September 25 – Bobby Wonders Why This Was His One Hit

September 25 is designated “National One Hit Wonder Day” so in honor of that we look at one of the best examples of that from the 1980s. Don’t worry, this day shows your dreams can come true – but maybe also become your nightmare! Bobby McFerrin was at #1 on Billboard this day in 1988 with “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

The bumper-sticker philosophy knocked Guns’N’Roses out of the top spot and also went to the top in Canada. Quite a shift in gears there – from one of the few heavy metal #1s to a wacky, acapella one driven by whistling! He got the idea from a philosophy espoused by Indian spiritualist Meher Baba, who counted Pete Townshend among his followers. “It’s pretty neat philosophy in four words,” McFerrin says. One which won McFerrin Grammys for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Male. One would think this would be a wonderful thing, but McFerrin might have had regrets. He’s a pretty well-respected jazz pianist and singer, who’d won three-straight Best Jazz Vocal Performance Grammys before (by now he’s collected 10 Grammys in total) and had worked on records for the likes of Al Jarreau, Herbie Hancock and Chick Correa. But after this song, he has largely been written off as a novelty act – a rich one though, given the revenue from this gold single and its use in commercials and the Cocktail movie.

It wasn’t that movie’s only cheery contribution to the top of the charts. A few weeks later the Beach Boys had a remarkable comeback with their first #1 since the ’60s with “Kokomo” off the same soundtrack.

August 26 – Valli Hit One More Peak In His Career

If you were a musician in 1978, you’d have only one logical dream – to be friends with a “Gibb.” Because that year, the Bee Gees could do no wrong. Robin, Maurice and Barry (the Bee Gees) were white hot themselves, and younger brother Andy was quickly rivaling their success with his own rather sound-alike disco/pop. And as Frankie Valli found out, even being at arm’s length with them could rocket your career upwards. He had the #1 song in the U.S. this day 42 years back with “Grease.”

The title track of the popular John Travolta/Olivia Newton John song may seem unconnected to the Bee Gees. But not so fast…

The movie’s director, Robert Stigwood, wanted a new theme song. He utilized some of the songs which had been used in the ’50s-set stage show but added some new ones in and didn’t like the original live theater theme. So he did what any sensible movie maker back then working on a musical would do – he called the Bee Gees. Conveniently, they were the biggest stars on the RSO label he owned.

While he wanted their magic touch, he didn’t want their exact sound. He didn’t want people to get confused or lump the movie in with Saturday Night Fever. So he got Barry Gibb to write a title song, but didn’t get the band to perform it (although later on they did perform it in concert quite often.) So they turned to a performer who seemed to have an authentic voice for the movie’s era – Valli. Frankie had been a major star just after the time period Grease was set in, scoring four #1 singles (including work with the Four Seasons) by 1964. He’d then virtually disappeared for a decade before having a bit of a career resurgence with his solo hit “My Eyes Adored You” in 1974 and “December 1963” with his old band the following year. But the song still had the Bee Gees midas touch in more ways than one. Not only did Barry write it, he did add some backing vocals and got musicians working with Andy Gibb at the time, including Peter Frampton, play the music which was recorded in Miami between tracks for Andy’s album.

Stigwood was ecstatic right? Well, actually no. He didn’t like the song, thinking it far too modern sounding and disco for a movie about high schoolers in the ’50s. But he was sensible enough to leave it in. Good thing for him and Valli. The song followed “You’re the One That I Want” by John & Olivia to #1, and ended up being a #1 hit in Canada as well as the States. Eventually it would sell a remarkable seven million copies as a single and push the album into the realm of Saturday Night Fever for total sales – over 30 million. And due to the sad death of Olivia Newton John earlier this month, it’s actually popped back up in the top 10 list of sellers in several countries.

As for the Bee Gees, the “gee” could have stood for gold that year. By Labor Day, “Grease” was still on top and songs written by or performed by the Gibbs had spent 25 weeks of the year to date at #1.

