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 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 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: 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 21, 1957 – “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley hits #1 on the Billboard Best Sellers chart for 7 weeks, also topping the Country singles chart for 1 week on December 2, 1957, and peaking at #2 on the R&B singles chart on the same date. Written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, it is the eighth chart topper for Presley in under a year and a half. Recorded as the title song from his third film, the track recorded at Radio Recorders in Hollywood, CA on April 30, 1957. The song name checks a number of real people including musician Shifty Henry and the 1920’s mobsters The Purple Gang. Released on September 24, 1957, it is another immediate smash for Elvis. Entering the Best Sellers chart at #4 on October 14, 1957, it leaps to the top of the chart the following week. “Jailhouse Rock” is backed with the song “Treat Me Nice” also included in the film. “Nice” peaks at #18 on pop singles chart on October 28, 1957. The film also opens on the same date and tops the box office charts simultaneously. Presley also makes history as being the only artist to ever dominate the top of the singles chart for twenty five weeks during one calendar year. Elvis achieves this unprecedented feat in both 1956 and 1957. “Jailhouse Rock” is reissued in the UK in 2005 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Presley’s birth. It makes UK chart history as the only single to enter at number one twice, as it had done so on its original release. The single is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2017. “Jailhouse Rock” is certified 2x Platinum 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: October 14, 1972 – “Ben” by Michael Jackson hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also peaking at #5 on the R&B singles chart on October 21, 1972. Written by Don Black and Walter Scharf, it is the first solo chart topper for the young Motown superstar. Written as the title song to the sequel of the 1971 film “Willard”, Walter Scharf (“Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory”, Spanky & Our Gang) is hired to write a theme song for the film. Scharf calls lyricist Don Black (“To Sir With Love”, “Born Free”) and asks him to write the lyrics. When the song is completed singer Donny Osmond is asked to sing the song, but is unavailable at the time to record it. Black suggests Michael Jackson, and Jackson (a lover of animals, also owning several pet rats at the time) enthusiastically agrees to record the song. The title track from his second solo album, “Ben” is released as a single in mid July of 1972, quickly becoming a smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #85 on August 5, 1972, it climbs to the top of the chart ten weeks later. Fourteen years old at the time, it makes Jackson the third youngest artist in history to reach number one on the US singles chart. “Ben” is also nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Original Song”. Jackson performs the song on the live Oscar telecast in March of 1973.
On this day in music history: October 10, 1966 – “Georgy Girl” by The Seekers is released. Written by Tom Springfield and Jim Dale, it is the biggest hit for the Australian folk quartet. Formed in Melbourne, Australia in 1962, The Seekers consisting of lead singer Judith Durham, Keith Potger (guitar, banjo, vocals), Bruce Woodley (guitar, mandolin, banjo, vocals) and Athol Guy (double bass, vocals), become one of the first Australian groups to achieve major success outside of their native continent when they score a worldwide hit in 1965 with “I’ll Never Find Another You” (#3 Pop, #1 UK and Australia). During this time, Woodley also collaborates with Paul Simon, co-writing the hit song “Red Rubber Ball” (#2 Pop), covered by American pop band The Cyrkle in 1966. The song “Georgy Girl” is written by folk musician Tom Springfield (brother of blue eyed soul and pop singer Dusty Springfield) and musician, stage and film actor Jim Dale (“Pete’s Dragon”, “Hot Lead And Cold Feet”, “Barnum”) as the title song for the British romantic comedy/drama starring Lynn Redgrave, James Mason, Alan Bates and Charlotte Rampling. The Seekers are tapped to perform the song and is recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, with Tom Springfield producing. Like the film itself, the instantly catchy title song is an immediate hit, giving the group their biggest selling single, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 on February 4, 1967 (behind The Monkees’ “I’m A Believer”). “Georgy Girl” is also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1967, but loses to “Born Free”. The popularity of “Georgy Girl” endures over the years, being featured in an ad campaign by Mattel for Barbie and on the TV shows “The Simpsons” and “Get A Life”. “Georgy Girl” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.