Childhood Classic : Barry Manilow 1989- Simple Title But Memorable Songs

Barry Manilow was released on May 2, 1989

Every once in a while, I will be reviewing a release from my childhood or musical past that made an influence on me. Some of these will be well known, and others may have been passed by under the radar. Most will not be in the hard rock/metal genre. You can see reviews in that genre written by me in the Retro Review section on the webpage Sleazeroxx.com, or on my online portfolio at llumleyportfolio.wordpress.com

 

My first exposure to Barry Manilow was during my sophomore year in high school. I took a theater arts class and one day we were listening to the song “Memory” from Cats. The title looked familiar to me, so I went home and dug around my parents 45s (remember them??), where they had two of Manilow’s records ; 1981’s “The Old Songs”/ “Don’t Fall In Love With Me” and “Heart of Steel”/Memory” from 1982. A few years later , I stumbled upon Manilow’s PBS special from England, which ended up being “The Greatest Hits And Then Some” release. I was mesmerized by the show, and had to listen to more of his music. I played those 45s over and over again to the point where I needed some newer material. I saw an ad on television in 1997 that Manilow was coming to Starlake Amphitheater in Burgettstown , P.A. I had to get tickets to see him. My mother took me to the local National Record Mart, so I could get tickets the day they came out. If it weren’t for her, I would not have been able to see him. She gave me her credit card to use, and when the guy printed out the tickets, he mentioned that it was cash only (although there was nothing stating that before the sale date or at the store itself in the ticket policies). Luckily, she had cash on her, and I was shocked at the price of the tickets; I saw my first concert in 1991 with lawn seats at the same amphitheater for 18 dollars. Each ticket was $40 for Manilow, plus service charge, which was a lot back then (but they ended up being like 10th row-and now some of his seats go for over $100) .

After the show, I had to get some more Manilow releases (I had the cassettes of the 1978 Greatest Hits and the 1989 Volume 1 which I got from the BMG music club.) . I went to Best Buy, and the only CDs they carried were the Greatest Hits from 1989 (Volumes I, II and III), along with his self titled 1989 album. I chose the self titled one as my first Manilow CD.

Some fans have dubbed Barry Manilow as the “purple album”, because he released several other albums with his name on it; his debut in 1973, Barry Manilow II (1974), 1980’s Barry, and 1985’s Manilow. Whatever fans want to call it, it was an unique album for many reasons besides the title; all but one song had outside writers on it (Manilow usually wrote or co-wrote most of his songs, and allowed few outside writers at this time), it had a polished production, and it was his last all original music until 2001, where besides some live releases, he released covers and themed albums from Broadway, the Big Band era, and the 1970s (The Summer of ’78 album is highly underrated) . It was also one of the longer run times from previous records , almost an hour long.

The opener “Please Don’t Be Scared,” is a wonderful ballad to start off the record. Manilow still sticks to the formula of loss, love, and hope in his songs. This first track , with the lyrics “Someday someone will make you glad you survived” brings the hope theme into play , while struggling to see the bigger picture in life.

“Keep Each Other Warm,” is a cover of the British group Bucks Fizz, and became a hit on the AC charts for Barry at #7. The soulful/ R&B song would have been placed perfectly along the radio songs by groups like Surface and Breathe. Unfortunately it was never played in my area stations in Youngstown, Ohio (where the local station was, although I live in Columbiana, Ohio, twenty minutes or so away). Manilow’s take on this song has more power to it instrumentally, where the original sounds like an ABBA cover band.

Songs like “Once and For All, ” and “The One That Got Away” continue the polished 1980s feel , where “The One That Got Away” has a simple chorus lyrically , which Manilow pulls off, even though it is some of the weaker songs on the release. Even though they are weaker than the others, a weak Manilow song can still be better than some artists’ best work.

“When the Good Times Come Again,” and “Some Good Things Never Last” are two great songs in a row. “…Good Times..” has the format, much like his hit “Somewhere Down The Road,” with the theme of hoping better things will come in the relationship after taking a break, where “Some Good Things Never Last” was featured on his follow up release, Live On Broadway. The opening line of “It’s 3 in the morning/You’re nowhere in sight” is a line that’s been thrown in my head numerous times for no reason whatsoever, especially being awake at 3 A.M. It’s a wonder to me, looking back now, why “Some Good Things Never Last” was not released as a single. It should have been on the pop or AC charts.

The last three songs are the songs I remember most about the release. “My Moonlight Memories Of You’ is a catchy song that displays Manilow’s love for Broadway songs. The song starts off one way , and then goes in another style, one that you could see Fred Astaire dancing and singing in an old time musical, or in a vaudeville show. The “I Can’t Smile Without You” feel of the song challenges the listener NOT to sing along, and with the end , where he is singing the melody while it fades out, one can picture the main star walking down the street while the camera pans overhead to the city while the credits roll.

“Anyone Can Do The Heartbreak” was a hit for Anne Murray in 1987. Both versions are just as good, and it’s hard to choose one over the other.

The final is a road song, “A Little Traveling Music, Please.” I first heard this song on the PBS special, or the VHS release of the show, I can’t remember exactly, but I thought it was a great , soft song about being on the road , and away from the special person. Many road songs in music, like “Faithfully “or “Turn The Page,” have power to it musically (hence the name power ballad), where this song is a refreshingly mellow and clam, with drummer Vinnie Colaiuta playing brushes on the track. This song is the perfect placement as the ender of the album. I played this song many times after playing in local bands as a drummer on the way home to calm my ears after playing rock and blues all night long. It takes a while for the song to get going, with an instrumental intro, but when the song gets going, its great.

Barry Manilow has wonderful memories for me. One, it was exposure to Manilow’s latest work, and not just the popular hits that I knew the time. It also had a long run time, so I got my money’s worth, along with some songs becoming my favorite rarer songs from his catalog (“Memories of You,” and “Traveling Music” are two of them).

The songs still hold up after 30 years, and doesn’t sound too dated, even though it is one of his more polished production wise albums (along with 1985’s Manilow) . Manilow fans all have their favorite albums (they are as passionate as Kiss, The Beatles, and The Oak Ridge Boys’ fans as which are their favorites), this is one of my favorites where I don’t have to skip songs ( I am not counting his cover albums). Even though some are a little weaker than others, it can play all the way through. This is a CD that gave me more of a love of Manilow’s music (especially when I was in college at the time, where his music was a friend to me). It is still a go-to CD to play when I want to hear some rarer Manilow songs.

You can read my other post on Barry’s rarer songs here in the archives, by typing in “Barry Manilow” in the search engine.

 

Track Listing: 1. Please Don’t Be Scared 2. Keep Each Other Warm 3.Once And For All 4. The One That Got Away 5.When The Good Times Come Again 6. Some Good Things Never Last 7. In Another World 8. You Begin Again 9.My Moonlight Memories Of You   10. Anyone Can Do The Heartbreak 11. A Little Traveling Music, Please

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Childhood Classic: New Edition Turns 35 !!!

New Edition was released July 6, 1984 by MCA Records. It hit #6 on the U.S. Top Pop Albums and #1 on the Top R&B Albums charts.

Every once in a while, I will be reviewing a release from my childhood or musical past that made an influence on me. Some of these will be well known, and others may have been passed by under the radar. Most will not be in the hard rock/metal genre. You can see reviews in that genre written by me in the Retro Review section on the webpage Sleazeroxx.com

 

The first cassette I ever got was 1983’s An Innocent Man by Billy Joel. At the time, I was still listening to 45s and vinyl records. My brother had several of Joel’s singles from the album, and when it was time for me to save enough allowance money (or maybe it was birthday money, I don’t remember), and my parents took me to the local store to pick out a release, I chose Joel’s album (you can read my review of that album in the archives under “Childhood Classics: My First Cassette”).

