On this day in music history: April 19, 1980 – “Call Me” by Blondie hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 6 weeks. Written by Giorgio Moroder and Deborah Harry, it is the second chart topping single for the New York based New Wave/Rock band fronted by lead singer Debbie Harry. Written as the theme song for the Richard Gere film “American Gigolo”. Moroder originally approaches Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac to co-write and perform the song, but declines when her label Modern Records will not grant permission for her to participate on the project. Next, Moroder asks Blondie lead vocalist Debbie Harry if she is interested. She agrees and begins working with the producer. Originally titled “Man Machine”, with a rough lyric written in by Moroder, Debbie feels the original words don’t transfer well to English. After looking at rough cut of the film, it gives the singer the proper inspiration to write new lyrics and melody. Harry writes the lyrics and records her vocals in just a few hours of studio time. Released in early February of 1980, the single is an immediate hit. Entering the Hot 100 at #80 on February 16, 1980, it climbs to the top of the chart nine weeks later. “Call Me” is ranked the top single of year by Billboard Magazine. Three versions of the song are released. The version released on the “American Gigolo” soundtrack on Polydor Records runs 8:04 and is also serviced as a promotional 12" single to club and radio DJ’s. Blondie’s label Chrysalis Records releases the single edit clocking in at 3:32, and the third being a Spanish language version titled “Llámame” released on Salsoul Records on a 12" single. “Call Me” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 30, 1985 – “Separate Lives (Love Theme From White Nights)” by Phil Collins & Marilyn Martin hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also topping the Adult Contemporary singles chart for 3 weeks on November 16, 1985. Written by Stephen Bishop, it is the fourth chart topping single the British pop superstar and lone chart topper for the pop vocalist from Louisville, KY. Fresh off of the success of his 1984 film “Against All Odds”, director Taylor Hackford begins work on his next project “White Nights” starring Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov. The film had been in development since 1982, being rejected by several studios before being given the green light by Columbia Pictures. During the early stages, Hackford asks singer and songwriter Stephen Bishop (“On And On”, “It Might Be You”), if he will write and perform a song for the soundtrack. He agrees, writing “Separate Lives” which is inspired by Bishop’s break up with then girlfriend actress Karen Allen. Bishop ends up bowing out of recording it himself, and gives the song to his friend Phil Collins, who by this time had scored his first solo number one with the title song from “Against All Odds”, also directed by Taylor Hackford. Doug Morris, the head of Collins’ US label Atlantic Records hears the song, and suggests that it be a duet. At the time, Morris is working with a singer named Marilyn Martin who had previously worked as a background singer for several major artists including Stevie Nicks, Joe Walsh, Don Henley, Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins. After hearing Martin’s voice on a demo tape, Collins signs off on the duet. The track is produced by Phil Collins, Arif Mardin and Hugh Padgham and recorded at Atlantic Studios in New York City. “Separate Lives” is released as the first single from the “White Nights” soundtrack in September of 1985, two months ahead of the film. Entering the Hot 100 at #45 on October 5, 1985, it climbs to the top of the chart eight weeks later. Stephen Bishop receives an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song in 1986, but loses to the films’ other major hit, Lionel Richie’s “Say You, Say Me”. Shortly after her chart topping success, Marilyn Martin releases her self-titled debut album, scoring a top 30 hit with the single “Night Moves” (#28 Pop). Her second album “This Is Serious” fails to chart or generate any hits, and Martin is dropped by Atlantic. Still singing and recording today, Marilyn Martin released her most recent album “Trust, Love, Pray” in 2012.
