The Forgotten Hits: 80’s Soft Rock

Every era and genre of music has songs that were popular in their day, but whose footprints have been washed from the sand over time. Our goal in this series of posts is to resurrect their memory; to help in a small way to reverse the process of the “top tenning” of oldies formats, which reduce hit makers from previous decades to their most popular song or two and then overplay them until you almost loathe an artist you used to enjoy (think “Sweet Caroline” or “Don’t Stop Believin’”).

I’ll be citing the Billboard pop charts for reference. Billboard Hot 100 charts of the 60′s and 70′s were a much more accurate reflection of a song’s popularity, before there were so many other ways for a song to enter the public consciousness (reflected by the number of pop charts Billboard now uses). It was an era when radio ruled–before a car commercial, social music sharing site, or Glee were equally likely ways for a song to break through.

Rockihnroll

Greg Kihn Band: “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)”

#15 in 1981

Baltimore, Maryland’s Greg Kihn Band hit the top 40 only twice in the 80’s. Their most successful hit was the #2 “Jeopardy”, which lives on due of course to its top ten placement. But “The Breakup Song” holds a special place in the memory of many fans of 80’s pop, probably due in part to its relative obscurity today.

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Three Times In Love

Tommy James: “Three Times in Love”

#19 in 1980

Pittsburgh, PA is often said to be Tommy James’ hometown. But actually he was born Tommy Jackson in Dayton, Ohio and raised in Niles, Michigan. He formed the group The Shondells at age 12, and had a local hit in Niles with “Hanky Panky”, released on the obscure Snap label in 1963. Eventually Jackson and the original Shondells graduated high school and parted ways and that was that.

Until a Pittsburgh DJ found a copy of “Hanky Panky” in a used record bin and began playing it at dance parties there. It became a number one record on Pittsburgh radio stations in early 1966, selling an estimated 80,000 illegal bootleg copies in just ten days.

Jackson was informed of the record’s tremendous, belated hit status in Pittsburgh and he was asked if he’d come there to perform the song live. He came to Pittsburgh alone, his Shondells having broken up two years before. So at a Pittsburgh bar called the Thunderbird Lounge he asked the five-man house band, known as the Raconteurs, if they’d like to become the new Shondells. He then changed his stage name to Tommy James, the band signed with Roulette Records, and “Hanky Panky” became a national number one hit. James recounts, “One night I was playing for 20 drunks in a bar in Michigan, and the next night I’m playing for 10,000 screaming fans in Pittsburgh. It was literally overnight. It was very unexpected, one of those winning-the-lottery type stories.”

The band had a nice run of hits on the Roulette label showing an upward arc of sophistication (“I Think We’re Alone Now”, “Mony Mony”, “Crimson and Clover”, “Crystal Blue Persuasion”) but turned down the chance in 1969 to play a concert on a pig farm in upstate New York. James was 6,000 miles away in Hawaii at the time and, failing to grasp the importance of playing the Woodstock Festival, told the Roulette Records secretary, “If I’m not there, start without us”. The Shondells called it quits in 1970.

James carried on as a solo act on Roulette, scoring a top ten hit in ’71 with “Draggin’ the Line” and writing and producing another top ten hit with “Tighter, Tighter” by Alive and Kicking in 1970. But he went nearly a decade without sniffing the top 40 before signing with Millennium Records and hitting with “Three Times in Love” in early 1980.

James just last year published the biography Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James & The Shondells, which reveals how Roulette Records was a front for organized crime and money laundering, and how James had to leave New York for Nashville to avoid a mob hit.

The man has had a helluva ride indeed.

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WITHOUT YOUR LOVE 7 INCH (7" VINYL 45) BELGIAN POLYDOR 1980

Roger Daltrey: “Without Your Love”

#20 in 1980

From the soundtrack to the movie McVicar, which Daltrey also starred in. This song really catches the Who frontman out of character–part of the song’s appeal to those who remember it. I like to occasionally throw in a few of the “forgotten hits” as dinner music at a party, and perhaps no song has brought more guests up to express their appreciation, or to ask who sings it (“Is that the Who?”). Like all these forgotten songs, it resides in some corner of memory and brings a nostalgic smile when that memory is rekindled.

