Saturday, November 22, 2008

10 Great Songs from One Great Year


The year started out with the Super Bowl Shuffle, shuffling to the beat of the monsters of the midway Chicago Bears (and their “punky” QB) and ended with the racial disharmony in Howard Beach. In between, tragedy struck when the Space Shuttle Challenger explodes and disintegrates 73 seconds after launch, killing the crew of 7 astronauts including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe.

Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme is assassinated on his way home from the cinema, the West Berlin discotheque, a known hangout for United States soldiers, is bombed, killing 3 and injuring 230; Libya is held responsible and Pan Am flight 73, with 358 people on board, is hijacked at Karachi International Airport by 4 armed men of the Abu Nidal organization. The next day, Nidal terrorists kill 22 and would 6 others inside the Neve Shalom synagogue, in Istanbul, during Sabbath services.

The New York Mets win the World Series, thanks to the arm of Dwight Gooden and the fielding of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner. The Democrats regain control of the United States Senate for the first time in 6 years, and a Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa reports that the United States has been selling weapons to Iran in secret in order to secure the release of 7 American hostages held by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon, thus beginning the scandal known as “Iran-Contra.”.

Addicted To Love - Robert Palmer

"Addicted to Love" is the third song on the Riptide album. The most commonly heard version runs around four minutes, but the full album version runs a little over six minutes. The song topped the Hot 100 and has now become known as his signature song, thanks, in part, to a highly popular video. It was originally intended to be a duet with Chaka Khan. However, her record company at the time wouldn't grant her a release to work on Palmer's label, Island Records. Chaka Khan is still credited for the vocal arrangements in the album liner notes. The guitar part on the song is played by Andy Taylor, then a member of Duran Duran. Palmer met Taylor when they were both members of supergroup The Power Station. The video featured Palmer singing in front of a "band" of beautiful women who looked exactly alike. They wore lots of make-up and identical clothing as they pretended to play the instruments. The video became an icon of the '80s, and is constantly parodied. The funny thing about the video was that the models posing as a band were selected precisely because they did NOT know how to play the instruments. As a result, each girl was keeping her own time and moving to a different beat. The girls in the video were not Palmer's idea. They were filmed separately and edited behind clips of Palmer singing.

Tarzan BoyBaltimora

Baltimora was an Italian New Wave band active in the mid and late ‘80s. Jimmy McShane, from Northern Ireland, was the frontman and Maurizio Bassi sang lead vocals on all the group's songs, which were written mostly by Bassi and Naimy Hackett. Baltimora is often considered a one-hit wonder because their international success with this single, overshadowed their proceeding efforts. This song is about being free and doing what you want. No hustle and bustle of the city, just the freedom of the jungle. The song was featured in a commercial for Listerine mouthwash which featured the jungle chorus of the song under an animated bottle of Listerine swinging from vines and was used in the movies Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 and Beverly Hills Ninja. Unfortunately, McShane died of AIDS in 1995 at age 37.

At This Moment – Billy Vera and the Beaters

Billy Vera was born William McCord Jr. Billy Vera & the Beaters was started in 1981 "just to have some fun." A band member remembered this song and suggested recording it for their first album. The song was written in 1977, but no one wanted to record it, although Dionne Warwick and Olivia Newton-John came close to doing so. Vera and his band finally released it in 1981 as the followup to "I Can Take Care of Myself" on the Japanese-owned Alfa label. The band's second LP was issued and three weeks later, Alfa pulled out of the US and stopped distribution. However, the song was revived when it was used in three episodes of Family Ties in 1985 and 1986, as a backdrop for romantic interludes between Alex P. Keaton (played by Michael J. Fox) and Ellen Reed (played by Tracy Pollan, who became Fox's wife in real life). Vera told American Songwriter magazine March/April 1988 the story behind this song: "I wrote about the first 2/3 of it one day and I usually write one song in one day. And if it can't keep my interest in one day I figure it's no good. But this one I just put it aside. For some reason I just couldn't come up with an ending for it. A girl I had just started dating told me about breaking up with her boyfriend and she was very articulate about it so I wrote it from his point of view. But I couldn't finish it. So about a year later when we broke up I knew what the ending should be.”

