That’s Their Pet Sounds : Kenny Loggins “Celebrate Me Home” (1977)

Mission statement:

No matter who we are in this absurd, brief, and messy life we can all lay claim to a peak, a shining moment where we were the best we could be, where all the stars aligned and we freakin’ delivered the goods.

Welcome to “That’s Their Pet Sounds”our semi-regular feature where we endeavor to spotlight and celebrate a heretofore maybe uncool, often unjustifiably underrated, sometimes polarizing, not as acclaimed as they should be, or “what the hell?” artist’s grandest artistic achievement i.e. their greatest album.

*”That’s Their Pet Sounds”is named after the Beach Boys landmark 1966 LP which is universally regarded as one of the greatest albums ever made but yeah, you probably knew that.

Now grab yourself a cushion and let’s go chill in the gazebo…

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Kenny Loggins’ BEST ALBUM :

Celebrate Me Home (1977)

Background : By the end of 1976, after 5 years as a performing duo, pop troubadours Loggins & Messina decided to end their musical partnership. It’d been a great run that saw them score no fewer than 5 platinum albums, 2 Gold albums and a top 10 pop hit with the somewhat polarizing “Your Mama Don’t Dance” ( the “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” of it’s day). Loggins explained the situation in classic rock-speak, stating that things were starting to feel “too comfortable”, that they needed to break up for “creative reasons”, adding that the decision to split “was mutual”. “We both felt it was time to put ourselves in different environments”. But really it was inevitable. For it had become abundantly clear over the course of the partnership that this Loggins guy had something. Not only did he write ridiculously melodic and memorable pop songs like nobody’s business and resemble the world’s sexiest mountain man, he was also blessed with a special voice…which is to say, damn,could he sang.

And so from the ashes, in 1977, did the Loggins (heretofore to be referred to as KL) solo career begin in earnest.

Celebrate Me Home, the first KL solo album, was produced by Phil Ramone and Bob James whose merged styles could best be described as “slick” with a side dish of “smooth”. Built on a bedrock of ace musicianship, lush strings, assertively strummed acoustic guitars and fat Fender Rhodes chords, there are no detectable blemishes or visible pores anywhere on Celebrate Me Home. Now while “slick” and “smooth” would no doubt get their asses kicked on the rock ‘n roll playground by “shredding” or “thrashing” or even plain old “rocking”, in the case of Celebrate Me Home, stressing the smooth side of things perfectly suited the lush KL songwriting style. If you ever want to simulate the feeling of watching an exquisitely perfect sunset lasting exactly 45 minutes over the Pacific Ocean in 1977, this is your soundtrack. Okay, I know what you’re thinking and yes, I suppose you could also play Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue with it’s equally bearded, beached, beauteous, born in ’77 vibe but you’d be settling in for a significantly rougher and more angsty ride. I recommend you just start your evening with Celebrate Me Home and save Dennis as a chaser soundtrack for when you’re getting wasted later that night because it’ll make way more sense then.

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Don’t let the riding crop scare you, he’s only looking to tame you with his melodic dreamscapes and lustrous voice.

Why it’s his Pet Sounds: Picking Celebrate Me Home as KL’s peak performance, where his melodic gift was firing at maximum capacity was an easy choice…pretty much. It should be noted that the 3 studio albums that followed were of a supremely high standard and all totally ruled in one way or another, from the dark, lusty moodiness of Nightwatch (1978), to the romantic spirituality of Keep the Fire (1979), to the angry AOR of High Adventure (1982). They are each in possession of some undeniably timeless, epically wonderful songs. And we should also acknowledge latter day album and dark horse Leap of Faith (1991) which was full of handsome, loved up new age pop as well. But as far as nailing it across the board in terms of mood, melody, overall vibe ( and there is one) and expertly mimicking the feeling of being on some languid and dreamy sailboat with an attentive and romantic captain, Celebrate Me Home is without peer. This album somehow manages to make rejection, lying and cheating sound warm, sweet and reassuring.

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The inner sleeve photo. No innuendo to see here folks, move along.

The Songs (side one): “Lady Luck”,  the lead track on the album is a beauteous, glossy acoustic led groove with a nice fat bass bottom that relates a semi-cryptic tale involving the devil and selling your soul. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it and everything is just a metaphor for cheating and being unfaithful. The song features this soon to be KL trademark of stopping or quieting the band mid-flight to spotlight some ethereal harmonizing or over the top vocal flourishes before waving them back in again. He’s employed this aural quirk in multitudes of songs throughout his career from “This is It” to “I’m Alright” and it always works. Speaking of that, when it comes to singing, Kenny Loggins can also be a scenery chewin’, word stretchin’ son of a gun… which is to say you can expect a fair amount of of vocal taffy pulling within most of his performances here ( and in most subsequent recordings). “Lady Luck” features one of the more endearing examples of that particular idiosyncrasy wherein Kenny reshapes “love triangle” into “love Try-YANGah“. Now that there’s some quality chewin’.