I listened to many types of music, from country to the pop songs on the radio, but I was also listening to early rock and roll music, like The Beach Boys, Elvis, and other early pioneers of music, at age 11. Joel’s album was a tribute to the early acts of music, with its pop harmonies (at the time I did not know that, but loved the songs that was played on the local radio station). So when it came time for me to get another cassette, I picked a group that was starting to get big on radio in my area, which I also had a 45 single of, New Edition.

The 1984 self titled release was actually the group’ second album, but I was already jamming to the single “Cool It Now,” which was being played on a local television video show from Akron/Canton ‘s channel 23 (we didn’t have MTV at this time- it was a pay site, and we didn’t have cable) hosted by Billy Soule. When it came to the early days of buying music, I would usually get a 45 single, which was under $2 at the time, and listen to the B sides to see if I liked the other songs, wait until the group had two or three songs out before I could have enough money to get the whole album (which was a pricey $9 back then), or wait until the album went on sale for the $5.99-$7.99 sale price.

Being a fan of Michael Jackson at the time, especially The Jackson 5 era, the guys from New Edition really hit the spot with their strong harmony vocals, and pop feel to the songs. I was also a fan of the music videos, with the guys in the group hanging out together , playing basketball and chasing girls in the park, while breaking out into song with fancy dance moves and hand motions to the songs, which helped in my opinion of how cool these guys were at the time.

The second single, “Mr. Telephone Man,” (written and produced by Ray Parker Jr.) was one of my favorite songs at the time, where I would study the music video every time it was played on Soule’s video show, so I could mimic the hand gestures to the song. I remember impressing several of my classmates at the time , when they saw that I could do all the hand movements exactly like they did in the video. It was this song that convinced me that I had to have the whole cassette. The fact that both “Cool It Now” and “Mr. Telephone Man” were the first two songs on the cassette was like finding King Solomon’s gold when playing the cassette, because I did not have to fast forward to my two favorite songs (the cell phone era people may not understand why “Mr. Telephone Man was so relatable at the time)

The album released four singles; the two mentioned above, “Lost In Love” (not to be confused with the Air Supply song), and “My Secret (Didja Gettit Yet)?” The video for “My Secret” detailed the guys hanging out at a L.A. Lakers basketball game during the video. I don’t remember the video being played as often as the first two in my area, nor was the song on my local radio station in Youngstown , Ohio. Anyway, I remember it started the second side of the cassette.

There are three rare cuts on the release that I enjoyed now revisiting the music. “I’m Leaving You Again” and “Delicious” are two slow R&B songs that would’ve been played at school dances or roller skating rinks to slow things down. They also would have been a great fit on the soul and black radio stations at the time. “Maryann” is a song that has the 1970’s Spinners style to it. The saxophone solo gives the song an adult contemporary style added into the mix.

If there are any fillers on the release, it’ll be “Kinda Girls We Like” which is too much rap for me (even in the 1980s, I was not a fan of rap- a little bit was ok, like on “Cool It Now” but that was enough), “Baby Love,” and “Hide And Seek.” But having 7 out of 10 songs on an album being great- that’s a good mix, especially for a pop group.

Music groups who could sing and dance were not new in 1984; acts like The Osmonds, The Jacksons, The Temptations, The Four Tops, and The Spinners were doing it long before. However, New Edition brought the same concept to the 80s, with a mass appeal as well; they had both white and black audiences buying their records. They were one of the pioneers of the boy band craze that happened in the 1990s.

After a dispute over royalties during this album, the group sued manager Maurice Starr, who went on afterwards to form The New Kids on The Block , wanting them to be the white version of New Edition. Bobby Brown left New Edition years later to go solo (I was a huge fan of his 1988 Don’t Be Cruel album) along with the other members being a part of Bell Biv Devoe, and both Johnny Gill ( a replacement for Tresevant) and Ralph Tresvant had solo careers. The group went on to have a few other good singles, such as “Count Me Out” (from their next album),  a remake of the Penguin’s hit “Earth Angel” , and 1988’s “If If Isn’t Love.”

Is New Edition going to be listed as a classic album, where many others may proudly say it was their fist record? Probably not. However, it was filled with good pop vocals, and has several wonderful musicians that was a part of the songs- Teena Marie, Ray Parker Jr. , and Michael Sambello had songs or production on it. Not everyone had their first two or three records or cassettes (or later CDs) masterpieces. The album for me brings back memories of going to a record store trying to decide what to spend your money on, studying pop vocals and harmonies, and going back to a time when some music  and videos were just plan fun without all the political agendas like today.

 

Childhood Classic: My First Cassette

An Innocent Man by Billy Joel was released by Columbia Records in 1983.

  Every once in a while, I will be reviewing a release from my childhood or musical past that made an influence on me. Some of these will be well known, and others may have been passed by under the radar. Most will not be in the hard rock/metal genre. You can see some of those in that genre written by me in the Retro Review section on the webpage Sleazeroxx.com

 

 

Just like remembering your first concert, the first album, cassette, or compact disc a person buys is just as much part of a person’s memory. The first cassette I ever bought for myself, after saving up allowance money, was An Innocent Man. My brother and I shared the 45s of “Uptown Girl” and then “The Longest Time” before I bought the whole cassette. Since we had “The Longest Time” on 45, I must have purchased it in 1984 after several singles were out in the stores, because I also remember not too long later I got my second cassette as a gift, the self titled New Edition release.

Growing up, I always like the bands of the 1960s, so this album by Joel, which was tribute to these acts, was not too far off the track musically for me. I don’t think I remember Joel’s earlier work at the time, although I wrote a research paper in 5th grade on music, and mentioned Joel in the paper. My teacher at the time had seen him live several times at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, and I remember him telling me about the show.

Joel was one of the top acts at this time, getting all kinds of local and national radio airplay, along with his videos on the video shows (I did not have MTV at the time, so shows like “Friday Night Videos” and the local Akron/Canton video show hosted by Billy Soule played his videos).

The opening track, “Easy Money,” which was featured in the 1983 Rodney Dangerfield film, was a great opener to the album, and I would play the song on the way to visiting the casinos when my friend’s band would play there (as little as two years ago-the song is still on my play list). Throughout the song, and the album, I became a fan of drummer Liberty Devitto’s strong snare drum sound.

“An Innocent Man” was a song that , at first, I was not a major fan of, but during my adult years, I grew to love the song more. The lyrics are strong and describe the human nature that most pop songs did not at this time. Being 11 years old when I got this cassette, I was more into the hit singles of the albums than deeper cuts mostly.

“This Night” was one of the fewer deeper cuts on albums and the cassettes that I always listened to. The song had the Doo Wop sound to it, almost reminded me of another group that I was a fan of at the time, Sha Na Na.

“Tell Her About It,” “Uptown Girl” and “The Longest Time” were already blaring on my radio, so I was not unfamiliar with these singles, singing along with my friends during recess at school and in music class, where every Friday we were allowed to bring in a 45 or record to play and study and dance to as a reward. Thankfully our music teacher, who was also the drama teacher, was a fan of popular music like Hall and Oates, Duran Duran, and Joel. We did not have the old grey-haired teacher who hated rock music, like the professor I had in my college music class.

“Careless Talk” and “Christie Lee” were songs that I grew to love more in my college and post-college days, especially when I started playing in local bands, and we started writing original songs. Why not try and copy the great songwriting of Billy Joel, right? Unfortunately the rock/blues band I was in didn’t lend to that kind of 60’s pop.

