song of the day – “You Can Call Me Al” | PAUL SIMON | 1986 / 1987.

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, 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.  On June 30, 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!”

Throughout the years, whether it’s because of an inclusion in a movie or a commercial or a TV show, or a radio station rediscovered it and started playing it again, songs sometimes have more one chart life.  The best example of this is Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” which reached No. 1 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 twice.  In its initial run, the dance craze favorite spent one week on top in September 1960, and again in January 1962 for two weeks.  No other song has done that here in America.  And, because of its two chart runs that ended at No. 1, “The Twist” is ranked at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Hot 100 for all time.

twist

CassingleFrontCoverSm

The 1989 cassette single (or “cassingles” – remember those?!) for “In Your Eyes.”

I believe all decades have had songs re-enter the chart with new chart runs, but I think no other decade has as many as the 80s did.  There were “second-chance singles” (as I like to call them) that went to No. 1 on the Hot 100, like “At This Moment” by Billy Vera & The Beaters and “When I’m With You” by Sheriff, “second-chance singles” that were “(real) one-hit wonders,” like Sheriff (again), Benny Mardones (“Into The Night”) and Moving Pictures (“What About Me”),  and songs that benefited from appearing in movies, like Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” (…SAY ANYTHING) and Billy Idol’s “Hot In The City” (BIG).

Then you have songs that were hits in other decades and, also due to their inclusions in films, were reissued and hit the chart again, like The Beatles’ “Twist And Shout” (featured in both FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF and BACK TO SCHOOL), Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” (from the incredible film of the same name), and The Contours’ “Do You Love Me” (from DIRTY DANCING).

Prince’s “1999” reached the Hot 100 four time in three decades, and reached the Top 40 three of those times.  In its original 1982 chart run (as the debut single from the album of the same name), it stopped at No. 44.  After “Little Red Corvette” reached No. 6, “1999” was re-released and reached No. 12 in 1983.  When the calendar changed from 1998 to 1999 (even though the song wasn’t about the year 1999), it re-entered the Top 40 for one week at No. 40.  And, as BILLBOARD has been doing for several years now, a number of Prince songs re-entered the Hot 100 following his sad passing in April 2016.  In its fourth Hot 100 appearance, “1999” reached No. 27.

1999

These “second-chance singles” don’t always chart higher than their original chart runs (like the Moving Pictures, Peter Gabriel and Billy Idol singles mentioned above), but lots of times they do.  UB40’s “Red Red Wine” originally peaked at No. 34 in March 1984, but in a re-release (after being performed at Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Concert in 1988), the album version of their Neil Diamond cover spent a week at No. 1 in October 1988.  And, the original version of The Pointer Sisters’ classic, “I’m So Excited,” stalled at No. 30 in late 1982, but after being remixed for their 1984 album, BREAK OUT, the song was reissued and did break out, reaching No. 9 on the Hot 100 about two years later.

red red wine

And, sometimes, “second-chance singles” get another shot at the Hot 100 for multiple reasons.  In the case of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” its success can be attributed to growing praise and sales for its brilliant parent album, GRACELAND (and its big Album Of The Year Grammy Award), and a smart change in music videos.

“You Can Call Me Al” (a song about someone going through a midlife crisis), the first single released from GRACELAND, debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 83 in early August 1986, about a month before the album was released.  The original video for “You Can Call Me Al” was a performance Paul Simon gave (in the perspective of a video monitor) during a monologue when he hosted SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. 

graceland

Well, Paul Simon wasn’t happy with the video, which didn’t seem to attract many fans to buy the record, and GRACELAND had just been released (and wasn’t the brilliant classic most people associate with it now).  “You Can Call Me Al” spent a couple of weeks at No. 44 in September and October, and dropped off the chart in November 1986 after 14 weeks.

A new video was commissioned, and Paul Simon stayed with his friend and SNL creator, Lorne Michaels, to put together another video.  This one (one of my all-time favorite music videos) pairs Paul with another friend (and SNL alum), Chevy Chase, who lip-syncs Paul Simon’s vocals, leaving Paul to twiddle his thumbs, although Paul ends up lip-syncing his backing vocals throughout, and in the last 30 seconds of the video, the focus switches from Chevy to Paul (although Chevy almost takes Paul’s head off with a trumpet).  It’s an incredibly funny and smartly done video, and I think it resonated with fans, MTV watchers, and radio stations alike. 

al video

Paul Simon and his friend, Chevy Chase, from the hilarious video for “You Can Call Me Al.”