August 17 – Maria Was Once ‘Lone’ Voice In Alt-country

Happy birthday to an artist who’s shown for over 30 years it’s possible to have a pretty nice, well-respected career without being a household name. Maria McKee turns 58 today. People who listened to college radio, or perhaps were big U2 fans, in the ’80s might remember her as the singer for Lone Justice…the band which seemed the “next big thing” but never quite got there. But Maria’s done quite a bit more than just that.

She grew up in what she terms a “bohemian family” in L.A., with Love guitarist Bryan MacLean being her older half-brother. Whether because of him or not, she learned to play guitar and unlike many soft-strumming females, her guitar-work has been described by Mojo as “feral.” Around 1982, while still a teen, she founded the country-rock band Lone Justice, with her being the singer, one of two guitarists and one of its chief songwriters. Oddly, her biggest success in songwriting during the ’80s wasn’t for them though, but Feargal Sharkey : “A Good Heart.

Lone Justice were signed by Geffen, got to open for U2 on their Unforgettable Fire tour of North America and seemed poised to be big…but never really got there. Perhaps their alt-country sound was ahead of its time, and would have gone over bigger a decade later when Steve Earle and Wilco had found success (not to mention Blue Rodeo in Canada.) Or, perhaps Trouser Press was right when they summed up the band’s debut as disappointing because “the ballyhoo that preceded the L.A. Quartet’s debut raised expectations that these frisky, countrified rock tunes couldn’t possibly satisfy.” There’s a lot of pressure on those deemed “the next big thing” if they turn out to merely be the next pretty good thing. The closest they came to a real hit was the song “Shelter” which got to #26 on U.S. rock charts in 1986 and was a minor hit in Australia.

However, her earthy voice and writing capabilities didn’t go unnoticed, and she added backing vocals to Robbie Robertson’s self-titled album, even appearing in his “Somewhere Down the Crazy River” video. The following decade she’d sing in the background on Counting Crows smash debut album, after doing a duet with Dwight Yoakam. In the midst, Lone Justice had broken up but she’d signed as a solo artist to Geffen and she had one big international hit. “Show Me Heaven” was used in the Days of Thunder soundtrack and was a massive #1 hit in 1990 in the UK, and also topped Scandinavian charts. It hit #3 in Australia, but was almost ignored here in North America oddly enough. Quentin Tarentino also came calling, putting her song “If Love Is A Red Dress” on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.

Although by the mid-’90s Geffen had dropped her, she’s continued recording on and off as an indie artist and she co-runs a small movie company, Shootist films, with her husband Jim Akin. She co-produced and acted in their initial offering, The Triumph of Your Birth.

Despite being married to Jim, Maria is a strong advocate for LGBT rights and describes herself as a “dyke.” Besides that, she leads a pretty private life and her website hasn’t been updated since 2015. Whatever she’s upto, here’s hoping her day is a triumph.

August 13 – The Sad Story Of An Ill Wind For Curtis

When one hears of the dangers of the rock & roll lifestyle, usually the mind goes to the kind of lifestyle we looked at yesterday in Joe Walsh’s song “Life’s Been Good.” Excessive partying, drugs, heavy drinking… they’ve taken their toll on quite a few stars. But there are other less obvious dangers too. Families of the likes of Buddy Holly, Jim Croce, Harry Chapin and Ronnie Van Zant (to name just a few) will sadly attest to the dangers of going from city to city while touring. But even the actual shows themselves at times pose dangers. Dave Grohl once fell off a stage during a concert and broke a leg … and came back out to finish the show minutes later. Not nearly so lucky was Curtis Mayfield who tragically was injured and left paralyzed this day in 1990 when some equipment fell on him while on stage in New York.

Mayfield was one of the more successful and influential soul/R&B performers of the ’60s and ’70s. Growing up in a religious household in Chicago, he sang in a church choir and was given piano lessons before he was old enough to go to school. But he loved guitar more, and taught himself to play that by about ten. In 1957, while still a teen, he joined The Impressions, a group who had a major R&B hit album in ’65 with People Get Ready. Mayfield wrote and sang lead on the title track, which has become something of a standard, later being recorded by artists ranging from Rod Stewart with Jeff Beck to the Housemartins to Bob Marley. He said it was “taken from my church or from my upbringing of messages from the church.”

