Category: “That’s Their Pet Sounds”

That’s Their Pet Sounds : David Lasley “Missin’ Twenty Grand” (1982)

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.

Let’s get high…

Lasley twenty grand

David Lasley’s Best Album: Missin’ Twenty Grand (1982)

Background: If you have listened to the radio or been exposed to pop music at any point over the past 50 years there’s a good chance you’ve heard David Lasley’s voice. But unless you are a hardcore James Taylor fan, for whom he served as backup singer for decades or a loyal devotee of the West Coast sound, his name might not be familiar to you.

David Lasley has a ridiculous voice, a strikingly soulful, scenery chewing falsetto that is part ’60s girl group, part Motown diva Mary Wells, with a smidge of Smokey Robinson thrown in for good measure. It’s one of those “who/what the hell is that” kind of voices. But honestly, even those esteemed descriptors don’t quite nail its otherworldly essence. And so when I innocently caught wind of him one Sunday morning during good old Casey Kasem’s weekly Top 40 show back in April of 1982, I was a little teenage confused about exactly who a voice like that could be attached to.

The David Lasley song Kasem played, at #36 with a bullet, was a lustrous West Coast ballad called “If I Had My Wish Tonight”. As its sentiments were desperate, unrequited and supremely passive-aggressive it landed with perfect precision in my emotional teenage wheelhouse. Which meant I just had to have it. The universe somehow heard and arranged for my wish for “Wish” to be manifested with surprising speed and weirdness. Exactly one week later I found the actual album the song appeared on in a thrift shop. A freakin thrift shop. No, seriously. What a promo of a just released pop album was doing in a small dusty knick knack and moth haven in my Long Island hometown I will never know. At the end of the day I have to put it down to that great and mysterious pop music guardian angel-tooth fairy-benevolent spirit that drops and delivers songs into our lives when it thinks we’re ready or maybe need them the most. For whatever blessed reason, the spirit wanted me to meet this David Lasley guy. The album was called Missin’ Twenty Grand aka MTG and it only cost me a $1 or so ( I still have it, that’s it up top, complete with big promo hole in the corner).

My first listen of MTG was (quietly) revelatory. Not because the style of music itself was unfamiliar or particularly adventurous but because I’d never heard such overtly queer sentiments on a mainstream adult pop album before. There was talk about “lovers” and men being “fine”. There was a song with euphemistic title of “Roommate”. It was weird to me, I mean it was a soft rock record. I was a naive suburban teenage girl who up until then had gotten all her edge and exposure to “otherness” via the rock gods. Bowie’s taunts and Freddie Mercury’s winks (sidenote: not counting my fantasizing that Olivia Newton-John was singing about a girl in her 1977 hit Sam because that was just between me and her). Anyway that was the sum total of my exposure to musical queerness. On MTG , David Lasley’s songs were nothing like the garish, glittery anthems of the aforementioned legends, they were grown up, civilized, AM radio ready soft rock songs. I was not a worldly kid in 1982 and this kind of blew my mind. It seemed downright subversive to me. “Wow”, I remember thinking, “this is so cool”…yes, that was as deep as the processing and emotional absorption went. Cool.

David (in blue) & Arnold McCuller backing up James Taylor in 1977

By the time of MTG‘s release David was already a very well-established, in demand session singer and songwriter (check out his immense list of credits here)…but “back-up singer” is hardly representative of what he was actually doing on the ton of recordings he was a part of. Try this fun experiment after you read this essay;

Listen to MTG (links at the bottom of this piece). Follow it up with this random sliver of stone cold classics for which David provided “backing vocals”; Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family”, Odyssey’s “Native New Yorker”, Chic’s “Everybody Dance” and Cher’s “Take Me Home”.

Basically, once you are familiar with his voice and go to listen to almost any of the myriad of songs he’s sung back-up on, he’s all you are going to hear (my personal favorite moments are his high decibel “heaveeen’s” and “ecstasyyy’s” in “Take Me Home”). And oh yeah, he’s also written some pretty famous songs including this diamond below from an album that sold 8 million copies…

He also co-wrote this and this, yup. Gorgeous, supreme and evergreen.