West End Girls - Pet Shop Boys

Originally calling themselves West End, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe changed their band name to Pet Shop Boys, which derived from some friends who worked in a pet shop. They said that the new name "sounded like an English rap group." Tennant said in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, "We arrived in the studio and Bobby O had programmed Michael Jackson's “Billie Jean” drum pattern. Chris started to play along and I started playing chords. In terms of the lyrics, the inspiration for West End Girls came from The Message by Grandmaster Flash. I remember once staying at my cousin's house in Nottingham and we were watching some kind of gangster film with James Cagney, and just as I was dropping off to sleep, the lines 'sometimes you're better off dead, there's a gun in your hand and it's pointing to your head' came into my head and I thought 'that's quite good' so I went off to find a pen. Another influence was TS Eliot's poem The Wasteland. Said Tennant: "What I like about it is, it's the different voices, almost a sort of collage. All the different voices and languages coming in and I've always found that very powerful. So on West End Girls its different voices. The line 'Just you wait till I get you home' is a direct quotation. The lyric "From Lake Geneva to the Finland Station" refers to the train route taken by Vladimir Lenin when he was smuggled by the Germans to Russia during World War I, and to Edmund Wilson's book on the subject, To the Finland Station. There is further Russian Revolution imagery in the Bobby Orlando produced version of the single, which includes the line, "All your stopping, stalling and starting, / Who do you think you are, Joe Stalin?"; this line was removed for the 1985 version. Neil Tennant has a degree in history and his interest in Russian history is evident in many other Pet Shop Boys projects, such as their soundtrack to the silent film The Battleship Potemkin. Although they have never been able to match the success in America that they had with “West End Girls,” the Pet Shop Boys continue to top the charts in Britain. Their latest LP, Fundamental, was released in 2006 and scored in the top 10 throughout Europe.

Live Is Life – Opus

Opus is an Austrian pop-rock group from Graz which was formed in 1973, and is still active today. In late1985 they released "Live Is Life" which topped the charts in many countries, and a live recording of the song even made the Top 40 in the USA. It reached No 6 in the UK charts and stayed in the charts for 15 weeks. The track remains popular as a sing-along song for crowds at sports events in Europe. Cover versions were also performed by Starkoo, Laibach, Hungarian band Tormentor, Estonian band Kuldne Trio (Laip is Laip) and also DJ Ötzi, as a guest, released a version with the Hermes House Band in 2003. This version stalled at No 50 in the UK charts.

Holding Back the Years – Simply Red

"Holding Back the Years" is the 7th track of Simply Red's debut album Picture Book. The song was a smash success for the group and quickly rose to the top of charts across the world. It remains their most successful single. The single is one of two Simply Red songs (the other being their cover of "If You Don't Know Me by Now") to reach number one on the Hot 100. Simply Red is singer Mick Hucknall ("Red" was his nickname because of his red hair). Hucknall wrote this in his bedroom at his father's house while he was still a teenager recorded this in 1979 with his band The Frantic Elevators. However, the chorus did not come to him until many years later. His mother left him when he was three; the upheaval caused by this event inspired him to write the song. The video for this song was filmed in the English coastal town of Whitby and the famous scene where Hucknall watches the coastal view from his window can be seen on the cover of the single. Although no longer popular in the States, Simply Red continues to have tremendous success abroad, scoring 31 top 40 songs in Britain. Their latest studio release, Stay, was certified gold in 2007.

Life in a Northern TownDream Academy

Dream Academy members Nick Laird-Clowes and Gilbert Gabriel wrote this as a tribute to Nick Drake, with references to where he grew up in England. Drake was 26 years old when he died of an antidepressant overdose which may have been suicide. His work was very influential to many British musicians and songwriters, and his legend grew after his death. At the end of this song, where the protagonist leaves on a train, it is a reference to Drake's death. David Gilmour from Pink Floyd helped produce this album with Nick Laird-Clowes. Dream Academy's record label didn't want to release this song; they felt it needed more drums. The band refused and it became a worldwide hit. This was covered by country acts Sugarland, together with Little Big Town and Jake Owen on the Sugarland Change for Change Tour. Their performance was played live at the 2008 CMT Music Awards and this rendition began receiving airplay on country radio. Three months after debuting on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, it entered the Hot 100 listing. This represented the first Top 40 chart entry for both Little Big Town and Jake Owen.

Getting to the Point – Electric Light Orchestra

Balance of Power was the last studio album by the Electric Light Orchestra for a period of over 15 years (until Zoom was released in 2001). By this time Kelly Groucutt had departed and the group was pared down to a trio, with Jeff Lynne handling bass (in addition to his usual guitar work) and more dabbling with electronic percussion and synthesisers. ELO played some live concerts in the UK and Europe (their last for fifteen years), and in one UK show George Harrison performed as guest guitarist. The video for this song was shot in Paris, and contains shots of the band playing in front of Centre Georges Pompidou. A number of "ELO firsts" can be attributed to this album: it was the first ELO album not to feature any strings whatsoever; the first to feature a saxophone solo; and the band's first compact disc issued. The album, in its original form, is also the shortest album in the ELO catalogue. The album featured their last top 40 hit, “Calling America,” as well as the single, “So Serious.” “Getting to the Point” is a classic Jeff Lynne tune which features his haunting vocals and and rich harmonies.

