Bottom Feeders: The Ass End of the ’80s, Part 95

Written by Bottom Feeders, Music

Dave Steed tackles the letter V this week, running down minor hits from Luther Vandross, Randy VanWarmer, and…Bobby Vinton?

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In order to keep the letter V confined to just one week, here’s a special supersized post full of songs that charted below #40 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1980s. With so many songs to choose from, you’re bound to find something you like.

Dana Valery
“I Don’t Want to Be Lonely” — 1980, #87 (download)

This soft-rock schlock is another one of those almost-impossible-to-locate 45s. The single was released on Scotti Brothers records in 1980 and marked her only ascent into the chart. Info is sparse at least partially because she goes by her married name of Dana Catalano now and is a spiritual healer and relationship advisor. I guess she doesn’t want anyone to be lonely these days. Think she plays this song to couples having issues?

Frankie Valli
“Where Did We Go Wrong?” — 1980, #90 (download)

Well, if the question “Where Did We Go Wrong?” is being posed, might I offer up the answer of “right here.” A duet with Chris Forde, this light rock crap should have never seen the light of day let alone be played by a small handful of radio stations.

Luther Vandross
“Bad Boy/Having a Party” — 1982, #55 (download)
“Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me” — 1984, #87 (download)
“Give Me the Reason” — 1986, #57 (download)
“There’s Nothing Better Than Love” — 1987, #50 (download)
“Any Love” — 1988, #44 (download)

I can’t believe it’s been four and a half years since Luther Vandross died. Luther was one of the great soul singers of my generation. His music was so smooth and sensual and all the while quite fun, a combo that didn’t happen that often. One of the most memorable first lines in R&B for me is Luther singing “Don’t you remember you told me you loved me, baby,” but I think it was 1986’s Give Me the Reason that really turned me on to him. The title track is okay, but the very similar-sounding “Stop to Love” is the better tune and was the bigger hit from the album. And the really nice thing about Luther is that other than the covers early in his career, he at least cowrote most of his material and didn’t just sing what others pawned off on him.

Van Halen
“And the Cradle Will Rock” — 1980, #55 (download)
“Hot for Teacher” — 1984, #56 (download)

I was all ready for a Van Halen vs. Van Hagar conversation and I’m sure that will still happen (personally I like both eras very much), but all the songs in the decade with Sammy Hagar went Top 40. The only two tracks that didn’t were the first single of the decade, the totally bad-ass “And the Cradle Will Rock” from Women & Children First, and “Hot For Teacher,” the dreaded fourth single from 1984. It might not have gotten a lot of radio airplay, but the video … well, the video might be the greatest one ever made. That crazy solo across the desks from Eddie, wonderfully crappy synchronized dancing from the band, T&A everywhere, and “I brought my pencil.” Now “sit down, Waldo!”

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Vanity
“Pretty Mess” — 1984, #75 (download)
“Under the Influence” — 1986, #56 (download)

“Pretty Mess” describes Vanity perfectly. Addicted to crack and seemingly screwing every musician she could get her hands on (Prince, Adam Ant, Billy Idol, Nikki Sixx, Andre Cymone, etc.), she was certainly a mess. Her story has appeared in many places over the years, and as I listen to the vocals on “Pretty Mess” again after all these years, I have to wonder if she was fucked up while recording the track — they sound like they’re coming from someone who imbibed a little before she hit the studio. Well, I guess “Under the Influence” describes Vanity pretty well, too.

These days Denise Matthews is a total born-again, Bible-thumping Christian and has completely disowned her Vanity persona. If you haven’t read Nikki Sixx’s The Heroin Diaries, you should. It’s not only a great book, but Vanity says things in this that make her sound like she’s off her rocker.

It seems a virtual lock that either her or someone from her camp has some crawler going and she’s going to come here and damn me to hell for talking about her vaginal heroics.

Gino Vannelli
“Nightwalker” — 1981, #41 (download)
“The Longer You Wait” — 1982, #89 (download)
“Black Cars” — 1985, #42 (download)
“Hurts to Be in Love” — 1985, #57 (download)
“Wild Horses” — 1987, #55 (download)

I don’t know if there were certain areas of the U.S. that were really into Gino Vannelli or not, but I don’t remember hearing him on the radio at all in Philadelphia, at least not enough for him to have five songs in this series. Neither the title track from 1985’s Black Cars or the second single, “Hurts to Be in Love,” are great songs, but they are the best of these singles. “Wild Horses” is a painful listen as it’s completely a Billy Idol ripoff. The rare track here is “The Longer You Wait,” though. I believe it was meant to be the first single from Twisted Heart, which has been described as edgier than his previous material. Arista refused to release the disc and Vannelli fought with them to get released from his contract. By the time he did, close to four years had passed since his last record and Twisted Heart got scrapped. “The Longer You Wait” never appeared on a disc in the States as far as I can tell.

