Some Pet Shop Boys for the weekend

This week it’s the UK’s most successful duo, The Pet Shop Boys. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe formed the synth band in London in 1981. Tennant worked for the massively popular music magazine “Smash Hits”. He met Chris in an electronics shop and discovered a common love of dance music. They produced songs and singles but didn’t hit it big until they signed to Parlophone and remixed some earlier material with new producer Stephen Hague. One of the remixes was “West End Girls” which started off slowly but then began a chart ascent ending at the number 1 summit in Jan 1986 (the first number one of that year)

It sold an estimated 1.5 million copies worldwide and is still probably their most well known hit.
They have had a consistently successful chart career ever since. They have sold 50 million records worldwide, having to date had 44 top forty hits including 22 top tens and four number 1s.

In 2009 they got a Brit “Outstanding Contribution to Music” award and in 2016, Billboard named them the number one dance duo/group over the last 40 years. In 2017 they got NME’s “Godlike Genius Award”.
They continue to release music, with album “Super” released in 2016 and reached number 3 in the album chart.

There are just two of my favourites of theirs.

“Heart” was number 1 for three weeks in April 1988
(Uploaded to YouTube by Christoff Wehmeyer)

“Left to My Own Devices” reached number 4 in Nov 1988
(Uploaded to YouTube by PetShopBoysParlophone)

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Walter Becker tribute

This week is a tribute to Walter Becker who died, aged 67, this week.
Becker was co-founder of American rock,jazz group Steely Dan along with Donald Fagen.
Steely Dan were more of an album band, and their jazz/rock American style didn’t resonate with younger UK record buyers, so didn’t have much single chart success. They had two top forty hits in the UK. They did much better in the US. Their biggest hit in the US “Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number” reached number 4 in the States in 1974 but only managed a lowly 58 in the UK!

Becker was a songwriter and played bass guitar and provided backing vocals in the group. However, he is relatively unknown as Fagen’s distinctive vocals tended to provide the focus. This doesn’t detract from Becker’s musicianship and massive contribution to one of America’s great bands.

Becker wrote today’s songs which are my two favourites of theirs.

“Do It Again” remixed here by Cubanix (but still almost the original). The original reached number 6 in the US in 1973 and 39 in the UK in 1975.
(Uploaded to YouTube by Cubanix)

Interestingly when it was covered along with Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” by Italian producers Clubhouse in 1983 the song “Do It Again- Billie Jean” reached number 11 in the UK. The similarity between the rhythm of the two songs made for a catchy club hit. Becker and Fagen were credited for the use of their song. It only reached 75 in the US which just shows the disparity between the UK an US in music sometimes!

“Do It Again Billie Jean” by Clubhouse
(Uploaded to YouTube by Len E Bones)

“FM (No Static At All)” from 1978 reached number 22 in the US (49 in the UK)
Becker plays the guitar solo starting at 3:02
(Uploaded to YouTube by Moon doggy)

RIP Walter Becker.

Some Smokie for the weekend

This week it’s Bradford band “Smokie” who had hits mainly in the 1970s. Their biggest success was with the songwriting team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman who also wrote hits for Mud, Sweet & Suzi Quatro. Smokie’s songs were always catchy with good musicanship and production but it was lead singer Chris Norman who provided the distinctive vocals and good looks. Norman left the band in the 80s and pursued a successful solo career, but Smokie continued without him. In recent years the band have done reunion gigs and Norman has worked with other artists, most notably Agnetha Fältskog of Abba.

Smokie had 13 top 40 hits, including 7 top tens.
I think they’re probably best known for their hit “Living Next Door To Alice” which reached number 5 in 1976 and was a hit again with comedian Roy “Chubby” Brown when it reached number 3 in 1995, but I’m going to go with two of their other hits.

Smokie had their first hit in July 1975 reaching number 3 with “If You Think You Know How To Love Me”
(Uploaded to YouTube by smokieVEVO)

“It’s Your Life” reached number 5 in 1977
(Uploaded to YouTube by smokieVEVO)

Some Steps for the weekend

This week it’s British 4 piece vocal group Steps. They were formed in 1997.

An unashamedly pop group, Steps specialised in feelgood pop tunes accompanied by dance routines for each song. They disbanded in 2001 after a massively successful run, having sold over 20 million records worldwide. They had 16 top forty hits, including 14 top tens and two number 1s. The number ones being Heartbeat/Tragedy in 1998 and Stomp in 2000.

In 2011 they reformed for a 4 part documentary reunion show, and a subsequent greatest hits compilation which reached number 1. In 2012 they embarked on a 22 date tour, released a new studio album and did a six date tour.
They reunited again this year for their 20th anniversary and released a new album “Tears on the Dancefloor” which reached number 2 in the album chart.

These songs are both from their “Tears on the Dancefloor” album and has their typically upbeat catchy pop vibe.

“Scared of the Dark”
(Uploaded to YouTube by StepsVEVO)

“Neon Blue”
(Uploaded to YouTube by StepsVEVO)

Glen Campbell tribute

This week it’s a tribute to Glen Campbell who died of Alzheimers on August 8th, aged 81.
One of the true greats of popular music, Campbell was a singer, guitarist, songwriter and TV presenter. He crossed the music divide and was highly regarded by people in the music business in other musical genres; rock legend Alice Cooper was one of his close friends.

During his 50 years in show business, Campbell released more than 70 albums, sold over 45 million records and received numerous awards. His partnership with songwriter Jimmy Webb produced some classic songs such as “Wichita Lineman”, “Galveston”, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Honey Come Back”.

