May 23 – Change Was Only Roxy Music Constant

Ever-morphing and ever-popular in Europe, Roxy Music put out their seventh (and penultimate) studio album, Flesh + Blood this day in 1980. The album was surprisingly the first of their records to go platinum in the UK and the second one to top the charts there; it cracked the U.S. top 40 which they’d only done once before.

Roxy was down to just a core trio of Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera by this time but were well-supplemented with a raft of studio musicians including Paul Carrack on this one. The album was a little uneven and focused largely on love lost and also included a couple of ’60s cover songs – Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” and the Byrds “Eight Miles High.” That marked the first time the band had recorded cover songs, although Bryan Ferry had put out a couple of solo albums in the ’70s consisting of nothing but coves.

Critics weren’t impressed; Rolling Stone called it “such a shockingly bad Roxy Music record” while years later would upgrade it to a 3-star rating saying “good – but lacked the spark that made some of the earlier albums so good.” Allmusic similarly gave it an unusually bad 2-star rating, surprising in that the review wasn’t all that bad really. They suggested that at its best, it was “effortlessly suave and charming”, that “Oh Yeah” was one of their best singles ever, but that the cover songs were superfluous and showed the band was running low on ideas. Ferry’s own website says of it “a record of grace and graciousness, sense and sensuality” and while top 10 singles “Oh Yeah” and “Over You” are good enough, it’s “Same Old Scene” that steals the show. Biographer David Buckley notes it was the band’s “most perfect dance record” and that a year later “the charts would be full of songs with a similar musical trajectory.”

Roxy Music came back two years later with their North American breakthrough, Avalon… then promptly broke up for years. They’d now back together for the first time in years getting ready for a 50th anniversary tour, kicking off Sep. 7 in Toronto.

May 22 – What Was That Number Again?

The world’s most famous phone number became that on this day in 1982 – one hit wonders Tommy Tutone hit “867-5309/Jenny” rang up as #4 in the U.S.

The San Francisco area rockers included members of Clover (a band which morphed into Huey Lewis and the News) and is still going, forty or so years after they began. They actually recorded a new album in 2019, some 21 years after their previous one. According to Alex Call, the writer, “was just trying to write a four-chord rock song.” He explains “I actually came up with ‘Jenny’ and the telephone number and the music…just sitting in my backyard.” Despite rumors, the song wasn’t autobiographical. “There was no Jenny,” he says, adding that when guitarist Jim Keller dropped by, he suggested that the girl’s number should be up on a bathroom wall “we wrote the verses in 15 or 20 minutes.”

The song was from their second album, and although signed to Columbia and scraping onto the American charts a year earlier with a song called “Angel Say No”, no one had high expectations for Tommy Tutone 2. “It didn’t have a lot of promotion,” Call remembers. “It was just one of those songs that got a lot of requests…it was on the charts for 40 weeks.” It earned them a gold single and also rose to #2 in Canada, but they never found the winning number again, failing to have any major hits since.

It wasn’t necessarily a hit for those with the number- people with it (including the daughter of Buffalo’s police chief) were routinely inundated with callers looking for “Jenny” by the hundreds and often ended up changing the number. It also probably frustrated a lot of romeos who were trying to get girls numbers in later years. “A lot of women have told me they use the number as a brush-off…which I think is really great.” So, remember guys, if you see a hot girl who doesn’t seem to swoon at you and you ask for their number…if she writes “867-5309” on your hand, you’re probably never going to see them again. (Perhaps a little like Tommy Tutone itself!)

May 21 – Hot Space Got Cold Shoulder From Fans

Being a successful musician seems to mean being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Being super-successful seems to involve that and being something of a magician or mystic at the same time, managing to steer the sound successfully. The problem is, once you have a following, if you keep sounding the same, people will typically get bored with you (AC/DC fans excepted) …but if you change sound, you risk alienating many of your fans who’ll long for your “traditional” sound. Few can navigate frequent change well and keep their fans. Even Queen struggled with it, as we found out four decades back – Hot Space came out this day in 1982.

