College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #896 to #893

bananarama

896. Bananarama, Bananarama (1984)

The compromises of “Robert De Niro’s Waiting” exemplify the dilemma Bananarama faced during the creative process. In initial conception, the track from the trio’s second album — when was self-titled at the insistence of their label — was about a young woman who mentally escapes into fantasies of a famous boyfriend because of the trauma she endures when sexually assaulted by an acquaintance. As it was developed, though, the darker elements were largely shorn away, leaving it as an innocuous little pop song with only the barest hints of anything more troubling than an unlikely celebrity crush.

In interviews conducted during their nineteen-eighties heyday, there are plenty of signs that the members of Bananarama —Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey, and Keren Woodward — were firm and unapologetic in their viewpoints, especially as related to the most demeaning double standards of the music business. On record, though, it was mostly genteel and pedestrian, presumably because that was the best strategy for finding a lucrative place on the charts. There are sawdust shavings of the music that band wanted to make all over Bananarama, but the tracks are often buffed to safety. “Rough Justice” is clearly a protest song, but it’s unbearably slushy, a quality accentuated by the ghastly mellow saxophone that laced throughout.

Among the album’s high points are the seductive, sprightly amble “Dream Baby,” the bouncy “State I’m In,” and “Hot Line to Heaven,” which hints at trouble under its icy demeanor (“It seems to me that you’ve got it made/ But you never show that you’re afraid/ Now the voices in your head they make you scream/ And drive you mad”). There’s little doubt, though, that the strongest track is the moody bauble “Cruel Summer,” which became a Top 10 hit in the U.S., spurred by saturation airplay on MTV.

In addition to impressive record sales, Bananarama got the group a heightened level of fame. The recognition even extended to subjects of their songs. When “Robert De Niro’s Waiting” had a healthy run on the U.K. charts (in their homeland, it even outpaced “Cruel Summer”), the man in question was filming Terry Gilliam’s Brazil in London. Naturally, he asked to meet the band that was pining for him all over the radio.

 

 

bow last

895. Bow Wow Wow, Last of the Mohicans (1982)

When Bow Wow Wow captured the attention of music fans in the early nineteen-eighties, a sizable amount of the attention was focused on lead singer Anabella Lwin. That was absolutely by design, proof that the strategizing of inveterate impresario Malcolm McLaren was working. The former Sex Pistols manager assembled Bow Wow Wow by stealing Adam Ant’s band away from them and pairing the musicians with Lwin, who’d been discovered, at the age of thirteen, singing along to the radio at a laundromat. Make no mistake, though, it was drummer David Barbarossa who was the true star of the band.

The lead track of Bow Wow Wow’s EP Last of the Mohicans, their third release overall, makes it abundantly clear that Barbarossa’s propulsive, thundering work on the drums was a critical distinguishing factor. A cover of “I Want Candy,” originally recorded by the Strangeloves in 1965, took the first version’s tribal drum sound and made it fierce, crisp, and lean without sacrificing a bit of impact. The track is pretty irresistible, and presumably the accompanying music video’s images of Lwin cavorting in the surf in a soaked tank top carried a certain appeal for some. She was only fifteen at the time, which didn’t discourage McLaren and others from putting her at the forefront of promotional art, usually in a provocative state of undress. The cover of Last of the Mohicans even reused the photo from the band’s debut album, which depicted Lwin naked (if strategically posed) in a copy of Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (which translates to The Luncheon on the Grass). Lwin’s mother had already complained about that particular shot, to no avail.

Barbarossa’s drums are again explosive on “Louis Quatorze,” but Lwin does prove her value with commanding vocals on “Cowboy.” Demonstrating that Bow Wow Wow might not have all that much to offer in the long run, the fourth of the EP’s four tracks, “Mile High Club,” strikes me a little more than a wan Blondie impression. The release essentially ends by inadvertently posing a question about Bow Wow Wow’s creative range.

That question was answered in short order. One year later, Bow Wow Wow released their final album, When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going. By the fall of 1983, tensions in the band led to Lwin’s ouster, and the remaining members formed a new group called Chiefs of Relief, exciting no one.

