Saturday, December 15, 1984

Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” hit #1: December 15, 1984

Originally posted December 15, 2011.



Bob Geldof made his name initially as the frontman of the Boomtown Rats, an Irish punk-pop outfit which got its start in the late ‘70s and found success with a pair of #1 songs on the UK charts with “Rat Trap” and “I Don’t Like Mondays”. However, in his obituary someday, the leading line will reference him as the man who organized Band Aid and Live Aid.

Geldof was so moved one night by images from a BBC documentary of starving Ethiopian children, that he felt obligated to do something. He connected with Midge Ure, the frontman from Ultravox, to pen a song about the those suffering in the African famine. He then tackled his rolodex to round up a Who’s Who of British pop music to sing a Christmas charity single as the collective Band Aid. Among the stars he enlisted were Bono, Phil Collins, Sting, George Michael, Duran Duran, Culture Club, Status Quo, Paul Weller, Spandau Ballet, Heaven 17, and Kool & the Gang.

The superstars gathered at Sarm West Studios in London on November 25, 1984. They started the recording process by singing the “Feed the world, let them know it’s Christmas time” refrain first as a group. Then individual singers sang the song the entire way through so that Ure, who also produced the song, could splice the best parts together for the final version. WK The whole song was recorded within a 24-hour period. WK

The song sold 750,000 in its first week of release in England, making it their fastest-selling single in history at the time. MG It went on to sell more than 3.5 million, making it the best-selling song in Britain until Elton John’s 1997 re-recording of “Candle in the Wind”. WK Combined with the 1985 Live Aid concert, Geldof’s efforts raised £110 million. MG




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Saturday, October 13, 1984

Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” hit #1

First posted 11/14/2019.

I Just Called to Say I Love You

Stevie Wonder

Writer(s): Stevie Wonder (see lyrics here)


Released: August 1, 1984


First Charted: August 18, 1984


Peak: 13 US, 14 CB, 12 RR, 13 AC, 13 RB, 16 UK, 13 CN, 18 (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales *: 1.0 US, 1.91 UK, 4.54 world (includes US + UK)


Radio Airplay *: --


Video Airplay *: 160.3


Streaming *: --


* in millions

Review:

Singer Dionne Warwick was the song coordinator for the movie The Woman in Red. She suggested Stevie Wonder for the score to the Gene Wilder film. Despite Wonder being blind, he “watched” the film and, according to Warwick, “He saw the film. There’s no way in the world that you can write the pieces of music that he wrote, for the sequences he wrote for, so directly.” BR1

Jay Lasker, who was then the president of Motown Records, wasn’t too excited. He discouraged Wonder from doing the soundtrack because it had already been four years since his last album and he wasn’t sold on the first three songs Wonder had written for the movie. Wonder responded with “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” Lasker’s response was that it “is probably going to be the biggest single in the history of Stevie Wonder. This is the record I picked and said I wanted out as a single.” BR1

Lasker’s hunch was right. The song topped a record 19 charts and remains Wonder’s best-selling single. WK It was his eighth chart-topper on the Billboard Hot 100 and tenth on the R&B chart. It was his only solo trip to the top in the UK, where it also became Motown’s biggest-selling single ever. WK

Songwriters Lloyd Chiate and Lee Garrett, a former writing partner with Wonder, sued him in October 1985. They claimed he stole the title and chorus idea for the song from a song they wrote in September 1976 called “Hello It’s Me/I Just Called to Say.” During the testimony, Wonder said he wrote the chorus on July 16, 1976 when coming home from visiting his mother. He also said he had John Lennon in mind when he worked on the song, imagining the Beatles singing with him. SF Chiate dropped the lawsuit in 1986, but Chiate continued it. In 1990, a jury ruled in favor of Wonder. SF

The fact that Wonder said he’d written much of the song in 1976 put its Oscar win for Best Song in doubt since songs were only eligible in the category which had been written specifically for film. However, no action was taken and Wonder kept the award. SF


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Wednesday, September 26, 1984

Prince released “Purple Rain” as a single

First posted 11/17/2019.

