Category: “That’s Their Pet Sounds”

That’s Their Pet Sounds : Rupert Holmes “Adventure” (1980)

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.

Welcome to casual Friday….

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Rupert Holmes’s  Best Album: Adventure (1980)

Background: I need to start this in pure, unadulterated “get off my lawn” style but want to offer an apology in advance for the miniature hissy fit I’m about to throw. It’s just before we get into this particular masterpiece by the angel above, Rupert Holmes, we need to talk about the concept of Yacht Rock. I’m a hardliner in that I don’t believe in the whole idea of “guilty pleasure” since you can’t help what you like. It’s easier to just own up and love stuff openly because at the end of the day who gives a rats ass what anyone else thinks. Which segues into why I think Yacht Rock is both a troublingly subjective and wildly imperfect means of musical categorization, as it’s not so much an actual genre as it is a directive on how to hear particular artists and songs, created for primarily comedic purposes.

And to make matters worse, the overall sound that it has come to define actually already had a name before it was called Yacht Rock and was /is specifically tethered to a time and actual group of artists (and loosely, a place). It was called West Coast and from around 1978-1983, it was as pervasive on U.S.radio waves as hair metal was in later in the decade. During those years, the top 40 charts were absolutely brimming with West Coast.

The “sound” was typified by supreme musicianship, slick production, and melodic smoothness 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, where the best known purveyors of it tended to be based at some point, years later, it started getting referred to as West Coast, though as I alluded to, the music itself was created all over. I never even knew it had a name until like 10 or 15 years ago when searching for some “where are they now” type info, I stumbled upon a website called Blue Desert.

Here are some very fine albums from the heyday of the West Coast sound. Nothin’ but pure, unadulterated, bearded romance.

But Yacht Rock also selectively drags in bits of another maligned genre that was being birthed during the same era, that of AOR. Now AOR ( Album Oriented Rock) is basically the musical equivalent of Baby Bear’s bed in Goldilocks and the Three Bears; not too Hard (Rock), not too Soft (Rock) but juuuuust right…in the middle that is, taking elements of both and accentuating neither. For context, let’s just say Journey are The Beatles of AOR …but they are actually, believe it or not, too much of a rock band to fall into the Yacht category.  Toto are The Beatles of  West Coast and while they have songs that fall firmly into the AOR category, their general smoothness has landed them straight in the  Yacht Rock wheelhouse. Breathe in, breathe out…

And as if the latter day categorization wasn’t enough, at the time the sound, let’s just call it  West Coast for now, was happening, within the music industry it was referred to as, wait for it, Adult Contemporary aka Soft Rock. Both of those descriptors were code to describe music for grown people who like pop but wanted to hear things that were mellow and non-threatening. There is still an official Adult Contemporary Chart to this day ( also sometimes abbreviated to “AC”) and as of this writing, Maroon 5 are occupying the # 1 spot which I have no smart alecky thing to say about because it’s unnecessary.

I know, this is far more confusing than it needs to be….and that’s the thing, because in real time when these songs were actually being released, especially to my kid ears, it just was just plain old pop music. To the average listener of Casey Kasem’s weekly Top 40 radio show back in the late ’70’s and early ’80s, these songs currently singled out as Yacht Rock, which are West Coast, with occasional nods to AOR  but technically Adult Contemporary  were just part of an amorphous blob of hit singles, rubbing shoulders with everything from The Cars to Kool And The Gang. They were pop songs, that’s it.

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Clear the runway y’all…

A Man Called Rupert: While singer-songwriter Rupert Holmes has a number of noteworthy achievements in his CV, including writing a Tony award winning Broadway musical and producing a Streisand album, he is most famous for creating what’s become the unofficial anthem of Yacht Rock, the # 1 hit from 1979,“Escape (The Piña Colada Song)”. Based on those career highlights it should be pretty clear that when it came to this music thing, Rupert Holmes was looking at the world through a more mature set of eyes. His primary audience were grown people, actual adults with jobs, mortgages and alimony payments.

The back cover of the 1979 single of “Escape…” featured a handy recipe for making a Piña Colada because this was a record for grown people. Not gonna discuss the front.

1980’s Adventure, Rupert’s sixth studio album, was the follow up album to the previous years, Partners in Crime ( which featured 3 Top 40 hits “Him”, “Answering Machine” and the aforementioned “Escape…”). In terms of sales it was a huge failure and none of it’s singles landed in the pop Top 40. In fact from this point forward, Holmes himself would never again appear in the pop Top 40 performing his own songs ( though he still managed to score a huge hit  in 1986 albeit as a songwriter).

Why it’s his Pet Sounds:  While the plush production, epically clever lyrics and Billy Joel/Nilsson-esque melodies in his 5 albums prior to Adventure tend to get the accolades (especially Partners, with it’s triumvirate of hits), this is the one Holmes album where absolutely everything was on point. It’s the leanest, least jokey and most straight up “ROCK” thing he ever did and is filled end to end with well-scrubbed, orderly guitar solos and shiny bridges. And yup, as is his custom, Adventure is home to more hooks than an overstuffed tackle box.

This album offers no mystery whatsoever. You will never be confused by the lyrical content or be tempted to play it backwards in search of secret messages.  Every emotion and situation is described in clear precise language. It’s basically 10 soap opera scenes, miniature screenplays and short stories set to music . This is the Holmes Style™ and a skill that lent itself perfectly to his later endeavor of writing musicals and TV shows. The main lyrical ingredients here are clarity and earnestness with added dollops of cheese, knowing winks and “did you get it” elbowing. You know, kind of like a musical.

And you won’t find any meandering epics or extended instrumental interludes. Every song is unabashedly auditioning to be a single and future radio star.

To summarize, while Adventure didn’t set the charts alight alas, it is a truly seminal Yacht Rock-West Coast-Adult Contemporary-Soft Rock-Pop classic that deserves it’s due because, let’s get “1980” for a second, it’s just totally bitchin’.

*Sidenote: Actually there IS one mystery, that being why in God’s name a teenage girl who was obsessed with Sting and maintained a fat Police scrapbook should have been remotely interested in this album. It spoke from a vantage point that she had zero understanding of, that of a successful, nearly middle aged man living I assume, in LA. This album screamed midlife crisis from it’s every orifice. Yet it was a frequent occupant of my turntable. And for the record, yes I believed Sting “understood” me & I him. I know we both agreed on the most crucially important of all facts; that Sting himself was hot.

