Billboard #1s for the Week Ending March 2, 1985

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 Careless Whisper Wham! featuring George Michael 3
R & B Missing You Diana Ross 2
Country Baby Bye Bye Gary Morris 1
Adult Contemporary Careless Whisper Wham! featuring George Michael 4
Rock Mick Jagger Just Another Night 1
Album Make It Big Wham! 1

BangkokHeadThis week sees an unusual songwriting partnership create an unusual chart competition. Lyricist Tim Rice had enjoyed significant success in a musical partnership with Andrew Lloyd Webber, creating such shows as Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. He had long wanted to write a musical about Cold War politics, but by the time he settled on a theme, Lloyd Webber was working solo on Cats. At the suggestion of producer Richard Vos, he contacted Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvæus of ABBA, who were looking for work outside the band. The three hit it off and created the concept album Chess, the blueprint for a musical blending the Cold War, international chess play, and a love triangle. While it took years to reach the stage, the album spawned a couple of successful singles. In the UK, the biggest hit was I Know Him So Well, a lovely song of romantic tension.

BangkokRobeyInternationally, however, a more unlikely track was the monster. Actor Murray Head had starred in Jesus Christ Superstar and landed a Top 20 hit from its soundtrack, Superstar [#14, 1971]. Rice cast him as “The American”, one of the chess champions. He narrates One Night In Bangkok, a tale of the chess match and a dissection of the joys and perils of the city and its long history. It entered the Hot 100 at #81 last week and moves up to #70 this week. Canadian performer Louise Robey took a very New Wave approach to the song, releasing it as her debut single under her surname only. Her One Night In Bangkok bows at #80 this week. It fizzled out quickly, however, peaking at #77 with only three weeks on the chart. Head’s version, on the other hand, picked up steam and entered the Top 40 in its fifth week. Two months later it logged one week at #3, becoming Head’s lone Top 10 hit and one of the biggest US hits for Rice, Andersson, and Ulvæus.

Song of the Day, February 27: Downtown Train by Tom Waits

WaitsDogsTrainToday’s song is Downtown Train by Tom Waits. It appears on his complicated 1985 masterpiece Rain Dogs. It’s a beautiful ballad of love and loss, blending a night-time story with dreamlike aspects and the powerful transient symbol of the train. Waits crafts an emotional scene of wandering, with faint hope dashed as the train eases away.

The song resonates so strongly that it has become one of Waits’ most successful, covered by a wide array of artists. Mary Chapin Carpenter included it on her 1987 debut and Patty Smyth had a minor hit with it the same year. Two years later, Rod Stewart had a #3 smash [#1 Adult Contemporary and #1 Rock] with his interpretation. Since then, Everything But the Girl did a delicate acoustic take, The Piano Has Been Drinking did a German dialect rendition, Moneybrother covered it in Swedish, Austrian hardcore band Rentokil amped it up, and Bob Seeger took it to the Adult Contemporary Top 20.

The diversity of these interpretations is testament to the power and honesty of the song. Nothing, however, matches the raw intensity of Waits’ own understated original. Enjoy this classic track today.

Song of the Day, February 26: Do You Want Me Near You? by the Triffids

TriffidsPinesNearToday’s song comes from the Triffids charming third album, In the Pines. After recording the brilliant, complex Born Sandy Devotional, band leader David McComb wanted to step back from that epic view to a simple, intimate approach. The band retreated to a woolshed on a remote McComb family farming property and recorded a large batch of songs. The takes were straightforward and mostly live, capturing a nice around-the-campfire sound and using found instruments to augment the sound.

Drummer Alsy MacDonald contributed this track, which he wrote and sang, a rare moment in a catalogue dominated by McComb’s powerful vision. It’s a simple, lovely song of romantic insecurity that’s well suited to MacDonald’s easygoing style.

Enjoy this charming song today.