 

 

toni word

894. Toni Basil, Word of Mouth (1982)

Toni Basil’s debut album was a long time coming. The performer released her first solo single in 1966, the same year she choreographed the dances for Head, the oddball cinematic showcase for the Monkees directed by Bob Rafelson and co-written by Jack Nicholson. In the film, she joined Davy Jones to dance in the number “Daddy’s Song.” That movie led directly to acting gigs in Easy Rider (which earned Nicholson his first Oscar nomination) and Five Easy Pieces (directed by Rafelson and featuring Nicholson’s second performance to earn Academy attention). Through the nineteen-seventies, Basil continued choreographing, acting, and performing, including several instances in the early years of Saturday Night Live.

Basil’s career started on its turn to brief pop stardom when she discovered a song called “Kitty,” performed by the band Racey. After a reworking that necessitating a title change to “Mickey,” Basil recorded the song and conceived of a music video — before the time that such promotional accompaniments were common — in which she performed it while wearing the cheerleader uniform she’d kept from her days as a student at Las Vegas High School. The opening track and lead single on Basil’s debut album, Word of Mouth, “Mickey” went on to top the Billboard chart and become one of the songs that defined the rise of the MTV era of pop music.

The rest of Word of Mouth is a true musical hodgepodge, relying on covers such as Basil’s exceeding weird take on David Essex’s “Rock On,” which finds it spruced up, it seems, for the emerging breakdance culture. “Little Red Book” is more successful, if only because Basil trilling about heartbreak is more convincing. She also leans on her pals in Devo, covering several of their songs (including “Pity You,” which is remodeled as “You Gotta Problem”).

There’s greater satisfaction in the more original material. “Shoppin’ from A to Z” is one of Basil’s proper co-writing credits on the album, and it gets a surprisingly amount of mileage out of chanting a alphabetical grocery list.  On “Nobody,” Basil offers propulsive testimony about ambivalence between the party life and solitude (“Where’s that energy coming from?/ Can I afford to rest from my fun?/ Part of me is leaping, leaping about/ Part of me is dying, dying to get out’). It might also be about cocaine.

Basil’s time as a denizen of the pop charts was short-lived. A self-titled album followed in 1983, but that was the end of her recording career, except one more collaboration with Devo. She provides lead vocals on the track “The Only One,” which the band recorded for the now-forgotten (and then-barely-noticed) late-eighties horror film Slaughterhouse Rock.

 

 

godafthers hit

893. The Godfathers, Hit By Hit (1986)

I suspect most music fans who know of the U.K. band the Godfathers think of the 1988 release Birth, School, Work, Death as their debut album. I certainly did for ages, certain that the slate-hard rock that banged out of its grooves was always their insolent introduction. That’s not entirely inaccurate, at least to the degree that an album is a start-to-finish statement, recorded with the intention of hanging together. Technically, though, the Godfathers’ first full-length, Hit by Hit, arrived two years earlier. Cobbled together largely from singles the band had released on their own label, it’s bruising, brash, insistent. The Godfathers were one of the few bands who could open an album with a song called “I Want Everything” and still make it seem like they were introducing themselves with the most demure version of their collective being.

“This Damn Nation” is typical of the band. It takes a clear, unequivocal, and fairly nihilistic stand, then delivers its argument with brutally simplistic lyrics (“This Damn Nation/ This frustration/ This Damn Nation/ This frustration”), obscuring the more basic qualities with the sheer force of the music. It’s made for slamdancing and punching the air, with only the barest whiffs of thought requested or required. That can be wearying, especially on those tracks, such as  “I’m Unsatisfied,” that simply push along with bludgeoning indifference to nuance.

Some of the redundancy can be forgiven. This is a first release, after all. But the real promise of the band is found in the places where they deviate at least a little bit. “I Want You” has a nifty nineteen-sixties psychedelic tinge without sounding retro or derivative, and the instrumental “John Barry” sounds like an audition to fulfill the named film composer’s role in a cooler take on James Bond (a long-running film franchise that was then mired in its brief Timothy Dalton nadir). Early as it was in the band’s career, the need to be more playful was already evident. The application of their blunt force treatment to the handiwork of a far more prickly artist — on a cover of John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” — is the evidence that cements the case.