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Felix Cavaliere

Felix Cavalieri: “Only a Lonely Heart Sees”

#36 in 1980

More than a decade after logging his last top 40 hit as organist/vocalist of The Rascals, Felix Cavaliere resurfaced with a smoother, almost easy listening sound on his only top 40 solo hit. In fact, “Only a Lonely Heart Sees” went to #2 on the Adult Contemporary chart. It’s a wispy thing, maybe even too lightweight for me, and I do have a soft spot for the wimp rock. Let’s move on…

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I BELIEVE 7 INCH (7" VINYL 45) GERMAN RCA 1981

Chilliwack: “I Believe”

#33 in 1982

Vancouver, BC pop rock band Chilliwack were presumably named for the British Columbia province by that name, in case you wondered how a band could end up with such a lame sounding name. I mean, even if they’d recorded “Runnin’ With the Devil” and “Hot For Teacher” would you have bought a concert T-shirt with Eddie Van Chilliwack’s name across the front? If you joined their fan club, would you then be known as a “wacker” or what?

“I Believe” is a nice song, though. Like most of these songs it kept a particular strand of music alive a few years after New Wave had basically shown it the door. The acoustic guitar/harmony vocals/sentimental lyric sounds of Player, Firefall, Orleans, and Little River Band was extinct by 1982 but got a few parting shots in at the end. Songs like “Three Times in Love” and “I Believe” were a genre’s gentle dying gasps. By 1982 these sounds had already been virtually crowded out of the charts by the colder synthesized sounds of songs like Gary Numan’s “Cars” and M’s “Pop Muzik”.

Not hatin’. Just sayin’.

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Little River Band - Greatest Hits

Little River Band: “The Other Guy”

#11 in 1983

Hey, look who it is. Weren’t we just talking about these guys?

With 13 top 40 American hit singles, Australia’s Little River Band was one of that country’s most successful musical exports. “Reminiscing”, “Lady”, “Lonesome Loser”, “Cool Change”…these guys had a run of hits that people seem to have a special affection for.

But they were nearing the end of that run with the release of “The Other Guy” in 1983. Again, their style of music was too…musical for 80’s radio. Too much harmony. Too much melody. Too many notes. Too little hair dye.

I’m being facetious but it is true only the most talented and adaptable of 70’s artists seemed to make the transition to the new 80’s pop sensibilities. Hall & Oates for example. Listen to “Sara Smile” followed by “Say It Isn’t So” and you’ll see how they morphed their warm Philly soul into the sound of the lean, mean 80’s. Fleetwood Mac, Dire Straits and The Cars pulled it off, too. Of course many rock bands–like Heart, Aerosmith and (Jefferson) Starship–found 80’s success only by becoming a hollowed-out version of themselves, which is sad.

“The Other Guy” just missed the top ten at #11. Tsk tsk. It missed radio immortality by one slot on the chart. But if you read this and then hum the tune for a day then we’ve done our part to drag it out of pop music limbo. You’re welcome, Little River Band.

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Vacation

Lindsey Buckingham: “Holiday Road”

#82 in 1983

Few songs this well-loved charted so poorly. Maybe the pointless video is to blame. “Holiday Road” was the opening title music in National Lampoon’s Vacation in 1983 and also featured in two sequel movies. It’s maddeningly difficult to find on CD or even as a music download in its original version. Collectors and ordinary fans alike have begged for the movie soundtrack to be re-released for years with no luck. You can, however, either buy Lindsey’s live version or choose from a number of inferior cover versions. I recommend this as the most inferior:

http://www.amazon.com/Holiday-Road/dp/B0065GERIO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1350547036&s=dmusic&sr=1-1

Not to give Monica Matocha more coverage than she deserves, but I must mention there is one thing to this very simple song that makes it irresistible: the harmonies Buckingham wrote into its chorus. That’s it. Pretty basic, two-minute song otherwise. You can fudge on that tricky guitar solo, but if you want to cover “Holiday Road” you must get those harmonies. You, Monica Matocha, actually recorded a version without any harmonies. None. You shouldn’t be allowed to make any more music.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ryan K
    Aug 22, 2019 @ 00:18:23

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. The end of that Roger Daltrey song has been stuck in my head for 3 years. I’ve never been able to pinpoint it and the vocals escaped me. I have searched far and wide – I swore is was a McCartney and Wings song for a while. Finally Googled “Forgotten 70’s soft rock” and came upon your site. It’s as if a giant subconscious weight has been lifted! thanks again – Ryan

    Reply

    • Ed Cyphers
      Aug 22, 2019 @ 06:39:00

      Wow. So glad to be of help. I have had similar experiences and I know the satisfaction of finally tracking down that elusive song that only seems to exist as a memory.
      Hope you choose to read on. The blog is filled with good music recommendations.
      Thanks for the comment.

      Reply

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