Remembering George Duke

During the long, unplanned hiatus this blog took, George Duke passed away.  As I understand it, George Duke was primarily a jazz musician, though he occasionally branched over to pop music and R&B.  Most online bios of him will point to his work with Jean-Luc Ponty and Frank Zappa as helping to establish his name in the industry, so that gives you an idea of the diversity of his musical styles.

George Duke had a very long discography spanning several decades; he also appeared on many other artists’s albums (such as, for example, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall) and produced records for even more artists (including, for example, Deniece Williams’s hit “Let’s Hear It For the Boy”, as well as the previously-mentioned-on-this-blog “I Can’t Wait”).  And yet, after all that, I would imagine most people do not remember him (or never heard of him in the first place).  Surprisingly, in such a long and successful career, Mr. Duke only reached Billboard’s Hot 100 three times.

The first of the three songs to hit the Hot 100 was the title track of his 1977 album Reach For It, an album that would have been classified at the time as funk.

(Reach For It peaked at #25 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart.  Album ℗1977 Epic/CBS Records.  Photo courtesy Amazon.com.)

“Reach For It” would have entered the Hot 100 the week ending December 31, 1977, except that Billboard published a year-end issue and kept the charts frozen that week.  Instead, “Reach For It” first appeared in the issue dated January 7, 1978 (chart | magazine).  It peaked at #54 the week ending February 4 (chart | magazine) before falling off the charts completely just two weeks later.  It stayed on the Hot 100 for seven weeks, according to Billboard magazines at the time, or six, if you consider Billboard’s website now, as it doesn’t take the year-end week into account.

 

 

In 1981, George Duke collaborated with another well-known jazz musician, Stanley Clarke, to release a mostly jazz album entitled, appropriately enough, The Clarke/Duke Project.  It was successful enough to top the Billboard’s Jazz LPs chart in August of that year.

(The Clarke/Duke Project peaked at #33 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart.  Album ℗1981 Epic/CBS Records.  Photo courtesy Amazon.com.)

The first single from the album, entitled “Sweet Baby”, didn’t really match the jazz feel of the rest of the album; in fact, it was a slower, ballad-type piece that, apparently, was what people in 1981 wanted while they waited for the post-disco identity crisis in top 40 radio to abate.  “Sweet Baby” entered the Hot 100 the week of May 2, 1981 (chart) and peaked at #19 the week of August 1, 1981 (chart | magazine).  It spent 19 weeks overall on the chart.

 

 

George Duke’s final Hot 100 entry came not too long afterward from his next album, Dream On.

(Dream On peaked at #48 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart.  Album ℗1982 Epic/CBS Records.  Photo courtesy Amazon.com.)

That album’s first single, “Shine On”, was certainly funkier than “Sweet Baby”, so it fit well with some of Mr. Duke’s contemporaries (Multiple Amazon reviewers compared the sound of Dream On to Earth, Wind & Fire’s sound.)  “Shine On” debuted on the Hot 100 at #85 for the week ending February 20, 1982 (chart | magazine) and peaked at #41 for the week ending April 10 (chart | magazine) before, again, falling off the chart entirely just two weeks after peaking.  During its short nine-week run, though, it got fairly good airplay, if the airchecks from 1982 that I have are any indication.

 

 

After that, George Duke never again hit the Hot 100, and those songs that did hit the chart have fallen by the wayside, never to be played on oldies, classic hits, or retro radio stations.  (Meanwhile, there’s undoubtedly a station somewhere in the US playing “Tainted Love” at this exact moment.)

George Duke passed away on August 5, 2013 from chronic lymphocytic leukemia.  His official webpage lists several places where contributions can be made in his honor.

Edge of a Broken Heart *and* Cryin’ by Vixen

In the late 1980s, hair bands (or glam metal, or whatever you want to call that type of music) were at the height of their popularity.  (The author here takes a moment to remember his now-departed grandfather greeting the image of, I believe, Twisted Sister on his television with “Look at them ugly girls!”)  Glam metal was all over the pop charts at the time, thereby making it the perfect time for a girl group called Vixen to make it big.  And I suppose they did that, ever so briefly.