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Okay, look sensitive…

The Songs (side one):

The album opens with the epic title track “Adventure” and though I kind of hate myself for doing this, I need to invent a new f-ing category to describe it because it leaves me no choice. “Adventure” is a Yacht Prog” song. It’s fat, cheesily dramatic keyboard opening bears a striking similarity to what Genesis were turning out in the late ’70s. But while Genesis were still singing about mythical creatures and “kings who were laughing in the rain” at that point, Rupert was offering up an oozingly earnest sermon about how Hollywood’s interpretation of adventure ain’t nothing compared to the unexpected, even more thrilling real life encounters us average Joe’s have. He employs some absurdly dramatic pauses ( you could drive a tractor trailer between his “and” and “then”) and I’m conspiratorially convinced ABBA’s Benny and Bjorn co-opted the vibe from this very song for their own musical Chess a few years later in the form of 1984’s mountainously cheesy megahit  “One Night in Bangkok”…only “Adventure” is an infinitely better song.

But if we sell ourselves as somebody else we could make a misconnection

You’ll end up with one who loves not you but THE MASK…

While Rupert Holmes may not be Nostradamus, the prescience in evidence on “The Mask” with it’s primitive allusions to “catfishing” and pleas to just be your damn self are oddly impressive considering the song is 40 years old. The tune itself is built on a neat sinewy little groove but is also full of surprisingly clever and unpredictable key and tempo changes. To hear him passionately plead alongside an awesomely fuzzy, ascending electric guitar line for you “to tear the mask off“, might cause you in true Twilight Zone style to wonder how Rupert could’ve have possibly foreseen social media’s effect on future human relations in 1980 or then again maybe it’s just proof that people haven’t changed like at all.

“Blackjack” -The intro of the song sounds suspiciously like the kind of music you’d hear while watching a Las Vegas magician suddenly emerge from a cloud of smoke waving a wand while throwing shapes under an undulating spotlight. But it’s most likely just meant to sound “Vegas-y”, as if a wildly spinning roulette wheel could emit music. “Blackjack” is built on a bed of awesomely obvious gambling metaphors to describe love, all double downs, Queen of Hearts and chips but again Rupert surprises, employing loads of cooly oddball turns within the tune. This song rocks in a civilized and orderly fashion and while things don’t get out of hand, it does feature a break constructed for audience participation which I’m certain it didn’t get to enjoy in any significant way in it’s heyday. Here is the sleeve of the single which while somewhat endearing is the very anthesis of rocking.

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Time to throw some light ( and shade) on one of the more unpleasant pop music tropes from days of yore, namely successful 30 plus year old soft rocker guys writing about high school girls. This was such a common thing in the seventies and eighties that it was almost a sub-genre to itself.  Paul Davis, Billy Joel, Robbie Dupree, Benny Mardones  (and many, many others), all hit the charts with paeans to teenage girls, within which they were either reliving the exploits of their younger selves or, okay benefit of the doubt here, wistfully reminiscing in their current conditions. At that juncture in pop music history, you could get away with this shit with perfect impunity. It was so normalized that it wasn’t even questioned, after all, it had been going on for decades with future legends Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis leading the charge back in the’50s in the absolute worst possible ways.

But since we didn’t grow up with these guys and only knew them as grown ass men, this kind of thing could sound extraordinarily dicey ( remember this ?). What also sucked was that despite their questionable content some of these songs actually were freakin’ great…and I confess to an abiding love for several of them (dammit). Rupert’s contribution to the genre “The O’Brien Girl” is generally pretty subdued but while not overtly sexual it does come across as the sentiment of an obsessed fantasist. The lead character in this song has a backstory involving her leaving her previous high school but the story behind her departure is never revealed (though it’s implied something unfortunate happened to land her at Rupert’s school). All in all, it’s a regal and handsome ballad with a gloriously incongruous electric guitar adding a tiny and straight up weird bit of edge.

If any of you have  been to a Fleetwood Mac concert featuring the classic line-up of Stevie, Lindsey, Christine, John & Mick, you may recollect a point in the show when the band introduces each other. And you can probably recall which band member got the biggest cheers. Of course even if you haven’t been you can probably guess. It didn’t matter how many insane runs Lindsey did on his guitar or how killer his version of “Big Love” was, it was very clear who the star was, who was the most beloved. It was always Stevie Nicks. And it sucks right, it was sort of “your” thing, I mean you insisted she be in the band and this is what happens. Yup, no matter how hard you’ve worked, your bearded ass will never hold a candle to our beloved, spectral queen. In “Crowd Pleaser” Rupert describes a similar scenario and mostly cowers in the corner as backing singer Chrissy Faith crushes him with her steamroller. The chorus falls somewhere in between Kiss and Blue Oyster Cult. Seriously. I think after getting typecast as the Piña Colada guy, Rupert just wanted to f-ing rock for a minute or at least show people that he could. And bless him, for despite the earnest on the nosiness of this whole song, it’s insanely fun.

The Songs (side two):

“You’ll Love Me Again”– Yes, the sentiment of the title is as troubling as it sounds. It really should’ve been called “Red Flag” for under the guise of a love song, something far more sinister is afoot.

Here is a typical verse :

You loved me once and you’ll love me again

She said ” You think so ?”

I said “I know so, I know so much about you now”

She said “Well maybe”

I said “There is no maybe”

It’s all very Dateline. Which dovetails perfectly into the songs extravagant arrangement, with it’s Phil Collins style drum fills and Beach Boy-esque, Corvette convertible, twanging guitar line post chorus. Oh yes, this is most definitely “Yacht Prog” and it’s a goofy, glorious, passive-aggressive beauty to be sure.

Back in the day,  the inherently terrible and misogynistic term “frigid” was a commonly used to describe women who didn’t like or respond to sex in an “appropriately” heated manner. The more “polite” but still inherently questionable version of frigid is cold . While Rupert’s take on this notion, “Cold” is more polite than say the Stones screaming take regarding the same idea, it also manages to serve up a little quiet menace. Here, glaciers, sleet storms, blocks of ice are all overcome by the thawing agent known as “Spanish Wine”. Yeah, you get it. There’s some table turning in the latter half of the song which makes the whole idea of “Cold” feel less hostile ( Rupert is more progressive than Freud it appears). Weird thing is that despite all this, I’ve always kind of loved this song, which I pretty exclusively put down to it’s exceptional, twisting, turning tune and overall grooviness; that part is indisputable.

Which brings us to “Morning Man”, about a guy who is in love with a nurse who works the overnight shift while he works during the day. And so they have to get it while they can. And they make it work, unsurprisingly he is always ready to go (“doesn’t take much to wake me, just you shake your morning man” Rupert croons sweetly). And so you know, it’s a pop song about morning stuff. But holy crap, this tune, it’s just plain swoon-worthingly gorgeous.

The last 2 tracks on the album are the toughest listens, the most Broadway-ish sounding and the least rockin’. They have their virtues ( melodically tight) but they wither in the light of all that came before.

