Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Song of the Day: 'Ton of Bricks' by Regina Richards and Red Hot

This is perhaps not the best fantasy use of a time machine. But if I could go back two years the first thing I would do is add Regina Richards and Red Hot's "Ton of Bricks" to the top of my list of 12 More Forgotten Classics by Women-Led New Wave Bands I posted in August 2020 -- its omission a grave miscarriage of justice. Truth is I'd never heard of the outfit before last week, but came to discover them after stumbling upon an article about Regina, whom we probably all know as a one-hit wonder. "Baby Love," which reached No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 (and No. 1 on Hot Dance Club Singles) in 1986, seemed to forever link her to Madonna thanks to its being co-written by the Material Girl's early (and arguably best) collaborator, Stephen Bray. 

Regina Richards (née Cuttita) and Red Hot in 1978

Turns out there was a lot more to Regina. She began writing songs as a teen, eventually performing at legendary Manhattan venues like CBGB's, Max's Kansas City, Hurrah and Irving Plaza with her red hot band fittingly called Red Hot. 

Regina eventually caught the ear of none other than Richard Gottehrer, who at that point had produced Blondie's first two albums and later the shamefully overlooked Holly and the Italians debut -- as well as his 1960s hits -- but hadn't yet started "Beauty and the Beat" by the Go-Go's.

From there it's kind of the age-old record-business cliché: The band got signed to A&M and in 1980 released two singles ("Tyger" b/w "Tug of War" and "Don't Want You Back" b/w "Company Girl") followed by a self-titled debut LP. (The first time I played it, my partner turned to me and said: "You really never knew about this? It’s the most Kenneth album I've ever heard in my entire life.") They even opened for U2 on the Irish band's first U.S. tour. But then for reasons that remain unclear, the album was never released in the States, where female-fronted new wave bands like the Pretenders and Motels were taking off like jetliners, and things began to unravel. 

The following year Red Hot recorded a few more songs as simply Regina Richards, including "Deep Dreaming," a 1960s-inspired ballad produced by Rob Freeman. A second album was planned for 1982 but never materialized. 

Then after tiring of signing one contract after the other, Regina decided to focus on writing songs (her first love) for other artists and helping them record demos in her rehearsal-cum-studio space in the famed Music Building on Eighth Avenue -- which is where the Madonna connection really began. It turns out the aforementioned Stephen Bray, who was Madonna's ex-boyfriend and onetime Emmy bandmate, had also been the final drummer in Regina's Red Hot. 

So one day Madonna approached Bray and Regina for help recording a demo, which is exactly what they did. Listen to Regina describe her first meeting with Madonna and their collaboration process HERE. (Watch your back, Nadya Ginsburg: Regina's impersonation is HILARIOUS!) I’m assuming Madge demos like "Laugh to Keep From Crying" and "Crimes of Passion" were from this era, because they sound a lot more like Red Hot than anything that appeared on "Madonna." (Listen to Red Hot's "Company Girl" -- which predates all Madonna releases -- and it's like the opposite of listening to Madonna soundalike "Baby Love"!) 

A few years later, Bray approached Regina about fleshing out the demo for "Baby Love" and when they weren't able to "place" the song with another singer, the label suggested Regina record it … and the rest is history. 

'An Instant Record' that took me more than 40 years to discover

So today I give you "Ton of Bricks," which is my favorite song off the long-lost debut Regina Richards and Red Hot album (1981) that last year was given a 40th anniversary edition digital release featuring seven unreleased songs, marking the first time it was made available in the U.S. 

P.S. I can count the number of podcasts I've sat through on one hand. But for research purposes I did listen to Regina, Stephen Bray and their "Baby Love" cowriter Mary Kessler on "Choons" discussing their hit HERE and I definitely don't regret it. 

Regina and Bray purport to not know for sure if "Baby Love" was ever offered to Madonna -- "Encyclopedia Madonnica" says Ms. Ciccone "hated" the track -- but Regina does confirm that at least three other songs she wrote were candidates for the Boy Toy’s debut, including "Get on With the Night" and "Love Time," none of which made the cut.

P.P.S. Regina appears to have scored her biggest hit to date when she landed Dr. Mark Lee, whom she married on Oct. 20, 1990. Today she says they are "happily divorced"!

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