Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year

1981 v.2

As the failure that was known as Jimmy Carter came to an end, Americans were stunned when a would-be assassin's bullet almost cost new President Ronald Reagan his life. However, his image as a “tough guy” was greatly enhanced when he remarked to his wife, Nancy, "Honey, I forgot to duck."

After 19 years at the anchor desk, Walter Cronkite signs off for the last time on CBS News. At one time considered the most respected man on television, he left a legacy that at the time was sainted. However, his horribly slanted coverage of the Vietnam War may have caused many needless deaths for our troops and the Vietnamese people.

In international news, Pope John Paul II is shot and nearly killed by a Turkish gunman. Israel sends its fighter jets to destroy the Osirak nuclear facility in Iran, enabling the world to both breathe a deep sigh of relief and blame the Jews once again. In Egypt, President Anwar Sadat, who two years earlier became the first Arab head of state to recognize and travel to Israel, was assassinated by army members who belong to the Islamic Jihad.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 5 homosexual men in Los Angeles, California have a rare form of pneumonia seen only in patients with weakened immune systems. This becomes the first recognized cases of AIDS. The year ends with the first American test-tube baby, Elizabeth Jordan Carr, born in Norfolk, Virginia.

Keep On Loving You – REO Speedwagon

REO Speedwagon took its name from the REO Speed Wagon, a flatbed truck and fire engine, manufactured by the REO Motor Car Company. ("R.E.O." are initials of the company's founder, Ransom Eli Olds, who also founded Oldsmobile, once a division of General Motors.) They were one of the first rock bands to score big with power ballads in the '80s. However, it took them about 10 years to do it. Their real breakthrough album, Hi Infidelity, was their 9th studio release and although they had a couple of minor hits ("Roll with the Changes" and "Time for Me to Fly"), they were relatively unknown until '81. Lead singer Kevin Cronin stated, on VH1's Top 40 Love Songs show, that this song is about his response after he found out his wife was cheating on him (hence the album title). In the song he says he'll keep on loving her no matter what. The song and the album went to number one and put the band on the road to success. (View lyrics here)

Private Eyes – Daryl Hall & John Oates

While a somewhat successful duo in the 70's, the next decade belonged to Hall and Oates. They had determined that the biggest problem was that their music was being filtered through outsider producers and studio musicians who were not familiar with their own tastes and thoughts. They also wished to capture the sound of New York City, which by then had become their home. Instead of recording in Los Angeles like they had done previously, they decided to record at Electric Lady Studios in New York , just five minutes away from their apartments. After charting their first hit in 4 years – with the release of the Righteous Bros. classic “You've Lost That Loving Feelin'”, and then “Kiss on my List” and “You Make My Dreams” – off the album Voices – the two went back to the studio and recorded their follow up LP, Private Eyes. The result was the first Hall & Oates album to reach the top ten on the Billboard 200 album chart. The four singles from Private Eyes all reached the top forty, while the title track and “I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)” both topped the charts. During the decade, Daryl Hall & John Oates had amassed 21 top 40 hits, including fourteen that made the top 10 and 6 that went all the way to number one. (View lyrics here)

Just the Two of Us – Grover Washington Jr. with Bill Withers

Grover Washington was a much respected Jazz saxophone player who died of a heart attack in 1999. Bill Withers is a songwriter and vocalist responsible for songs like "Lean On Me" and "Ain't No Sunshine." Withers sang lead on this, but it was credited to Washington and appeared on his album. Withers was friends with Ralph McDonald, a writer and producer who wrote this with his partner Bill Salter. Says Withers, "I'm a little snobbish about words, so they sent me this song and said 'We want to do this with Grover, would you consider singing it?' I said, 'Yeah, if you'll let me go in and try to dress these words up a little bit.' Everybody that knows me is kind of used to me that way. I probably threw in the stuff like the crystal raindrops. The 'Just The Two Of Us' thing was already written. It was trying to put a tuxedo on it. I didn't like what was said leading up to 'Just The Two Of Us.'" (View lyrics here)

