When I was young I always wanted a jukebox for my 45s. I fantasized about owning a stand-alone jukebox - a giant, glowing mechanical marvel, filled with 100 carefully chosen 45s, with A-sides and B-sides listed through the glass, and with enough bass in its built-in speakers to shake loose all the Formica in a 1950s-era diner. It's good that I never owned one, though, because a real jukebox would have ground my 45s to a powder. Jukeboxes have heavy tonearms that made sure the records didn't skip, but at the expense of the records themselves.
Around 2009 or 2010, I got an idea for a weekly feature on Crap From The Past. I'd call it Ron's Dream Jukebox. Every week I'd pick a new 45 to populate my Dream Jukebox and play it on the show. I realized that if I timed the feature to start around my 43rd birthday, I'd complete my Dream Jukebox with 100 45s around my 45th birthday. And what better way to celebrate turning 45 than with a fully stocked jukebox that truly features a turning 45?
I even gave the Ron's Dream Jukebox feature its own jingle, by repurposing a catchy, seven-second-long jingle mysteriously included on the third Stars on 45 album: "Ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo/Listen to the Stars on Forty-Fi-i-i-ive." I think the jingle uses a vocal bridge originally recorded for an abrupt drop in tempo in the Stars on 45's Stevie Wonder single. Regardless of its origin, I gleefully made it my own for the two years of the Ron's Dream Jukebox feature.
I knew which 45 I'd start with, in spot A-1 on the Jukebox (just like the Dave Edmunds song), and which 45 I'd finish with, in spot A-100. But I deliberately refrained from picking the other 98 songs in advance, choosing instead to select one song a week as I went. And so Crap From The Past unspooled Ron's Dream Jukebox over the course of two full years, one 45 at a time. Out of every feature I've ever done on the show, I'm most proud of Ron's Dream Jukebox.
My only constraint was that the song had to be available on a 7-inch single, somewhere in the world. It makes sense; a real jukebox couldn't play the song if it wasn't on a 45. But I also chose to select only actual 45s for a more practical reason: You're more likely to have heard of the song if it was released as a single. I wanted listeners to recognize (and hopefully like) the songs in the Jukebox. That's the point of 45-RPM singles: mass appeal (or at least attempted mass appeal). Otherwise, the list of Jukebox songs could have ended up as just another list of songs that some guy likes but you've never heard of. Not very interesting.
Fortunately for me (and everyone!), my tastes veer strongly toward pop songs. The 100 songs in Ron's Dream Jukebox really do represent my favorite songs in all of recorded history. You've heard some of them a thousand times, you've heard some others only once, and you've never heard a handful of them. I can assure you, though, that all are worthwhile, and all are worth hunting down. I stake my Craptastic reputation on it.
Here, then, are my random musings for all 100 songs in Ron's Dream Jukebox:
In the first few years that I listened to the radio, I liked a lot of songs, and loved a few. Then, in 1986, I heard "Something About You" for the first time, and finally, at age eighteen, I had a favorite song! What a great 45: the effortless melody, the understated arrangement, the irresistible bassline from Mark King, the light-as-air harmonies, and even a terrific B-side (an instrumental version of an album track called "Coup D'Etat"). For my college years, Level 42 was my favorite band, making me an extremely small minority among my Peter Gabriel/Steve Winwood/U2-loving friends. The UK and US versions of Level 42's World Machine CD had different track listings, so naturally I bought both. Like virtually all of my true favorite songs, this one never packed a dancefloor, but it sounded fantastic on the drive home from the club. If you don't know Level 42, start with the best-of Level Best (1989), then pick up the full-length albums World Machine (1985) and Running in the Family (1987). Look for the original '80s-era CD releases on Polydor, which have spectacular sound. Their earlier stuff is more jammy, less poppy, and their later stuff isn't as well written as these two albums, but it's all worthwhile. After all, they were my favorite band for a while.
Why wasn't this a hit when it came out in 1979? It had an immediate, breakneck, three-piece arrangement held together by the bass playing of Graham Maby, as well as razor-sharp lyrics and one of Joe Jackson's catchiest melodies to date. It had the full support of A&M Records, following quickly on the heels of the Look Sharp album, which spawned the fluke hit "Is She Really Going Out with Him." In hindsight, maybe the song was just too grown-up for radio. I remember seeing Joe Jackson perform "I'm the Man" on some TV show in 1979 (Solid Gold?), and I remember not quite understanding it. I was eleven, after all. The 45 is an (unnecessary) early fade of the LP version, but still brilliant. If you're new to Joe Jackson, I recommend A&M's Stepping Out: The Very Best of (1990), which has the full LP length of "I'm the Man," and his 1979 debut album, Look Sharp (1979), which came out a few months before "I'm the Man." There are two '80s-era CD pressings of Look Sharp - look for the one running 36:32; avoid an earlier one running 36:40, which has a one-sample offset that desynchronizes its left and right channels.
