The Big 80s
Big hair may be gone, but the mega songs live on in a celebration of '80s music
Although it has been more than 20 years since Lisa Velez first hit the Billboard Hot 100, her hits and near hits -- songs like "Lost in Emotion" and "Someone to Love Me for Me" -- have aged well and still seem timely.
The Steinlager Pure Mega 80's Music Festival
Featuring Lisa Lisa, Club Nouveau, El DeBarge, Expose and Klymaxx
Place: Aloha Tower
Time: 7 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $40 and $45 general and $95 VIP; available at HIC locations, military ticket outlets, Don Ho's Island Grill, UH Campus Center, Capone's Ultimate Detail and at www.presaleticketsonline.com
Velez was barely 18 when "I Wonder if I Take You Home" charted in 1985, and she was all of 20 when "Lost in Emotion" topped the Hot 100 in 1987. But the experiences she was singing about apply to people of all ages.
Who can't relate to wondering where a relationship might be going? Or to the experience of finding a perfect love ("Head to Toe"), or being betrayed by a playa ("All Cried Out")?
"All of those emotions are right here in the songs. You can't help but feel them," Velez explained earlier this week when she called right on the nose for an early morning telephone interview.
Velez -- Lisa Lisa to music fans -- is one of five Top 10 hit-makers from the late '80s who will be headlining the Steinlager Pure Mega Music Festival Saturday night at Aloha Tower. With that much talent on tap, the festival is literally too big for a single venue to handle, so fans of vintage dance-club pop will have full access to the Waterfront (formerly Kapono's), Don Ho's and Gordon Biersch.
El DeBarge and Klymaxx will share the top spot at the Waterfront, Club Nouveau is at Don Ho's, and it's Lisa Lisa and Expose at Gordon Biersch.
The promoters have assembled some serious talent. DeBarge, former lead singer of the group of the same name, owns two Top 5 hits on the Hot 100 with "Rhythm of the Night" and "Who's Johnny." Club Nouveau topped the chart for two weeks with its remake of "Lean on Me." Expose had a No. 1 hit with "Seasons Change" in 1987 and received a gold record for selling a million copies of "What You Don't Know" in 1989.
Their credits put Velez in good company. She had two No. 1 singles in "Head to Toe" and "Lost in Emotion," with Cult Jam, and the group also had two platinum albums, "Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam with Force" in 1985 and "Spanish Fly" in 1987.
Velez SAID she started recording when she was 14. Several years of work later, she recorded "I Wonder if I Take You Home" with musicians Mike Hughes and Alex "Spanador" Moseley, and Full Force, a team of producer/musicians. The song was leased to a European label for release on a compilation album there and was a hit in Europe for months before it was finally released in the United States.
"Every time we were in Europe, we'd hear it, and we'd wonder if it was ever going to get played at home. It was a hit there, but in New York nobody knew who we were."
That changed when the song was finally released domestically in 1985. A hip-hop take on a perennial question -- "Will you respect me in the morning? -- it introduced Velez as an appealing pop vocalist and Cult Jam and Full Force as fresh percussive sounds.
The group's music was sometimes described as having "retro Motown" elements, and Velez says that a good thing; she'd been a Motown fan for years when she started recording.
Looking back at her career, she says one of the things that has meant most to her was hearing Allure, a female vocal quartet, do a remake of "All Cried Out" in 1997 and seeing it become a hit.
"I always wanted to do a (hit) remake of someone's song. It think it's a great compliment."
On the other hand, she recalls with disappointment the fact that her first solo album in 1994, "LL 77," didn't do as well as she wanted. A second solo effort is due out later this year.
The biggest thing in Velez's life these days are her children, ages 3 and 1. Since the youngsters are too little to enjoy traveling, she works on weekends and spends the rest of her time at home. True to form, when she arrives in Honolulu, it will be after a California show Friday, and she'll leave as soon as possible for the long flight home to the kids.
Asked about the origin of her stage name, Velez laughs and explains that it refers to her "attributes ... a little below my chin."
"When I'd walk into a room, the guys would look and say 'O Lisa! Lisa!'"