Category: pop

On this day in music history: November 12, 1988 – “Wild, Wild West” by The Escape Club hits # 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week. Written by Trevor Steel, John Holliday, Johnnie Christo and Milan Zekavika, it is the biggest hit for the British quartet fronted by lead singer Trevor Steel. It is the first single from the bands’ second album (also titled “Wild, Wild West”), having previously recorded and released an unsuccessful album for EMI Records in 1987. The band meet producer Chris Kimsey, (best known for his engineering and co-production work with The Rolling Stones) while still signed to EMI. They play the song for execs at the label who feel it isn’t a hit. The band leave EMI and are quickly signed by Atlantic Records in the US. Once the single is released in July of 1988, it does not take long for its impact to be felt. Entering the Hot 100 at #94 on August 20, 1988, it climbs to the top of the chart twelve weeks later. The video for “Wild, Wild West” receives heavy airplay in the US, particularly from MTV. It is banned in the UK on the grounds that it is “sexist and offensive”. “Wild, Wild West” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: November 12, 1984 – “Like A Virgin”, the second album by Madonna is released. Produced by Nile Rodgers, it is recorded at The Power Station in New York City from April – May 1984. By early 1984, with her self titled debut finally gaining significant sales and chart momentum, Madonna is anxious to begin work on her sophomore release. She wants to produce the project herself, after being left in the lurch by producer Reggie Lucas when he quits before sessions for the first album are complete. Madonna’s record label Warner Bros isn’t willing to grant her full creative control, and insists that a seasoned professional be in charge of the sessions. Being a huge fan of the band Chic, she asks guitarist Nile Rodgers to produce her. The pair get to work right away, selecting songs for the album. Madonna pens five of the nine songs, co-writing four of those with former boyfriend and Breakfast Club band mate Stephen Bray. The rhythm section consists of Nile Rodgers on guitar and Synclavier, along with former Chic band mates Bernard Edwards (bass), Tony Thompson (drums) and Rob Sabino (keyboards). Even with Rodgers firmly at the helm, Madonna is also very hands on, being present at all sessions, observing and making suggestions to Rodgers and the other musicians. Once recording is completed, the album is held back for several more months as Madonna’s debut is still generating hits. Released at last in mid-November, “Like A Virgin” is an immediate smash. It spins off four top five pop singles including “Material Girl” (#2 Pop, #49 R&B, #1 Club Play), “Angel” (#5 Pop, #71 R&B, #1 Club Play), “Dress You Up” (#5 Pop, #64 R&B, #1 Club Play) and the title track (#1 Pop, #9 R&B, #1 Club Play). The album’s iconic cover, back cover and inner sleeve photos are taken by fashion photographer Steven Meisel (Seventeen, Vogue). The original US and Canadian promo LP copies are pressed on pure white “virgin” vinyl (originally intended for stock commercial copies also, but deemed too expensive) with custom art labels. “Virgin” establishes Madonna as a pop superstar on a global basis, and becomes her biggest selling album, moving over twenty one million copies worldwide. The album is remastered and reissued on CD in 2001 with the 12" mixes of “Material Girl” and the title track as bonus tracks. The album is also reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP by Rhino Records in 2016, and as a limited edition clear vinyl pressing in the UK (exclusively through Sainsbury’s) in 2017. It is also reissued as a limited edition white vinyl LP, as part of Rhino’s “Back To The 80’s” series in July of 2018. “Like A Virgin” spends three weeks at number one on the Billboard Top 200, peaking at number ten on the R&B album chart, and is certified 10x Platinum in the US by the RIAA, earning a Diamond Certification.

