The Hunt for Chris Rea’s Fool (If You Think It’s Over)

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When people say that the digital age has given us everything we want at our fingertips, I laugh and shake my head. The digital age has given us everything that they offer, but there’s still so much missing. Case in point – Chris Rea’s Fool (If You Think It’s Over)

Fool was a #12 hit on the Pop charts in the Fall of 1978. It also hit #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart and helped push his debut album, the Gus Dudgeon-produced Whatever Happened to Benny Santini? to Gold status, also earning himself a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. Although Chris went on to have a long successful career in the UK, he was a one hit wonder here in the States. This was the only song that most Americans recognized of his. So why did it become so hard to find?

Well for some reason, Chris did not like the final mix on his debut, but rather than go back and remix it, he decided to re-record it for his New Light Through Old Windows. The song gets moved up a key and to my ears, it sounds cheesier and does not retain the warmth and charm of the original. But this was the version that Chris would put on all his Greatest Hits collections. He recorded another version 20 years that still didn’t sound any better than the original and it was only when Warner Bros reissued some of his CDs a few years ago in 2014 that the public could buy a digital copy of the original, almost 40 years after the public made it a hit.

My issue is not with Chris re-recording it. It’s the fact that the re-recording was a replacement for the superior original, which was also kept off of radio for decades and denied those who loved it another listen. So if you dig that song like I do, go buy the CD before some fool decides it’s over.

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You Can’t Control An Independent Heart

Corporate Blunders

My mom & I were on a constant search for Classic Coke. Even though we hardly ever had soda in the house, my mom was obsessed with finding 6-packs that we could store in the garage in case they ever stopped making it. That’s right. The Coca-Cola Company dove into a disaster by making a new Coke formula that was even sweeter than Pepsi that in retrospect looks like the biggest public marketing scam ever. When the ensuing backlash came that Spring, they announced on July 11th, 1985 that they would start making the old formula again in case anyone wanted (not preferred) that. Obviously everyone did because supermarkets could barely keep Coca-Cola Classic in stock. I’m sure people were selling it on the street like crack dealers, enticing suckers to pay for some of that ol’ school (de)sweetness, not realizing that the New Coke would end up being the collectible [After a change to Coke II in 1992, they stopped making it in 2002.]. Meanwhile they quietly released Cherry Coke at the same time and hell yeah, that was totally my jam.

When we found some Classic Coke on the bottom shelf of a King Kullen, Lord almighty, it was like finding the holy grail, but of course one that would like to weight gain and diabetes arther than everlasting life. I can still hear Sting from the tinny ceiling speakers singing behind my mom’s glee at pleasing my dad, which I find quite ironic.

Keep It Down Now

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The end of 8th grade couldn’t come fast enough. It did not end on a very good note. The girls were maturing far faster than I was. I was one of two kids who couldn’t go on the end of year school trip, for reasons I have still yet to know from my mom. I was a good student, taking advanced classes, staying out of trouble, but constantly being disallowed things going to concerts, sleepovers and spending 4 days with my friends away from my parents under chaperoned care. That June I needed to fall into the Summer and forget my feelings of loserdom. I just wanted hang out on the couch and watch MTV all day long, to only move when the ice cream man drove into our cul-de-sac. Those were days that Supertramp’s Cannonball seemed to be on every morning and I watch it feeling like that caveman searching for new life.

Then at the last minute, my mom decided that I needed to do something structured that Summer, so she offered to enroll me for a 3rd time in USDAN summer camp, an arts camp I had gone to in 82 & 83 (84 was spent helping my parents move their business and then visit family in Europe for 3 weeks) USDAN was a creative and performing arts center started by operatic singer Andrew McKinley in the late 60s. It was an outdoor camp with bungalows nestled in the woods of Long Island and you could learn any type of music, art, theatre and creative writing, It was only a ten minute drive from my house, although it attracted folks from all over the Island, New York, North Jersey even from Eastern Connecticut. Some famous alumni include Natalie Portman, Taylor Dayne and Mariah Carey, who easily could have been there when I was.

Unfortunately the enrollment period was over, so my only chance of getting in was to audition for a scholarship. All I remember was that I played something on the viola and sang something classical acapella. They let me in and I’m sure its because they felt sorry for me and I only say that because there was no way I practiced at all before that audition. And I was marginal on the viola. Still there I was starting another year of non-responsible fun. It would turn out to be my last.

The way USDAN is set up is that you take a major and a minor, sort of like college. One year I majored in Orchestra, which meant private viola lessons with a few kids and then a session of full orchestra. Then I could minor in Recreation, which I meant could just play tons of games for an hour or so a day. Because of this scholarship I had to Double Major in Chorus & Orchestra. There was also a session of pool time in their outdoor lap & diving pool. If you tested out of lessons, you could just hang out and play card games, which is where I learned War and Bullshit.

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In the middle of the day you had a lunch session and an amphitheater session where they have different scheduled performers each day. I almost always skipped that and regret I never took that more serious,as I probably missed lots of good shows. Then when the final session of the day wrapped there would be boxes of ice cream to hand to everyone. I made it my mission to figure out new ways to swipe a box Good Humour strawberry shortcakes off of those golf carts as they rolled by.