What a groove! A non-album 45 released right in the middle of Aretha's prime, featuring Bernard Purdie on drums. The late '60s Aretha Franklin material on Atlantic Records is truly essential. Seriously, you NEED to own at least one late '60s Aretha collection, if you want to understand how pop music works. You'll want to hunt down the mono mixes for these tracks, not the weaker stereo mixes. The best place to round up the '60s-era hits, mostly in mono, is Rhino's Very Best of the '60s (1994), which has the best sound of any Aretha collection out there. If you need more Aretha, spring for Rhino/Atlantic's four-CD Queen of Soul (1992), which also features the good stuff in mono.
WAPP signed on the air in New York City, going commercial-free for the entire summer of 1982. It was FANTASTIC. WAPP was still riding high in the fall of 1982, so that in my ninth-grade mechanical drawing class Mr. Kohler would tune the radio to WAPP while we kids drew rectangular things with our triangles and mechanical pencils. What did WAPP sound like? It sounded exactly like "What Do All the People Know" by the Monroes. Upbeat, impossibly catchy, and doomed out of existence by a future event. One year later, in the summer of 1983, New York city saw WPLJ flip to top 40, and Z100 sign on as another top 40 monster. Those two stations, and the competition between them, effectively killed off WAPP. Likewise, the Monroes' record company, Alfa, went bankrupt just as "What Do All the People Know" was climbing the charts. Without a record company to promote it, the song withered in the bottom half of the charts and never became the real smash that it deserved to be. The Monroes released exactly one five-song EP (The Monroes) and one 45 on Alfa, both of which became very difficult to find at exactly the time most fans would want to buy them. Two compilation CDs released in 1994 featured "What Do All the People Know" and saved the song from complete obscurity. Seek out the song on EMI's Living in Oblivion, Vol. 3 (1994), where it sounds great and is from a tape source. There's a digital clone of the version on Oblivion on Time-Life's two-CD Modern Rock, Vol. 14: Lost Hits of the Early '80s (2000; digitally exactly 2.5 dB quieter). The song is also on Rhino's Just Can't Get Enough, Vol. 4 (1994), but it's taken from vinyl.
How can one song be so smooth? Drummer Jeff Porcaro and bass player Louis Johnson rein in their otherworldly skills and lock into the world's tightest groove, and they play it without the aid of a click track. I still play this song at every single wedding that I deejay. The song is a remake of a 1962 Chuck Jackson song, but with a different chorus and slightly different verses. There's enough of a similarity to give writers' credits to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller on the 1982 version, but Michael McDonald rewrote a substantial portion of the song.
Around 1999, I bought the full 45 collection of a dying record store in Nyack, New York for $10. I think this was one of those 45s. The title caught my attention, since I have a soft spot for desserts. I only later found out that this was the first of many hits for the sixteen-year-old Belgian girl who sang it. This song hit #1 in France in 1979, unbeknownst to me.
This wasn't the first production job for Minneapolis' Jimmy "Jam" Harris and Terry Lewis, but it was the single that laid the groundwork for everything they did afterward. The programmed-yet-soulful drum patterns, the tuneful, jittery basslines, and just the right amount of dazzle to complement the vocals. For years, aspiring artists would want to work with Jimmy and Terry and would ask for a song that sounds exactly like "Just Be Good to Me."
The band 'Til Tuesday released three albums, but the first two weren't all that great. I guess the key is that Aimee Mann needed to suffer a little to write great songs. Most of 'Til Tuesday's third album and masterpiece, Everything's Different Now, was written about her breakup with Jules Shear. Now that I think of it, most of Aimee Mann's first solo album, Whatever, was written about 'Til Tuesday's breakup with Epic Records!
I've read that Stevie Wonder's album Innervisions (1973) is a better album overall than Talking Book (1972), but the highpoints of Talking Book are higher than on Innervisions. "Superstition" is the highest of the highpoints on Talking Book. It's perfect. Untouchable. Timeless.
I love the cover art for the full One Night with a Stranger album, but I only love the first song on the album. In my opinion, "The Salt in My Tears" is the finest kiss-off song ever recorded. The LP/45 version sounds great on Rhino's seven-CD Like Omigod (2002). Priority's Eighties Greatest Rock Hits, Vol. 6: Agony and Ecstasy (1993) includes the promo 45 edit of the song, which trims 32 beats from the guitar solo.
There are only a handful of songs that stopped me dead in my tracks, where I absolutely had to find out what they were (Another was Tears for Fears' "Sowing the Seeds of Love"). This song gets my vote as the very best song having the most dated production, of all time.
