Saturday, February 28, 1981

Rush released “Tom Sawyer”

First posted 2/5/2021.

Tom Sawyer

Rush

Writer(s): Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson, Pye Dubois (see lyrics here)


Released: February 28, 1981


First Charted: March 21, 1981


Peak: 44 US, 47 CB, 57 HR, 1 CL, 8 AR, 25 UK, 24 CN (Click for codes to singles charts.)


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


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 59.4 video, -- streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

Rush established themselves as one of the most signiciant acts of the 1970s with album-rock staples like “Fly by Night,” “Closer to the Heart,” and “The Trees” and a run of six studio albums which went gold or platinum. However, their highest peak on the album chart was #33. That changed in 1980 with Permanent Waves, a #4 album supported by “The Spirit of Radio” and “Freewill.” 1981’s Moving Pictures did even better, going to #3 and becoming the best-selling album of Rush’s career with sales of more than four million in the United States.

The album was fueled by some of its most popular songs, including “Limelight,” “Red Barchetta,” and “Tom Sawyer.” Rush’s Geddy Lee called the latter song “the quintessential Rush song” and “the one song that we have to play for the rest of our lives.” SF Indeed, it has become a staple of classic rock radio and the band’s live shows, played on every concert tour since its release. WK

Drummer Neal Peart wrote the lyrics with Pye Dubois of the band Max Webster based on a poem by Dubois called “Louis the Lawyer.” Peart explained that the original lyrics were “a portrait of a modern day rebel, a free-spirited individualist striding through the world wide-eyed and purposeful.” WK Peart loosely tied it to Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer SF and added the dimension of “reconciling the boy and man in myself, and the difference between what people are and what others perceive them to be.” WK

The music was crafted by Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson. The song’s “sci-fi mein is established through keen synthesizer dabbling as well as some mild background effects, while the heavy rock sound is garnered by Alex Lifeson’s guitar work and Neil Peart’s explosive drum rolls.” AMG The band’s “progressive roots may be showing to a slight degree, but these elements are cubed, maintained, then added to an amiable three-minute formula.” AMG Note: the song actually runs four and a half minutes.


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Saturday, February 14, 1981

50 years ago: Duke Ellington charted with “Mood Indigo”

Mood Indigo

Duke Ellington

Writer(s): Duke Ellington, Barney Bigard, Irving Mills (see lyrics here)


First Charted: February 14, 1931


Peak: 3 US, 16 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): --


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, -- video, -- streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

A New Orleans jazz musician named Lorenzo Tio, Jr. was visiting his former student, Barney Bigard, in New York. Tio shared a melody called “Dreamy Blues” which he’d written as the theme song for his group back home. Bigard asked to borrow it and worked up what would become the clarinet solo for Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.” DH

Ellington is credited with “composing a song of his own on top of it” DH and turning the structure upside down. Typically jazz songs were arranged with the clarinet, trumpet, and trombone from highest to lowest pitch, but Ellington flipped it around the other way. DH The approach played on his talents of “subtle sophistication” NPR and “creating an element of surprise in his compositions.” NPR Ellington worked up a recording for an October 1930 broadcast, saying, “It was the first tune I ever wrote specially for microphone transmission.” WK After, as he says, “wads of mail came in raving about the new tune.” WK

In 1931, lyrics were added. They were credited to Irving Mills, Ellington’s manager, DH but Mitchell Parish, who also wrote words for the classic “Star Dust,” claimed in a 1987 New York Times interview that he was really the one responsible. SB He also is supposedly the one who gave the song its new title, MM which “suggests the deep violet-blue of indigo.” TY

The song was first recorded by Ellington’s Jungle Band and later under the name The Harlem Footwarmers. SB The 1931 recording became a jazz standard and “one of the most beloved recordings of all time.” JA It was revived in 1934 with a top 20 version by Jimmie Lunceford and resurfaced again in 1954 with versions by the Norman Petty Trio (#14) and the Four Freshmen (#24). PM Over the years, the song has been recorded many times as both an instrumental and vocal piece. Among those recording it are Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Cab Calloway, Nat “King” Cole, Dr. John, Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Mingus, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, and Dinah Washington.


Resources and Related Links:

  • DMDB Encyclopedia entry for Duke Ellington
  • JA David A. Jasen (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 135.
  • MM Max Morath (2002). The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Popular Standards. New York, NY; Penguin Putnam Inc. Page 176.
  • NPR National Public Radio web site (1999). “The Most Important American Musical Works of the 20th Century”.
  • SB Songbook1.wordpress.com
  • DH This Day in History (history.com)
  • TY Don Tyler (1985). Hit Parade 1920-1955. New York, NY: Quill. Page 60.
  • PM Joel Whitburn (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Menomonee Falls, WI; Record Research, Inc. Pages 147, 550.
  • WK Wikipedia.org

First posted 2/14/2013; last updated 4/21/2021.

