On this day in music history: December 8, 1979 – “Babe” by Styx hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks. Written by Dennis DeYoung, it is the biggest hit for the rock band from Chicago, IL. In middle of a string multi-Platinum selling albums, Styx continues their hot streak as the 70’s come to a close, as they begin work on their ninth album. “Cornerstone” sees Styx moving away from the progressive rock of their previous work, refining their formula to more mainstream pop/rock sound. During the sessions, lead singer and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung writes the ballad “Babe” for his wife Suzanne as a birthday present. Recording it as a demo with just drummer John Panozzo and bassist Chuck Panozzo, the song is not originally intended for the album in progress, until band members James “J.Y.” Young and Tommy Shaw convince DeYoung that it should be included. When they find that DeYoung’s original demo cannot be improved upon, J.Y. overdubs a guitar solo to the track, and the song is slotted into the finished album. Released as the first single from “Cornerstone” in September of 1979, “Babe” is an immediate hit. Entering the Hot 100 at #72 on October 6, 1979, it climbs to the top of the chart nine weeks later. “Babe” is later included on the soundtrack to the Adam Sandler film “Big Daddy”, and is covered by R&B singer Alexander O’Neal and Dutch pop group Caught In The Act. In spite of the songs’ ongoing popularity, Styx stop performing “Babe” live after Dennis DeYoung is fired from the band in 1999. “Babe” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: December 6, 1968 – “James Taylor”, the debut album by James Taylor is released in the UK (US release is on February 17, 1969). Produced by Peter Asher, it is recorded at Trident Studios in London from July – October 1968. Taylor is one of the first signings to The Beatles Apple label by Asher (one half of the pop duo Peter & Gordon and the brother of Paul McCartney’s former girlfriend Jane Asher) who is the head of A&R. Paul McCartney and George Harrison make an uncredited appearance on the first single “Carolina In My Mind” contributing background vocals. In spite of good reviews, the album sells poorly, due to Taylor’s hospitalization for heroin addiction, which prevents him from promoting it properly. Taylor re-records “Carolina” and “Something In The Way She Moves” for his 1976 greatest hits album when his label Warner Bros Records is unable to license the original versions from Apple. The original album is eventually reissued on CD in the mid 90’s and again in 2010. It is also briefly reissued on vinyl in Europe in 1991, but quickly goes out of print again. The vinyl LP release is remastered and reissued in 2017, making it available in that format, for the first time in over two decades. “James Taylor” peaks at number one hundred eighteen on the Billboard Top 200.
On this day in music history: December 1, 1973 – “Top Of The World” by The Carpenters hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks. Written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis, it is the second chart topping single for the brother and sister pop music duo from Downey, CA. Originally released on The Carpenters 1972 album “A Song For You”, the song languishes as an album cut, until a cover hit version (peaking at #2 on the Billboard Country singles chart) by country singer Lynn Anderson prompts them to cut a new version of the song. Recorded at A&M Studios in Hollywood, CA in the Summer of 1973 with Hal Blaine (drums), Joe Osborn (bass), Tony Peluso (guitar) Buddy Emmons (pedal steel guitar), Richard Carpenter (electric piano, background vocals, orchestration) and Karen Carpenter (lead and background vocals). Released on September 17, 1973 just a few weeks ahead their first hits compilation “The Singles: 1969 – 1973” where the new version is also included, the song is an instant smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #80 on October 6, 1973, it climbs to the top of the chart eight weeks later. “Top” becomes one of The Carpenters most popular and covered songs, with versions recorded by Mark O’Connor, The Sugarcubes, and Shonen Knife. The Carpenters’ hit version of the song is featured in the films “Shrek Forever After” and “Dark Shadows”. “Top Of The World” 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 23, 1970 – “Tea For The Tillerman”, the fourth album by Cat Stevens is released. Produced by Paul Samwell-Smith, it is recorded at Morgan Studios in Willesden, North London, UK in May – July 1970. Already an established star in his native England in the late 60’s, it is not until the turn of the next decade that Cat Stevens achieves worldwide notoriety. After a near fatal bout of tuberculosis side lines him for an extended time, it makes the musician reassess his life and career. Unhappy with his original producer Mike Hurst and Decca distributed Deram Records, Stevens