Vixen’s eponymous first album, released in late 1988, should have (in my opinion, of course) been a bigger hit.  It spawned two top 40 hits, one of which, I just learned, was co-written by very popular (at the time) singer Richard Marx.

(Vixen peaked at #41 on the Billboard 200.  Album ℗1988 EMI-Manhattan Records.  Photo courtesy Amazon.com.)

The debut single, “Edge of a Broken Heart” (produced and co-written by Mr. Marx), spent a respectable 21 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #26 the week of November 19, 1988 (chart).

The follow-up, “Cryin'”, peaked higher (at #22 the week of March 25, 1989 (chart)) but only stayed on the Hot 100 for 13 weeks, perhaps due to its rock ballad nature.

After that, the group only barely brushed the charts with one further song before breaking up in 1991 (though they have since re-formed).

An appearance by all four of the 1988-era members of Vixen on VH1 in 2004 led to EMI’s re-release of Vixen (and its followup, Rev It Up!), but this did not translate into renewed airplay for the group.  I think I may have heard “Edge of a Broken Heart” on the radio once in the 90s.  I definitely haven’t heard “Cryin'” on the radio since its top 40 run.

An interesting side note:  lead singer Janet Gardner and drummer Roxy Petrucci were both born on the same month, day, and year:  March 17, 1962.  Just a little tidbit of information about a group that is now mostly (unfairly) forgotten.

 


Free Your Mind by En Vogue

I know, En Vogue was so popular that it seems strange to think of any of the group’s smash hits being forgotten.  Of course, some of those hits still receive quite a bit of airplay now.  “Hold On”, the first of their three #2 hits, still gets some play, as does “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)”, the second.  And I suppose their hit with Salt-N-Pepa, “Whatta Man”, is probably still used for any number of bad morning radio show “Battle of the Sexes” games (and I’ve heard it played in full as well).

But think about this before you answer:  when was the last time you remember hearing “Free Your Mind” on the radio?  If you’re like me, it’s been a very long time.  I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard this song get any airplay since the 1990s.  It really surprised me to think about that; I would have thought a song with a message like that of “Free Your Mind”, speaking against prejudice, would become a recurrent hit for a while and then end up on your catch-all Jack FM type of station.  However, as far as I can tell, it never did.  Instead, it just faded away.

“Free Your Mind” was the third song from En Vogue’s very successful second album, Funky Divas.  The album had already generated two top ten hits when this song was released (“My Lovin'” being one of them).

(Funky Divas peaked at #8 on the Billboard 200.  Album ℗1992 East West Bros. Records.  Photo courtesy Amazon.com.)

“Free Your Mind” entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #89 for the week ending September 12, 1992 (chart) and peaked at #8 seven weeks later (chart).  The song appeared on the Hot 100 for 20 weeks and was #93 for the year 1992.

En Vogue, of course, continued to have success through most of the 90s, but this song fell by the wayside.  It deserved better.

 

 

Just Like Paradise by David Lee Roth

A few years before his former (and future) band released a now-forgotten song, once and present lead singer David Lee Roth had one of his own.  He had had a few well-known hits, including a very successful remake of “California Girls”, in the mid-1980s.  By the late 80s, however, his solo success was starting to dry up, at least as far as Billboard’s Hot 100 was concerned.

In 1988, Mr. Roth hit the Hot 100 one last time as a solo artist with “Just Like Paradise”, his highest-charting non-cover.  It was the lead single from his album Skyscraper, a fairly successful album that went platinum.

(Skyscraper peaked at #6 on the Billboard 200.  Album ℗1988 Warner Bros. Records.  Photo courtesy Amazon.com.)

“Just Like Paradise” made a strong entrance into Billboard’s Hot 100 at #56 for the week ending January 16, 1988 (chart) and peaking at #6 the week of March 12 (chart); it also peaked at #1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.  It spent a fairly short 16 weeks in the Hot 100, but it still did well enough to place #97 in the year-end chart.