From 1976-77 Lasley was part of a pop soul trio called Rosie who released a couple of albums on RCA but failed to hit the charts and subsequently broke up. Following that he embarked on a solo career, releasing a total of 7 solo albums, with his trilogy of ’80s releases, MTG, Raindance (1984) and Soldiers On The Moon (1989) serving as the artistic pinnacle. And I should point out that 1982’s MTG, was technically Lasley’s second album as the previous year had seen the release of a collection of demos entitled, yes, Demos. But as Demos was not so much a lean, mean radio friendly machine as it was a curio/showcase to attract potential collaborators, MTG has long been regarded as David’s official debut album. And so the handful of glowing and esteemed reviews it garnered rightfully refer to it as just that. Speaking of which…

This glowing NY Times review had a painfully accurate title…

Not everyone expresses love and/or approval in the same way…and with that I welcome you to the wonderful world of actual MTG reviews from 1982. On the one hand you had outright effusive stuff like Don Shewey’s piece for the Boston Phoenix where he declared “If I Had My Wish Tonight” to be “a mini-masterpiece”.

Then there was venerable Village Voice critic Robert Christgau’s begrudging word salad of a blurb which starts off semi-ominous but then turns the table with a twist ending:

Great falsettos like Smokey Robinson and Clyde McPhatter flow uphill, while lesser ones like Maurice Gibb and Russell Thompkins settle for the formal panache and expressive limitation of acknowledged artifice. Lasley certainly doesn’t flow, but he doesn’t settle either–his struggle toward full emotional range sounds forced at first, but then willed, which is different. Playing head voice for homosexual angst rather than love-man tenderness or androgynous affect, he sets his colloquial confessions to pristine studio soul backup completely appropriate in a concept album about a white guy in love with black music. B+

Didn’t see that B+ coming right ? But the coolest and most glowing commendation by far came courtesy of Stephen Holden in his NYT review (depicted above). Check out this little nugget:

The wide-open emotionality of Mr. Lasley’s singing, combined with his confessional lyrics and the way his tunes blend the style of Motown with more sophisticated Broadway and Hollywood influences, recalls the pop soul style of Laura Nyro’s classic late-60’s albums.”Missin’ Twenty Grand,” one feels, ultimately belongs in the same very exclusive league.

Yeah, you read that right. Holden is suggesting that MTG should be held in the same regard as the legendary Laura Nyro’s finest work specifically her Eli and the Thirteenth Confession and New York Tendaberry albums. Two genuine, dyed in the wool, desert island worthy classics. That is some serious freakin’ praise to be showering on a debut album.

Not that any of the accolades and attention from high places ended up mattering. In terms of generating interest and igniting sales, none of the critical acclaim ended up meaning a damn thing. The initial success of “If I Had My Wish Tonight” aside, MTG didn’t even manage to scrape into the Billboard Top 200 album chart.

Meet #36 in Billboard pop Top 40 in April of 1982…

Why It’s His Pet Sounds: Now as it happens Lasley loved both of those aforementioned Nyro albums that MTG got compared to in the NYT. In fact, during a 1985 interview with The Advocate he mentioned that back in the day, he’d listened to them “obsessively”. The simplest way to characterize MTG is as a slick early ’80s LA take on Laura’s ’60s broadway boho style. It’s the confessional, lushly melodic, soulfully cinematic sound of the city served up by someone who is as infatuated with soul songs about infatuation as Laura was. It’s the best lovelorn coming of age musical about a white gay kid with an otherworldly voice growing up in Detroit in tumultuous ’60s you’re ever gonna hear.

But while MTG is overtly, adoringly Nyro-esque, it also possesses a tinge of that contemporary early ’80s flavor, striking some of the same sonic chords as Rickie Lee Jones. Meaning you are not only surrounded by sweet hooks and heart on the sleeve heartbreak but by a bunch of idiosyncratic characters out on the street, acting out the action. Just as Rickie introduced us to her Chuck E, Eddie and Louie, David brings along his Charlie, Mrs.Brown and Willie ( If you don’t want him, he’ll “have him, he Will-eeee”). And so MTG is essentially a love letter, to Laura, to soul music and to the Detroit he grew up in, perfumed with a sweet ‘n’ sleek early ’80s sheen.