Song of the Day, Feburary 25: Dominion of the Sword by Martin Carthy

MCarthySwordToday’s song is Dominion of the Sword from Martin Carthy’s powerful 1988 album Right of Passage. He based the song on a ballad written in 1649 by an anonymous pamphleteer, adapting the lyrics to fit the politics and events of the times. It’s a smart reflection on the relative power of words and force to influence events, sung with great energy to a tune adapted from a Breton piping figure.

Enjoy this pithy look at the world today.

Song of the Day, February 24: Short Memory by Midnight Oil

MOil10to1Today’s song is Midnight Oil’s Short Memory. By 1982, the band was famous as one of the most powerful live groups in Australia and had released three strong albums reflecting that sound. For their fourth outing — 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 or 10 to 1 as fans abbreviate it — they chose producer Nick Launay, who helped them create a distinctive studio sound that honored their live energy but created something more. Blending the band’s strong political views and musical muscle with the full potential of studio technology, the band and Launay crafted a bold statement on the modern world.

Short Memory is one of the finest tracks, featuring a slow burn vocal from Peter Garrett and smart performances from the band who mirror and anticipate his jump-cut journey through history’s atrocities. The end result is a particularly fine working of the idea that we are doomed to repeat history if we don’t learn from it and a sharp rebuke to those who allow their own interests to cloud their memories.

Conquistador of Mexico, the Zulu and the Navaho
The Belgians in the Congo short memory
Plantation in Virginia, the Raj in British India
The deadline in South Africa short memory
The story of El Salvador, the silence of Hiroshima
Destruction of Cambodia short memory

Enjoy this amazing song today.

Song of the Day, February 23: Four Black Sheep by Martha Wainwright

Wainwright4BlackSheepToday’s song is Martha Wainwright’s Four Black Sheep. In 2009, she was selected to participate in the inaugural Great Canadian Song Quest. For the project, 13 Canadian musical artists, one from each province and territory, were asked to write a song about a location in their home province; locations and singer/songwriters were selected by CBC listener votes. Wainwright was chosen to represent Quebec and given the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield. She crafted a harrowing song of a band lost on an icy road, basing it on an experience from her performing history.

The result is a brilliant ballad that captures the intensity of people who spend too much time in close quarters merging it with the perils of travel. Wainwright included an interesting version on her powerful third album, Come Home to Mama in 2012. That production of the song loses some of the intensity and charm, however, and an acoustic version included as a bonus track is a much more compelling rendition.

Enjoy this magnificent live version — complete with song history from Wainwright — today.

Album of the Week, February 22: Too-Rye-Ay by Dexys Midnight Runners

DexyTooRyeAyKevin Rowland was born to Irish parents in Wolverhampton, England. He left school at age 15, working in a couple of bands — the arty Lucy & the Lovers and the punkish Killjoys — before staking out a new musical direction with friend and bandmate Kevin “Al” Archer. Fusing a love of the Northern Soul movement with Rowland’s Celtic roots and their shared punk DIY ethic, they built a new band in 1978. They took the name Dexys from dexedrine, a drug of choice in the Northern Soul scene at the time and adding Midnight Runners to emphasize the power it gives to dance all night. Rowland adopted a distinctive “crying” vocal style inspired by a number of his influences. Building a big sound with a large brass section and the keyboard stylings of Mick Talbot (later of the Style Council) they recorded a debut album. Rowland had clear marketing ideas, and dressed the band in gear inspired by the movie Mean Streets to emphasize their working class roots. Their second single, Geno, a tribute to American-born British Soul star Geno Washington, went to #1 in the UK.

Within a year, however, the band disintegrated, with most members frustrated by Rowland’s tight control of every aspect of the music and promotion. He and trombone player Big Jimmy Paterson, the only remaining members, built a new group with a new look (hoodies, boxing boots, and ponytails), managing a couple of singles before breaking with their label and regrouping again. Building a Celtic-styled blue-eyed soul, Rowland added three fiddlers (known as the Emerald Express) and retooled the band’s image yet again, creating an overalls-clad Gypsy pastiche.