It was their tenth studio album, coming about a year and change after their experimental soundtrack to Flash Gordon, and two years after their smash The Game which had elevated them to unmitigated superstar status worldwide with hits like “Another One Bites The Dust”. They were getting a bit restless perhaps, and well aware that the prevailing hit sounds were quite different than they were five or six years earlier when they were making their mark with songs like “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions.” Bassist John Deacon and their star singer Freddie Mercury in particular seemed to want to shift gears with the band.

Drummer Roger Taylor says Deacon particularly was tired of their anthemic rock sound. “John’s always been R&B orientated,” he’d say a year or two after the album release, “I think we went too far and did too much.” Neither he nor guitarist Brian May liked Freddie’s personal manager, Paul Prenter one bit. Prenter apparently disliked rock and May says “he wanted our music to sound like you’d just walked into a gay bar, and I didn’t.” He further aggravated them by keeping Mercury away from reporters and rudely alienating quite a few American radio people in the process, never helpful when you want them to play your new record. For another change, they recorded it – slowly due to heavy partying – in Germany and Switzerland, no doubt taking in the latest Euro-pop sounds along the way.

The result was an interesting, but oddly varied album using far more synthesizers than they had before and fewer Brian May guitar bits. For the first time they brought in drum machines. The one real standout on the album was a song everyone already knew – “Under Pressure”, the duet with David Bowie which had been pre-released months earlier.

There were some other highlights, though opinions varied as to what they were. Brian May got to show off his guitar a little with his bluntly anti-gun “Put out the Fire”; the band did a tribute to John Lennon (with them recording the record at the time Lennon was killed) called “Life is Real,” and “Calling All Girls” was a likeable little pop song that would have sounded at home as one of the lesser tracks on The Game. Still, diehard fans found little to really cheer on and the new wave, younger crowd they were seemingly working to musically seduce weren’t interested.

Reviews weren’t terrible…unless you put it in context of them being for one of the most successful and loved acts of the decade preceding it. Smash Hits rated it 5 out of 10; The Guardian gave it just 2-stars noting “by the time (it) came out, disco had mutated into weird, skeletal dubby electronic sounds…which didn’t really suit Queen.” Rolling Stone was a bit more generous, rating it 3-stars. They opined “Queen offers a bit more than bluster” with their “funky songs”, singling out “Back Chat” as “a hot rock funk tune with guitar tracks as slick as any icy dancefloor,” but warning that “Body Language” is “a piece of funk that isn’t fun.” Later, allmusic rated it just 2.5-stars, the lowest of anything they did while Mercury was alive. They called it an “unabashed pop/dance album…devoting the entire first side to robotic, new wave dance pop driven by drum machines” before “finally getting synth-drum new wave right” with “Calling All Girls.” They summed it up by suggesting “Under Pressure” would be the only track on it fans would remember. Interestingly, to the record’s credit (well, debate among yourselves if it is that) it did have a big fan in Michael Jackson who loved it and said it was a big influence on Thriller.

While “Under Pressure” was one of their biggest hits, the other singles released didn’t exactly re-write the Queen song book or necessitate a lot of added cabinet space for awards. “Body Language,” with its oft-banned video peaked at #25 at home for them, doing a bit better here, hitting #11 in the U.S. and #3 in Canada. “Calling All Girls” hit #33 in Canada, but flopped in the States, the only other market it was put out in as a single; back in the UK “La Pelagras De Amor (The words of Love)” was released instead, and hit #17 and #10 in Ireland. “Put out the Fire” did well on North American rock radio, but wasn’t put out as an official single. When all was said and done, the album did top the Austrian charts and got to #4 in the UK, #5 in Germany and #6 in Canada. It stalled at #22 in the U.S., but still got them a gold record. Worldwide sales topped three million, decent but far down from their big hits of the late-’70s and 1980. The Game, for instance sold more than double that. The band’s manager, not to be confused with Mercury’s own, called it “a disaster.”