As mentioned earlier the 3 albums he released in the ’80s remain the high point/gold standard of his solo work. While the two that followed MTG, Raindance ( produced by Don Was) and Soldiers On The Moon are home to some gorgeous things, neither are as consistently good as the debut. In other words, they’ve got some filler. You could create a classic album by combining the best parts of both (can we talk about this and this, because good lord)…but as great as that might be, and it would, the cherry-picked melange still wouldn’t hold a candle to MTG as a whole.

I’d hoped that there would be a video of David tearing it up live on one of the tracks from MTG that I could insert here but there aren’t any on YouTube. While this sucks it also gives me an excuse to share this staggeringly wonderful video of Chaka Khan performing “Roll Me Through The Rushes” which David co-wrote with Lana Marrano, his former bandmate in Rosie and features on their first album (hear it here). Enjoy.

Her name is Chaka and she is here to slay you …

The Songs: By the way the album’s title is a reference to the fabled Twenty Grand nightclub in Detroit (1958-1976) where multitudes of legendary R & B acts performed and David and his sister often sang at as a teens. In an interview with James Taylor Online, he described the album as “kind of the story of us growing up and listening to R&B records and singing in black nightclubs”.

Despite the scenery chewing enormity of David Lasley’s voice, MTG does not come booming out of the gate. In fact the first track is maybe the most subtle and polite thing on the whole album. “Got To Find Love” has a yacht rock/West Coast style groove, James Taylor on backing vocals and, okay, some sexy sax™. It’s slick and smooth and honestly its main purpose is to ease us gently into the forthcoming vocal rollercoaster ride which begins with that desperate doll of a single “If I Had My Wish Tonight”. This lament of lopsided love is actually a cover of a track written by Dave Loggins (Kenny’s actual second cousin) and Randy Goodrum that appeared on the former’s 1979 self-titled album. With its light-hearted piano flourishes and ostentatious, yup, sax, the original version has a distinctly TV theme song-ish vibe (hear it here). As such it positively withers when stood next to the glamorous desperation and desire of Lasley version. Speaking of which, you know who arranged the strings on the MTG version, the ones that pull the song to the sky? Freakin’ legend Arif Mardin. And that’s Bonnie Raitt helping out on the backing vocals. Add in the soaring Lasley vocal and yeah, it’s not exactly what you’d call a fair fight ( sorry original). While I wouldn’t go so far as to call “If I Had My Wish Tonight” a masterpiece, like the review referenced earlier did, it is an undeniably gorgeous slice of early ’80s soft rock that still sounds exquisite 40 years later.

With its soulful, sweltering Laura Nyro summer in the city vibe,“On Third Street” offers an assortment of vivid vignettes from Lasley’s teenage years when he was performing around Detroit with his sister. The song struts and swings with genuine joyfulness whilst poking fun at his own youthful innocence and naivety. Dealers, drag queens, unscrupulous lowbrow music biz sharks ( that’d be “Mrs. Brown”) are all alive in and on Third Street. The vocal line he serves up to describe getting treats at the “the english muffin factory” is criminally sweet, with its “Hot BREAD in the hot SUMMER, it was BETTER without BUTTER“. The words he chooses to stress within the lyrics bring to mind that little party trick Aretha Franklin used to employ to transcendent effect on her more upbeat songs. If you want to hear it in action, just check out her 1969 version of Glen Campbell’s “Gentle On My Mind” right here. Listen to the words she chooses to accentuate. “Ink stains”. “Clinging”. “Binds”. “Cursing”. It is so perfect and clever and the kind of thing only the most instinctive and preternaturally gifted singers can do.The whole performance is just endlessly, utterly crazy genius….and David does this same thing all through “On Third Street”. He grooves and struts and shreiks, boldfacing words in the way only the best know how to do (“whole fuckin’ thing is insane!”).

Here’s that piece of hot bread we were just talkin’ about..

“Treat Willie Good” possesses a similarly Nyro-esque flavor but, added bonus, it also sounds like some lost and fabulous answer song to The Marvelettes eternally slinky Motown classic “Don’t Mess With Bill” (hear here). In the previously mentioned 1985 interview with The Advocate, David said that “Treat Willie Good” wasn’t necessarily what it seemed on the surface; “Everyone took it as such a gay song and I didn’t set out deliberately to write it that way ‘I’ll have him I will-ee, I’ll be his friend until he comes back to you’. I didn’t mean have him sexually, I really didn’t. It just sang so well”. Of course that’s exactly what it sounds like and part of what makes it such a beguiling thing. The whole Lasley vocal toolbox is on display here, cooing coyly one minute, getting all rapturous and loud the next then closing things out with some perfectly syncopated ad-libbing.