The last two songs, “Leave A Tender Moment Alone” and “Keeping The Faith” were two other songs that I remember loving from the first time I heard them. I loved the harmonica in “Leave A Tender Moment,” seeing the video of Joel playing live on the Akron/Canton video show, “23 Music Videos,” hosted by Billy Soule, on WAKC Channel 23- a channel where I also got to watch Memphis wrestling .

“Keeping The Faith” was a popular video , with Joel in a court room trying to plead his case to a jury. I remember us kids re-enacting music videos during recess at times, with this one being one of them (another was “Method of Modern Love” by Hall and Oates). We had to use our imaginations back then before the cell phones and internet to keep us occupied.

I bought a Billy Joel video collection years later on VHS, which had the video of “Keeping The Faith” on it. Videos at one time were a visual interpretation of the songs, and Joel standing next to the giant jukebox was a great visual with a song about his musical heroes. I always love the lyrics in the song of “The good ole days weren’t always good/and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”

Even though some people scoff at videos made in the 1980s, they were a new genre for musicians, and there were no set rules on how to do them. Some were cheesy, some weren’t, but they helped sell records, which was the goal. Although I had a few of the 45s, the videos helped me enjoy this release even more. I listed this album as an underrated album that many people either missed in the stores or that they are not mentioned among the artists’ best work on an older article. It’s hard to imagine that people forget An Innocent Man, which spawned 7 singles, and if it wasn’t for Thriller by Michael Jackson, it would probably been the album of that year.

Music Review: Childhood Classic- Celebrating The Summer of 1985 With The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys Released by Brother/Caribou/CBS Records 1985

Every once in a while, I will be reviewing a release from my childhood or musical past that made an influence on me. Some of these will be well known, and others may have been passed by under the radar. Most will not be in the hard rock/metal genre. You can see some of those written by me in the Retro Review section on the webpage Sleazeroxx.com , where I contribute now and then. With summer starting soon, what better release to look at than one by the band that made summer fun?

The year 1985 was a good year for records. Whitney Houston’s debut, Ratt’s Invasion of Your Privacy, Tears For Fears’ Songs From the Big Chair, No Jacket Required by Phil Collins and “We Are the World” was blasting the charts and airwaves. I was listening to these, along with the WWF Wrestling Album, Stryper’s Soldiers Under Command, Rick Springfield’s Tao, and Corey Hart’s Boy In The Box. One of the underrated albums that had great memories for me was the self titled Beach Boys album.

I grew up listening to The Beach Boys as far back as I can remember; they were one of the bands I never strayed away from, regardless of what genre I was listening to at the time. Drummer Dennis Wilson was one of my favorite drummers, who played with a passion and intensity live. Regardless of the backlash that he wasn’t playing on all studio tracks, he was still a good drummer live. I remember seeing the ABC TV Special from 1976 many times on television, getting to tape it on VHS in the 1980s, and wearing out that tape (getting a copy of it years ago on DVD was an extra treat for me when that came out).

The 1985 album was the first release since the death of Wilson, who drowned in 1983. The record was produced by Steve Levine, who produced albums by The Culture Club, and the simple title of The Beach Boys was also symbolic of a new era for the band; from the first release without a founding member, to moving into the 1980s pop sound with drum machines, synthesizers, and samplings.

The first song, “Getcha Back” starts with a big drum sound, and then the powerful harmonies of the group kicks in before the first verse. I remember seeing the band on one of my favorite television shows of the day, “Solid Gold,” debut the song. Once I saw them on the show, I had to get the record because the song just hit me. My local radio station actually was playing the song on frequent rotation, and the single charted to # 2 on the AC charts and # 26 nationally. One could argue that the success of this song helped pave the way for the next big smash, “Kokomo” in 1988 (the band did chart with a duet with rappers The Fat Boys before that, and in 1986 barely charted with the underrated “Rock N’ Roll To The Rescue” for a greatest hits package). Many stations were not playing new music from a “nostalgia” act like The Beach Boys, so getting airplay in 1985 was a big help.

The song has the strong harmonies that the band made famous, along with the lyrics looking back on a love gone wrong, with hope that the lovers could get back together. The opening line of “The other night they were playing our song/haven’t heard it for ooh so long,” and in the second verse, “I’m getting tired laying around here all night/thinking about some other guy holding you tight/he may have money and a brand new car/may even treat you like a movie star,” may sound simple but was just poetry for me hearing it back then. This song is a Nicholas Sparks novel in 3 minutes.

The whole first side of the album is filled with strong vocals and harmonies that could have been on any radio station at this time. The slower “It’s Getting Late” (which was also released from the album , but for some reason didn’t connect with the national listeners), and the next song, ” Crack At Your Love,” gives the album a great flow. “Maybe I Don’t Know” is maybe the only filler song on the first side, but it’s not a bad song.

One of my favorite songs on the album, besides “Getcha Back,” is the last song on the side; a ballad written by Bruce Johnson titled “She Believes in Love Again,” which features Johnson on lead with Carl Wilson coming in on the chorus. This ballad about the guy messing up and asking for forgiveness is a updated theme of the normal love goes wrong and has a spirituality to it. It was released a single but didn’t get airplay anywhere near me, which is a shame because it is one of my favorite ballads of the group.

Side Two kicks in with an ode to California called “California Calling.” After all the years of writing songs about surfing and beaches, you’d think the band would have run out of ideas or original ways to talk about the theme, but this is a fun pop filled song that isn’t dated. Ringo Starr guest drums on the track, which is interesting due to the band’s past with The Beatles, where Brian Wilson had to top the band on the charts. “Passing Friend” has a calypso style to it, co written by George O Dowd (aka Boy George) and Roy Hay (also of Culture Club).

The Brian Wilson led “I’m So Lonely” has the feel of his solo work , with a mid tempo song filled with layers of vocals throughout the chorus. The song is not a typical ballad but has a 1970s feel that could been on the AC charts. The quick two and a half minute song sends the listener back to the days of the 45 records, where anything over 4 minutes would been considered too long for the listener.

Stevie Wonder contributes to the song “I Do Love You,” which sounds like the group just singing a Wonder song. This coming after the song “Where I Belong,” which is another filler on the album starts to seem like the band lost the pop radio friendly style and went back to experimenting with another direction. These songs are not bad , but listening to the album as a whole, it ended the flow. Not being a fan of Stevie Wonder’s music (with the exception of a few songs), I don’t want to hear one of my favorite groups sing a song that sounds just like Stevie Wonder.

After the song “I’m So Lonely,” the album goes downhill for me, but very few records (even now) has every track a winner. The first side and a half though is filled with great songs and memories. I remember wearing out several copies of this cassette while playing along in my bedroom on a summer day with my drums. My best female friend during junior high was also a Beach Boys fan, so this was an album that was played often in my childhood and bring back summer days hanging out with her. The album was re-mastered on CD on a double release with Keepin’ The Summer Alive from 1980 (why this combination was put together with the releases five years apart is questioning, but I only listen to the 1985 release).

When I want to go back to my childhood and listen to a feel good record that takes me back to summer time, friends, and a simple time, I can always count on this release.

 

Track Listings:

  1. Getcha Back 2. It’s Getting Late 3. Crack At Your Love 4. Maybe I Don’t Know
  2. She Believes In Love Again 6. California Calling 7. Passing Friend 8. I’m So Lonely
  3. Where I Belong 10. I Do Love You 11. It’s Just A Matter of Time

Classic Album Review: Fancy Free Flashback

 

Art Direction : George Osaki, Design: David Hogan, Photos: Jimmy Moore. Fancy Free was released on March 26, 1981 by MCA Records. The album charted #1 on the U.S. Country Albums chart, #14 on the U.S. Billboard 200 Albums Chart. According to Wikipedia, it is listed as one of the first albums to ever reach multi-platinum certification in the U.S, and was produced by Ron Chancey.