He made history in 1967 by winning four Grammys in the country and pop categories. Three of his songs were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame (“Wichita Lineman” in 2000, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” in 2004 & “Gentle On My Mind” in 2008), while Campbell himself won the Grammy Lifetime achievement award in 2012.

In the UK he had top forty singles including five top tens.
These are well known hits of his but are also my favourites. Wichita Lineman in particular is one of my all time favourite songs.

RIP Glen Campbell.

“Wichita Lineman” reached number 7 in 1969. Should have been number 1.
(Uploaded to YouTube by 2old2Rock)

“Rhinestone Cowboy” reached number 4 in 1975.
(Uploaded to YouTube by GlenCampbellVEVO)

Some Olivia Newton-John for the weekend

Last week it was ELO whose only number one was with Olivia Newton-John, and this week here she is in her own right!

Australian singer Olivia Newton-John OBE has had 19 top forty hits, including 11 top tens and 3 number ones. It is a shame that despite some great solo singles all her number ones were with other artists and from musicals, two with John Travolta (from Grease) and one with ELO “Xanadu” from the movie of the same name.
Olivia also had two hits duetting with Cliff Richard.

Olivia debuted in 1971 with “If Not For You” reaching number 7, quickly following that up with “Banks of the Ohio” reaching 6 later the same year. She continued with country and wholesome pop, including representing the UK in Eurovision with “Long Live Love” in 1974. In 1977 she reached number 6 with ballad “Sam”.

In 1978 the film “Grease” came out with Olivia in the lead role of Sandy and everything changed. She rode a massive wave of popularity and had two number ones with Travolta and reached number 2 with “Hopelessly Devoted to You” from the film.
As her character Sandy changed from “Sandra Dee” to rock chick at the end of Grease, so did change Olivia musically. Olivia’s next single in 1978 was the song “A Little More Love” with her singing “where did my innocence go?” and reached number 4. “Magic” continued in a similar vein in 1980.

In 1981 she released album “Physical” and the lead single of the same name was a worldwide smash. It was a raunchy pop song and the video accompanying it made a worldwide impact. The single made number 7 in the UK.

Olivia made a music special with videos for all the songs on the album, but none of the other singles made the impact “Physical” did, making 18 and 43 with “Landslide” and “Make a Move On Me”. This in my opinion was a great shame as I have this album, and it is vastly underrated and a great pop album.

So here are two tracks from the “Physical” album which I particularly like which weren’t singles.

”Stranger’s Touch”
(Uploaded to YouTube by OliviaNewtonJohnVEVO)

“Recovery”
(Uploaded to YouTube by QueenofRockChannel)

She still continues to make music today with a focus on wellbeing. Her last album “Liv On” in 2016, was a “collaborative grief and healing” album with Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky. She said “As a group, it’s our intention with this album to create songs with a message of compassion and hope. They are for anyone facing a time of challenge in their life, whether it is grieving a loss – or on the journey to health and recovery.”
Olivia is herself battling cancer and I send her my best wishes.

Some ELO for the weekend

This week it’s one of my favourite bands, British band The Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). They were formed in 1970 by members of The Move; Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan. The idea was to incorporate elements of classical music in pop, adding violins, cellos and some woodwind and horns
In America, where they did better initially, they were apparently known as “the English guys with big fiddles” !
In 1972, Roy Wood left to form Wizzard.

This band with it’s very distinctive use of strings have produced some of the best quality pop songs in the 70s and 80s but somehow seemed to pass the “cool” music press by. Despite not being beloved by critics they were loved by the public, their singles doing very well and their albums in particular, selling in the many millions.
Jeff Lynne ceased with the band in 1986 and went on to produce other artists and do other things such as being part of superstar group “The Travelling Wilburys” with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison & Tom Petty.
Drummer Bev Bevan continued with “ELO Part ii” and “Orchestra” and eventually sold his share of the band back to Lynne.
In recent times thanks to Jeff Lynne doing Glastonbury and other concerts, interest was rekindled and the band revisited their former hits and then produced new music as “Jeff Lynne’s ELO”, winning “Band of the Year” in 2016 at the Classic Rock, Roll of Honour Awards. It was only this year they were finally inducted into the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2017”
Their greatest hits albums still sell very well as people realise just how good they were.

ELO had 27 top forty hits, including 15 top tens and 1 number one.
Their first hit was “10538 Overture” which reached number 9 in 1972.
Their only number one was “Xanadu” with Olivia Newton-John which stayed at the top spot for two weeks in 1980 and was from the musical film of the same name. Whilst a decent record, it is a shame that none of their other songs didn’t hit number 1 as there are loads deserving of the top spot. Just some worthy of that are “Mr Blue Sky’, “Livin’ Thing”, “Evil Woman”, “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” , “Telephone Line” and “Don’t Bring Me Down” which was their highest other hit which reached number 3 in 1979.

“Showdown” reached number 12 in 1973. One of their earliest hits and a favourite of mine. Love the violin riff throughout and the break distortion at 02:44.
(Uploaded to YouTube by TheMaster974)

“From the End of the World” wasn’t a single (why?!) but is one of my favourite tracks of theirs. It’s from the 1981 concept album “Time” which had a time travel concept about a man from 1980 going to 2095. The album is not one of their most well known, but still reached number one and is now considered to be the most influential of their catalogue due to it’s concept.

(Uploaded to YouTube by ELOVEVO)