“I Don’t Need You”  is silly. It’s main attribute is it’s resolutely bouncy tune. It’s sentiments are similar to that of 10CC’s brilliant “I’m Not in Love” but have a decidedly cutesy flavor which quickly upends the pseudo-rockin mood Rupert had been establishing up to this point. To be frank, it’s the kind of thing your Grandparents might have liked had they heard it emanating from your teenage bedroom. Which is a terrible, terrible scenario. I now need to offer an anecdote to drive the aforementioned point home.

If you grew up in the seventies or eighties you will probably be familiar evening talk show host Merv Griffin. Though he was initially meant to rival daytime talk show king Mike Douglas, he was on at night and more akin to Johnny Carson but like the poor man’s version as in he was less charismatic and uh, likeable.

But in his defense, he seemed to care about us kids…or at least the person who booked musical artists for his show did. Which is to say he featured waaaaay cooler musical guests than Carson ever did, like he had Soft Cell on doing “Tainted Love” when it came out and even went so far as to invite them over to the guest sofa to have an actual chat. It was WTF wonderful, incongruous and embarrassing all at the same time. I even remember seeing Devo on there, as well as Marvin Gaye which was undeniably cool. Now in the ’40s and ’50s Merv had  been a bit of a crooner and so was often inclined to open his shows with a song. In keeping with the progressive nature of things, he would occasionally attempt songs of a contemporary nature . And on one particular evening, he chose to open with Rupert’s “I Don’t Need You”. The song was sort of new at the time and juuuuust the right amount of corny for an aging TV Host to belt out without completely humiliating himself.

Now while I was well aware that Adventure wasn’t a cool album by any stretch, the idea that this old, sports jacket wearing Hollywood guy was rocking the same thing on his turntable as me really put me off. I genuinely remember thinking WTF, this is my album you old cheeseball. And that is my main memory of this song. Even when I hear it now I think of Merv awkwardly schmoozing around the stage to it and for this reason, I just can’t. But I will give points for it’s schmaltzy and sweet guitar line because that’s actually kind of cool.

I’ll be honest , the last track “Special Thanks” also pisses me off a little. Despite it’s good intentions, there is something gruesomely condescending in it’s tone. It is as the title insinuates a song of thanks. He thanks the waiter for the table with a view. He thanks the pretzel vendor & all the denizens of the park that day who provide a backdrop for he and his love to walk through. He thanks the city for providing the opportunity to live out his dreams. Yes, a little smarmy and unctuous but I suppose since it’s the last song we can cut him some slack; it doesn’t change a thing.

In Conclusion:

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Rupert included that genuine little message you see above on the inner sleeve. It is clear by his tone that even he didn’t think a teenage person was likely to “fork out” for his grown up album. And that was probably an accurate observation based on his whole persona and the subject matter. As a recently minted teenager of course I didn’t own an apartment, house or car . But I did possess an obsession with AM radio, an allowance and a blue shag carpeted teen bedroom to play records in. And while I couldn’t entirely relate to the sentiments ( frigid ladies, night nurses, artifice, consumerism…wha?), I was completely enraptured by all the head spinning hooks, which were just plain more important. And though we haven’t really discussed it, I kind of dug his voice with it’s faintly detectable lisp.

When it comes to straight up melodic mastery Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson and Todd Rundgren are pretty much the gold standard but know what, Rupert Holmes had a similar strain running in him…and you can hear it all over  Adventure.

Despite my love of the album, I never felt inclined to write and respond to his message… but maybe in a way this essay is a letter that arrived 40 years late. Or shoot, I’ll just write a quick note now.

Dear Rupert,

I love Adventure and in my lifetime have played it at least as much as “Zenyatta Mondatta” ( but maybe not as much as “Ghost in the Machine”), but still I know every word to every song and can hum every guitar solo if tested. I’m proud to say I have officially lived long enough to understand what you were talking about in the songs. I think this album is your Pet Sounds. I’m eternally grateful it exists. And so no, Thank YOU.

Hear it here :

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:

Or here:

That’s Their Pet Sounds: Tears for Fears “Seeds of Love”(1989)

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.
And now please join us on a trip over the top…
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 Tears For Fears BEST ALBUM : 1989’s “Seeds of Love”

Background: The general consensus is that Tears For Fears 1985 album“Songs from the Big Chair” is their magnum opus. That it is The One. It remains the duo’s best-selling album by far (multi-platinum) and is filled end to end with clean, angsty, earnest, occasionally pretentious but seriously wonderful pop music. Over the past 10 years or so, even the most hardened critics have had to come clean about it’s undeniable and considerable charms. It now appears on every single “Best Albums of the 80’s” list without fail. There it eternally sits in all it’s radio-friendly, big chorused glory, the existentially tortured, two-headed pop turtle amongst your Sonic Youths, Smiths and Public Enemies. Now while the deep cuts on this thing are pretty great ( yeah “The Working Hour”, I’m talking about you) if we’re being truthful, the heart clutching love people have for “Big Chair” is primarily related to it’s triumvirate of enormously popular and memorable megahit singles. Let’s rank them in order of wonderfulness :

1.“Head Over Heels” which consists of unrequited love, familial disappointment and a pretty glorious hook. Also, bonus points, it’s video takes place in a library, the architectural equivalent of a secret crush. We, all of us will probably be swooning along to this thing forever. 10/10.

2.“Everybody Wants To Rule the World”: The best 80’s pop song that was partially inspired by the Cold War, easily crushing it’s 2 chief high profile competitors in that category: “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Sting’s “Russians” the latter of which we’re not even going to discuss because I just freakin’ can’t. The chorus and intro get all the glory in “Everybody…” but the real heroes here, the heavy lifters and secret genius’s within it, are the sunshine strewn, singalong guitar solo, and the clever little vocal embellishment by Tears man Curt Smith immediately following it: “Say that you’ll nevernevernevernever need it”. Also remains pretty glorious.

3.“Shout”: And now the party is over. This bitter chant was a massive hit but okay, I’ve never liked it. Yes, it is undeniably memorable in that insidious, easy to sing along to the chorus way but it’s also an interminable dirge: it’s missing the unspeakably wonderful melodicism that is not only showcased in the 2 aforementioned tracks but in the album’s handsome deep cuts as well. 

That aside, make no mistake,“Big Chair” is a very good record…but it isn’t Tears For Fears greatest artistic achievement.

No, to experience Tears for Fears at their maximum Tears for Fear-edness, behaving in the most Tears For Fears manner possible, we need to turn an ear to “Big Chair’s” spoiled and overfed younger sibling, 1989’s “Seeds of Love”. It’s full of over the top windswept melodicism and cryptic weirdness. It’s scope and overall sound have an underlying unity which is to say “Seeds” sounds like one big fat song as opposed to 8 smaller ones. It comes across as a singular emotional vision. It’s bigger than “Big Chair”, way, way bigger.