Title Too-Rye-Ay
Act Dexys Midnight Runners
Label Mercury Release Date  July 1982
Producer Clive Langer, Alan Winstanley and Kevin Rowland
U.S. Chart  #14 U.K. Chart  #2
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. The Celtic Soul Brothers [#86]
  2. Let’s Make This Precious
  3. All In All (This One Last Wild Waltz)
  4. Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)
  5. Old
  6. Plan B
  7. I’ll Show You
  8. Liars A to E
  9. Until I Believe In My Soul
  10. Come On Eileen [#1]

Whatever the visuals, the new musical direction was magical. Clearly influenced by Van Morrison’s early solo work, Rowland built a very distinct post-punk sound that was nothing like anything else on the airwaves. With a big brass backdrop, smart keyboards (now by Mickey Billingham who later joined General Public) and the folky energy of the fiddles, Rowland and his bandmates crafted a stunning, joyous album.

The Celtic Soul Brothers is a clear statement of purpose, a very direct introduction of their new sound. It’s also an amazing, infectious dance number, showcasing all the aspects of the tight musical group and featuring a wonderful, clear Rowland vocal. Few albums start with such a direct self reference, and few of those manage to make that a successful song. The third iteration of Dexys blasts onto the airwaves with unique, welcoming sounds.

With Let’s Make This Precious, they continue the formula with a twist, pledging their devotion to serving their fans with the purest music they can muster. It makes for a smart one-two punch, building on the fun sound without being repetitive. Smartly, they drop the referential business for All In All, a sadly funny look at romantic complications. Using a dancer with two left feet as a metaphor for the awkwardness of courtship, Rowland calls out for tenderness in a touching, clever song.

Making the connection explicit, the next track is a wonderful cover of Van Morrison’s classic minor hit Jackie Wilson Said. Cleverly paying homage to two influences in one track, the band make the most of their one cover, respecting Van the Man while making the song their own. Side one wraps up with a different kind of tribute. Old is a lament for the treatment of elders in modern society. The subject could be overly saccharine, but Rowland invests real emotion in his vocals, and the lyrical theme ties in so well with the respect for musical history that permeates the album that the effect is quite moving.

Side two opens with another ode to the suffering, Plan B. A wish for better days and pledge of support to a friend in need, it’s a nice bit of sequencing that picks up on Old and personalizes it. There’s also a nice reference to Bill Withers, continuing the thread of musical history that ties the tracks together. Plan B segues into I’ll Show You, once more generalizing the theme of need and support. Dedicated to Otis Redding, it’s a look at the ways that people suffer, both large and small, and a demand that we celebrate and support one another. The pair work well together, mirroring the musical message of the album’s opening tracks with a paired social theme.

Liars A to E is a biting rebuke of gossip. Rowland was famously averse to giving interviews, preferring to create his own messages and present them as ads and editorials in the music press. His distrust of the media and dislike of pettiness merge into a song that is at once scathing and uplifting. The fiddles swirl rather than saw, creating a nice backdrop for the message and one of the album’s highlights. Until I Believe In My Soul is a look at growing up and the disappointments that come with experience. It’s a well-built track with an overall uplift, but it runs a bit long and feels somewhat repetitive, creating the closest thing to a dull moment on the album.

Things wrap up brilliantly however, with the band’s second UK #1 and only real US hit. Come On Eileen is a perfect pop song, a joyous celebration of lust and romance. The balance of brass and fiddle is the best on the album, and the percussion bounces along with glee, showing off everything Dexys has to offer in a glorious burst of enthusiasm. Rowland’s vocals are also at their best as he murmurs, pleads, demands, and cajoles. It’s a testament to the infectious power of the song that it broke Michael Jackson’s run at the top of the Hot 100, sneaking in one week between Billie Jean and Beat It at #1.

Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, the band’s debut, is a decent bit of punk-soul that tries too hard. Rowland’s intense control of the band and mercurial sense of sound and style kept the band in flux, and they never really capitalized on either round of success.A third disc featuring only two of the Too-Rye-Ay Dexys (clad in business suits this time) took almost two years to surface and featured a sort of cerebral soul that was musically sound but emotionally distant. Since then, Rowland has had a sporadic solo career and reconvened a couple of Dexys cohorts, but the magic has ebbed away.

