Common Thread: The Producers Come Out to Play (Part 4)

by Jeff Fiedler

Common Thread is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which we offer up mini-reviews of a small (and often very diverse) assortment of albums that all have one specific shared trait; that "common thread" can vary from column to column. 

Sanctuary, New Musik (1981, Epic)

This British new-wave outfit floated under the radar on American shores, but frontman Tony Mansfield would make a name for himself in later years as the go-to producer for synth-pop duo Naked Eyes (“Always Something There to Remind Me,” “Promises Promises,” “When the Lights Go Out,” “(What) In the Name of Love”), also co-producing such notable albums as a-ha’s Hunting High and Low and the B-52s’ Bouncing Off the Satellites. This disc, the band’s full-length American debut (they had previously released a ten-inch EP, Straight Lines, on American shores two years earlier), was actually a well-crafted compilation of cuts from the band’s first two British albums, From A to B and Anywhere, but it’s near-impossible to tell – even after reading the liner notes – that these tracks weren’t originally designed to share the same disc, because it holds together extremely well.  It’s a bit of a head-scratcher why this disc didn’t catch on here during the new-wave boom, as it’s loaded with accessible and extremely hook-heavy fodder such as “Straight Lines,” “Sanctuary,” and “This World of Water” that would have sounded fantastic on the radio.

No Stranger to Danger, Payola$ (1982, A&M)

Hailing from Canada, this Paul Hyde-led band never managed to reach the Top 40 in the U.S. (and would only reach the Hot 100 a single time, thanks to 1985’s “You’re the Only Love”), but they did garner quite a bit of radio play with the lead-off single from this album, “Eyes of a Stranger,” which would reach the Top Five in Canada (also garnering a Juno award – the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy – for the year’s best single) and be used prominently in the film Valley Girl. The album also has the notable distinction of having been produced by legendary David Bowie sideman Mick Ronson. But the Payola$ are perhaps best known these days for having been the training grounds for Bob Rock, who would go from being the band’s guitarist to launching a wildly successful career as a very in-demand producer for the likes of Metallica, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, The Cult, Bryan Adams and even Michael Buble! 

Living in Fiction, Fast Forward (1984, Island)

A tough album to find but one with a seriously impressive cast of talent, this was originally meant to be a solo album for Ian Lloyd, who had been the lead vocalist for the ‘70s band Stories (who scored a Number One hit in the U.S. with the soulful funk of the interracial-romance-themed “Brother Louie.”) Lloyd opted instead to turn the disc into a band affair, and he got some noteworthy friends to round out the lineup. Producer Bruce Fairbairn – best known as one of the most in-demand hard-rock producers of the ‘80s and ‘90s, helming many a gold or platinum album for the likes of Loverboy, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Poison, and Van Halen – surprisingly became the band’s horn player, while Bryan Adams’ longtime co-writer, Jim Vallance (who had played with Fairbairn in the ‘70s in the band Sunshyne), became the band’s drummer (under the alias Rodney Higgs.) [Fittingly, Lloyd had actually been the first person to record Bryan Adams’ composition “Straight from the Heart,” releasing his version a full three years before Adams finally cut the song himself and scored his breakthrough hit in America.] Spider alumnus Jimmy Lowell also joined the band, while two future superstar producers would also make guest appearances on the record: Bob Rock plays guitar on the disc, while Beau Hill (best known for producing Ratt, Warrant, and Winger) provides keyboards.

Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder, Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder (1985, A&M)

It’s hard to say what makes this album more noteworthy, the fact that this
remains the only solo album Human League lead singer Philip Oakey has ever made or the fact that it contains what remains the only Top Ten pop hit that Moroder has had as a performer on either side of the Atlantic. [“Together in Electric Dreams” (also featured in the film Electric Dreams) would reach the Top Three in the U.K.; Moroder’s lone Top 40 hit as a performer in the U.S. is the instrumental theme “Chase” from the movie Midnight Express.] In some respects, this sadly-overlooked album is reminiscent of Moroder’s legendary work with Donna Summer, not in the least since all the tracks on the first side are segued together. The album strangely didn’t sell, but little matter – Oakey would go on shortly after to score his second chart-topper with the Human League with 1986’s “Human,” while Moroder can claim to have produced not only Summer’s glorious run of albums from the back half of the ‘70s but also Blondie’s “Call Me,” Irene Cara’s “Flashdance (What a Feeling),” “Why Me?,” “Breakdance,” and “The Dream (Hold on to the Dream),” Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” and Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.” Younger listeners may recognize him from his spoken-word cameo on “Giorgio by Moroder” from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. Remarkably, Moroder is still going today at the age of 76 and his most recent album is 2015’s Déjà Vu, which featured the Kylie Minogue-sung Billboard-dance-chart-topping hit “Right Here, Right Now.”

David Foster, David Foster (1986, Atlantic)

Forget for a moment that Foster has become a regular sighting on reality shows (American Idol, The Princes of Malibu, and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, to name a few) or that he’s responsible for producing such inescapable ‘90s ballads as Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” Toni Braxton’s “Un-break My Heart,” and Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me.” [His ‘90s work wasn’t all like that, though – check out his fantastic production job on Natalie Cole’s delightful tribute album Unforgettable … with Love. He’s also responsible for discovering Irish quartet The Corrs and giving them their first label deal.]  The truth is his résumé as a producer – particularly in his earliest years – is much hipper than most critics might have you think. He helmed the great Daryl Hall & John Oates albums Along the Red Ledge and X-Static, co-wrote Cheryl Lynn’s “Got to Be Real,” Chaka Khan’s gorgeous “Through the Fire,” DeBarge’s equally pretty “Who’s Holding Donna Now,” most of the Earth, Wind & Fire album I Am (including its massive hit ballad “After the Love Has Gone”), Boz Scaggs’ Middle Man (including the hits “Jojo” and “Breakdown Dead Ahead”) and Scaggs’ stunningly beautiful Urban Cowboy ballad “Look What You’ve Done to Me.” He also produced the notorious cult band The Tubes’ first two albums of the ‘80s, miraculously turning them into radio stars (“Don’t Want to Wait Anymore”) and even co-writing their hits “Talk to Ya Later” and “She’s a Beauty.” He also co-wrote Kenny Loggins’ “Heart to Heart” and single-handedly revived the commercial fortunes of Chicago, helping them reinvent themselves as one of the premier adult-contemporary-ballad acts of the ‘80s (“Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and “You’re the Inspiration” being just two of the many sizable hits he produced and co-wrote for the band.) This self-titled outing, a rare solo affair from the Skylark (“Wildflower”) alumnus, is actually a very appealing and tasteful adult-contemporary-pop album, sporting a major Top 40 hit in his instrumental love theme to St. Elmo’s Fire and also featuring such charming cuts as “The Best of Me” and “Who’s Gonna Love You Tonight,” featuring guest vocals, respectively, from Olivia Newton-John and Mr. Mister’s Richard Page.