Monday, August 25, 1986

Paul Simon released Graceland

First posted 3/23/2008; updated 11/24/2020.

Graceland

Paul Simon


Released: August 25, 1986


Charted: September 13, 1986


Peak: 3 US, 18 UK, 14 CN, 15 AU


Sales (in millions): 5.0 US, 2.2 UK, 15.6 world (includes US and UK)


Genre: pop/world music


Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)

  1. The Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon/Forere Motloheloa) [3:59] (2/21/87, #86 US, #15 AR)
  2. Graceland (Paul Simon) [4:48] (11/15/86, #81 US, #38 AR)
  3. I Know What I Know (Paul Simon/General MD Shrinda) [3:13]
  4. Gumboots (Paul Simon/Lulu Masilela/Jonhjon Mkhalali) [2:44]
  5. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes (Paul Simon/Joseph Shabalala) [5:45]
  6. You Can Call Me Al (Paul Simon) [4:39] (8/9/86, #20a US, #42 AR)
  7. Under African Skies (with Linda Ronstadt) (Paul Simon) [3:37]
  8. Homeless (Paul Simon/Joseph Shabalala) [3:48]
  9. Crazy Love, Vol. II (Paul Simon) [4:18]
  10. That Was Your Mother (Paul Simon) [2:52]
  11. All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints (Paul Simon) [3:15]


Total Running Time: 43:18

Rating:

4.684 out of 5.00 (average of 19 ratings)


Quotable:Graceland became the standard against which subsequent musical experiments by major artists were measured.” – William Ruhlmann, All Music Guide


Awards:

About the Album:

In 1984, Paul Simon was reeling from his failed marriage to Carrie Fisher, a reunion with Art Garfunkel which soured, and the ho-hum reception of his album Hearts and Bones, which Robert Christgau said “was a finely wrought dead end, caught up in introspection, whimsy, and the kind of formal experimentation only obsessive pop sophisticates even notice.” VV Simon was musically rejuvenated by a bootleg called Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits, Volume II. Heidi Berg, a singer-songwriter who had worked with Simon as a producer, loaned him the tape WK and, according to myth, Simon hopped a flight to Soweto immediately after hearing it “to learn more about the township jive called umbaqanga,” TL which Simon has called “the reggae of the ‘80s.” VV In reality it was a few months later before Simon embarked on his African pilgrimage. Nonetheless, it remains “the most spontaneous thing the world’s most rational songwriter is even rumored to have done, and that sense of liberation and adventure is all over Graceland.” TL

Simon requested Warner Bros. contacts to track down the artist responsible for the tape. WK When it was pinpointed as either South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo or the Boyoyo Boys, WK Simon was dismayed. The United States had imposed economic sanctions on South Africa because of its apartheid government. RV Simon said, “Too bad it’s not from Zimbabe, Zaire, or Nigera. Life would have been more simple.” VV Nonetheless, Simon knew he had to work with these artists. South African record producer Hilton Rosenthal made the arrangements for Simon and Roy Halee, the engineer for Graceland to go to Johnannesburg in February 1985 to spend two weeks recording. WK

The “former folkie” UT threw “his ears open to a host of new players and singers” TL and created “exotically fanciful collaborations” UT with the aforementioned Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Boyoyo Boys as well as Lulu Masilela, Tao Ea Matsekha, General M.D. Shirinda, and the Gaza Sisters. WK Simon also brought a trio of musicians back to the States to help him record – guitarist Ray Phiri, bassist Baghiti Kumalo, and drummer Isaac Mtshali. VV

Back in the States, he also worked with the Everly Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, Los Lobos, and Adrian Belew, incorporating “a great number of musical styles, including zydeco, Tex-Mex and African vocal music.” NRR The mix of those styles with Simon’s “always perceptive songwriting” AMG made for “a fascinating hybrid that re-enchanted his old audience and earned him a new one.” AMG His introduction of world music into a pop arena gave listeners “that magical combination: something they’d never heard before that nevertheless sounded familiar.” AMG

“The South African angle…was a powerful marketing tool,” AMG but it wasn’t without controversy. The United Nations initially blacklisted Simon for violating the boycott. TL However, Simon’s relationship with the music was “deep and committed.” VV Not only did he pay the musicians triple-scale and give them composer credits, he brought Ladysith Black Mambazo to New York for a Saturday Night Live spot VV and brought them on tour.