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On this day in music history: November 12, 1984 – “Arena”, the fourth album by Duran Duran is released. Produced by Duran Duran and Nile Rodgers, it is recorded at The Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, CA, The Forum in Los Angeles, CA, Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Canada and Wembley Arena in London from December 1983 – April 1984 (live tracks) and Maison Rouge Studios in London in July 1984 (studio track only). Recorded live during the bands’ “Sing Blue Silver” World Tour, the ten track album also includes the newly recorded studio track “The Wild Boys” (#2 Pop for 4 weeks) produced by Nile Rodgers. The video for the single is an elaborate short film directed by Russell Mulcahy based on the William Burroughs novel “The Wild Boys: A Book Of The Dead”. The clip is shot on the 007 Sound stage at Pinewood Studios in London at a cost of over one million dollars, making it one of the most expensive music videos made to that date. That track is followed by “Save A Prayer” (#12 Pop) in January of 1985. Though the live version is featured on the single release, it regulated to the B-side, with an edit of the original studio version from “Rio” garnering airplay instead from radio. The original LP is packaged in a gatefold sleeve (designed by Assorted Images) with a bonus photo booklet of the band in live performance. Duran Duran also releases a feature length documentary in December of 1984 titled “Sing Blue Silver”, featuring live and behind the scenes footage of the tour, and the live concert film “Arena (An Absurd Notion)” in March of 1985. Both are later reissued together on DVD in 2004 by EMI Home Video. The album is remastered and reissued in 2004 with two additional bonus tracks left off of the original release. “Arena” peaks at number four on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: November 12, 1983 – “All Night Long (All Night)” by Lionel Richie hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 7 weeks on October 22, 1983, and also tops the Adult Contemporary chart for 4 weeks on November 12, 1983. Written by Lionel Richie, it is the third solo number one single for the former member of The Commodores. While writing songs for his second solo album, Lionel Richie pulls the material from a variety of sources. Some songs like the chart topping “Hello”, is written during the recording of his first album in 1982, but is set aside. The idea for what becomes “All Night Long” starts off quickly, before hitting a roadblock. The verses, bridge and melody come to him while on trips that he takes to the Caribbean. The song’s chorus and title take much longer to develop. In all, Lionel spends over two months working on the song before its complete. Adding to the song’s multicultural vibe, are the words “Karamu”, a Swahili word for a party that is usually accompanied by a feast. “Liming”, a word originating in the Caribbean meaning “to get together” and “Fiesta”, the Spanish word for “party” or “celebration”. Another one of the songs hooks “Tambo liteh sette mo-jah! Yo! Jambo jambo”, comes after Richie contacts an African delegate at UN, asking them for an African phrase that is in spirit of the other words he’s used. The delegate gives him those words. Then finally before going into the studio to record the song, Lionel consults his wife Brenda’s gynecologist who is Jamaican, to ask him if he is pronouncing the Caribbean words correctly. When the doctor gives him the thumbs up on his pronunciation, Richie goes ahead and completes his vocals on the track. Issued as the first single from “Can’t Slow Down” in early September of 1983, the song is one of the last tracks completed for the album. The music video is directed by Bob Rafelson (The Monkees TV series, Head, Five Easy Pieces) and is produced by former Monkee Mike Nesmith’s production company Pacific Arts. Entering the Hot 100 at #62 on September 17, 1983, it climbs to the top of the chart eight weeks later. In the Summer of 1984, Richie performs a specially re-written version of “All Night Long” during the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, CA. Richie re-records “All Night Long” with Jimmy Buffett And The Coral Reefer Band for his covers album “Tuskegee” released in March of 2012. “All Night Long (All Night)” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: November 12, 1976 – “Hejira”, the eighth studio album by Joni Mitchell is released. Produced by Joni Mitchell, it is recorded at A&M Studios in Hollywood, CA from May – September 1976. Following the release of her previous album “The Hissing Of Summer Lawns”, Joni Mitchell hits the road as part of Bob Dylan’s legendary “Rolling Thunder Revue” tour in late 1975. Shortly after, she embarks on her own tour in support of the “Lawns” album in early 1976, but is aborted only after six weeks when she and drummer John Guerin break up. Having had an on and off again relationship nearly three years, Mitchell breaks off her relationship with Guerin when she