 

One of the things that makes music wonderful (at least when I was younger) is that a great song or album can bring back memories. A listener can hear a song years later, and they can remember details from the first time they heard the songs-where they were the first time they heard the song (s), standing in line at the record store to purchase the album, or even who the songs made them think of a person or place from their past when they heard it.

Fancy Free, by The Oak Ridge Boys is such a record for me. I first discovered the singing group around 1980, when I received their Greatest Hits album, along with my first drum set, from my parents as a Christmas gift. From then on, I practiced playing songs from their albums, watched them on television every time I could (including many times seeing the PBS concert), and was a member of their fan club (back when that stuff was free). To this day, Fancy Free is my all time favorite release from the band, which was released on March 26, 1981. The album’s cover, with the group sitting in a car with a bright pink background(according to the liner notes of the album, a 1929 Dusenberg Dual Cowl Phaeton),  is one of the memorable covers in that genre. I can easily remember classic album covers in rock music from my youth, like the first Kiss record and Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man, but country music’s album covers were not always as creative (usually just a picture of the act), but two that really stick out in my memory is John Schneider’s Now Or Never, and this release by The Oaks.

Everyone (even those who are not fans of the group) knows the famous “Elvira,” which kicks off the album. At one time, I was tired of the song, but after seeing the band live the last several years, it has grown back on me. Seeing thousands of fans singing along with Richard Sterban’s bass line is something to witness live in person. The song became a #1 hit on the country charts for the group (the Dallas Frazier penned song was previous recorded by other acts like Kenny Rogers and Rodney Crowell), along with crossing over to the pop charts , hitting at #5 (and the U.S. AC charts at # 8).

“Somewhere In The Night” is a wonderful ballad, lead by Duane Allen, and features the staple harmonies of the rest of the group. Sawyer Brown recorded a version of the song, but it lacks the powerful vocals and orchestration that The Oak’s version displays. The version on this release would have fit perfectly on the AC charts during this time.

“She’s Gone To L.A. Again” starts with the group’s vocal harmonies. The song’s lyrics is a perfect fit for the year of the release, where people in the 1980s had dreams of going to California to either be in a music band or an actor. Allen sings lead on the track, where his woman breaks up the relationship to follow her dreams. The guitars and piano playing on the track help complete the song. The country/pop flavor of the track is a wonderful precursor to songs that hit the radio years later with similar themes, such as the 1985 hit “Meet Me In Montana” by Marie Osmond and Dan Seals. The Oaks were ahead of the times on this song.

“When I’m With You” spotlights Richard Sterban on lead vocals. Many of the Oaks state “Dream On” is their favorite of Sterban’s lead songs, but this one is my favorite, due to the backing harmonies, guitar playing, and orchestration brings an Adult Contemporary genre to it. This is one songs by the band that gets overlooked. This is a romantic gem.

“Another Dream Just Came True” brings the record back on an up tempo feel. Even though some of the songs on the release could have been on the pop or adult charts, this song is a good plain country track. Even though Allen sings lead on the song, you can hear all the members in the mix, especially Joe Bonsall hitting some higher notes in the harmonies. Each track on the album is short, which makes the listening even more wonderful, because there are no extra tracks or fillers on the album. This song gets you singing along, and then its over. This song makes the listener want more of the catchy melody.

“I’m Sittin’ Fancy Free” is another song that catapulted the band into the next level of popularity. Another #1 country hit that crossed over to several charts, and is a staple to the group’s live set in concert, is a wonderful ballad. This track, like many other of the Oak’s ballads, displays Allen’s soulful lead, which is perfect on ballads, with the rest of the group complimenting him with their harmonies. This song is one of the greatest country ballads ever in my opinion.

“Dream Of Me” goes back to the country flavor with the legendary William Lee Golden singing lead. The song has strong acoustic guitars throughout the song. I have grown to respect the talents of Golden more and more the past several years (and those that have seen the band live will agree). The catchy chorus makes it hard not to sing along, and as mentioned before , is not overburden with extras on the track, where just when the listener is singing along, the song fades out. Many times albums have fillers on it, but this song is not a filler, even though it was not a hit for The Oaks, it was a hit for Vern Gosdin.

“When Love Calls You” is a wonderful song, which I have mentioned on my blog page as one of my favorite rare songs from the Oaks that doesn’t not get attention. This ballad has positive lyrics to it, where Allen sings about even though a relationship didn’t work out, love will call his name again will work out someday. The guitar work, along with the backing orchestration fills out the song. I always wondered how Barry Manilow would interpret this song, because he is the only other person that could capture the heart of the song besides Allen. I always wanted to ask the members of the Oaks how they decided who sang lead on the songs, because on this album , every pick was straight on in determining who sang lead.

“How Long Has It Been” gets the listener back to an up tempo feel for the latter part of the album. The song has great dynamics, with a softer feel during the lyrics, and then kicks up during the chorus. The guitar solo on the song has a great 1980s feel to it, almost similar to the pop songs early in the decade (like Joey Scarbury’s work, who later in the 1990s, gave the Oaks a #1 hit). The guitar work ends the song into the fade out, which gives the listener more of the wonderful work that started in the middle.

One of the wonderful aspects of The Oak Ridge Boys is how they kept true to their past history of their gospel roots, and the album ends with this theme with “I Would Crawl All The Way (To The River),” another song I mentioned on a blog from 2016, as a rare song from the band that is very underrated. Sometimes artists try and end a record on a slow note, which very few can achieve. I personally like the idea of having the last song leave the listener begging for more, and this record does just that, with the group taking the listener back to the southern gospel church setting.

The song starts off with a soft acoustic sound, but by the end , kicks out in full force. Even though the follower of the band know who the song is speaking of, but nowhere in the song does the name Jesus get mentioned, and looking back at the success of the album now, it is remarkable that this perfect album gets a religious song put on the end of the record that is filled with pop, country , and rock songs on it. It shows that the group still took a chance on their traditional gospel when they were looking to branch out into other genres. The drum shuffle towards the end of the song is featured before kicking the end of the track in.

Fancy Free was the album that truly soared the band into another level of their musical plateau. The band has taken many chances in the career; from breaking out from the traditional gospel scene to go country, and then branching out again with this release, which gave the group more pop fans on top of the country fans that already knew the band. There are not many albums that I consider prefect, with every track being enjoyable without extra fillers or extended solos on the records. One of my other writings on my page was about albums that you can not skip any tracks on the release, and Fancy Free made my list of albums in ANY genre, not just country.

Fancy Free is filled with great songs, wonderful memories (This is one album that made me study and learn harmonies , which helped out in certain bands I played in as a drummer years later). Even though I was heavily into the top pop songs of the era, I never once strayed from the Oak Ridge Boys, especially this wonderful classic that should be a part of every single music lovers collection, regardless of the genre.

 

The Oak Ridge Boys are :

Duane Allen, Richard Sterban. Joe Bonsall, and William Lee Golden.

 

For info on the group, visit : http://www.oakridgeboys.com

 

 

Classic Review: Boys’ 1983 Release Full Of American Made Memories

 

Image result for american made album the oak ridge boys
American Made was released January 20, 1983. Cover photography by Alan Messer.

 

Reviewer’s Note: This year marks the 36th anniversary of the release of American Made album by the Oak Ridge Boys, which featured one of the last major crossover singles on the pop charts (the title song) for the band. This album was coming off of their 1982 Christmas album, which featured the song “Thank God For Kids,” a #3 single on the country charts. Looking back on the 1983 release American Made, I decided revisit the album.