The songs themselves are not political, for the most part. Simon professed, “I’m no good at writing politics.” VV There is “the protesty title Homeless,” VV which is “almost entirely a capella” RV and featured “stirring harmonies” VH1 from Ladysmith Black Mambazo, as did the “highly poetic Diamonds on the Soles of Her ShoesAMG Both were “exquisitely melancholic evocation[s] of African beauty and desolation.” VH1

“As eclectic as any record Simon had made,” AMG it also marked “a surprising new lyrical approach (presaged on some songs on Hearts and Bones):” AMGGraceland was the first album Simon ever made in which the rhythm tracks were recorded first, and the exuberant, propulsive tempos make even his gorgeous lament ‘Losing love/ Is like a window in your heart/ Everybody sees you’re blown apart,’ seem buoyant.” TL

Songs like The Boy in the Bubble showed Simon had “evolved as a lyricist on this album with lines that took on an almost Dylan-esque quality.” RV The song’s “pensive refrain…was as hopeful and socially conscious as any song he would ever write: ‘The way we look to a distant constellation / That’s dying in the corner of the sky / These are the days of miracle and wonder.’” RV It is “his most acute and visionary song in many years.” VV

Simon largely eschewed “a linear, narrative approach to his words,” AMG and evoked “striking images and turns of phrase torn from the headlines or overheard in contemporary speech.” AMG He experimented with exotic rhythms and chord structures, RV such as on the “satiric I Know What I Know.” AMG

The title cut details a road trip “‘through the cradle of the Civil War’ to Elvis’ mecca” VV and hints “that somehow the world’s foremost slave state is a haven of grace: ‘Maybe I've reason to believe/We all will be received/In Graceland.’” VV The song won the Grammy for Record of the Year.

An element of humor shows up in the hit single, You Can Call Me Al. VH1 The song, which has been interpreted as being about midlife crisis, references an incident in which Simon and his then-wife Peggy were at a party and mistakenly referred to as “Al” and “Betty.” The video featured Chevy Chase lip-syncing Simon’s vocals while Simon lip-synced the backing vocals and played various instruments. The two men – marked by a foot in height difference – eventually dance to the song together.

Initially the song failed to reach the top 40 in the U.S., but after Graceland won the Grammy for Album of the Year, the song recharted, peaking at #23. Outside the U.S., it made the top 10 in several European countries.

“It is difficult now to recall the enormous impact of this trans-cultural album,” VH1 but Graceland “became the standard against which subsequent musical experiments by major artists were measured.” AMG With it, Simon created music “heard across the globe” AZ and it still reaches “generations of music enthusiasts…unaware of how pivotal that one album was” AZ in birthing “the idea of World Music.” AZ


Notes:

A 2004 reissue added alternate versions of “Homeless,” “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” and “All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints.” A 2012 reissue included those as well as demo versions of “You Can Call Me Al” and “Crazy Love” in addition to Paul Simon telling the story of Graceland.

Review Sources:

Saturday, August 16, 1986

David + David charted with “Welcome to the Boomtown”

First posted 11/18/2019.

Welcome to the Boomtown

David + David

Writer(s): David Baerwald, David Ricketts (see lyrics here)


First Charted: August 16, 1986


Peak: 37 US, 8 AR (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales *: -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US + UK)


Radio Airplay *: --


Video Airplay *: 1.45


Streaming *: --


* in millions

Review:

Handsome Kevin got a little off track/
Took a year off from college and he never went back

There are some lines in songs that stick with you. For me, this was one of the biggest. This song hit the charts in the fall of 1986 just as I was headed into my sophomore year of college. It was arguably the low point of my life as I was discouraged by a lack of direction. I would eventually drop out of college, albeit after four and a half years and a mere semester away from graduating.

In the song, Kevin ends up dealing drugs. The song also offered a snapshot of Ms. Cristina, a rich but paranoid cocaine junky who the song implies dies of an overdose by the end of the song. I can happily say I never had a drug problem and, unlike Kevin, my respite from college was temporary; I finished my degree a few years later once I had some work experience under my belt and had a better vision of what I wanted out of life.

Nonetheless, those words stuck with me as a reminder of how people can lose focus in their lives and find themselves in despair. Ironically, though, the song also stuck with me because of its irrestible beat. There’s no song better to crank up on the road as one does an air drum solo on the steering wheel.

