song of the day – “Love Shack” | THE B-52’s | 1989.

casey-kasem-at40-abc-billboard-650

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).american-top-40-casey-kasem

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!”

Casey Kasem used to also say, “As the numbers get smaller, the hits get bigger.”  And so does the number of songs that reached these “smaller” positions.  Between 1979 and 1989, more than 110 songs peaked at No. 3, and many artists stayed there more than once, including Bobby Brown, El DeBarge (solo and with DeBarge), Duran Duran, Genesis, The Jets, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis & The News, Richard Marx, Olivia Newton-John, The Pointer Sisters, The Police (Sting also had a No. 3 solo hit), Kenny Rogers, Barbra Streisand, Styx, Wham! and Donna Summer.  Chicago reached the No. 3 positions four times between 1979 and 1989.

hungry like the wolf

1988 was a popular year for No. 3 hits, when 17 songs reached that position, including songs by Taylor Dayne, Samantha Fox, Debbie Gibson, the “comeback” hit for Hall & Oates (“Everything Your Heart Desires”), Breathe, Anita Baker, Information Society, INXS, U2 and (real) one-hit wonder Patrick Swayze (from DIRTY DANCING). 

new sensation

No. 3 hits also included the first solo by David Lee Roth (his cover of The Beach Boys’ “California Girls”), as well as the first Van Halen hit without him, “Why Can’t This Be Love.”  There were also big No. 3 hits for Simple Minds, Belinda Carlisle, The Cars, Neneh Cherry, Charlie Daniels Band, Chris de Burgh, Earth, Wind & Fire, Corey Hart, Don Henley, Chaka Khan, Love & Rockets, Men At Work, Men Without Hats, Nu Shooz, Stevie Nicks with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The S.O.S. Band, The Stray Cats, Tears For Fears, Thompson Twins, Madonna and the last Top 40 hit for the late, great Marvin Gaye (“Sexual Healing”).

sexual healing

Love was a constant theme among the No. 3 hits, and was featured in the title of 15 songs, and implied in many others.  One of the 15 hits with the “Love” connection (sorry, couldn’t be helped) was one of two No. 3 hits in a row for The B-52’s – “Love Shack.”

One of the 80s’ biggest success stories – some would say one of the biggest comebacks – belonged to Athens, GA’s New Wave / Alt-Rock / Alt-Dance legends, The B-52’s.  By 1989, The B-52’s had already released four albums and two EPs, and had reached the BILLBOARD Hot 100 three times – “Rock Lobster” (No. 56, 1980), “Private Idaho” (No. 74, 1980) and “Legal Tender” (No. 81, 1983). 

rock lobster

The B-52’s started recorded their fourth album – BOUNCING OFF THE SATELLITES – in July 1985.  At that time, the band was comprised of vocalist Fred Schneider, vocalist and keyboardist Kate Pierson, vocalist and percussionist Cindy Wilson, lead guitarist Ricky Wilson (Cindy’s brother), and drummer / rhythm guitarist and keyboardist Keith Strickland.  This had been the lineup since the band’s formation in 1976.

b-52's with ricky

During the recording of BOUNCING OFF THE SATELLITES, it was discovered that Ricky Wilson was suffering from AIDS.  None of the rest of The B-52’s (except for Keith Strickland) had known about it.  In an interview, Kate Pierson had said that Ricky Wilson kept his illness a secret from the rest of the band because he “did not want anyone to worry about him or fuss about him.” 

On October 12, 1985, while still in the recording process of BOUNCING OFF THE SATELLITES, Ricky Wilson died of AIDS at the heartbreakingly young age of 32 years old.

Ricky Wilson, Guitarist for the B-52s

After Ricky’s death, drummer Keith Strickland learned how to play guitar in Ricky’s own style and switched from drummer to lead guitarist.  The band hired session musicians to help out as well, including the album’s producer, Tony Mansfield (who had also worked with Naked Eyes, Captain Sensible, a-ha and After The Fire).

bouncing

Devastated beyond belief at the loss of Ricky Wilson, The B-52’s released BOUNCING OFF THE SATELLITES on September 8, 1986, with no fanfare and no tour, though they did make a music video for my favorite song on the album, “Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland.”

girl from ipanema

Cindy Wilson went into a deep depression following her brother’s death, Keith Strickland spent some time at Woodstock, NY, while Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson remained in New York City.  They all felt at that moment The B-52’s couldn’t continue without Ricky Wilson.

But, in time, Keith Strickland began composing songs again, and after playing some of the new music he had worked on to the rest of the band, they agreed to try and start writing together again.  The result was COSMIC THING, the biggest album the band would ever have.

cosmic thing

COSMIC THING’s production was smartly split up between Don Was (of Was (Not Was) fame) and Nile Rodgers.  It worked and then some, and the album’s first single, “Channel Z,” was not well-received anywhere except College and Modern Rock radio, who embraced it right away.  “Channel Z” would spend three weeks at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Modern Rock chart in August 1989.

channel z

“Channel Z” was also the B-side of the album’s second single, “Love Shack,” which was released a week in advance of COSMIC THING in late June 1989.  It took a month and a half to reach BILLBOARD’s Hot 100 chart and become the band’s fourth single to reach the chart. 

