Tuesday song of the day: Today’s song was written by the artist’s girlfriend.
About a week ago, I mentioned that the Madonna sound-alike song Say It, Say It by E.G. Daily (here: Say It, Say It – E.G. Daily ) was written by frequent Madonna songwriting partner Stephen Bray and produced by John “Jellybean” Benitez, who had produced much of Madonna’s early work and was also her boyfriend for a time. At about the time Madonna was about to release her second album, Like a Virgin, and make the jump from rising newcomer to superstar, Benitez released his own debut EP, Wotupski!?! using just his nickname Jellybean. The EP contained the song Sidewalk Talk, which was written by Madonna and had a very similar sound to numbers from her first album.
Sidewalk Talk was released as a single and did rather well. While credited to Jellybean, studio musicians played the instruments, and female singers provided the vocals. Benitez produced the record and did the musical arrangement, along with Stephen Bray. The lead singer for the primary verses was the relatively unknown Catherine Buchanan. The choruses and background vocals featured the distinctive voice of Madonna, however, which is likely a big part of why the song ended up being a hit.
Sidewalk Talk was released in October 1984, and quickly became popular in dance clubs, eventually climbing to #1 on the Dance Club Songs chart. Aided by the Madonna connection, it also crossed over to the mainstream Billboard Hot 100, where it placed at #18. Benitez did have another Top 40 hit in 1987, but he is much better known as a producer for other artists, and for his work on movie and television show soundtracks.
Wednesday song of the day: Today’s song is about a defoliant chemical, not a soft drink.
The band R.E.M. wrote Orange Crush in 1988. The song was about the Vietnam War, with the title referring to Agent Orange. This was a chemical that was used on jungles in Vietnam to kill the plants, thus leaving the enemy with fewer places to hide. After the war, however, it was discovered that many U.S. servicemembers had developed cancer from being exposed to the chemical.
Orange Crush was included on the 1988 album Green but was not released to the U.S. public as a single. Instead, promotional singles were given to radio stations for airplay, hoping to spur album sales. The strategy seemed to work, as the song became popular even though singles were not available for sale. The song made it to #1 on the Billboard alternative Airplay chart and #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart, helping the Green album to double platinum sales. It did not place on the overall Billboard Hot 100 chart, because at the time a song must have been released as a single in the United States to qualify.
Thursday song of the day: Prince discovered the lead singer of today’s song when she was Rick James’ date.
In 1981 Prince started a girl group specializing in sexy fantasy songs, recruiting three of his friends. The group was called The Hookers and was still in its early stages when Prince met Denice Matthews at the American Music Awards, where she was Rick James’ date for the event. She was mostly known as a model and actress at the time, but Prince convinced her to join his girl group. He then gave her the stage name Vanity and renamed The Hookers as Vanity 6.
Their first single, 1982’s He’s So Dull, went nowhere. Later that year, Vanity 6 released Nasty Girl, and that song did much better. It placed at #7 on the Billboard R&B chart and all the way to #1 on the Dance Club chart. It had only limited mainstream appeal though, just failing to crack the Hot 100 at #101.
In 1983, Vanity was set to co-star with Prince in his upcoming film, Purple Rain, but before shooting started, she had a falling out with him and left the group. She was replaced in both the group and the movie by Patricia Kotero, using the stage name Apollonia. Vanity 6 became Apollonia 6 and Vanity moved on to a solo singing career and a successful run as an actress. She died in 2016 of complications from kidney disease, which had originated after her crack cocaine addiction in the 1990s.
It Never Rains in Southern California – Albert Hammond
Friday song of the day: Today’s song was written before the singer had ever visited the place he was singing about.
Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood wrote numerous songs for other artists, but one of their early songs was for Hammond’s first album. They were based out of London and wrote the song It Never Rains in Southern California about trying to make it in the entertainment business, with the references to weather being metaphors for the prospects of finding success. After they wrote the song, they did in fact go to Los Angeles to record.