 

I became an Oak Ridge Boys fan around 1980, when my parents gave me several special gifts for Christmas that year: my first drum set, a record player, and the Oaks’ Greatest Hits album from 1980. Without even studying the songs on the record, my parents put on the record, and went to get their breakfast in the next room. By the time they came back into the living room after getting their tea, I was playing along beat for beat with the record, as if I heard the songs a hundred times before. Not only did that start my drumming career, but also my love for the group, getting the Fancy Free and American Made records during the years to come as a youth.

The American Made record was a vital part of my childhood; even though I listened to the Top 40 radio hits of the time, along with the hard rock music, there were still several country music acts that I never strayed from, one being the Oaks. The cover of the album was imprinted in my mind, mainly due to William Lee Golden’s huge jacket that he wore on the cover (for some reason it is one of the memorable country covers I remember to this day, along with the Fancy Free release). When CDs became more available, I was lucky to find the album, along with the band’s follow up Deliver, on a two album release. Just like my writings for a hard rock website that looks at older releases, I decided to see if the Oak’s release still holds up as I remember as a child today to celebrate the album’s anniversary.

The first track, “Love Song,” was the second single from the album. One of my early memories of the song was when I was in junior high, every Friday our music teacher would allow a student to bring in a record to play one song and discuss parts of the song, along with exposing different types of music to each other. I remember her being impressed with how I stated I liked the song due to the harmonies, especially the break towards the middle of the song, which reminded me of the old 1950s-1960s Doo -Wop singers standing on the street corner singing away. Joe Bonsall’s lead singing on the track is also fitting, with him being a Philadelphia guy (where the Doo Wop sound was relevant). The guitar solo has a nice rocking sound to it for being a country song. The group still sings this song live, which shows how great songs last, and even though it was not a hit on the pop charts (it was a #1 hit on the country charts), it had the same formula of the other songs on the radio at the time.

“She’s Not Just Another Pretty Face” features the bass vocals of Richard Sterban. The orchestration in the chorus builds the song where this could have been played on any adult contemporary radio station during this time. The song has a unique ending, where it doesn’t repeat the chorus until fade out, but just once after the second verse to end the song. The keyboard piano playing adds a nice emphasis during the chorus. The just over three minute song is a great rare cut, where there is not anything extra added to the song to make it longer to bore the listener. Sometimes the listener can realize why a certain song wasn’t released as a single, due to its extra length, but this song could have been at home on the pop charts.

“Amity” brings the band back to a traditional country sound, with the smooth vocals of Duane Allen singing about a guy who runs into a childhood friend years later. The lyrics tell a Hollywood movie style theme of a guy who falls for the girl years after she left the hometown. This track features strong steel and acoustic guitars; a stable for many country songs from the 1970s and 1980s.

Track four, “You’re The One, ” shouldn’t be confused with the hit the group had in 1977, but is a ballad with William Lee Golden singing lead. The song, like the other ballads on the album, has strong orchestration with strings playing a nice melody behind the vocals. There is a pleasant guitar solo on the track, which is similar to the late 1970s and early 1980s AC songs on the radio. The musicianship here is better than the lyrics on this track, but the song still flows well with all the others on the release.

The next track is one of my favorite all time rare songs by the group. “Down The Hall” once again features Allen singing lead. The lyrics describe a man who has never visited the big sites in the world, like Paris and Niagara Falls, but doesn’t miss anything because of his love. The extra percussion adds an island feel to the song. This song has been listed on previous blogs of mine as one of my favorite songs that most people don’t know from the band (check the archives to read). I remember putting this song on several mix tapes for friends back in the day. My one friend who was a major Oaks fan, would play the song constantly in his car when we were going places as teenagers and even would sing it in the hallways at school. This song not only brings back childhood memories, but is just as great a song as I remember it decades later without sounded dated. This is one of Allen’s rare gems that people need to check out. Why this song wasn’t released is a shame, because it could’ve been on the radio in several genre formats.

The title track, “American Made” comes in next. The song is still performed live by the group today. I remember the song being used in TV commercials, and was the first single from the album, breaking into the pop charts. The song features all the members of the group sharing vocals. The Pat McManus and Bob DiPerio written song has strong piano playing throughout. The lyrics are just as relevant today as it was back in 1983. Sometimes the hits of an artist can wear on a listener, but I love this song just as much as when it was first released, and has become a staple of the band known for their patriotism.

“Any Old Time You Choose” is another Duane Allen led classic that many may not list when naming some of the group’s best work. The power of the orchestration brings an intensity to the already great ballad. Music, especially back in the day, meant something and brought feelings to the listener. Teenagers would not just dance to songs, but ballads had the lyrics and melodies that brought the listener back to a person or place from their past. This song was one of them for me, as a young kid waiting for the school girl to notice me. This was another song that I always put on mix tapes (I was the king of mix tapes back then-it was an 80s thing). This song was one of my favorite ballads of the group in the collection that I had at the time. I remember trying my best to try and sing like Allen (to no avail, like many of us, and why I stuck to playing drums).

Sometimes I like to hear songs that have a little humor to it, or a tongue in cheek tone in the lyrics. “Heart On The Line (Operator Operator)” is one of those songs, and having Joe Bonsall , with help from Richard Sterban, sing the lead was a perfect choice. The piano (like a 1960s pop with a R&B/boogie feel to it), along with the horns playing during the song, makes it even more fun to listen to. The humorous tale of the singer calling to apologize for his actions, but gets disconnected and runs out of money (cell phone people may not know how common back in the day this was when you had to pay for calls at a phone booth) is not only fun to hear, but to sing along with.   I could argue the song was a precursor to other hits similar in theme, such as “Mr. Telephone Man” (New Edition- 1984) and “Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair)” by Sheena Easton, which was released later in 1983.

Track nine, “You Made It Beautiful,” starts with Allen singing with just a piano. The lyrics seem simple, but it comes together with Allen’s great voice on ballads. This is another song under or around the three minute mark, with no repeating chorus to fade out. This song is one that I recently starting liking while re-listening the album as a whole for this review. Back in the day, I was not one to listen to the whole album -choosing the hits at the time, or a rare song here and there- but this song has my respect today studying all the work that gets put into songs. The wonderful things about revisiting albums years later is when you find newfound respect for songs that didn’t capture you the first time. This is one of those cases.

The final track on the release is “I’m So Glad To Be Standing Here Today.” Golden sings lead on this song, with its positive lyrics. The chorus has a more Gospel/R&B feel to it, as opposed to some of the songs on the album that had an adult contemporary feel to it. The drumming on the song during the chorus reminds me of the style I played at my first local church band. There is some undervalued work on this track. The saxophone solo brings power to the sound. This song will be back on my play list for a while. This song could be added to their live set list today, with their emphasis on the gospel feel that the group adds to their shows. At the time I didn’t realize it, but after seeing the band several times the past few years, I have seen how valuable William Lee Golden is to the band vocally. He was the first of the lineup to join the band, and yet he seems to not get his just due among some country music critics. It amazes me how some music critics fail to see the talent and quality of this act’s iconic status as legends vocally and picking great songs (Maybe if the radio formats would be more open to real talent instead of what’s “hot”, but I digress). Producer Ron Chancey and the group not only picked great tunes, but the production and orchestration on them are wonderful and could have been on many radio formats.

