One thing that most people tend to forget – that the second word in the phrase “music business” is BUSINESS. Artists are often accused of being “too commercial,” like being successful is a bad thing.
Sure, there’s always heaps of pressure to deliver a hit – whether it’s from yourself (remember Michael Jackson and his note to self on the mirror after Thriller?), or the record company that pumped a lot of $$$ into you, your A&R man (not a lot of women in that position – so I call it like I see it) also has to answer to a suit, your booking agent is rooting for you because the more success you have at retail and radio (two ancient terms that once meant something), the more tickets you’ll sell at your local concert hall. And concert attendees buy drinks, T-shirts and pay for parking. A lot of responsibility in that trickle-down chain, right?
Some artists (say, Nirvana) have a hit album and then wish they didn’t, judging by the follow-up, some (Oasis) try too hard and fall flat, and yet others (read on!), go all out for the hit singles. Oddly enough, despite the commercial heights these songs reached, none of the singles are considered among the best that the artist released. Also note that all these releases came after MTV officially jumped the shark, which was around the end of 1985. And sharp-eyed and eared readers will notice by the time the fourth video came along, things pretty much were in the toilet as far as good tunes go. But then again, all of these albums topped the charts.
Huey Lewis & The News – Fore! (1986)
Top ten singles: Five
- Stuck With You (#1)
- Hip To Be Square (#3)
- Jacob’s Ladder (#1)
- I Know What I Like (#9)
- Doin’ It All For My Baby (#6)
Huey Lewis & The News were a likable bunch of all-American guys. They had all been around the block a few times – Huey was actually 30 when the band’s debut dropped in 1980. A second, moderately successful album (Picture This) followed in 1982, and the mega-hit Sports hit the airwaves in late 1983.
Sports wasn’t just a hit album – it was a monster, keeping pace with that year’s big boys, Bruce Springsteen and Prince. Hit single after hit single came and went, and just when things couldn’t get any better, a #1 soundtrack song, “The Power of Love” from Back To The Future, became the summer hit of 1985.
Then, of course, comes the dreaded moment when a follow-up album is required. No pressure. So Huey and the boys recorded Fore!, a hit-filled juggernaut that went straight to the top of the charts. (As did two of its singles.) The verdict? A Picture This/Sports light – plenty of hits and hooks, but lacking some of the bite of earlier work. There were no dark moments like the ones the band had previously recorded (such as “The Only One” or “Living on a Thin Line”). It didn’t seem like the band was going for hits – it was just the way things worked out. A bunch of high-profile videos didn’t hurt the project either. Problem is, that the last couple of singles were so lame, that even Richard Marx would’ve laughed at them.
What happened next:
The band’s fifth album, the overly-ambitious Small World, was released in 1988, and contained only one top ten hit, “Perfect World.” The band’s winning streak ended there. One more album of new material by the original lineup followed, 1991’s Hard At Play) before the band descended into the abyss of recording oldies albums, lineup changes and playing dumpier and dumpier dives.
Fun fact: Huey Lewis played harmonica on Thin Lizzy’s Live & Dangerous album.
Self-serving fact: I attended the May 1, 1987 Huey Lewis & The News concert in Hartford, CT.
Bon Jovi – New Jersey (1988)
Top ten singles: Five
- Bad Medicine (#1)
- Born To Be My Baby (#3)
- I’ll Be There For You (#1)
- Lay Your Hands On Me (#7)
- Living in Sin (#9)
Bon Jovi gained a following from the word go. Its 1984 debut single “Runaway” became a moderate radio and MTV favorite, and the band’s first two albums Bon Jovi and 7800º Fahrenheit – (I didn’t even know these clowns could spell Fahrenheit) were kind of cult favorites for the “metal light” crowd.
But all that changed in 1986: Slippery When Wet was released and the singles and videos launched “chick metal” into the world. (Yes, Def Leppard treaded that path a few years earlier, but at they kept their street cred and it wasn’t wrong for a guy to like them.) Now BJ was all over the place – they had a profound effect on radio, video and culture at large. Not many can claim that.
But of all the acts listed here, Bon Jovi went for “if it worked last time, it’ll work this time!) – see how “Bad Medicine” was “You Give Love A Bad Name” junior. Same with “Born To Be My Baby” & “Livin’ On A Prayer.” They also went for “if some is good, more is better!” (hence the blog title) as far as singles go – there were three last time, let’s go for more this time!
And so it worked. But we’ve all seen the Behind the Music where the band got burned out after a long tour.
What happened next:
The band scattered, solo records were released and who the hell knew what the future held. But they did get back together, in height of the grunge era, and recorded a darker (and far better) album, Keep The Faith. The singles weren’t as plentiful, but, by that late date, the era of the hit album/single/video/tour was over and the band tours more on its legacy status than due to any new material. A couple of members have jumped ship, but the band is still out there, cranking out the hits live.
Fun fact: “Runaway” was originally recorded in 1982.
Self-serving fact: I attended the Bon Jovi/Billy Squier/Skid Row concert at Giant’s Stadium on June 11, 1989.
Phil Collins – …But Seriously (1989)
Top ten singles: Four
- Another Day in Paradise (#1)
- I Wish it Would Rain Down (#3)
- Something Happened On The Way To Heaven (#4)
- Do You Remember? (#4)
- Hang in Long Enough (#23) – FLOP!
Phil Collins – the largest selling male pop artist of the 1980s, right? Yup. Due to his work as drummer slash vocalist of Genesis, his solo career, his production efforts (Eric Clapton, Frida, Phillip Bailey, etc.,) together, and it was no wonder this guy could afford three very expensive divorces.
Actually, I could’ve used Genesis in this list, as the Invisible Touch album boasted five hit singles, and the band’s next album (We Can’t Dance) was definitely darker and less commercial. But poor old Phil suffered sort of a nervous breakdown at that point, cheated on wife #2 and left the old boys in the band to their own devices.
But back to Phil! Like Huey and Bon, Phil caught fire with his third album (No Jacket Required) and the singles and videos were all over the place, not to mention his album sitting at the top of the charts in the era of Madonna, Prince and Bruce. Like Huey, Phil comes across as a nice guy. (Word on the street is that Jon Bon Jovi is an asshole.) There is something likable with him, and so you root for them to succeed.
So unlike the other two, Phil had the little task of writing, recording and touring a Genesis album before getting back to his solo career. That album, Invisible Touch, was the top of the mountain for Genesis, racking up multiple hit singles and sold-out stadium shows. Then, after that tour was over with, he acted in a movie. Oh yeah, lobbed another two quick hits to #1.
But Phil, perhaps wanting to shed his “nice Mr. Everyguy” image, wrote about homelessness for his first single off of …But Seriously. (Hence the clever title.) It was the post Live Aid/Band Aid/U.S.A. For Africa era, so making a social statement seemed like the thing to do. And, like the other two acts listed here, the singles seemed on the “light” side – none of the edginess of his earlier work.
What happened next:
Our boy first released a live CD in late 1990. Then he went back to Genesis to record and tour the We Can’t Dance (1991) album. He became overwhelmed at the entire machine of it all, had an affair, wrecked his marriage. Recorded studio album #5 (Both Sides of the Story) and ended up quitting Genesis in 1996. Read his autobiography Not Dead Yet to learn the “other side of the story.”
Fun fact: …But Seriously was the only rock album chart topper in a long drought for rock albums in 1989-1991. Thanks, Milli Vanilli!
Self-serving fact: I had tickets for a Phil Collins concert in New Jersey on this tour – and it was one of the few shows postponed shows.