On June 15, 2014, Casey Kasem, host of the longtime countdown program, AMERICAN TOP 40, passed away at the age of 82. From my first blog post (and prolly some more inbetween then and now), I explained how, in 1979, I was a geeky, lanky and somewhat lost 12-year-old living in Central Maine, had a few friends and not a lot of interest in much of anything, but at some point early that year, I discovered AMERICAN TOP 40, and was glued to it every weekend. Not only could I hear the 40 biggest songs in the country every week, but also Casey’s cool trivia and facts about the songs and the artists, a trait I treasure to this day. For me, the show was No. 1 with a bullet. And still is (thanks to the re-airing of broadcasts of AT40 on iHeart Radio).
In honor of my radio hero, Casey Kasem, for the entire month of June (and now through July), I will be highlighting a song each day (some days will have two songs!) that peaked in the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (including five (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s), and with every blog post, just like on AMERICAN TOP 40, the hits will get bigger with each post. On June 1, 2017, I featured a song that peaked at No. 40. Sometime here in July, I’ll feature a “song of the day” that went all the way to No. 1.
As Casey used to say on AT40, “And on we go!”
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.
The only (real) one-hit wonder to reach No. 14 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 between 1979 and 1989 is a British New Wave / Sophisti-Pop band formed back in 1981 and led by Bruce Robert Howard – the lead singer, songwriter, guitarist, bassist and pianist better known as Dr. Robert. That band is The Blow Monkeys, who scored a No. 14 hit with the truly wonderful “Digging Your Scene.”
Three years after forming, The Blow Monkeys released their first album, LIMPING FOR A GENERATION. Despite some critical attention, the album did not even get to limping stage. However, in the liner notes for the 1999 compilation, ATOMIC LULLIBIES – VERY BEST OF THE BLOW MONKEYS, Dr. Robert said that while “Digging Your Scene” was the song “that opened the door, from being a glam jazz obscurity we were on the TV, in the papers, getting thrown out of clubs and playing Wembley with Rod Stewart… The first album, LIMPING FOR A GENERATION, has some of our best stuff on it.” And of course, now I HAVE to hear it!
Well, I’ve already given it away, but The Blow Monkeys did find success all over the world a couple of years later with the album, ANIMAL MAGIC, and the second single released from the album, “Digging Your Scene.”
The first single from ANIMAL MAGIC, “Forbidden Fruit,” was released an entire year before the album, which saw a proper release in early April 1986. Like “Forbidden Fruit,” “Digging Your Scene” was released in advance of the album, in this case a couple of months before.
I remember hearing “Digging Your Scene” for the first time in early 1986, and instantly fell in love with the marriage of Pop, Soul and Jazz from a band whose roots are New Wave, but is tucked away for “Digging Your Scene.” I don’t hear the term “Sophisti-Pop” very often, but I’m betting if you mesh Pop, Soul and Jazz into a lovely 4-minute single, that’s what you get.
Critics and fans alike both dug the feel and sound of “Digging Your Scene.” Honestly, I don’t know how you can’t dig this song. I think what surprised me (and impressed me) the most in my research about this upbeat gem is that the song tackles being gay and the hateful stigma attached to those with HIV and AIDS by those who didn’t know or didn’t care and would prefer to judge instead of understand. At a time when HIV and AIDS wasn’t being talked about much at all, especially by those in power who really needed to talk about it, like Ronald Reagan, this song was one of the first commercial singles to bring the HIV and AIDS crisis to the mainstream.
“I just got your message baby / So sad to see you fade away / What in the world is this feeling / To catch a breath and leave me reeling / It’ll get you in the end, it’s god’s revenge
“Oh I know I should come clean / But I prefer to deceive / Everyday I walk alone / And pray that god won’t see me
“I know it’s wrong / I know it’s wrong / Tell me why is it I’m digging your scene / I know I’ll die baby…”
Regarding the story behind “Digging Your Scene,” on the website for The Blow Monkeys and Dr. Robert (theblowmonkeys.com), Robert explains, “That was the last song [on the album] I wrote and I just did a four-track home demo for the band to hear. It was the first time we started using backing singers. The soul side of my writing was coming to the fore, listening to lots of Marvin [Gaye]. I’d read an article where Donna Summer said AIDS was God’s revenge on homosexuals and I disagreed! The song itself was a homage to those gay clubs like Taboo that I used to go to – even though I’m not gay – because the music and the vibe was so good.”
“Digging Your Scene” took a few months to reach American shores, but in early May 1986, it debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 89. In mid-June 1986, it reached the Top 40 of the Hot 100, and had climbed steadily up the chart for three months when it spent a sole week at its peak position of No. 14 in early August 1986. “Digging Your Scene” departed the Hot 100 a month later after 19 weeks.
QUIRKY FUN FACT: Dr. Robert was a huge fan of Australian aboriginals playing on their didgeridoos, and sometimes, the didgeridoo players were not respected, and were subsequently called Blow Monkeys. And that’s where The Blow Monkeys got their name.
Around the globe, “Digging Your Scene” reached No. 10 in New Zealand, No. 12 in the U.K., No. 16 in Australia, No. 18 in Canada, No. 23 in the Netherlands, No. 25 in Germany, and No. 7 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart (though I prefer the 4:40 U.S. single mix the best).
Though The Blow Monkeys would not reach the BILLBOARD Hot 100 again, in their U.K. homeland, they reached the Top 40 singles chart four more times, led by a No. 5 U.K. hit from 1987, “It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way” (from their third album, SHE WAS ONLY A GROCER’S DAUGHTER).
After a 17-year absence between 1990 and 2007, The Blow Monkeys have been together since, are currently on tour, and have released four studio albums, one live CD/DVD and a couple of compilations since 2007. Their most recent album is titled IF NOT NOW, WHEN? from 2015. Dr. Robert has also released nine solo albums since 1994, including 2016’s OUT THERE.
Though I’m not entirely surprised The Blow Monkeys only had the one hit here in America, it is disappointing, especially since I have many friends who dig some of their other music outside of “Digging Your Scene,” songs like the aforementioned “Forbidden Fruit” and “It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way,” and songs like 1986’s “Wicked Ways” and their gorgeous cover of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” (from the 1987 DIRTY DANCING soundtrack).
I am, surprised, however, at how much more I respect this song than ever before. For 31 years, I just thought the U.S. mix of “Digging Your Scene” was this kick-ass “Sophisti-Pop” gem (and still do), but now that I know there was a bold message within it (on top of the Soul feel to it), I love it even more. And I plan on digging this song for many years to come…