Why it’s their Pet Sounds :

Basically “Seeds of Love” is the Good Morning Burger in the form of an album. It is made entirely of musical carbohydrates. It is bloated, garish and grandiose. It is pompous and overwrought. It’s also Tears men Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith at their most adventurous and playful, more so then they had been up to that point and have ever been since. It is also positively filled with estrogen. As in 5 of the 8 songs were co-written by singer-pianist Nicky Holland. As in Oleta Adams ridiculously soulful vocalizing is prominently featured on several key tracks including the behemoth “Woman in Chains”. As in that very song is about toxic masculinity. “Seeds” is fueled by Girl Power.

This album had an extremely difficult birth, taking roughly 3 years and millions of dollars/pounds to complete to everyone’s satisfaction ( namely Roland and Curt). Those years saw key Tears stalwarts Ian Stanley ( keyboardist & co-writer) and Chris Hughes ( producer & co-writer) both leave the fold due to that dusty old classic, creative differences, as well as the scrapping of all the initial album recordings that had been done by the legendary UK production team of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. This ultimately led to the guys taking on the production themselves assisted by engineer David Bascombe. It was a bumpy road.

And, unsurprisingly, Roland and Curt themselves were starting to really get under each other’s skin, ultimately resulting in the latter’s quitting the band in 1991 after the tour in support of the album. This departure was followed by some genuine Mean Girls style retribution wherein both Roland and Curt released nasty songs describing each others shortcomings on their first solo releases after “Seeds”: “Fish Out of Water” where Roland talks shit about Curt ( “the only thing you ever made was that tanned look on your face”), and “Sun King” where Curt talks shit about Roland (“boy you looked so bad”). Burn baby burn.

And so “Seeds” was born under duress.

As for the contents of the album itself, this is one of those cases where you can actually judge a book by it’s cover, which looks like a Sgt.Pepper album and a Metropolitan Museum of Art Calendar that have melted together in the sun i.e. it sounds exactly like it looks. It’s completely flooded with color, and there are no empty spaces. Tears had never exuded light-heartedness or humor prior to this album, and the subject matter in the “Seeds” songs hold to that standard. What you get are mostly despair songs as opposed to love songs…but the despair is about the state of the world, not another singular person. It’s full of fun stuff like political hypocrisy, inter-band hatred, and the impending apocalypse. Honestly, it’s kind of angry but it hasn’t given up, it desperately wants things to get better. It’s some Everest, epic and majestically beautiful pop music and even though it’s about that dry, dense real world stuff and not I love you baby, it’s still extraordinarily romantic.

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“I Love a Sunflowuhhhhh”…

The Songs:

  • This album is officially 8 tracks long. When it was released back in 1989 that was it. 8 tracks. If you go to Spotify or iTunes now, you are presented with the expanded version which features 4 additional tracks, former b-sides and what not. Here’s the deal, while these bonus tracks are okay, they are not part of the original album release…and so you should ignore them. We’re excommunicating them from the listening experience here. With that in mind…
  • …I’m now gonna get all “Dark Side of the Moon” on you : in order to really experience “Seeds” properly, the album needs to be listened to in sequence . It’s a suite, a body, all the songs feel connected and meld into each other…and, okay, you may want to sit down, I’m going to use the P word: it is a little bit Prog. But with a small p. This isn’t Yes or Rush, don’t get scared. This has soul, big fat soul. And as stated earlier, it’s also somewhat…
  • Excessive. This record is just excessive. Just like this piece you’re reading now. The average running time for each song is 6 freakin’ minutes. It is full and I do mean FULL of horns, strings and piles of backing vocals. The whole thing is as a slick as an oil filled rain puddle. There are no sharp edges in here. And oh yes, Phil Collins makes an appearance playing his GIANT GUEST DRUMS. I know, it sounds like the very definition of “Eighties “. But wait, it is also full of absolutely transcendent hooks. Like in every song. And though it doesn’t get talked about much when we talk about Tears, Roland Orzabel possesses one incredibly soulful whine of a voice ( that’s a compliment I swear) and can swoop from the depths of the ocean to the most manic falsetto in mere milliseconds and sound pretty fantastic. And co/backing vocalist Oleta Adams’ stunning supporting voice pulls him so far up throughout the album and is so in sync with his, that half the time it’s impossible to tell where he ends and she begins. For years I confused who was singing what in certain songs, so similar in timbre were the two. And so, the songs…
  • “Woman in Chains”: The band first encountered Oleta Adams whilst she was performing in a hotel bar in Kansas City back in 1985 while they were on tour, and oh lord, if you’re going to unexpectedly discover a singer in a Kansas City bar, you couldn’t haven’t been more fortunate and blessed than to stumble upon freakin’ Oleta Adams, and her soaring, heavenly voice. “Woman” is one of the the album’s signature songs and is, in a nutshell, about man’s commitment to overtly masculine behavior and how heinous it is…but it is not a clinical presentation or scholarly dissertation, it is a total power ballad duet. Like freakin’ “Almost Paradise” by Ann Wilson and Mike Reno, the gigantic love blob from “Footloose” that put the O in Overwrought , only “Woman In…” is about ingrained misogyny, because you know, this is Tears For Fears we are talking about here. Widescreen and beautiful.
  • As mentioned earlier there was some serious band discord happening through “Seeds” birthing process. “Bad Man’s Song” is about that very thing. Roland is the real life Bad Man in question and describes a scene that took place on the bands Big Chair tour wherein he heard the band talking about what a tyrant/asshole he was through a hotel wall. The vocal interplay between he and Oleta A. is exceptional here, and this incredulous, but accepting acknowledgement of bad behavior has got soul, soul, soul.
  • “Sowing the Seeds of Love” was the first single released off the album and is, for all intents and purposes, The Beatles’s timeless pop chant “I Am the Walrus” with a chorus that sounds like sunshine replacing the original one that sounds like rain. It is bitter and fun at the same time, calling out Margaret Thatcher’s infamously cruel reign and using Paul Weller’s musical transition from The Jam (where he was the rebellious mod man of the streets) to The Style Council (where he was a complacent coffee bar soundtrack provider) as a metaphor to drive the point home. It’s also one of Roland Orzabal’s finest vocal performances featuring all kinds of quirky note stretching and emotional word spitting. While we’re here I would like to state, politics aside, I think Style Council were better than the Jam. More tunes, more romance and yeah, I know you don’t agree and please leave me alone on this because I can’t help it.
  • “Advice For The Young at Heart”: “Everybody Wants to Rule’s” older, more mature sibling, “Advice” positively shimmers while emitting the sweetest light on the whole album, both airy, and wistful. It’s also the only song to feature a Curt Smith lead vocal (uh oh). 
  • The next 4 songs feel connected in sound and scope and are Seeds’ secret foundation. They are what makes this thing truly great. Starting with “Standing On The Corner Of The Third World”, the Tears version of a quiet/loud song. No, that does not mean it sounds like the Pixies ( thank God). It sneaks in delicately, then gets all in your face loud, with big horns, and assertive backing vocals…but it’s all kind of sad. It’s somewhat convoluted and cryptic lyrically but seems to be talking about hiding all your bad thoughts or things you don’t want to admit to or show and using the now dated term “Third World” as a metaphor for that place you hide them because, big picture, it represents a place people try to deny and forget. At least that’s what I think it’s about. This lyrical interpretation thing is always a losing game. Which leads us into…
  • …the plush and windy “Swords and Knives” which starts at birth and walks headlong into death as embodied by…
  • “Year Of The Knife”: Is this song about regret and denial  ? Is it a deathbed scene between father and son? I have absolutely no idea. All I can tell you is it’s a gigantic heartbreak locomotive and features some pretty fabulous screeching ( no, seriously) from Roland…once this ends we survey the countryside from the mountaintop as the closing ballad wafts in over the credits, that being…
  • “Famous Last Words”, Tears’ version of a love song. Which means it is about embracing one other in the face of a pending nuclear apocalypse wherein all that will be left is “insects and grass” all the while “listening to the bands that made us cry” which while completely fatalistic is undeniably romantic .