Most of the songs on Celebrate are co-writes, the coolest collaborator being legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb who penned the lyrics to poisonous little rose “If You Be Wise”. While promising on paper, it’s definitely one of the second tier tracks whose main purpose is to act as sweet glue between 2 absolutely killer tracks. It’s pretty laid back affair with an optimistic melody and features a pretty hummable chorus. Lyrically though, it’s another story, for “If You Be…” is really a shoulder shrugging, finger wagging warning about getting too attached to a touring musician because you know, there are temptations on the road babe and he’s only human.

“I Believe in Love”– Right so as mentioned earlier, KL can sang and this song offers the space and opportunity to show off his entire range, from the cooing falsetto to the full throated blast. It’s both joyful and melodic, featuring an odd tinge of calypso as well as enough breathing room in the chorus to allow KL to seamlessly ask the audience in live settings if they believe in love ( here’s what they said) .

The song was written by KL ( the music) and the long-time Barbra Streisand collaborators and married songwriting team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman (the lyrics). The song first appeared in the 1976 film of A Star is Born as sung by Streisand in a bitchin’ blue polyester suit. And okay, gonna say it, KL’s version destroys Barbra’s. Crushes it into microscopic dust.  Anyway the Bergman’s were a couple of old school composers who weren’t remotely rock ‘n roll (their credits also included Streisand’s “The Way We Were” as well as her duet with Neil Diamond “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”). Still they managed to pen a verse within “I Believe…” that is totally rock and doesn’t care about anyone but itself :

But I don’t want to find myself one day

Wakin’ up and lookin’ at Monday

With some what’s her name left from Sunday

I Believe in Love

Right, I’ll call you sometime okay ? We still have aways to go this tour and I’ll be kind of busy but I’ll try, no promises. One of the eternal wonders of the Celebrate Me Home album is how skillfully KL plays the roles of both bearded rock stallion and sensitive ’70s hippie guy without ever favoring either. Such is the magic and mystery of Kenny Loggins.

“Set It Free” remains one of the finest KL tracks ever, an epic ballad of realization that sounds like a mournful rainy day for the first 4 minutes and a cultish worship song for the last 2. Bob James’s opening intro on keys and the delicate KL vocal on the first verse literally feel like an embrace; it’s that warm and enveloping a combination, all swoons and sighs. There’s a great cover version of “Set it Free” by revered Norwegian jazz singer Radka Toneff from 1981 that’s also absolutely worth hearing. In her arrangement, she eschews the entire choral style ending and just sticks to the verses and chorus, offering up a heart-squeezingly desperate and beautiful vocal; it really drives home how exceptional the song is at it’s core. She died from suicide soon after this recording was done, at age 30, making this a undeniably poignant listen.

The romantic tables are turned on the ballad “Why Do People Lie” this time with the woman doing the cheating and KL doing the I don’t wanna believe it’s. It’s a showcase for the absurdly seductive KL falsetto which he milks here to the 1000th power. Naturally that meant once he took the song into a live setting he could really milk it. Check out this performance of the song from his 1980 album Kenny Loggins Alive to hear an audience member spontaneously combust upon exposure to said falsetto in the second verse. It truly is a weapon.

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Right, someone please get me to the  time machine asap…

The Songs (side two): “Enter My Dream” sounds just like it’s title and is pure luxuriant mellowness ( yes, it kind of is like a warm bath and if it gave off a scent it would be that of a subtle, intoxicating vanilla candle, a good one, not one from The Dollar Store). It is quite possibly imbued with subliminal messages because it’s hard to listen to it and not immediately want to go lie down in a field of grass and stare vacantly at the sky for hours. It also features one of those patented KL “stop everything and just listen to me singing and nothing else” moments mentioned earlier in it’s coda…and despite having heard this song 3000 times, I am still not 100% sure what he’s singing at that point. I mean it sounds like ” And I love a lot about dreaming, and I dream a lot about love“. But honestly, as it’s not printed on the album sleeve lyrics, I have no f-ing idea but who cares right because it still sounds utterly magnificent.

“I’ve Got the Melody (Deep in My Heart)” was written by jazz pop diva Patti Austin who provides the guest vocal on the track as well. It sounds a lot like something you would have heard on a typical ’70s  variety show, when the host and guest star do their big duet number. Affectionate, slightly lovey dovey but stopping well short of sexy ( actually it’s miles away, definitely no tongue here ). I call this one a default listen. As in, it was on the LP and I wasn’t going to get up and move the needle to the next track necessarily because it wasn’t terrible just ineffectually pleasant.