In my opinion, Jeff Porcaro was the greatest pop/rock drummer of all time. Evidence: this very song, which effortlessly features the most complicated drum pattern I've ever heard in pop music. Pay attention to the ridiculously difficult grace notes on the snare, all from Mr. Porcaro's left hand. And he doesn't just play it - he makes it swing. My editor for this book brags to me about his Africa-shaped picture disc of this 45, which is of course backed by the song "Africa."
I wasn't a big fan of "Just When I Needed You Most," which was a sad, downtempo hit in 1979. Randy Vanwarmer toughened up his sound for the new-wavy Beat of Love album and almost had a real pop hit with this song, retitled "Suzi" for the 45. I'd heard that tiny Bearsville Records just couldn't afford to properly promote the song, and so it got about halfway up the pop charts based solely on its awesomeness.
Boy, do I love the Spinners records from 1972-6, when they worked with producer Thom Bell. Those Atlantic records were the very essence of smooth, soulful, elegant, and glorious. "The Rubberband Man" seemed a bit more pop and a bit less soul than the earlier singles, and it turned out to be their biggest pop hit to date, peaking at #2 in 1976. They would return to #2 in 1980 with their remake of "Working My Way Back to You." The Spinners never hit #1 on the Hot 100 (except for "Then Came You," a 1974 duet with Dionne Warwick). Rhino's Very Best of (1993) is a flawless collection of their hits, in the 45 edits.
This was the follow-up to the top 10 pop hit, "She's a Beauty." Unfortunately for the Tubes, it sounded more like Earth, Wind & Fire than "She's a Beauty," and radio ignored it.
This holiday-for-saxophones was actually written with words, but the band found that it worked much better as an instrumental, with the saxes playing the vocal lines. I'd love to hear it with words!
Radio columnist Sean Ross wrote a piece about songs that he would never have heard had it not been for Canadian radio. I would never have known this song had it not been for Sean's column. Producer David Tyson would later do some other great work with Alannah Myles ("Black Velvet") and Jude Cole ("Baby it's Tonight").
I remember reading a review of this song that said that the British group Pigbag sounded like a deranged marching band. It tanked in the UK when it was released in 1981, then inspired the B-side "Precious" by the Jam in 1982, then became a hit on its own after the Jam song came out. I first heard it on CFNY-FM sometime in the late 1980s, driving around Toronto and listening to their All Request Nooner. My childhood friend Jason Candler later arranged this song for the Hungry March Band, a frenetic group based in New York.
More drums. Can you bring the drums up a little? Maybe a little more. As best as I can tell, the whole thing is played with just one main drum line and one overdub at a time. It's not that difficult to play, just exhausting because it's unrelenting sixteenth notes for the entire song. The intro is played at 106 BPM, and then the rest of the song is played with a click track at 114 BPM.
The Bangles' finest moment, with a terrific melody, superb harmonies, and lyrics that include the word "sycophant." The 1990 Greatest Hits CD is the best introduction to the band, and sounds great.
At the time in 1967, producer Mickie Most thought it wasn't good enough to release as a single in the UK, so "To Sir with Love" never hit the UK charts. The rest of the world knew better, though, and in the US the song was a #1 hit.
When I was in college in the late 1980s, I'd routinely pick up cheap vinyl copies of Gerry Rafferty's 1977 City to City album and give them away to friends, telling them, "This will change your life." The music remains untouchable, but the mastering history is a mess. If you dig around, you'll find the US album version of the song (with a printed time of 6:11), a first US promo version that was also used on the US 45 and possibly the UK 45 (printed 4:08), a longer US promo version that was on the B-side of the first US promo single (printed 5:56), and a second US promo version (printed 3:47). All of these were released in the US in 1978. In 1989, EMI released a remixed version with extra instrumentation on the Gerry Rafferty compilation Right Down the Line (6:26) - avoid. Worse, all of the above run at different speeds! It turns out that United Artists Records adjusted the speed of all the tracks on the City to City album for the US release, making all the US releases a little wonky sounding. Your best bet is to hunt down a UK pressing of the City to City album, which I consider to be the "proper" speed.
A while back I found a copy of the original 1980s-era EMI UK CD for City to City, which sounds superb, and I compared this relatively inexpensive disc to the expensive DCC gold CD release of City to City from 1995, and I discovered that they sound basically the same. I ran my Ron diagnostics (comically thorough, but far too nerdy to discuss here) and discovered that the expensive DCC gold CD actually uses the EMI UK CD as its source. Not a digitally identical clone, but darn close. When I presented this, with evidence, on the Steve Hoffman Music Forum (Hoffman mastered the DCC disc), he immediately deleted all the posts and hushed all discussion of it. It didn't end well.
This was my letter of resignation from the Hoffman forum, which I posted on November 4, 2015:
Dear Mr. Hoffman:
After nearly eleven years and 1,628 posts on your forum, I'm calling it quits. I'm disgusted with the censorship of posts that dare to question the quality of anything affiliated with your name.