On this day in music history: November 28, 1992 – “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 11 weeks on December 5, 1992, and topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 5 weeks on December 19, 1992. Written by Dolly Parton, it is the biggest hit for the pop and R&B vocal superstar from Newark, NJ. Having established herself as a megastar in music, Whitney Houston sets her sights on the movies. She is hired to play the female lead opposite actor Kevin Costner (“Bull Durham”, “Field Of Dreams, “Dances With Wolves”) in “The Bodyguard”. Written by screenwriter and director Lawrence Kasdan (“The Big Chill”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, “Silverado”), the screenplay has been floating around for nearly fifteen years before it is finally made. For the soundtrack, Houston cuts “I Have Nothing”, “Run To You” and “Queen Of The Night”, three original songs penned for the film, a cover of Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and the hymn “Jesus Loves Me”. Whitney is to also record of a cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s Motown classic “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted”, but is scratched when it’s discovered that it had been recorded by Paul Young for the film “Fried Green Tomatoes”, released while “The Bodyguard” is still filming. Costner suggests that Whitney cover Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”. Parton writes the song in 1973 after splitting with her mentor Porter Wagoner. It tops the Billboard Country singles chart in June of 1974. Dolly records it again for the film “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas”, taking it to #1 on the country chart again. Producer David Foster re-arranges the song as an pop/R&B ballad, using Houston’s touring band led by musical director Rickey Minor to cut the basic track. Jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum is the featured soloist. When Arista Records hears the finished track, they like it, but feel that the forty five second long a cappella intro might hurt its chances for radio play. Their fears are unfounded when it is released on November 3, 1992, becoming an instant smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #40 on November 14, 1992, it pole vaults to the top of the chart two weeks later, making the third highest jump to number one from outside the top ten in Billboard chart history from #12 to #1. It sells over four and a half million copies in the US alone, propels the soundtrack to 18x Platinum status. “The Bodyguard” soundtrack shatters the worldwide sales record held by “Saturday Night Fever”. “I Will Always Love You” also wins two Grammy Awards for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Record Of The Year in 1994. After Houston’s untimely passing in February of 2012, the words “The Voice” and the title of her biggest hit are written on her epitaph. “I Will Always Love You” is certified 4x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 28, 1987 – “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 4 weeks on November 21, 1987. Written by Franke Previte, John DeNicola and Donald Markowitz, it is the biggest hit single from the film and soundtrack “Dirty Dancing”. Previte, a member of the New Jersey based pop/rock band Franke & The Knockouts, is approached by Jimmy Ienner, the bands’ former label boss at Millennium Records and the soundtrack supervisor for “Dirty Dancing” to write some music for the film. Without a record contract at the time, Previte at first turns him down, but Ienner persists and finally he agrees. It is selected for the films’ finale by choreographer Kenny Ortega and Miranda Garrison, along with “Hungry Eyes” which is given to singer Eric Carmen to record. Released as the lead single from the soundtrack in September of 1987, it quickly becomes a smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #73 on September 26, 1987, it climbs to the top of the chart nine weeks later. The huge success of the film and the song drive sales of the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack to over 11x Platinum status in the US, selling over thirty two million copies worldwide. “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” wins numerous accolades, including a Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Medley and Warnes also win a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in 1988. “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA..
