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Saturday, December 12, 1981

The Human League hit #1 in the UK with “Don’t You Want Me?”: December 12, 1981

Originally posted December 12, 2011.



When recording parent album Dare!, the Human League considered their adherence to a “strict policy of synth-only sounds” LW to be very cutting edge and a much needed break from the “archaic and antique” use of guitars. SF The song, “Don’t You Want Me?,” provided a synthesizer riff as memorable as any guitar lick, TB quieting critics who condemned the instrumental tool as bland. MUJ Marc Almond of Soft Cell went so far as to call the song “the greatest record of all time.” KL He wasn’t alone in his love for the song; it moved over 1.4 million copies in the UK to become the biggest seller of 1981. SF

In the US, the song was the first English synthesizer chart-topper, BR1 effectively launching a second British invasion, the first being helmed by the Beatles in 1964. KL That second influx of British music owed much to the launch of MTV. UK bands comprised a large chunk of the fledging music channel’s initial library, thanks to a prevalence of video shows in Europe. SF While the Human League were frequently lumped in with British New Romantic acts KL like Duran Duran, Culture Club, and Adam Ant, they really had more of a post-punk energy and were more likely to use Kraftwerk as a musical reference point. LW

The song sports a “consciously cheesy boy-girl duologue” MUJ between Phil Oakley and the two female singers. That and his “emotion-free style of his singing” LW alongside a funky melodic bass line made the song a classic. LW

Oakley has stated that an article in a woman’s magazine inspired the song SF and that it is “not a love song but about power politics between two people.” SF Interestingly, Oakley had decided that the group needed women who could dance and sing backup vocals BR1 and so, as suggested in the song, he found them in a cocktail bar and “turned them into something new.” LW Apparently their look took precedence over all else since the pair could neither sing nor dance. CR




Awards:
Resources and Related Links:
  • the DMDB page for “Don’t You Want Me?”
  • BR1 Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). New York, NY: Billboard Books. Page 556.
  • CR Toby Creswell (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Thunder’s Mouth Press: New York, NY. Page 627.
  • KL Jon Kutner/Spencer Leigh (2005). 1000 UK Number One Hits: The Stories Behind Every Number One Single Since 1952. London, Great Britain: Omnibus Press. Page 276.
  • LW Alan Lewens (2001). Popular Song – Soundtrack of the Century. Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 151.
  • MUJ Mojo Ultimate Jukebox (supplement with April 2003 issue of Mojo magazine). “The 100 Singles You Must Own”.
  • SF Songfacts.com
  • TB Thunder Bay Press (2006). Singles: Six Decades of Hot Hits & Classic Cuts. Outline Press Ltd.: San Diego, CA. Page 193.




Saturday, October 3, 1981

Olivia Newton-John charts with "Physical": October 3, 1981

Originally posted October 3, 2012.

image from sweetsixteenbirthday.net

When Olivia Newton-John took the role of Sandy in 1978’s movie version of Grease, it was clear she was looking to change her clean-cut, “good-girl image,” SF considering her character’s transformation “from virginal to vamp.” BB100 Still, “the longtime girl-next-door singer” BB100 had doubts about releasing “Physical”, SF a song “loaded with sexual innuendo.” BB100 Her managers convinced her the song would be a huge hit. SF

Still, lyrics like “There’s nothing left to talk about/ Unless it’s horizontally” got the song banned by some radio stations. At adult contemporary radio the song stalled at #29, but it took off at pop radio. In fact, the controversy probably helped the song toward becoming the biggest hit of 1981 WHC and of Olivia’s career. A Billboard magazine survey even named it the sexiest song of all-time. SF

A video heightened the controversy with what was then considered risqué, but would be tame by today’s standards. JA The video played off the aerobics movement of the day, practically becoming the theme song for the exercise trend. SF Olivia worked out in the gym with out-of-shape men who transformed into body-builder physiques. The end of the video, which suggested the men were gay and consequently immune to Olivia’s advances, was often cut when aired on MTV. WK It still picked up the Grammy for Video of the Year.

The song also was received by some critics with less than an enthusiastic response. AOL Radio’s Matthew Wilkening said, “An entire generation’s leg-warmered, pastel spandex shame is laid bare in just under four minutes.” WK He ranked it one of the 100 worst songs ever. WK


Awards:

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Saturday, August 8, 1981

Journey Charts with Escape: August 8, 1981

Originally posted August 8, 2011.