He went solo in 1970 and recorded prolifically, putting out five soundtrack albums alone. He wrote most of his material and often produced it as well. Best known of his solos was Superfly, the soundtrack from a “Blacksploitation” film. Although the movie has come to be rather panned the music lives on and the singles “Freddy’s Dead” and “Superfly” itself both were American top 10 hits that got him gold singles… and a reputation for creating funky, politically-aware music dealing with urban problems like poverty, gang crime and drugs.

The ’80s found him recording less and being recognized even less, but in 1990 he was working on a comeback and had put out two albums by mid-summer. Unfortunately, as it turns out, that brought him to the attention of New York senator Martin Markowitz. Markowitz sponsored some events for his constituents, and in ’90, he had a concert in Brooklyn for them. About 10 000 attended the show at Wingate Field on a humid day with foreboding clouds building.

Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes opened, but with the sky looking darker and darker, the senator made an executive decision to cut their set short and rush Mayfield to the stage. He figured a storm was imminent but that by cutting Melvin’s set, the crowd might at least get two or three songs in from Mayfield. He took to the mic and said “ladies and gentlemen, we’ve decided to bring up Curtis Mayfield”. The crowd cheered as Mayfield appeared…and a mighty wind blew in. A particularly strong gust, estimated at 54 MPH mere seconds later “hit us,” the senator recalled “and blew speakers off stage and the lighting trusses down.” One of the heavy lights hit Mayfield squarely on the neck. It broke three vertebrae in his spine and left him paralyzed from there down.

Mayfield years later said “I don’t remember anything (of the accident). I don’t remember falling. The next thing I knew I was lying on my back…I discovered neither my hands nor my feet were where I thought they were and I couldn’t move…then it began to rain…I could hear people screaming and hollering. Luckily the hospital was right around the corner.”

They performed several surgeries but weren’t able to restore any function to Mayfield’s limbs. His son Todd described the day as “gross negligence” but it remains unclear whether or not the family took legal action against the concert promoter or people involved with the stage setup. One thinks Mayfield himself might not have wanted to. He said in ’94 “it’s like I died and woke up to see this flood of love from so many people,” although he admitted “that doesn’t mean you don’t once in awhile find a tear in your eye.” He obviously couldn’t play guitar any more but he could sing, with great difficulty and he recorded one more album, in ’96 before dying from complications of diabetes in 1999.

As horrible as this event was, it wasn’t entirely unique. In 2012, on a calm weather day, a Radiohead roadie was killed and three others badly injured when the “roof” and associated equipment over the stage collapsed in on them in Toronto. Radiohead themselves were supposed to be on stage at that time to do a soundcheck but the set-up was running a bit late… arguably sparing Thom Yorke and the boys lives’ but killing their drum specialist.

August 8 – ‘All The Way Mae’ Was A Hit On Field & On The Charts

It might have been her best song of the decade. But we’d wager she wouldn’t agree. And it went along with her acting pinnacle as well. We’re talking about Madonna, and her song from the movie A League of Their Own, “This Used To Be My Playground.” And it became her tenth American #1 song 30 years ago on this day in 1992.

A League Of Their Own was the powerful dramedy which told the story of the Wartime All American Girls Professional Baseball League and one of their teams, the Rockford Peaches. Although the players depicted, as well as the grumpy, oft-drunk manager played by Tom Hanks were fictitious, the basic story was real. During WWII, a professional women’s baseball league was established in the Midwest, due to worries that Major League Baseball might have to shut down due to so many players being drafted and sent overseas. Madonna played a mouthy, racy New York girl nicknamed “All the Way Mae” in the film, an outfielder for the Peaches.

Now since Madonna was first and foremost a singer, producer Penny Marshall asked her to add a song to the film; a ballad. Madonna wasn’t overly thrilled, and was at the time working on her Erotica album with producer Shep Pettibone. Pettibone also found it a bit of a challenge, since he was usually making dance music and had made his reputation doing remixes for the likes of Depeche Mode. But they perservered and came up with the lovely, orchestral ballad talking of looking back with nostalgia : “this used to be my playground, this used to be my childhood dream.” Pettibone stretched his horizons and resume by bringing in a string section and arranging them to add to the (uncredited) keyboards and drums used. Madonna referred to it as “assignment writing.”