There are a couple of slow burning cover ballads to temper MTG’s pop-ified confections.There’s a torchy version of James Taylor’s “Looking For Love On Broadway” a deep cut from his multi-platinum 1977 album JT. And okay, soft rock hot take coming, Lasley’s take is better than JT’s, doing away with the aw-shucks shuffle of the original version and replacing it with a far more languorous and soulful arrangement. He takes a similar sonic approach on Clyde Otis’s prescient and powerful, “Take A Look”. Its instrumentation is more than suitable for last call and the vocal is crazy, resembling both a Miles Davis’s horn solo and a Prince style plea for love. The song was originally recorded and crushed/owned/blessed by, yup, Aretha Franklin in 1964. And while the eminently wonderful Wilson Pickett and Natalie Cole both recorded fine covers, Lasley’s version is the only one that even gets close to that Lady Soul stratosphere.

The euphemistic “Roommate” percolates with genuine bitterness (as inspired by the titular character’s supremely selfish ways) and features a neat cameo from Pete Townshend (!) who serves up some uncharacteristically subtle background riff-age. Despite its swoon-some recurring bridge,“Roommate” is MTG’s most pissed off track. Countering that and representing the teary side of the story is “Never Say”, a wistful, handsome West Coast slow groove, stacked with prayers, clever lyrical turns and read between the lines nudges like this:

Two boys walk along and I think they look like brothers, my friend turns to me and says I wonder if they’re lovers, one’s a little older and he looks a lot like me, I wonder why it takes so long for everyone to see

As someone who actually noticed these kind of things, I can confirm that back in ’80-81-82, roughly 99% of the male artists occupying that same soft rock-West Coast-Adult Contemporary sound space that Lasley was, were singing about one particular thing. Yes, you guessed it, high school girls. It mostly involved reminiscing about their interactions with them when they themselves, middle aged guys were high school boys, emphasis on the mostly. I’m telling you, this was an actual thing (if this confuses you, I wrote a bit about the phenomenon as it relates to the genre here). I am bringing this up only to drive home how disarming it was at the time to hear David Lasley romping in those same musical environs and singing about men, boyfriends and hot boys.

By the way, in addition to “If I Had My Wish Tonight”, both “Got To Find Love” and “Treat Willie Good” were released as singles. Forgive these wrinkled, questionably carpeted photos below, they were the only visual evidence I could find that this actually happened. Neither track charted.

Welcome to lazy record label art direction 101…

While MTG’s penultimate track “Where Is Charlie And Joanne” has an exceptionally breezy melody and is swathed in a plush, pillowy production, it is also unerringly sad. Friends leaving and splitting up, emotional inertia, loads of wistful longing and regret, it’s all in there. In other words, it feels miserable but it sounds gorgeous, Lasley’s vocal in particular which comes across more like a slow, distant (heartbroken) siren than a tearful human person.

With its bouncing, effervescent Rickie Lee Jones flavored pop stylings “Take The Money And Run” might seem like an odd pick for the esteemed role of “the closer”. Written by late songwriter Don Paul Yowell, it’s not an adventurous, experimental all-consumingly epic summarizing all that’s come before. No, it’s a light, bright ‘n’ tuneful piece of candy with an ever so faint hint of ’60s girl group and/or Motown in its bones. It’s home to a pretty bewitching melodic twist preceding the chorus and Lasley serves up a pretty fabulous vocal, running like the wind one minute then even faster the next. But despite its breeziness, there is something about it that suggests the shop shutters being pulled down and Lasley bidding an affectionate goodbye as he drives off into the sunset. And so yeah, it really is the perfect song to wrap up the Missin’ Twenty Grand experience.

In Conclusion: There are a few specific ways you could characterize David Lasley’s career. He was one of James Taylor’s most beloved backing vocalists. He was an in demand session singer who performed on a ton of evergreen hits. He was a gifted songwriter who composed some genuinely superfine megahits. And, okay, he was a one hit wonder. All of that stuff is true…but know what else? He made a grown up, non-rock, openly queer pop album suitable for AM radio at a time when that just wasn’t done, when the common practice was for gay artists to maintain the illusion of heterosexuality if they were purveying that more adult brand of pop or soul. From Luther Vandross, who was a close friend and colleague of Lasley’s to Mom’s choice, Barry Manilow, no one dared to step over the line. Hook-filled and infectious, soulful and emotional, Missin’ Twenty Grand had that universality that all the best pop albums did but was not remotely coy or secretive about its sexuality.