breaks ties with them in 1969. He makes a conscious decision to change his musical direction also, moving away from the lighter pop and heavily orchestrated sound imposed by Hurst, toward more stripped down and organic production values. Signing with Island Records in the UK and A&M records in the US, Stevens finds like minded collaborators in former Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith who becomes his producer, and guitarist Alun Davies. Though only a modest success at the time, the album “Mona Bone Jakon” released in April of 1970 sets the template that springboards Cat Stevens’ recording career. On the follow up “Tea For The Tillerman, it is completed only three months after his previous release lands in stores. Writing from his own past experiences, "Tea” features several songs that become among Cat Stevens’ best known and most covered material, including “Wild World” (#11 Pop), “Where Do The Children Play?” and “Father And Son”. The album becomes his breakthrough release in the US, putting him at the forefront of the burgeoning singer/songwriter movement that will dominate 70’s pop music. Director Hal Ashby uses four tracks from the album in his black comedy “Harold & Maude” the following year. The albums’ cover artwork is illustrated by Stevens himself. In 2000, Universal Music Group remasters and reissues the album on CD. "Tillerman" is also released as a 2 CD Deluxe Edition featuring the remastered version of the original album on one disc, with the second disc including demos and previously unreleased live recordings. Long a favorite of audiophiles, it is remastered and reissued three separate times by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, in 1980 (standard vinyl LP) in 1984 (as a 200 gram UHQR LP set) and in 1989 (on CD). It is also remastered and reissued by Analogue Productions in 2011 as a 200 gram vinyl LP and hybrid SACD. It is issued by AP again in 2015 as a limited edition 200 gram double vinyl set, mastered at 45 RPM. “Tea For The Tillerman” peaks at number eight on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 3x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 13, 1971 – “Stones”, the seventh studio album by Neil Diamond is released. Produced by Tom Catalano, it is recorded at Sound Recorders in Los Angeles, CA from Spring – Summer 1971. The album features arrangements by Marty Paich and Lee Holdridge. Initial pressings of the LP feature custom picture labels on the record and a jacket with the artist’s name embossed on the front, and a button-string style closure on the back. Later pressings have a standard LP jacket with either regular Uni or MCA labels. It spins off two singles including “I Am… I Said” (#4 Pop), and the title track b/w “Crunchy Granola Suite” (#14 Pop). The album also wins a Grammy Award for Best Engineered Recording for Recording engineer Armin Steiner in 1973. “Stones” peaks at number eleven on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
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”.
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.
On this day in music history: October 23, 1976 – “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks, also topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 1 week on September 25, 1976. Written by Peter Cetera, it is the first chart topping single for the veteran rock band. Though liked by the other members of the band, the song is nearly be left off of the “Chicago X” album since it differs so much from the rest of the songs on the record. It is included at producer James William Guercio’s insistence. After the initial single “Another Rainy Day In New York” (#32 Pop) receives a lukewarm reception from radio, Columbia Records rush releases “If You Leave Me Now” as a single on July 31, 1976. Entering the Hot 100 at #60 on August 14, 1976, it climbs to the top of the chart ten weeks later. The single wins two Grammy Awards including Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus and Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) in 1977. The success of the record also marks a major turning point for Chicago, with Peter Cetera becoming the most high profile member of the band, as his songwriting and lead vocals begin to dominate the band’s sound afterward. It proves to be troublesome to Robert Lamm and Terry Kath, both of whom have been prominent creative forces within Chicago until that point. The tension this creates eventually leads to James William Guercio’s ouster from being the band’s producer and manager after the next album. The huge popularity of the ballad has endured over the years as a pop radio oldies staple, as well as being featured in the films “Three Kings”, “Shaun Of The Dead”, “A Lot Like Love”, and “Sex And The City”. The song was also featured in a memorable commercial for the ill fated dot com company Pets.Com in 1999. “If You Leave Me Now” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.