song of the day – “What’s Going On” | CYNDI LAUPER | 1987.

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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!”

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On Friday, July 14, 2017, I will be seeing my favorite recording artist, the incomparable Cyndi Lauper, perform here in Maine, and it’ll be my fourth time seeing her perform (for the time I got to interview her and meet her in July 2002,  I didn’t actually get to see her perform due to a transportation snafu, which would have been the first time I would have seen Cyndi perform).  She will be performing on the same bill as Rod Stewart, who, to my knowledge (the brain’s a bit fuzzy on this) is someone I have not seen perform live before.  I can’t wait.

true colors world tourAnd, if my fuzzy brain is again correct, I believe this is the first time Cyndi has performed in the Pine Tree State since her TRUE COLORS world tour brought her to the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine in December 1986 (sadly, I was sick and couldn’t go; I would have been there in a heartbeat).  I tried to get Cyndi to come back earlier than now (I mentioned it to her in my 2002 interview with her), but she’s been busy and then some.  Still, it’ll be wonderful to see her perform again, and it’ll be my third time since 2013.  My goal is to see her every year she’s performing from here on out.

Since Cyndi will be opening for Rod Stewart on this short tour, I’m betting her gorgeous cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” (from the TRUE COLORS album) won’t be on the setlist.  But a hopelessly devoted Cyndi Lauper fan can hope, right?

“What’s Going On” was one of nearly 70 songs that reached No. 12 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 between 1979 and 1989, and covers were a theme, apparently, for the No. 12 position.  There were also No. 12 covers by Daryl Hall & John Oates (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”), The Fat Boys & The Beach Boys (“Wipeout”), Carole King (“One Fine Day,” a song she actually wrote, but was a hit three times before her version charted), Van Halen (“Oh Pretty Woman”), The Nylons (“Kiss Him Goodbye”), David Lee Roth (“Just A Gigolo / I Ain’t Got Nobody”), Anne Murray (“Daydream Believer”), plus one parody (“Eat It” by “Weird Al” Yankovic, parodying Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”), and two medleys (though not covers) by The Beach Boys and The Beatles (I think you can thank Stars On 45’s 1981 No. 1 hit, “Medley” – which WERE covers – for that).

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Released as the third single from Cyndi’s wonderful 1986 album, TRUE COLORS, “What’s Going On” was a cover of the No. 2 Marvin Gaye hit from 1971, written during the heart of the Vietnam War.  Its personal and poignant lyrics (which could have been written today) resonated with the people of a generation, and it’s been hailed as one of the greatest songs of all-time.  In 1995, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame included it in its list of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock, and in 2010, ROLLING STONE ranked it at No. 4 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time.

Cyndi’s spirited version of “What’s Going On” entered the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in mid-March 1987 as the “Hot Shot Debut” of that week, coming in at No. 63.  The second single released from TRUE COLORS, the No. 3 hit “Change Of Heart” (with The Bangles on backing vocals), was just ahead of it at No. 58.

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“What’s Going On” blasted into the Top 40 the following week, winning the airplay award for that week.  It won the sales award on the Hot 100 two weeks later, and looked like another Top 10 hit for Cyndi.  But, for whatever reason, the sales and the airplay slowed, and “What’s Going On” spent a week at its peak position of No. 12 in early May 1987, and was gone from the Hot 100 by mid-June.

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From the “What’s Going On” video.

Around the globe, “What’s Going On” also reached the Top 40 in Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand, and two excellent dance remixes by Shep Pettibone helped land the 12” single of “What’s Going On” at No. 17 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart.  The energetic and passionate video for “What’s Going On” was also nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for Best Cinematography In A Video.

Cyndi’s done a ton of incredible covers during her career, covering many genres, starting with her stint in Blue Angel to covers on SHE’S SO UNUSUAL to last year’s extraordinary Country covers album, DETOUR, and her songs, especially 1984’s “Time After Time,” have been covered many, many times.  But her cover of “What’s Going On” has always stood out to me, despite what it did or did not do on the Pop charts.      

Today, when I listen to Cyndi’s version of “What’s Going On,” I see the same thing Marvin Gaye saw when he co-wrote the song all those years ago – war, police brutality, injustice, and an aching lack of peace.  All of that shit is still happening today, but now includes events such as attacks on night clubs and concerts, attacking and killing people who just want to be free, and free to have a good time and be who they are.  What’s going on?! 