Journey’s ‘Escape’-era lineup, left to right:
Jonathan Cain, Ross Vallory, Neal Schon, Steve Perry, Steve Smith



1981 was the year of arena rock. REO Speedwagon, Styx, Foreigner, and Journey had all been around since at least the mid-‘70s and amassed huge followings, but peaked that year with the only #1 albums of their careers. All four albums marked the groups’ biggest selling studio efforts and were supported by at least two top ten hits each. All four make the Dave’s Music Database lists of top 1000 albums of all time and Top 100 Classic Rock Albums, although Foreigner makes the latter with its debut and not 1981’s Foreigner 4.

All four groups were savaged by critics. Their power ballads were mocked and their proclivity toward radio-friendly rock wasn’t taken seriously. All four bands have been eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a decade; none are in.

Of the four kings of arena rock, however, Journey may be laughing the hardest in the critics’ faces. In the last five years, their song “Don’t Stop Believin’”, had a surprising resurgence when it was used in the finale of television’s The Sopranos. Then it also served as the springboard for Glee, giving that television franchise a #4 hit with the first of their many covers which would dethrone Elvis Presley for most chart hits in Billboard Hot 100 history. Read more about that in my Pop Matters column, Is Glee the New Elvis, Really?



Of course, the song did just fine the first time around. It was one of three top-ten, million-selling singles from Escape, sandwiched in between power ballads “Who’s Crying Now” and “Open Arms”. However, the revival of the song in the digital age has now lifted it to 2.9 million in sales worldwide. Journey’s new-found success lifted them to their loftiest heights in years – their 2008 album Revelation went top five and platinum in the U.S.

As for the original album’s success, it marked the debut of Jonathan Cain as the group’s new keyboardist. He also co-wrote every song on the album, CR which had a lot to do with the group’s boosted commercial appeal. The “heartfelt songwriting and sturdy musicianship” MD has “a way of rekindling the innocence of youthful romance and the rebelliousness of growing up.” MD

Of course, Journey also retained some of the best qualities from pre-Escape days, namely “Neal Schon’s grand yet palatable guitar playing” MD and “the passionate, wide-ranged vocals of Steve Perry, who is the true lifeblood of this album, and this band.” MD

Escape also makes the NARM/Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of Definite 200 Albums and Kerrang! magazine’s best-of list.


Click photo for more about the album.



Resources and Related Links:



Saturday, August 1, 1981

MTV went on the air: August 1, 1981

Originally posted August 1, 2012.

image from 80svjs.com

MTV, or Music Television, launched on cable television on August 1, 1981. While today the station has become known for a slew of reality-based programming targeted toward teens, the “M” in “MTV” truly stood for music in the beginning. The station became required viewing for teens wanting to be up on the latest videos and music news.

That first broadcast was only available to parts of New Jersey. The initial format consisted of crude promotional videos and concert footage with music similar to a Top 40 radio format. Thanks to a need for lots of content, the early years of MTV broke lots of new artists and made for fertile creative ground for pioneers of music video.

Here were the first 10 videos, along with the VJ (video jockey) chatter and commercials, as aired on MTV:

The Launch of MTV

1. Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star”

2. Pat Benatar “You Better Run”
3. Rod Stewart “She Won’t Dance with Me”

4. The Who “You Better You Bet”

5. Ph.D “Little Susie’s on the Up”
6. Cliff Richard “We Don’t Talk Anymore”

7. Pretenders “Brass in Pocket”
8. Todd Rundgren “Time Heals”
9. REO Speedwagon “Take It on the Run” (with original technical difficulties included)

10. Styx “Rockin’ the Paradise”
11. Robin Lane & the Chartbusters “When Things Go Wrong”


Resources and Related Links:

Saturday, July 4, 1981

Lionel Richie and Diana Ross debuted with “Endless Love”: July 4, 1981

Originally posted July 4, 2012.

image from sgrumbleoutloud.wordpress.com


This content is taken from the The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999, available at DavesMusicDatabase.com as a standard book or ebook!

