Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Top 100 Adult Contemporary Artists of the 1980's: #80 to #71

Get ready for 10 more of The Top Adult Contemporary Artists of the 1980's*.

At #80, a group that proved sometimes you have to start again "from scratch":

#80.    Simply Red

The first incarnation of this band was a punk group called the Frantic Elevators, which performed for seven years.  The group received only a local following and were only noticed for their final single, "Holding Back the Years".

After the group split in 1984, lead singer Mick Hucknall began assembling a group of local session musicians.  The group adopted the name Red after Hucknall's nickname, denoting his hair color.  The name Simply Red resulted when the manager at a local venue was confused about the band's name and Hucknall replied that the name was "Red, simply Red."  The resulting misnomer was printed on publicity posters, and the name stuck.
Simply Red signed with Elektra Records in 1985 and released the album Picture Book.  The group flopped with their first three singles, including a re-recording of the Frantic Elevators' "Holding Back the Years".  But a year later, the song was re-released, and it served as the introduction of Simply Red to most people.  

Simply Red released Men and Women in 1987 and A New Flame in 1989, with the latter including a remake of the Harold & the Blue Notes hit "If You Don't Know Me By Now".  Simply Red's version was #1 for six weeks and went gold.  The group also landed at #7 with "You've Got It" and had a minor hit earlier in 1989 with "It's Only Love".

At #79, a woman who was discovered by Quincy Jones and she thrived on the AC chart during the decade:

#79.    Patti Austin

Austin made her debut at the Apollo Theater in her hometown of Harlem, New York at age four and had a contract with RCA Records when she was just five years old.
By the late 1960's, Austin was a prolific session musician and singer of commercial jingles.  In the 1980's, Patti signed with Quincy Jones' label (Qwest), who is her godfather.  Her album Every Home Should Have One, contained the underrated title track as well as "Baby Come to Me", a duet with James Ingram.  When the latter was first released, it didn't do well, but after being featured in the soap opera General Hospital, the song re-entered the charts, hit #1 on the AC chart in 1982 and sold a million copies.  Austin and Ingram would later team up for the song "How Do You Keep the Music Playing" in 1983, which reached #3.  
Austin's song "It's Gonna' Be Special" was featured on the "Two of a Kind" Soundtrack.  The soundtrack went Platinum and became the title song for Patti's next album in 1984.  Austin appeared with Jeff Bridges and Joan Allen in the movie Tucker:  The Man and his Dream, then released The Real Me, her first of several forays into jazz music.  Austin and Sadao Watanabe reached #6 with "Any Other Fool" just as the decade was coming to a close.
Austin did the duet "It's the Falling in Love" with Michael Jackson for his Off the Wall Album, and also sang with George Benson, Luther Vandross and her producer, Narada Michael Walden.

At #78, a country crossover artist who also starred in several movies during the decade and launched the highly-regarded Live Aid concerts:

#78.    Willie Nelson

Raised by his grandparents, Nelson wrote his first song at age seven and joined his first band at ten.  He played halfback for the high school football team, played guard in basketball and shortstop in baseball.  Nelson was a disc jockey at KHBR in Hillsboro, Texas and later with KBOP in Pleasanton, Texas.
Nelson has acted in over 30 movies, including The Electric Horseman and Honeysuckle Rose.  Willie contributed his cover of the Allman Brothers song "Midnight Rider" and "On the Road Again" to the two soundtrack albums, respectively.  "On the Road Again" reached #7 for Willie.  He also did a duet with Julio Iglesias--"To All the Girls I've Loved Before" (which reached #3 on the AC chart) and several colloborations with Waylon Jennings.  Nelson had minor hits in Adult Contemporary with "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" from The Electric Horseman and "Let It Be Me" in 1982.
In the mid-1980's, Nelson, Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash formed the Highwaymen, recording and touring the world.  Nelson also lent his talent to the U.S.A. for Africa project, "We Are the World".