Waiting for a Girl Like You – Foreigner

This may be the biggest hit single in US chart history that never made it to #1. It spent an astounding 10 weeks at #2, but had the misfortune of peaking at the same time as Olivia Newton-John's even more massive hit "Physical," which spent 10 weeks at the top spot. But even when "Physical" finally fell out of #1, "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" by Daryl Hall and John Oates leapfrogged ahead of this song into the #1 spot. The week after that, "Centerfold" by the J. Geils Band knocked the Hall and Oates song to #2 and this song to #3. In 2002, "Work It" by Missy Elliott matched this song's dubious chart feat, also staying at #2 for 10 weeks without hitting #1. In 1985, 4 years after this near-miss for the ages, Foreigner would finally get their first and only #1 hit with "I Want to Know What Love Is." Ironically, these 2 songs are love ballads, not typical of Foreigner's usual hard-rocking style. (View lyrics here)

Queen of Hearts – Juice Newton

The song first appeared on Dave Edmunds's 1979 album Repeat When Necessary and the single reached #11 in the UK that year. Two years later, it was a #2 hit single in the United States for pop/country musician Juice Newton (the top spot being held by the Diana Ross and Lionel Richie hit "Endless Love"). Newton's version sold more than a million copies in the United States and went Top 10 in several other countries, such as Canada and Australia . The song originally appeared on her 1981 album Juice. The song is also featured prominently in Oliver Stone's 1986 film Salvador. For her recording of "Queen of Hearts," Juice Newton earned a 1982 Grammy nomination for Best Female Vocalist in the Country category. The song is featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on the radio station K-Rose. For two years, Newton 's blend of country and pop filled both the pop and country charts repeatedly. However, her next album, 1983's Dirty Looks, was decidedly more Rock-oriented and experimental and she lost much of the momentum she had earned earlier. Since then, she has committed herself to country music and continues to record and perform. (View lyrics here)

Hearts – Marty Balin

Balin was the founder and a featured vocalist for Jefferson Airplane from 1965 to 1971. He appeared with the group during their performances at Monterey and Woodstock in 1967 and 1969, and less successfully at the disastrous Altamont Speedway concert, where he was knocked unconscious by a biker from the Hells Angels motorcycle club (this event was captured on film in the documentary Gimme Shelter). In 1971, he departed Jefferson Airplane, recording an album under the group name Bodacious D.F. in 1973, producing an album for the group Grootna, and contributing one song, "Caroline", to Dragon Fly from Jefferson Airplane's follow up group, Jefferson Starship. Marty joined Jefferson Starship permanently in 1975. In late 1978, after several major hits (including "Miracles," "With Your Love," "Count on Me” and “Runaway") with Starship, Balin left the group for good. In 1981, he released his first solo album, Balin, featuring two Top 40 hits, "Hearts" and "Atlanta Lady." This was followed in 1983 by a second solo album, Lucky, along with a Japanese-only EP called There's No Shoulder. Lucky did not match the performance of Balin on the Billboard charts, and Balin's contract with EMI ended. As of 2008, Balin returned to perform part-time with Jefferson Starship and had intended to record lead vocals for two tracks for their latest album, Jefferson's Tree of Liberty. (View lyrics here)

The Breakup Song – Greg Kihn Band

Greg Kihn began his career in his hometown of Baltimore, MD, working in the singer/songwriter mold, but switching to straightforward rock & roll when he moved to San Francisco in 1974. In 1976, after his debut on the compilation Beserkley Chartbusters, he recorded his first album with his own band, which consisted of Ronnie Dunbar (guitar), Steve Wright (bass), and Larry Lynch (drums). Through the '70s, he released an album each year and built a strong cult following through constant touring, becoming Beserkley's biggest seller. In 1981, he earned his first bona fide hit with this song, which hit the top 20, from the RocKihnRoll album. He continued in a more commercial vein through the '80s with a series of pun-titled albums: Kihntinued (1982), Kihnspiracy (1983), Kihntageous (1984), and Citizen Kihn (1985). Kihn's most recent project is the release of his latest book, "Carved in Rock," a collection of short stories written by musicians such as Ray Manzarek (The Doors), Pete Townsend (The Who) and Joan Jett. He is also the #1 rated morning drive time jock for Clear Channel's KFOX station (San Jose/San Francisco). (View lyrics here)