For the course of ten tracks, however, the third incarnation of Dexys Midnight Runners presented a stunning album that had real magic. Blending the diverse musical threads that inspired him, Kevin Rowland crafted something unique, touching, and fun. While it held together, the band — all twelve or so of them — found inspiration in working together and created a special moment in the midst of bland country cross-overs, video age new wave, and urban pop dance grooves. Too-Rye-Ay was something wonderful that stood apart in its day, and its lasting power is a delight to hear more than 30 years later.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending February 23, 1985

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 Careless Whisper Wham! featuring George Michael 2
R & B Missing You Diana Ross 1
Country My Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On Mel McDaniel 1
Adult Contemporary Careless Whisper Wham! featuring George Michael 3
Rock Somebody Bryan Adams 2
Album Like A Virgin Madonna 3

GoWestEyesThis week sees a British duo enter the Hot 100 with their first hit. Peter Cox and Richard Drummie formed Go West in 1982. They landed a publishing deal and had their own portastudio, but lacked a record deal. Their manager set them up with producer Gary Stevenson and guitarist Alan Murphy. They put together two songs and landed a deal with Chrysalis records.

The first single — taken from those sessions — was We Close Our Eyes, an international hit. It went to #5 in the UK and helped the duo win the Brit Award for “Best Newcomer.” This week it eases into the US Hot 100 at #95. It barely missed the Top 40, spending a week at #41 in late April. The duo had continued success at home and managed a US Top 10 in 1990 with King of Wishful Thinking[#8] from the Pretty Woman soundtrack. They continue to play and record today.

Song of the Day, February 20: Go Insane by Lindsey Buckingham

BuckinghamInsaneToday’s song is the title track from Lindsey Buckingham’s second solo album. By 1984, Fleetwood Mac were on an indefinite hiatus while Stevie Nicks pursued a successful solo career. Buckingham had managed a solid Top 10 hit and successful album of his own but took his time crafting the follow-up. Go Insane is an intense album that looks at both the pressures of fame and the risks of intense romantic relationships. Having just ended a relationship with Carol Ann Harris — to whom he dedicated the album — the singer and guitarist was also reflecting on his long-ago romance with Nicks.

I think that’s one of the things the album is saying – it is ok to go insane, it can be quite cathartic actually, to watch yourself go out to the edge and sort of reel yourself back in – now hopefully you do reel yourself back in.  Another point the album makes is if you happen to be with someone else who takes that sort of behavior too far, and you’re not willing to give up whatever that relationship might be – then you will tend to go a little bit insane with them.

Buckingham captures that energy with a tense, edgy song that features one of his best vocals. Enjoy this great song today.

Song of the Day, February 19: I Don’t Wanna Go Home by the Alan Parsons Project

APPTFCGoHomeToday’s song is I Don’t Wanna Go Home by the Alan Parsons Project. The Project — a studio based unit led by Parsons and musical partner Eric Woolfson — had their big breakthrough with their fourth album, 1980’s Turn of A Friendly Card. Each Parsons disc has a central theme, in this case the perils of gambling. This fourth track sets the stage for a six-song suite on the theme.

The lyric features the internal monologue of a man who is at the end of his rope but can’t walk away from the table that has cost him everything. It’s a nicely constructed song that captures the desperation of the addict flawlessly. By this point the Project — always somewhat fluid — featured a handful of regular performers who worked well together as a tight studio band. Frequent Project vocalist Lenny Zakatek, singer of most of the band’s early singles, is perfect for this song. He captures the nuances of the lyric, neatly moving from need to desire to desperation with whisper-to-scream ease. Ian Bairnson turns in one of the finest guitar figures on a Project album, echoing and emphasizing Zakatek’s moods. The whole package is a seamless gem, a clear glimpse at what the Project could achieve at its best.

Enjoy this magical song today.

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