K. hit (reaching No. 4), was certified Silver, and propelled the album into the Top 10 as well, with a Gold certification.  It was also a Top 5 hit in Belgium, Ireland and The Netherlands, while also charting in Australia, New Zealand and the BILLBOARD Dance Chart (No. 49.)

deep sea

When it came time for Bananarama to release their debut album, DEEP SEA SKIVING, this week in March 1983, Bananarama asked Fun Boy Three if they’d return the favor by singing on their album.  Their collaboration was the first big U.K. hit for Bananarama, reaching No. 5 there (and certified Silver), as well as No. 7 in Belgium, No. 9 in Ireland, and No. 16 in The Netherlands and the BILLBOARD Dance chart.

really saying something

in stereoFun Boy Three called it quits after two studio albums and seven Top 20 hits.  They all rejoined The Specials in 2008, while Terry Hall and Lynval Golding are still with them today.  Bananarama, now a duo with original members Karen Woodward and Sara Dallin, are still going strong and are releasing IN STEREO, their 11th studio album (and their first in 10 years) in April 2019. 

I’m always fascinated to learn about how recording artists teamed up for a song or more, and what brought them together.  It doesn’t always work, but in the cool case of Fun Boy Three teaming up with Bananarama, well, that’s what got results…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_kjctTbMHA

FB3+bananas2

Fun Boy Three and Bananarama, 1982, from R to L: Neville Staple, Karen Woodward, Lynval Golding, Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey and Terry Hall.

song of the day – “It’ll Chew You Up And Spit You Out” | CONCRETE BLONDE | 1986.

I was looking through my iTunes collection to get some inspiration for this blog post, and I was pleasantly surprised (and actually quite shocked) I had not written a blog post yet about anything by Concrete Blonde, one of my longtime favorite bands.

dream 6

The pre-Concrete Blonde album by Dream 6.

In 1982, singer / songwriter / bassist Johnette Napolitano and guitarist James Mankey formed a band called Dream 6 in Hollywood, California, playing the club scene during a time that featured other great L.A. bands like The Go-Go’s, X and Wall Of Voodoo.  Fast forward a few years, and the band (like The Go-Go’s and Wall Of Voodoo before them) was signed to I.R.S. Records.  Then-fellow I.R.S. label mate Michael Stipe of R.E.M. suggested they rename the band to Concrete Blonde, which turned out to be an excellent idea. 

Drummer Harry Rushakoff joined Johnette Napolitano and James Mankey on their eponymous debut album, which was released on January 1, 1986.  What a way to start the year!  I mentioned on my last blog post how the debut album from Scotland’s Texas, SOUTHSIDE, was one of the best, solid debut albums ever.  1986’s CONCRETE BLONDE is definitely another.  Brilliant all the way through.

concrete blonde LP

The song that closes the CD version of the album, “It’ll Chew You Up And Spit You Out,” is actually a longer, alternative version of another song on the album, “Still In Hollywood.”  It’s long been a favorite of mine, and was a favorite to play on my WMPG radio show, STUCK IN THE 80s.

concrete blonde 86

Concrete Blonde, 1986, from L to R: Harry Rushakoff, Johnette Napolitano, James Mankey.

Not many bands can pull off doing two different versions of a song, let alone on the same album.  “It’ll Chew You Up And Spit You Out” cranks “Still In Hollywood” up to 11 with some different lyrics, a kickass drum solo about two minutes in that will remind you of “Hawaii Five-O” by The Ventures, killer guitars and this fucking hilarious bit during the last 30 seconds of the song with this older-sounding man, warning a young man that if he’s going to Hollywood to “be a big shot, that town’s gonna suck you up and spit you out, you ain’t gonna have a pot to piss in…”  You can even hear the band laughing right at the end; it’s beautiful.

One of my all-time favorite concerts was when my friend Travis and I saw Concrete Blonde in Boston right before my birthday in 1994 (on the MEXICAN MOON tour).  Notable moments were when we passed a burning car on the Tobin bridge and the band played a Grunge version of the song they are (sadly) most-remembered for, “Joey.”  Such a great time at the show!

mexican moon

From the 1993 / 1994 MEXICAN MOON tour T-shirt…

Concrete Blonde released a single in 2012, toured late that year, and have not recorded or toured since.  But, it’s songs like “It’ll Chew You Up And Spit You Out” and albums like their eponymous debut that keep me loving their music for all time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXleVhsZzow

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(real) one-hit wonder of the week – “I Don’t Want A Lover” | TEXAS | 1989.

Between late 1979 and the end of 1989, there were nearly 500 (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s that reached the BILLBOARD Hot 100 just one time, a list that includes Soft Cell, Gary Numan, Timbuk 3, The Church, Bronski Beat, Nik Kershaw, The Buggles, The Waitresses, Ultravox and two different bands named The Silencers.  Once a week, I’ll highlight a (real) one-hit wonder for you.  

One quirky thing about the 80s (and maybe for other decades, too) is that certain (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s actually had more than one hit.  How do you do the math on that, you ask?  Well, it’s when you’re NOT a (real) one-hit wonder somewhere else.  In the 80s, the amazing Boomtown Rats just had one hit on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, as did frontman (and Band Aid co-founder and Live Aid co-organizer), Bob Geldof (with 1979/1980’s “I Don’t Like Mondays” and 1986/1987’s “This Is The World Calling,” respectively).