“Love Shack” debuted on the Hot 100 in early September 1989 at No. 84.  Within three weeks, “Love Shack” had already surpassed the peak of every B-52’s single which had reached the chart.  By the end of September 1989, it was the first Top 40 hit the band had in its U.S. homeland.

love shack

In early November 1989, The B-52’s landed their first Top 10 hit, with “Love Shack.”  That was also the week I saw them perform for the first time, when they came to the University of Maine at Orono and almost literally brought the roof of the venue down with their show.  They were amazing.  I would see them again on the COSMIC THING tour in 1990 at The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

“Love Shack” would go on to spend a couple of weeks at No. 3 in November 1989, and just before Xmas 1989, it was certified Gold.  Follow-up single “Roam” debuted on the last Hot 100 of 1989, when “Love Shack” was still in the Top 30.  And, in late January 1990, “Roam” debuted within the Top 40 the last week “Love Shack” spent in the Top 40.  (“Roam” would also reach No. 3 and was certified Gold as well.)

roam

A total of 27 weeks was spent on the Hot 100 for “Love Shack,” one week more than half a year.  It was that lengthy time on the chart which saw it finish on the year-end BILLBOARD charts two years in a row.  Pretty impressive.  It also reached (with “Channel Z”) No. 7 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart, spent four weeks at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Modern Rock chart, and received two MTV Video Music Awards, for Best Group Video and Best Art Direction.

b's 1989NERDY FUN FACT: “Love Shack” was produced by Don Was, and the inspiration for the song was this cabin around Athens, GA, which had a tin roof, and where the band conceived their first hit, “Rock Lobster.”  Kate Pierson even lived in the cabin back in the 70s (it burned down in 2004).  Prolly the most famous line in the song, where Cindy Wilson exclaims, “Tin roof…rusted,” was actually an outtake that was added to the song later on.

Around the globe, lots of love was felt for “Love Shack,” and it spent eight weeks at No. 1 in Australia, four weeks at No. 1 in New Zealand, a week at No. 1 in Ireland, plus it reached No. 2 in the U.K., and the Top 20 in Belgium and the Netherlands.

In a 2002 interview with ROLLING STONE (which named “Love Shack” as the Best Single of 1989), Fred Schneider spoke of the album’s success: “We thought it would be good, but we didn’t know how good.  We don’t really set out saying, ‘Oh, this is going to be commercial,’ or ‘This is going to be this or that.’  We just wanted good songs, and we thought the songs were really good.  We were pretty shocked, because we didn’t expect it to go that big.  The success of it brings problems because it’s really hard to do tours.  I’m not one to want to go tour at all, but to do eighteen months is like torture.  You just get offers that are really good and you’re going to New Zealand and Australia and all over Europe, and it’s pretty exciting.  It all went way beyond what you’d think.”

flintstones

After COSMIC THING, The B-52’s continued to record and chart for a few more years, including a fun cover of the TV theme song, “(Meet) The Flintstones” (from the 1994 FLINTSTONES movie starring John Goodman).  It snuck onto the Top 40 for one week in early June 1994.

Apart from recording (as The BC-52’s) for Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty (and a couple of popular compilations), the band took a lengthy hiatus, and in March 2008, released FUNPLEX, their first album in nearly 16 years.  It was worth the wait. 

funplex

In October 2011, they released a CD and a DVD of a live concert from earlier that year, WITH THE WILD CROWD! LIVE IN ATHENS, GA.  To borrow from a line out of FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, “It is so choice.  If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”  Seriously, it’s that good.  One of the best live performances I’ve ever seen on the small screen, from one of the bands with two of the best live performances I’ve seen in person.

with the wild crowd

Though the band hasn’t released a solo album since 2008’s FUNPLEX, The B-52’s continue to tour and perform 50-60 shows a year (minus Keith Strickland, who is still with the band, but who stopped performing live with them in 2012).  Sadly, I missed them this Summer, when they came to Hampton Beach, New Hampshire (where I saw Billy Idol in 2014), and when they performed with the Boston Pops.  That must have been incredible!  Prolly the only Pops show where you can’t control people from dancing on their seats, in the aisles and everywhere!

b's n pops

I gotta be honest, after years of playing it at wedding receptions, “Love Shack” is not my favorite B-52’s song.  But, if you were in a jam and tried to get people out onto the dance floor, that was THE go-to song, and people loved it, and loved dancing to it.  Though it’s not my favorite from the band, I do love the song to death, and I’m so glad it finally got The B-52’s the recognition they deserved after so many years of struggling despite putting out great music, and with the terrible loss they suffered when they lost Ricky Wilson. 

Both COSMIC THING and “Love Shack” are a testament to Ricky’s memory, and I’m so proud to call The B-52’s one of my all-time favorite bands, even if it took me awhile to get there.  They are a heluva lot of fun to listen to and dance to, play on the radio and see perform live, which I hope to do again sometime soon…

“Hop in my Chrysler, it’s as big as a whale and it’s about to set sail / I got me a car, like, it seats about 20 / So come on and bring your jukebox money…  The Love Shack is a little old place where we can get together / Love Shack, ba-by….”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SOryJvTAGs

b's 1989 v2

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(real) one-hit wonder of the week – “Digging Your Scene” | THE BLOW MONKEYS | 1986.

casey-kasem-at40-abc-billboard-650

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).american-top-40-casey-kasem

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.”

blow monkeys 2

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!

limping

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. 

animal magic

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 US

“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.

aboriginal-didgeridoo-player-e1451956216547

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).

it doesn't have to be this way

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.

if not now, when?

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…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byxeva9LDKw

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