On a forum dedicated to mastering, on which members routinely debate how two digitally identical CDs can sound different and cables can require a break-in period, it's tragic that you and your gorts routinely delete posts that deal with actual mastering issues on the Audio Fidelity CDs that you've mastered.
I've discovered that AF's version of Stevie Wonder's Innervisions uses the same analog transfer as the '80s-era Motown version, with some additional EQ. I've discovered that the DCC version of Gerry Rafferty's City to City uses the same analog transfer as the '80s-era UK EMI version, with a small EQ adjustment on two tracks and no EQ adjustment on anything else. I've discovered that "Jungle Love" on AF's version of Steve Miller's Greatest Hits: 1974-78 has a tape azimuth error that desynchronizes the left and right channels by about two samples - enough to screw up the soundstage and wipe out most of the high end when summed to mono. I've discovered that virtually all the tracks on your Razor & Tie collections use the same analog transfers as earlier, existing CDs.
Your forum would have provided a perfect outlet to discuss and address these issues in a respectful, highly technical setting. Instead, you've instructed the gorts to shut it all down.
So like Jamie Tate and Barry Diament before me, I'm leaving SH.tv. I'll be on the Pat Downey board, where we routinely discuss mastering errors without offending the mastering engineer who committed them. And I'll be on the air, hosting the radio show that I've hosted for nearly twenty-four years, and routinely committing and laughing at my own mistakes.
Please deactivate my account.
Ron Gerber, crapfromthepast
Here are track-by-track instructions for how to reproduce the expensive DCC release of City to City, using the inexpensive EMI UK CD as a source:
"The Ark": raise levels by about 0.2 dB.
"Baker Street": raise levels by about 2 dB.
"Right Down the Line": boost 2 kHz by 0.5 dB and cut 8 kHz by 0.5 dB, then drop the level by 0.5 dB.
"City to City": boost 2 kHz by 0.75 dB and cut 10 kHz by 0.25 dB, then drop the level by 1 dB.
"Stealin' Time": raise levels by about 0.5 dB.
"Mattie's Rag": raise levels by about 1.5 dB.
"Whatever's Written in Your Heart": raise levels by about 0.7 dB.
"Home and Dry": raise levels by about 0.6 dB.
"Island": raise levels by about 1.2 dB.
"Waiting for the Day": raise levels by about 1.1 dB.
Aside from benefit acts, such as USA for Africa, Band Aid, and Artists United Against Apartheid, M/A/R/R/S may be the only one-off recording act in the 1980s that had a hit but never recorded a full album. The US and UK single versions feature different sets of samples.
John Oates celebrates the joy of radio. I can relate.
Remarkably, this Talking Heads spin-off proved more enduring and influential than any of the Talking Heads records. That beat, that sound, is the very definition of "old school."
When I bought my vinyl copy of the Talk Show album, there was a little handwritten label stuck to the cover: "Third and final album." I always thought the "and final" was pretty funny. The leadoff single from that third and final album remains their finest track, complete with a terrific piano break and an unexpected drum/bass breakdown. Originally recorded with a drum machine, with live drums dubbed in afterwards. The 1990 CD Greatest should be all the Go-Go's you need.
When Tears for Fears were compiling tracks for Songs from the Big Chair they slaved over the songs "Shout" and "Head Over Heels" and tacked "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" on as a throwaway afterthought. "Head Over Heels" stands beaming atop the very best synth-pop album of all time.
Old joke: James Brown's interview questions for a new guitarist: (1) "Can you play an E9 chord?" (2) "For how long?" In all seriousness, I heard that the JB lineup in 1972 featured a guitarist who wasn't the most proficient, so James arranged this song so that the guitar line was the extremely simple one-note-at-a-time ascending and descending pattern. No need to mess with complexity when such a simple pattern works so well.
Chic lives! With the album The Glow of Love in 1980, the Italian studio creation Change sounded more like Chic than Chic themselves. Luther Vandross actually sang with both Change and Chic. If you've never heard any Change songs, the best introduction is with the 45 edits included on Rhino's The Disco Years compilations. Vol. 3 (1992) includes 1980's "The Glow of Love." Vol. 4 (1992) includes "A Lover's Holiday" and 1981's "Paradise," and Vol. 6 (1995) includes 1984's "Change of Heart."
Guitarist Aldo Nova lands his helicopter of guitar squarely between new wave and crunchy hard rock. The song is played with a click track until the very end, after the vocals finish, when it picks up in tempo a bit. The 45 edits out the intro, shortens the chorus, and features a brand new, shorter guitar solo recorded just for the 45.
The album version is transcendent. The 45 edit cuts out about a minute, including the second breakdown, but remains just as transcendent. For a potent introduction to Earth, Wind & Fire, pick up the 1980s-era CD release Best of, Vol. 1 (copyright 1978), which sounds terrific.