In Conclusion:

 Despite being platinum, this record remains a bit of a sleeper. You don’t hear it mentioned too often these days, if at all. Which is a pity because it’s the finest thing this band ever did ( high praise because they did some seriously fine things especially on their first 2 album releases). It’s cynical, anxious and confused by the world but is all hope and love at it’s core. And it still sounds as melodically magnificent as the day it was born. Oh Seeds, you’re so pretty when you’re angry. Don’t ever change.

Hear it here:

Or here:

That’s Their Pet Sounds: Seal “Human Being” (1998)

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 fuckin’ 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.

Forget about those celebrity Halloween parties, and remember Seal this way…
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Seal’s BEST ALBUM : 1998’s “Human Being”

Background:
What is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Seal ? Generally speaking, it’s 1 of these 3 things, in no particular order:
1. “Kiss From a Rose”, the eloquent ballad/Batman Forever love theme.
2.“Crazy”, his first mega hit, from 1991.
3. The annual, oddly insufferable Hollywood Halloween party he up until recently hosted with his former wife, supermodel Heidi Klum.
And once that party started, Seal crossed the line from being a “musician” to being a “celebrity“. The ubiquitous and unending documentation of these parties fed this identity to such a large degree that it was remarkably easy to forget that this guy was once a credible artist responsible for the 90’s grandest, most emotive ear candy.
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No.  

Okay, so there’s that, but nearly as unfortunate is what his most predominate artistic activity for the past 10 plus years has been, namely wandering down that same dusty road trodden by Rod Stewart, Michael McDonald, Barry Manilow and a myriad of others in the twilight of their careers i.e. putting out cover albums of classic but at this point seriously hoary old standards and mostly obvious soul classics, an exercise that no matter how sincerely intended, is the very definition of cheap applause and in some cases, desperation. When the response to new albums of original material is literally no response, well, it’s cover time. Albums like these should all have the same title, “I Give Up” and, as they inevitably sell in truckloads, ” I Give Up: Volume 2″. Now in Seal’s defense, some of the choices on his 2 Soul themed cover albums (titled “Soul”…and yes, “Soul 2”) are undeniable beauties: “What’s Going On”, “I’ll Be Around”,”Free” to name a few…but they are counteracted by the presence of the hairy warted heads and hands of “Lean On Me” and “Stand By Me”, the most unwelcome guests/passengers in the history of the NY subway system.

One more cherry on this cake : One of Seal’s top 5 most streamed songs on Spotify is a pasted together version of he and Frank Sinatra “duetting” on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. Okay. Enough.

Time to push all that aside and focus on something else. Something really, really good that came at a really, really bad time. Seal’s third album “Human Being”  was released in November of 1998 just as the full on Britney/ Backstreet/Max Martin/TRL era was making it’s insane ascent.  By then Seal was 35 years old and when it came to pop music in 1998, that was the same as being a senior citizen. “Human Being” with it’s lush orchestration, ballads and overtly sad subtext was not remotely in step with what was happening. It was not awesomely sweet rainbow candy,  it was more like a half empty glass of water, sitting on a window sill, with rain pouring outside. It was a total lament…but also, it was totally gorgeous.

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“Come be sad with me luv”

Why it’s his Pet Sounds :

If you ever wanted to make a list of the 10 best Seal songs ever at least 5 of them would be off of “Human Being” ( okay, I know you probably wouldn’t but if you did). It’s that deep.
This album features these things in equal amounts :

1.Grandiose, widescreen instrumental backdrops.

2.Seal’s gigantically beautiful raspy voice.

3.Existential wrestling ( with bonus weary resignation).

4.Frustration and befuddlement about this life and the people in it.

5.Cryptic lyrical content.

About that last thought, here’s the deal: Seal’s words can sound as vague as a watercolor painting of a freakin’ lake…as in you kind’ve know what he means, because the song titles are pretty leading, and there are bits of coherent emotion within the songs but overall the feeling being expressed is not 100% specific.

There’s this website song meanings.com where people post their often kind of out there and highly personal interpretations of song lyrics , and most of the commentary offered in regards to this album goes something like this, to paraphrase: “I’m not sure what he means but this is my favorite song of all time”. Basically you can read into them what you want and the lack of deep specificity makes it easier…and know what, that’s okay: this record is more about a combination of things coming together as opposed to showcasing one singular shiny feature.

Nearly every song is a ballad and the musical foundation for the majority of them is chilly and electronic, with some guitar flourishes, and cinematic strings to heighten the overall drama…but even with that abounding heaviness, make no mistake, these are pop songs, and as such the tunes themselves are strikingly memorable ( lotta hooks). There’s really no filler.

And because of the aforementioned consistency in the mood and tune quality, it’s one of those records that works best as a full listen as opposed to skipping around. There’s parity.
Every song melds into another. You could liken it to how Marvin Gaye’s immaculate “What’s Going On”  album is basically 1 song sped up and slowed down for 30 minutes but like a really, really good song.
Which is all to say that this is a complete piece of work and holds true to what the idea of an album really is. I know how overly precious and get off my lawn that shit sounds but just want to underline that Seal clearly put some real thought into this thing as a whole. It’s all magical, and moody, and full of wonderment.

The Songs:

  • When it comes to his own songs, Seal isn’t a party guy. Seal is more of an emotional apocalypse kind of guy. Here are lines from the respective chorus’s of 3 of his biggest singles prior to “Human Being” in the 90’s : We’re never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy, It’s just a prayer for the dying, Is there still a part of you that wants to live. In keeping with this tradition, the main line in the chorus of the title track here is We’re mere human beings, we die. The soaring vocal makes the fact that we are all irrelevant, easily replaceable dust balls desperately in need of love seem panoramically glorious which is a real achievement considering how depressing the sentiment is. This one was dedicated to Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls who had died not long before but you can read a lot of different things into it’s cold and sinister groove with a hook and it stands as one of Seal’s finest moments. ( * note: the album title is “Human Being” while the single is “Human Beings, plural. Confusing but there you go).