I wouldn’t even want to research how many people have been shot by police in the last several years (that didn’t need to be) and the cops got away with it.  Prince hit upon this in his brilliant 2015 song, “Baltimore,” talking about the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray (“If there ain’t no justice, then there ain’t no peace!”).  (All six officers involved in the Freddie Gray death – including one Sergeant and one Lieutenant – were acquitted and all charges dropped.)  What’s going on?!

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The cover art for the 2015 benefit concert Prince put on in Baltimore.

I try to maintain a sense of it all, but most times I can’t.  We have the elected “leader” in Washington, D.C., trying to get answers out of Russia over the 2016 election and trying to have North Korea not launch any nuclear missiles, which is all fine and good (I don’t want a World War III), except for the fact that more than half of the country didn’t vote for this man, and who don’t believe in him.  #MyFakePresident would rather ban beloved Maine author Stephen King from tweeting to him than to be presidential.  What’s going on?!

Well, for now, when I can, I take comfort in things that make me happy and help me forget (albeit temporarily) that there’s all this other unnecessary bullshit going on in the world, like going to the ocean, seeing a movie, spending time with awesome people (you know who you are), and seeing a concert, which I will do when I see the lovely Cyndi Lauper (and Rod Stewart) on Friday, July 14, 2017 here in Maine.  I’d take you all there if I could.

You have to do everything in your power to do the things that make you happy and make you feel at peace – not just with everything in the world, but mostly with yourself – as much as you possibly can, to forget everything else going on, at the very least for a little while. 

And, if for some reason, you don’t think you can get to that point (or at least try to) where you do things – even little things that don’t cost much money or time – that make you happy or make you feel at peace, what’s going on?

peace love understanding 80s

Peace, Love, Understanding, 80s.  Works for me!  How about you?

“You see, war is not the answer / For only love can conquer hate / You know we’ve got to find a way / To bring some lovin’ here today…”

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

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xmas song of the day – “We Three Kings” | BOOK OF LOVE | 1987.

Happy Holidays!  Since it’s the first year of my blog, and since it’s the last year for my Annual Holiday Show on my little 20-year-old 80s radio program, STUCK IN THE 80s (on WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine), I wanted to present to you THE 31 DAYS OF 80s XMAS SONGS, or, 31 of my favorite 80s holiday musical treats.

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Wasn’t sure what I was going to choose for Day 19 of the 31 DAYS OF 80s XMAS SONGS, but then in the car today, I heard this amazing Synthpop take on a Christmas carol that dates back to 1857 – “We Three Kings” by Book Of Love.bookoflove2

“We Three Kings” was written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. 130 years before Book Of Love’s version.  If the name John Henry Hopkins, Jr. doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry – it didn’t for me either.  At the time he wrote “We Three Kings” in 1857, Mr. Hopkins was a rector of the Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania (about 180 miles NW of Philadelphia, where Book Of Love was formed), and he wrote it for a Christmas pageant in New York City.  It wasn’t first published until 1862 or 1863.  But, since then, it has remained as one of the more popular Xmas carols.

Book Of Love’s version appears on YULESVILLE, the 1987 Warner Bros. precursor to 1988’s WINTER WARNERLAND promotional holiday double album.  YULESVILLE, like its WINTER WARNERLAND counterpart, represented many different genres across a number of different Warner labels, like Sire Records.

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YULESVILLE featured holiday offerings from artists like The Ramones, Los Lobos, Aztec Camera, The Pretenders’ “2000 Miles” and Prince’s “Another Lonely Christmas,” as well as a wealth of holiday ID’s from Madonna, Joey Ramone, Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode, 54.40, Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac, and Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys.

You can also find Book Of Love’s cool version of “We Three Kings” on their compilation, MMXVI: THE 30th ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION, released on Sire / Rhino in June 2016.

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If you love Book Of Love as much as I do, or if you are just learning about them and you love the popular Xmas carol they covered, do yourself a favor and check this out. It also doesn’t hurt that they are actually sending you Season’s Greetings by way of “We Three Kings”…

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jk7KP4MX5aI

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(real) one-hit wonder of the week – “Ship Of Fools (Save Me From Tomorrow)” | WORLD PARTY | 1987.

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.

Welsh musician / songwriter / producer Karl Wallinger always had an interest in music, listening to artists like The Beatles, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and the L.A. Rock band Love (The Damned did a brilliant cover of Love’s “Alone Again Or” in 1987).