David Lasley’s voice is an outrageous, head-shakingly amazing instrument. When he sings ‘And be thankful to the lord up above, he SENT you Willie’s love to love‘ in “Treat Willie Good”, well, that is one utterly ravishing crazy good slab of singing. And Missin’ Twenty Grand is full of moments like that one. It’s just a fab old record full of soulful sweetness. It’s David Lasley’s finest recorded hour, it’s his Pet Sounds.

Hear it here! : You can listen to the whole album on Spotify below (FYI: tracks 12-15 come from Raindance, David’s 1984 follow-up LP). You can also buy the cd over at Discogs, where there are plenty to be had (and you should have it)!

Update: David Lasley passed away on December 9, 2021. He had experienced significant health challenges over recent years. He was amazing and just want to encourage everyone to seek out all his beautiful work. Rest in peace David 🌼

That’s Their Pet Sounds : Annie Lennox “Bare” (2003)

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.

Time to undress your soul….

Annie Lennox’s Best Album: Bare (2003)

Background: Diva. The title of the first Annie Lennox solo album post Eurythmics, in 1992, served as both a knowing wink and a declaration. It was an earnest, over the top, icy pop opera in an enormous red feathered headdress…and the sound of a door being kicked open hard. Diva’s dramatic tear inducing balladry and forthright, face-slapping funkiness, introduced the world to a bigger and bolder sounding Annie Lennox than had ever been heard before. The album was a straight-up piece of pop theater, running the gamut from heart-wrenching hymns (“Why“, “Cold”) to chilly beat-ed groovers (“Precious”,“Money Can’t Buy It”) to glossy pop anthems (“Walking On Broken Glass”,“Little Bird”). Diva was (and remains) an undeniably glamorous piece of ’90s pop art. It also kicked ass in a conventional business sense, spawning a handful of hits (all with lustrous video accompaniment), achieving multi-platinum sales and ultimately earning itself a couple of prestigious industry awards (including the 1993 Brit Award for Album of the Year), as well as a veritable avalanche of critical acclaim in the press…all of which is a roundabout way of saying that after Diva ( and Eurythmics) the only direction to go was down.


This album is very, very good…

Annie Lennox’s next solo album, 1995’s Medusa was an immaculately sung, cleverly chosen collection of covers, pristinely produced by Stephen Lipson who had also been at the helm for Diva. On paper, the thought of Annie taking on beauteous tracks by The Blue Nile, Al Green and Neil Young sounded positively edible. The reality turned out be, well, not so much. And to be clear, when it was first announced, I literally could not wait to hear it. I was a total fan and wanted nothing more than to have my mind blown by its interpretive genius, for it to be 4 star magnificent.

While the album’s first single “No More I Love You’s” was a brilliant pop song by any standard, there was something oddly cold and clinical about the general execution of everything else. Beyond the aforementioned “No More…”, there were a couple of standouts ( Blue Nile’s “Downtown Lights” and Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” are both pretty winning) but in light of what had come before, Medusa was disappointing. Unsurprisingly, reviews of the album ranged from lukewarm to outright savage, from one calling it “microwaved” to another describing its contents as “wan, deracinated renditions of rock, soul and singer/songwriter classics”. When a ridiculously arcane word like “deracinated” is being thrown around in a pop review, you know you’re in trouble.

“The lover speaks about the monsters…”

In retrospect, Medusa is okay, it’s just not great. And despite the astronomical success it ultimately enjoyed, selling six million copies and landing at #1 in the UK album charts, in terms of unadulterated goodness, it wouldn’t even rank in the top three of Annie Lennox albums. The fact is,”No More…” aside, Annie’s finest cover work didn’t happen within the walls of Medusa at all but rather came in the form of one-offs that were either part of live performances or contributions to compilations. Her smokin’ live cover of The Detroit Emeralds 1971 R & B classic “Feel The Need in Me” and magnificently sensuous take on The Sugarcubes insane deep cut “Mama“, for example, both crush the majority of Medusa into microscopic dust.