A bright patch in Donna Summer's spotty post-Giorgio Moroder catalog. The two-CD Anthology (1993) rounds up the singles nicely and sounds great. If you're not a purist about getting the 45 versions, seek out the original '80s-era CD of her greatest hits, On the Radio (1980), which is sequenced flawlessly and includes some custom segues done for that album.
One could argue that Saturday Night Fever ruined the Bee Gees. The movie and soundtrack made them a pile of money, but it forever linked them with disco and overshadowed their fine earlier and later work. Case in point: their 1975 album Main Course, a keyboard-driven soul masterpiece produced by the great Arif Mardin. You'll be hooked after the one-two punch of "Nights on Broadway" and "Jive Talkin'," both far more durable than the brilliant but overplayed hits from SNF.
This song invented the Gin Blossoms, and Tom Petty, and pretty much all of jangle-pop. I am deeply grateful for all.
There's a live version on one of Al Stewart's greatest-hits collections that is every bit as good as the excellent studio version.
The early days of new wave produced a lot of hard-to-classify gems, like this track. This song is played by a live drummer with excellent time-keeping abilities and no click-track. Stay in time indeed.
Where there's smooth, there's likely some connection to Toto. Jeff Porcaro plays drums here; David Paich co-wrote it and plays keyboards.
I routinely sing the praises of 38 Special's particular brand of well written, unpretentious, guitar-based bar-rock. The hits are undeniable: "Hold on Loosely," "Caught Up in You," "If I'd Been the One," "Back Where You Belong," "Teacher Teacher," "Like No Other Night." My old cover band spontaneously launched into "Hold on Loosely" one night at rehearsal - everyone knows it, and it's a lot of fun to play, too. "You Keep Runnin' Away" grazed the bottom of the top 40 in 1982 and has a great melody and an unexpected chord progression, which is what made this band great. The 1987 greatest-hits CD Flashback is an excellent starting point, although "You Keep Runnin' Away" isn't on it.
What a gloriously weird-sounding record. No one else, including Sniff 'n' the Tears themselves, has ever recorded anything that sounds like "Driver's Seat," before or after.
One of my "secret weapons" at weddings and dances. That scream on the intro works every time, guaranteed. And it was Stax's biggest-selling record ever at the time.
One of a handful of songs in the Dream Jukebox that takes me back to when I first started listening to the radio in late 1978.
The 1980 album Pretenders was a masterpiece. The 1984 album Learning to Crawl was even better (in my opinion). Between those two was Pretenders II, which came out in 1981. It didn't quite click with me, except for "Talk of the Town" and the rifftastic "Message of Love."
How to describe the emotional center of Stevie Wonder's most ambitious album, Songs in the Key of Life? At the 45 length of about four minutes, it's remarkable. At the full LP length of about eight minutes, it's a near-religious experience. This song is why Stevie Wonder is my favorite artist of all time.
In early 1984, flash and hugeness ruled the US pop charts. Neil Finn's sweet ballad lacked both flash and hugeness, and it didn't chart in the US at all, but was a deserved top ten hit in Australia.
At the time, I didn't appreciate the loud pop gems that Def Leppard crafted with producer Mutt Lange. I just heard LOUD, and it would take years to fully appreciate how much studio polish went into those gems. The Pyromania album was recorded with a drum machine; those drums in "Photograph" are programmed, not played live. Def Leppard would take the programmed rhythm section to its logical extreme on 1987's Hysteria album.
1977's most polished studio concoction. There's no improvising or jamming in "Peg," with the deliberate exception of Jay Graydon's unhinged guitar solo that balances out the scripted restraint of the other instruments. It's recorded with a click track, which was very uncommon for Steely Dan. This is one of the songs you can use to show off your stereo system. All the versions on CD sound fantastic.
When "Upside Down" was climbing the US pop charts in the spring of 1980, it entered the top 40 way up at #10, up from #49 the previous week. This was monumental at the time and was the highest-debuting top 40 hit since 1971, when Isaac Hayes's "Theme from Shaft" entered the top 40 at #9. Thank you, Casey Kasem.
Co-written and co-produced by Stevie Wonder, which explains the awesome funkitude.
Rupert Hine produced some of the 1980s' most imaginative pop, including great-sounding albums from Howard Jones, the Fixx, Tina Turner, Saga, and Chris de Burgh. He produced this nuclear-age end-of-the-world single, too, which packs even more of a punch in its 45 edit.
Easily the best song of all time that was specially recorded as a new song for a greatest-hits album. This will fill dancefloors long after you and I are gone.
The Lexicon of Love is my favorite pop album of the early '80s. Producer Trevor Horn told ABC drummer David Robinson to play as mechanically as he could, so that he'd sound like a drum machine.