The song won rave reviews when it came out. Billboard called it a “mature and thoroughly satisfying effort,” while Medium magazine noted it was “a gut-wrenching ballad that explores themes related to nostalgia, grief and heartbreak,” considering it “the best ballad of her career.”

It came out as a standalone single, available on vinyl (with an extended version on the b-side), cassette or CD single (which also had an instrumental of it), but not on her album that came out shortly after, Erotica, and more surprisingly, not on the movie soundtrack album. The film and it soundtrack were being put out by Columbia, while she was under contract to Sire, a division of Warner Bros; the two companies couldn’t come to an agreement for including it on the Columbia soundtrack. Perhaps to that end, the video didn’t draw that heavily from the movie and the typical single sleeve had a picture of the singer on a boat, in a retro-style swimsuit instead of as “Mae” on a baseball diamond.

The song was massive, although it perhaps marked the tail-end of her real chart domination. It went to #1 at home (spending just a week, being sandwiched between Sir Mix A Lot and Boys II Men on top, which gives an indication of where American popular tastes were then despite the success of the likes of Nirvana and R.E.M.) as well as in Canada, Mexico, Italy and a few other countries; it got to #3 in the UK. It brought in more gold singles for her, one from the U.S. and one from Australia.

Although it was her tenth #1, it would be years before she’d get there again and to date, she’s added only two more – “Take A Bow” and “Music.”

Perhaps it is a Madonna song for people who don’t like Madonna. It’s reported that she has never yet played the song live.

August 6 – Seger Shakedown Shook Up The Charts

Charts can create funny anomalies. Some weeks of course, many records may sell a ton, others may be slow sales weeks. That in mind, on this day in 1987 Bob Seger had his only U.S. #1 single ever this day…and it probably isn’t one which you’d guess. “Shakedown” was on top 35 years back. In Canada, where it also went to #1, it was his second chart-topper.

Few would argue that this was Seger’s most memorable record, but somehow it did get to #1 when hits like “Night Moves” and “Old Time Rock & Roll” didn’t. The single came from the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack which also featured “I Want Your Sex” by George Michael and tracks from the Pointer Sisters and Corey Hart. Apparently Seger was the film producer’s second choice for the song which was co-written by Harold Faltemeyer (who did the “Axel F theme” from the first movie); Glenn Frey was the first choice. Frey had a big hit from the first BH Cop with “The Heat is On” but turned down “Shakedown” opening the door for his friend and fellow Detroiter Seger to score with it. Appropriately enough, Frey and Seger were close friends and grew up more or less together.

Such anomalies aren’t altogether rare in music chart history. Earlier in the ’80s, Jackson Browne had scored his only #1 American album – Hold Out. By no means his most critically-acclaimed or remembered album, and far from his biggest-seller overall but the only one to ever be the biggest-seller in a given week.

August 2 – She Had The ‘Magic’ Without Even Getting ‘Physical’

She had the “magic” 42 years ago…and the #1 song! Olivia Newton John hit the top in the U.S. for the fourth time this day in 1980 with “Magic.” And like some of her biggest hits of the ’70s, it came from a movie soundtrack. The parallels stop there however, since the ’70s one was a blockbuster film (Grease) while this one came from a rather forgettable flick, Xanadu.

Xanadu apparently was an…odd…little story in which ONJ played Kira, a goddess and muse who comes down from the mountain to convince a guy to open up a happening nightclub. That’s a winning script pitch if ever there was one! Anyhow, the movie predictably flopped, but the music was pretty good and pretty popular. It was done by her and E.L.O. with both having hits off the soundtrack. In fact the album had one side of Olivia’s music, one side of E.L.O., although they both were on one song on “their” side as well, the title track.

Magic” as well as all her songs from the soundtrack was written and produced by her talented Aussie friend, John Farrar. Farrar had written several of her earlier hits including “Have You Never Been Mellow” and “You’re the One That I Want.” On this record not only did he write and produce, but he also played the guitars, keyboards and added backing vocals. Toto’s David Hungate was brought in for bass and session drummer Carlos Vega did his thing.

