“They say he’s got an ’81 Firebird, I’m still in my ’79” – Paul Davis lyric from “Somebody’s Been Gettin’ to You”
For me, that line kind of typifies the “West Coast” sound, a sound which during it’s 1978-1983 heyday, was as pervasive in the U.S., as hair metal was in later in the decade. During those years, the top 40 charts were littered end to end with the stuff. The “sound” was typified by supreme musicianship, slick production, and melodic cleanliness, and the people that made it tended to be straight, white guys, within the age range of 25-35. And as the state of the art recording studios in Southern California were where the overwhelmingly majority of it was created, at some point, years later, it started getting referred to as “West Coast”. When it was actually happening, it was just pop music, but the latterly coined genre name, and the sound are, admittedly, a perfect match.
As for the music itself, I loved it. It spoke to me in ways I did not understand since I had nothing in common with the people creating it, or their life experiences ( I was also obsessed with soul man Billy Preston, so there you go). I listened religiously to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 on Sunday mornings with anticipation , hoping for a new smoothie to spend my allowance on. The deal was, if you had a neatly trimmed beard, and were leaning on a sports car, in a crumpled, yet clean, linen suit, with the sun descending behind you on the cover, and your single was at least # 39 in the chart, I bought your record. I trusted you, and I loved you. My big obsession for awhile was this guy named Robbie Dupree, who turned out to be from Brooklyn, but to me, was the west coast-iast of all the west coasters. His self-titled 1980 album is full of sleek, lonely, and lovelorn tunes, nearly all of which I loved. I would endlessly play it, and simultaneously attempt to draw portraits of Robbie’s sullen, bearded face, as he stared out sadly from the album cover.
Of course, there’s been a resurgence in popularity of West Coast over the past handful of years. Most recently with Thundercat having esteemed West Coast royalty Kenny Loggins, and Michael McDonald, guest on his album. Prior to that, the lovingly curated “Too Slow to Disco” compilations, featuring some of West Coast’s finest, and the first of which was issued in 2014, garnered a lot of attention…and, surprisingly, critical love…but of course, it’s the “Yacht Rock” phenomenon, that really reignited the interest in the artists, and songs. That’s a cool thing. And it’s great that people are openly, brazenly loving these songs without guilt ( hopefully)…but…can’t bring myself to refer to this music as “Yacht Rock”… no. Never. To me it’s no joke, it is, and shall always will be, sigh, West Coast.
And with that, here’s a playlist, and a couple of loose ends from Mr. Dupree , of spineless, wussy, and truly awesome songs to play in your ’79 Firebird, as you drive to 7-11. Go on then.