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: October 21, 1967 – “To Sir With Love” by Lulu hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 5 weeks, also peaking at #9 on the R&B singles chart November 18, 1967. Written by Don Black and Mark London, it is the biggest hit for the Scottish born singer and actress (born Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie in Lennoxtown, Stirlingshire, Scotland). It is the theme song to the Sidney Poiter film about a teacher dealing with social and racial issues in a tough Secondary school in East London. Also co-starring in the film, Lulu introduces her friend Mark London (the husband of her manager Marion Massey) to the films’ producers after they cannot find a suitable song for the main theme. London writes the music in just five minutes, with lyricist Don Black (“Born Free”, “Ben”, “The World Is Not Enough”) penning the lyrics the next day. Produced by Mickie Most (The Animals, Donovan, Herman’s Hermits), there are three versions of the song recorded. One version used during a montage sequence in the film features three verses. A second version that is heard at the end of the film, features only the first verse of the song. The hit single version is yet another performance featuring strings features two verses, excising the middle verse heard during the museum montage scene. When the single is released in the US on June 2, 1967, Epic Records places “To Sir With Love” on B-side of “The Boat That I Row” (written by Neil Diamond). “Boat” had initially been issued with another Mark London penned song titled “Dreary Days And Nights”, as its original B-side just days earlier. That version is quickly withdrawn, and replaced with “To Sir With Love”. American radio DJ’s prefer the flip side and “Sir” takes off quickly. Entering the Hot 100 at #74 on September 9, 1967 it races to the top of the chart six weeks later. On Sunday, October 22, 1967, the day after “To Sir With Love” tops the US pop chart, Lulu performs the song on “The Ed Sullivan Show”. The song is ranked the top single of 1967 as determined by Billboard Magazine. Surprisingly, “Sir” is passed over for an Academy Award nomination for Best Song in 1968, and even more surprising, it does not chart in the UK in spite of its huge success in the US. The song is covered numerous times over the years by artists including Herbie Mann, Vickie Sue Robinson, and Tina Arena. In 2017, Saturday Night Live cast members Cecily Strong and Sasheer Zamata perform “To Sir With Love” in tribute to outgoing US President Barack Obama. “To Sir With Love” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 17, 1981 – “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” by Christopher Cross hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks, also topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 4 weeks on September 26, 1981. Written by Christopher Cross, Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager and Peter Allen, it is the second and final chart topping single for the San Antonio, TX born singer, songwriter and musician. The song is featured as the theme for the hit comedy “Arthur” starring Dudley Moore, Sir John Gielgud, and Liza Minnelli. Cross is asked to sing the theme for the film by songwriter Burt Bacharach, and invited to collaborate on the song. The lyric “when you get caught between the moon and New York City” comes from an unfinished song written by Australian born songwriter and musician Peter Allen (former husband of singer and actress Liza Minnelli) and songwriter Carole Bayer Sager (later married to Bacharach from 1982 – 1991). That line forms the basis of the song, with the rest of the music and lyrics being written around it. Released in tandem with the film in July of 1981, it is an immediate smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #71 on August 17, 1981, it climbs to the top of the chart nine weeks later. “Arthur’s Theme” wins the Academy Award for “Best Original Song” in 1982, becoming the eighth song of the rock era to win the award. The Oscar win tops a phenomenal two years of success for Cross, who sees a reversal of his good fortune with his second album “Another Page” in early 1983 when the albums first two singles under perform on the charts. Though the album is certified Gold (and scores a belated hit with “Think Of Laura” (#9 Pop)), it falls far short of the multi-platinum sales (5x Platinum in the US) his self-titled debut album. “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 13, 1986 – “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week. Written by Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock, it is the biggest hit for the new wave pop-rock band from Los Angeles, CA fronted by lead singer Terri Nunn. Having written Oscar winning music for films such as “Midnight Express” and “Flashdance”, composer and producer Giorgio Moroder is asked by film producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer to contribute to the soundtrack of their film “Top Gun” starring Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, and Anthony Edwards. Paired with lyricist Tom Whitlock, they write the soundtracks two biggest hits “Danger Zone” and “Take My Breath Away”. Both songs are offered to Berlin. Initially, “Danger Zone” (#2 Pop) is planned as a duet, but is passed on to Kenny Loggins when the band declines to record