(Above: “Do you like my hair?”)
A few weeks ago I went back over the Billboard charts from the last week of July 1985. The song “Black Cars” was on there, and I promised that if I get back on the air on campus this fall, it’s probably to do an 80s show, and I’d be playing that song. It’s one that should have made the Top 40, but stalled at #42, earning it “greatest misses” status.
I then got to thinking about the Gino Vannelli songs I did end up tasked with playing in my radio career. He had two huge hits in the late 70s: “I Just Wanna Stop” from 1978 and “Living Inside Myself” from 1981 were staples of both soccer-mom soft AC and the all-70s format, when that was still a thing. Both of them are, let’s be honest, a little on the lame side. But, what do I know? Some people (OK, a lot of people) put them into the Top Ten, and everyone went home happy.
But Gino wasn’t content to be done after those two hits. He changed his sound (and his hairstyle) and went for something a little more in the synth-pop vein. The Black Cars LP in 1985 signified that change, giving him a more decided rock edge on some of the tracks. Rock stations began adding “Black Cars” to their playlists. The obligatory ballad, “Hurts To Be In Love,” made it to #57 and, for my money, sounds like it belongs on an early 80s Foreigner album. Another decent track from the LP, “Just a Motion Away,” stiffed, but likely got airplay north of the border. (Vannelli, from Montreal, satisfies the CanCon requirements.) The album peaked at #62 on the LP charts in the US, representing modest success.
Vannelli was not deterred. In 1987 he released Big Dreamers Never Sleep, which – despite being relegated to the cutout bin, contained some decent music. “Wild Horses” became the last single of his to chart, and it’s another case of a great record falling just short. If I had to try and explain what 1987 pop sounded like, I’d submit this as an example. While the spring of 1987’s charts were dominated by – of all things – Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” and the Cutting Crew’s “I Just Died In Your Arms,” there were far more interesting sounds if you dug a little deeper.
Vannelli hadn’t toured for either of these two LPs, and that may have worked against him. He began to retool his career into jazz in the 90s, and has since made occasional tour appearances when not working at his day job – teaching music in Oregon.
(A bit of trivia: Gino’s LPs were produced by his brother, Ross Vannelli. He’s the guy responsible for the California Raisins LPs. That’s right – LPs plural. Three of them charted in 1987-88, each landing higher on the charts than Big Dreamers Never Sleep. The charts can be very, very unfair.)
Trust me on this one. You’ll want to add this to whatever playlists that you keep. See for yourself by clicking here.