The song was the debut single for the duo of David Baerwald and David Ricketts, better known as David + David. As a David myself, I jokingly refer to them as the best-named band in the history of music. Rolling Stone called their album, Boomtown, one of the year’s most impressive debuts.” PP They were signed to a record contract in the fall of 1985 after meeting at a club in the in Southern California and hanging out and writing songs. PP It was the only album by the duo, but they continued to work together in different capacities, most notably as part of the Tuesday Night Music Club collective that created Sheryl Crow’s debut album.


Resources and Related Links:

Awards:


XTC released “Dear God”

First posted 11/18/2019.

Dear God

XTC

Writer(s): Andy Partridge (see lyrics here)


Released: August 16, 1986


First Charted: April 4, 1987


Peak: 37 AR, 99 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales *: -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US + UK)


Radio Airplay *: --


Video Airplay *: 2.6


Streaming *: --


* in millions

Review:

XTC’s “Dear God” was originally released as the B-side of “Grass,” the lead single for the new wave band’s ninth album, Skylarking. The album was a loose concept about cycles, such as the cycle of life or of the seasons. “Dear God” was initially left off the album because Virgin Records was concerned about the effect of its agnostic message. Andy Partridge, the songwriter and XTC’s lead singer, was also dissatisfied with the lyrics and didn’t think the song represented his views on religion. WK He eventually became an atheist, but was, as he said, “wrestling with the tail end of my belief” when he wrote this. SF

After college DJs started playing the song, listeners started contacting Geffen Records (the U.S. distributer) to ask how they could get the song. Geffen added it to the Skylarking album, bumping the song “Mermaid Smiles.” SF It was then also released as a single on its own.

The song was inspired by a series of books with the same title which Partridge considered exploitive of children. The song is built on the idea of an agnostic writing letters to God questioning his existence. Partridge saw it as a commentary on “the need for humans to believe the stuff they do…I’d struggled with the concept of God and Man…since I was a kid.” WK Producer Todd Rundgren had the idea to bring in eight-year-old Jasmine Veillette to sing the opening verse and closing line. WK

The anti-religious message provoked hostile reactions, including a bomb threat to a Florida radio station and a student who held a faculty member hostage at knife-point at Binghampton High School in New York and forced the school to play the song over its public address system. Partridge also received lots of hate mail because of the song. He said he felt sorry for the people he upset, but that “if you can’t have a different opinion without them wanting to firebomb your house, then that’s their problem.” WK

Sarah McLachlan covered the song on a 1995 XTC tribute album (A Testimonial Dinner: The Songs of XTC) and Rundgren recorded his version for his 2011 (re)Production album.


Resources and Related Links:

Awards:


Madonna’s True Blue hit #1

First posted 3/26/2008; updated 11/25/2020.

True Blue

Madonna


Released: June 30, 1986


Peak: 15 US, 16 UK, 114 CN, 12 AU


Sales (in millions): 7.8 US, 1.96 UK, 26.3 world (includes US and UK)


Genre: dance pop


Tracks:

Song Title (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. Papa Don’t Preach (6/26/86, 1 US, 1 UK, 16 AC, sales: 0.5 m)
  2. Open Your Heart (12/6/86, 1 US, 4 UK, 12 AC)
  3. White Heat
  4. Live to Tell (4/12/86, 1 US, 2 UK, 1 AC)
  5. Where’s the Party?
  6. True Blue (10/4/86, 3 US, 1 UK, 5 AC, sales: 0.5 m)
  7. La Isla Bonita (3/21/87, 4 US, 1 UK, 1 AC)
  8. Jimmy, Jimmy
  9. Love Makes the World Go Round


Total Running Time: 40:25

Rating:

3.940 out of 5.00 (average of 31 ratings)


Quotable: “One of the great dance-pop albums.” – Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide


Awards:

About the Album:

This is “the album where Madonna truly became Madonna the Superstar – the endlessly ambitious, fearlessly provocative entertainer that knew how to outrage, spark debates, get good reviews...and make good music while she’s at it.” STE Madonna set herself an extremely high bar with 1984’s Like a Virgin, but managed to top herself with True Blue. The former album went to #1 for three weeks; True Blue spent five weeks at the pinnacle. Virgin landed four top 5 hits, including the #1 title cut while True Blue pulled off five top 5 hits, three of which went to #1.