it. Used as the “love theme” for the film, “Take My Breath Away” is an immediate hit with film audiences and record buyers. Entering the Hot 100 at #96 on June 21, 1986, it climbs to the top of the chart twelve weeks later. The song wins the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1987, earning Moroder his third Oscar and becoming the thirteenth song in the rock era to achieve that honor. The success of Berlin’s single propels the “Top Gun” soundtrack to number one for five weeks (non-consecutive) on the Billboard Top 200, and going 9x Platinum in the US. “Take My Breath Away” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 11, 1982 – “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” by Chicago hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks, also topping the Adult Contemporary Chart for 3 weeks on August 21, 1982. Written by Peter Cetera and David Foster, it is the second chart topping single for the rock band from Chicago, IL. Following their being unceremoniously dropped by former label Columbia Records after releasing fifteen albums over their thirteen year association with the label, Chicago sign with Warner Bros Records in late 1981. With the change of label come other changes. Former Sons Of Champlin keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Bill Champlin joins the band as a co-lead vocalist, and Chicago selects former studio musician and songwriter David Foster to produce them. Once a fully self contained band, Foster streamlines and retools Chicago’s sound by bringing in Toto members David Paich, Steve Lukather, Steve Porcaro (and others) to augment them instrumentally as well as work as songwriting collaborators. The ballad “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” is the first single released from “Chicago 16” on May 27, 1982. It is also included in the Randal Kleiser (“Grease”, “The Blue Lagoon”) directed film “Summer Lovers” starring Daryl Hannah and Peter Gallagher. Though the film is a box office disappointment, “Sorry” is Chicago’s first major hit in nearly five years. The full LP version of the track segues into the song “Get Away”, but is edited for single release, via a fade out before the start of the next song. Though today, many radio stations play both tracks in sequence. Entering the Hot 100 at #75 on June 5, 1982, it climbs to the top of the chart fourteen weeks later. “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 10, 1983 – “Maniac” by Michael Sembello hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks. Written by Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky, it is the biggest hit for the singer, songwriter and musician from Philadelphia, PA. Born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Michael Sembello begins playing guitar during his childhood, and by his teens has mastered the instrument, and is working as a professional session musician. Before he’s even out of high school, Sembello is hired by Stevie Wonder as a member of his band Wonderlove, touring and recording with the Motown legend from 1972 to 1979. Following his tenure with Wonder, Sembello continues successfully as a first call session musician and songwriter, working with the likes of Michael Jackson, George Benson, Jeffrey Osborne, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross and Chaka Khan. In 1982, producer Phil Ramone is hired as the music supervisor for the film “Flashdance”, compiling additional material for the soundtrack album. Ramone calls his friend Michael Sembello, and asks him he has any songs that might be suitable for use in the film. Sembello sends Ramone a tape with several songs for him to consider. The producer calls him back, telling him his favorite song on the tape is one called “Maniac”. The original lyrics about a killer on a rampage, are inspired by director William Lustig’s low budget horror-slasher film classic “Maniac”. The original lyrics are changed at the request of film producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer to match the film’s theme about a female welder aspiring to become a professional dancer. Released as the second single from the “Flashdance” soundtrack in May of 1983, the song is an immediate hit. Entering the Hot 100 at #89 on June 4, 1983, it climbs to the top of the chart fourteen weeks later. “Maniac” is also released as an extended 12" single remixed by John “Jellybean” Benitez which also becomes a top seller. Michael Sembello and co-writer Dennis Matkosky win a Grammy Award for Grammy Award for Best Album of Original Score Written for A Motion Picture or a Television Special in 1984 for their contribution to the “Flashdance” original motion picture soundtrack. They also receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song in 1984, but lose the award to the soundtrack’s other huge hit “Flashdance… What A Feeling”.