Ain't Even Done With the Night – John Cougar

After about 18 months of traveling back and forth from his home in Indiana to New York City in 1974 and '75, Mellencamp finally found someone receptive to his music and image in Tony DeFries of MainMan Management (known for representing David Bowie, one of Mellencamp's musical idols at the time). DeFries insisted that Mellencamp's first album, Chestnut Street Incident, a collection of covers and derivative originals (Mellencamp had written just a handful of songs prior to landing a record deal and was still very raw), be released under the stage name Johnny Cougar , a move Mellencamp claims was made without his knowledge and against his wishes. The album was a commercial failure, selling just 12,000 copies. After two other albums (one which included the modest hit “I Need a Lover”), Mellencamp finally tasted real success with his next LP, Nothing Matters And What If It Did? That album charted two singles in the top 40 – “This Time” (#27) and “Ain't Even Done With the Night” (#17). The stage was set for stardom for the singer and the next year, he hit the big time with his number one smash “Jack and Diane.” (View lyrics here)

Seven Year Ache – Roseanne Cash

In 1952, a play in which the lead character, played by Tom Ewell, who worked for a publishing company, was reading a book called The Seven Year Itch which claimed that after seven years of marriage, many men started extra-marital affairs. In 1955, it reached the big screen, with Ewell again in the title role, and Marilyn Monroe as his leading lady. Unlike the play and the film, this song by Roseanne Cash is no romantic comedy. The daughter of Johnny Cash met Rodney Crowell at a party on October 16, 1976 , and they married on April 7, 1979 . Like most relationships, this one was less than perfect, and after a fight with Crowell at a French restaurant on Ventura Boulevard, she penned this semi-auto-biographical number as a poem; she said it took her about six months to write, but clearly it was worth the labor, because it topped the Country Chart in May 1981, as well as reaching number 22 on the Billboard Chart. (View lyrics here)

More than Just the Two of Us – Sneaker

Sneaker was composed of Tim Torrance on guitars, Mitch Crane on vocals and guitars, Michael Carey Schneider on vocals and keyboards, Mike Hughes on drums, Michael Cottage on bass guitar, and Jim King on keyboards, synthesizers, and vibes. The band cited as its primary musical influences Steely Dan, The Eagles, and The Doobie Brothers. They released 2 studio albums on Handshake Records, Sneaker in 1981, which included this Top 40 hit, and Loose In The World in 1982. Both albums were produced by Jeff "Skunk" Baxter. In 2001, Cool Sound Records, a Japanese record label, released Early On, a collection of their early recordings and, in 2003, released Footprints In Japan, a 1982 live recording from Osaka & Tokyo, Japan. According to Schneider, the group's name "Sneaker" was taken from the Steely Dan tune "Bad Sneakers" from their album Katy Lied. (View lyrics here)

Bonus Track

Beatles Medley – Stars On 45

This was inspired by a crudely-edited bootleg single sold in Holland. The bulk of the single was Beatles songs, but the recording began with the Shocking Blue song "Venus." The managing director of Red Bullet Productions (owner of the copyright of "Venus") heard it being played in a store and asked Jaap Eggermont (former drummer of Golden Earring of "Radar Love" fame) if he could produce a similar record. At the time, he was finishing up a similar work with the group Long Tall Ernie and the Shakers called "Golden Years of Rock and Roll" (backed with another medley, "Do You Remember?"), that charted in Europe. Eggermont included both of these medleys on the first "Stars on LP" album. Once the original "Medley" interrupted Kim Carnes' US reign at #1 ("Bette Davis Eyes"), the flood gates of medleys opened. In addition to "Medley 2" (in the US ), Stars On medleys were being released every other month in 1981 and 1982. Later in 1981, The Beach Boys came out with a medley of their hits, and the next year, the "Beatles Movie Medley," containing hits from Beatles movies, was released. The medley craze eventually cooled off, but the end of Radio Records in 1983 effectively put an end to the US career of Stars On, who in Europe evolved into the Star Sisters as they toured to promote a medley of Andrews Sisters hits. In 1985, 21 Records released a Stars On single, "Soul Revue," a medley featuring Sam & Dave tunes (the B-side was a medley of James Brown songs). It sank without a trace. The title on the US single was the names of the songs that make up the medley: "Intro Venus/Sugar Sugar/No Reply/I'll Be Back/Drive My Car/Do You Want to Know a Secret/We Can Work It Out/I Should Have Known Better/You're Going to Lose That Girl/Stars on 45." At 41 words, it was the longest title of any single to make the Hot 100. The long title was the result of song publishers insisting upon the inclusion of the songs' titles on the label of the record. (View lyrics here)

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