That included, including the first single, the ballad Live to Tell. It was also used in the film At Close Range, featuring actor Sean Penn, whom Madonna married in 1985.

“Madonna's third album was a huge musical leap forward.” KB True Blue demonstrates how Madonna uses “the music to hook in critics just as she’s baiting a mass audience with such masterstrokes as Papa Don’t Preach.” STE “With its gorgeous pseudo-classical strings intro, [it] is a sumptuous airwaves banquet, as Madonna wrestles with the have-the-baby-or-give-it-up dilemma (abortion’s not in the picture) in newly gritty tones.” KB

“It’s easy to position anti-abortionism as feminism, but what’s tricky is to transcend your status as a dance-pop diva.” STE “Most of the songs share a jittery dance-pop sound, edgy, distracted, and nerve-jangling but simultaneously invigorating and exhilarating and almost dangerously giddy – a perfect soundtrack for the mid-‘80s.” KB

True Blue finds Madonna “consciously recalling classic girl-group pop” STE with the title cut and “the fine-but-nothing-special Jimmy JimmyKB She also “deepen[s] the dance grooves” STE with “the hedonist’s credo of Where's the PartyKB and Open Your Heart, which is a “marriage of jitter-pop and wistful melody underscores the singer’s yearning but forceful stance (‘You better open your heart to me, buster’).” KB

Elsewhere, we see Madonna exploring “Latin rhythms” STE with “the subtle and pretty Latin pastiche La Isla BonitaKB, “making a plea for world peace (Love Makes the World Go Round)” STE, and, with Live to Tell, delivering a “a riveting ballad, lushly melodic yet spare and haunting – a place, as the song says, where beauty lives.” KB

This is “one of the great dance-pop albums, a record that demonstrates Madonna’s true skills as a songwriter, record-maker, provocateur, and entertainer through its wide reach, accomplishment, and sheer sense of fun.” STE “A quintessential ‘80s pop artifact.” KB

Resources and Related Links:

Friday, August 1, 1986

Crowded House released self-titled debut album

First posted 3/3/2008; updated 10/24/2020.

Crowded House

Crowded House


Released: August 1, 1986


Peak: 12 US, 99 UK, 8 CN, 11 AU


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


Genre: adult alternative rock


Tracks:

Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. Mean to Me [3:16] (6/86, 18 CO, 26 AU)
  2. World Where You Live [3:04] (7/86, 65 US, 45 AR, 10 CO, 43 AU)
  3. Now We’re Getting Somewhere [4:05] (9/86, 34 CO, 63 AU)
  4. Don’t Dream It’s Over [3:56] (10/20/86, 2 US, 3 CB, 3 RR, 9 AC, 11 AR, 1 CO, 25 UK, 1 CN, 8 AU)
  5. Love you Till the Day I Die [3:32]
  6. Something So Strong (Finn/ Mitchell Froom) [2:51] (4/1/87, 7 US, 8 CB, 8 RR, 13 AC, 10 AR, 1 CO, 95 UK, 10 CN, 18 AU)
  7. Hole in the River (Finn/ Eddie Rayner) [4:00]
  8. Can’t Carry On [3:57] *
  9. I Walk Away [3:06] *
  10. Tombstone [3:30]
  11. That’s What I Call Love (N. Finn/Hester) [3:38]
All songs written by Neil Finn unless noted otherwise.

* See notes.


Total Running Time: 38:40


The Players:

  • Neil Finn (vocals, guitar, piano)
  • Nick Seymour (bass)
  • Paul Hester (drums, backing vocals)

Rating:

3.966 out of 5.00 (average of 15 ratings)


Quotable: “This…album…proved you could actually have a pop hit…without conforming it to the lifeless synth-pop formula of the day” – George Starostin


Awards:

About the Album:

“After gradually assuming a front-and-center role in brother Tim's band Split Enz, native New Zealander and transplanted Australian Neil Finn moved firmly into a leadership position with Crowded House.” RW Neil’s contributions to Split Enz gave them their “first international hits (the most notable of which was ‘I Got You’). Finn continued this tradition of writing and performing harmony-rich gems when he formed Crowded House.” CD “Split Enz needed to end, particularly since founding member Tim Finn found his little brother Neil's growth spurt uncomfortable, but also because Neil was no longer writing tunes that made sense within the context of a band that ran the gamut from art rock to eccentric new wave. Neil Finn was now writing songs that were undeniably totems of popcraft, but infused with the spirit and introspection of a singer/songwriter. This formula would later become quite popular…but this sensibility was relatively unheard of in the mid-'80s.” STE