At #77, a woman who acted in the television show CHIPS but her singing career took off in 1982:

#77.  Laura Branigan

Branigan's biggest overall hit, "Gloria" set a record when it stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for 36 weeks, the most ever for a female artist at the time.  Branigan was nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance at the Grammys for "Gloria", which went platinum and helped her debut album achieve gold status.  On the AC chart, the song only reached #28.
Laura's two hits on Branigan 2 began the careers of two then-unknowns.  "Solitaire" was the first major hit for songwriter Diane Warren and "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" was the first big hit for co-writer Michael Bolton.  "Solitaire" reached #16 in 1983 while the latter became a #1 Adult Contemporary smash in the summer.  "Self Control", the title track from Laura's 1984 album, became a #1 song in six countries and hit #5 on the AC chart.  "Lucky One" (#13 AC) from the album won Branigan a prize at the Tokyo Music Festival and "Ti Amo" was another hit from the album.  
In 1985, Branigan was nominated for an American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Female Video Artist.  Branigan also released the albums Hold Me and Touch in the decade.  She found minor AC success with songs like "Spanish Eddie", "I Found Someone" and her version of "Power of Love".  

Branigan also recorded songs for the "Flashdance" Soundtrack and the "Ghostbusters" Soundtrack.

This rock and roll outfit reinvented themself in the 80's and proved they could do strong ballads:

#76.  Heart

By the time the 80's rolled around, Heart was a pretty big act, but their success in the early part of the decade was not near what it was in their first years.  That would change with a big comeback later in the 80's.

Heart did achieve a hit with "Tell it Like it Is" from their Bebe Le Strange album.  Producer Mike Flicker and manager Michael Fisher departed and this severely affected the group.  The other two members of the group left after recording their next album, leaving the Wilson sisters to build from scratch again.  Both Private Audition and Passionworks failed to achieve Gold status.  
In 1985, Heart changed labels to Capitol Records and released the album called Heart.  It would become the biggest success of their career, selling five million copies. That album produced the AC #1 smash "These Dreams" and "Nothin' At All".  The group released Bad Animals as the follow-up in 1987 and it was another huge success, yielding the #2 smash "Alone".
Heart has sold over 30 million records and has placed 10 albums on the album chart.

The next featured artist had a great career in the 70's, and she didn't slow down in the next decade:

#75.    Roberta Flack

Flack was such an accomplished classical pianist that she received a full music scholarship to Howard University at age 15, making her one of the youngest students ever to enroll there.  She eventually changed her major from piano to voice and became assistant conductor of the university choir.

Flack and U2 are the only artists in history to win Record of the Year at the Grammys in two consecutive years.  Roberta did it with "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" at the 1973 Grammy Awards and "Killing Me Softly with His Song" In 1974.
After college, Flack taught school and piano for several years in the D.C. area.  She began playing and singing at the Tivoli Club, the 1520 Club and eventually, a club called Mr. Henry's built a performance area especially for her.  When Les McCann heard her, "Her voice touched, tapped, trapped, and kicked every emotion I've ever known."  McCann arranged for Flack to audition for Atlantic Records.  In November, Roberta recorded 39 songs in 10 hours, and Atlantic chose the best tracks for her debut album, First Take.
Flack did the albums Making Love, Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway, I'm the One, Born to Love (with Peabo Bryson) and Oasis in the 1980's.  Her work with Hathaway earned Roberta Grammy nominations for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female, and the song "Back Together" earned the nomination for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.  
Roberta hit #7 with "Making Love", #10 with "I'm the One", while joining Bryson for the Top 5 AC hits "Tonight, I Celebrate My Love" and "You're Looking Like Love to Me".  She also had minor Adult Contemporary successes with "In the Name of Love" in 1982, "I Just Came Here to Dance" in 1984, another song she did with Bryson, and the title track to Oasis in 1989.

In her career, Flack won four Grammy Awards and was nominated for 13.

Coming in at #74, one of the most respected artists of the Rock Era:

#74.    Michael McDonald

McDonald began his career as a backing vocalist and keyboard player with Steely Dan.  He was recruited by the Doobie Brothers when lead singer Tom Johnston became sick during a tour.  Michael so impressed the band that they hired him full-time, and he helped write and sing some of the group's best songs, including "Takin' It to the Street", "Little Darling", "It Keeps You Runnin'", "Minute by Minute" and "What a Fool Believes".  The latter won the Grammy for Song of the Year.
McDonald also did session work for Kenny Loggins, Toto, Christopher Cross, Bonnie Raitt and Stephen Bishop.  He also co-wrote "You Belong to Me" for Carly Simon.
After a farewell tour with the Doobie Brothers, McDonald recorded his first solo album, If That's What It Takes, which included "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)". That song hit #8 on the Adult Contemporary chart and proved McDonald was a desired solo artist.  "Yah Mo B There", Michael's duet with James Ingram, won the Grammy Award in 1985 for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and hit #10.  McDonald then teamed with Patti LaBelle for the smash "On My Own", which was a #2 AC hit.
He also did the song "Sweet Freedom" for the "Running Scared" Soundtrack, which reached #4, and had the minor AC hits "I Gotta' Try" in 1982, "No Lookin' Back" in 1985 and "I Just Can't Let Go", which Michael did with former Ambrosia lead singer David Pack and Ingram.