On this day in music history: August 26, 1995 – “Kiss From A Rose” by Seal hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 12 weeks on the same date. Written by Seal , it is the biggest hit for the British born Nigerian/Afro-Brazilian singer, songwriter and musician. Originally written for his second self-titled album released in 1994, “Kiss From A Rose” is almost left off of the album when Seal and his producer Trevor Horn feel initially that it sounds “too different” from the other songs on the album, planning to drop it from the final track sequence. A friend of Seal’s hears the song and insist that he include it. When a Warner Bros A&R exec hears “Kiss”, he plays it for Gary LeMel, the president of music for Warner Bros movie division. LeMel plays the song for Batman Forever director Joel Schumacher who loves the song and asks to use it in the film. Entering the Hot 100 at #87 on June 24, 1995, it climbs to the top of the chart nine weeks later. The song drives both Seal’s second self titled album and the “Batman Forever” soundtrack to multi-platinum status, as well as winning three Grammy Awards including Record and Song Of The Year for 1995. “Kiss From A Rose” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: August 26, 1978 – “Grease” by Frankie Valli hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks, also peaking at #40 on the R&B singles chart on September 16, 1978. Written by Barry Gibb, it is the second solo chart topper for legendary lead vocalist of The Four Seasons born Francesco Castelluccio. Following the Bee Gees work on the soundtrack for “Saturday Night Fever” and as the group are wrapping up filming on the Robert Stigwood helmed “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, Barry Gibb is asked by Stigwood to write the theme song for film adaptation of the long running hit musical “Grease”. Gibb quickly writes the song on his own, cutting the track at Criteria Studios in Miami, FL in April of 1978. Guitarist Peter Frampton, Gibb’s co-star in “Sgt. Pepper” plays guitar on the track. Barry Gibb is also instrumental in bringing in Frankie Valli to sing the title song to the film. Released as the second single from the “Grease” soundtrack on May 6, 1978, it quickly becomes a smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #69 on May 27, 1978, it climbs to the top of the chart thirteen weeks later. “Grease” is Valli’s second solo number one (seventh overall) giving him a span of nearly sixteen years since his first number with The Four Seasons in 1962. The success of the song drives sales of the “Grease” soundtrack to over 8x Platinum in the US, and worldwide sales of over twenty eight million copies. At the time of its domination of the charts, it is the second largest selling soundtrack album of all time after “Saturday Night Fever” (eventually displaced to second and third place by “The Bodyguard” Soundtrack). “Grease” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: August 24, 1985 – “Power Of Love” by Huey Lewis & The News hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks. Written by Huey Lewis, Chris Hayes and John Colla, it is the first chart topping single for the Marin, CA based rock band fronted by lead singer Huey Lewis (born Hugh Anthony Cregg III). In late 1984, film producers Bob Gale and Neil Canton approach Huey Lewis about writing and performing a song for the film “Back To The Future” directed by Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”, “Cast Away”) and executive produced by Steven Spielberg. Initially, the band write a song called “In The Nick Of Time” which Gale and Canton love. But the song is given away to the Richard Pryor comedy “Brewster’s Millions”, when negotiations between Lewis’ manager, lawyers and Universal take too long. In place of “In The Nick Of Time”, Lewis and the band offer up the songs “Back In Time” and “Power Of Love” for the “Back To The Future” soundtrack. The producers of the film are not fond of “Love” initially, but quickly warm up to it. Lewis himself also makes a brief cameo appearance in the film as a school administrator that rejects Michael J. Fox’s band, who in a bit of tongue in cheek irony are playing a hard rock cover of “Power Of Love” in an audition to the play the school’s dance. Released in tandem with the films June 1985 opening, the song is an immediate smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #46 on June 29, 1985, it climbs to the top of the chart eight weeks later. The single also receives an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song in 1986, though it loses to Lionel Richie’s “Say You, Say Me”. “Power Of Love” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: August 22, 1987 – “Who’s That Girl” by Madonna hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week. Written and produced by Madonna and Patrick Leonard, it is the sixth chart topping single for the pop music superstar. Director James Foley (“At Close Range”) asks Madonna to record some new songs for the films soundtrack. Madonna in turn calls upon her collaborators Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray to write “some uptempo material” that might work in the film. Madonna later writes the melody and lyrics for the songs they have written. Inspired by her own recent top five hit “La Isla Bonita”, she writes based on the Latin feel of that song. Recorded as the theme song to her third film (originally titled “Slammer”), the films title is changed before its release to “Who’s That Girl”. Issued as the first single from the soundtrack on June 30, 1987, it quickly becomes another smash for Madonna. Entering the Hot 100 at #43 on July 11, 1987, it rockets to the top of the chart six weeks later. Though the film opens to bad reviews and disappointing box office, the success of “Who’s That Girl”, and its follow up single “Causing A Commotion” propel the soundtrack album to 2x Platinum status in the US.