American Made may have been one of the last albums that non traditional fans purchased from the band, but the group still topped the county charts throughout the 1980s, along with the gospel charts decades later. The album was full of pop, R&B, gospel, and traditional country songs, while keeping the signature harmonies that the group perfected. There are some rare cuts on the album that I think are some of the best work the group has in its arsenal, and wonder why some of them were not released as more singles. As a whole, I say there may be one to two fillers on the album, but they are not long enough to make the listener want to get up and go to the next song (then again, with music the way it is now, I’d listen to any filler and marvel at the talent on this record any day).  36 years later, the release is as strong as it was when it first came out, with more added memories for me to enjoy this record over and over.

 

 

American Made

MCA Records (Produced by Ron Chancey)

 

Track Listings:

1. Love Song

2. She’s Just Not Another Pretty Face

3. Amity

4. You’re The One

5.Down The Hall

6. American Made

7. Any Old Time You Choose

8. Heart On The Line (Operator, Operator)

9. You Made It Beautiful

10. I’m So Glad To Be Standing Here Today

 

The Oak Ridge Boys:

Duane Allen

Joe Bonsall

Richard Sterban

William Lee Golden

 

For information about The Oak Ridge Boys, go to http://www.oakridgeboys.com

 

British Acts that Weren’t One Hitters

One of my pet peeves when talking about music from the 1980s is when people assume acts were One Hit Wonders because their most popular song is constantly played on radio stations or on compilation CDs (along with the term “Hair Metal,” which really drives me nuts, because the band’s hair had nothing to do with their musical talents).  Some people may not know but the radio format plays the same songs almost every hour, even during “Time Warp” Weekends (where radio stations play all songs from the 1980s), so it’s easy for newer listeners to assume that some of these music acts only had one hit, for instance when people  think of the band Mr. Mister, they think of “Broken Wings,” but forget about “Kyrie” or “Is It Love,” which both hit the U.S. Charts, or the Australian band Icehouse, who recorded the song “Electric Blue,” but forget about my favorite of the band, “Crazy,” which hit #14 in 1987. Or even the Canadian band Men Without Hats, who we know from “The Safety Dance” hitting #11 on the U.S. Charts, but do you remember their other 1987 hit “Pop Goes The World” that charted at #20?

We can blame it on ignorance (not everyone studied music like I did, trying to know who wrote the songs or its chart position due to my childhood listening to Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40” every Saturday Morning), or due to the format of radio today, but I thought I’d look (an hopefully inform) at a few British acts that are usually viewed as One Hit Wonders, but really weren’t.

 

  1. Cutting Crew. This act’s big hit “I Just Died In Your Arms” was recently used in “The Lego Batman Movie”.  The group broke in the U.S. with the 1986 album “Broadcast,” which had this famous song. However, the band hit the U.S. Charts with the #9 “I’ve Been In Love Before,” which is my favorite of the band. The song was actually the third single in the U.S., but was a huge hit for them.  The band also was in the Top 40 with a second single from the album, “One For The Mockingbird”, but it wasn’t until they took another chance with “Been In Love” after it only hit #31 in the UK as the follow up song for “I Just Died In Your Arms.”  The band still records and tours with lead singer Nick Van Eede and different lineup changes through the years. I still prefer the second single, “I’ve Been In Love Before” over the first breakout single that most people remember of the band.
  1. The Escape Club. This band hit #1 on the U.S Charts with the single “Wild, Wild West,” but many may not know that they had another in 1991, “I’ll Be There,” which charted at #9.  The band formed in 1983, and as of 2012, is still performing with singer Trevor Steel, and guitar player John Holliday. Steel was also an A&R person for Universal Records in Australia after the band’s spotlight died down. As with Cutting Crew, I prefer the second single, “I’ll Be There,” which is a better song than the first single that broke the band. “I’ll Be There” is a darker song about a death of a friend, but still has positive lyrics to the song. The song has an eerie type melody, almost a goth- feel to it, but was still main stream enough to hit the Top 10. Whenever the band comes up in my music conversations, many people have never heard this second song, which is a shame, because it is really well written.
  1. Johnny Hates Jazz. This act hit #2 in the U.S. with the song “Shattered Dreams” in 1988, but was first released in 1987 (back in this era, it took usually time for the released song to gain airplay and move up the charts, unlike today).  The act also recorded “I Don’t Want to Be A Hero”(#31) in 1988. My favorite song of the band did not chart on the Top 100 Singles, but charted at #5 on the U.S. Adult Contemporary Charts, along with #12 in the U.K., called “Turn Back The Clock.” I remember seeing this video all the time on my local video channels (we didn’t have MTV at first-it was a pay channel- but watched shows like “Friday Night Videos,” and the video show on WAKR Channel 23 in Canton, Ohio with Billy Soule as the host).  To this day, it is one of my favorite videos, which shows the band looking back at their childhood and the things that they did, like hang out in a tree house. The single had backing vocals by Kim Wilde, who hit #1 in the U.S. with a cover of the Supremes’ “Keep Me Hanging On” in 1987.  This song is a lost gem in my eyes of singles of the decade that many do not remember.
  1. The Outfield. This British band had 5 Top 40 singles from 1986-1990, but yet the band is still considered One Hit Wonders due to the smash #6 hit “Your Love,” from their “Play Deep” Album.  I still crank up the song whenever I hear it playing to this day. I love their 1990 album “Diamond Days,” which I happened to get the CD at a bargain bin for a great price. I loved all the songs on the CD, including the 1990 hit “For You,” which charted at #21 in the U.S. This band is underrated when it comes to 1980s band Nu-Wave Acts. They had Nu-Wave and Pop mixed together with some straight ahead Rock feel to it. Bass player and singer Tony Lewis has a great voice, and I remember seeing the cover of their 1986 Album “Play Deep” all over the record stores at the time.
  1. O.M.D.   This is another band that had several hits from 1985 -1988, including the #4 song “If You Leave” from the 1986 movie “Pretty in Pink.” The band also hit in 1985 with “So In Love,” and “Forever” in 1986, but my favorite song by the band was called “Dreaming,” that charted at #16 in 1987 in the U.S.  The song has the band’s Synth-Pop beat like their other songs, but “Dreaming” just had some great lyrics in my opinion, especially the opening stanza. The band may have had a long name (Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark), but the band’s hits are still played today, even though “Dreaming” seems to be lost in that list.
  1.  Breathe.  I remember hearing this London band’s single “Hands To Heaven” when it first came out and thought it was very soulful, as opposed to some of the other songs that were hitting the charts during 1987. The song charted as high as #2 in the U.S. in 1988. I also remember seeing their album “All That Jazz” all over the record stores at the time.  Even though the second single in the U.S. did not chart as high on the Pop Charts, “How Can I Fall” hit #1 on the U.S. AC Charts, and #3 on the Pop Charts.  Unlike some of the other acts on this list, where I liked the second single better than the first, I liked both of these singles equally. A third single from the album, “Don’t Tell Me Lies,” hit #10 on the Pop and # 5 on the AC Charts, but isn’t as played as the other two singles (in the UK, “Lies” was the first single released from the album) The band continued to record until 1992, but their three singles was the only hits they had in the U.S. The band’s work should be rediscovered for fans that like Air Supply and Rick Astley, who linked soul and jazz to their Pop sound.  I really liked these songs, and still shocked why I never owned the cassette or CD in my collection.

When people think of the 1980s British acts, artists like Duran Duran, Elton John, Rick Astley, and George Michael come to mind. However this list above is often misjudged as One Hit Wonders, when in reality, they had great success. I encourage you to check out these acts’ other songs-you may find some more gems to add to your playlist that you don’t hear on local radio.