According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, “Just Like Paradise” had been considered as a potential theme song for a new TV program, “Beverly Hills 90210”.  Mr. Roth’s management very helpfully rejected this idea before even talking to Mr. Roth about it.  And so, instead of a ten-year run, the song fell rather quickly into obscurity, possibly due to lyrics which, honestly, are not the deepest ever heard (but then, we live in an age in which “Boom Boom Pow”, which I am not linking, is considered good music).

 

 

Can’t Stop Lovin’ You by Van Halen

Unlike the last two honorees on this blog, Van Halen is far from a one-hit wonder.  I wouldn’t even have thought to include them on a forgotten songs blog, since most of their hits still get airplay on rock/classic rock stations throughout the country.  I can name at least ten songs of theirs that still get airplay, and so, most likely, can you.  And then there are other songs that I heard back in the day that get no airplay that I know of now, but as it turns out, none of them made the Hot 100 (which, by and large, is one of my big qualifiers for this blog these days).

Continue reading “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You by Van Halen”

Blue Sky Mine by Midnight Oil

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.

 

 

Tarzan Boy by Baltimora

Baltimora, at least in the US, was definitely a one-hit wonder.  Interestingly enough, though, its one hit, “Tarzan Boy”, made it to Billboard’s Hot 100 on two separate occasions.  (Okay, yes, they made the Hot 100 with one other song, the title track to their first album, but they are known almost entirely in this country for “Tarzan Boy”.)

(Living In The Background, Baltimora’s first studio album, peaked at #49 on the Billboard 200.  Album ℗1985 EMI Music.  Photo courtesy Amazon.com.)

Though “Tarzan Boy” was the first single from Living In The Background, which was released in the summer of 1985, the single did not hit the charts in the US until late in the year, entering Billboard’s Hot 100 at #80 for the week ending October 19, 1985 (chart | magazine).  It spent exactly half a year on Billboard’s Hot 100, peaking at #13 the week of March 1, 1986 (chart | magazine), and then falling out the week of April 19.

While Baltimora did somewhat well in Italy, further singles, as well as a second album, did not exactly burn up the charts in most other countries.  The band broke up after that, and that would normally be the end of the story.

In this case, however, “Tarzan Boy” found new popularity years later through a combination of circumstances.  First, in 1992, Listerine released a new cool mint variety with a series of commercials made by Pixar (yes, that Pixar) which were set to “Tarzan Boy”, though not the Baltimora version.

(Pretty good for 1992 CGI, huh?  Presented per Fair Use clause.)

Then, in early 1993, the rather forgettable film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III was released, and, for some unknown reason, “Tarzan Boy” was featured.  The original version, as well as a remix, appeared on the soundtrack, and the song once again appeared in the Hot 100 (though sources seem to disagree whether song that charted in 1993 was the original or the remix), peaking at #51 the week of April 24 (chart).

From what I have heard, this song still occasionally gets airplay on satellite radio, but I’m pretty sure terrestrial radio has just about forgotten about it.

 

 

Hold On by Jamie Walters

The name Jamie Walters probably is not familiar to people who either did not watch Fox or listen to top 40 radio in the early 90s.  And, even if you did listen to top 40 radio in the early 90s, you might have missed Mr. Walters.  After all, his first, and biggest, hit wasn’t even released under his name, but, instead, under the name of the Fox television program on which Mr. Walters had a starring role, The Heights.  (Ironically, the show was cancelled the week after “How Do You Talk to an Angel”, its theme, fell out of the number one position.)

However, that song did get Jamie Walters his own recording contract, and his first album came out in late 1994.

(Jamie Walters’s eponymous album peaked at #70 on the Billboard 200.  Album ℗1994 Atlantic Records.  Photo courtesy Amazon.com.)

