Friday, November 21, 1980

REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity was released: November 21, 1980

Originally posted November 21, 2011.



“If you need proof why arena rock was giant, this is it.” STE REO Speedwagon could arguably be credited with bringing arena rock to its pinnacle. They “had been slogging it out in the arenas of the U.S.” STE for nearly a decade, “building up a sizeable audience because they could deliver live.” STE This was much the same story for the band’s peers like Styx, Journey, and Foreigner. The difference is that all those bands had landed a couple top ten albums. The highest REO ever previously reached was #29.

Then, in 1981, all four bands topped the album charts. However, REO got their first “with this incredibly mainstream collection of power ballads and economic hard rock.” RO They did it with a fifteen-week chart-topper which sold more than 9 million copies in the U.S. This was “a record that not just summarized their strengths, but captured everything that was good about arena rock. This is the sound of the stadiums in that netherworld between giants like Zeppelin and MTV’s slick, video-ready anthems.” STE

“The band’s strongest attribute is its inconspicuous nature. You never see it coming. Kevin Cronin has a serviceable voice and Gary Richrath is a solid if unspectacular lead player” RO “but there’s a real urgency to the songs and the performances.” STE Keep on Loving You set “the pattern for the power ballads that would take many a hard rock band to the top of the charts throughout the ‘80s.” RO That song “and the surging Take It on the Run…define their era.” STE There’s also “the Bo Diddley-inspired opener, Don’t Let Him GoSTE and other radio-friendly songs like “the sun-kissed ‘60s homage In Your Letter, and Tough Guys.” STE

“What’s really great about these songs is not just the sheen of professionalism that makes them addictive to listen to, but there’s a real strain of pathos that runs through these songs – the album’s title isn't just a clever pun, but a description of the tortured romantic relationships that populate this record’s songs. This is really arena rock’s Blood on the Tracks, albeit by a group of guys instead of a singular vision, but that makes it more affecting, as well as a killer slice of ear candy.” STE




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Saturday, November 15, 1980

Kenny Rogers topped the pop charts with “Lady”: November 15, 1980

Originally posted November 15, 2011.



In 1980, Kenny Rogers was the biggest draw in country music. To capitalize on his status – and a year which had already seen three top five hits on the country charts – his record label wanted a Greatest Hits package to ring in the Christmas season. Rogers had just ended his five-year relationship with producer Larry Butler and was seeking new blood to spark his creativity.

He turned to Lionel Richie, who wasn’t yet the solo superstar he was to become within a few years. At the time, he still fronted the Motown group The Commodores. Like Rogers, Richie had experienced major crossover success. The 1978 hit “Three Times a Lady” had topped the pop, R&B, adult contemporary, and UK charts. The country-tinged “Easy” (1977) was a hit on all four formats as well.

The pair of songs caught Rogers’ attention. Rogers contacted Motown founder Berry Gordy about working with the Commodores. Because of a motorcycle accident to drummer Walter Orange, the group had delayed a concert tour and Richie and Co. had time on their hands. Lionel flew to Las Vegas to meet with Rogers. Richie played demos of “Lady” and “Goin’ Back to Alabama”, songs he’d written two years earlier. BR1 Rogers cut both in an 8 ½ hour session; the former included some lyrical tweaking to reference Rogers’ relationship with his wife. TR As Rogers said, “The idea was that Lionel would come from R&B and I’d come from country, and we’d meet somewhere in the middle.” BR1

The song became Rogers’ fourth million-selling single and his first #1 on the pop charts. BB100 It was also the biggest pop song of 1980 WHC and the first song of the decade to hit all four of the major Billboard charts (pop, country, adult contemporary, R&B). BR1 It hit #1 on the first three of those.




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Saturday, November 1, 1980

Alan Parsons Project released The Turn of a Friendly Card

Originally posted March 12, 2011. Last updated February 27, 2019.

Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)
  1. May Be a Price to Pay [4:52] v: Elmer Gantry
  2. Games People Play [4:17] v: Lenny Zakatek (12/6/80, #16 US)
  3. Time [5:05] v: Eric Woolfson (4/18/81, #15 US, #10 AC)
  4. I Don't Wanna Go Home [4:54] v: Lenny Zakatek
  5. The Gold Bug (instrumental) [4:28]
  6. The Turn of a Friendly Card (Part One) [2:39] v: Chris Rainbow
  7. Snake Eyes [3:17] v: Chris Rainbow (3/21/81, #67 US, #47 AR)
  8. The Ace of Swords (instrumental) [2:58]
  9. Nothing Left to Lose [4:03] v: Eric Woolfson
  10. The Turn of a Friendly Card (Part Two) [3:12] v: Chris Rainbow

All tracks written by Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson. The ‘v’ after the song listing indicates who does lead vocals.