I mean just, damn…

The next Annie Lennox solo album, Bare, didn’t arrive until 2003, eight full years after its predecessor. To use Joni Mitchell albums as a gage, let’s just say that while Diva is the Court and Spark style, full blown “this is who I am now, deal with it ” pop adventure, Bare is all kinds of Blue. It featured 11 songs of what can only be described as “joyful despair” and, as Annie’s marriage of 12 years ended shortly before its release, is frequently characterized as The Official Annie Lennox Divorce Album™. While that event certainly colored its lyrical content, that description is pretty reductive. The songs on Bare are so broad and big picture that unless you knew about the divorce before you heard it you wouldn’t necessarily make that specific association upon listening to it. Annie weighed in on this perception in a 2007 interview with The Denver Post, regarding the songs:

They’re from my perspective. But they’re not specific about any individual. They’re always rather generic. I start off with one line and piece the whole thing together. People say, ‘Bare is your divorce album.’ There’s no question, obviously, unfortunately, of the background of my personal life. It comes from that place of tremendous difficulty. But I wouldn’t title it my divorce album specifically.

She expounded further to Associated Press that same year:

My songs are really about human condition, a feeling of polarity, confusion, beauty, sadness, despair, love, unrequited love.These (are) historical human issues that people have been writing about … to come to terms with their own inner landscape.

While Bare landed in the Top 5 of both the U.K. and U.S. charts, it wasn’t home to any actual pop chart mega-hits. Or rather it was and it wasn’t. Two of its tracks ( “A Thousand Beautiful Things” and “Pavement Cracks”) were subsequently remixed, injected with extra BPM’s and sent on their way to the top of the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Chart ( yes, thats its real freakin’ name). But to be clear, while they are fun distractions they aren’t really relevant to discussions of the actual album; they are, for all intents and purposes, outliers and don’t appear on the album proper. Okay, time to get real Bare

Bare bear, hell yehr…

Why it’s her Pet Sounds: Bare is not a party album. It’s a lush, synthetic, soulful 48-minute pop music mind-reading session that while home to a lot of sadness ( even the uptempo tracks) also has a genuine thread of hopeful wonder running through it. It eloquently expresses the stuff you haven’t been able to organize into coherent sentences while reassuringly confessing it’s just as fucked up and confused as you are.

There was a message featured on the sleeve of Bare, explaining why Annie chose the image she did for the album cover. Here’s an excerpt:

This album contains songs that are deeply personal and emotional. In a sense I have “exposed” myself through the work to reveal aspects of an inner world which are fragile. Broken through experience, but not entirely smashed. I am not a young artist in their early twenties. I am a mature woman facing up to the failed expectations of life and facing up to “core” issues. I don’t want to represent myself visually in some kind of clinched, airbrushed, saccharine kind of way. I want to reveal myself as I am. For me, this is a powerful and courageous statement. I have never been known to “toe the safety line”. In terms of how I represent myself as an artist, I need to be authentic…To take risks…To break the mould when necessary. The image is timeless, genderfree, and racially ambiguous.

Okay, I know that all sounds painfully serious but to be clear, while Bare is a genuinely heartfelt piece of art, it is also a freakin’ pop record. And its heart-squeezing, soul-flaying messages are presented in the shiniest paper imaginable. Nearly every song is equipped with an enormously sticky hook and chorus no matter if it’s a mournful ballad or a big fat groove. It is full of ostentatious bridges that are literally songs unto themselves and virtuosic ad-libbing in nearly every coda ( both longtime Lennox trademarks and never showcased more impressively than on Bare). The album travels at a pretty consistent speed limit with fewer of the jagged, whiplash inducing style and tempo changes common on Diva ( bless its runny mascara). It’s an emotional pinball machine, with sad lyrics attached to brazenly optimistic melodies, an 11 round boxing match between the notion that life is both a treasure and that it sometimes totally sucks, with both emotions often on display within the same damn song. And oh yeah, the vocal performances are stunning.

In a 2011 interview with High Profiles, Annie elaborated on Bare’s sound and inspiration:

“It’s very stripped and very raw. There’s no extraneous artifice – it’s the opposite of Diva. I mean, the thing is that life is full of polarities and contradictions. You know, we just want it to be all good, or all fabulous, or all this or – and it’s as if we are afraid of the fact that we are full of contradictions all the time. We don’t want to be – we want to be solid and it all to be kind of explicable, and the fact is that it’s not. That’s human nature.”