Sadly for American fans, the album’s limited appeal might have kept them from going to see Queen when they toured for it. As it turned out, it would be the last time Mercury would play shows on this continent, with their next one (and the last before he began to get ill from AIDS) being limited to Europe.

May 21 – Ziggy Danced To The Top

He’d been Ziggy Stardust and Alladin Sane, a wild innovator and one of rock’s more “out there” stars. But by 1983, David Bowie had perhaps grown tired of putting on masks and other-wordly personas and just wanted to be himself. And to take his career to the next level. On this day 39 years ago, he had succeeded, with his single “Let’s Dance” hitting #1 in the U.S. It was the first single and title track from his 15th studio album, which would go on to be the biggest of his career.

Bowie had, of course, some degree of success before in the 16 or so years he’d been recording prior to this. He’d even had a prior American #1 song, (“Fame”) and in his native Britain, he’d scored three. Nevertheless, he’d always been considered a bit of an oddity, a mid-level star known more for his wild appearance and alter-egos than his radio hits. He wanted to change all that. To do so, he had to step on a few toes. When preparing to record a new record, he’d originally penciled in his friend Tony Visconti to produce it, as he had his last four albums. He had a last-minute change of heart and brought in Nile Rodgers instead.

Rodgers was the American guitarist and co-leader of the band Chic, which had put out a string of disco-based hits at the tail end of the ’70s, and was also integral to producing and putting together the sound of Sister Sledge. Rodgers says when Bowie called him, “he told me that he wanted me to did what I do best – make hits.”

That he did, and he made Bowie’s sound a bit more danceable, a bit more smoothly pop-sounding than it had been in the past. This song for example, was (according to Bowie) rather a folksy-sounding guitar ballad before Rodgers got his hands – and session player pals – on it. Even when it was completed, Bowie didn’t think it sounded like a single. He was partial to “China Girl” (which would in time be released as a single and make #2 in the UK and #10 in the States) but both Rodgers and Bowie’s new record label, EMI , which he had just signed to, insisted otherwise. Wisely so, as it turns out, as it hit #1 in the UK, U.S., Canada, Ireland and elsewhere, quickly propelling the album to the top of the charts and platinum status.

The BBC applauded the song’s “loud stadium-ized drum and bass sound” while journalist Johnny Law noted with it, “Bowie became for the first time. a global pop brand.” That would be helped along by the following singles, the aforementioned “China Girl” and “Modern Love.” “Let’s Dance” would have a second-life, unfortunately precipitated by Bowie’s death in 2016. After that it quickly rose to #23 again in the UK and was the #6 most-streamed song in the U.S.

Bowie wasn’t the only one to benefit from the great single. The striking guitar work on it is courtesy Texan bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan, whom Bowie had seen at Montreaux the previous summer and been impressed enough to want him on the record. Vaughan had been a popular bar performer in Texas but was not widely known in 1982. After the Bowie single, he put out his debut album, Texas Flood, later in ’83 and it hit #38 in the U.S. and spawned his first hit song, “Pride and Joy.”

May 19 – Solo Careers, Here We Come?

Separate ways here they came – The Smiths wrapped up recording their final album, Strangeways Here We Come this day in 1987. Few other bands split as quickly or permanently. Although their record company wouldn’t announce the band’s split until that fall, as music historian Alan Cross says “the band ceased to exist the moment Marr left the studio.”

Tensions had been high between Morrissey and Johnny Marr for months. Morrissey, surprisingly, wasn’t happy with their commercial success to that point (which seems odd given his apparent disregard for doing anything to make himself popular or avoid controversy), while equally surprising, Marr, the superb guitarist who gave them their sound was tiring of the jingly Rickenbacker guitar sounds song after song and wanted to broaden their range. He did get his way a wee bit, bringing in a synthesizer to add some string-like effects on a couple of songs, an autoharp which he played on “I Won’t Share You” and he even got Morrissey to play piano on “Death of a Disco Dancer.” They battled over the band’s plans for a tour and the “last straw”, according to Marr, was when Morrissey insisted on putting a cover song Marr hated on the B-side of the lead single, “Girlfriend in a Coma”. “Moz” got his way and won the battle, but arguably lost the war. They did a ’60s cover, “Work Is A Four-letter Word” and had it as the b-side. The song was done originally by blue-eyed soul singer Cilla Black. Marr said “that was the last straw! I didn’t form a group to perform Cilla Black songs!”