Released: November 1, 1980


Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 2.0 world (includes US and UK)


Peak: #13 US, #38 UK, #16 CN


Genre: progressive rock lite


Review:

“By then well-known for their concept albums, in 1980 the Project turned its sights” JW to “the age-old temptation of gambling and its stranglehold on the human psyche.” MD “It was a reasonably original theme for a concept album, having rarely been addressed by anyone with more intellectual wattage than Kenny Rogers (insert cutting remark here)” JW “The actual theme is well above the notion of gambling. Instead, it appears to be how we look at life, especially the hand we've been dealt, and what chances lie ahead of us if we're willing to take some risks.” CT

“Parsons and lyricist/occasional lead vocalist Eric Woolfson co-composed the album with imagination and flair.” JW “What sets this album apart and makes it remarkably listenable…is the strength of the arrangements by keyboardist/co-composer/producer Parsons.” JW

“Elmer Gantry's soaring vocals” JW kick things off on “the spacious, driving, synth-and-drums thumper May Be a Price to Pay.” JW

On lead-single “Games People Play, “our hero makes the conscious decision to walk away from the life he's been leading to try and find something different.” CT “Vocalist Lenny Zakatek sounds compelling and focused, giving the song a seriousness that aids in realization of the album's concept.” MD “There is a dynamism to the very progressive way Parsons mixes strings with exotic synth tones and…acoustic drums that creates one terrific pop hook after another.” JW This “is a great example of the AP approach at this stage of his career in that it has a basic pop structure, but features unusual shifts in tone and tempo, an ambient middle section, great use of orchestral elements and a generous guitar solo – all decidedly progressive touches.” JW

Next up is Time, which features Eric Woolfson on lead vocals for the first time. WK This ballad “immediately tugs on the heart strings and stays with you for a long time.” CT Woolfson’s “vocals are pitch-perfect,” JW “floating along amongst sighing strings and synthesizer washes and layered background vocals.” JW He “carries this luxurious-sounding ode to life's passing to a place above and beyond any of this band's other slower material.” MD It “may…be the best on the entire album” JW and “one of the Alan Parsons Project's best numbers.” CT

“No sooner has our hero left his old life behind when the voice of reason kicks in on I Don't Wanna Go Home,” CT voiced, by the way, by the “gritty ‘tattered and torn’ despair” JW of Lenny Zakatek. “This also could be the voice of doubt -- you take your pick: ‘You can't win you damn fool / You drank all the wine from the cup / And your painted lady's gone now / And you're way back on the downside, Lookin' up.’ As our hero realizes his plight, he decides not to return to his past - possibly because he can't face ridicule on his return.” CT

The album features a pair of instrumentals. First up is “an interesting number aptly titled The Gold Bug. Like most of the band's instrumentals, its flow and rhythm simulate the overall tempo and concept of the album, acting as a welcome interlude.” MD The song references the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name WK and includes a whistling part from Parsons where he imitates the spaghetti western film themes of Ennio Morricone. WK The saxophone was originally credited to Mel Collins, but in the remastered edition is noted as “a session player in Paris whose name escapes us.” WK

The Ace of Swords "features expert incorporation of the orchestra into a largely futuristic, synthesizer-driven cut. The APP core of Ian Bairnson (guitars), David Paton (bass), Stuart Elliott (drums) and Andrew Powell (orchestral arrangements), along with Parsons and Woolfson on keys, is at the height of its powers here.” JW

The five-part title suite, which includes “The Ace of Swords,” highlights “the breakdown of human willpower and our greedy tendencies.” MD It “is the only part of the album that squarely addresses gambling.” JW On The Turn of a Friendly Card (Part One), “our hero continues to press his luck, if only to return to what he used to be on Snake Eyes.” CT “Sung by Chris Rainbow, [this] is the most compelling of the five pieces, and ties together the whole of the recording.” MD

Although our protaganist “thinks luck is about to come his way, he eventually hits rock bottom with a deafening thud... which leads us to Nothing Left to Lose. On this number, the realization finally comes to him, and he is left with a clean slate to start his life again: "You read the book you turn the page / You change your life in a thousand ways / The dawn of reason lights in your eyes / With the key you realise / To the kingdom of the wise.’” CT

The album wraps with the unfairly overlooked The Turn of a Friendly Card (Part Two). This song rightly showed up on the Project’s second anthology, released in 1988, but was never a hit, despite nicely showcasing the album’s concept and still standing firmly on its own. This could well be the Project’s best forgotten song.

The Turn of a Friendly Card is to the point and doesn't let down when it comes to carrying out its idea.” MD It “is a strong piece of work that hangs together well and still entertains through repeated listens.” JWThe Turn of a Friendly Card remains one of this group’s most enjoyable albums.” MD


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