The song was released as a single in October 1972 and rose to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100. It Never Rains in Southern California was by far his biggest hit as a performer. He had one other Top 40 record in 1974, but after that never had another hit, although he wrote numerous hit songs for other artists, including Tina Turner, Ace of Base, Air Supply, Starship, and Julio Iglesias. His son, Albert Hammond, Jr. was a member of the popular band of the late 1990s through the 2000s, The Strokes.
Saturday song of the day: The lyrics to today’s song were significantly changed before the hit version was recorded.
Yesterday’s song, It Never Rains in Southern California, was about the difficulties of making it in the entertainment business in Los Angeles. Today’s song, On Broadway, is about the difficulties of making it in the entertainment business in New York City.
As originally written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, On Broadway was a more hopeful song that tells of someone looking to move to New York and establish themselves. It was first recorded by girl group The Cookies in 1962, but that version was not released for a while, and a later cover by the Crystals was released first.
In 1963, The Drifters recorded a version of On Broadway, but before the recording session producers and songwriters Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller wanted to make some changes. Working with Mann and Weil, they changed the arrangement and modified the lyrics to show someone who was already in New York and facing difficulties. The Drifters version was released in March 1963 and climbed to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1978, George Benson released a live cover on his live album Weekend in LA. The track was released as a single and was a hit, placing at #2 on the Billboard Soul chart and #7 on the Hot 100, and was famously used on the soundtrack of the film All That Jazz.
Sunday song of the day: Today’s song had six songwriters.
Lisa Velez was discovered when she was 14 years old by a group of New York musicians and producers known as Full Force She took up the stage name Lisa Lisa and Full Force paired her with two other musicians to form the trio Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam. A few years later in 1985, they released their self-titled first album. It proved very successful, reaching Platinum sales, and containing a #8 charting single. Their second album, Spanish Fly, was released in 1987. The first single from the album was Head to Toe, a bouncy pop love song.
Like almost all Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam songs, it was written by Full Force, with all six members of the producers’ collective credited as writers, regardless of individual contributions. Head to Toe was hugely successful, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The follow-up single Lost in Emotion, also topped the Hot 100, and like its predecessor the Spanish Fly album was certified Platinum with sales over a million units.
The group had two more albums over the next few years that were less successful, before disbanding in 1991.
Monday song of the day: Today’s song was the B-side of Boogie Woogie Santa Claus.
Country artists Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart heard the Bill Monroe song Kentucky Waltz in 1946 and decided to write a song called Tennessee Waltz for King’s band The Golden West Cowboys. The two songs had little to do with each other beside the name of a state and the word “waltz.”
King and Stewart were delayed in recording the song, and former band member Cowboy Copas recorded a version slightly before them in late 1947. Although recorded a bit later, the version by Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys was the first version of Tennessee Waltz released. It was released in late January 1948, beating the Cowboy Copas record to stores by two months. Both versions were hits, with the Pee Wee King record placing at #3 on the Country charts – at that time called the “Best Selling Folk Retail Records” chart – while the Cowboy Copas record placed at #6 a few months later.
The song would be unfamiliar to anyone other than country music aficionados, however, if Patti Page hadn’t decided to record a cover version in 1950. She had recorded it as the B-side of a novelty Christmas record called Boogie Woogie Santa Claus, which was duly released in November 1950. The Patti Page version used the slightly different title The Tennessee Waltz, adding the word “the” to the original name.
As sometimes happens, the B-side of the record got more attention than the A-side. When it became clear that The Tennessee Waltz would far outlive the Christmas themed A-side, the record label re-released the song as the A-side of a single in early 1951, backed with the song Long, Long Ago as the B-side. The Tennessee Waltz ended up becoming a massive crossover hit, staying on the mainstream Pop Music chart (a forerunner of the Billboard Hot 100) for over thirty weeks. It held the #1 spot for nine straight weeks, and sold over ten million singles. This made it the top selling single by a female solo performer of all time, until passed by Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive in 1978 (currently, the top spot is held by Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, from 1992).
Since Patti Page made the song a hit, it has been covered over 350 times, by artists as diverse as Petula Clark, Pat Boone, Sam Cooke, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Elvis Presley.