Saturday, November 08, 2008

10 Great Songs from One Great Year


The year started with the breakup of the AT&T Bell systems and it seemed to signal that this was a year of many changes. The Faulkand Islands became the new world hotspot, as Israel formally gives back the Sinai to Egypt in return of a cold-peace that lasts still today. But they invade Lebanon to finally rid themselves of Yasser Arafat and the PLO (they thought). The Weather Channel debuts to the delight of amateur weathermen everywhere and Braniff Airlines ceases operations, never to be heard from again.

Cal Ripken
starts the first game of what will eventually become his record-breaking consecutive games played streak and Checker cabs are no more. In Chicago, seven people die when someone injects poison into Tylenol bottles. This led to safety standards in place today which cause hardships for all of us arthritis-sufferers.

Sony introduces the compact disc player, double-stuff Oreos are created and Barney Clark becomes the first man to receive an artificial heart - which paves the way for folks like me to survive and write these wonderful lists.

What Do All the People Know – The Monroes

A product of the new-wave music style that had become popular in the early 80’s, the Monroes formed in San Diego, California and gained national popularity on the strength of this song – which was their only charted release. For Keyboardist Eric Denton, forming the Monroes fulfilled his early fantasies of becoming a rock star. Born in Michigan, Denton moved to Ventura, California with his family at a young age, at which point he began immersing himself in piano studies. By the late 1970s, Denton had already performed at several high school dances, when his family moved to San Diego. In addition to his musical talents, by this point, he had also become very savvy on the business and organizational aspects of the music world, an attribute that would serve him well during the Monroes years. Before long, he was playing in the band Peter Rabbitt. However, after touring with this band for awhile, Denton returned to San Diego, where he bought a recording studio with the goal of creating a group that played all original material. "What Do All the People Know?" generated a local buzz around the San Diego area, and it was selected as the first single released from the group's self-titled EP. They then toured with the likes of Toto, Greg Kihn, and Rick Springfield while their single climbed the charts. With this rapidly developing success, the band seemed destined for rock superstardom. However, as the band was pondering ideas for their first music video, they found out that their Japan-based record label Alfa was abandoning its U.S. market. Without the backing of a label, they were left with no promotion, and the band's single and mini-album quickly fell off the charts.

Lilah – Don Henley

After the breakup of the Eagles, the members of the band went their separate ways to varying results. Don Felder, Timothy Schmitt and Joe Walsh each recorded albums that failed to reach universal acclaim. Glenn Frey, however, managed to score a top 10 album with No Fun Aloud – which included the #1 AC hit “The One You Love.” Don Henley did even better. His first solo LP, I Can’t Stand Still was critically acclaimed and it included the top 3 hit “Dirty Laundry.” It was the first of three straight commercial successes for the singer and furthered his rise to stardom. “Lilah” is a cut off of I Can’t Stand Still and has always been one of my personal favorite ballads by Henley.

Underground - Men at Work

Colin Hay immigrated to Australia in 1967 from Scotland with his family. In 1978, he formed a duo with Ron Strykert, which expanded with the addition of drummer Jerry Speiser and Australian prog rock keyboard player Greg Sneddon. The band's first experience in the recording studio recording the music to "Riff Raff," a low-budget stage musical Sneddon had worked on. Sneddon soon left, to be replaced in late 1979 by saxophonist/flutist/keyboardist Greg Ham. Shortly after, the band, who had been performing with Strykert on bass guitar, recruited bassist John Rees and the group was complete. The group played a regular residency at Melbourne's Cricketers Arms Hotel and built a strong local following. Per the liner notes in Contraband: the Best of Men at Work, the group didn't have a name until driving the group van one night, desperate for something to put on the chalk board outside the pub, Greg Ham spied a "Men at Work" construction sign, and decided to use that for the group's name. In 1980, they financed a single ("Keypunch Operator") backed by an early version of "Down Under". In 1981, Columbia Records signed Men at Work. Their first single, "Who Can It Be Now?” reached Number 1 on the Australian chart in August 1981, and then topped the American chart in 1982. A subsequent single (a re-worked version of "Down Under") and their first album Business as Usual also went to Number 1 in America, for a whopping 15 weeks. “Underground” was never released as a single, but received significant airplay.

