Music News

For Mold Times' Sake

The voice wriggles out of radio speakers quietly at first, like a stealthy alley cat stalking its prey. Husky, urgent and infused with enough racing hormones to stage its own libidinal grand prix, the voice delivers the song's pleading tale of unrequited lust for an underage temptress with ever-escalating fervor, finally climaxing in a full-blown teenage werewolf howl, embodying every frustrated Romeo's deep, dark romantic yearnings.

It's a voice that demands attention, to be sure. It is also, curiously in this high-exposure, MTV age, a voice without a face.

"Into the Night," the melodramatic mid-tempo ballad that's quickly scaling Top 40 playlists at stations from Phoenix to Baltimore, has become wildly popular with listeners, despite the invisibility of its singer, Benny Mardones. Young pop fans eager for a look at the emotional vocalist with the name that sounds like a character out of an old Hudson Brothers comedy skit haven't been able to find his mug in a video. And it's unlikely many have had any luck finding it on an album cover in the local record store.

Unless, that is, they've checked through the oldies cutout bins. You see, this supposedly "fresh" new song (as many stations have been identifying it on the air) was already a sizable hit once before--nearly ten years ago. And that sexy-sounding singer is now a paunchy, 39-year-old divorced father of one who's been living out of a suitcase since "Into the Night" royalty checks from its first ride on the charts--and the singer-songwriter's attempts at follow-up hits--stopped coming.

The song, a No. 11 hit from the summer of 1980, has been given a second life on the radio thanks to the largely self-promotional efforts of a Phoenix Top 40 station. According to KZZP program director Bob Case, "Into the Night" was put into rotation as an attempt to duplicate the phenomenon credited to the station last year. KZZP's out-of-the-blue resurrection of UB40's 1984 sleeper "Red Red Wine" propelled the previously ignored single to the top of the charts last summer and generated a heap of music industry credibility for the station. "We were in a meeting, trying to think of another song we could bring back," recalls Case. "And somebody brought up Benny Mardones."

Gene Baxter, then music director at KZZP and now acting program director at X-100 in San Francisco, still had his original copy of the 1980 single and brought it into the station. "It was the perfect record to bring back," he says, "because everyone in radio knows the song, and apparently no one in the audience remembers it." The 45, Baxter says, was always "one of those records that radio guys bring up when they're sitting around talking about the `great lost singles' of the Seventies and Eighties. So it wasn't surprising that once KZZP and [competing hot-hits station] Y-95 started playing it, it seemed to take almost no prompting to get everybody in the world to start playing it, too."

Add to the enthusiastic milieu Polydor, the label that first put out "Into the Night." The record company is planning to re-release the single Tuesday and the album on which it appeared May 23.

Radio guys like playing "Into the Night" because of the large 18- to 24-year-old female audience it brings to their stations--a particularly sought-after demographic group among advertisers. "It's a lady-killer of a record. Always was," offers Todd Fisher, program director at Milwaukee's WKTI and another former KZZP staffer. "I remember being in high school when the record first came out, and all the girls just loved it."

Interestingly, none of the deejays spinning "Into the Night" seems very intent on locating its singer and, say, flying him into town for a personal appearance. Nabbing credit for being the first station on the dial to rediscover the single seems to have overshadowed any thoughts about telegraphing some belated kudos to the hit's creator. "I don't think many deejays playing it really know much about Benny Mardones' background, or even care," shrugs Baxter.

"I don't think we're gonna see anything like Mardones Mania," chuckles Case. "I think people just like the song."

But this resurrection has, almost incidentally, given a second life to Mardones. The very model of the flash-in-the-pan, one-hit wonder, he made a quick mint off his brief moment in the spotlight, then just as quickly blew it all on wild living and ludicrous business decisions in classic This Is Spinal Tap fashion.

TRACKED DOWN AT HIS modest new home in Woodstock, New York, the affable, good-natured singer fairly bursts with the born-again enthusiasm of a performer who hasn't talked to an interested interviewer for--he readily admits--"a long, long time."

"It's just a mind-blower," says Mardones in the bearish, good-ol'-boy drawl that remains from his small mill-town upbringing in Savage, Maryland. "I mean, what do you say when you're going down underwater for the third time and somebody suddenly throws you a net? It's just an amazing thing."