Purple Rain

Prince & the Revolution

Writer(s): Prince (see lyrics here)


Released: September 26, 1984


First Charted: September 21, 1984


Peak: 2 US, 12 CB, 12 RR, 4 RB, 18 AR, 6 UK, 3 CN, 41 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales *: 1.0 US, 0.69 UK, 1.69 world (includes US + UK)


Radio Airplay *: --


Video Airplay *: 193.40


Streaming *: --


* in millions

Review:

“Purple Rain” was the third single from Prince’s monstrous 1984 soundtrack of the same name. It followed two #1 songs – “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” It peaked at #2, but after Prince’s death in 2016, it re-charted, hitting #4. In the UK, the revived song hit #6, two spots above its original peak, and in France it went to #1 after the original stalled at #12. WK

Prince originally reached out to Stevie Nicks to write lyrics for what was then a country-tinged 10-minute song. She said, “I called him back and said, ‘I can’t do it. It’s too much for me.’” NME She’s also said she suspected he wanted a relationship with her. SF He eventually wrote three verses – one about his parents, one about Apollonia (his girlfriend at the time and co-star in the movie), and his band mates. NME In the movie, Prince’s band mates Wendy Melvoin & Lisa Coleman complain that he never uses any of their material. The move ends with him taking the stage and introducing the song as being written by them. SF

Coleman said the song symbolized “a new beginning. Purple, the sky at dawn; rain, the cleansing factor.” NME Prince explained it by saying, “When there’s blood in the sky – red and blue = purple…purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god guide you through the purple rain.” NME The idea echoed a theme from his “1999” song two years earlier in which he sang “…could have sworn it was Judgment Day, the sky was all purple…” WK However, the phrase was first used in America’s 1972 hit “Ventura Highway” and the line “Sorry boy, but I’ve been hit by purple rain.” SF

Prince also reached out to Journey’s Jonathan Cain because he was worried the song sounded too much like the band’s “Faithfully” ballad. Cain was okay with it, noting that songs only shared a few chords. NME He told Prince, “I’m just super-flattered that you even called. It shows you’re that classy of a guy. Good luck with the song. I know it’s gonna be a hit.” SF

The song was recorded live at a benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theatre on August 3, 1983 at the First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis. NME The songs “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star” were also recorded at the performance and used on the Purple Rain soundtrack. WK The song was also memorably featured in his Super Bowl halftime show in 2007 – while it was raining.


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Friday, September 14, 1984

Madonna performs “Like a Virgin” at the MTV Video Awards

First posted 11/14/2019.

Like a Virgin

Madonna

Writer(s): Billy Steinberg/Tom Kelly (see lyrics here)


Released: October 31, 1984


First Charted: November 16, 1984


Peak: 16 US, 15 CB, 13 RR, 29 AC, 9 RB, 3 UK, 11 CN, 15 AU
(Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales *: 2.14 US, 0.93 UK, 3.19 world (includes US + UK)


Radio Airplay *: --


Video Airplay *: 67.0


Streaming *: --


* in millions

Review:

One could potentially mark September 14, 1984 as the date when Madonna became a superstar. Over the last year, she’d had three top twenty Billboard pop hits with “Holiday,” “Borderline,” and “Lucky Star.” However, the title track from her sophomore album launched her into the stratosphere. She premiered the song on the aforementioned date at the first MTV Video Music Awards. When she writhed on the floor in a wedding dress, the world took notice of her no-holds-barred sexuality. It was “one of the seminal moment in the history of MTV” SF and “one of the most iconic pop performances of all time.” WK

The song wasn’t originally written for Madonna, or even a female singer. Lyricist Billy Steinberg wrote the song from personal experience. He said it wasn’t about truly being a virgin, but about the positive feeling that came with a new relationship. At a meeting with Warner Brothers Record’s Michael Ostin, Steinberg and Tom Kelly, the song’s co-writer, they played a demo of the song and told him they weren’t sure who it would fit. Ostin happened to have a meeting with Madonna the next day and thought it would be perfect for her. BR1

Ostin said, she “went crazy, and knew instantly it was a song for her.” WK Madonna said, “I certainly wasn’t a virgin, and, by the way, how can you be like a virgin? I liked the play on words; I thought they were clever.” WK She said she never realized it would become one of her signature songs. WK