On this day in music history: November 25, 1995 – “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” by Whitney Houston hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also spending 8 weeks at #1 on the R&B singles chart on the same date. Written and produced by Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, it is the eleventh and final chart topping pop single and the seventh R&B chart topper for the New Jersey born superstar vocalist. Issued as the lead single from the soundtrack and film to “Waiting To Exhale”, which stars Houston with Angela Bassett, Lela Rochon and Loretta Devine. First time director, actor Forest Whitaker meets Babyface backstage after a show (while on tour with Boyz II Men) at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, CA. Whitaker asks the singer, songwriter, and producer if he will score and write songs for the film adaptation of Terry McMillian’s book “Waiting To Exhale”. Edmonds agrees, helping to assemble a top notch group of female R&B vocalists that include Chaka Khan, Toni Braxton, Mary J. Blige, Chante Moore, Brandy, and TLC for the soundtrack album. Face writes the films’ title song especially for Whitney to sing along with “Count On Me” (a duet with gospel singer CeCe Winans). At first, Houston is not fond of “Exhale” particularly the songs’ chorus, but she eventually warms up to it. “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” is an instant smash, debuting at number one on both the pop and R&B singles charts. The single also wins Babyface a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1997. “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 20, 1971 – “Theme From Shaft” by Isaac Hayes hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks, also peaking at #2 on the R&B singles chart on November 6, 1971. Written and produced by Isaac Hayes, it is the biggest hit for the Covington, TN born singer, songwriter and producer. Composed for the Gordon Parks directed film starring Richard Roundtree in the title role, the track features musical backing by The Movement, which feature Bar-Kays members James Alexander (bass) and Michael Toles (guitar), and female background vocalists Telma Hopkins, Pat Lewis, Rose Williams. The main rhythmic pulse of the song is held down by drummer Willie “Too Big” Hall and guitarist Charles “Skip” Pitts. The single and its accompanying soundtrack are huge critical and commercial successes, paving the way for the “blaxploitation” film phenomenon of the 70’s. “Theme From Shaft” wins Hayes two Grammy Awards, and becomes the first African American composer in history to win the Academy Award for “Best Original Song” in 1972. Held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, CA on April 10, 1972, one of the highlights 44th Annual Academy Awards ceremony is Isaac Hayes’ performance of the song on the live telecast. Wheeled out on stage behind the piano, the singer is an immediately striking presence, draped in thick gold chains, wearing dark shades and a vest made of gold chain mail. The performance becomes iconic, and lauded as one of the most memorable in Oscar history. When he graciously accepts his award, Hayes dedicates it his grandmother, the woman who raised him after the death of his mother and his father abandoned the family while he was still a child. The song as well as Hayes himself become 70’s icons in the wake of the soundtrack albums’ success. “Shaft is covered by a wide variety of artists including Sammy Davis, Jr., Maynard Ferguson, to UK modern rock bands Cabaret Voltaire and The Wedding Present. It is also sampled by Young MC on the track "Know How” in 1988 and by Jay-Z on “Reservoir Dogs” in 1998. It is also parodied numerous television shows including The Wire, Sesame Street, Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, and in films including UHF and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. “Theme From Shaft” is also inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1999.
On this day in music history: November 18, 1985 – “Spies Like Us” by Paul McCartney is released. Written by Paul McCartney, it is the thirty fifth single release for the pop and rock music icon from Liverpool, UK. Receiving both praise and scorn for his work during the first half of the 80’s, Paul McCartney enjoys a solid run of hits. At the end of 1984, the musician fulfills his North American contract with Columbia Records. McCartney then re-signs with Capitol/EMI Records in that territory, in early 1985. He then begins recording the album “Press To Play”. While working on that album, Paul is commissioned by Warner Bros. to write the theme for the comedy “Spies Like Us”. Directed by John Landis, it stars Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd as two low level Pentagon employees, acting as “unwitting decoys” for another team of spies. With the film set to be released in early December, McCartney quickly gets to work. With veteran producer Phil Ramone behind the board, Paul writes and records “Spies Like Us” in only four days in September of 1985. It features McCartney playing most of the instruments himself (guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, percussion), with Split Enz keyboardist Eddie Rayner (synthesizers), Eric Stewart, Kate Robbins, Ruby James and Linda McCartney (backing vocals). A music video directed by John Landis is filmed at Abbey Road Studios in London on October 9, 1985, with Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd. Due to the BBC’s ban on non-musicians (though both had worked as musicians) performing in music videos, the footage of them miming the song with McCartney is cut from the video in that country. The clip ends with them parodying the “Abbey Road” album cover in the zebra crossing. The single is backed with the non-LP B-side “My Carnival”, recorded during the sessions for Wings’ “Venus And Mars album in February of 1975. Along with the standard 7”, “Spies Like Us” is also issued as an extended 12", remixed by John Potoker. Though the film does well at the box office, it receives mixed to negative reviews. Critics are also not kind to McCartney’s theme song. Years later, it’s looked upon as “a guilty pleasure”. It stalls outside the top ten in the UK (#13 UK), in spite of being released in numerous configurations. “Spies” does considerably better on the US charts. Entering the Hot 100 at #59 on November 23, 1985, it peaks at #7 eleven weeks later on February 8, 1986. “Spies” is his last US top ten hit for nearly thirty years, before “FourFiveSeconds” (w/ Kanye West & Rihanna) (#4 Pop, #1 R&B) in 2015. Originally released as a stand alone single, “Spies Like Us” is included as a bonus track on the reissued CD of “Press To Play” in 1993, with the 12" mix being released digitally on Apple iTunes. “My Carnival” resurfaces as a bonus track on the remastered CD release of “Venus And Mars” in 2018.
