Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Boy In The Box Never Surrenders

When it came time to begin work on a follow up album, Corey Hart initially faced the issue of not having penned much new material. Apparently Hart found it difficult writing on the road (performance/ promotion tours/ dodging traffic), but no doubt he was also distracted by the fervent media attention and new sex-symbol status. Such was Hart’s profile at that time, that he was reportedly offered the lead role in the new Robert Zemeckis sci-fi flick ‘Back To The Future’, but declined in favour of remaining focussed on his music career - the role of Marty McFly of course went to Michael J. Fox. Instead, Hart returned to the recording studio, with Phil Chapman and Jon Astley once more at his side. The resultant album, ‘Boy In The Box’, was released in June of ‘85, backed by the lead out single ‘Never Surrender’. In ‘Never Surrender’, Hart had recorded a classy power-ballad, emotive and slickly produced - Bon Jovi could have used it as a template for any number of their power ballad hits. The songs lyrical theme of empowerment, and beating the odds, was backed by an appropriate promo video, and Corey Hart soon had the biggest selling single of his career (US#3/OZ#20/Ca#1). ‘Never Surrender’ earned Hart a Grammy nomination and Juno Award for ‘Single of the Year’. The crisp combination of guitar and keyboard provided the base over which Hart recorded a series of edgy, moody pop-rock melodies. The title track single, ‘Boy In The Box’, embodied the classic 80s guitar/synth driven sound, and delivered Hart another U.S. top thirty hit (#26), and a Canadian #7, late in ‘85. The formulaic rock ballad ‘Everything In My Heart’ followed, but the formula worked a treat and shot Hart straight to #1 in Canada (US#30), early in ‘86, followed by another Canadian top thirty single ‘Eurasian Eyes’ (#29). Hart’s ‘Boy In The Box’ album outsold its predecessor in the U.S. (#20), Australia (#35), and in Canada, it notched up just the second ‘Diamond’ certified album by a Canadian artist (that’s sales in excess of one million) - the first to achieve that was Bryan Adams with his 1985 ‘Reckless’ album. Corey Hart’s profile, popularity and heartthrob status, probably reached a peak during this period, and he was even asked to record the song ‘Danger Zone’ for the ‘Top Gun’ film (he turned it down, preferring to record his own material - Kenny Loggins got the gig instead).

Following sell out tours across the U.S., Canada and Japan, Hart once more returned to the studio, this time with only Phil Chapman to aid him in production duties for the 1986 album ‘Fields Of Fire’. The lead out single, ‘I Am By Your Side’, revealed a more mature and tempered sound, and once more Hart found himself sitting comfortably inside the top twenty (US#18/Ca#8). The album’s next single offering was a last minute inclusion from Hart - something that he was reputedly prone to do. ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ was a gentle rendition of the old Elvis hit, and the first of Hart’s singles not to be penned by the artist himself. It was a little at odds to his earlier work, but did indicate Hart’s willingness to try something different. ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ reached #24 on the U.S. Hot 100, and gave Hart his third Canadian #1 in early ‘87. Sales for the ‘Fields Of Fire’ album were more modest that its two predecessors, but still managed to crack gold in the U.S. (#63), and double platinum in Canada. The album yielded two more minor hits in, the flighty synth-rocker ‘Dancin’ With My Mirror’ (US#88/Ca#33), and the mid-tempo ballad ‘Take My Heart’ (Ca#50).

After a relentlessly frenetic period of touring and recording, Hart took some time out over late ‘87 and early ‘88 to recuperate. The single ‘Too Good 2 Be Enough’ kept his name in the Canadian charts (#19) during this period, though an album proper wouldn’t surface until August of ‘88. ‘Young Man Running’ was Hart’s first album without Phil Chapman, though Andy Richard stepped in to help with production duties. The lead out single, the cruisey ‘In Your Soul’, peaked at #2 in Canada, but sales south of the border were disappointing (US#38). Sales were less than stellar for the follow up singles, the acoustic pop-rocker ‘Spot You In A Coalmine’ (Ca#29), and the introspective ballad ‘Still In Love’, whilst the album ‘Young Man Running’ had only managed a gentle stroll beyond Canadian borders (US#121). Though still a young man at age 26, Corey Hart’s career had hit a crossroads, and matters were further complicated by a bitter fallout with his management, and a souring of his relationship with Aquarius Records. Hart spent the most part of a year shunning any media attention, whilst he contemplated his next move.