I’m Not the One – The Cars

The Cars were at the forefront in merging 1970s guitar-oriented rock with the new synth-oriented pop that was then becoming popular and which would flower in the early 1980s. Created by Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr, they were soon joined by guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboardist Greg Hawkes and drummer David Robinson. After spending the winter of 1976–77 playing all over New England, developing, honing, and ultimately perfecting the songs that would become their debut album. The band caught the attention of Maxanne Sartori, a local DJ on WBCN-FM, who began playing their demo of "Just What I Needed." By virtue of that airplay, the band was signed to Elektra Records. "Just What I Needed" would turn out to be the first single from the band’s debut album, The Cars, released in 1978 and reaching #18 on the Billboard album chart. After three more successful albums, the band hit paydirt with their 1984 album Heartbeat City, which featured 5 top 40 songs (“You Might Think,” “Magic,” “Drive,” “Hello Again” and “Why Can’t I Have You”). Following this album, the band released the The Cars Greatest Hits. This album featured the top 10 smash “Tonight She Comes” and “I’m Not the One,” which stalled at #32. Unfortunately, their next album Door to Door turned out to be their last. Although rumors of a possible reunion were rampant over the years, it never materialized. Ocasek continues to perform as a solo artist, having released over seven studio albums. David Robinson has retired from music and spends most of his time with his restaurant. Benjamin Orr died of pancreatic cancer on October 3, 2000. In 2005, Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes combined their talents with Todd Rundgren, Prairie Prince (The Tubes, Utopia), and Kasim Sulton (Utopia, Meat Loaf) in a revamped lineup, The New Cars, to perform classic Cars songs along with selections from Rundgren's solo work and some new original material.

I'll Be Over You – Toto

Toto guitarist Steve Lukather wrote this with Randy Goodrum, who is a popular Nashville songwriter who co-wrote "Oh Sherrie" (Steve Perry) and "If She Would Have Been Faithful..." (Chicago). According to Goodrum, they came up with this after being asked to write a song for Julio Iglesias. Says Goodrum: "Neither one of us were fans of Julio Iglesias at all. And we could not imagine writing something… we thought we would offend both of our muses and they would never come back. We weren't snobs, it just wasn't us. We said, 'Look, we're going to be writing today. We'll keep that in mind.' So we sat down and we tried to think of something kind of Julio-ish. Steve was messing around with piano, and I was sitting over there with a note pad, and maybe in a petulant way, just purposely wrote this non-Julio lyric. And right away we started messing with it. I played Luke the lyrics that I had, (singing) 'Some people live their dreams...' And he just was floored. And he said, 'We gotta stay with this.' I said, 'Well, you realize we have left Julio land, we are no longer writing a song for Julio.' He said, 'No, that's okay.' So we went on and we wrote what ended up being 'I'll Be Over You.' This song is notable for its cold vocal intro, which is rare in a hit Pop song. Says Goodrum, "Apparently Jeff (Porcaro) had the demo in his earphones, and I think he put the drums down listening to the demo, and then they built it around that, which is interesting, because in the demo there are two bars out front of the drum pattern: (singing) 'tum tum ta ta ta ta, some people…' And so if he was using that as a count-in there wouldn't be a way to play an intro. So that may be why there's a cold start on the record. Even though I think the cold start is one of the coolest things about the Toto record.” Although Toto continues writing, recording and performing, “I’ll be Over You” was their last top 20 hit – climbing up to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Bonus Track

Lives in the Balance – Jackson Browne

Lives in the Balance was Jackson Browne’s eighth studio album and the first one where overtly political and socially critical songs dominated, although it also included one of his best remembered songs about relationships, the tragic "In the Shape of a Heart", inspired by his relationship with his first wife. The radio play garnered by "For America" and "In the Shape of a Heart", and the use of "Lives in the Balance" in the show Miami Vice, gained him many new fans who later went back and discovered Browne's earlier works. This song (the unplugged version is presented here) is one of the more outwardly critical songs Browne has written, cryptically implicating the US government in spreading worldwide misery and war. Of course, this is one point of view and not the whole picture. But his poignancy and passion elicit tremendous emotions through his voice and is a must-hear for anyone who follows his music.

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