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Songs of Conscience​: Classic tunes address social justice

• 1980s Birthed Hot Anthems + Canton Food Bank

By Bruce Deckert – Today Magazine • Editor-in-Chief 

The Canton Food Bank is celebrating four decades of being there for local residents hit by difficult life circumstances. Founded in 1983, the food bank originated in a melodic 1980s decade distinguished by three iconic songs that address the time-honored human desire and responsibility to help neighbors in need: Another Day In Paradise, Man In The Mirror and Under Pressure. 

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As we honor the food bank’s 40th birthday, let’s look more closely at the origins of these three timeless chart-topping tunes — here are some relevant song facts: 

• In chronological order, the three songs were released as follows — Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie: 1981 and 1982 — Man In The Mirror by Michael Jackson: 1987 and 1988 — Another Day In Paradise by Phil Collins: 1989 

• All three songs soared to No. 1 on a high-powered popular music chart • 

• The dates when these songs reached No. 1 were near holidays: Under Pressure — five days before Thanksgiving in 1981 • Man In The Mirror — nine days after Saint Patrick’s Day in 1988 • Another Day In Paradise — two days before Christmas in 1989 

The serendipitous twists, turns and backstories connected to these compelling anthems comprise some fascinating intel — enjoy the following musical roller-coaster ride…

• Another Day In Paradise

Album — But Seriously • Phil Collins 

Songwriter — Phil Collins 

Year Released — But Seriously album: November 1989

Chart-Topping Date — No. 1: Billboard Hot 100 • December 1989 

Tune Tidbits — Regarding how he wrote the lyrics, Phil Collins told the British publication Radio Times part of the story: “Sometimes I write because things like this are bothering me, but at other times the songs just creep up behind me and write themselves. Another Day In Paradise wrote itself — I didn’t have to sit down and say: Let’s write a song about the homeless. I sat down at the piano, started singing and those words came out.” 

He told The New York Times another part of the songwriting story: “It was begun at the piano. I started playing and put it down on a tape so I wouldn't forget it. Then I decided to see what would happen when I started singing. When I began, the words just came out: ‘She calls out to the man on the street’ — I didn't set out to write a song about the homeless. Those were just the words I happened to sing. It was only then that I decided that was what the song would be about.” 

Collins was nominated for a whopping 10 Grammy Awards connected to But Seriously — he won one Grammy: Record Of The Year for Another Day In Paradise. 

• Man In The Mirror 

Album — Bad • Michael Jackson 

Songwriters — Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett 

Year Released — Bad album: August 1987 • single: January 1988 

Chart-Topping Date — No. 1: Billboard Hot 100 • March 1988 

Tune Tidbits — Legendary producer Quincy Jones invited Siedah Garrett and other songwriters to compose an extraordinary song for Michael Jackson, according to the Independent — and the songwriting team of Garrett and Glen Ballard delivered. The concept of a man looking in a mirror had percolated in Garrett’s heart and mind for about a year. She penned the lyrics and Ballard composed the melody of this powerful and poignant ballad.

Man In The Mirror is one of two songs on the Bad album not written by Jackson. 

Jones produced three of Jackson’s best-selling solo albums — Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982) and Bad (1987) — and he recruited some eclectic talent for Man In The Mirror. Garrett, also an accomplished singer, provided cogent background vocals along with The Winans gospel quartet and the renowned Andraé Crouch Choir, Grammy Award-winners all: one for Garrett, five for The Winans and seven for Crouch.

It’s safe to say that Quincy’s reflections for this quintessential classic came to fruition. 

Oh, BeBe and CeCe Winans — also members of the melodious 10-sibling Winans family — have garnered 21 Grammys: six for BeBe and 15 for CeCe. 

Perhaps ironically — some would say shockingly — Man In The Mirror fell short of a Grammy. The moving MJ anthem was a nominee for Record Of The Year, but this honor went to Bobby McFerrin for Don't Worry Be Happy. The McFerrin ditty also received Song Of The Year, while MJ’s Mirror wasn’t even nominated.