To my surprise a friend of mine from school, Edwin, was going to camp as well. Each morning I’d wait for his bus to pull up and we’d walk along with his cousin, Jimmy to our first session. Most days we’d meet up for lunch and then skip assembly by getting lost in the woods. And we talked about videos – how funny David Lee Roth was, was it cool to like Wham!?, and how weird and sad was that 19 song. [In retrospect, he wasn’t, it was and yes it still is.]

There was also was a new band from Boston called Til Tuesday, with a female lead singer (back then, still rare) who looked and sounded way cooler than me & Edwin would ever know. It takes me back to those early days of camp. as the air begins heating up with the sun dappling those those high treetops. To this day I am still an Aimee Mann fan, but as I think about Voices Carry today, I’m amazed that a song that seemed catchy and mysterious now sounds like prescient and disturbing.

 

Minimum Waste, Maximum Joy

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As the year moves into Fall, I’m reminded of the powerful hold that Summer memories have on me. Summer is like a rollercoaster – you stand in line eagerly awaiting the ride thinking about how awesome it will be. Then you get on and it’s more thrilling that you imagined, slowly taking you up, dropping you down twice as fact spinning you upside down, jerking you left then right. And when it’s over all you are thinking about is what just happened, wanting to do it again.

So let’s suppose that May is the wait in line and June, July & August are the ride. September is always the bittersweet month, the one we spend looking back on the Summer while some of that sweet music lingers in the air. The warmth now has a cooler breeze at night. Leaves are beginning to yellow. And those summer memories, permanently stored in the back of our mind, will be accessed occasionally by the songs that define them.

I’m going to open my vaults and talk about my Summer in 1985. I’m not sure if I regard it as my most special one, but I can remember a lot about it, mostly because of the music that was playing back then.

And so while I was counting down the last days of school, here was a song that I fascinated with along with the video. I brought this cool vibe with me that Summer to try and sand down or at least hide those awkward young teenage edges.

 

 

 

 

Finding A Way Out Of The Darkness

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In the wake of the Queen of Soul’s passing, I’ve read lots of articles praising Aretha’s talents, but so many them reference her mid-60s pop breakthrough into the early 70s. As much as that needs to be talked about, it’s only part of her story.

When I saw her in The Blues Brothers movie and asked my parents who she was, they told me she was a singer who used to be popular in the 60s. Yes, in the 1980, she was  a ‘used to be’, a reminder of what was, a singer whose career seemed to be done. That same year Donald Fagen sang about a nineteen year old who didn’t even ‘remember the Queen of Soul”. None of this was lost on Aretha, who changed record labels that year from Atlantic to Arista and began the long climb back into the pop mainstream, finally breaking into the Top 10 twice with Freeway Of Love & Who’s Zoomin’ Who in 1985, peaking with her 2nd #1 hit in 1987, I Knew You Were Waiting For Me, a duet with George Michael.

Now it may seem in a retrospect a calculated move to have an easy hit and sing with George, but it was a lot riskier than you would think. The song was recorded in early 1986 just as George was finishing up his obligations in Wham!. This was before he released Faith and there was no guarantee that he would become a superstar on his own. He wasn’t even on the Arista label, so Aretha would have needed to make an extra effort to seek him out, though I’m sure this was a dream come true for George. His first duet opportunity shows not only how well his voice complimented Aretha’s, it’s a great example of how less is more, and in singing what’s needed and works for the song is more important than showboating.

I’m not sure if the label even knew what they had in this classic pairing as this was the 3rd single released from that album. When it shot to the top in April 1987 for  two weeeks, it also provided Aretha with her only UK #1, her biggest hit on the AC charts and won a Grammy for best R&B vocal, duo or group. George would go on to have 6 more #1 pop hits. Aretha would never hit the Top 10 again. Both are now gone and sorely missed.

Aretha’s last pop hit was 1998’s A Rose Is Still A Rose which reached #26, but more importantly her resurgence in the 80s fully revitalized her career keeping her in the public eye right up until her passing as she will forever be remembered as the Queen of Soul.

Music You Can Watch

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The beginning of August always signifies an important anniversary in pop culture – the birth of MTV in 1981. Although many love to claim they watching from the first day they saw the astronaut plant the MTV flag on the moon, only a few areas had access to the channel, mostly in New Jersey. I had to wait a full year before Cablevision had the option to finally show it.

I became addicted and watched it any time I could, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night and sneaking into the living room. Before they had many features or lots of advertisers, they would show video after video of acts I had never heard of and I credit them for my discovery and everlasting love of New Wave music. As I listen to early 80s pop today, I can visualize each picture matched with the chorus or specific lyric, chord change or guitar solo of a favorite song.

For me the golden years were 1928-1986 and I can recall even the finest details of some very obscure videos, most that still haven’t seen the light of day on YouTube. As this blog unfolds I’ll share some of my takes on my favorites. Until then…