 

To learn more about this gigantic endeavor, head over to the introduction. Other entries can be found at the CMJ Top 1000 tag. Most of the images in these posts come straight from the invaluable Discogs

 

One for Friday — Toni Childs, “Don’t Walk Away”

childs

Thirty years ago, in the summer of 1988, Toni Childs released her debut album, Union. A native of California, Childs spent much of the nineteen-eighties on the fringes of the music scene in London. She cultivated several creative relationships there, showing up in the background of songs here and there. When she moved back to the U.S. for a bit in the mid-eighties, she also connected with David Ricketts, who was one-half of the band David & David. She contributed backup vocals on the duo’s album, Boomtown, and when they split shortly thereafter, Ricketts committed to pitching in on Union. He’s a credited co-producer and co-writer of several tracks, but the material is unmistakably an expression of Childs’s attentive wanderings, especially in the world music influences that settle in like an infused flavor.

On the single “Don’t Walk Away,” little time is wasted before putting the powerhouse vocals of Childs on display. After a little surge of music, Childs busts in with a truncated version of the song’s chorus, and it’s all throaty authority. This will be no dainty singer-songwriter ingenue, but a true belter. At times, it seems the song simply isn’t going to be able to container. Maybe no song really could.

“Don’t Walk Away” found a modest place in the Billboard Hot 100, but she never edged into the main U.S. chart again. I often think of Childs as someone who flared and faded into obscurity, but she just opted for a productive change of home base. Evidently, she was huge in Australia, notching several Top 40 singles and selling a slew of albums. Her 1996 “best of” collection was the country’s fifth biggest selling release of that year. A diagnosis of Graves’ disease one year later understandably slowed her productivity, but she’s still actively engaged in developing new music and connected theatrical experiences.

Listen or download —> Toni Childs, “Don’t Walk Away”

(Disclaimer: Like most of the A&M releases from the stretch of the late-eighties and early-nineties when they committed to having a high number of idiosyncratic, college-radio-ready artists in their stable, I believe Union to to be out of print, at least as a physical object that can be acquired from your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensate both the proprietor of said shop and the original artist. This song is being shared in this manner in this space with that understanding, but also with the strong recommendation to head out and engage in commerce that actively helps music artists. The track is shared as a catalyst, not a replacement. Although I fully believe my actions qualify as fair use, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

The Art of the Sell, XTC, “Making Plans for Nigel”

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

xtc nigel

I think of the various college rock bands from my youth as being hobbled by a lack of inspired promotion by their record labels. Then again, XTC got a whole board game to help push their 1979 single “Making Plans for Nigel.” What I wouldn’t give for a Dirty Computer game (as opposed to a dirty computer game, which I really don’t need, thanks).

College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #900 to #897

waterboys pagan

900. The Waterboys, A Pagan Place (1984)

When Mike Scott got underway on A Pagan Place, the sophomore album by his band the Waterboys, the preceding material hadn’t yet seen release. Instead of responding to any feedback from the public, Scott was still very much guided by his own perception about how the Scottish band’s sound should evolve, at least initially. Of course, it’s an open question as to whether or not Scott has even been all that concerned with outside notions about what he’s up to with his music.

It’s no wonder “The Big Music” was selected as a single. Both in title and execution, it offers a succinct description of the what the Waterboys deliver. Although officially the second album, A Pagan Place is arguably Scott finally getting to build up the Gaelic wall of sound he likely always had in mind. The tracks fill up with thick layers of sound, different elements being introduced with happy abandon. This was the first album to feature short-term Waterboy — and future World Party frontman — Karl Wallinger, and there’s a clear sense that Scott is leveraging the presence of the skilled collaborator into complex, fulsome avalanches of earthy sounds.

Scott could sometimes grow overly insular in his approach, following the eddy of his songwriting instincts until anyone paying attention could grow a little dizzy. Even as the title cut provides ample evidence that Scott’s propensity for endless vamping can be thrilling, the album mostly succeeds because of the recurring sense that he’s looking outside of himself for inspiration. “Church Not Made with Hands” imagines a woman who achieves a spiritual satisfaction through her own sense of assurance, and “Red Army Blues” is rendered from the perspective of a Soviet soldier. Apart from the lyrics, Scott’s music sense is sometimes more approachable, evidenced by the way “The Thrill is Gone” recalls Van Morrison and “All the Things She Gave Me” almost sounds like a song that could have become a broader hit (maybe because it bears at least a passing resemblance to Simple Minds’ “All the Things She Said,” a song that, it should be noted, arrived on record one year later).