Producer Nile Rodgers, best known for being in Chic (“Le Freak”), didn’t want Madonna to record the song initially. He didn’t think the title was, as he told the Los Angeles Times, “the all-time catch phrase. But after about four days I couldn’t get the song out of my head.” BR1 Audiences couldn’t get it out of their heads either. “Like a Virgin” became her first of 12 #1 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 and the biggest song of 1984. WHC


Resources and Related Links:

  • Madonna’s DMDB Encyclopedia entry
  • BR1 Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). New York, NY: Billboard Books. Page 524.
  • SF Songfacts
  • WHC Joel Whitburn (1999). A Century of Pop Music. Menomonee Falls, WI; Record Research, Inc. Page 113.
  • WK Wikipedia

Awards:


The First MTV Video Music Awards: September 14, 1984

Originally posted September 14, 2012.

image from vibe.com

Barely three years old, MTV launched its first video music awards in 1984. They handed out the awards on September 14 at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in a show hosted by Bette Midler and Dan Akyrokyd. The big nominees of the night were The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” (winning for Best Cinematography) and Herbie Hancock’s “Rock-It”, each with eight nominations. Cyndi Lauper received nine total nominations for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (6) and “Time after Time” (3).


Hancock was the big winner of the night taking home five trophies (Special Effects, Concept Video, Most Experimental Video, Art Direction, Editing). The Cars took the prize for Video of the Year with “You Might Think”. Best Male Video went to David Bowie’s “China Girl” while Lauper’s “Girls” won for Best Female Video. ZZ Top’s “Legs” garnered the award for Best Group Video and their “Sharp Dressed Man” snagged Best Direction.

Other “Moonmen” awards – they were nicknamed for the astronaut statuette inspired by MTV’s then-logo – went to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (Best Overall Performance, Best Choreography, Viewers’ Choice), the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” (Best New Artist), Van Halen’s “Jump” (Best Stage Performance).

In addition to performances from Bowie and ZZ Top, Tina Turner, Huey Lewis & the News, Rod Stewart, and Ray Parker Jr. all performed. However, it was Madonna who stole the show with her performance of “Like a Virgin” during which she slunk around on the floor in a wedding dress.

Note: seven of the videos which won awards that night appear on the DMDB list of the top 100 videos of all time: “Thriller” (#2), “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (28), “Every Breath You Take” (29), “Rock-It” (30), “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” (34), “You Might Think” (39), and “Legs” (97).

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Saturday, August 4, 1984

August 4, 1984: Prince’s Purple Rain hits #1 in U.S. for first of 24 weeks

First posted 6/25/2011; updated 7/12/2019.

Purple Rain

Prince & the Revolution


Released: June 25, 1984


Charted: July 14, 1984


Peak: #124 US, #4 UK, #113 CN, #11 AU


Sales (in millions): 14.48 US, 0.6 UK, 26.0 world (includes US and UK)


Genre: R&B/pop


Quotable: “A landmark that solidified Prince’s standing as the preeminent pop genius of his generation” – Pitchfork’s Carvell Wallace


Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)

  1. Let’s Go Crazy (Prince) [4:39] (7/18/84, #12 US, #12 CB, #11 RB, #19 AR, #7 UK, #2 CN, #10 AU)
  2. Take Me with U (Prince) [3:54] (with Apollonia, 1/25/85, #25 US, #27 CB, #40 RB, #7 UK)
  3. The Beautiful Ones (Prince) [5:13]
  4. Computer Blue (Prince/John L. Nelson/Wendy & Lisa/Dr. Fink) [3:59]
  5. Darling Nikki (Prince) [4:14]
  6. When Doves Cry (Prince) [5:54] (5/16/84, #15 US, #14 CB, #18 RB, #31 AR, #4 UK, #13 CN, #11 AU)
  7. I Would Die 4 U (Prince) [2:49] (11/28/84, #8 US, #10 CB, #11 RB, #58 UK, #12 CN, #96 AU)
  8. Baby I’m a Star (Prince) [4:24]
  9. Purple Rain (Prince) [8:41] (9/21/84, #2 US, #12 CB, #4 RB, #18 AR, #6 UK, #3 CN, #41 AU)

Review:

Prior to the Purple Rain movie and its soundtrack, Prince was known as “a multi-instrumentalist and prodigious musical upstart” PF who “famously stonewalled music press royalty…You were not to know who he was or where he was from. You were not to fully comprehend his race nor his gender.” PF Purple Rain thrust Prince into the limelight so that everyone knew he was. The movie told a “schmaltzy tale with Prince taking the role of The Kid, beset by parental woes and the inevitable girl trouble.” MF It “cracks open the shell of his reclusive sex alien persona to tell something of an origin story, one slightly more than loosely based on Prince’s real life.” PF

It was an unexpected hit; it cost only $7 million and made over $68 million. NME It ranks in the top ten of the Dave’s Music Database list Top 50 Music Movies and, despite its “cringeworthy acting,” BBC serves as “a big-screen showcase for Prince to perform these songs (some of them in tear-the-roof-off ‘live’ versions set in a Minneapolis club).” JE All Music Guide’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine said it was designed “as the project that would make him a superstar, and, surprisingly, that is exactly what happened.” AMG “The film turned this diminutive Midwestern oddball into a pop-culture giant on par with Elvis, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson.” BB

Prince had experienced mainstream success before. With his previous album, 1999, Prince scored top ten hits with “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious.” However, Purple Rain became a juggernaut, landing four top ten hits and spending a whopping 6 months atop the album chart. It was big right out of the gate, debuting at #11 with sales of a million and a half. It hit #1 four weeks later, WK knocking Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. from the summit – and then being dethroned by that same album 24 weeks later.

Erlewine said this was “more focused and ambitious than any of his previous records.” AMG The album “manages to deftly thread the needle between a dazzling array of genres: disaffected synth pop, tongue-wagging hair metal, dark R&B, and pleading soul.” PF Prince demonstrates his “ability to fashion the most avant garde pop imaginable while still making you want to shake your booty.” BBC “He plays rock better than rock musicians, composes better than jazz guys, and performs better than everyone, all without ever abandoning his roots as a funk man.” PF

“Let’s Go Crazy”

“In arguably the best intro in pop history, Prince spends the first 40 seconds of this smash single playing gospel preacher, telling us to forget about the afterworld and start enjoying this one.” BB This song “thematically picks up where the titular title track from 1999 leves off, namely: ‘We’re all going to die one way or another, so let’s rock while we’re here.’” PF On the “major metallic-funk hit” GS Prince “goes for a monstrous synth-and-guitar sonic attack turning the song into a hair-metal and synth-pop classic at once.” GS Prince rips “the kind of ostentatiously speedy Van Halen-esque guitar work that would become the audio version of the generation’s early MTV aesthetic.” PF

“Take Me with U”

This is the closest thing the album has to a dud, PF but Prince’s work, like Stevie Wonder, “brims with so many compelling musical ideas that they can be found hidden in even the weakest of tracks.” PF “After some frenzied drum rolls and a paranoid keyboard riff, Prince u-turns into a sweet psych-rock duet with Apollonia, his costar in the film. It’s a song about love conquering all, and the frilly orchestral synth sounds add to the neo-‘60s vibe.” BB This song was originally intended for the Apollonia 6 album. Reportedly, Prince played all the instruments on the song except for the string overdubs. WK

“The Beautiful Ones”

While most of the Purple Rain album was recorded as a band, this song, “Darling Nikki,” and “When Doves Cry” are solo Prince recordings. WK This song presents “Prince the serpentine…at his most coiled, his falsetto vocals syrupy and tightly wound until they explode into a wounded animal scream.” PF “Despite those heavy synths and hollow Linn drums—go-to electronic effects on early Prince albums – ‘The Beautiful Ones’ doesn’t play like some bad ‘80s New Wave song. This lush ballad begins with Prince asking, ‘Is it him, or is it me?’ and over the next five minutes, he gives his would-be lover an increasingly intense sales pitch. By the end, he’s down on his knees, shredding that guitar of his. Let’s see the other guy beat that.” BB

“Computer Blue”

Originally written as a 14 minute opus, this song had to be edited down to make room for “Take Me with U.” WKThe opening dialogue between Revolution band members Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman “may either be about an impending sex act or an impending cup of tea.” PF “The ensuing song is a club jam about the common ’80s theme of existential technological alienation.” PF It incorporates “the unlisted ‘Father’s Song’ that showcases Prince’s talent for crafting a surprisingly emotional narrative out of a chord progression and a guitar solo (foreshadowing, perhaps?) before devolving into feedback, wordless screaming, and the intro to the crowning achievement of the first half.” PF