 

  • “When a Man is Wrong” is an anthem about the old yin/yang, angel/devil, right/wrong, open/afraid relationship shiz that confuses and drives most of the planet and has one of those outstretched arms, billowing white shirt, standing on a cliff overlooking the sea style codas. In keeping with the over the top theme, if pushed to describe this song in one word it would be majestic. This is a majestic man of a song.

 

  • ….but truthfully, it’s hard, and maybe unfair, to single out specific songs as the highlights since, as alluded to earlier, they all kind of blend together to make one beautiful thing. That said “Still Love Remains”, a giveth and taketh away tune about how someone can be ruined if you take it away, but life goes on and you’re both still alive, is especially handsome ….and Seal’s vocal on the acoustic driven bridge is a swoon inducing marvel.

 

  • “No Easy Way” feels like Seal singing directly into your ear about how things are over, over, over, but he sent you some “Rilke by hand, hoping you would understand , even though he wouldn’t normally do that kind of thing but he still loves you even though he is maybe still a little pissed about how it all went down. This song has a heartbeat and it is very sad.

 

  • I have no idea what “Lost My Faith” is about. Seriously. Someone may be calling it a day but they’ll be there if you trip up… I think, but at the end of the day it doesn’t fucking matter, it’s got beautiful eyes, and has one of those patented Seal panoramic, soaring chorus’s and you need nothing more.

 

  • Everything feels connected sound-wise, like all the songs are holding hands with each other. In fact, I used to get them mixed up all the time, so similar were they in tempo and construction. Which is to say “Human Being” is actually filled to the gills with swoon inducing marvels. “State of Grace” (topic: uncertainty), “Colour”(topic: be here now), “Just Like You Said”(topic: losing you) all fit the bill and fill the heart.

 

  • Okay, said there was no filler but “Princess” is close, as in it’s not up to the standard of the rest of the album . Seal sings  “Daddy’s little lemon ain’t all she’s meant to be” and then uses the word “bitter” in the next verse, and well, yeah. Thankfully it’s the shortest thing on the record, with a running time of less than 2 minutes, so let’s just pretend it’s not there.

In Conclusion:

The liner notes in this thing were voluminous and because the primary formats at the time of release were cd and cassette, they were very hard to read without going insane. The text was absolutely minuscule and the content consisted of email correspondences between Seal and friends encouraging each other’s creative impulses and saying what a good time they had the night before, as well as lyrical excerpts.

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Here are some of the liner notes. They are very small.

You don’t need to read them. They won’t enhance your experience of the album…only bringing this up because in the liner notes of Seal’s prior release, his self-titled second album, he wrote a very romantic and zen anecdote, featured in the thanks/credits section, about meeting a friend for the first time, that’s been hard to forget.

Story went like this: One day  in 1992, in NYC, he’d spontaneously wandered into a fortune tellers storefront/parlor, and proceeded to get his palm read. The reader offered mostly outlandish rubbishy predictions but also said that he was about to embark on some of the most wonderful and traumatic times in his life. And that just as the traumatic stuff began he was going to meet a friend who would help “share the strain” and offer him unending inspiration to keep going …and that ended up happening. The guys name was Paul, and he refers to him as “my dear friend” and Seal said that that particular album was as much a reflection of Paul’s life experience as his. There’s something kind of moving about that little memory especially since he was speaking of a friend and not a romantic partner. See that’s the thing about Seal, and it’s all over this record, he’s a big picture guy. In his eyes the world is full of soulmates: friends, partners, humanity itself. It’s literally encapsulated in the title of the damn album, “Human Being”. It’s perfect not just musically but in that way too. It’s his Pet Sounds.

Hear it here:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/35U5qfg6T6cbHUDAdAtKjs

or here:

 

“That’s Their Pet Sounds” : Rick Springfield “Working Class Dog” (1981)

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 fuckin’ 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.

And with that here’s an artist frequently dismissed as a teen idol who defied odds and opinions to make a truly seminal power pop album…
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Rick Springfield’s BEST ALBUM : 1981’s “Working Class Dog”

Background: By the late seventies Rick Springfield was in a state of desperation. At this point he’s released 3 studio albums of okay pop rock with middling success and is maybe a teen idol past his prime. Even though music is his passion, bills have to be paid, so he auditions for an acting role on “General Hospital”, the soap of the time ( pathetic anecdote break : I rushed home from school every day for this thing and somehow disciplined myself to not start my daily school persecution crying session until 4 pm, when the show was over, that’s how invested I was ). He gets the job. Meanwhile he signs with RCA and starts making another record in earnest, newly inspired by the power pop guitar crunch pervading the LA clubs at the time, particularly from bands like the Knack. Yes, you are witnessing the phenomenon known as stars aligning.
Okay so in 1981, a lot of shit happens. Rick is starring on the still top-rated “General Hospital”, and his new album, “Working Class Dog” , is officially out in the world. If that weren’t enough,   “Jessie’s Girl”, a truly rockin’ piece of ear candy off the album has begun picking up steam on the radio, and it’s corresponding video is soon all over MTV. The song ultimately hits #1 on the Billboard chart. Now as great as “Jessie” is, and lord it is, there’s no reason to believe Rick is anything but a one hit wonder, another teen idol from the factory. At that point, pop history was littered with similar scenarios. People that, while yeah they made records, they were also TV stars, and were thereby automatically not regarded as credible musicians ( David Cassidy being the prime example). Didn’t matter that Rick was musician first and an actor “just because”, he automatically got tarred with that brush…but something weird happened and turned that whole notion on it’s ear. See, “Working Class Dog” turned out to be good, like really good, as in one of the finer power pop albums ever made. Seriously. Something that could hold it’s head up next to Badfinger’s “No Dice” and “Straight Up” or anything from Cheap Trick’s 1977-79 golden era. Why wasn’t he mentioned in the same breath as those guys at the time ? Well, Rick was a teen idol, a branded man, and all the nerdy, pseudo cool, music know it all guys who liked the aforementioned bands couldn’t bring themselves to like something all the girls were crazy for, because it had to be shiz if girls liked it. Yes. Ironic considering power pop’s roots in the Fab Four but there you go. Beatles. Stones. Same scenario. Girls loved and recognized them first and at some inevitable point, their amazing-ness couldn’t be denied. As of 2018, I can honestly say the most knowledgable and passionate male power pop heads I know, the ones that worship Big Star, The Raspberries and Flamin’ Groovies all think “Working Class Dog” kicks ass.