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Soft Cell’s 1981 12″ single of “Tainted Love / Where Did Our Love Go” (also the first 12″ single I ever owned).

Soft Cell was one of the biggest (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s here in America with “Tainted Love,” and singer Marc Almond was also a (real) one-hit wonder with his 1989 college hit, “Tears Run Rings.”  But over in the U.K., Soft Cell had 13 Top 40 hits between 1981 and 2018, and Marc Almond had 9 solo Top 40 hits.

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Altered Images, 1981.

The name Johnny McElhone might not ring an immediate bell for most music fans here in the U.S., but along with Bob Geldof and Marc Almond, he’s a (real) one-hit wonder of the 80s twice here as well.  The Scotsman was a bassist for the three albums by Altered Images in the early 80s (that’s his bass you hear on “Happy Birthday”).  In the U.K., Altered Images scored three Top 10 hits, though no American hits (but a noteworthy appearance in the 1984 John Hughes classic, SIXTEEN CANDLES).

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Hipsway, 1987.

From the ashes of the 1983 breakup of Altered Images was another Scottish band featuring Johnny McElhone: Hipsway.  In 1987, they scored a Top 20 U.S. hit with “The Honeythief,” Hipsway’s only American hit single.  But, a year before the success of “The Honeythief,” a busy Johnny, along with Scottish vocalist and guitarist Sharleen Spiteri, formed another Scottish band — Texas, a four-member Alt-Rock / Pop-Rock band who got their name from the 1984 Wim Wenders film, PARIS, TEXAS, which starred the late, great Harry Dean Stanton.  Texas even modeled their original band logo from the poster.

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30 years ago this month (March 1989), the debut album by Glasgow’s Texas, SOUTHSIDE, was released to much acclaim across the globe.  Within three weeks of its release, SOUTHSIDE had reached No. 3 on the U.K. singles chart and was already certified Gold in the U.K. for selling more than 100,000 copies.

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The album’s first single, “I Don’t Want A Lover,” was released in late January 1989, in advance of the album.  The five-minute gem starts off with this gorgeous bluesy slide guitar, and after a half minute, a sweet drum beat kicks in, followed by the strong and infectious vocals of Sharleen Spiteri.

It didn’t take long for “I Don’t Want A Lover” to catch on in the U.K. and other parts of the globe, reaching No. 3 in Switzerland, No. 4 in Australia (a Gold single there), No. 8 in the U.K. and Ireland, and the Top 20 in France, Germany, New Zealand and Spain.

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It, did, however, take awhile for Americans to embrace the song from a band with the namesake of one of its own 50 United States.  But, perseverance won out, and “I Don’t Want A Lover” finally debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in early September 1989 at No. 96.  It was unlike anything on the chart that week, whose Top 5 included Richard Marx, Warrant, Gloria Estefan, Paula Abdul and New Kids On The Block.  Yikes.

Naturally, with a song so good and so original and unlike the sound of the songs in the upper realm of the chart, “I Don’t Want A Lover,” debuting at the bottom realm of the chart, didn’t match the chart feats here like the other countries around the globe.  Three weeks later, it spent a week at No. 77 and six weeks total on the Hot 100.  Texas wouldn’t grace the BILLBOARD Hot 100 again.  They did,  however, have a following on college stations here in America, and “I Don’t Want A Lover” reached No. 11 on BILLBOARD’s Modern Rock chart.

The band’s disappointing chart performance in America didn’t deter the band; very much quite the opposite.  The band released two more albums in the early 90s, MOTHERS HEAVEN in 1991 and RICKS ROAD in 1993, but it wasn’t until 1997’s WHITE ON BLONDE that propelled the band into superstardom.  The album was the first of three consecutive No. 1 U.K. albums for Texas, and went six-times Platinum there.  It also gave them their biggest hit to date, the big Pop hit, “Say What You Want,” which reached No. 3 in 1997, while a Hip-Hop reworking in 1998 featuring Method Man and RZA of Wu-Tang Clan, “Say What You Want (All Day, Every Day),” reached No. 4.

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Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man and Texas’s Sharleen Spiteri gracing the December 1997 cover of THE FACE magazine.

NERDY FUN FACT: Texas co-founder, vocalist and frontwoman Sharleen Spiteri was a hairdresser who was still cutting hair when Texas released SOUTHSIDE in 1989.

I have long-adored “I Want A Lover” and SOUTHSIDE.  I think it’s one of the best, solid debut albums ever for any genre.  Oddly enough, somehow after MOTHERS HEAVEN, I kinda lost touch with Texas and their music.  But writing this blog post makes me want to rediscover them again.  They truly are worth a listen.  You should definitely start with SOUTHSIDE though; it’s absolutely brilliant.

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Since 1989, Texas has released nine studio albums, 38 singles, an EP, a live album and three compilations.  Their most recent studio album is 2017’s JUMP ON BOARD, a Top 10 album in the U.K. and France.

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As of 2017, the band has sold over 40 million albums.  Not bad for a band that was a (real) one-hit wonder here in America.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaMT5Fbc8UA

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Texas in 1989, from L to R: bassist Johnny McElhone, vocalist and guitarist Sharleen Spiteri, guitarist Ally McErlaine, drummer and vocalist Stuart Kerr.