Nearly an unstoppable pop juggernaut as the '80s dawned, thanks to hits from Xanadu and Physical, Olivia Newton-John stumbled a bit as the decade hit the halfway mark. First, her film reunion with John Travolta, Two Of A Kind suffered a commercial and critical drumming, but the soundtrack did middling business, with the increasingly New Wave-ish tone of the singles "Twist of Fate" and "Livin' In Desperate Times". While "Twist" hit the Top 5, "Livin'" reflected ONJ's diminished hit-making power, struggling to a measly #31.
That was heaven compared to what was next for Olivia fans. 1985's Soul Kiss was just shy of appalling, all the raunch of the Physical ONJ era with none of the humor or even a knowing wink. Where was the sly sexiness of "A Little More Love" or even the camp of "Make A Move On Me"? When the title track and lead-off single is about blow jobs, you can't play the classy card anymore, despite wrapping it all in a Helmut Newton-shot cover:
It's like she took the "Be A Whore!" lessons Sandy learned in Grease and applied them to her career. The rest of the album wasn't any better - the only saving grace from this period was tossed on the b-side of the "Soul Kiss" single. "Electric" is a campy little funk/dance number, complete with high-voltage sound effects and an early '80s style ONJ melody.
Olivia never fully recovered from Soul Kiss's failure in the States. She continues to act, release albums overseas and in Hallmark stores (seriously) and be a gay icon, but she's more well-known these days for her disappearing boyfriends than her current musical output. Here's someone due for a comeback - we know she's got it in her somewhere.
Just no more raunchy stuff, please.
"Electric" was the b-side of the "Soul Kiss" single.
Here's one that someone requested in the comments section waaaaaaaayyy back, but I held out, trying to scrape together some more info about it. No luck.
This one's a bit of a mystery. Cee Farrow may have been a former model who may have been formerly known as Chris Farrow - problem here is there's not much biographical info about ol' Cee out there. No Allmusic page, not even a wonky Wikipedia page. Googling his name brings up a few scraps...some MySpace pages of musicians who claim to have played on his records, some lyrics pages, even a New Wave Outpost forum message that claims he passed away, etc.
What's for sure is that Farrow had a gorgeous New Romantic underground dance hit in 1983 (Best Year for Music Ever!) with "Should I Love You", an excellent synthfunk workout with a hilariously disaffected vocal. Should I love you? Meh. I guess.
And Farrow must have been a model based on the video - he's giving serious Zoolander. BLUE STEEL!
Farrow returned in 1991 with a single called "Imagination" that I've never heard, but apparently caused a tiny stir on the dance charts. But he'll be forever known as the guy who did that song you never heard of when someone tells you the title, but when they play it for you, you totally go "OMIGOD, I REMEMBER THAT SONG!"
"Should I Love You" peaked at #82 on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart and at #91 on the R&B Singles Chart in 1983.
"you're slipping away, but give me one more try / one more chance to wipe these tears from my eyes"
Dave Edmunds took a few years off between hits. Like, 12 of them.
Rockabilly fueled guitar twanger Edmunds hit the Top 5 in 1971 with his cover of "I Hear You Knocking", a song that was as forward thinking as it was retro, with its megaphone vocal effect and grungy production. But it wasn't until 1983 (The Best Year for Music Ever!) that Dave returned to the Top 40, once again looking forward by mixing some New Wave into his Eddy twang.
But first, Edmunds did some time with Nick Lowe in the influential New Wave By Default combo Rockpile, where they amassed a few UK hits, but came up short Stateside. After Rockpile dissolved, Edmunds meandered along with some low-charting solo work until hooking up with Electric Light Orchestra mastermind turned producer Jeff Lynne for two tracks on Information.
The album's first single, the Jeff Lynne penned and produced "Slipping Away", was a huge MTV hit, with the channel pounding out the video in heavy rotation, but all that heat didn't help it burn up the charts. "Slipping Away" barely squeaked into the Top 40, spending a solitary week at #39. You'd think it was a Top 10 hit the amount of airplay the video got:
"Slipping Away" is a great tune, though, sounding like an ELO/rockabilly/Duane Eddy mashup, retro and contemporary at the same time. Edmunds followed up that success with the album's title track, the only other Lynne-produced song on the set. "Information" is even more awash in synths and drum machines, but that familiar Edmunds twang is there, along with an infectious chorus. Again, MTV adored the clip for a short while, but Edmund's chance at a big hit was, er, slipping away:
A year later, Edmunds didn't want to rock the boat too much, bringing Lynne back to produce half of Riff Raff, including its first single, the Holland/Dozier/Holland classic "Something About You". I love the sound on this one because while it's definitely a Jeff Lynne production, he makes it sound like it's coming from a mono AM radio speaker - with synths!
While I dug it, no one else seemed to, since the single didn't chart and Riff Raff sank without a trace. Afterwards, Edmunds retreated into production work (he produced Squeeze, The Stray Cats and k.d. lang for starters) and occasional solo work, but his 12 year-span of bookend hits are all he has to show for his mainstream solo efforts. Hey, that's two more than you have.
"Slipping Away" peaked at #39 on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart in 1983. "Information" peaked at #106 on the Bubbling Under Chart that same year. "Something About You" did not chart.
Before they found multi-platinum success with The Raw & The Cooked and its smash singles "She Drives Me Crazy" and "Good Thing", the Fine Young Cannibals took their post-English Beat cred and scored underground hits with songs about running away from home, infidelity and the bleak economic landscape of Thatcher England. Far from the shiny pop of their sophomore effort, the Cannibals first self-titled album was a little grittier, a little darker and far less successful.