The result was a nice, summery, shimmery, soaring pop song that even John Lennon noted he liked. Lots of others did as well, with it spending a month at #1 and being the third-biggest hit of the year in the States. It also made #1 in Canada and the top 5 in Australia and New Zealand, although oddly the UK didn’t warm to it much with it barely scraping into the top 40. Songfacts note the song is more accessible than the movie and we’ll give the final word on it to allmusic: (the album is) “fluff stuff but some pearls float amongst the mire… ‘Magic’ is a fine single (with) easy-going melody and clear vocals.”

July 24 – Yo, Adrian, People Like My Song

Having a small number of fans doesn’t mean failure…particularly if one of those small number happen to be one of entertainment’s biggest names. That’s what Survivor found out 40 years ago when, seemingly out of nowhere they scored one of the biggest hits of the entire decade – “Eye of the Tiger.” It hit #1 in the U.S. on this day in 1982 and stayed there for six weeks. Good thing for them Sylvester Stallone had happened upon one of their early singles that nearly flopped, and loved it!

Survivor was a Chicago-based band which had been around for four years by then. They’d formed when Frankie Sullivan met Jim Peterik, who in turn had worked with Dave Bickler. Sullivan was an excellent guitarist who’d played in a few obscure bands; Peterik was an accomplished songwriter and had been the lead singer in the Ides of March, for whom he’d written the hit “Vehicle.” After that he’d written tunes for the likes of Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon and 38 Special’s hit “Hold on Loosely.” But for much of the ’70s, he worked in advertising, writing commercial jingles, which is how he met Bickler. He in turn had sung those jingles. They formed the band Survivor and got signed by Atlantic Records-owned Scotti Brothers.

However, their “metal lite” rock didn’t instantly catch on. Their first two albums were all but un-noticed, neither hitting the top 75. But they had managed to score one minor hit in 1981, “Poor Man’s Son.” And Sly Stallone liked it. He was putting together Rocky III, as the name suggests the third movie featuring his boxer Rocky character. He wanted a dramatic, punchy title theme for the movie. His first choice was Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust”, but they refused to let it be used. So he phoned up Survivor. He asked them to make a song with the impact of the Queen hit; one a bit like “Poor Man’s Son.” Although the theme from the first Rocky movie, “Gonna Fly Now” had been a #1 hit itself, Peterik says Stallone “made it real clear he wanted to distance himself from that first song…he wanted something to get to the youth market.” A few years later he laughed “it’s hilarious to think I was once part of the cutting edge.”

They didn’t stray far from “Poor Man’s Son” to make the Stallone theme. Careful listeners will notice the same basic chord progressions and more than a passing resemblance between the two. Peterik wrote strong, punchy lyrics about tigers and surviving and they played the demo for the actor star. He loved it, but asked that the drums be “punchier, louder” in the mix, so they obliged. One doesn’t say “no” to Rocky…unless perhaps you’re Freddie Mercury and Brian May!

It was the thing that made their career. Rocky III was a smash, in fact the biggest box office hit of the year. So millions heard Survivor in the theatres, and seemed to love the song. It quickly scaled up the charts everywhere the movie played…but nowhere more than at home in the U.S. It ended up spending 15 weeks in the top 10, six of them at #1 before being displaced by Steve Miller Band’s “Abracabra.” the six week run on top actually wasn’t the best of the ’82. J.Geils had spent the same number of weeks at #1 with “Centerfold”, the McCartney/Wonder duet “Ebony & Ivory” had spent seven weeks and besting even that, Olivia Newton John’s “Physical” started the year in the midst of a 10-week run. But it was still mighty impressive for a previously-unknown act.

By the time all was said and done, it had gone to #1 in Canada, the UK, Ireland, South Africa and several other countries and even made the top 10 in Japan. It ended up being the second-biggest selling single of the year at home, moving well over two million copies of the vinyl 45; currently it’s an incredible 8X platinum. And it won Survivor the Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a group or duo; they were nominated for an Academy Award for it but lost to “Up where We Belong.”

Survivor hastily recorded an album to fit around the smash single, and obviously enough called it Eye of the Tiger. Although allmusic pointed out the rather obvious, that “nothing here really scales the same heights as the title track,” the one song’s popularity pushed the album to #2 and platinum-status at home, in Canada and Australia.