After a brief stint in the late 70s with a band called Pax (featuring two future members of The Alarm), Karl eventually became the musical director for (London’s) West End (theatre) production of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, then he was in a funk band called “The Out” (which I honestly can’t picture), and after (which I can totally see), a stint with The Waterboys starting in 1984.album-this-is-the-sea

Karl Wallinger stayed with The Waterboys for two albums, A PAGAN PLACE and THIS IS THE SEA, providing support on piano, organ, percussion and backing vocals.  THIS IS THE SEA was certified Silver in the United Kingdom, and generated what would become (in a 1991 reissue) their biggest U.K. hit, “The Whole Of The Moon,” which reached No. 3 on the U.K. Singles chart.

After THIS IS THE SEA, Karl left The Waterboys to form his own band, World Party, of which he is the sole member.  World Party’s debut album, PRIVATE REVOLUTION, featured several session musicians and an Irish newcomer, Sinéad O’Connor, who provided backing vocals on the album’s title track and one other song, “Hawaiian Island World.”  Another song from PRIVATE REVOLUTION, “World Party,” would make an appearance in a version by The Waterboys on their next album, the brilliant 1988 release, FISHERMAN’S BLUES.

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Also from PRIVATE REVOLUTION came a surprise hit called “Ship Of Fools (Save Me From Tomorrow).”  It was the album’s first single, which eventually found its way to American shores and made its debut on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 96 on Valentine’s Day 1987. 

The climb for “Ship Of Fools” on the Hot 100 was slow at first, but picked up, and in early April 1987, it debuted in the Top 40.  By the end of April, it spent a week at its peak position of No. 27, and would go on to spend 15 total weeks on the Hot 100. 

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Though Karl’s band namesake is still going strong today, this would be the only time World Party would grace the Hot 100.  “Ship Of Fools” would also find its way to No. 5 on BILLBOARD’s Mainstream Rock chart, No. 4 in Australia and No. 42 on the U.K. Singles chart.

After PRIVATE REVOLUTION, Karl and World Party continued to record, including 1990’s acclaimed GOODBYE JUMBO album (featuring “Put The Message In The Box” and “Way Down Now,” the latter of which spent five weeks at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Modern Rock chart in June / July 1990), 1993’s BANG!, 1997’s EGYPTOLOGY (which included the wonderful and award-winning “She’s The One,” featured in the 1997 film, THE MATCHMAKER, starring Janeane Garofalo and Denis Leary), and 2000’s DUMBING UP. 

You might also remember one of World Party’s songs, “When You Come Back To Me” (inspired by David Bowie’s 1975 hit, “Young Americans”), which was featured in the 1993 film, REALITY BITES (Karl scored the film as well). arkeology

Karl sadly suffered a brain aneurysm in February 2001 that left him unable to speak, but after five years of rehabilitation, he returned and played his first show in a decade at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.  He got his catalog back from EMI and re-released his albums.  In 2012, World Party released ARKEOLOGY, a massive five-CD, 70-song collection of new material, live songs and covers.  It was, like all of World Party’s other work, well-received.

Though World Party was never really an international success, it didn’t seem to bother Karl Wallinger.  After the aneurysm, he once described his “renewed talent” as “overcompensating, so it’s either the best I’ve ever played or I’ll completely balls it up.” 

I admit here that, in 1987, World Party and “Ship Of Fools” didn’t really do anything for me at the time.  But, since then, and to borrow from the song itself, I’m so very glad I finally set “sail to the place on the map, from which no one has ever returned…”      

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_BoAXopS54

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song of the day – “Just Like Honey” | THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN | 1985.

Scottish Alt-Rock / Noise Pop heroes The Jesus & Mary Chain, led by brothers Jim and William Reid, had been around for a couple of years before releasing their brilliant debut album, 1985’s PSYCHOCANDY. 

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ROLLING STONE magazine once described PSYCHOCANDY as “bubblegum pop drowned in feedback,” rich with an influence from bands like The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and The Velvet Underground to name a few.

You can definitely hear that “bubblegum pop drowned in feedback” on the gorgeous gem, “Just Like Honey,” the opening song on PSYCHOCANDY.  Released as the third single from the album, “Just Like Honey” reached No. 45 on the U.K. singles chart and prolly got its best exposure in the memorable last scene of the excellent 2003 Academy Award-winning film, LOST IN TRANSLATION, starring Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson, and written, directed and co-produced by Sofia Coppola.