He left the day the recording finished for L.A. , “so off I went and I never saw Morrissey again.” The album did well but didn’t break any new ground for them, hitting #2 in the UK but selling less than their previous album, The Queen is Dead. In North America, it hit #27 in Canada and #55 in the U.S., their best-showing to date but still not representative of the influence and appeal they had at home. “Girlfriend in a Coma” got to #13 there, their fifth-straight top 20 hit (it also gave Douglas Coupland the title for a popular ’90s novel) and the characteristically gloomily-titled “Last Night I Dreamed That Somebody Loved Me” and “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” also did OK for them in Britain, although neither gained the “classic” status that their fans decreed on most of their earlier hits.

Morrissey was quick out of the gate, releasing his first solo album in 1988. To date, he’s put out 13 solo studio albums, with mixed commercial results – three hit #1 in the UK, but others have struggled to sell. Johnny Marr’s gone on to be a part of several other bands and back up acts like the Pretenders and Bryan Ferry on guitar. Strangeways, for the record, is a notorious Manchester jail.

May 17 – The Face Of Faceless Music?

New Age music is easy listening at its drowsiest. Defined vaguely as ambient, often acoustic music designed to promote relaxation and stress relief, it’s usually rather forgettable…and faceless. Today we look at one of the few exceptions to that, perhaps the single most successful artist in the field – and one we know from a couple of mainstream hits – Enya. Happy birthday to the lady who’s second to only U2 in terms of international success among Irish artists. She turns 61 today.

Enya was born Eithne Bhraonein, a hint at her Gaelic background, but Anglicized it to Enya Brennan. She’s grew up in Ulster, at the northern tip of the Republic of Ireland, right next door to the British-controlled Northern Ireland. Her dad was a band leader and her mom a music teacher, so there’s little surprise in Enya being musical. She sang in local competitions and church from a young age and learned piano readily. English also in school, she quickly became bilingual. She was most a fan of classical and church music, but didn’t mind some of the jigs her dad apparently would play. However, even as she was completing high school, she dreamed of following her mother’s footsteps… a career in music but teaching, rather than performing.

Her family had some other ideas and when two of her brothers and a sister joined the Celtic band Clannad, they talked her into joining as a keyboardist and backing vocalist. Her fine Mezzo-soprano voice and skill on the keyboards (primarily though she seems to be able to play a number of other instruments including bagpipes!) got noticed and the BBC commissioned her to do some music for a miniseries they were doing in 1985; so impressed were they that they ended up turning over the entire project’s music to her then signing her to a record deal. That helped her get signed to Atlantic Records in North America simultaneously.

Her self-titled debut album came out in 1987, consisting largely of the music she’d done for the TV show The Celts. No one knew exactly what to make of it – allmusic summed it up as “a combination of Celtic traditionalism and distinctly modern approach (which) finds lush flower here”; others called it “new folk.” Either way, it was different but popular. Eventually it would top her homeland’s charts and make the top 10 in the UK and Canada but that was only a hint of the popularity she’d soon achieve.

In 1988, the lead single off her second album, “Orinoco Flow” became one of the decade’s most surprising, and unique-sounding hits, finding a spot on pop and college radio as well as just about every office and grocery store in the Western World, it would seem. It was a #1 hit in both Ireland and Britain and got to #4 in Canada, #2 in Germany and even broke into the American top 30.