discovers that he is cheating on her. Seeking a diversion from the split and looking to stoke her creative energy, Joni drives across the United States from Maine to California with two traveling companions. Writing new songs all along the way, Mitchell’s vivid lyrical imagery as well as her unique and distinctive musical sensibilities permeate the new compositions. Once back in Los Angeles, she begins recording the songs with her long time engineer Henry Lewy. Having experimented with jazz textures since the recording of “Court And Spark”, the sessions feature Larry Carlton (guitar), Victor Feldman (vibraphone), Tom Scott (saxophone) and Bobbye Hall (percussion). Having grown tired of conventional bass guitar patterns in pop music, which Joni refers to as “putting a dark fence through my music”, she looks to find a bassist is freer in their playing and doesn’t always rely on “playing the root of a chord”. Around this time she is introduced to bassist Jaco Pastorius. Having just become a member of the innovative jazz-fusion band Weather Report, Joni and Jaco form an instant musical bond, and he is invited to play on four songs during the sessions. Jaco’s fluid and melodic playing, played on a war weary fretless 60’s Fender Jazz Bass, nicknamed “The Bass Of Doom” provides the perfect counterpoint and compliment to Mitchell’s songs. The title “Hejira” is taken from the Arabic word “hijra” which means “journey”, also making reference to the prophet Muhummad’s sojourn from Mecca to Medina in 622, as well as Mitchell’s cross country trip while writing the songs. The resulting album includes “Amelia”, “Black Crow”, “Furry Sings The Blues”, “Coyote” and “Song For Sharon”. In time, it is viewed as one of the best albums of her career. The cover and inner sleeve photos are taken by frequent collaborator photographer Norman Seeff. First released on CD in the late 80’s, it is remastered and reissued in 1997 with HDCD encoding, also restoring the original cover artwork. It is also reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP by Rhino Records in 2014. “Hejira” peaks at number thirteen on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: November 12, 1971 – “Nilsson Schmilsson”, the seventh album by Nilsson is released. Produced by Richard Perry, it is recorded at Trident Studios in London in June 1971. Releasing six albums in five years, and known his highly creative drive and often mercurial nature, Harry Nilsson shifts musical directions repeatedly. Working previously with RCA staff producer Rick Jarrard, Nilsson parts ways with him to produce himself. After recording an album of covers by then still largely unknown songwriter Randy Newman, and the soundtrack to the wonderfully wry and surreal children’s animated film “The Point!”, Harry decides to work with another producer. Prior to working with artists as diverse as Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, Ringo Starr, Leo Sayer and The Pointer Sisters, Richard Perry was known for producing Captain Beefheart and Tiny Tim. For Harry’s album, the pair travel to England in mid 1971 to record. Perry surrounds Nilsson with a group of top musicians which include Klaus Voorman, Herbie Flowers (bass), Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, Roger Pope (drums), Chris Spedding, John Uribe, Caleb Quaye (guitar), Gary Wright, Jimmy Webb (keyboards), and Bobby Keys (saxophone). Consisting mostly of original songs, he also covers “Let The Good Times Roll”, multi-tracking a chorus of his own voice and Louis Jordan’s “Early In The Morning”. The third, a cover of Badfinger’s “Without You” (#1 Pop) buoyed a sweeping arrangement and Nilsson’s soaring tenor voice, becomes a centerpiece of the album. It is contrasted by the gritty and hard rocking “Jump Into The Fire” (#29 Pop) and the light hearted and humorous “Coconut” (#8 Pop). The album’s now instantly recognizable cover photo is taken by Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean. Torrence’s company Kittyhawk Graphics is hired to create the artwork for Nilsson’s album. He goes to Harry’s home in L.A., and is greeted by the singer in his bathrobe in the middle of the afternoon. Deciding to forego a formal photo session, Dean photographs Harry standing in his kitchen in his robe, holding a hash pipe. Original copies of the LP come packaged with a 12" x 24" poster. “Schmilsson” quickly becomes the most successful album of Nilsson’s career. It is nominated for four Grammy Awards including Record and Album Of The Year. Nilsson wins his second Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for “Without You” in 1973. Reissued many times since first appearing on CD in the mid 80’s, it is remastered and reissued in 2013 as part of the “RCA Albums Collection”. It is most recently reissued on vinyl in 2017, on standard black vinyl, and a limited edition pressing on split yellow and white vinyl, with the latter including a reproduction of the poster. “Nilsson Schmilsson” peaks at number three on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.  