This is, after all, Scott somewhat early in his career, before principles hardened into combativeness. On A Pagan Place, there’s a feel of camaraderie, of wanting to make music for all to hear.

 

 

jane sky

899. Jane Siberry, The Speckless Sky (1985)

The Speckless Sky is the third album from Canadian performer Jane Siberry. In her home country, it was a significant hit, winning her awards and pushing her high on the charts. It rattled up some interest in the U.S., too, but Siberry’s sound was just strange enough, especially at the time, that it’s hard to imagine any real breakthrough was imminent. Siberry was such an odd match that her first three albums were released in the States on Windham Hill Records, a label far better known for somnambulant new age music than the pop deconstructions Siberry crafted. It’s like the music universe just gave up and dropped her somewhere at random.

I’d wager some college programmers never even found this album because it arrived in a Windham Hill package. Those who did clearly found something to like. There’s an enduring generosity toward the idiosyncratic on the left end of the dial. The songs on The Speckless Sky are in a perpetual state of reinvention. The proof of Siberry’s vision is in a track like “Vladimir • Vladimir” which anticipates the revered pop abstractions of M83, well over a decade away. “One More Colour” sounds like Cocteau Twins if Rickie Lee Jones had performed some sort of baptism that chased the ethereal mysticism from their souls, and “Mein Bitte” is a new wave song emanating from a melting jukebox in a fever dream.

“Map of the World (Part II)” is maybe the ideal version of a Siberry song, in that it sounds like Laurie Anderson, but with a guiding spirit drawn more from classic pop records than the jagged confrontation of the nineteen-seventies New York art scene. It has a swarm of complicated melodic and lyrical information loaded into it (“I led my horse along the latitudes/ Across the folds and into white/ And somehow along the way/ My horse slid off sideways and was gone forever”), but it still feels grounded in a way that makes it no more absurd or inscrutable than the countless pop songs that fill in the corners with cheerily trilled nonsense syllables. In a wonderful alchemy, Siberry makes the strange seem sensible.

 

 

journey departure

898. Journey, Departure (1980)

I’m loathe to compliment journey, but I have to admit that “Any Way You Want It” makes for a mighty impressive kickoff to an album. Departures was the sixth album for Journey, but only the third since they’d undergone a serious reinvention which included the hiring of Steve Perry as lead singer. After scuffling on their first few records, that band — at the urging of their label — was actively trying to make hits, and “Any Way You Want It” absolutely announces itself as one, exploding with the forceful chorus from the very first note.

And so my praise for Departure comes to an end. The rest of the album ranges from pedestrian to dreadful, bearing all the worst hallmarks of the slicked up album rock posturing of the day. “Walks Like a Lady” is modern blues music drained of all authenticity and danger, but at least its gutty simplicity gives it a reasonable forward momentum. The band fares worse when they try harder, as on “People and Places,” which is like something their fished out of Pete Townshend’s trash the morning after a dark night of the soul found him taking an ill-advised pass at writing some desperate post-disco Tommy II.

The album also includes the dreadful power ballad “Someday Soon,” pushy guitar histrionics on “Line of Fire,” and the thunderously dumb rock grind “Homemade Love.” Disconcerting common for the era, “Where Were You” is gross rock star pining for a young girl (“Where were you/ When I wanted you to love and hold me tight?/ Where were you, little darlin’/ When you said to pick you up after school?”) that has an added dollop of skeeziness when the elusiveness of the presumed-minor is dismissed with the lyric “I don’t mind, little baby/ Cause your sister’s lookin’ real good to me.”

I can heap all the derision I want on Departures, but it proved Journey were on the right path. It was the band’s first album to make it into the Top 10 of the Billboard album chart, and it basically staked out the creative course they’d follow for their next release, Escape, which became a smash that to date has sold over nine million copies.

 

 

nitzer that

897. Nitzer Ebb, That Total Age (1987)

David Gooday, Vaughan “Bon” Harris, and Douglas McCarthy met while attending school in Essex, England. Dismayed by the light, silly pop that was able to make it all the way to the top of the British charts in the early nineteen-eighties, the trio decided to form their own band that would be vicious and confrontational in wielding synthesizers and other electronic instruments.