Not quite prog, not quite riff rock, totally catchy. The 45 edit maintains the song's momentum even better than the LP version.
When I was about four years old my grandfather gave me a small pile of promo 45s for my little-kid Philips record player with its detachable speaker. The best of the bunch was this song, in glorious mono, and adorned only by the four letters S O U L at the top of the all-white label. I can confidently say that my first record rocks harder than yours.
The first single from Men at Work's second album, Cargo, was more pensive, less gimmicky, and ultimately more satisfying than their singles from Business as Usual.
In the late 1970s, there was a television commercial for a mail-order two-LP set from Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. A guy recalls his dad asking him to turn the radio down and then recalls his immortal response of "But dad, it's Smokey!"
That intro is a gift to top 40 jocks - a BLAM sound effect, slashing guitars, and a Motowny drum-machine beat. This would have sounded spectacular on the air, had anyone played it when it came out in 1987, or ever.
Forget the instantly dated "pew" drum sounds, and instead focus on the stellar lead vocals. Sounds fun to sing, doesn't it?
The late 1980s American pop scene wandered off into hair-rock (Poison, Bon Jovi, the second incarnation of Aerosmith). The Brits didn't follow and instead produced acts far more soulful than their US contemporaries (Living in a Box, the Pasadenas, Terence Trent D'Arby, Curiosity Killed the Cat, etc.). Roachford had too much soul for US audiences, who didn't understand the James Brownesque "told you once, told you three times, told you five times" in the break of "Cuddly Toy."
Few people could write a song this good at all, and even fewer would give it away to someone else without first recording it himself. But that was Elvis Costello in the late 1970s.
Green Gartside's twee vocals + Arif Mardin's twisty rhythm section = a hit. But only in the US; somehow, this song did nothing in Scritti Politti's native UK.
A highlight from Jody Watley's first solo album, brilliantly co-written by Gardner Cole, and produced just like Scritti Politti.
Another fine Gardner Cole composition from 1988. Co-writing Madonna's huge hit "Open Your Heart" in 1987 gives you some industry clout. Also check out his "Strange but True," a small hit for Times Two in 1988.
Gorgeous, and possibly the only song in Ron's Dream Jukebox to which you can slow dance unironically.
The Commodores genuinely funked, before they figured out that ballads make a lot of money. Motown's two-CD Anthology (1995) is a perfect overview of the band.
Who knows what this song would have sounded like in the hands of a producer having less imagination than Rupert Hine? It certainly wouldn't have turned out to be the crank-to-eleven classic that it is today. Plus, that's a live drummer playing a whole lot of sixteenth notes without a click track.
The whole Dream Weaver album is good, if you like a whole lot of keyboards. This single is great, though. And if you need a reminder of what a potent song this is, check out Joan Osborne's brilliant and bombastic cover from 2000's Righteous Love album.
I cannot say enough great things about this record. It's written by Raymond Jones, who played with Chic. It's got a guitar solo from Brian May, from Queen. It features a live drummer playing a set of pads. It has the simplest and catchiest drum/bass intro that I can think of. The whole Stay with Me Tonight album is magnificent, as is 1982's Jeffrey Osborne, both produced to pop/funk perfection by George Duke.
I always heard Honeymoon Suite as the Canadian version of Bon Jovi. They both rocked hard for a little while. Both employed producer Bruce Fairbairn. Both lost me after the 1980s. And both peaked with the first song on their very first album: "New Girl Now" for Honeymoon Suite, and "Runaway" for Bon Jovi, both from 1984.
This one single set the template for Michael Jackson's entire solo career. A big pronouncement for sure, but it's all right here, minus Quincy Jones. One of the very best disco songs of all time.
Evie Sands should have been a household name in the mid-1960s, having recorded the original versions of two superb Chip Taylor songs: 1967's "Angel of the Morning," later a hit for Merrilee Rush, and 1965's "I Can't Let Go," later a hit for the Hollies in 1966, and for Linda Ronstadt in 1980. Unfortunately, record company woes doomed Ms. Sands's versions to obscurity. And I mean true obscurity; I didn't even know that her version even existed when I picked the Hollies' version for Ron's Dream Jukebox.
In 2002, I found an indie 45 of a song called "Tongue Twisters," credited to the Looking Glass. The 45 had no record company, just a plain red label, and seemed to be from the late 1960s. I knew the name the Looking Glass from the 1972 hit "Brandy" and thought it might be the same band, so I played the song on the August 5, 2002 episode of Crap From The Past on a segment called "The Random 45." It sounded like some teens playing a little garage pop, nothing like "Brandy."
A few months later, I got an email from a woman named Lisa, from Toms River, New Jersey. She said that her fiancee was the original lead singer of the Looking Glass and asked me about the "Tongue Twisters" 45. Apparently, it was the same band! I told her that I'd be happy to send her a copy of the song.
