American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/3/80: Gary Numan, “Cars”

I was listening to SiriusXM’s 1st Wave on my way to work Friday, and happened to catch Larry the Duck talking about a list of top new wave hits that had recently been created/discussed on their music talk station, Volume. He was kind enough to recap the top five. Having heard a decent chunk of SiriusXM’s top classic rock tracks of all time back in March, I was immediately concerned that they might make some, shall we say, suspect choices. Let’s see what we think of it, shall we?

#5. Depeche Mode, “Just Can’t Get Enough”
No shock that DM would be represented. This doesn’t necessarily feel like it should be their top-ranked song, but it did lend its name to a Rhino compilation series of new wave songs…

#4: New Order, “Blue Monday”
You knew New Order would make it, too. No gripes whatsoever with this selection.

#3: Modern English, “I Melt with You”
Well, this is a pleasant surprise—I don’t expect to see personal inner-circle HoF songs get close to the top of countdowns like this.

#2: Gary Numan, “Cars”
Numan was only 21 when “Cars” was recorded. I think of him as a one-hit wonder but he’s had a good amount of chart success in the UK and has steadily released new material over the past forty years. MTV played this quite a bit even into 84; those opening frames of Gary in slo-mo are so familiar.

#1: Soft Cell, “Tainted Love”
An all British Top 5, the top three of which are by acts that are remembered stateside for only one song. For a while this was the record-holder for most consecutive weeks (43) spent by a single on the Hot 100 (the last nine of those it was ranked between #96 and #99—shenanigans, anyone?). It’s not a terrible pick for this position.

“Cars” debuted at #48 on the initial Harris Top 50 chart, on 3/29/80. It took until the first weekend of June for it to make #1, where it stayed for two weeks. There wasn’t anything on Top 40 radio then that sounded at all like this; at year’s end, I somewhat subjectively ranked “Cars” as my #11 song of 1980. (Added: forgot to mention that “Cars” is #18 on this show and would reach #9.)

American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/6/72: Chi-Lites, “Oh Girl”

While looking over this chart, I remembered that this week’s #11 and future #1 song, the Chi-Lites’ melancholy “Oh Girl,” got covered by Paul Young while I was in grad school. That got me wondering: how many #1 songs of the 70s had re-makes hit the Top 40? With my trusty Joel Whitburn book in hand, I found twelve that had done so by 2002. I don’t claim the list is exhaustive—I can’t vouch for anything from the last sixteen-plus years—so you’re more than welcome to tell me what I’ve overlooked (nothing obvious, I hope). I’ll say up front the Flack/Hathaway version of “You’ve Got a Friend” doesn’t count (since its run was contemporaneous with James Taylor’s) nor does the Four Seasons’ 94 remix of their own “December 1963 (Oh What a Night).”

Here it is, in chronological order of the 70s versions that hit #1, including peak position/month/year of the covers:

“Venus,” Bananarama (#1, Sept 86)
“Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Aretha Franklin (#6, Jun 71)
“I’ll Be There,” Mariah Carey (#1, Jun 92)
“Let’s Stay Together,” Tina Turner (#26, Mar 84)
“Without You,” Mariah Carey (#3, Mar 94)
“Oh Girl,” Paul Young (#8, Oct 90)
“Lean on Me,” Club Nouveau (#1, Mar 87)
“I Can See Clearly Now,” Jimmy Cliff (#18, Jan 94)
“The Loco-Motion,” Kylie Minogue (#3, Nov 88)
“Lady Marmalade,” Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, and Pink (#1, Jun 01)
“Play That Funky Music,” Vanilla Ice (#4, Feb 91)
“Don’t Leave Me This Way,” Communards (#40, Mar 87)