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On this day in music history: November 12, 1968 – “Neil Young”, the debut album by Neil Young is released. Produced by Neil Young, David Briggs, Jack Nitzsche and Ry Cooder, it is recorded at Wally Heider Recording, Sunset Sound Recorders and TTG Recording Studios in Hollywood, CA from August – October 1968. His first release following his departure from Buffalo Springfield, the album features Young with musical support from Ry Cooder, Earl Palmer, Carol Kaye, Jim Messina, and Jack Nitzsche. It is initially released with the Haeco-CSG encoding system, designed to make stereo records compatible with mono turntables, just as mono LP’s are being phased out in the US. The end result makes the recording sound out of phase when played in either stereo or mono. Unhappy with the sound of the final product,  Young remixes part of the album, and it is reissued without the processing in November of 1969, a year after the LP’s initial release. The album’s modest sales make the first pressing a sought after collector’s item by fans, who feel that the original mixes are superior in spite the post production processing. It is remastered and reissued in 2009, on CD (with HDCD encoding) and as a 180 gram vinyl LP.  "Neil Young" does not chart on the Billboard Top 200.

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Born on this day: November 12, 1945 – Singer, songwriter and musician Neil Young (born Neil Percival Young in Toronto, Ontario, Canada). Happy 74th Birthday, Neil!!!

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On this day in music history: November 12, 1966 – “Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing” by Lou Rawls hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week, also peaking at #13 on the Hot 100 on November 5, 1966. Written by Dave Linden and Ben Raleigh, it is the first major hit for the Chicago, IL born R&B and jazz vocalist. Paired with producer David Axelrod, he asks songwriter Ben Raleigh if he has any songs that he could record with Rawls, who has been signed to Capitol for five years, yet has had only one previously charted release. He is on the verge of being dropped by the label when the back to back releases of “Lou Rawls Live!” and the follow up album “Soulin’” (featuring “Love”) helps put the singer on the map. Recorded at the Capitol Tower in Hollywood, the track features a number of prominent musicians including guitarist Barney Kessel, drummer Earl Palmer and bassist Jimmy Bond. Released in August of 1966, it gives Rawls his long awaited breakthrough. The success of “Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing” marks the beginning of more than a decade of major hits for the singer praised by the legendary Frank Sinatra as having “the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game”. A few months later, Rawls and “Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing” are name checked by Arthur Conley on his hit “Sweet Soul Music”.

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On this day in music history: November 12, 1966 – “Poor Side Of Town” by Johnny Rivers hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week. Written by Johnny Rivers and Lou Adler, it is the biggest hit for the New York born singer, songwriter and producer. Recorded at Western Recorders in Hollywood, CA with members of The Wrecking Crew, the track is arranged by Marty Paich (father of Toto keyboardist David Paich), and features background vocals by Darlene Love & The Blossoms. Known for mostly covering songs by other artists, it is both Rivers’ biggest hit (also his fifth Top 10 pop single) and the only major hit he has that is written by him. Initially nervous about releasing the song, Rivers fears are unfounded when it quickly becomes a hit. Entering the Hot 100 at #90 on September 17, 1966, it climbs to the top of the chart eight weeks later. “Poor Side Of Town” also tops the pop singles chart in Canada on November 21, 1966. “Poor Side Of Town” marks a major shift in musical styles for Johnny Rivers, changing up from the more uptempo “go-go beat” feel of his past hits like “Memphis”, “Mountain Of Love” and “Secret Agent Man”, toward more soulful and mellower fare like his covers of the Motown classics “Baby I Need Your Lovin’”, “The Tracks Of My Tears” and “Summer Rain”.

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