Later that day, on April 14, 2003, I got a response from Frank Antuna himself, the original lead singer of the Looking Glass:
Hey Ron, I was in the Looking Glass in the late '60s, I was nineteen years old at the time, I am now 53 years old and I am still in the music business, although I am only doing covers in a band called YBNORMAL in Ocean County, NJ...it is totally unbelievable that anyone has a copy of "Tongue Twisters." I started the band the Looking Glass in Toms River, NJ in the sixties. We recorded "Tongue Twisters" and performed it on the Kirby Scott Show in Baltimore, where the song went to the Top Ten. I was partially involved in "Brandy," but because of contractual problems, the original band quit, and were replaced by the band you know as Looking Glass.
I sent him my copy of the 45, along with a CD-R of both sides, so that he'd never have to play the vinyl again. The record certainly means more to him than to me.
Just one more reason to love "Brandy." As if the vivid, resonant lyrics and glorious middle-eight weren't enough.
Simply the best party record of the 1980s. I only recently discovered that Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers plays the bassline. Huge in the US, Canada, and Australia, but somehow a non-hit in England!
I prefer Livvy's cover version over the George Harrison original. Sacrilege!
When I did my "Best of the 1990s" show at the end of 1999, I started the show with this song. Everything about this record is loud, from the huge synths to the shoutable lyrics. She never got anything close to a second hit.
After the terrible disco-lite single "You're the Love" in 1978, the world wrote off Seals and Crofts. Too bad, though, because the follow-up single, "Takin' it Easy," cruised in at the rockin' end of the Yacht Rock spectrum. Producer Louie Shelton and guitarist Tony Peluso piled on guitars, more guitars, and somehow even more guitars, which almost threaten to drown out the cowbell.
This is the most recent song in Ron's Dream Jukebox. By 1991, the US had chosen cassette singles as the preferred single format (ew!), leaving the vinyl 45s to jukebox operators and to old fuddy-duddies like me. I still see this song as a brilliant last gasp of melodic hair-metal, before Nirvana spread dissonance across the pop landscape.
The Osmonds' single "Crazy Horses" became a heavy metal classic in Europe. Yes, the Osmonds are responsible for a heavy metal classic.
There are four songs on Herbie Hancock's legendary 1974 album, Head Hunters. All four appeared in edited form on 45s, with three of them being cut down to under three minutes, with the fourth running around four minutes. So the 45s effectively plow through the entire album's songs in thirteen minutes, which is shorter than the album version of "Chameleon." Jazz-fusion at its finest.
I think the drums for this song were recorded one part at a time, giving the whole piece a charming robotic quality. The harmonies are pretty great, too.
I read somewhere that Stevie Wonder's original lyrics for this song talked about some heavy topics, like world poverty or something to that effect. Stevie wisely chose to rewrite, and the resulting childhood tales give "I Wish" lyrics that are every bit as joyous as the melody. Amazingly, the 1980s-era CD release of Songs in the Key of Life sounds like mud, likely caused by using a high-generation tape source. Instead, go with the 1980s-era release of Original Musiquarium I (1982) for "I Wish."
There's only one album that produced two singles in Ron's Dream Jukebox: Gerry Rafferty's City to City. It's that good.
The Kings recorded an indie 45 in 1979 on a Canadian label, Extreme Records. The A-side was called "Switchin'," and the B-side was a medley of "This Beat Goes On/Switchin'." Producer Bob Ezrin rerecorded the medley for the Kings' 1980 album The Kings Are Here. For the 1980 album they played everything to a strict click-track, bumped up the tempo a bit, and dropped two lines from of the chorus of "This Beat Goes On" to tighten it up. The rerecording is an improvement.
If Jimmy Jam Harris and Terry Lewis produced the band Chic, it would sound exactly like "Change of Heart."
What a chord progression! Squeeze was unstoppable for 1980's brilliant Argybargy album. In hindsight, I probably should have put "Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)" in the Jukebox, too. The Singles: 45s and Under album from 1982 is an absolutely flawless greatest-hits album.
I never cared much for prog rock. My tastes align more with pop: Give me a catchy single, and get out. This song is what happens when a prog band goes pop successfully. Contrast this gem with, say, "Invisible Touch" by Genesis, which resides at the other end of the prog-turned-pop spectrum.
If you hire Todd Rundgren to produce your album, he'll deliver a great-sounding album that will sell about eight copies. Example: XTC's delightfully poppy Skylarking (1986).
A musical hug from Olivia Newton-John. Producer John Farrar's impossibly lush single was a huge hit worldwide in the spring of 1980. Hard to believe that a song this good can come from a movie as bad as Xanadu. I still play "Magic" during the dinner hour for every wedding I deejay.