Friday, February 13, 1981

Phil Collins’ Face Value released

First posted 3/26/2008; updated 9/15/2020.

Face Value

Phil Collins


Released: February 13, 1981


Peak: 7 US, 13 UK, 13 CN, 2 AU


Sales (in millions): 5.0 US, 1.5 UK, 17.6 world (includes US and UK)


Genre: mainstream pop-rock


Tracks: Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. In the Air Tonight (1/17/81, 19 US, 19 CB, 2 AR, 2 UK, 3 AU, 2 CN, sales: 3 million)
  2. This Must Be Love
  3. Behind the Lines (4/4/81, 58 AR)
  4. The Roof Is Leaking
  5. Droned
  6. Hand in Hand
  7. I Missed Again (3/7/81, 19 US, 19 CB, 8 AR, 14 UK, 88 CN, 6 CN)
  8. You Know What I Mean
  9. Thunder and Lightning
  10. I’m Not Moving
  11. If Leaving Me Is Easy (5/30/81, 17 UK)
  12. Tomorrow Never Knows

Rating:

3.918 out of 5.00 (average of 15 ratings)


Quotable: Collins’ “masterpiece and one of the finest moments of the ‘80s musical landscape” – Tim Sendra, All Music Guide


Awards:

About the Album:

Phil Collins spent a decade with the rock group Genesis, first as their drummer and then their singer, before launching a solo career. “He’d been wrestling with the idea of doing a solo record for years, finding great inspiration in the pain caused by an impending divorce and craving artistic independence after years of collaboration. Many of the songs ended up on Genesis’ 1980 album Duke – and ‘Against All Odds’ was pocketed for later use – but he kept enough to make an album that stands as a classic moment of ‘80s pop/rock.” AMG

“Collins produced the album himself and played keyboards and drums, calling in friends and the Earth, Wind & Fire horns to fill out the songs.” AMG The “thundering drums and punchy horn arrangements…clicked with the public…launching Collins’ career as one of the biggest and most unlikely stars of the ‘80s.” AZ

The album kicks off “with the bitter anthem In the Air TonightAMG “where Collins dryly comments, ‘If you told me you were drowning / I would not lend a hand’).” AZ It is “rightly considered one of the great heartbreak songs of all time.” AMG

The album offers “a compelling churn of emotions” AZ alternating “between moody ballads and bouncily soulful tracks that try to put a smile on the pain.” AMG “His everyman style of singing translates to both types of songs; he’s just as good at wringing every drop of emotion out of the ballads as he is at sailing through the deceptive breezy tunes.” AMG

“The gently sung, sweet-as-punch This Must Be LoveAMG showcases “the delight he feels in exploring a new relationship.” AZ It “gives an early respite after the lurching, bruising ‘In the Air Tonight.’” AMG “The poppier tracks, like the snappy Behind the Lines and the impossibly hooky I Missed Again, show off his skills as a hitmaker and vocalist.” AMG “The pulsing I’m Not Movin’ marries one of Collins’ catchiest melodies and airiest productions with the most forceful lyrics on the record.” AMG

“On the quieter songs like If Leaving Me Is Easy, Collins’ wracked vocals leave no doubt that he’s not sugarcoating his emotional devastation as he sorts through the wreckage of his life.” AMG “The new agey Droned and the swinging Hand in Hand give the album some instrumental texture and allow a break from all the desperate emotion on display.” AMG

“This range of sound and emotion is part of what helps the album succeed as much as it does; so does the feeling that Collins felt driven to make this album to help him heal. It’s not a career move or a cash grab; it’s a transmission from a wounded soul delivered with a soft touch and sensitivity. As such, it’s Collins’ most honest, most compelling work. He went on to become a huge star, with loads more hits, but Face Value stands as his masterpiece and one of the finest moments of the ‘80s musical landscape.” AMG


Notes: In 2016, a deluxe edition of the album was released with eight live songs from various years and four demos from 1980 for “This Must Be Love,” “Please Don’t Ask,” “Misunderstanding,” and “Against All Odds.”