“Those starved for hooks minus the usual sentimentality were finally sated…Neil…came all the way to Los Angeles from Australia, bringing with him some of the finest melodies and knowing lyrics to come down the pop-music pike in years. With immaculate production and keyboard additions by Mitchell Froom, (who found his fame with this band), Crowded House proved to be a stellar debut.” CD “Neil Finn retained Paul Hester from Enz, added Nick Seymour for the trio, and recorded one abandoned attempt at an album before joining with Mitchell Froom for the band's eponymous debut. At the time, Froom's clean production seemed refreshing, almost rootsy, compared to the synth-pop dominating the mainstream and college scenes at the time, but in retrospect it seems a little overreaching and fussy.” STE “Along with the Bangles' Different Light, this…album…proved you could actually have a pop hit in Pop Music's Worst Year without conforming it to the lifeless synth-pop formula of the day.” GS “The selection of instruments, the little melodic hooks, and Neil's own powerful, yet intentionally vulnerable vocals work well - it's hardly an unprecedented combination, but it's certainly a good one.” GS

“Slightly more mainstream than his new-wavy Split Enz work, the record nonetheless evinced signs of darkness…Often gorgeous, Crowded House proved to be the group's biggest release in America.” RW “There's not even a single trace of witty post-modernism or an overall sarcastic/self-ironic approach to the material: obviously, one of the reasons Neil Finn became separate from his former band Split Enz was that he wanted to give more room to his newly-developing, seriously romantic style, one which would really try to capture the listener's true emotions, not block them out. Some say that what Finn does on here is join ‘professional pop craft’ with’ confessional’ singer-songwriter values, and this could actually be rephrased by stating that what he really does is merely put the feeling back into pop music.” GS

Mean to Me starts the album with vigorous acoustic strumming and a melody that…remind you of some Seventies' singer-songwriting, but then picks up steam to become a pompous, overweight, lumpy rocker burdened with horns and mock-psychedelic keyboard splurges. Don't let the transformation and the basic basic oh so basic four-four rhythm detract you from the song's hooks, though.” GS

World Where You Live is basically 'Mean To Me' without the optimistic bravado - but it still boasts a classic chorus, and I could easily see a band like XTC doing a song like that, albeit saddled with Andy Partridge's nerdy intonations.” GS

Now We're Getting Somewhere is one of the best highlights, a bouncy folksy shuffle that's probably tremendously easy to play, yet packs a lot of naive, slightly childish emotion, as well as patented Beatlesque chord changes played on the electric guitar and a grumbly little accordeon melody to give it a goofy pseudo-French flavour.” GS

“The majestic ballad Don't Dream It's Over, [which] became an international hit.” STE is “beautiful yet ambiguous.” CD “True to its name, it's dreamy…as well as extremely optimistic and comforting, a perfect song for your average depressed guy to embark upon. The chorus is a great treat…a little cheesy, I guess you could call it, but at least it's not a power ballad by definition, much as it has the ‘lighters up syndrome’ etched into it.” GS

Love You 'Til The Day I Die is a conscious attempt to play it a little 'rougher' around the edges (no no no, it ain't hard rock at all), and is pretty decent, especially when the menacing ascending melody in the chorus comes around.” GS

“The breezy” and “effervescent” Something So Strong STE is “a good hit single.” GS The rest of the album is chalked up as too samey, as far as reviewer George Starostin is concerned, to review the individual songs. In the tone of the reviews mentioned here, it seems fair to say that reviewers thought of this album as ““good, well-constructed pop,” STE but nothing that would change the world. It seems like a disguised compliment to read lines like “they're pop-rockers rather than pop-ballads, and have very little chance of becoming seriously irritating.” GS

When all is said and done, though, this is an album of strong lyrics and strong melodies. Criticisms aside, this album stood out from its pack at the time, and for that reason deserves to be remembered as the landmark it truly was for merging songwriting with songs that avoid sentimentality in favor of witticism.


Notes: “I Walk Away” was originally on Split Enz’ See Ya ‘Round. “Can’t Carry On” was a bonus track available on the CD release and not the cassette version.

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