Five guys from Holland singing about California? Why not? I loved this record when I was thirteen. My thirteen-year-old friends did not and made fun of me incessantly.
The song was released in England, bombed, was remixed to emphasize the vocals, and was then re-released in England. The remix was so influential that it arguably invented the entire 1980s British soul scene.
Two guys from Pennsylvania who weren't Hall & Oates or Gamble and Huff.
WDVE/Pittsburgh used to run a recurring sketch about a fictional clothing store called Pants N'At. Each one featured the same tag line, in the thickest possible Pittsburgh accent: "I get my disability check and POW! Down to Pants N'At." In the most elaborate Pants N'At sketch, WDVE got the real Donnie Iris to voice "Lonnie" Iris, one of the Iris triplets: "There's Donnie the singer, Connie the waitress, and me, Lonnie, the all-night guy at Pants N'At." Donnie's hit "Ah! Leah!" is clearly still beloved after three decades. Jag!
"It's a Miracle" was the peppy follow-up single to Manilow's first hit, "Mandy," and Arista Records head Clive Davis was taking extra steps to make sure it was a hit. The 45 includes extra overdubs and a busier mix than the comparably lackluster album version. Confusingly, there are three different mixes of the song available on CD. The 1984 CD pressing of Greatest Hits and 2005's two-CD The Essential include the hit 45 mix, with an extra few beats that can be easily removed to recreate the true 45 version. Hunt down one of those two CDs for "It's a Miracle." The LP version appears on the 1992 four-CD The Complete Collection and Then Some. There's a previously unreleased sparse mix on 1989's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, the 1989 rerelease of Greatest Hits, and 2002's Ultimate Manilow.
The intro to this song is the best thing KC and the Sunshine Band ever did. I used it as a music bed for a legendary Crap From The Past New Year's Eve promo.
If you're new to the world of Al Green, pick up the 1995 CD reissue of his Greatest Hits on The Right Stuff Records, which is stellar in every way. There's a soothing sameness to a lot of his hits, most of which settle into a groove between 95 and 100 BPM. "Take Me to the River" wasn't released as a single, though, and doesn't appear on Greatest Hits. The song sounds great on The Right Stuff's four-CD Al Green Anthology (1997), with digital clones on Time-Life's Legends of Soul, Vol. 5: Al Green (2001) and Rhino's Millennium New Funk Party (2001). Avoid the Motown CD releases of the Al Green catalog; The Right Stuff CDs used lower-generation source tapes.
That break! That endless, echoey drum break! No wonder this song is known as the National Anthem of Hip-Hop.
Dan Hartman, the bass player for the Edgar Winter Group, wrote and sang the original hit version of "Free Ride," then rerecorded it as an excellent disco record in 1979.
Another secret weapon in my live DJ arsenal, and Gerberfrau Pretty Liz's secret weapon on the rare occasion that she'll sing karaoke. The stereo mix brings forward the rat-a-tat drum fills, and is actually better than the mono mix for this song.
When I started Ron's Dream Jukebox, I knew I wanted to end up here. "Le Freak" was the first 45 I ever bought with my own money, in December 1978 (It was actually one of two 45s that I bought that day, but we'll just gloss over "Y.M.C.A."). I love this song even more than the day I got the 45, because I appreciate how tight the musicianship is. In 1994, when I was taking drum lessons to prepare for being the drummer in a disco band (which never materialized), I asked my teacher to teach me the patterns in the Chic records. He told me that my band better have a really good bass player. Still, to this day, I've not heard a funkier rhythm guitar player than Nile Rodgers, a more precise bassist than Bernard Edwards, or a more solid-timekeeper drummer than Tony Thompson. If you want the best-sounding version of "Le Freak" on CD, hunt down Rhino's The Disco Years, Vol. 3: Boogie Fever (1992), where it runs 4:17, about forty-four seconds longer than the 45. Using some superb-sounding source tapes, Bill Inglot reproduced the 45 edits that cut the chorus in half, but he let the song run out to the natural fade of the LP version. Any other CDs that feature a 4:17 version of "Le Freak" are based on the mastering for Disco Years and will also sound excellent. Most compilations that feature the LP version (5:23) are based on mastering for Atlantic's Dance Dance Dance: The Best of Chic (1991), which sounds abysmal - avoid. Most compilations that feature the 45 edit/length (3:30) are based on mastering for Silver Eagle's two-CD Dancin' the Night Away (1988), which has some severe tape drag at the end of the song - also avoid.
To paraphrase Casey: And there you have 'em! The 100 best jukebox songs of all time, as determined by Ron "Boogiemonster" Gerber in no particular order, and played from 2011 to 2013 as the Ron's Dream Jukebox feature on Crap From The Past. Keep your feet on the ground, keep reaching for the stars, and keep your records cool and dry.