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

song of the day – “Reach” | MARTINI RANCH | 1988.

On Saturday, February 25, 2017, we lost another great actor too soon – the incredibly-talented Bill Paxton, who died from a post-surgical stroke following heart surgery.  The Fort Worth, Texas native was just 61. 

Bill Paxton was a veteran actor, with an incredible resume that spanned four decades.  Though he apparently was in the 1981 Bill Murray gem, STRIPES (as a soldier) I don’t remember Bill in that movie.  I’ll look for him next time though.  His first big movies were prolly THE TERMINATOR and STREETS OF FIRE, both from 1984. 

The first movie I remember Bill in, however, was the 1985 John Hughes film, WEIRD SCIENCE.  It’s my least favorite of John’s 80s teen films, but as the asshole brother, Chet, Bill Paxton played the role so brilliantly.  Seriously, not many people could convincingly pull off playing a giant turd.  And I mean that in the highest regard.  I loved him in that role.

weird-science

From 1985’s WEIRD SCIENCE, Bill with Anthony Michael Hall.

I loved Bill in many other roles, too, including films like TOMBSTONE, TRUE LIES, TWISTER, TITANIC, ALIENS (for which he won a Saturn Award) and APOLLO 13 (for which he won a Screen Actors Guild Award).  He also had a TV resume that spanned four decades as well, including roles on MIAMI VICE, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, FRASIER, AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., and his HBO series, BIG LOVE, for which he was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards.  He was also a main character in the brand-new TV reboot of the 2001 film, TRAINING DAY.  All of the 13 episodes had been completed before his death, and just wrapped shooting in December 2016.

training-day

In 1976, Bill Paxton met Seymour Stein, co-founder of my favorite record label, Sire Records (and future Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer and Vice President of Warner Bros. Records).  They became friends, and Seymour took Bill to see acts on his roster at the time, like The Ramones and Talking Heads.  Can you imagine?  Hot damn.  Seymour was also encouraging with Bill and his acting work.  More on Bill’s connection with Sire Records in a bit.fish-heads

What many folks don’t know about Bill Paxton, is that, when he wasn’t acting, he was involved with music.  Before his big break in film and TV, Bill directed a music video in 1980 for a popular 1978 novelty song that had a lot of love on the Dr. Demento show over the years – “Fish Heads” by Barnes & Barnes.

Bill met up with the fictional twin brothers Art and Artie Barnes (actor Bill Mumy of LOST IN SPACE and singer / songwriter / musician Robert Haimer), and volunteered to direct the $2,000 video.  He also starred in the video, along with Dr. Demento himself, who had a cameo as a bum.  The video for “Fish Heads” aired on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE on December 6, 1980 (eight months before MTV), and the following week.

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Bill Paxton in 1980.

Bill Paxton’s video filmography didn’t stop there.  He also appeared as a Nazi officer in Pat Benatar’s “Shadows Of The Night” video in 1982, and New Order’s “Touched By The Hand Of God” video in 1987.  Bill was in a couple more videos in the 80s, but they were a bit more personal.

In 1982, vocalist and guitarist Andrew Todd Rosenthal thought up the idea for a band whose sound (a sorta different twist on New Wave) ended up being a precursor for late-80s Devo.  That band was called Martini Ranch.

martini-ranch-press

The idea behind the name Martini Ranch?  According to the liner notes of 1988’s Sire compilation, JUST SAY YO: VOLUME II OF JUST SAY YES, the answer to the “philosophical query” is that Martini Ranch is “a neither dry nor dusty concoction that cheerfully assimilates all media forms in order to regurgitate a colorful, satirical audio-visual mélange of Life As We Know It.  Got that, Martini fans?  Then drink up.”

Between 1986 and 1988, Andrew, Bill and keyboardist Robert O’Hearn – as Martini Ranch – released, on Sire Records, two 12” singles and a full-length album, HOLY COW.  Speaking of Devo, from that lone Martini Ranch album, the first single – “How Can The Laboring Man Find Time For Self-Culture?” – was produced and engineered Devo’s Bob 2 – Bob Casale, Jr. (who we sadly lost in February 2014), and featured Devo drummer Alan Myers (who we also sadly lost in June 2013), and Devo vocalist Mark Mothersbaugh on keyboards.

how-can-the-laboring-man

Also making appearances on this interestingly quirky album were Cindy Wilson of The B-52’s, famed New Age artist and film composer Mark Isham, actor Bud Cort (of HAROLD AND MAUDE), and actor Judge Reinhold (of FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, the BEVERLY HILLS COP trilogy and more).

holy-cow

Judge Reinhold’s appearance on HOLY COW consisted of a sole credit – as the whistler on the album’s second single (and today’s “song of the day”), “Reach.”  The song had a kind of cowboy-meets-New Wave sound (Boys Don’t Cry’s “I Wanna Be A Cowboy” comes pretty close), with a hint of Dead Or Alive.

For a song that was mostly just a fun College Radio hit, Martini Ranch picked up a pretty impressive director for the video of “Reach” – James Cameron.

reach

Long before James Cameron became an Academy Award winner and “King of the world!” with two of the top three domestic films of all-time (AVATAR, No. 2 and TITANIC, No. 3, behind 2015’s STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS), he was an up-and-coming Sci-Fi writer-director, having directed and written – by 1988 – THE TERMINATOR and ALIENS. 