Lost in Translation

NERDY FUN FACT: If the opening drum riff of “Just Like Honey” sounds familiar, it’s because it’s borrowed from the opening drum riff of The Ronettes’ 1963 classic, “Be My Baby,” which has been borrowed or mimicked in several other songs, including Billy Joel’s 1981 live hit, “Say Goodbye To Hollywood.”

just like honey

Sadly, drummer Bobby Gillespie left the band just before PSYCHOCANDY was released, but luckily he already had most of drums for the album recorded.  One day I’ll feature PSYCHOCANDY in full on the blog, but for now, I’m happy to highlight the very sweet “Just Like Honey,” 3 minutes and 2 seconds of Alt-Rock perfection…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EgB__YratE

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song of the day – “Seconds” | THE HUMAN LEAGUE | 1981.

On Sunday, June 12, 2016, my dear friend and former Portlander Michelle Fire Eater will make her first appearance on my little radio show, STUCK IN THE 80s (on WMPG Community Radio), in 9 years, and with a kick-ass theme show she thought of a couple of years ago – THE HEAVY 80s – it wasn’t all bubblegum, you know…

THE HEAVY 80s will feature songs that actually had substance to it, and covered a vast number of subjects including drug abuse, rejection, racism, homophobia, bullying, teenage depression and suicide, alcoholism, feminism, child abuse, homelessness, poverty, difficulties for farmers in the Midwest, media sensationalism, Apartheid, The Cold War, The Vietnam War, AIDS, the Kennedy Assassination, and protests against war, dictators and more.

This week on the blog, I’ll highlight some of the songs Michelle and I will be featuring on THE HEAVY 80s. 

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For a long time, I thought that “Seconds,” the B-side to The Human League’s No. 1 hit, “Don’t You Want Me” (from their 1981 album, DARE) was just a kick-ass Synthpop gem that should have been a single in its own right.  But there was more to it than that.  A lot more.

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“Seconds” is about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, calling out Lee Harvey Oswald matter-of-factly (“it took seconds of your time to take his life”) without even saying his name.  For whatever reason, it took way more than seconds of my time to figure out what this song was about, and when I finally did (during one of my radio shows, no less), it was in November on or near the anniversary of JFK’s assassination.  Kinda freaky, actually, but I’m betting it was nothing like witnessing it in Dallas or on live TV on November 22, 1963. 

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Minutes before seconds…

Over the years, there have been a number of songs recorded and released about the Kennedy Assassination, including The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil,” Lou Reed’s “The Day John Kennedy Died,” Tori Amos’ “Jackie’s Strength,” Pearl Jam’s “Brain Of J,” “The Warmth Of The Sun” by The Beach Boys, and “The Sounds Of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel. 

I’ve loved “Seconds” for a long time, and like the artists above, I applaud The Human League for taking on such a heavy subject such as the Kennedy Assassination and turning it into a somber yet brilliant Synthpop masterpiece.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwpvHJN3QvI

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(real) one-hit wonder of the week – “Soul City” | THE PARTLAND BROTHERS | 1987.

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.

electric honeyAfter years of playing in various bands in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada area, in 1982, brothers G.P. and Chris Partland (from a small town north of Toronto) entered a radio contest showcasing their musical talents, and it caught the ears of Capitol Records.  They formed in 1983 as a Pop Rock duo, and in 1986, their first album, ELECTRIC HONEY, was released. 

From ELECTRIC HONEY was their debut single, “Soul City.”  On this date (May 2) in 1987, it was the highest-debuting song of the week on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, coming in at No. 77.  Within 6 weeks, it debuted on the Top 40 of the Hot 100, and spent a quick week at No. 27 in late June 1987.  The great harmonies the brothers shared on “Soul City” also brought the song in to the Top 30 in Canada, and they were nominated in 1987 for a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys) for Most Promising Group.

The brothers went on to tour with The Moody Blues and The Beach Boys, appeared on shows like AMERICAN BANDSTAND and THE LATE SHOW WITH ARSENIO HALL, and “Soul City” would spend a few months on the Hot 100, and that was the only time The Partland Brothers would grace the American singles chart (same for the Canadian singles chart). soul city

Undeterred by their short-lived chart success, the brothers kept on releasing albums (five total, with the latest being 2011’s EVERY NOW…AND AGAIN), and they continue to tour, on their own and backing Arkansas Rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins, where he found much success in Ontario over the years, and was made an Honourary Officer of the Order of Canada a few years ago.

Though I never really fully got into the music of The Partland Brothers, I never forgot this song, and I do enjoy taking that laid-back trip to “Soul City” now and again, a 4-minute anthem about going out, having a good time and not coming back “til the money’s all gone…”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtcCC_Y24FQ

partland brothers today

The Partland Brothers today…