Between a hilarious new music video and a big Grammy win for GRACELAND in late February 1987, “You Can Call Me Al” re-entered the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in late March 1987 at No. 92.  About a month later, it surpassed its original No. 44 peak, and reached the Top 40.  About a month after that, it spent a couple of weeks at its (new) peak position of No. 23, departing the chart in early July 1987, with a total of 27 weeks spent on the Hot 100 (strangely enough, in its highe-charting second run, it spent one less week than the first chart run).  To date, it’s Paul Simon’s last Top 40 hit here in America.

you can call me al

Around the globe, “You Can Call Me Al” said, “You can call me a big hit in” Australia, Belgium, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa (where it reached No. 2), plus the U.K. (No. 4), the Netherlands (No. 5), Finland (No. 9), France (No. 16) and Canada (No. 19). hyde park

Paul Simon is 75 now, and still very much active in the music scene.  In 2016, he released his 13th studio album, STRANGER TO STRANGER, which reached No. 3 on BILLBOARD’s Album chart, his highest-charting album since GRACELAND went to No. 3 three decades ago.  And, just this month, he released his fourth live solo album, PAUL SIMON – THE CONCERT IN HYDE PARK.

I don’t know what it is, but I love the idea of songs getting a second chance – for whatever reason – to do better on the chart than they did before.  And, though sometimes it doesn’t work out, the times it does happen can be pretty amazing.  And other times you just need a gifted comedic actor and friend to play off against, who’s a full foot taller than you to create a really fucking hilarious music video to help out a really cool song about trying to cope with middle age.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uq-gYOrU8bA

paul_simon

song of the day – “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” | PAUL SIMON | 1986 / 1987.

Today (8.25.2016) marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Paul Simon’s seventh solo studio album and masterpiece, GRACELAND.  After Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel parted ways in 1970, Paul embarked on a successful solo career in the 1970s, picking up multiple Gold and Platinum albums, five Top 10 hits on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 – including two No. 2 hits (1973’s “Kodachrome” and “Love Me Like A Rock”), and a No. 1 single (1975’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”). 

The first half of the 80s were not as good to Paul Simon – his 1980 film and soundtrack for ONE TRICK PONY did not fare well (though “Late In The Evening” reached the Top 10), nor did his follow-up album, HEARTS AND BONES.  Paul’s marriage to Carrie Fisher (HEARTS AND BONES was about their relationship) lasted less than a year (they had dated for six years before that).

Sometime after the divorce, Paul Simon became interested and intrigued by the music of South Africa.  Before leaving with his co-producer, Roy Halee, for a two-week trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, to work with musicians there, he was talked into contributing to the historic recording of “We Are The World” (Paul was the third person to sing on the song). 

we are the world

From the day “We Are The World” was recorded: Clockwise from left: Lionel Richie, Daryl Hall, Quincy Jones, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.

At that recording, Paul asked the charity song’s organizers, Quincy Jones (who produced the song) and Harry Belafonte, if he should make the trip (it was right around the time of the Apartheid backlash and “Sun City”), and they both encouraged him to go.  Personally, I don’t think Paul Simon broke any “cultural boycott” in recruiting South African musicians for the recording of GRACELAND.  If anything, I think he just wanted to share what he discovered with the rest of the world.  And share he did.

GRACELAND would win the Grammy Award for Album Of The Year, it would reach No. 3 on BILLBOARD’s album chart and has sold more than 16 million copies worldwide since its release.  In 2007, GRACELAND was added to the National Recording Registry, for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”

graceland

The response to GRACELAND was unbelievable – it was universally loved by fans and critics alike.  ROLLING STONE’s Rob Tannebaum called GRACELAND “lovely, daring and accomplished.”  The magazine would later say that GRACELAND is “an album about isolation and redemption that transcended ‘world music’ to become the whole world’s soundtrack.”  High praise indeed.

Musicians were also mesmerized by GRACELAND.  The late, great Joe Strummer of The Clash brilliantly said this about the album in a 1988 interview: “I don’t like the idea that people who aren’t adolescents make records.  Adolescents make the best records.  Except for Paul Simon.  Except for GRACELAND.  He’s hit a new plateau there, but he’s writing to his own age group.  GRACELAND is something new.  That song to his son [“That Was Your Mother”] is just as good as ‘Blue Suede Shoes’: ‘Before you were born dude when life was great.’  That’s just as good as ‘Blue Suede Shoes,’ and that is a new dimension.”Diamondssoles

The fourth single released from GRACELAND is the gorgeous “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes,” with guest vocals by South African choral music legends Ladysmith Black Mambazo, an act that’s been around since 1960 and still going strong today.  GRACELAND introduced the rest of the world (and yours truly) outside of South Africa to Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

While in South Africa, Paul Simon wrote this song with Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  Paul finished the album in New York City, but not without bringing the South African artists back with him.  And on May 10, 1986, Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed (singing in Zulu) with Paul on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.  The Zulu to English translation is, “It’s not usual, but in our days we see those things happen.  They are women, they can take care of themselves.”  Yes they can!

snl 1986

Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, SNL, 5.10.1986.

Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour (who would also work with Peter Gabriel in 1986, notably on “In Your Eyes”) helped provide percussion on “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes,” which wasn’t really a hit anywhere, save for a Top 30 ranking in Belgium in 1987, though it’s always been a hit with me. 

It’s hard to believe GRACELAND is now 30, and harder to believe Paul Simon is turning 75 this year, in October 2016.  But, not at all hard to believe is how GRACELAND and songs like “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” have aged well and both will be shining like those diamonds for a long, long time to come…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I_T3XvzPaM

paul_simon