Instrumentals have rarely been big on the pop charts. But after the 1970s, they became almost extinct, with just a very few exceptions. One of those was charted in 1980 by an artist who had had a much bigger instrumental hit two years earlier. You probably remember a song by Chuck Mangione called “Feels So Good”…do you remember “Give It All You Got”?
When arguably most people (and definitely most radio programmers) think of classic bands that break up and then get back together much later, they never seem to think of the music those bands made during the reunion phase. An obvious example – and perfect for this blog – would be the Eagles. After what is known to have been a very acrimonious breakup in 1980, they reformed over a decade later and released at least two songs that got a lot of airplay. But when was the last time you heard either of those songs, I ask you? Do you even remember the names of those two songs?
Today’s post will highlight the song that officially became the group’s final top 40 hit, “Get Over It”.
It’s not unheard of for a recording group to be better known for writing songs for others than for their own recordings. In the case of this entry’s group, the Addrisi Brothers, they are probably best remembered today for writing one particular hit for another group. They certainly are not remembered by radio for their 1979 release, “Ghost Dancer”.
Occasionally, a band that has had a long history will be well remembered solely for its earlier hits. In these cases, those early hits will continue to receive airplay on classic hits and/or classic rock stations even today, while its later hits seem to vanish from the airwaves. To a point, that was the case with the final hit of Starship.
In the minds of many people, some of the best music from the 1970s was Southern rock. Best exemplified by groups such as The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd, the rock subgenre reached its zenith in that decade amid a bunch of other genres that sounded nothing like it (which perhaps helped its success). Among the many, many bands that appeared in the 70s specializing in Southern rock was a band from Alabama called, for some reason, Wet Willie.
Any history of rock and roll music has to include Chuck Berry. One of the true pioneers of rock and roll, Mr. Berry started hitting the charts in 1955, right at the start of the rock era, and he achieved a level of fame that few people could reach. Whether it was his being the only rock artist to have a song (“Johnny B. Goode”) on Voyager 1’s Golden Record* or having a very tongue-in-cheek origin story told in Back to the Future, Chuck Berry is one of those few rock stars who will likely never be forgotten.
Midnight Oil, like Baltimora, is seen in the US as a one-hit wonder. Unlike Baltimora’s one hit, however, Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning” still receives a fair amount of airplay, at least in the parts where I live. This is not the case for what was seen by some (such as, for example, myself) as Midnight Oil’s second hit. Sure, at the time, “Blue Sky Mine” received a lot of spins (in the market where I lived at the time, almost all of them were on the alternative station–yes, there were alternative stations in 1990), but since its original run, it has pretty much disappeared.
Interestingly enough, the album from which “Blue Sky Mine” originated, Blue Sky Mining, actually charted higher on the Billboard 200 than Diesel and Dust, from which “Beds Are Burning” came.
(Blue Sky Mining hit #20 on the Billboard 200. Album ℗1990 Columbia Records. Photo courtesy Amazon.com.)
“Blue Sky Mine”, like “Beds Are Burning”, was a song with a message. Whereas “Beds Are Burning” spoke about giving native lands back to indigenous Australians (specifically the Pintupi), “Blue Sky Mine” speaks about workers who are basically treated as a secondary (or tertiary, or worse) concern after profit, in this case through the real history of blue asbestos mining in Wittenoom, Western Australia. Asbestos, as many people know, can cause all sorts of diseases or other health problems, particularly for miners who are breathing it all the time with little to no respite. As commenter “jlc01” at songmeanings.net relates:
It wasn’t until 20 years later that the CSR actually built vents so that miners could breathe fresh air.
And that’s just sad.
CSR, the owner, was referred to in the song as the “sugar refining company” owing to its original name, which was the Colonial Sugar Refining company. It should be noted that in recent years CSR has paid out a lot of money to people affected by the Wittenoom disaster, but it appears, from what I have read, that they have done so very unwillingly. As for the mine itself, it closed in 1966, with residents being encouraged to leave over the next few years owing to the general contamination of the area. Wittenoom itself is no longer even recognized as an official town and has been removed from road maps. Truly a sad episode of history.
And as for the song, “Blue Sky Mine” hit Billboard’s Hot 100 in early 1990, debuting at #77 for the week ending February 17 (chart), peaking at #47 (which means that we never got to hear Shadoe Stevens announcing it) for the week ending March 24 (chart), and remaining on the chart for ten weeks. I would classify this as a song which should have been a bigger hit.
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In 1988, Deniece Williams, who had had a pretty good run of success on the pop charts with hits such as “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late”, “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle”, and the love-it-or-hate-it “Let’s Hear It For the Boy”, made a final trip to the Hot 100, where it spent eight weeks and peaked at #66, and the R&B top 10 (#8) with “I Can’t Wait”.
I truly don’t know why this song wasn’t a bigger hit. I know there were stations playing this at the time because I have a vintage November 1988 aircheck of Power 106 in LA playing it. Of course, you’d never, ever hear this on your current variety hits station (my local station’s slogan: “we play anything”). I suppose a classic R&B station (my local one is named “Jammin”) might be the likeliest candidate to play it, but since most of these stations have a very tight playlist, I guess that ship’s sailed as well.