Leader Of The Band - Dan Fogelberg

After recording a number of albums to moderate success, and have a few singles hit the Billboard charts, Dan Fogelberg finally hit the big time with his fifth studio album, Phoenix – which featured the #2 hit, “Longer.” Looking to build upon that success, he released his next single, “Same Old Lang Syne” – from his upcoming LP, The Innocent Age, in December of ’80. However, before completing the album, he underwent surgery on his throat, which delayed the LP 9 months. But that didn’t matter as his next three singles each landed in the top 15 (“Hard to Say,” “Run For the Roses” and “Leader of the Band”). Written as a tribute to his father, “Leader of the Band” was a autobiographical tale about his upbringing and is considered to be his signature song. The next year brought Fogelberg his greatest chart successes with the release of a greatest hits package (including the hits “Missing You” and “Make Love Stay”) and his next LP Windows and Walls, featuring the #1 AC hit (he hit #1 AC four times) “Believe In Me.” However, Fogelberg’s commercial appeal waned after that and he only reached the singles charts just four more times before his premature death last year, at the age 56.

Hard to Say I’m Sorry – Chicago

This song marked a turning point for Chicago: instead of horns and a rock sound, it was pop ballads and pianos. The Roman numerals in their album titles (like Chicago XIV) also disappeared (this LP was simply called Chicago 17). Chicago was one of the first Rock bands of the '70s to take on a softer, more keyboard-driven sound in the '80s and were followed by Yes ("Owner Of A Lonely Heart"), Van Halen ("Jump") and Heart ("These Dreams") onto the charts with this new sound. Because of the success of this song, Chicago returned to prominence on the charts, after three lackluster releases. Vocalist Peter Cetera wrote this with David Foster, who also played piano on the track. Foster worked on a similar song for Earth, Wind & Fire a few years earlier in "After The Love Has Gone,” and rose to even more prominence the next year, when he held the top two spots on the charts at the same time with “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, by Bonnie Tyler and “Making Love (Out of Nothing at All”, by Air Supply. Steve Lukather, David Paich and Steve Porcaro of the group Toto all played on this track. This song was featured at the conclusion of the 1982 Daryl Hannah movie Summer Lovers.

Real Men - Joe Jackson

Along with Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, Jackson was a part of the trio of British-based artists that challenged the punk scene and brought a New Wave sound to the United States in the late 1970s. He was popular for his power-pop and New Wave sound early on before moving to more eclectic, though less commercially successful, pop/jazz/classical musical pieces. When Jackson's marriage broke he moved to New York to record Night And Day. The title is from the Cole Porter song, and the album was designed to have the feel of 24 hours in New York City, with the first side representing "Day" and the second "Night.” Although not one of the two singles released from the album (“Steppin’ Out” and “Breaking Us in Two”), “Real Men” received significant radio attention. Most probably for it’s breakthrough homosexual sexuality and theme.

Mexican Radio – Wall of Voodoo

Wall of Voodoo vocalist Stan Ridgway has said in interviews that the inspiration for this song was the way he and his band would sit in his old Mustang in Los Angeles, trying to find a Mexican station on the radio - they liked the sound of something they couldn't understand. There are many high-wattage unregulated AM border-blaster Mexican radio stations which can be received all over the world. The occasional interjections in Spanish in the song were recorded off a real Mexican radio station. The quirky video got a lot of airplay on MTV, which launched in 1981 and didn't have many to choose from at the time. Although the band formed in the late 70’s and recorded well into the 80’s “Mexican Radio” was the only commercial success for the band. While two former band members both died within a few years of each other in the early 2000’s, Ridgway reformed the band and they were scheduled to tour as late as last year.