“We wanted to remove ourselves from that English music scene generally, and a lot of the music we identified with was coming from Europe, so we wanted a name that sounded kind of European,” Harris told The Chicago Tribune years later. Nitzer Ebb was pure nonsense, but it evoked the likes of Kraftwerk and other krautrock ruffians. It stuck, and the group started crafting fierce, agitated pop with shouted lyrics. Once they connected with producer Phil Harder, the industrial groove really locked in, and the band’s debut album, That Total Age, arrived in 1987.

The album plays like anger fed through a vocoder overcome with decay. It’s music for punks who want to dance, but don’t want to put up with the wounded luxury of Depeche Mode to do it. “Murderous” is emblematic, pairing shouted slogans with a surging electro rhythm and buzzing noises that elbow their way in from time to time.  Like other dance-friendly music, the material on That Total Age is resolutely repetitive. “Smear Body” sometimes feels like it’s settled into an unbreakable orbit and it will continue playing when the planet is broiled to inhabitability. “Let Your Body Learn” has a similar treadmill relentlessness.

It’s no wonder some enterprising internet user correctly determined that playing all ten tracks simultaneously was roughly as artistically satisfying as any other configuration of presenting the album. That’s not a criticism. It’s simply a honest report about how this music is built.

 

To learn more about this gigantic endeavor, head over to the introduction. Other entries can be found at the CMJ Top 1000 tag. Most of the images in these posts come straight from the invaluable Discogs

 

One for Friday — Melissa Etheridge, “Bring Me Some Water”

melissa

Thirty years ago, in the late spring of 1988, Melissa Etheridge released her self-titled debut album. By now, Etheridge has become such a mainstay on the rock scene (albeit one who has arguably shifted to legacy status rather than necessary and immediate and vital continuing contributor) that it’s hard to convey how spectacularly unique her voice was at the time. During 1987 and 1988, thirty-seven different songs took a turn at the top of the Billboard mainstream rock chart. Exactly one of them — “My Baby,” by the Pretenders — put a woman at the lead microphone. In a era dominated by an increasingly troublesome MTV, rockers lacking a Y chromosome usually needed to aggressively play to the male gaze to get any amount of attention. Etheridge, for some reason, didn’t seem particularly interested in playing that game.

Instead, Melissa Etheridge was filled with tough-minded rock songs that the performer sang like she was trying to topple a cinder block wall. My radio options were limited just outside of a bustling college town with no student-run radio station on campus, but one commercial station did commit to Etheridge’s album early and lovingly, playing “Bring Me Some Water” with admirable regularity. I’m not even sure it was a proper single yet, but it was clearly a standout, slinking up to a chorus that explodes in bluesy heartbreak. The call for help in hydration wasn’t the only reason the track was ideal for a sweltering summer night. The song is fierce and freeing, expressing roiling emotions with a thrilling vulnerability that transforms into power.

Years later, when I had graduated from my own college radio experience and moved on to advising students taking their own turn on the airwaves, one of Etheridge’s early albums turned up in a culling of the station’s music library. The staff, then about a decade and a half removed from Etheridge’s debut, mocked the notion that the performer, already deep into her middlebrow icon phase, would ever have had a place on the left end of the dial. I assured the dear youngsters that there was a time that Etheridge’s songs hit like depth charges, and everyone listening felt like, in the best possible way, they were burning alive.

Listen or download —> Melissa Etheridge, “Bring Me Some Water”

(Disclaimer: Initially, I was certain that Etheridge’s debut was readily available in a physical format that could be procured from your favorite local, independently owned record store. After a cursory bout of research, I’m not so sure. Regardless, this song is shared in this space at this time not as a replacement for engaging in commerce that supports the artist and humble music peddlers, but as encouragement to do so. I can say with conviction that anything from at least the first half of Etheridge’s career is worth having in a collection. Anyway, go buy something. It’s good for your soul. Although I feel I’ve engaged in fair use here, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

The New Releases Shelf — Love is Dead

chvrches

For their third full-length release, Scottish band Chvrches are making a concerted charge for broader commercial success. Despite their occasional protests to the contrary, I don’t think there’s too many other realistic interpretations of the choice to bring in an outside producer for the first time, especially since that collaborator is Greg Kurstin, known for co-writing and producing Adele’s maudlin monstrosity “Hello.” Their protests to the contrary carry a verifying defensiveness. “People are like, ‘Oh, you’ve got Greg Kurstin,’ and talk about him as if he’s like this big pop factory producer,” lead singer Lauren Mayberry told Billboard. “That belittles how good a musician he is, and the musicianship of what he’s doing. He doesn’t just go in with one thing and apply that to everybody; he’s such an intuitive person, and he listens.”

