Archive for category Pop

“Change of Heart” by Cyndi Lauper (1986)

Cyndi Lauper hailed from Queens, New York and after being spotting at clubs recorded one of the most successful debut albums of all time with She’s So Unusual in 1983. The album won Lauper a Best New Artist Grammy and also became the first female singer to have four top-5 singles from the same album. Her signature hit was “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, which relied on Lauper’s quirky persona and fashion sense in the popular music video. Lauper’s vocal range was demonstrated with other hits from the album, including the risque “She Bop”, “All Through the Night” and the number one ballad “Time After Time”.

Lauper returned in 1986 with True Colors, another hit album. The title track was another number one hit, followed by the upbeat “Change of Heart“. The song was very dance-oriented, and remix for the song was also very popular. True Colors went double platinum, and Lauper was viewed as a key member of the American pop scene (famously being asked to attend We Are the World sessions instead of Madonna).

But then the hits kind of stopped coming, aside from the lead single “I Drove All Night” from Lauper’s third album. She dabbled in acting but unlike Madonna wasn’t able to change her image or become a successful actress. Perhaps bad decisions by the record label hurt too. In recent years, Lauper appeared on Celebrity Apprentice and recorded an album of Blues standards. The album was well-received by the Blues community, though Lauper’s insistence of playing nothing but Blues during her 2010 tour lost her many many fans for life. Including this author.

“Kiss on My List” by Hall & Oates (1980)

Darryl Hall and John Oates hailed from Philadelphia and became one of the most successful muscial duos during the mid-1970s and especially during the early 1980s when they were among the most popular groups in the world. Early efforts used both voices in roughly equal measures, though Hall was always more comfortable as the frontman and was more prolific as a songwriter. During their 1980s heyday, Hall took a much more central role, with Oates relegated to backup vocals and “acting goofy” in the group’s popular music videos.

Hall & Oates (or, “Darry Hall & John Oates” or “Darry Hall John Oates”) scored a number of soul-inspired hits during the mid-1970s. Top ten hits included “Sara Smile”, “She’s Gone”, and the number one hit “Rich Girl” from 1977. For the next couple years, their success waned.

In 1980 the group recorded in New York for the first time, rather than Los Angeles, and took a more active role in producing. The group also added new synth sounds to make their “blue eyed soul” quite a bit more contemporary. The result was Voices, which featured two top 40 hits before their breakthrough number one smash “Kiss on My List.” That song was followed by the top five song “You Make My Dreams”. In an interesting footnote, the album also contained “Everytime you Go Away” which the group did not release as a single, but became a smash for Paul Young in 1985. Voices shot into the top 20 and went Platinum.

Kiss on My List” begins with a great piano riff, which makes the song very dancable. Jeff Southworth contributed a nice guitar solo and the song very much sent the template for the peppy pop that the group used for the next several years. The song was cowritten by Janna Allen, sister of Sara Allen (of “Sara Smile” fame), Hall’s love interest at the time. According to Hall, Eddie Van Halen ripped off the synth riff for this song for use in “Jump.”

Hall and Oates had massive success through the rest of the decade, and Hall had a few solo hits as well. After taking some time off apart from each other, the duo continues to tour and record.

“I Want You To Want Me (Live)” by Cheap Trick (1978)

Cheap Trick were a power pop rock band that had mediocre success in the United States, but were huge in Japan. Really really huge, in fact. But after issuing their seminal live album Cheap Trick at Budokan, recorded in Japan, they became superstars. The album was recorded in early 1978 and released in the fall, becoming the band’s first big stateside success. The adoring Japanese fans allowed American fans to understand the “magnetism of (lead singer) Robin Zander and the charisma of (guitarist/songwriter/goofball) Rick Nielsen” (a quote from Fast Times at Ridgemont High). Cheap Trick was here to stay, thank to Live at Budokan.

Their hit single from the album was “I Want You To Want Me” which had been ignored as a single the year earlier (except in Japan, where it went to number one). The live version was issued in early 1979 and became a top 10 hit, paving the way for a following single “Ain’t That a Shame” (Fats Domino cover) and the band’s next studio album, Dream Police. The band’s popularity declined at a slow but steady rate in the 1980s until 1988 when their song “The Flame” became an unexpected number one hit.  In recent years the band has continued touring and embraced their Beatles-influenced sound by performing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in Las Vegas.

“Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts (1972)

We’d be remiss without including one of the major trends of the early Seventies on our list: Soft Rock. Inspired by bands such as Crosby Stills & Nash, there were a series of artists who blended rock structure and interpreted it using largely acoustic instruments. This was sometimes related to Country Rock, but generally had pop sensibilities. Duos were common in this genre, such as today’s group Seals and Crofts.

Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were actually members of The Champs after “Tequila” was a hit. The pair were in a series of unsuccessful groups by had their first album as a duo in 1969. Their first major hit was their 1972 album Summer Breeze, largely due to the title track that was a top 10 hit.  ”Summer Breeze” was a feel-good song that featured Crofts on lead mandolin for the main riff, with a toy piano used as well. The song catapulted the group into the mainstream where they had a series of successful albums and hits such as “Diamond Girl.”  The Isley Brothers covered “Summer Breeze” in 1973, where it was a minor hit.

After the label dropped the duo in 1980, they left the music scene to focus on Bahai Faith. The group have periodically reunited since.  Seal’s brother Dan Seals was one half of another successful soft rock duo, England Dan and John Ford Coley (“I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”).

“Rocket Man” by Elton John (1972)

Elton John was pub piano player in London who though circumstance was paired with lyricist Bernie Taupin in 1968, and the duo soon become a songwriting duo without even meeting. The pair were soon penning songs for various pop acts and decided to write more challenging material for John to perform as a solo artist. Thus, one of rock’s most enduring and successful songwriting partnerships was born.

John’s first big hit “Your Song” was a breakthrough in 1970. Hits continued throughout the early and mid-Seventies. “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long Long Time)” dates from 1972′s Honky Château album, and one of John’s more “rock” oriented hits during this early period.  The song shares some lyrical similarities to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and is thought by some to be a sequel. The song was also contemporary, telling the tale of an astronaut who’s life was not that of a hero, but just as an everyday job (written at a time that the space program was becoming less glamorous and subject to budget cuts).

“Rocket Man” was a top 10 hit for Elton John, and remains one of his most popular (one greatest hits package used Rocket Man in the title). John would go on to have one of the longest and most productive careers, including more than 50 Top 40 hits, and nine number one songs. Prematurely balding, the singer was known for flamboyant glasses and outfits especially during the Seventies, though his look has mellowed with age. His song “Candle in the Wind” is the the best-selling single of all time. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment as a musician is that he had at least one song on the Top 40 charts for 30 consecutive years (breaking Elvis Presley’s record). It’s a record unlikely to ever be broken.

No discussion of “Rocket Man” would be complete without discussing what in some ways is the definitive version. I’m talking, of course, about William Shatner’s 1978 cover, performed at the Science Fiction Film Awards. Shatner was the host for the ceremony, and was introduced by nobody less than songwriter Bernie Taupin himself!  This version has been referenced and parodied many times, not just because of the Star Trek references but also due to Shatner’s unique performing abilities. Nonetheless, this is to this day the favorite version according to this writer.

“Imagine” by John Lennon (1971)

One of John Lennon‘s most popular and endearing solo songs, “Imagine” is still to this day among the most acclaimed in the rock era. The song’s simple but powerful message is thematically similar to many of Lennon’s songs, including “Give Peace a Chance.” The song was the title track from the ex-Beatles’ second rock solo record, issued in 1971. The album was marked by gentler songs than on Lennon’s previous solo effort, and has sold over two million copies to date.

“Imagine” was a worldwide hit, including a top 5 hit in the United States. The music video shown below was directed by Lennon and wife Yoko Ono, who also appears in the video. The song has subsequently been covered and performed by numerous artists over the years. It has topped some lists of the greatest songs of all time.

Lennon would continue to record successfully until 1975 when he took a five year sabbatical from the music business after the birth of his son Sean.

“Happy Together” by The Turtles (1967)

Usually we have a lot to say about the song or the group, and how it was important or influential. “Happy Together” by The Turtles is neither of these, though in the late winter of 1967 the song was quite popular.

The Turtles were led by vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, and were originally named “The Tyrtles” (as was the Beatles/Byrds-inspired trend) when formed in Los Angeles. Their first hit was a Dylan cover, “It Ain’t Me Babe” in 1965. 1966 was notable by personnel changes including for a brief period Chip Douglas on bass, before he would quit the group to produce The Monkees and others.

In 1967, a song written by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon was shopped around and eventually recorded by The Turtles. Happy Together had some nice vocals and a positive (if saccarine) theme. But to kids who hadn’t quite turned on to more challenging material to come in the Summer of Love, “Happy Together” fit the bill. The song has since been used in numerous commercials, TV shows, and movies. The group had several further hits, but flamed out by 1970.