Her reputation among New Age fans kept growing but it was the last most pop or rock listeners heard of her until the tragic aftermath of the Sep. 11 attacks in 2001. For reasons unknown several TV stations began playing her ethereal and somber “Only Time” as a theme to coverage of the terrorism. It soon became a sort of pseudo-anthem of mourning and Enya decided to donate the earnings of it (the single had been released nearly a year earlier ) to the families of New York firefighters who had died in the attack. The song catapulted up the charts to #1 in Canada and much of Europe and #10 in the States, and perhaps feeling in need of relaxation, helped the album it was from, A Day Without Rain, begin to sell wildly. It ended up at 7X platinum in the U.S. and with at least 16 million sold worldwide, it’s considered the genre’s biggest-ever record.

Since then, Enya’s worked sporadically, putting out new albums in 2005, ’08 and ’15 but she says she spent a lot of the pandemic renovating a home studio and is going to have new new age music soon.

For all the millions of records sold, Grammys won (including Best New Age Record four times) and fame – scientists even named a species of fish found in the Orinoco River after her – not a great deal is known about her personal life. She admits to being a “private” person and says “I derive from religion what I enjoy.” She’s said she’s hesitant to get into serious relationships because she’s both worried men would want her more for her money and fame than herself. Not to mention she’s had bad luck, attracting a couple of stalkers along the way and having her home in Ireland broken into twice in short order, with one of the burglars attacking her housekeeper. Sounds like she might need to listen to her own music more than most people.

May 17 – People Began Drink Juice Up In ’81

It was a good time to be a female singer around this time in 1981. This week 41 years back, Sheena Easton had just dropped out of the top spot on the Billboard singles chart with “Morning Train” and had been replaced by what would go on to be the biggest-seller of the year in the States, “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes. Sitting between them, at a high position of #4 was the tasty Juice Newton‘s “Angel of the Morning.” It was an auspicious entry to the main stage for the New Jersey-born, California raised singer.

Juice had grown up singing and playing guitar, and got good at it playing folk music in cafes around California while she went to college there in the ’60s. Judy Kay Newton took the nickname “Juice” when she signed to RCA with a country band in the mid-’70s,but they didn’t do a great deal commercially. Patience paid off both for her and Capitol Records, who signed her individually after that. Her first two albums went almost unnoticed, but her third, the eponymously-titled Juice, changed all that. The key was that while it sounded in a country vein, it was good enough, and pop enough to hit mainstream radio. When all was said and done, the album went platinum in the U.S., three times that in Canada and launched four hit singles.

Angel of the Morning” was the first, and internationally, biggest of them. The song was written by Chip Taylor in the ’60s. Taylor also wrote the quite different “Wild Thing”, a hit for the Troggs. He says he wrote it right after hearing “Ruby Tuesday” by the Rolling Stones. “I wanted to capture that kind of passion,” he recalls. The song was offered to Connie Francis, but she found it too risque, so it went to Merrilee Rush. She recorded it and had a top 10 hit in 1968 with it, and others have recorded it including Olivia Newton John, Nina Simone and even Tom Hanks’ wife Rita Wilson, but no one did as well with it or “owned” it like Juice.

She sang and played the acoustic guitar on it, and had some talented studio help to fill out the sound including Dan Dugmore (a member of both James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt’s backing bands) on aching slide guitar. Newton says she was vaguely aware of Rush’s version, but didn’t emulate it since “when it was popular, I was listening to folk music and R&B, and it was pop.”

Soon everyone was listening to her take on it. The song went gold in the States and in Canada where it hit #1. She’d have nearly as much success with the follow-up single, “Queen of Hearts” and then did well at home with “The Sweetest Thing” from it, and three years later, “Ride Em Cowboy”, re-released as a single from the album to promote a best of compilation. Soon after, she’d disappear from the mainstream pop and rock charts, but she remained a viable entity on country radio, having three #1 hits on their charts in the second-half of the decade.

Obviously a country girl at heart, Juice has voiced two audiobooks, both Westerns, and keeps herself busy keeping and trading horses in California these days.

