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.
Ray, Goodman, & Brown, Ray, Goodman, & Brown (1979, Polydor)
This R&B trio hailing from Hackensack, New Jersey, had one of the biggest hits of 1980 with the Top Five pop (and Number One R&B) smash “Special Lady” and then never reached the Top 40 pop charts ever again (although “My Prayer” didn’t miss by very much, stopping at #47). But while “Special Lady” is the only hit the three men ever had under the name Ray, Goodman, & Brown, they’ve actually had more hits together than you might realize: the trio is comprised of the same men who made up the ‘70s R&B trio The Moments, who scored three Top 40 pop hits between 1970 and 1975, most famously with the 1970 Top Three smash “Love on a Two-Way Street,” which would become an instant R&B classic and would later return to the Top 40 a second time in 1981 in the form of a cover by Stacy Lattisaw.
Amy Holland, Amy Holland (1980, Capitol)
Though sadly largely forgotten to time, Holland made enough of an impression on audiences upon her arrival in 1980 to land a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, and she even managed to get a bona fide superstar – the Doobie Brothers’ Michael McDonald – to produce her self-titled debut, which yielded a sizable – and quite beautiful – hit in the #22-peaking “How Do I Survive,” actually a cover of a song by the little-known Paul Bliss Band. Although the song would prove to be her only Top 40 hit and she’d only make one further album (1983’s On Your Every Word) before taking an extended hiatus from recording (she’d eventually resurface in 2008 with the album The Journey to Miracle River), Holland achieved immortality of another sort by recording two songs – “She’s on Fire” and “Turn Out the Night” – for the soundtrack of the Al Pacino-starring cult classic Scarface, and the former song would even go on to be prominently used in the video game Grand Theft Auto III. Even during her long hiatus from solo work, Holland was never far from the music industry – not only did she continue to work with McDonald, providing backing vocals on his albums, but the two got married in 1983 and remain together to this day!
The Jealous Kind, Delbert McClinton (1980, Capitol)
This blues veteran (who’s also the voice you hear singing the song “Weatherman” under the opening credits of Groundhog Day) has just one major crossover pop hit to his name, this album’s Top Ten smash “Giving It Up for Your Love,” but he’s also the songwriter behind “B Movie Boxcar Blues,” featured on the Blues Brothers’ double-platinum Briefcase Full of Blues album, and Emmylou Harris’ Number One country hit “Two More Bottles of Wine,” and Bonnie Raitt’s duet partner on the Grammy-winning “Good Man, Good Woman” from 1991’s Luck of the Draw. But perhaps his most famous contribution to pop music of all is playing the immortal harmonica solo at the beginning of Bruce Channel’s 1962 Number One smash “Hey! Baby” – not only is the song still a staple of oldies stations and a part of silver-screen history (thanks to its prominent inclusion in Dirty Dancing), but the song inspired John Lennon to ask McClinton to give him harmonica lessons, resulting in Lennon incorporating the instrument into the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me”!
Spider, Spider (1980, Dreamland)
22B3, Device (1986, Chrysalis)
Spider’s one hit wasn’t especially big, fabulous though it was: “New Romance (It’s a Mystery)” reached only #39. But Spider’s legacy lasted well beyond its one hit. John Waite would later cover the band’s song “Change” (from their second and final album, 1981’s Between the Lines) for his first solo single after The Babys broke up, while Tina Turner would also cover a song from Between the Lines and incorporate it as the opening track on her massive comeback album Private Dancer, “Better Be Good to Me” going all the way into the Top Five. Holly Knight would later join another one-hit-wonder act, Device, and reach the Top 40 again, via the single “Hanging on a Heart Attack.,” but her greater legacy is as a songwriter: she’s co-written Patty Smyth and Scandal’s “The Warrior,” Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll,” Rod Stewart’s “Love Touch,” Animotion’s “Obsession,” Tina Turner’s “The Best” and “One of the Living,” Riff’s “My Heart Is Failing Me,” Heart’s “Never” and “There’s the Girl,” Lou Gramm’s “Just Between You and Me” and Pat Benatar’s “Invincible” and “Love Is a Battlefield.” Knight isn’t the only one from either of these bands who went on to bigger things: Spider’s Anton Fig would go on to a long-running gig as the drummer for the Paul Shaffer-led house band on David Letterman’s talk show, while Device’s Paul Engemann would join Animotion in time to score a Top Ten hit with the band in “Room to Move.”
City Nights, Tierra (1980, Boardwalk)
This sadly little-known Latin band from California had just one sizable hit, but it was an enchanting one: the retro-tinged soul of “Together,” hearkening back to the lush sound of such ‘70s R&B acts as Tavares and the Chi-Lites, would reach the Top Twenty before the band faded into oblivion. But brothers Rudy and Steve Salas (guitarist and trombonist, respectively) and percussionist Andre Baeza can claim to be something more than one-hit wonders: they were all alumni of the early ‘70s band El Chicano, who reached the Top Forty twice with the songs “Viva Tirado” and “Tell Her She’s Lovely.”
Balance, Balance (1981, Portrait)
Hailing from the Bronx, Balance made a big splash in 1981 with the effervescent, bouncy pop of the #22-peaking “Breaking Away,” a song that ranks right up there with Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” as one of the most deliriously happy and sunny pop 45s of the ‘80s and one that’s guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of even the most stoic of individuals. Sadly, the song’s been lost to time and seldom ever pops up on the radio these days, but once you’ve heard it, it’s near-impossible to resist getting up and dancing to it. It’d prove to be the only Top 40 hit the band ever had, but guitarist Bob Kulick’s brother Bruce would go on to play with Kiss from 1984 to 1996, and lead singer Peppy Castro had already achieved chart immortality on his own as the lead singer of the late-‘60s psychedelic-rock band the Blues Magoos, who reached the Top Five with “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet.”
Distant Shores, Robbie Patton (1981, Liberty)
This British-born singer-songwriter got his big break when Fleetwood Mac invited him to open for them on their promotional tour for Tusk. A friendship was born, and Patton and Christine McVie would collaborate on numerous occasions over the next several years. In fact, not only did McVie co-produce this album along with Patton and longtime Fleetwood Mac engineer/co-producer Ken Caillat (the father of Colbie Caillat), but Christine rounded up an impressive cast of Fleetwood Mac members past and present to appear on the disc, including Lindsey Buckingham, Bob Welch, and former guitarist Bob Weston, all of whom appear with Christine on the lead-off single (and Patton’s lone Top 40 hit) “Don’t Give It Up”! McVie would also produce Patton’s third album Orders from Headquarters – which featured yet another prominent Fleetwood Mac member, Stevie Nicks, on its single “Smiling Islands” – but neither the single nor the parent album did as well as “Don’t Give It Up” and Distant Shores, and Patton would only make one further album. Little matter – he continues to reap in royalties as the co-writer (with McVie) of the massive Fleetwood Mac hit “Hold Me,” one of just five songs from the band to reach the Top Five (the others being “Dreams,” “Don’t Stop,” “Big Love,” and “Little Lies”).