“Darling Nikki”

“The only thing rawer than the guitars are the lyrics, all about a porn-loving gal not shy about pleasuring herself in hotel lobbies.” BB This is “a thumping, loping, grinding fuck song about getting dirty with and getting played by the timeless femme fatale.” PF The lyrics made it a target of the Parents Music Resource Center, spearheaded by Tipper Gore. The group pushed for parental advisory labels on albums with what they deemed questionable content. WK

“Salaciousness aside, ‘Darling Nikki’ is a stunning piece of music.” BB The “quivering undulating coda, impossibly finds the musical link between burlesque backing bands and thrash metal double bass pedal rumbles.” PF The distorted vocals at the end of the song are the result of recording an extra verse during a rain storm and then playing them backwards. NME

“When Doves Cry”

The album’s masterpiece was “When Doves Cry,” the top-selling single of 1984 BB and the biggest song of Prince’s career. The single preceded the album by a month and caught everyone off-guard with its unusual bass-free sound. Critic Dave Marsh called it “the most influential single record of the eighties.” MA The song is featured in the book The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999.

The confessional song features Prince’s “most pointedly personal lyrics yet” PF as he “fears he’s becoming like his emotionally unavailable parents:” BB “Maybe I’m just like my father/Too bold/Maybe you’re just like my mother/She’s never satisfied.” The “steadily unfolding melodic progressions…expertly capture the helpless confessional pleading of a man trying to figure out who he is and why it hurts so damn much.” PF

“I Would Die 4 U”

This “is a celebratory, if lyrically morose, jam distinguished by a vast swaths of new wave synth, deep bounce and an insistent high hat.” PF Lyrically, there is debate as to “whether this dance floor favorite is about the connection between god and man, as many fans suggest, or simply the spirit of devotion between two lovers.” BB

This song, “Baby I’m a Star,” and “Purple Rain” were recorded live at the First Avenue Club in Minneapolis on August 3, 1983. Overdubs and edits were added later. The show was a benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theater and marked the first appearance of Wendy Melvoin as a guitarist in Prince’s band. WK

“Baby I’m a Star”

“As he wrote the Purple Rain album, Prince was already thinking about the movie, and he knew damn well he was about to break big. ‘Baby, I’m a Star’ is his early victory lap,” BB “serving notice that he’s greater than we could have ever imagined (turned out he was right) and that we need either get on board or get left.” PF “‘You might not know it now, but I are – I’m a star,’ Prince tells a global audience about to be rocked in ways it can’t begin to understand.” BB

“Purple Rain”

The title cut, an “epic and uncharacteristic arena jam” PF which Rolling Stone magazine said recalls Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel”, “finds Prince taking on the world of stadium rock and beating it at its own game.” MF A couple of sources have written that the title comes from a lyric in the America song “Ventura Highway.” WK As for the lyrics for “Purple Rain,” Prince initially reached out to Stevie Nicks, but she said, “I listened to it and I just got scared…I called him back and said, ‘I can’t do it. I wish I could. It’s too much for me.’” NME He also reached out to Journey’s Jonathan Cain when he worried the song sounded too similar to “Faithfully.” Cain decided the songs only shared a few chords and gave his blessing. NME

The song was originally an 11-minute opus that was whittled down to the eight-minute version on the album and then edited further for the single version. A verse and chorus were cut because their focus on money didn’t fit. NME The song “is a baptism, a washing clean of sins and a chance at redemption, even if the words don’t make any sense, (and to most people they don’t) the vastness of the arrangement, the grandiosity of the soloing, the pleading of the vocals reaches you, makes you cry, makes you feel free.” PF It is “one of the most affecting blues soul laments ever recorded” BBC and a fitting “tour de force” BBC to cap off a “rare critical and commercial success that justifies every scrap of hyperbolic praise.” BB

Reissue

A 2017 reissue of the album included a remastered version of the original album, a disc of previously unreleased material from the era, a disc of singles and B-sides, and a DVD of a live 1985 performance.


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