Glad you stopped by for the third week of artists whose names begin with the letter S, as we continue looking at the bottom three-fifths of the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the 1980s.
“Theme from S-Express” — 1988, #91 (download)
S-Express totally baffles me. The group name is actually pronounced “S Express” rather than “Sex Press,” which would make much more sense considering the soundscape of this track and that their second record is called Intercourse. But that silliness nonwithstanding, “Theme from S-Express” is one of the first tracks to use sampling this heavy with the main sounds being from Rose Royce’s “Is It Love You’re After” and “Situation” from Yaz.
“When the Radio Is On” — 1989, #81 (download)
I admit that I just don’t get Paul Shaffer. I find him annoying and quite lame usually, so there’s no doubt that I think this song is ridiculous. To me, this is such a poor attempt at trying to fit in that it’s almost unlistenable to me. The Fresh Prince does a fine job with his rap, but everything in between, from Paul’s rap to the tone-deaf chorus, screams out lameness to me. And I just read that the album from which this came, Coast to Coast was nominated for a Grammy. Wow.
(Here’s the thing. I’m leaving the paragraph above in its original form and I stand by my comment that I still think it’s a ludicrous song. But it’s bugged me since I wrote it a while back. Everyone seems to like this song. A few friends were excited the track was going to show up and our own Will Harris recently did an interview with Shaffer where he mentioned how much he enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because people just absolutely love the guy and everything he does. I don’t know, and I don’t claim to get it. And I’m not saying my opinion is wrong, but I thought sharing the other side was appropriate in this case since the other side appears to have an extremely strong opinion on the track).
“Cry Just a Little Bit” — 1984, #67 (download)
Michael Barrett, a.k.a. Shakin’ Stevens, has had a massive career in the UK, which Wikipedia goes so far as calling him the #1 male solo artist of the ’80s over there. I’ve never heard another song from the guy but I’ve seen pictures of him looking a bit like Elvis (Presley not Costello). If the rest of his catalog is even close to this lost gem though then I’m shocked that this was his only song to hit in the US. This is as pure a pop song as they get.
Despite 22 songs hitting the R&B charts and 9 crossing over to the Hot 100, I always thought Shalamar never got the credit they deserved. They were three very talented artists that made some of the smoothest funk songs of the decade and changed with the times very well. Unfortunately listening today their music sounds extremely dated and apart from bigger hits like “Second Time Around” and “Dancing in the Sheets” they don’t really have that many memorable songs, so maybe I was wrong. I mean, if you know “Amnesia” I give you massive props, because every time I hear it, it’s like the first time. However a track like “A Night to Remember” probably should have been a much bigger at the time. If nothing else they deserve recognition for giving the world Jody Watley as she had much more memorable songs in her three year run at the end of the decade.
Ah, the beloved Shannon. I don’t know why, but Shannon gets a lot of respect in ’80s circles. “Let the Music Play” was a great song, but “Give Me Tonight” was virtually a clone, and “Do You Wanna Get Away” was quite dull, despite all three songs hitting #1 on the dance charts. And that’s pretty much all she had.
“A Good Heart” — 1986, #74 (download)
Back in October we did a series on scary music to celebrate Halloween. You want to talk scary? How about a guy named Feargal and a debut album with a cover that looks like someone ran over his face and hollowed out his eyes. On the other hand, you know what’s funny? The fact that “A Good Heart” (written by Maria McKee about her relationship with Heartbreaker Benmont Tench) was the first track on his debut record and the second track “You Little Thief” was written by Tench about his relationship with McKee. Ha.
Tommy Shaw looks a lot like David Spade these days, doesn’t he? Anyway, I always dug Styx. Maybe way more than I was supposed to (if I wasn’t supposed to) and Tommy Shaw’s first two solo records, Girls with Guns (1984) and What If? (1986), are pretty damn good in their own right. Styx had split up because Dennis DeYoung wanted to keep getting more theatrical and Shaw and others wanted to go with more of a rock feel instead. “Remo’s Theme” certainly has an early ’80s Styx feel to it but both “Lonely School” and especially “Ever Since the World Began” are perfect segues into his next band, Damn Yankees. The latter could fit right up against their #3 hit, “High Enough.”
“Steady” — 1985, #57 (download)
Jules Shear has been making music since 1976 and continues to release albums, albeit with no commercial success. I’ve never been a fan of “Steady” (cowritten with Cyndi Lauper) mainly because I don’t like his voice, but a lot of the songs he’s written for others are great: “All Through the Night” for Ms. Lauper, “If She Knew What She Wants” by the Bangles, and a few for ‘Til Tuesday (he was dating Aimee Mann for a while).
“Little Darlin’” — 1981, #49 (download)
Sheila took a different path to this release. She is a French pop singer and sung mostly in her native tongue for the majority of the ’70s. She then went the disco route and took the moniker of Sheila & B. Devotion while having her 1980 King of the World album produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards (you know, Nile Rodgers has come up like a half-dozen times in the last month. He’s quickly replacing the Arthur Baker sightings). Then she went “solo” for “Little Darlin’” the semi-rock title track from her 1981 release which is very tough to locate. Then she went back to singing in French exclusively. Phew.
It’s a shame that Sheppard’s biggest crossover record “I Loved ‘Em Every One” hit #37 in 1981 as that’s really the gem in his catalog. He pretty much had 2-3 country hits off every album he released in the decade and was able to make four poppy enough to hit the Hot 100. “Only One You” is the best one here, though you could make a case for “Make My Day” which of course features Clint Eastwood’s famous phrase as Dirty Harry in Sudden Impact.
“I Have the Skill” — 1981, #61 (download)
The Sherbs were known as Sherbet in the ’70s and were pretty huge in Australia. After changing their name to Highway for a US release and then changing again to the Sherbs after Highway didn’t go anywhere, they got a hit in America with “I Have the Skill”. The song peaked at #61, the same spot in which their lone Sherbet hit “Howzat” peaked in 1976.
“When I’m With You” — 1983, #61 (download)
Lighters up everybody. Here’s yet another case of a song being re-released later in the decade and becoming a hit, though this one is slightly different. The straight up re-release of “When I’m With You” was in 1988 not 1989 like virtually every other one from the decade and this can actually be pinpointed back to a Las Vegas DJ named Jay Taylor who loved the song and played it on his nightly show. The song vaulted up the charts, the album was rereleased and the track went all the way to #1 — all supposedly without any knowledge of this by the band. If you check out the website of singer Freddy Curci, you’ll also want to take note that the note at the end of the song is in the Guiness Book of World Records as the longest held note. And many thanks to that DJ because Curci and guitarist Steve DeMarchi then decided to get back together and form the wonderfully sappy Alias.
Best song: Shakin’ Stevens, “Cry Just a Little Bit”
Worst song: Paul Shaffer, “When the Radio Is On”
TOP 40 ONLY
Charlie Sexton (1), Phil Seymour (1), Shana (1), Del Shannon (1)
Next week we might have the most songs in one post that you’ve never heard of. That’s a selling point, right?