A fine example is the album's second single, "Blue", which on the surface sounds like a typical love gone wrong song, until you get to the second verse and vocalist Roland Gift gets a little more pointed:
Government has done me wrong, I’m mad about that. And it makes me feel like I don’t belong, I’m mad about that. It’s making life a misery, you would have taken the liberty Government has done me wrong, I’m mad about that.
That makes the chorus:
Good god, almighty There’s no denying life Would be better if I never ever had to live with you, Blue - it’s a colour so cruel
...seem less about a tired lover and more about the state of England at the time. "Blue" = the police? Thatcher herself? Only Gift knows for sure. In any case, "Blue" was a fantastic slice of Northern Soul, deftly produced with a performance from Gift that's nearly heart-wrenching. While their future success would be a little more polished and mainstream, there were still hints of the old Cannibals grit, particularly on "I'm Not Satisfied" and "Don't Look Back", two more songs about leaving a depressed town behind. Despite an aborted comeback attempt in 1996, the Cannibals never fully reformed, but the two stellar albums they left behind secured their place as polished hitmakers. We need them more than ever - VMAs, anyone?
"I can still hear our screams competing / You're hissing your s's like a snake"
• Their debut album featured a #1 smash, the video of which won eight MTV Video Awards. • It eventually sold eight million copies worldwide, a million of that in the U.S. alone. • Their follow-up single hit the Top 20. • They held the world record for largest concert (198,000 people in Rio). • They are among only 19 artists to have the rare honor of being asked to record a Bond theme.
Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you...a-ha.
Yup. Unfairly tagged as one-hit wonders in the States, a-ha continue to sell albums and pack stadiums worldwide, their most recent album, Analogue, released a little over a year ago. But in 1986, the trio had the unenviable task of following up their debut, Hunting High and Low, with its massive single, "Take On Me". It wasn't going to be easy. Instead of merely following the synthpop template established by the first album, the group took the bold step to add more guitar-oriented rock into the mix, aggressively pumping up their sound but keeping the sweeping theatricality of songs like "The Sun Always Shines On TV". But would it work?
The result was Scoundrel Days and in preparation for its release, a-ha issued the single, "I've Been Losing You", again, a bold move since it's nowhere near as immediate and catchy as "Take On Me". With its chugging guitar riff and lyrics alluding to murder or suicide, it wasn't the ideal choice for a lead-off single - but that didn't make it any less brilliant. The incongruous video that concentrated on making the band look like teen pin-up idols rather than talented musicians didn't help:
Sadly, "I've Been Losing You" gained zero traction and a quick scramble saw the rushed release of a more traditional a-ha single, "Cry Wolf", but the damage had already been done. "Cry Wolf" stumbled into the outer reaches of the Top 50 and a-ha never charted in the U.S. again (save for a brief appearance on the Adult Contemporary Charts in 1991 with a remake of the Everly Brothers' "Crying In The Rain"). To its credit, their U.S. label Reprise stood by the band well into the '90s, issuing their albums domestically until it was no longer feasible. The rest of the world never lost step, though, and a-ha continue to be massively successful in Europe and Brazil.
"I've Been Losing You" is still one of my favorite singles from the band, right down to the fake-out ending and little "ah" exhales during the chorus. Great stuff that takes a few spins to fully appreciate. If "Cry Wolf" had been released first, who knows? We might still be seeing the trio on the U.S. charts today.
"There's time, I'll still be alive / I'm only thirty-five"
This one's funky, nasty, and more than a little creepy.
Taking a cue from Rick James and his self-proclaimed mix of "Punk Funk", jazz percussionist Bill Summers and his group, Summers Heat, took New Wave to their formerly jazz-fusion heart and released the trashy single "Seventeen" in 1982, a tender ode about a 35-year old dude and his young - very young - object of lust/affection.
Adopting the famous talk-singing of New Wave against a serious bassline, Summers makes like the love child of George Clinton and David Byrne as he trades mash notes with a female vocalist doing her best Missing Persons impression while she notes all the great things about dating a man more than twice her (jailbait) age:
He's rich, single and free (Has all the things she needs) Home, job, respectability Our life together is different (They make the heads turn) Why us? We haven't done a thing! No one knows us better He loves like a dream Why should I wait to get older? (You're only seventeen!)
Strangely enough, Bill Summers' long list of impressive percussion credits and his official discography page mention every album but this one. Imagine that! Ah, but the Internet and fans of sleazy New Wave & Funk have long memories, Bill...it was a different time! Embrace it! I was 14 years old when this was released and somehow it seemed more innocent then.
Martini Ranch was centered around Paxton and Andrew Todd. They featured a number of notable guest artists on their one and only album, 1986's Holy Cow, including DEVO's Mark Mothersbaugh on this track, which helps explain its obvious DEVO-nous. The video's good fun for playing Spot the '80s Star...how many can you name?
Martini Ranch got a bit more buzz with another single from Holy Cow called "Reach", which made the 120 Minutes playlist for a bit. After that, the duo went their separate ways, with Paxton making a much bigger splash a year later in Aliens. But he'll always be evil big brother "Chet" from Weird Science to me.
"How Can The Laboring Man Find Time For Self-Culture" did not chart.
* All songs are for sampling purposes only. If the album is currently in print, you'll see an Amazon link to purchase it. Supporting artists is a good thing, since labels are run by soulless whores. I KEED! Sorta. Look, if you like it, and it's in print, support 'em. If you're the artist or copyright holder, a quick e-mail to me will bring the song down ASAP. But compliment my writing first.
* Don't e-mail me asking me to repost dead links or to send you a song you can't find. Believe it or not, I have a life outside my blogging. I KEED! But don't do it.
* One more, and this is a biggie -- do NOT hotlink directly to my audio files and post them on your site, big shot. That's just disrespectful, rude, and a theft of my hard-earned bandwith.
Now, get readin', get downloadiN', and play nice. I loves me some comments. Bring it!