“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel (1968)

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were schoolyard pals who forged a career as one of the most successful duos of their era. Their first single “Hey Schoolgirl” was issued as “Tom and Jerry” in 1955 while the two were still in high school and rose to #49 on the charts. The vocal dynamics inspired by The Everly Brothers was evident.

The group reformed as Simon and Garfunkel and started recording the mid-1960s. The first album Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. flopped when it was first released in 1964, but some radio stations discovered “Sound of Silence” on the record and soon started playing it in heavy rotation. The single eventually hit number one and  the album would be reissued in early 1966, when the folk-rock craze was at its peak. Sounds of Silence was also the name of the group’s second album (a remixed version of the song appeared there as well).  The group’s subsequent singles were popular, charting in the top 20 or top 10. The group also appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

Mrs. Robinson” hails from the group’s songs from the soundtrack of The Graduate. Director Mike Nichols was said to be obsessed with the group’s music, and got them to contribute to the film. A song Paul Simon was working on was changed from “Mrs. Roosevelt” to “Mrs. Robinson” to coincide with the character from the film. The song was revised by the group for their 1968 album Bookends and issued as a single, where it went to number one that summer.  With the movie and the song both being so popular, and both very representative of their times, the song has henceforth been used in other media to represent the 1960s.

Tensions between the duo increased with Garfunkel’s interest in acting. But their 1970 album Bridge Over Troubled Water was a massive hit, thanks in part to the title track and Garfunkel’s soaring vocals. The album and song won numerous Grammy Awards but the duo decided to split up. Since then they have reunited on several occasions, including a 1981 concert in Central Park.

Simon’s career continued strong for the better part of two decades. Famous solo works included “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” (a number one hit in 1975) and Graceland, an acclaimed album with South African influence from 1986. Garfunkel also recorded, though to less acclaim. He was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Carnal Knowledge in 1972.

“Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In” by The 5th Dimension (1969)

The 5th Dimension were a three man and two woman vocal group that gained popularity with a series of pop hits in the late Sixties and early Seventies. The group’s sound was based on several elements, including jazz, soul, and R&B.

The group’s first hit was “Up Up and a Away” in 1967, but in 1969 the group covered two standout songs from the musical Hair, “Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In.” That show started in 1967 but was gaining notariety (and infamy) for celebration of hippie culture including drug use and on-stage nudity. But the 5th Dimension made these songs popular for the masses. The two-song medley was the first number one hit and was the first medley to achieve this feat. Moreover, the song celebrated the era and to this day can be used to allude to hippies and the late Sixties. The song has been covered by many artists and used in films, such as the end-credit sequence in The 40 Year-Old Virgin.

The 5th Dimension had a number of other hits, including “Wedding Bell Blues” which also went to number one in 1969. The group splintered in the mid-Seventies, though husband and wife Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo did have further chart success as a duo.

“Come Together” and “Something” by The Beatles (1969)

After spending several months trying to record a “back to basics” album, Get Back (later remixed as Let It Be), The Beatles regrouped in mid-1969 to record what would be their final album. Abbey Road took a number of songs the group had been working on for some time and mixed them into an incredible montage on side 2 of the album. Side 1 featured several standalone tracks, including the two songs that became the Double A-Side single for the album. The single went to number one in many countries, including the United States.

Come Together” was a John Lennon track, with lyrics curiously similar to an old Chuck Berry tune (“Here comes old Flattop…”). Additional lyrics were cryptic and might have been referring to each Beatle, or perhaps just the many facets of Lennon himself. Nonetheless, the song is a mid-tempo rocker and one of the best Lennon song from the last two years of the group’s recordings.  The song was covered most famously by Aerosmith for the Sgt. Pepper movie in 1978.

This video creates an alternate reality where the Beatles of the Seventies performed the song (mostly using footage from Lennon’s 1972 Madison Square Garden concert).

Something” was the first Beatles A-side written by George Harrison and it’s one of his best. It’s also the second-most covered song in the Beatles catalog (behind “Yesterday”) with covers by Elvis Presley, Frank “My favorite Lennon/McCartney song” Sinatra, Eric Clapton, and Joe Cocker. Harrison has played coy about the object of the song’s lyrics, sometimes saying it was about Ray Charles. Yet, his wife at the time, Patti Harrison, said it was about her.

This promo clip features clips of The Beatles and their wives (including Patti Harrison) shot separately and then edited together.

Shortly after the release of Abbey Road, John Lennon quit the group – though that would not be announced to the general public until the following year with the release of the Let it Be album and film.