He re-emerged in March 1990, with his fifth (and final) album for Aquarius, ‘Bang!’, co-produced by Greg Edward. There was a hint of ‘back to the future’ as Hart played around with some of the verve and edge of his earlier work. The lead out single, ‘A Little Love’, could have been lifted straight out of the Bon Jovi or John Cougar Mellencamp songbooks. I recall buying the vinyl 45 of the single, and getting hooked by the shout it out loud lyrics of the chorus, “a little love will make your heart go bang-bang”. ‘A Little Love’ did manage to fire up enough to hit the top ten in Canada, and registered Corey Hart’s final foray into the U.S. top forty (US#37/OZ#70). The album’s title track, ‘Bang! (Starting Over)’, was deserving of being a top forty hit beyond Canada (#30), but alas missed the target elsewhere. The brooding ‘Rain On Me’ (Ca#72) also failed to produce a deluge of sales, leaving Corey Hart and his album ‘Bang!’ (US#134) high and dry on the charts. Another career crossroads beckoned, as the former pop idol struggled to establish a new mature pop-rocker identity.

The commercial misfiring of ‘Bang!’ was the final nail in the coffin of Hart’s relationship with his record label, and Hart’s age of Aquarius came to an end (though soon after Aquarius issued a singles collection). By 1992, Hart had signed on with the Sire/Warner label in the U.S., but the first album for his new label stable proved to be a big disappointment, both critically and commercially. ‘Attitude & Virtue’ was reportedly lacking in both, and featured a largely uninspired and tired collection of songs, perhaps reflecting Hart’s general state of creative mind at the time. That said, his music still retained a loyal audience in Canada, and the album spawned several top forty hits, including ‘92 Days Of Rain’ (Ca#22), and ‘Baby When I Call Your Name’ (Ca#14). But not even guest spots from Terence Trent d’Arby (‘Love and Money’) and Canadian art-pop talent Jane Siberry could instil much spark into proceedings. Despite a concerted effort on the touring front in support of the album, Corey Hart’s career seemed to be on the wane. Disenchanted by the poor reception offered to ‘Attitude & Virtue’, Hart once more took time out, this time electing for an extended sojourn from the pressures of the music business.

By 1994, Corey Hart had met and fallen in love with Quebec based singer Julie Masse, penning several songs for her album ‘Circle In Love’. Once more the writer’s muse was by his side, and Hart began writing material, both for his next album project, and for other artists (including Celine Dion). In 1995, Hart signed on with Sony Music in Canada, and the following year released his self titled album. The 1996 ‘Corey Hart’ set revived Hart’s fortunes at home (selling platinum), and yielded three more hit singles, ‘Black Rain’ (Ca#2 - he does seem to have a preoccupation with inclement weather), ‘Tell Me’ (Ca#16), and ‘Third Of June’ (Ca#22), which took its inspiration and title from Julie Masse’s birth date. A sell out tour of Canada reaffirmed Corey Hart’s stature as more than just an flash in the pan 80s pop idol. Hart’s most recent studio album was 1998’s ‘Jade’, reportedly his personal favourite. It featured the singles ‘La-Bas’, a beautifully crafted French language song with his wife Julie Masse, and the seductive bayou-rocker ‘So Visible (Easy To Miss)’. Over the next couple of years Hart continued to collaborate with Celine Dion, touring with her in 1999, and penning the track ‘Prayer’ from Dion’s 2001 album ‘A New Day Has Come’.

In 2003, Hart was invited to record new vocals for ‘Sunglasses At Night’, with dance act Original 3, released on Sony, and a new ‘Best Of’ CD hit stores twenty years after the release of the ‘First Offense’ album. With over ten million albums sold worldwide, Corey Hart has nothing more to prove in terms of his merit as a recording artist. Over the last few years he has launched his own Siena Records label, and has invested much time and energy into writing and producing work for other artists, including Quebec based singer Garou, and French pop/dance diva Cherie. Having never surrendered, Corey Hart has earned time to kick back and relax with his family in the Bahamas, in between working with the next generation of pop sensations.


For anyone who has followed this blog from the beginning, you might notice that a theme has, just this very moment, developed in association with the 27th of August. Far be it from me to indulge in self aggrandisement, but Happy freakin’ Birthday to me. And to mark this traversing of 365 more days on this plain of existence, here’s the musical genius Stevie Wonder with ‘Happy Birthday’ (recorded originally as a dedication to the iconic Martin Luther King, and featured on Stevie Wonder’s brilliant 1980 set, ‘Hotter Than July’). Aside from the song’s title being relevant for me today, I simply love its vibrancy and sense of pure celebration. Whether it’s your birthday or not today, take a moment out to celebrate you for being you, and to enjoy the work of one of the greatest singer/songwriters to have graced this (or any other) planet.

But wait, there’s more! From The Beatles’ finest album, their eponymous 1968 set, better known as ‘The White Album’, here’s Paul ‘Wacky Macca Thumbs Aloft’ McCartney wailing away on ‘Birthday’.

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