On this day in music history: November 15, 1985 – “Living In America” by James Brown is released. Written by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight, it is the one hundred seventy fifth single release by the R&B music icon from Barnwell, SC. Though respected as one of the most influential musicians of all time, by the 80’s most consider James Brown’s best years to be behind him. The “Godfather Of Soul” lands his last big R&B hit with “Get Up Offa That Thing” in 1976, and on the pop top ten hit with “Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud”, in 1968. Though managing to stay in the public eye appearing in the films “The Blues Brothers” and “Doctor Detroit”, there is very little else to suggest that he will reclaim any of his former glory. In 1984, Brown duets with Hip Hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa on the single “Unity” (#87 R&B). During this time, Brown is approached by Sylvester Stallone to make an appearance in “Rocky IV”, the fourth installment of the lucrative franchise, and Brown signs on. Originally a member of the Edgar Winter Group in the 70’s, Dan Hartman establishes himself as solo star later in the decade with the disco classics “Instant Replay”, “Vertigo/Relight My Fire” as well as producing singer Loleatta Holloway (“Love Sensation”). Hartman is hired to write a song for the “Rocky IV” soundtrack after hitting with “I Can Dream About You” (#6 Pop) from the film “Streets Of Fire”. Hartman and writing partner Charlie Midnight successfully capture Brown’s spirit in the funky up tempo “Living In America”, with James demonstrating that he is still “The Godfather”, even name checking comedian Eddie Murphy, who had lampooned Brown in his stand up act. He performs the song as Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) enters the ring to fight Russian boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). With the film becoming an instant smash during its Thanksgiving weekend release in 1985, “Living In America” gets swept up in the fervor. The song and film help introduce James Brown to a new and younger audience who are unfamiliar with his past work. It gives the singer his biggest hit in many years peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #10 on the R&B chart in early 1986. It also wins Brown a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1987, his first since winning in that category previously in 1966 for “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”.Its success leads him signing with Scotti Brothers Records. Also included on the album “Gravity”, James has even greater R&B chart success in 1988 with the follow up “I’m Real” produced by Full Force. That album spins off hits with the title track (#2 R&B) and “Static” (#5 R&B), playing off of Brown’s major influence on rap music, Hip Hop culture and dance music, as his music is being widely sampled. “America” is also parodied by “Weird Al” Yanokovic in 1986 as “Living With A Hernia.