The song not only has remained one of the most-played of the decade on oldies’ radio but has been used in an array of TV shows ranging from Big Bang Theory to Supernatural. Peterik says of that, “it’s still not a joke, although the Starbucks commercial kinda makes it a joke.” One place where it’s use hasn’t been welcomed is in Republican political rallies and ads…and we’re not joking. Survivor have put “cease and desist” orders on three different candidates who used the tune without permission. Of those, only Mitt Romney agreed to discontinue using it; Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee actually went to court before agreeing to an out-of-court-settlement.

The popularity didn’t quite last, but they did continue to do alright through the ’80s, scoring six more top 40 singles including “Burning Heart”, which got to #2. Probably not coincidentally, that was recorded for… you guessed it, Rocky IV.

Survivor carry on to this day but Sullivan is the only original member remaining.

July 20 – Faith That New Order Single Was Going To Be A Hit Was True

One of the great and iconic hits of the decade came out this day in 1987. Maybe the band had faith that it would… New Order had tried to make it sell when they made “True Faith.”

The single was issued as a standalone, with an also popular new song on the b-side, “1963.” They were new tracks cut to keep fans happy between albums and to be added on to their first greatest hits compilation, Substance 1987. That album, released later in the summer, ended up making it to #3 in the UK and by going platinum there, as well as the U.S. and Canada, their biggest-seller of the decade.

True Faith” is a pretty typical New Order single, albeit my most opinions, a bit better than many. It’s dance-y and has rather oblique lyrics. Also, like some of their biggies (think “Blue Monday”, “Bizarre Love Triangle”) the title never appears in the lyrics! Exactly what the song is about is unclear, but they deny that it’s about heroin, which apparently was the rumor. Bernard Sumner says none of their lyrics were about heroin, but sometimes in concert he does play around with the lyrics and make references to people “taking drugs with me” not to mention Michael Jackson “played with my willie” when he was a young boy.

What the song was about for the band though was maintaining a high profile in the music scene, and making money. Sumner says “it was a time when I set out to write a hit single. I think we got rather a large tax bill” which required some record sales to pay off!

Sell it did. Helped along by use in the movie Bright Lights, Big City, it got to #4 in the UK and was their first U.S. top 40 hit. To make it convenient for any fan, they issued it as a 7” and a 12” single, a cassette single and a CD. And later on they remixed it – several times – and it made the Brit top 10 once again in 1994.

July 6 – Adams & Robin Hood Hit A Bullseye

Call it “maturing” or call it “selling out” (and Bryan Adams  fans used both terms), the lad once compared to “Canada’s Springsteen” hit pay dirt with the soft rock ballad “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” which hit Billboard‘s top 40 this day in 1991.

The song was the erstwhile theme from the Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves movie and released on both that soundtrack and Adams’ own Waking Up the Neighbours. While Adams had international success in the ’80s with a mix of rockers (like “Run to You”) and softer ballads (“Heaven”) this song was easily Adams’ biggest hit. Nine years later, it still showed as one of the biggest of the decade. It spent seven weeks at #1 in the U.S., nine weeks in his Canada and an incredible 16 straight weeks in Britain. It also helped Waking Up the Neighbours become his second diamond-selling album in Canada. “Everything I Do” ended up going to #1 in 30 countries and selling better than 15 million singles worldwide, making it the third-biggest of the decade behind only Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” remake and Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”. Ironically, Kevin Costner who starred in the Robin Hood movie also starred in The Bodyguard, from which the Whitney song came.

The song was written by Adams, producer Mutt Lange and the man in charge of the movie score, Michael Kamen. Remarkably, Kamen didn’t like the result (hence it being buried at the end of the movie over the credits). He wanted a female singer – preferably Kate Bush or Annie Lennox – to evoke Maid Marian singing to Robin and more medieval sounding instruments for the song. Adams was seemingly right when he refused to make it sound medieval and sensed he was onto something with it. He’d soon follow it up with the equally mainstream sounding “All for Love” with Sting and Rod Stewart from another period movie, The 3 Musketeers.