In 2002, Richie told Billboard magazine, “When I put out ‘Endless Love’…during the days of disco, the reaction was, ‘Are you nuts?’” BB100 However, this unforgettable ballad from the completely forgettable Brooke Shields and Tom Cruise movie of the same name was the biggest hit Motown had up to that time, not to mention the biggest soundtrack single and most successful duet. BR1

It was also the most successful song of both their careers. This was no small task – between them, they contributed to 54 #1 songs on Billboard magazine’s pop, R&B, and adult contemporary (AC) charts. However, this song found the pair at very different stages of their careers. Ross spent the ‘60s fronting the Supremes, racking up 12 #1 pop hits and 8 #1’s on the R&B chart. When she went solo in the ‘70s, she hit the top of the R&B and AC charts five and three times respectively. However, “Endless Love” was her final Motown single WK and her last of six #1 pop hits.

Endless Love

Richie was also a Motown stalwart, but just launching his solo career. With the Commodores, he landed atop the pop charts twice, the R&B charts six times, and the adult contemporary chart once. “Endless Love” was Richie’s first time atop the pop, R&B, and AC charts – charts he’d top five, five, and eleven times respectively. As a songwriter, he had the top song of 1980 with Kenny Rogers’ “Lady.” WHC

Recording was no easy task. Richie hadn’t written the song as a duet, but there was a push to get Diana on the song. Since Richie couldn’t sing in her key, he had to make up her part in the studio. SF Their busy schedules meant they finally met up in Reno, Nevada at 3:30 in the morning after Ross had performed at Lake Tahoe. An hour and a half later, they had the song on tape. BR1 Good thing – it was due to go out the next day for use in the movie. SF

Ross also recorded a solo version on her Why Do Fools Fall in Love? album WK and in 1994, it became Luther Vandross’ biggest hit when he and Mariah Carey reached #2 on the pop charts in the U.S. and top 5 in the U.K.


Awards:


Resources and Related Links:

Thursday, July 2, 1981

Foreigner released 4: July 2, 1981

Originally posted July 2, 2012.

“Over the course of their first three late-‘70s albums, Foreigner had firmly established themselves (along with Journey and Styx) as one of the top AOR bands of the era. But the band was still looking for that grand slam of a record which would push them to the very top of the heap. 1981’s 4 would be that album.” AMG To this day, it “remains Foreigner’s career peak.” AMG

“Guitarist and all-around mastermind Mick Jones found both the catalyst to achieve this and his perfect musical soul mate” AMG “in producer Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange — fresh off his massive success with AC/DC’s Back in Black.” AMG “Lange’s legendary, obsessive attention to detail and Jones’ highly disciplined guitar heroics (which he never allowed to get in the way of a great song) resulted in a collaboration of unprecedented, sparkling efficiency where not a single note is wasted.” AMG

“Vocalist Lou Gramm does his part, delivering a dazzling performance which confirmed his status as one of the finest voices of his generation.” AMG “With the departures of second guitarist Ian McDonald and keyboardist Al Greenwood, Foreigner became a quartet for the first time” CDU and all the album’s songs were written by Jones and/or Gramm. WK Session musicians were also brought in, among them Thomas Dolby, WK who went on to have a top 5 hit with “She Blinded Me with Science,” and Junior Walker. He played the “signature saxophone solo” AMG on “the surprisingly funky Urgent [which] proved to be one of the band's most memorable and uncharacteristic smash hits.” AMG

Urgent

Nightlife, Woman in Black, Don’t Let Go, and “the 50’s-tinged LuanneAMG are all “energetic, nearly flawless melodic rockers.” AMG “With Juke Box Hero, the band somehow managed to create both a mainstream hit single and a highly unique-sounding track, alternating heavy metal guitar riffing, chorused vocals, and one of the ultimate ‘wanna be a rock star’ lyrics.” AMG

Juke Box Hero

“As for the mandatory power ballad, the band also reached unparalleled heights with Waiting for a Girl Like You. One of the decade’s most successful cross-genre tear-jerkers, it has since become a staple of soft rock radio and completely eclipsed the album’s other very lovely ballad, Girl on the Moon, in the process.” AMG

Waiting for a Girl Like You

Also of note – the original album title and cover. The originally titled Silent Partners was to sport a cover from “renowned art studio Hipgnosis.” WK The band rejected “a black & white image of a young man in bed with a pair of binoculars looming overhead,” WK deeming it “too homosexual.” WK Bob Defrin designed the new cover, “modeled after an old fashioned film leader.” WK


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