Make Believe – Toto

Toto was a Grammy Award winning band founded in 1977 by some of the most popular and experienced session musicians of the era. The band enjoyed great commercial success in the 1980s, beginning with the band's self-titled debut, released in 1978, which immediately brought the band into the mainstream rock spectrum of the time. Continuing with 1982's critically acclaimed and commercially successful Toto IV, Toto became one of the biggest selling music groups of their era. “Make Believe” was the first single taken off of Toto IV and was the only one of the four singles released from that album not to make the top 10. However, at the 25th Annual Grammy Awards on February 23, 1983, Toto received 5 trophies, including “Record of the Year” and Song of the Year.”

Sometime LoversAmerica

After they split from their longtime producer, George Martin, America went to work in trying to recapture their lost glory. In 1980, the released their 9th studio album, titled Alibi. Although this LP also failed to make a dent in the States, Alibi was a big success in Europe, where the song “Survival” top a number of European charts. One of the new things that came out of Alibi was the relationship built between the band and former Argent guitarist/keyboardist. In early 1982, America went back to the studio to start recording Two Car Garage (after completion, the album was rechristened View from the Ground). Working at the Amigo Studios in Hollywood, Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell set out to produce their own material for the first time since Hat Trick nearly a decade earlier. Garnering help from friends Carl Wilson, Christopher Cross, Timothy B. Schmit, Dean Parks, Jeff Porcaro, and Steve Lukather in addition to Willie Leacox, Michael Woods, and the band's new bassist, Brad Palmer, Gerry and Dewey wrote and produced such classic tracks as "Never Be Lonely," "Inspector Mills" (with fine orchestral arrangements by Alibi co-producer Matt McCauley), and "Even The Score." On "Love On The Vine," Dewey initiated a long-running songwriting partnership with old friends Bill Mumy and Robert Haimer, aka Art and Artie Barnes of the bizarre novelty group Barnes & Barnes. Bill Mumy was best known as little Will Robinson from the 1960s TV show "Lost in Space," but in recent years he and lifelong friend Haimer were making a name for themselves as Barnes & Barnes in the Dr. Demento crowd with their cult-classic single, "Fish Heads," and their innovative videos. Dewey and Mumy also co-wrote "You Girl." But it was the Ballard-penned “You Can Do Magic” that gave America their first top 10 hit in 7 years. Taken from View From the Ground, “Sometimes Lovers” was a classic Beckley love song.

Here I Am – Air Supply

Air Supply formed in 1975 when Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock met as cast members on the stage musical Jesus Christ Superstar. In 1977 they toured their home country of Australia with Rod Stewart. They were then invited to tour North America with Stewart, enabling them to break into the American market. Amazingly, of their 15 hits, 7 of have the word "Love" in the title. This song, off the One That You Love LP, reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 (#1 Adult Contemporary) and stayed in the top 40 for 15 weeks. The following year, the band had their final top 2 song (“Making Love Out of Nothing at All”) and fell off the charts completely a year later. In 2006 they released an acoustic album, The Singer and the Song, and are gearing up for the release of their first studio album in three years, Zed. This past year, Air Supply was named as the number 83 best musical act of all time in the Billboard Hot 100's 50 year anniversary edition. This was based purely on their performance on the charts. They are the only Australian band on the list.

Bonus Track

Laura – Billy Joel

The Nylon Curtain was Billy Joel’s first studio album in two years. Following the successes of his previous three studio albums (The Stranger, 52nd Street and Glass Houses), Joel emerged with a much darker and brooding album. The first single, “Pressure” talks about a guy who is struggling to cope with the pressures of his life. The second single, “Allentown” deals with the plight of Pennsylvania steel workers and the death of that industry. His third single, “Goodnight Saigon” tells of the harrowing experiences of Vietnam vets at Parris Island, during the war. Like the other songs on this LP, “Laura” is equally dark and brooding. Joel tells the story of a friend who uses and abuses him and he is helpless to stop enabling her. Unfortunately, this video attached is blank and only the song can be heard. But it is well worth the listen.


readingjunkie said...

There is no way it could possibly be that long ago for the Air Supply song. Everybody know the lyrics to that song by memory -right?

Shayne said...

I still can't believe it's the 2000's! I agree that it is painful to think that these songs came out 26 years ago. To put it in perspective, 26 years before that, the country was rocking to Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis!

Hell, we weren't even born yet!