Randy VanWarmer
“Whatever You Decide” — 1980, #77 (download)
“Suzi Found a Weapon” — 1981, #55 (download)

Two remarkably different songs from Randy VanWarmer here. He’s mainly known for his 1979 hit “Just When I Needed You Most,” but his 1980 album Terraform and its follow-up, Beat of Love, were pretty damn solid records. “Whatever You Decide” is a great hook-filled pop song but “Suzi Found a Weapon” is just flat out awesome. Suzi’s quite a departure from his other hits, almost new-wave. The overall feel of the track reminds me a lot of Jon Astley’s “Put This Love to the Test.” The song was written for one of his A&R reps, who eventually became Suzi VanWarmer!

Suzanne Vega
“Solitude Standing” — 1987, #94 (download)

Despite my distaste for female singers, it’s hard not to like Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing. It’s dark yet poppy, and Vega has the perfect voice to pull off her sound. It’s this album that gave her her biggest hits in America and, along with her two releases in the 2000s, the one that gets the most critical praise.

The Vels
“Look My Way” — 1985, #72 (download)

The Vels were a new wave band from my hometown of Philadelphia. They released two albums on Mercury Records and sounded quite a bit like the Thompson Twins. “Look My Way” was the only hit off their debut, Velocity.

Venetians
“So Much for Love” — 1987, #88 (download)

Another short-lived outfit, the Venetians were an Australian synth-pop group. They released three albums (the final two are available in the U.S.), and “So Much for Love” was the first single from the second disc, Calling In the Lions.

Billy Vera & the Beaters
“At This Moment” — 1981, #79 (download)

You might be surprised to see this here since it was a #1 hit for Billy Vera in 1986, but back in ’81 there were people who apparently didn’t quite get the awesomeness of “At This Moment.” I mean, Jesus, is this a heartbreaking yet gorgeous ballad. It’s held up so well throughout the years, and I think it’s one of the top ten ballads of all time. Soundtracking Michael J. Fox’s romantic woes on Family Ties is what it took to propel this one back up the charts in ’86. “At This Moment” was originally released in ’81 on the Billy & the Beaters LP, then released again in ’86 on a Rhino-issued Vera compilation.

Vesta
“Congratulations” — 1989, #55 (download)

Vesta Williams first made her mark as a session singer with artists like Stephanie Mills and Gladys Knight before signing her own deal in 1986. Her self-titled record was released in 1986 and the follow-up, Vesta 4 U, came out in 1989. This tepid ballad is her only Top 100 hit, though she hit the R&B charts eight times in the decade.

Maria Vidal
“Body Rock” — 1984, #48 (download)

Maria Vidal was in Desmond Child’s band Rouge and then sang backup vocals on a few tracks in the ‘80s before going on to be a songwriter. This was the theme song to Lorenzo Lamas’s Body Rock, and Vidal recorded a few songs and even appeared in the 1985 Lauren Hutton-Jim Carrey movie Once Bitten.

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Bobby Vinton
“Make Believe It’s Your First Time” — 1980, #78 (download)

Now I’m not going to say I know a whole lot from Bobby Vinton, but given that he’d released singles since the early ‘60s, this is just another example of an artist that continued way too long past his prime. The album from which this song comes – Encore – included his final “hits.”

Vitamin Z
“Burning Flame” — 1985, #73 (download)

Vitamin Z were an English group led by singer Geoff Barradale. “Burning Flame” seems to be their only hit anywhere. Never a favorite of mine, the song is just missing that extra something. The chorus could be so much more vibrant than it is, and I think that’s what pushes it into the world of mediocrity. Barradale went on to sing on the Alan Parsons Project album Gaudi and now manages the Arctic Monkeys.

Voices of America
“Hands Across America” — 1986, #65 (download)

How bad does one of these fundraising songs have to be to not at least crack the Top 40? This project was the idea of Ken Kragen, the same guy that was in charge of USA for Africa. Clearly, this is no “We Are the World” (old or new).

QUICK HITS
Best song: Billy & the Beaters, “At This Moment”
Worst song: Bobby Vinton, “Make Believe It’s Your First Time”

TOP 40 ONLY
Vandenberg (1), Vangelis (1), Vixen (2)

Next week we finally get to the post Jeff Giles has been waiting for ever since this series began two years ago.

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