Why it’s his Pet Sounds :

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“I just made a seminal power pop album girl”

Rick is one of those guys that has good songs on every album. You can trust him to give you at very least 1 or 2 within every release. He’s reliable like that. Unlike, and it kills me to say this, Neil Young and Paul McCartney who at this point just can’t be trusted. Fact is if you like Rick, and continue to buy his new albums, you will be rewarded in some way.
Out of all 17, and counting, of Rick’s studio albums, “Working Class Dog” is the deepest, the punchiest, the most consistent. It’s the one.
It goes something like this:
There are 10 songs on “Working Class Dog”and they are all good.
Every one has a killer hook and sounds like a single.
Every chorus in every song is impossibly sticky and cannot be removed once they’ve suctioned themselves to the inside of your head.
Also, every song is about girls.
Since the early seventies, bands overtly influenced by that early Beatles sound and song construction were filed directly into the category that came to be known as power pop. And oh man, music writers of a certain age, gender and genetic make up love them some power pop. It is a religion. Their irrational/earth shattering love for this sound is no different than that of the BTS fan army of today ( If you don’t know about BTS, go have a Google). The most obvious way this love manifested itself in the pre-internet era was in the consistent attention bestowed upon power poppers in the music press i.e.almost any band that made this kind of music got lauded and showered with good reviews and features back in the day, even though their overall popularity usually didn’t warrant the attention and they were all pretty much guaranteed to be cult bands forever. There was something about this particular sound that struck a chord with hardcore music nerds. It was pop, but self-referential and smart and clever, with guitars all over it. It was romantic music for boys.
“Working Class Dog” is the absolute epitome of great power pop and in a 2018 musical world where the concept of what’s cool and not cool no longer exists, where it’s just about loving songs as singular digital entities, no matter where they came from, all that old baggage about “it’s for girls” can finally go straight in the garbage where it always belonged.

The Songs:

  • Rick wrote 9 of the 10 tracks. There’s lots of talk about appeasing Daddy (hers and Rick himself) and “little girls” that are alternately dirty or scared “like you”.
  • The one track he didn’t write,“I’ve Done Everything For You”, is …well okay it’s a Sammy f-ing Hagar song from 1978…but in the same manner in which Aretha Franklin stole Otis Redding’s “Respect” and made it her own forever, Rick took complete possession of this song. As in his version completely crushes the original. (Disclaimer: I am in no way inferring that Sammy is like Otis, I am just referencing the circumstance. Otis is a God, while Sammy remains and will always be a man.)
  • This album is romantic in the same way hanging out in a suburban 7-11 parking lot late, late at night ( cheap pun alert) and cruising the main strip of road in town hoping by chance to see your unrequited love is romantic. It feels eternally young and single-minded and all emotions expressed within it are as urgent as a fire alarm. It runs all the lights and is very, very horny.
  • The first 8 tracks are hook laden pocket anthems and each one to the last features an  impossibly infectious chorus. Though the competition is fierce, gonna say the one in “Love Is Alright Tonite” rules the hardest. As a side note, “Love…” soundtracks the most manic and crazy scene in cult classic “Wet Hot American Summer” and is hard to detach from that once you’ve seen it but they really do take it to yet another level of greatness.
  • For years I thought Rick was singing “You can keep your cheddar” in “Daddy’s Pearl”. I reasoned “cheddar” was some kind of slang way to say cheap opinions/gossip which made sense in the context of the song. It sounded kind of clever and weird. Plus he rhymed it with “better”. Years later found out what he is saying is actually “chatter”and was disappointed. Listen for yourself and decide but I think “cheddar” is the way to go.

 

  • “Inside Silvia” is a lust ballad. It is 100 % literal. When Rick sings “there’s one harbor where I’m safe and warm”, the “harbor” to which he is referring is Silvia herself. All the metaphors are literal on this album. I swear that is not a contradiction.
  • There is also a straight up Lynyrd Skynyrd guitar solo that wandered in off the street and somehow got lost in “Red Hot and Blue Love”. It is phenomenally disconcerting but it works in what is the most “experimental” song on the album.
  • There’s really nothing left to be said in regards to “Jessie’s Girl” at this point. It’s a classic pop song, full stop, some people love it, some people are sick of it…but it lives and will continue to do so long after we are gone.

In Conclusion:

 37 years have passed since “Working Class Dog” was released. And Rick is still out there touring and recording like a truly driven man. This thing sold 3 million copies and had 3 top ten singles and will probably never be included on any of those “Greatest Albums of All-Time” lists…but who cares what the critics say. It’s an absolute diamond, it’s his Pet Sounds.

*One more thing ! While there have been an extraordinarily large number of crap rock memoirs thrust into the world over the years, Rick’s own  “Late, Late at Night” from 2010 is not one of them. The story does not resolve itself in the last 50 pages with descriptions of joyfully taking kids to school, cooking vegan feasts or daily one on one martial arts training sessions with an esteemed master guru like the kind that regularly surface in todays rock memoirs. Rick’s story is ongoing, unresolved and human. The book is one of the most compelling, dark, sexually charged, honest and self deprecating music autobiographies you’re ever gonna read and so highly encourage you to do so.

Hear it here:

or here:

“That’s Their Pet Sounds” : Rickie Lee Jones “Pirates” (1981)

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 fuckin’ 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.

And with that here’s an artist whom while she’s gotten her justified share of critical acclaim is still regarded as a “one hit wonder” in a lot of circles…which is pretty bullshit…

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Rickie Lee Jones’s BEST ALBUM : 1981’s “Pirates”

Background: Early in her career Rickie Lee Jones used to get compared to Joni Mitchell (a legend) a lot. Like a lot. People would often site her appearance, her singular instantly recognizable voice, her esoteric songwriting, and her jazz influences as Joni-esque which while in some respects wasn’t a reach, was an undeniably lazy and easy comparison to make. After 16 studio albums (as of this writing) it’s clear from even the most cursory listen, Rickie was a lot weirder, more self-deprecating, unhinged and unpredictable vocally, plus unlike Joni, she was/is an unabashed resident of the wrong side of the tracks ( her earlier songs often featured losers in search of sure things, drugs and Rickie’s relationships with both ). By the way, choosing “Pirates” as her peak performance isn’t necessarily a cut and dried decision as Rickie’s first 3 studio albums are all pretty deep in the quality department ( ed.note : not counting ” Girl at Her Volcano”, her standards cover album that came between albums 2 and 3 which while off-kilter and cool is kind of an outlier in the discography)…but “Pirates” gets the edge as it completely encapsulates everything she is about, and, hyperbole alert (!) is perfectly succinct and beautiful in every way.