 

 

Book Review: Bach’s Life on Skid Row is an Enjoyable Ride

bach-book-cover

 

One of the biggest bands in the late 1980s was Skid Row, who was known all over MTV for their songs “18 and Life,” “Youth Gone Wild,” and “I Remember You.”  Singer Sebastian Bach was one of the most recognized faces in the hard rock magazines and on MTV. His recently released book “18 and Life on Skid Row” takes the reader through the wild ride the band had during stardom, along with his career after the band on Broadway and TV.

The lengthy book (424 pages) starts with Bach describing his early years growing up in the Bahamas, California, and Canada. His early childhood was one of a child loving to sing in a church choir until he discovered the band KISS in 1978 at age ten, which made him want to be a rock singer. The book goes through the time his father took him to see KISS on the Dynasty Tour and meets Jon Bon Jovi years later at a wedding which helped him find his way to the guys that started Skid Row, which he states that “Whereas the focus on my previous bands was more about the look than the sound, Skid Row was first and foremost about the sound. The Songs.”

The book takes the reader through the wild tours with Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, and being on the Moscow Music Festival. Since Bach was known for his partying, the band got in trouble with several bands who were trying to become sober.

Bach also talks about his friendship with Guns n Roses Singer Axl Rose, along with some wild times he shared with Rose, his relationship with a famous 1980s actress, and his friendship with original Kiss Member Ace Frehley.

Like any band from the 1980s, Skid Row also dealt with some business issues, like having to pay Gary Moore money for the name Skid Row, Bach not getting songwriting credit for some of the biggest hits, and finding out that even though their second album “Slave to the Grind” was the #1 album its first week on the charts, the band was in a short fall.

“If we blew up too many bombs, drank too much booze backstage, all the fun stuff would be paid for after we paid the management and accountants. We would pay to play if we didn’t watch the budget.”

Bach also states his side of why the band broke ties with him, saying that “Nobody really understands why we broke up,” and when approached about a reunion, he writes, “ People ask all the time why we don’t have a reunion?..the real reason we are not together, in my mind,  is publishing royalties.”  The story about the band breaking up with Bach over being the opening act for the KISS Reunion Tour is also covered in the book through Bach’s perspective. His thoughts on Skid Row’s “Subhuman Race” album (a favorite among fans years later) and why during that tour he realized the music world was changing are in the book.

skid-row
Bach with Skid Row.

Bach also takes the reader through his solo career in music, his reality shows for VH1, his appearances on the “Gilmore Girls” show, and his time on Broadway in Jekyll and Hyde, Rocky Horror, and Jesus Christ Superstar.

Overall the book is a great read for fans that like this era of music, however some things are just glossed over (but then again the book is long enough, some things had to be left out). One thing that is not covered in the book is how Bach feels about the lineup of Skid Row after he left the band, and there are only a few mentions of his former band mates Snake Sabo and Rachel Bolan after his time with the band was over. He also doesn’t give much in depth information about his solo touring, except mentioning a few of the albums (not much about the band members or road tales). There is not much bashing in the book, which is a relief to other books in the genre, and Bach even talks about how his partying affected his attitude looking back now. The inside cover of the book has a pull out mini poster of Bach, which to some may sound cheesy, but since he grew up in the era where albums were popular and  buyers wanted things like that in the album, it is well suited for the book.

I saw Bach in 1997 on his solo tour in Boardman Ohio, and enjoyed his work, along with the band Skid Row after his departure. This book was enjoyable and worth the money to read about one of the most underrated singers of the time.

“18 and Life on Skid Row” is available from Dey ST. , which is part of Harper Collins books.

 

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Real Girl Power- The Underrated Women of 1980’s Music.

 

susanna hoffsolivia newton johnsheena eastondebbie gibsonbelindathe jets

 

When naming female music artists from the 1980s, most will name Madonna, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, or Cyndi Lauper. Hard Rock fans will mention Lita Ford, Pat Benatar, or Joan Jett. There are some artists who had just as many hits, and were just as talented. My list of underrated female artists is just that; talented females who had several hits on the U.S. Charts but seem to be forgotten, either by music radio or by critics in general. In no particular order, here are some of the underrated (and sometimes forgotten) talents from the era.

  1. Sheena Easton. It’s hard to believe that she is not given more credit as a top artist in the 1980s- she was everywhere in the decade. She was the first artist to have a top 5 hit on 5 different charts (Pop, Country, Dance, R&B, and Adult Contemporary).  She was an actress on Miami Vice (THE show of the decade), had a James Bond hit, “For Your Eyes Only” (#4 Hit) worked with Prince on the songs “Sugar Walls” (which made Tipper Gore’s Filthy 15 list) and “U Got the Look.” She also had a #1 hit with “Morning Train (9 to 5)” Not only did she have the looks to attract the male audience, she had a great voice, from ballads to Pop songs. Her vocal range on the song “You Could Have Been with Me” is one example. Easton did it all in the era, and according to her official website she still tours.
  1. Belinda Carlisle. She had hits with her all girl band The Go Gos (who sold over 7 million albums in a short time) and went solo in 1986 with songs like “Mad about You“ (#3 Hit), “Heaven On Earth” (#1) , and “I Get Weak” (#2). She also had a hit with “Circle in the Sand” (#7). The song “Mad about You” also had a guitar solo from Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor.  Carlisle proved she could hit gold as a band member or solo act, which is rare for any artist male or female.
  1. Debbie Gibson. When she first came onto the scene in 1987, I admit I was not a huge fan of hers; however, I did like her ballad “Foolish Beat.” Throughout the years I have gained more respect for her as an artist than when I first encountered her music. Between 1987-1988, she had 4 Top 5 hits on the charts, and was one of the youngest females to write, produce, and perform on a number one single. Since then she has been in movies for the Syfy Network and has performed on Broadway. In the era where the artists were controlled by the management and record companies, which seems more the case today than back then, Gibson had control over her music and what was put out with her name on it.
  1. The Jets. This family act from Minneapolis is one of the most underrated acts of the 1980s. With hits like 1986’s “Crush On You” (#3), “You Got It All” (#3), 1987’s “Cross My Broken Heart” (#7) and “I Do You” (#20), and 1988’s “Rocket 2 U” (#6) and “Make It Real” (#4), the Jets were all over the airways. “You Got It All” was written by Rupert Holmes of “Escape (The Pina Colada Song” fame. Vocalist Elizabeth Wolfgramm sang lead on my two favorite songs of theirs, “Make It Real” and “Got It All.”  Her soulful voice added to the great Pop ballads that the band released, which were staples at my school dances. She left the band in 1990, but they fused Dance, Pop, Latin, and R&B into their songs.  The band was underrated for its time for mixing many genres.
  1. Olivia Newton John. How can Sandy from Grease be on my list? Because most people forget how great of a singer she was in the 1980s. Her 1970s songs like “I Honestly Love You,” “A Little More Love,”and the songs from the movie Grease were well known, but some think of her as a One Hit Wonder in the 1980s with “Physical” in 1981, when in fact she had hits like 1980’s “I Can’t Help It” with Andy Gibb (#12 Pop, and #8 AC Charts),  1982’s “Make A Move on Me” (#5) and “Heart Attack” (#3), and 1980’s “Magic” (#1). She also had two soundtrack hits with 1980’s “Xanadu” (#8) and 1981’s “Twist of Fate” (#5), from the movie “Two of a Kind,” which she was cast with Grease co-star John Travolta. Even though the movie was a failure, the soundtrack had hits with John and with Journey. She also starred in Xanadu, which is considered a horrible movie, but has gained a cult following (the film actually broke even at the Box Office).  Much like Sheena Easton, Olivia Netwon John was able to record and act in the era, and had one of the purest voices.
  1. Susanna Hoffs. After the success of The Go Gos, another all girl group came onto the scene in 1986, although they formed in 1980. It took a Prince Song in 1986 called “Manic Monday” (#2) for the world to embrace The Bangles, made up of Susanna Hoffs, Vicki and Debbie Peterson. Like The Go Gos, they played their own instruments, which was rare for the time. The other hits by the band included 1986’s “If She Knew What She Wants” (#29), 1986’s “Walk Like An Egyptian” (#1) and “Walking Down Your Street” (#11), 1987’s remake of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” (#2), 1988’s “In Your Room”( #5), and their 1989 #1 Hit “Eternal Flame.” Hoff’s also tried her luck in acting in the 1987 film “The Allnighter,” a disaster at the Box Office even with the success of Hoffs as a sex symbol. The band was even voted into the Vocal Hall of Fame in 2000. I was never a fan of “Egyptian,” preferring the more rocker songs like “In Your Room,” and “Walking Down Your Street,” however Hoffs had a unique voice and was a very good front woman for the band, which she doesn’t get as much credit for.