The next artist in The Top 100 Adult Contemporary Artists of the 1980's* really took the next step of her career in the decade:

#73.    Bette Midler

Midler began singing in the Continental Baths in 1970, becoming close friends with her accompanist, Barry Manilow.  Manilow produced her first album in 1972, The Divine Miss M.

In 1979, Midler was nominated for Best Actress for The Rose, a role for which she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress.  The soundtrack contained Midler's "The Rose", which landed at #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart for five weeks and earned Bette a Gold record.  Midler won the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.

After The Rose, Bette concentrated on her music career and released the album No Frills.  She returned to the AC Top 10 with "My Mother's Eyes" later in 1980.  Midler sang on "We Are the World", the fundraiser to benefit needy children in Africa, in 1985 and participated at the Live Aid event at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Midler began appearing in a series of comedies, which included Ruthless People and Outrageous Fortune, and also starred in Beaches.  The "Beaches" Soundtrack sold four million copies and contains "Wind Beneath My Wings", a Platinum single that gave Midler her third Grammy Award for Record of the Year.
Midler has been nominated for two Academy Awards, and won three Grammys (nominated for nine), four Golden Globes, three Emmy Awards and a special Tony Award over her career which now spans over 40 years.  She has sold over 30 million albums worldwide.

This next artist began as a side project of one of the members of Genesis but continued as an ongoing group:

#72.    Mike + the Mechanics

Mike & the Mechanics was formed as a side project by Genesis member Mike Rutherford.  The group initially included Rutherford, vocalists Paul Carrack and Paul Young, keyboardist Adrian Lee and drummer Peter Van Hooke.  Success came in sevens for them, as all three single releases from their debut album peaked at #7 on the Adult Contemporary chart--"Silent Running", "All I Need is a Miracle" and "Taken In".
Mike & the Mechanics had a similar story to Steely Dan.  The group was a vehicle for Rutherford, songwriting partner B.A. Robertson and producer Christopher Neil.  Session musicians often performed on the records in place of regular band members.
After Young's death, Carrack became the sole lead singer.  The group's second album Living Years featured the single "The Living Years", which was a #1 AC song for four weeks.  Carrack had lost his own father when he was just 11. 

The #71 artist proved his versatility in the 80's as a mass appeal superstar:

#71.    Bob Seger

Seger is the prototypical example of paying your dues.  He performed for 16 years in the Detroit area with little success outside of Michigan until he hit paydirt with his Night Moves album in 1976.  Seger quickly became a superstar after that, but it certainly was not overnight.

Seger got the ball rolling in the decade with his Against the Wind album.  Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Timothy B. Schmit of the Eagles sang backing vocals on "Fire Lake" and the title track was a #8 song in the genre.  "You'll Accomp'ny Me" became the third hit from the album, which won two Grammy Awards and sold over five million copies.

In 1982, Seger released the album The Distance, which contained the excellent #1 AC song "Shame on the Moon", and is just shy of two million in sales.  In 1984, Seger wrote and recorded "Understanding" for the movie Teachers, which gave Bob his third Top 10 among Adult Contemporary fans.  In 1986, Bob released Like a Rock.  The title song would become familiar to most through its use in a long-running Chevrolet advertising campaign.  

Seger contributed the song "Shakedown" to the "Beverly Hills Cop II" Soundtrack.  The song was originally written for Glenn Frey, but when Frey lost his voice prior to recording, he called in Seger to take his place.  As co-writer, Bob earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.

Seger's career has now spanned five decades.  In 2004, Bob was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Get ready for the next 10 AC Artists of the 1980's, which will be featured tomorrow on Inside the Rock Era.

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