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It’s about to get dark in here…

KL is of course best known by the general population for his gargantuan ’80s soundtrack hits “Footloose”,“Danger Zone” and “I’m Alright”, all of which are basically fun and unquestionably frothy.  I always look at the big soundtrack hits as the end product of KL’s day job. It’s a job he was good at and got paid for but it didn’t really reflect the passions of the Real Kenny™. The songs bore no resemblance to what he was building out in the garage on Sunday afternoons, what he was truly passionate about. The Real Kenny™ can only be found on actual Kenny Loggins albums. They are him and he is them. Which is to say the true KL signature song is not “Footloose” or any of it’s arm wrestling, golf bag carrying wingmen, but is in fact this gloriously plush and sentimental singalong right here, the please don’t forget me epic “Celebrate Me Home”.

Now near as I can figure, after years of hearing it, “Celebrate Me Home” is about coming home after having been away for awhile and, like a battery getting charged overnight, getting enough attention from family and friends that you can use it to power you up  during lonely moments when you go back to…wherever it is you came from that keeps you far from home…which in KL’s case is, you guessed it, the bastard road .

Still it’s not quite specific enough that it’s sentiments can’t be applied to other scenarios. Amongst the fascinating, weird and sometimes obvious interpretations I’ve stumbled on across the web, my favorite was seeing the song recommended for funeral services, “home” being another word for, you know, heaven. It’s a stretch but I’m telling you, once I read that I never heard the song the same way again. When you listen to Joy Division or Nico, you expect to brush shoulders with the grim reaper, but to come face to face with the other side in a freakin’ Kenny Loggins song ?  It’s just perverse and you’ve gotta love it.

To counter that idea or perhaps offer another version of what “heaven” might be like, please enjoy this extended live version of “Celebrate Me Home” (below) from a show in Santa Barbara in 1981. Watch in slack-jawed awe, at around the 7 minute mark, as KL, here playing the role of “Sexy Jesus”, descends into the crowd and ignites an extraordinary display of audience horniness the likes of which you rarely see outside of a National Geographic animal documentary.

“Daddy” is kind of an awful word. It sounds slimy coming from anyone over the age of 5 but okay. “Daddy’s Back” is a smoothy groove with a memorable tune and breathy, scenery chewing vocal that gushes with endless optimism. Of course based on his previous behavior throughout the album it’s hard to trust that “Daddy” is being truthful when he says he “can see an end to Daddy’s days as a rolling stone” but the rugged, passionate vocal ad-libbing at the end is enough to blind anyone to the truth at least temporarily.

“You Don’t Know Me” is a remake of an Eddy Arnold/Cindy Walker penned standard from 1956 that by the time KL had recorded it, everyone and their mother had taken a crack at. Elvis, Ray Charles,Willie Nelson, Bette Midler, Roy Orbison and Jackie Wilson to name a few hundred. And it was understandable why so many artists would want to, as it’s story of unrequited love was laid out so straightforwardly that most of humankind could relate to it’s lonesome yearning.

Thing is nearly every version sounded like it was made in a cheese factory, the majority of them overrun by ludicrously over the top backing vocals and schmaltzy instrumentation working as a devilish tag team to destroy the songs sad dignity ( and usually succeeding)…which is why the KL version stands amongst the absolute best. For one thing the arrangement is so skeletal and spare it sounds like a demo…okay one made by virtuosic musicians but still. And the vocal itself is extraordinarily understated by KL standards as in he doesn’t lose his shit until the last verse and sounds convincingly defeated throughout.

The inclusion of this cover is another reason why this album is so kick ass: to close with something so morose, slow and rainy after the flying above the clouds for nearly the entire LP takes some balls ( or a maybe a strong riding crop).

In Conclusion:  Celebrate Me Home only got as high as # 27 in the album chart in 1977 but it did ultimately achieve platinum status in 1980. Which seems about the right pace, for this is the one KL album that seems cool with laying back and letting others speed wildly to their ultimate destination. It’ll get there when it gets there. Look at the cover art, see how blissed out Kenny is to be home after months of touring ? He wants you to be blissed out too, chilled, that’s why he made this for you.  Sure, there’s some dishonest unfaithful behavior and disingenuous promise making happening in the songs but babe, that’s just life. The fact is underneath that hoodie beats an enormously empathetic heart with the magical ability of molding pop songs into ravishing sunsets.

If all the hyperbole here isn’t sitting right with you, I’ll offer you a more pragmatic explanation: basically Celebrate Me Home is like a less drugged up, totally shined, fragrantly showered, and contented version of Jackson Browne’s definitive life on the road diary album Running On Empty. It’s reassuring arm around your shoulder, “bound to roam” but always coming home. It’s his Pet Sounds.

Hear it here:

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