Some notes:
–My original intention was to grade both the ‘original’ (discussion of the quotes momentarily) and the cover on a 10-point scale, but the exercise was not all that useful. First, all the ‘originals’ scored between 7 and 10—they’re really good songs!—and second, my biased ears didn’t find any cover to be better than (or even as good as) what came before. Ergo, the grades got cut from this writeup.
–Not all of the 70s #1 hits can lay claim to being truly ‘original.’ The obvious one is Grand Funk’s “The Loco-Motion,” which is itself a cover of a #1 song from the 60s. “Don’t Leave Me This Way” was first recorded by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Badfinger wrote and recorded “Without You” before Harry Nillson did.
–Notice how many times the re-make hit the Top 10. Sometimes a good song is just a good song, although honestly, a cover of a good song isn’t always good (looking at you especially, Kylie and Ice).
–The cover that I graded closest to the original was Aretha’s take on “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” She did a fabulous job of making the song her own. (S&G received the only 10 I doled out, by the way, but I gave six 9s, including Aretha.)
–This brings up a question that’s occurred as I’ve re-listened to the covers this week: what’s the point of doing a re-make? Was there an artistic reason in these cases for doing so? Club Nouveau and the Communards (and maybe Bananarama) get graded up on this account; Young and Minogue definitely get knocked down, and possibly Carey as well.
-Tina gets a lot of slack in this regard, as having some commercial success with her remake was a necessary condition to cut the rest of what became Private Dancer. Let’s be grateful she made a dent in the charts with this.
–Difficult to say the Jimmy Cliff take on “I Can See Clearly Now,” which appeared on the Cool Runnings soundtrack, is radically different from that of Johnny Nash, but it’s a nice, uplifting piece.
–Yes, it’s really hard to call the Vanilla Ice a cover, but once one adopts the stage name Vanilla Ice, it’s an obvious career move to record yourself singing/rapping the phrase, “Play that funky music, white boy.”
–I think I was already too old for much of pop in 2001 when Aguilera, Lil’ Kim and company recorded “Lady Marmalade” for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. I honestly don’t know what to say about it, so I’ll let others chime in if they wish.

To circle back to where this all started, I suppose it’s time to let the Chi-Lites do their thing. I’d be willing to go so far as to say it’s the closest thing to a 9.5 out of the eleven non-“Bridge” songs under discussion.

SotD: The Connells, “Something to Say”

I’d met Greg, along with some other good friends, in late 89 at the bridge club in Champaign (more on bridge a little later in the year). I’ve mentioned him occasionally before: working on a PhD in Electrical Engineering, had spent some of his early grad school days deejaying at the quasi-university-affiliated AOR station in town, WPGU, extremely well-versed in power pop and college rock from the late 70s on. He knew so much more than I about a wide variety of artists, and I owe him a lot when it comes to the musical explorations I undertook through most of the 90s.

When I started hanging out at Greg and Katie’s apartment in early 90, I quickly discovered that he was an avid (maybe even bordering on obsessive) CD collector. One thing he told me pretty early on was that it was his goal to acquire everything released in 89 (it was a joke, of course—we even laughed about it this past summer when we got together—but like with all jokes, there was an undercurrent of truth to it). He and I spent a lot of time over the next couple of years conducting raids on the cutout bins of CDs in the music stores around Campustown.

Greg was generous about letting me borrow CDs and was always anxious to introduce me to stuff he was hoping I’d like—this is how I learned all about the Go-Betweens and Darling Buds.  Another song he played for me early on was “Something to Say,” the lead track and first single from Fun & Games, the third album by Raleigh, NC band The Connells. It took a few listens for me to gain a decent appreciation of it, but a couple years later I made sure to commit it to a mix tape I created just a few weeks before moving back to KY.  In 93, The Connells released their outstanding album Ring; that’s worth a closer examination here someday in the future.

“Something to Say” seems to be about looking back, seeing missed/failed opportunities, and feeling regret. Can’t seem to avoid the first of these; hope I can minimize the other two.

It was #8 on the Billboard’s 5/6/89 Modern Rock chart, down one from its peak the previous week.