May 16 – Forgotten Gems : Jane Siberry

Well, the Texas heatwave is supposed to spread right the way to the Atlantic this week baking places from Lubbock to Long Island, nature’s impromptu way of saying “summer’s here!”. And with high schools getting out around this time, we can bet that a lot of people will be heading to whatever beach they can find, which brings us to this month’s Forgotten Gem : “Mimi On the Beach.” The odd song was the masses introduction to the equally unusual Jane Siberry back in 1984.

With changeable hair styles and colors that seemed to originate from a base of Annie-style red, an eclectic style of dress that was the antithesis of the likes of Madonna and an obvious sense of humor, at the time some made an obvious comparison to another newcomer and called her “the Canadian Cyndi Lauper.” Soon though, it would become obvious that if comparisons were to be made, experimental femmes like Kate Bush or Laurie Anderson were more appropriate, although really Siberry was her own unique artist. As the Smith Center billed her, Jane is nothing if not “quirky, mysterious, spiritually inquisitive and fashionably avante garde.”

She grew up in the Toronto area, learning to play piano, then guitar by ear as a child. When she got to university, she says “I started out in music, but switched to science when I realized how much more interesting it was to study.” She got a degree in micro-biology, but sang her own brand of quirky folk music in cafes around the area on the side.

A 1981 indie release got her noticed, barely, in Canada and had her sign to the smallish but nationally-distributed Duke St. Records and the prestigious Wyndham Hill in the States. Her first release with them was No Borders Here, from which Mimi surfed in. Generally upbeat pop-new wave tunes, with Jane playing guitar and keyboards and a host of Toronto session musicians backing her (including her then boyfriend John Switzer who co-produced it with her on bass) , the tunes were catchy but what really made them stand out was her lyrics (as well as her multi-octave voice delivering them). Instead of “I love you so much” or “You went away, I’m sad” sorts of thoughts, she mused about things like self-important Yuppies (“Extra Executives”), or the lot of an actress-cum-waitress (“and I’d probably be famous now if I wasn’t such a good waitress!”) . She says “creativity is just inspiration, and I’m inspired everywhere I walk.”

Presumably she took a stroll down along her city’s lakeshore for this one, seeing the tanned jocks and bikini gals showing off for each other. “(It was) the first song where I had more to say than I could actually put in a song,” she told an interviewer recently, “so I put in two monologues, like bursts of color.”

The song runs over seven and a half minutes, so it’s doubtful she could have put in too much more; the label shortened it to about half that for the single and video. The latter became one of Much Music’s first homegrown Canadian hit videos as soon as it took to the cable listings, the single only hit #68 in her homeland but did get massive airplay on some alt rock or college stations. It also made her known enough for her next album, The Speckless Sky to be instantly popular and generate a legitimate hit single for her in “One More Colour.

Although that perhaps opened the door for her to international stardom, Siberry’s always marched to the beat of her own drums (one of the few instruments she hasn’t tackled on her records) and despite a reasonably popular duet with k.d. lang (“Calling All Angels”) in the ’90s, has seemingly steadfastly eschewed star status, so much so that in 2006 she changed her name to Issa, sold off most of her belongings and traveled.Of late, she’s back to Jane and puts out indie records periodically.

May 15 – Fab Three Remembered John

Tragedy can put things in perspective. Not exactly a consolation, but a fact and an explanation for a great song that came out this day in 1981. George Harrison gave us his first single off the Somewhere in England album, “All Those Years Ago” , not only a tribute to John Lennon, but the closest thing we’d get to a Beatles reunion.

Harrison had remained friends with Ringo Starr, and was in 1980, both working, slowly, on his own album, and helping Ringo put together his Stop & Smell the Roses album. Harrison added some guitar work to the record and wrote a song for it, “Wrack My Brain.” He also wrote a version of “All Those Years Ago”, and they did the preliminaries, with Ringo doing the drumming of course. However, Starr didn’t really love the song, and turned it down.

Meanwhile, through rather good fortune that seemed anything but to Harrison originally, Warner Bros. – who distributed his own Dark Horse Records – refused to put out the version of Somewhere in England he turned in late in ’80. They noticed that George had only had one minor hit (the under-rated “Blow Away”) in years and thought the album he finished was rather bland and totally lacking commercial appeal. They even rejected the cover photo.