Bill Paxton had appeared in both of those films (and would also appear in James Cameron’s TRUE LIES and TITANIC), and I’m betting his friend James directed the seven-and-a-half-minute cowboy-themed video for “Ranch” as a favor for Bill. 

reach-backThe number of cameos in this video is impressive, including James’ future third wife (of five), Kathryn Bigelow, who not only directed the New Order video for “Touched By The Hand Of God,” but would become (to date) the first female director (finally!) to win an Academy Award for Best Director (for 2009’s THE HURT LOCKER).

Cameos in the “Reach” video also included ALIENS and TERMINATOR star Lance Henriksen, actor Paul Reiser, the aforementioned Judge Reinhold and Bud Cort, and actor Adrian Pasdar (who I remember most for the role of Nathan Petrelli of the NBC series, HEROES).

sireboxThe video for “Reach” appears in the brilliant 2005 Rhino / Sire 3-CD/1-DVD box set, JUST SAY SIRE: THE SIRE RECORDS STORY, which features 61 classic Sire gems spanning many genres and decades, and a DVD (which includes “Reach”), featuring 20 videos like M’s “Pop Muzik,” The Ramones’ “Rock ’N’ Roll High School,” “Let’s Go To Bed” by The Cure, “Like A Prayer” by Madonna, “Enjoy The Silence” by Depeche Mode and Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime.”

In the liner notes for that box set, Bill wrote about Seymour in a way anyone who knew Bill or loved his work would prolly write about Bill:

“As anyone who has ever pursued a recording, theatre, or film career knows, it can be a very discouraging road.  I think I speak for all of the artists who have been represented by and associated with Seymour over the years, in so much as when he believes in someone’s talent, he believes all the way.  He will not be swayed by pressure or popular opinion.  I believe that this positive, unflagging support is what has driven many of us to succeed when we might have lost faith.  His great talent comes from a deep, deep love of what he does – finding and nurturing talent.”

Bill Paxton was definitely a great talent, and had a deep, deep love for what he did.  And I’ll miss that.  And I’ll miss Bill.  R.I.P. Bill, and many, many thanks…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkz0Lx6VyxA

Bill Paxton

Bill Paxton from 2015…

song of the day – “Legal Tender” | THE B-52’s | 1983.

One of the first things I learned about WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine when I started my little 80s radio program, STUCK IN THE 80s, there in 1996 was the Begathon.  WMPG gets approximately 1/3 of its funding from the University of Southern Maine, approximately 1/3 from underwriting, and approximately 1/3 from listener donations.  A large chunk of the latter comes from the Begathon.  What started out as a 2-week pledge drive in which volunteer radio hosts would “beg” to raise money for the station is now split up into two 1-week pledge drives, one in the Spring and one in the Fall.  It’s come a long way since my first Begathon in the Fall of 1996.  My very last Begathon for WMPG will be on Sunday, 9.25.2016.

fall-2016-beg-poster

“Legal Tender” by The B-52’s is another of my favorite “money” songs, and I like to play it especially around Begathon time.  For their third studio album, 1983’s WHAMMY!, the Athens, GA music legends took a more New Wave / Synthpop direction, and though the love for the album was mixed, WHAMMY! was still popular enough to be certified Gold here in the U.S., selling over 500,000 copies.

whammy

The leadoff track (and single) from WHAMMY!, the fun “Legal Tender” (with Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson sharing vocals) was a big club and radio hit in Brazil, and in the U.S., it became their third single to chart on BILLBOARD’s Hot 100 chart, debuting in mid-July 1983 at No. 88.  The song’s time on the chart was short-lived, however, peaking at No. 81 two weeks later, and cashing out after four weeks.  The B-52’s wouldn’t reach the Hot 100 again until “Love Shack” debuted in early September 1989.  It was the comeback of the year.

legal-tender-japan

The Japanese single for “Legal Tender.”

It did, however, have more success on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart, reaching No. 9 with two more tracks from WHAMMY!: “Whammy Kiss” and “Song For A Future Generation” (“Hi, my name is Ron, and I’m an Aquarius!”).

In a 1983 ROLLING STONE review of WHAMMY! by Chris Connelly, he said, “On ‘Legal Tender,’ the band’s ode to counterfeiting, they holler, ‘Ten!  Twenty!  Thirty million dollars / Ready to be spent,’ in what must be the most exuberant tribute to wealth–ill-gotten or otherwise–in rock annals.  So appealing are their performances that by the time they introduce themselves in the gut-busting ‘Song For A Future Generation’ (‘Hello, I’m Cindy.  I’m a Pisces, and I like Chihuahuas and Chinese noodles!’), you’re almost hoping they’ll tell you their phone numbers.”

Folks kinda tend to forget about WHAMMY!, but I suggest you revisit it sometime, as there were so many great songs on the album, including the kick-ass instrumental, “Work That Skirt,” and the aforementioned “Whammy Kiss,” “Song For A Future Generation” and of course, “Legal Tender” – three minutes and forty seconds of pure, fun Synthpop perfection.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBRr_TqLDf4

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