Hoffs went solo and had a hit with “My Side of the Bed” (#30) and still tours solo and with The Bangles. She also works with Matthew Sweet releasing cover albums. I have recently started listening to her solo stuff and they are really good, including 2012’s “Someday.”  I also watched the Vh1 “Behind the Music” documentary recently which shows a unique insight to the band that I found entertaining.  I recently saw a concert of the Bangles online and they, along with Hoffs, still have the great musicianship that many bands have lost throughout the years. Definitely check out Hoff’s solo work.

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The Rare Mighty Oaks: Songs You May Not Know

american made album pic

 

The year was 1980, and for Christmas I received my first drum set, along with my first album that was all mine, not one I had to share with my older brother. The album was The Oak Ridge Boys Greatest Hits and as soon as my parents put the record on, without even hearing the songs, I was playing along with the songs as if I heard them before. From that day on I was a fan of the Oaks, even though my love for Country Music (especially today’s acts) has declined majorly.

I was a member of the Oaks Fan Club back then as well, which was a several page paper magazine with photos of the band which was free in the mail. I studied their records, especially the different vocal parts, although I could never sound as good as they were-at least I had the drumming to fall back on while playing in area bands.

I had the opportunity to see them live once in 1999 in Canfield, Ohio at the Canfield Fair. There were a few times when I got tickets to see them when nearby Salem, Ohio tried to restart Ponderosa Park, but the park kept cancelling the shows. I am waiting in anticipation to see them this August in Chester West Virginia, which will be my 50th concert.

Even though the band traces back to the 1940s, the band became the most popular in 1977 when the lineup of Duane Allen, William Golden, Joe Bonsall, and Richard Sterban crossed from the Gospel genre to Country (and even had a few hits on the Pop Charts with “Elvira” and “Bobby Sue.”).  Bonsall has some great books out as well, which I have the Kindle Editons , especially  2015’s “On The Road With The Oak Ridge Boys,” and “From My Perspective” from 2010.

I want to list a few of some of the band’s rarer songs that people may not be familiar with, or should check out. I am also focusing on the era of Golden, Bonsall, Allen, and Sterban, not the Steve Sanders years (that may be a future post because Sanders was a great singer as well).  In no particular order, here are some rarer Oak songs you should check out.

 

  1. “Hold On Til Sunday” (1980) This song was the b-side of “Trying to Love Two Women,” which went to #1. I had the 45 single and, no offense to those that love the song “Women,” I listened more to “Sunday” than the A- side.  The song has a pop feel to it, but I loved how smooth Duane Allen’s voice is in the song, who is one of the most underrated musicians in music history. When I found the song on youtube, I was transferred to my youth and how much I loved the song. I miss B sides on songs, especially songs that didn’t make the albums.
  1. “Live In Love” (1981). While talking about B-sides on songs, this ballad was the B-side to the Pop Hit “Bobbie Sue.”  This song could have been played on AC Charts on any channel during the 1980s.  I like most how the pace of the song switches after the second chorus and at the end. Once again, I spent hours playing this song on my record playing trying to be as smooth as Allen’s voice.
  1. “Down The Hall” (1983). There are some gems on the hit album “American Made,” such as “Heart on the Line (Operator, Operator)” with Joe Bonsall’s voice, but one of my favorites is this one. “Down The Hall” was one of the songs back in the day I would record from album to cassette tape and pass around to my friends to introduce them to some of the bands other songs. The song was written by Mike Reid, who wrote songs like Ronnie Milsap’s “Stranger in My House” and had a solo career in the 1990s. The song talks about a man who have not been to the big sites of the world, but he “hasn’t missed a thing at all” because he’s in love. Great written song. If you can find it, check it out.
oaks albums1
The three Oak Ridge Boys Albums of my collection. The covers are a bit worn out, but I still kept them.
  1. “Baby When Your Heart Breaks Down” (1999). When I saw the band at the Canfield Fair, they were promoting this song off of their Voices Album. Although the rest of the album was not that great, this song was wonderful, and I was shocked how great it sounded live. The song was written by Kix Brooks before he joined Brooks and Dunn, but I like this version better, which all the vocals adding to the song. This song is great because it is a fairly recent song, which shows how the band still has their harmonies years after their heyday.
  1. “Dancing the Night Away” (1979). The Oaks have been known to do several remade songs and make it their own, such as ‘Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” (1979) and “Dream On” (1979), which were both on the same album. This song is one of my favorite off of the album “The Oak Ridge Boys Have Arrived,” and was a concert favorite for years, although I’m not sure why it is no longer used. The song was originally recorded by The Amazing Rhythm Aces, and Tanya Tucker at one time. Leo Sayer also had a great version of it, but I think the Oak’s version has a rocking beat to it, as opposed to the mellower versions. I couldn’t imagine anyone but Bonsall singing this one in the group.
  1. “Any Old Time You Choose” (1983). This was off of the “American Made” album and is a great ballad sung by Allen again. Written by J.L. Wallace, Ken Bell, and Terry Skinner, who also wrote Air Supply’s “Even The Nights Are Better, “the song has a slow start that builds with a big orchestration that reminds the listener of Air Supply. The blends of the famous Oaks harmonies compliment the arrangements. It also has a nice guitar solo that would have fit in the AC or Pop Charts of the 1980s.
Oaks CDs 1
My Oaks CD Collection.
  1. “I Would Crawl All The Way (To The River)” (1981). The Oaks have never shied away from the Gospel roots, although some fans criticized them at first for leaving the Gospel scene, but even on major labels like MCA records, the band still threw on a Gospel song or two on their albums. As a whole, I think the “Fancy Free” album is one, if not the best album they recorded track for track, and one of my favorites is the last song on the album, which is “River.” Not only is the song have a southern gospel feel to it, but it also isn’t a preaching song that may turn audiences off. This is one of my favorite Gospel songs the Oaks ever recorded.
  1. “When Love Calls You” (1981). I could list the whole “Fancy Free” Album to listen to, with even the rare tracks, the whole album just flows (as mentioned in a previous blog I wrote https://lancewrites.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/not-skipping-around-albums-that-must-be-heard/). This song isn’t just a sad Country ballad, but when listening to the lyrics, the listener will find that it’s a song of hope of the future in spite of a bad past. This is one of the themes I love about Barry Manilow’s music as well. With the orchestration again bringing more power to the song makes it almost a soft rock song. This was one of my favorite songs from my youth.

Everyone knows the famous songs by the Oaks but hopefully these may help you dive deeper into their catalog, especially if you are like me and are frustrated with the lack of good music being released. Feel free to comment, email me your Oak Ridge Boys stories and favorites.

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