This begs a question: Does anyone who has heard both tunes, whether a musical novice or professional, have even the slightest uncertainty regarding which song is more inspiring and noteworthy — lyrically, melodically, philosophically, practically and otherwise? 

• Under Pressure

Album — Hot Space • Queen 

Recording Artists — Queen and David Bowie

Songwriters — David Bowie and all Queen members: John Deacon, Brian May, Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor 

Year Released — single: October 1981 • Hot Space album: May 1982 

Chart-Topping Date — No​. 1: UK Singles Chart • November 1981

Tune Tidbits — Under Pressure offers a mountaintop view of the stress and duress that can wreak havoc on denizens of this topsy-turvy world — an apropos vantage point given where the song was recorded: Switzerland. 

An impromptu jam-session collaboration between David Bowie and the four members of Queen gave birth to this soul-searching and searing classic with lyrics that refer to pressure that “splits a family in two, puts people on streets … pressure on people, people on streets.” The title People On Streets was considered but — you guessed it — Under Pressure prevailed. 

Queen was already working on a tune entitled Feel Like when Bowie stopped by their Swiss studio unannounced, per GoldRadioUK. com, and the fivesome decided to use Feel Like as the launch pad for a cooperative venture that retained some signature individuality: Queen frontman Freddie Mercury and Bowie actually went into a studio vocal booth separately and recorded unscripted lyrics that no one had heard yet.

Then they stitched together the final lyrics like an old-fashioned quilting bee — for the uninitiated, this is a social gathering where the participants synergistically make a communal quilt. The resulting tapestry is surely a pop masterpiece, featuring Mercury’s tenor scat singing and Bowie’s driving baritone, and what is arguably one of the most recognizable bass-guitar riffs in pop music history. 

An autumn holiday theme resounded with the advent of Under Pressure: Released on October 26, 1981 — five days before Halloween — the song hit No. 1 on the UK chart less than one month later, on November 21, five days before Thanksgiving. 

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“Sometimes I write because things like this are bothering me, but at other times the songs just creep up behind me and write themselves — Another Day In Paradise wrote itself" songwriter Phil Collins

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Another lesser-known fact is that the song was mixed during an intense session on September 11, per the Warner Music website ThisIsDig. com — exactly 20 years before the numerals 9/11 were seared into the U.S. psyche.

Indeed, Bowie’s improvised lyrics proved to be prophetic, unknowingly foreseeing the terrorist attack on New York City: “It's the terror of knowing what this world is about / Watching some good friends screaming: Let me out.” 

Beyond the portentous lyrics, Queen’s official video for Under Pressure shows three images in succession of city high-rises being imploded just as Bowie first sings the refrain “It's the terror of knowing” — comparable to the way the Twin Towers imploded and collapsed in twisted concrete-and-metal rubble and a cloud of thick dust that obscured blue sky on what had begun as a sunny NYC day.

Predictively chilling, to say the least. 

In this light, the closing lyrics of Under Pressure offer a cautious solution that resonates — in the context of 9/11 and our food bank story — more than four decades later. 

Bowie sings plaintively, “Keep coming up with love, but it's so slashed and torn” — and Mercury replies with multiple plaintive questions: “Why, why, why?… Can't we give ourselves one more chance? … Why can't we give love?”

Bowie answers with these vintage lines: “ ’Cause love's such an old-fashioned word / And love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night / And love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves / This is our last dance … This is ourselves — under pressure.” + 

• This concludes Today Magazine’s musical journey connected to the Canton Food Bank’s 40th birthday

• Is a Trivia Night event on your upcoming calendar?

• If so — and if the topic is 1980s music about homelessness and food insecurity — you’ll be ready to come to the rescue of your trivia team like the Coast Guard, for the Guard’s service motto is Semper Paratus: aka Always Ready 

• This story first appeared in the December edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication

Today Publishing covers community news that matters nationwide — focusing on the heart of Connecticut's Farmington Valley and aiming to record the underreported upside of the Valley's five core towns: Avon, Canton, Farmington, Granby and Simsbury

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