The first song from Mr. Walters’s debut album was what would probably be classified as a rock ballad (which usually do well upon release and are then rarely heard again on the radio).  “Hold On” spent an impressive 27 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100, peaking at #16 the week of June 3, 1995 (chart | magazine) and landing at #52 on Billboard’s Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1995.

Unfortunately, that was pretty much the end of any chart success for Jamie Walters.  Only one other single from his debut album, “Why”, was released; it peaked at #5 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart, which translates (roughly, given the rules for that chart) to #105, and after that, Jamie Walters never approached the Hot 100 again.

According to the reviews of his debut album at Amazon, Mr. Walters was hurt by people confusing him for his character on yet another Fox show, Beverly Hills 90210.  (Apparently he threw Tori Spelling’s character down the stairs.)  Since Billboard doesn’t really justify sales numbers, I have no way to verify this, but in any case, Mr. Walters has become forgotten by radio stations coast to coast.  I know that I have not heard “Hold On” on the radio since the summer of 1995.  And that’s too bad.

 

 

Can We Still Be Friends? by Todd Rundgren

Todd Rundgren is probably known for several songs released over the course of his career.  I can think of three very quickly:  “Hello It’s Me”, “I Saw the Light”, and “Bang the Drum All Day” (the last of which can be heard most commonly around 5:00 on Friday afternoon every single week).  All of those, as far as I can tell, still get quite a bit of airplay.  But do you remember 1978’s “Can We Still Be Friends?”

(Hermit of Mink Hollow peaked at #36 on the Billboard 200.  Album ℗1978 Bearsville Records.  Photo courtesy Amazon.com.)

“Can We Still Be Friends?” was the only song from Hermit of Mink Hollow to hit the Hot 100.  It was apparently written, according to Wikipedia, about the end of Mr. Rundgren’s relationship with Bebe Buell, who is possibly best known for being Liv Tyler’s mother.

This song spent five weeks in the Top 40 (I thought, when I originally wrote this, that it might have debuted in the Top 40 during a week in which American Top 40 did a special countdown, but Billboard shows that it was #44 that week), peaking at #29 the week of August 5, 1978 before falling out of the Top 40 the next week.  Overall, “Can We Still Be Friends?” spent 13 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.  A year later, Robert Palmer took another version of this song to #52 (but, honestly, I think Mr. Rundgren’s version is superior).

So, while “Bang the Drum All Day” didn’t even make it to the Top 40 and still gets airplay, “Can We Still Be Friends?” gets little to no airplay now.  Strange.

The Empire Strikes Back (Medley) by Meco

To most people, Meco is known for one song, and one song only:  the only instrumental single ever certified platinum by the RIAA, “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band”.  What many probably don’t know is that the single was just 3½ minutes of a 16-minute magnum opus.  I can’t link the MP3 for that because it is an album-only track, so check out The Best of Meco, which contains that track, here.

As you will see if you do check out The Best of Meco, Meco Monardo had an affinity for making discofied versions of many movies, mostly sci-fi ones, with varying degrees of success.  So, when the sequel to Star Wars came out in 1980, Meco was there, and he was ready.

(Meco Plays Music From The Empire Strikes Back apparently never charted.  Album ℗1980 RSO Records, Inc.  Cover courtesy Amazon.com.)

 

“The Empire Strikes Back (Medley)”, like its counterpart from Star Wars, combined multiple themes from John Williams’s score from the movie.  In this case, “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” seamlessly transitions into “Yoda’s Theme” before ending with the slightest hint of Darth Vader’s labored breathing.

Unlike its counterpart, this movie’s medley did not shoot straight to #1, peaking instead at #18 for two straight weeks starting on August 9, 1980 (chart | magazine), possibly due to the disco backlash that had happened in the year before The Empire Strikes Back hit cinemas.  It spent a respectable, but not remarkable, 14 weeks on the Hot 100.

Afterward, Meco would hit the Hot 100 a few more times, but none of his later songs would fare as well as “The Empire Strikes Back (Medley)”.  And since then, only his most famous single would see airplay anywhere, though others, like this one, appear deserving of a few more spins, at least.