Bolstering Mayberry’s argument, the strong presence of Kurstin (in addition to co-producing, he’s credited co-writer on nine of the album’s thirteen tracks) hasn’t resulted in a significant change to the Chvrches sound. All of the band’s hallmarks are present on Love is Dead: slinky melodies, an eighties pop effusiveness, and lyrics that flitter mischievously between simple and profound, with little punches of cynicism that can be easy to miss in the romping squares of light reflected off the disco ball. The slick dance music affect was already there. Kurstin fortifies rather than remodels.

If anything, Love is Dead suggests Chvrches could have used a little more jostling. Iain Cook, Martin Doherty, and Mayberry still have enviable instincts for pop hooks and electronic rhythms, but the formula is starting to show. At their best, the tracks still shimmer with surprise. I suspect there are few other current acts who pull off the magic act of “Graves,” take the sentiment of railing against privileged complacency in a time that calls for protest (“Oh, baby/ You can look away/ While they’re dancing on our graves/ But I will stop at nothing/ Oh, I will stop at nothing”) and make it as effervescent as a freshly cracked orange soda on a summer day. When they falter, though, the result is something like “God’s Plan,” which sounds like Erasure on a day the lads are trying to punch out early. Even Mayberry’s vocals, easily the band’s strong suit, occasional suffer from too much pressing off the set style. I love the way, on “Heaven/Hell,” she sings “return” like there’s an unavoidable right angle built into the word, but I’m far less fond her choice to warp the title word of “Deliverance” into about six syllables through stuttering repetition.

It’s telling that the most intriguing tracks are distinct deviations, at least in terms of collaborators. “My Enemy” sets Mayberry in a duet with Matt Berninger, of the National, and the stateliness he brings with him like a trailing cape provides a nice contract to Chvrches’ clockwork. Then there’s “Miracle,” which enlists Steve Mac as a producer. Although his credentials are yet more gruesome than Kurstin’s, Mac seems to understand that Chvrches needs some sonic friction to movie forward creatively. It’s a small touch, but the probing melody and the rhythm track that alternates between skulking and booming cuts against Mayberry’s sweetly refined voice, even she swerves into digital manipulation.

Whatever the album’s aspirations, “Miracle” is the one cut I can truly imagine taking hold as a mainstream hit. Maybe the real secret code that reveals the reason Love is Dead wobbles is contained therein. Chvrches might have started off as indie darlings, but these days their collective heart is with the other plasticine pop purveyors in the sterilized music biz factory. The closer Chvrches gets to them, the truer they sound.

Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “State of Independence”

These posts are about the songs that just barely failed to cross the key line of chart success, entering the Billboard Top 40. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 41.

summer

In his notorious and freewheeling interview earlier this year with Vulture, New York magazine’s online culture site, Quincy Jones leveled a pointed accusation at his former collaborator Michael Jackson.

“I hate to get into this publicly, but Michael stole a lot of stuff,” Jones said. “He stole a lot of songs. ‘State of Independence’ and ‘Billie Jean.’ The notes don’t lie, man. He was as Machiavellian as they come.”

Although “State of Independence” was first written and performed by Jon Anderson and Vangelis, Jones was referring to the cover version Donna Summer released one year later. A single from her self-titled album, Summer’s take on “State of Independence” was produced by Jones. Presumably in an effort to accentuate the song’s feel-good vibe, Jones recruited a batch of ludicrously overqualified performers to sing in a chorus. It was a sort of communal validation of the song’s inclusive, accepting spirit. Alongside Lionel Richie, Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, James Ingram, and Kenny Loggins stood Michael Jackson.

Summer’s album was released in July, 1982. At the same time, Jackson was ensconced in Westlake Recording Studio, in Los Angeles, working with Jones on the album that would become Thriller. Jones maintained that Jackson nicked the riff from “State of Independence” and infused it with a funk drive rather than its original reggae lope. (Daryl Hall claims Jackson once told his the riff was actually swiped from “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do).”) Thriller was released in November, 1982, and “Billie Jean” was the album’s second single.

As a single for Summer, “State of Independence” peaked at #41. “Billie Jean” spent seven weeks atop the Billboard chart.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.