Songs You May Have Missed #656

Donnie Iris: “Sweet Merilee” (1981)

Donnie Iris had four Top 40 singles in his career, including one as front man of one-hit wonders the Jaggerz (1970 chestnut “The Rapper”).

Although “Sweet Merilee” was not one of those Top 40 singles (stalling at #80) in this writer’s opinion there weren’t many tunes of its era that top it.

This song has everything. Bumpin’ bassline, great harmonies, a top notch guitar solo, and fiery vocals by one of pop’s underrated belters.

In Pittsburgh Donnie Iris is a god. And while I’m not typically taken by the hype when it comes to local acts, he’s the exception. Iris’ first two solo albums, 1980’s Back On the Streets and King Cool, its follow-up in ’81, deserve wider recognition. Both albums are crammed with earworm pop rock co-written by Iris and keyboardist Mark Avsec.

Iris unfortunately failed to hang on to a major label deal, perhaps due to his breaking into the youth-dominated New Wave era as a guy of relatively advanced age. And the Iris-Avsec writing partnership cooled off too. But for a span of two years and two albums, few produced better pop rock.

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Songs You May Have Missed #218


Cellarful of Noise: “Samantha” (1988)

Here’s a nearly forgotten song that was quite a big local hit in Pittsburgh, though it only charted nationally at #69. It was written and sung by Mark Avsec, who was a member not only of Donnie Iris’ Cruisers but also of Wild Cherry (“Play That Funky Music”).

cellarIf this one sounds like a Donnie Iris song, there’s good reason: Avsec co-wrote all of Iris’ biggest hits, including “My Girl”, “Love Is Like a Rock” and “Ah! Leah!”. His other band, Cellarful of Noise, released two albums.

“Samantha” is in my opinion the second-best pop song about an abortion, number one being ELO’s “Livin’ Thing”. (I’d rank Ben Folds’ “Brick” third, ’cause I have to–it’s the only other one I know.)

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