On this day in music history: November 6, 1982 – “Up Where We Belong” by Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks, also peaking at #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart on October 30, 1982. Written by Jack Nitszche, Buffy Saint-Marie and Will Jennings, it is the biggest hit for the British born rock vocalist and American born pop vocalist. While director Taylor Hackford is working on his film “An Officer And A Gentleman”, he decides that it needs a song for the final scene when Richard Gere walks into the factory where his co-star (and love interest) Debra Winger is working, sweeping her off of her feet and carrying her out the door as the factory workers cheer them on. With the soundtrack consisting of pre existing songs by artists including Pat Benatar, Van Morrison and ZZ Top, there is little budget or time to come up with an original song to fit the bill. Lyricist Will Jennings is shown a rough cut of the end sequence on a Friday afternoon, inspiring him to begin writing lyrics. He uses parts of two instrumental pieces from composer and arranger Jack Nitszche’s and folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie’s film score as the music to his words. By Monday, it is completed, and the search for a singer is on. The manager of pop singer Jennifer Warnes (“The Right Time Of The Night”, “It Goes Like It Goes”), suggests her to sing the song. Initially, the director rejects the idea, feeling that Warnes’ voice is “too sweet”. The manager also suggests the song could work as a duet, and he should ask Joe Cocker. In the interim, Hackford shows the film to Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, who agrees that Cocker is a great choice. The singer says yes to the duet, but is touring at the time. He flies to Los Angeles to record with Warnes, completing their vocals in just a few hours. Joe Cocker’s gruff rock and blue eyed soul voice, combined with Warnes’ sweet and ethereal voice compliment each other perfectly, providing a brilliant musical contrast. Initially, the film’s co-producer Don Simpson, doesn’t feel that it’s a hit. He is overruled and the song it used in the film’s climactic scene. Released as a single in August of 1982, it is an instant smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #89 on August 21, 1982, it climbs to the top of the chart eleven weeks later. “Up Where We Belong” wins the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1983, with Joe Cocker And Jennifer Warnes winning a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance By Duo Or Group. The duo also turn in a memorable performance of the song on the Grammy telecast. “Up Where We Belong” becomes an iconic song of the era, being used in several television programs including “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”. “Up Where We Belong” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 5, 1988 – “Kokomo” by The Beach Boys hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week. Written by Mike Love, Terry Melcher, John Phillips and Scott MacKenzie it is the fourth chart topping single for the legendary pop band from Hawthorne. CA. Though still drawing big crowds as a live act, by the late 80’s, many believe that The Beach Boys years as hit makers are long behind them. In 1987, The Beach Boys are working with producer Terry Melcher. The son of actress Doris Day, Melcher has produced hits for The Byrds, Paul Revere & The Raiders, and was one half of the duos Bruce & Terry and The Rip Chords, the latter scoring a top five hit with the hot rod classic “Hey Little Cobra” (#4 Pop). While working with Melcher, the band are contacted by the VP Of Music for Touchstone/Walt Disney Pictures to use some of their music for an upcoming film. The film is “Cocktail” starring Tom Cruise. The Beach Boys are commissioned to come up with a brand new song. Melcher calls his old friend, John Phillips (The Mamas & The Papas) and asks if he has any songs that might be suitable for The Beach Boys. Phillips comes up with a demo called “Kokomo” that he has co-written with his former Journeymen band mate Scott MacKenzie (“San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair”)). “Kokomo” is originally recorded as a duet between MacKenzie and former Mamas & Papas’ lead vocalist Denny Doherty. Their version goes unreleased (until 2010). Lead singer Mike Love and Terry re-write some of the lyrics to better suit the songs’ inclusion in the film. Recording their own demo, Touchstone gives the Beach Boys the green light to record a final version. The master version of “Kokomo” features numerous studio veterans playing on the track including Jim Keltner (drums), Jeff Foskett (acoustic guitar), Rod Clark (bass) Joel Peskin (saxophone) and slide guitar great Ry Cooder. Initially, executives at Elektra Records (the soundtrack albums’ distributor) is not keen on releasing “Kokomo” as a single, believing that Top 40 pop radio won’t play it. It’s first serviced to AC radio stations where it receives a strong positive response from listeners. From there, Elektra releases it as a single in August of 1988, and works it at CHR (Contemporary Hit Radio). Entering the Hot 100 at #96 on September 3, 1988, it races to the top of the chart nine weeks later. “Kokomo” becomes the second chart topping single from the “Cocktail” Soundtrack after Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, propelling the album to #2 on the Top 200, and to quadruple Platinum status in the US. At the time, it gives The Beach Boys the longest span between their first and last number one hits in Billboard chart history, of twenty four years and four months between “I Get Around” and “Kokomo” topping the charts. “Kokomo” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.