Why it’s her Pet Sounds :

It features 3 of the  absolute greatest songs of her 40 year career, in a row, to start the freakin’ album. The LP as a whole sounds like a stream of consciousness story, and it’s stars are Rickie’s patently deluded boho romantic lost souls, and their plans that never work out or end badly yet everyone keeps on dreaming, and trying to “be alive” so to speak. “Pirates” is a soulful popped out spin on Springsteen’s very particular brand of misguided mortals like he’d been offering at around the same time (late 70’s, early 80’s), the kind of wishful thinkers depicted in his “Backstreets”, “Meeting Across the River”,and “Racing in the Streets”…but Rickie’s souls are surrounded not with meat, potatoes, glockenspiel and sax, they’re swathed in swirling orchestration, piano flourishes, and unpredictable hooks. “Pirates” is full of arcs and crescendos, like some hallucinatory broadway musical. Add to that her own warm, sinewy and otherworldly voice. To put it simply, it can get dark inside these songs but they are full of color.

The Songs:

The 2 lead tracks are Rickie at her finest: “We Belong Together” is a breathless and  desperate movie scene that builds and builds with a tripping chorus and some kick ass power drums while  “Living It Up” is all resignation, delusion, sex, and desperation. These 2 songs feel inextricably locked together, like non-identical twins born a mere minute apart and honestly I can’t even listen to one without playing the other immediately after.

“Skeletons” is ridiculously prescient and gripping ( it’s a police story, will leave it at that, check it out ) with a delicate and oddly optimistic melody belying the innate sadness at it’s core. And sweet pop is alive in both the title track,“Pirates…” and “A Lucky Guy” ( about Rickie’s former paramour Tom Waits himself). Finally the ambitious, widescreen, fat jazz of “Traces of the Western Slopes”  features some of Rickie’s most compelling vocal keening, and “The Returns” sets the wistful credits rolling.

Anything sub-standard ?

Out of the 8 featured tracks there’s really only 1 that could be considered straight up filler, the overly perky “Woody and Dutch”, which yeah, I always skip.

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Here’s Rickie after winning the cursed “Best New Artist” Grammy in 1980, deservedly beating the likes of Dire Straits, The Blues Brothers, The Knack and Robin Williams which is easily the nerdiest white guy age 13-30 in 1980 wet dream list ever. Go girl …

 

In Conclusion:

As meandering ( in a good way) and epic ( 4 of the 8 tracks are over 5 minutes) as “Pirates” contents are, make no mistake, this is a pop album and very easy to latch onto i.e. it’s melodic to the core. It’s been 37 years since the initial release of “Pirates” and Rickie is still touring like a maniac…and she still justifiably features a lot of the “Pirates” tracks in her setlists. Highly recommend the multitude of acoustic and live versions of all the aforementioned tracks which can be easily found on YouTube, on Rickie’s website, plus on her official live album from 1995 “Naked Songs” because in a lot of cases they are transcendently good, as in a lot of them rival the original studio versions. That’s the thing about Rickie, even stripped down the songs are as elastic, melodic, and wondrous as the fully clothed versions. And go see her, for real, she’s really unpredictable and she’ll take you there…but visit “Pirates” now, right now, headphones, train, car, it’s her Pet Sounds.

Hear it here:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/2E3jRFNrWjqTBJEPrfIDzl

“That’s Their Pet Sounds” : Barry Manilow “Even Now” (1978)

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 fuckin’ delivered the goods.

Welcome to “That’s Their Pet Sounds” our latest semi-regular feature where we will endeavor to spotlight, and celebrate a heretofore uncool, sometimes mocked, occasionally underrated, polarizing, not as acclaimed as they should be,  “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.

And who better to start with than one of the most maligned and popular artists ever….

 

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Barry Manilow’s BEST ALBUM : 1978’s “Even Now”

Background: “Even Now” was Barry’s 5th official studio album and went on to sell 3 million freakin’ copies. He remained so fond of it, and of that time in his career, that in 1996 he released an album of his favorite pop songs from 1978 or thereabouts by other artists and called it, wait for it, “the Summer of ’78”. He even went so far as to write a song with that same title swooning over what a great year it was. Make no mistake, Barry was really, really into 1978. Yup, even Barry knew that “Even Now” was the one.
It is important to note that all Manilow albums during his seventies heyday were essentially collections of potential singles or at least sounded like them…which means the only cohesive theme tying them together as LP’s were the fact that all the songs were performed by Barry. He was an unabashed pop artist who made singles for the radio. That’s what he did. That was his job.

Why it’s his Pet Sounds :

Okay, before we begin have to attach a disclaimer to this : at this stage in life, I absolutely detest “Copacabana”, it’s just, I fuckin’ can’t… but that wasn’t always the case, which is to say as a kid, sigh, I thought it was pretty cool. I did….but reason I bring it up is because many people will write this album off straight away because of “Copacabana’s” presence i.e. it’s the opening damn track. And look, there is a liberal coating of schmaltz on a good portion of the album ( it’ll inevitably get all over your hands…or ears, case in point “Can’t Smile Without You”, that one really oozes) …but cast your cynicism aside, because once you get past those guys and go deep, you’ll discover that “Even Now” is Barry at his melodic, lovelorn best. Yes, sentimentally over the top but also kind of dark, dazed and lost and, it goes without saying, ridiculously tuneful.

Every track is sung with complete earnestness and nearly always features a dramatic key change around the last chorus or so ( you know those award show performances where all of a sudden a gospel choir or gaggle of harmonizing children rise from beneath the stage to join in on that final chorus and take things completely over the top, well it’s like that except it’s just Barry singing).

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Okay, elephant in the room officially acknowledged, onward… 

 

The Songs: 

Want a song about not appreciating someone until it’s too late ? That’s the lush “A Linda Song”.

How about some loss, loneliness and regret ? Well the whole latter half of the record does a u-turn from corned out “joy” of “Copacabana “ and “Can’t Smile”. “Where Do I Go From Here”, “Even Now”, “I Just Want To Be the One” and  “Sunrise” supply plenty of emotional question marks.

And the guitar riff in “Leaving in the Morning” sounds like a slowed down version of the heavenly opening chord of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” and as such is totally bitchin’.

The defining track on the album is the aforementioned darkly optimistic (really) and mournful “Sunrise”. In fact the cover of the album is literally a photograph of the song. It’s a world weary ballad about resigning yourself to this thing called life and trying to hang in there whilst contemplating your place in the universe and features a pretty gorgeous piano line that perfectly captures “the sad”.

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“I can be dark too bitches”

Anything sub-standard ? Well yeah, “Losing Touch” is unpleasant and the kitsch of “I Was a Fool” can grate but those are tiny gripes.

In Conclusion:

“Even Now” is Barry at his most consistent and has more top notch tracks per capita than any of his other 30 (!) studio albums. And for an album of singles really, it hangs together exceptionally well. It’s vintage AM radio gold. It’s perfectly calibrated lush, and melodic pop music. It’s his Pet Sounds.

Hear it here:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/1ILknbSc8Ll0TqA8oJKkNV