Harrison was upset, but grudgingly agreed to go back, rework a track or two and add a couple of new songs. Then, of course, John Lennon was murdered. Harrison remembered the old song he’d written for Ringo, and quickly rewrote the lyrics as a love song to John, with lyrics like “we’re living in a bad dream” and “you point to the truth when you say ‘All You Need Is Love’.” He kept the recording of Ringo doing the drums – session superstar Herbie Flowers did the bass by the way – and then, in an act of generosity, called up Paul McCartney. McCartney, along with his Wings bandmates (at that point just his wife Linda and Denny Laine) came by and recorded backing vocals, making it the first time the three had been together on a record since they finished Let It Be some 11 years earlier. Harrison finished it off with a touching video, a slideshow of pictures highlighting John.

It was a good song, and a timely one, and it helped put George back on the musical map, briefly at least. In his UK, it only got to #13 surprisingly, but elsewhere it was very well-received. In Canada it got to #3, in Ireland, #4; it also made the top 10 in Australia and several European lands. In the all-important U.S. market, it was a chart-topper on Adult Contemporary stations (an indication of the aging of the Beatles fans perhaps) and got to #2 on the singles chart, only kept from the top by Kim Carnes mega-selling “Bette Davis Eyes.”

It didn’t help the album out that much though; Somewhere in England peaked in the teens (#11-19) almost worldwide and quickly disappeared, it became George’s first post-Beatles album to not get a gold record (or better) in the U.S. Harrison would be almost invisible in the music world until his big comeback in 1987, Cloud Nine, which had another look back at the Beatles, “When We Were Fab.”

May 14 – International Success The One Thing For INXS

A gamble paid off well for Australian band INXS this day in 1983. That’s when their single “The One Thing” became their first to make the top 40 charts (or any really) in the U.S. Which is doubtless what they hoped to accomplish and were so confident of, they paid to make it themselves.

By that time INXS were quite well-established in their homeland, having a small record deal, and two albums out that each went gold there and garnered them a trio of charting singles. But they felt they were destined for bigger and better, and weren’t sure their small label, Deluxe, was designed to accommodate that. So they rented a studio and recorded this song themselves. They liked the result so they kept the producer, Mark Opitz, around to do three more. These they used as a demo to shop themselves around to international companies, soon getting signed by Warner Bros. for much of the globe, and Polygram for Europe.

They kept “The One Thing” for their international debut album, Shabooh Shoobah – a title allmusic note is “one of the most annoying…ever” and supposedly derived from the sound of the rhythm of one of the songs on it. Thankfully, most agreed the music was better than the name of the record. Allmusic called it “a talented bunch of performers still finding their identity” but loved this song, “a strutting number that gives (Michael) Hutchence a real chance to shine as a singer” with “synth/guitar/sax hooks” that made it “instantly memorable.”

Hutchence wrote the lyrics about the guy obsessed with a girl who has lots of suitors (and provided his girlfriend as one of the many models for the video) , and though it was short of words, Andrew Farriss thought that a plus. Andrew, one of three Farriss brothers in the group, wrote the music and said of Hutchence “when he felt he had nothing more to say, he wouldn’t say anything more…he wouldn’t try to justify his lyric, and I think there’s a strength to that.”

Seems he said enough, the song became a hit…helped along by their extensive touring of North America that spring and summer. At various times they opened for the Go Gos, Kinks and Hall & Oates and they were on the big stage at the US Festival. It all helped push Shabooh Shoobah to gold status in the States, and “The One Thing” all the way to #2 on the then-new Mainstream Rock chart. Overall, it got to #30, first of nine top 30 hits they’d eventually have Stateside, and #31 in Canada. At home, it helped their career along too, hitting #14, their high mark to that point, although one they’d eclipse many times in the following eight or nine years, particularly with the multi-platinum Kick. So, seemingly having confidence might be “the one thing”. At least it was for INXS.