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Saturday, February 7, 1981

Kool & the Gang hit #1 with “Celebration”

Celebration

Kool & the Gang

Writer(s): Robert "Kool" Bell, Ronald Bell, George Brown, Robert Mickens, Claydes Smith, James "J.T." Taylor, Dennis "D.T." Thomas, Earl Eugene Toon Jr., Eumir Deodato (see lyrics here)


First Charted: Octrober 18, 1980


Peak: 12 US, 11 CB, 11 HR, 7 RR, 34 AC, 16 RB, 7 UK, 13 CN, 33 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, 0.25 UK, 2.5 world (includes US + UK)


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 1.0 radio, 221.0 video, 172.8 streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

Kool & the Gang’s origins date back to 1964 when Robert “Kool” Bell formed the Jazziacs at 14 years old. As they changed their sound from jazz to R&B, their following grew. They eventually became Kool & the Gang in 1969 and released more than 25 singles with De-Lite Records. When disco emerged, “Kool knew it was time to produce a new sound – or perish.” BR They brought James “J.T.” Taylor on board and he made his first appearance as their lead singer for the 1979 album Ladies Night, which produced top-10 hits with the title cut and “Too Hot.”

The group’s next album, Celebrate, produced the single “Celebration,” which gave them their fifth R&B chart-topper and first #1 pop hit in 1981. That year, it was used to welcome home the American hostages after 444 days in captivity in Iran and it was the theme song for the Super Bowl. BR

Ronald Bell, the group’s saxophonist, arranger, and co-founder, said, “The initial idea came from the Quran. I was reading the passage where God was creating Adam and the angels were celebrating and singing praises. That inspired me to write the basic chords, the line, ‘Everyone around the world, come on, celebration.’” WK

The song has since become a stape at weddings and parties and an athem for sporting events because of its generic, celebratory nature. Taylor told Billboard, “My mother told me me when she heard it, ‘You’re gonna play this song for the rest of your life – so get ready!” SF


Resources and Related Links:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Kool & the Gang
  • BR Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 536.
  • SF Songfacts
  • WK Wikipedia

First posted 6/24/2021.

Monday, February 2, 1981

Talking Heads released “Once in a Lifetime”

First posted 11/14/2019; updated 12/13/2020.

Once in a Lifetime

Talking Heads

Writer(s): David Byrne, Brian Eno, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth (see lyrics here)


Released: February 2, 1981


First Charted: February 7, 1981


Peak: 91 US, 82 CB, 1 CL, 1 CO, 14 UK, 28 CN, 23 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)


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


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 23.9 video, -- streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

For their fourth album, Remain in Light, the Talking Heads adopted a new songwriting method. Working with producer Brian Eno, they recorded jams in the studio, keyed in on the best parts, and then played those repetitively. The technique took its influence from early hip-hop and afrobeat musicians like Fela Kuti. Singer David Byrne compared the approach to modern looping and sampling, describing the band as “human samplers.” WK

“Once in a Lifetime” was, according to Byrne, the band’s failed attempt at playing funk. Eno initially didn’t like the track and the band nearly shelved it. Keyboardist Jerry Harrison said it was difficult to write choruses for the song because of the limited chord changes. Byrne, however, believed he could write lyrics to it. The song fell into place after Eno sang wordlessly to the song, thus developing the chorus melody. WK

Byrne took his inspiration for the lyrics and vocals from preachers delivering sermons. His half-spoken and half-sung vocals are like the call-and-response between a preacher and a congregation. WK All Music Guide’s Steve Huey said the lyrics addressed “the drudgery of living life according to social expectations,” SF but Byrne said they are about the unconscious and how we “operate half-awake or on autopilot.” WK NPR’s Travis Morrison said “the lyrics are astounding – they are meaningless and totally meaningful at the same time. That’s as good as rock lyrics get.” WK

The video by David Byrne dancing erratically to footage of religious rituals broadcast behind him on a blue screen. WK His “spastic movements and hand chopping motions…were inspiring by watching video footage of people with epilepsy.” BC Byrne and choreographer Toni Basil (best known for her #1 song “Mickey”) studied archival footage of evanglists and preachers as well as African tribes, Japanese religious sects, and people in trances. WK In 2003, BBC critic Chris Jones wrote that the video “remains as compelling as it was in 1981. And how many other videos can you say that about?” WK

The original single was a top 20 hit in the UK and hit the top 30 in Canada and Australia. The song didn’t chart in America until three years later when a live version from the band’s concert film Stop Making Sense was released as a single. Malcolm Jack of the Guardian described the song as “a thing of dizzying power, beauty and mystery…it sounds like nothing else in the history of pop.” WK


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