The Songs: The opening track on Bare ” A Thousand Beautiful Things” acts as something of a mission statement for the rest of the album, perfectly expressing that aforementioned emotional polarity Annie was talking about . With its supremely delicate orchestral backing shimmering and glistening from every angle, it’s a world weary, big picture exhortation to fly the plane a little higher, to appreciate and absorb beauty in whatever form it takes…or to at least remember that it’s there when your are feeling like trash. It’s a hymn, it’s a salve and it’s one of the greatest songs in the entire Annie Lennox canon…and it makes for a pretty powerful and prescient listen these days. Bare initially came with a bonus disc that included an interview and a couple of live acoustic performances of its tracks including “A Thousand Beautiful Things”. Take a look and listen below. It is ridiculously good.

…also, rock star.

“Pavement Cracks” is a plush, bouncing “Little Bird” style groove about feeling utterly lost, that offers no resolution…but it’s tempered by one of those classic, insanely euphoric Lennox bridges which despite the fact that its closing line is “Give me the strength to live “, sounds threatening, like she’s pushing the great spirit up against a wall and giving it an ultimatum…which is pretty f-ing cool.

The video for “Pavement Cracks” features Annie walking the lonely, overcast city, acting out the songs solitary sadness, looking like the world’s coolest hit-woman to which I say, life goals.

“Don’t give me no more of that hurtin’ stuff, haven’t I already paid enough?” Okay, let’s talk about “The Hurting Time”. It is the longest song on Bare, running nearly eight minutes. It’s got an incredibly ostentatious keyboard running through it that resembles both a melodica and a Stevie Wonder harmonica solo and really, really wants you to pay attention to it. And while it features the most languorous of melodies, the pain escalates with every passing verse. The conventionally structured part of the song ends after about five minutes and the rest of the space is filled with transcendent vocal ad-libbing (and Annie slow dancing/making peace with the bossy keyboard). The song closes with an echoing refrain; “tell-it-like-it-is, “tell-it-like-it-is, “tell-it-like-it-is”. It is holy f*ck good and the sleeper classic of Bare.

What is the deal with these bridges ? I wish every bridge on Bare was an actual song and not just the eye of a hurricane, jeezus. With its honeyed, yearning melody “Honestly” sounds like a Eurythmics outtake circa 1989’s We Too Are One and frankly would have made for a pretty sweet single. From its subject matter (unrequited love, which is the garlic that makes pop songs taste good) to its cleverly compelling vocal arrangement, it has Top 10 hit written all over it.

While it’s easy to be deceived by its languid melody, and joyfully raucous bridge, “Wonderful”, with its tale of pain and rapture living as roommates is a total heartbreaker. Also, the vocal performance is transcendently good…to take it a step further, please check out this live take of the song from 2003…

“Does it feel cold baby, does it feel hot?”…definitely hot.

Ready for some f*ck you songs? Yeah you are. Bare is home to not one, but two straight-up f-you songs. The culprits, “Bitter Pill” and “Erased” are both angry insistent little grooves, nasty pop barnacles where Annie isn’t having it anymore. As such both feature appropriately assertive vocals and declarations of separation that are not remotely coy or wistful:

I’m gonna put it all behind me
Like nothing ever happened between us
Nothing ever took place between you and me…
Nothin’ ever happened
And if you see me walkin’ down the street
I won’t even recognize you
I’ll just erase you from my memory
Put it all behind me
Because you are erased
All erased…

Got that ? Erased.

While “Twisted” comes from the same sonic homestead as both “Bitter Pill” and “Erased” with the tune itself resembling a less sinister, more uplifting version of Depeche Mode’s “Walking In My Shoes”, the song is more reflective in its sentiments, acknowledging the bad behavior on both sides… but still forthright as hell. The brief bridge has a bit of a Cocteau Twins flavor and the coda is just all kinds of groovy with four different Annie’s doing their own wondrous, independent things.

“Loneliness” might be the most polarizing track on Bare due its unmistakable stadium anthem flavor, all big guitars, drum risers, and late ’80s style epic-ness. That said, it doesn’t upset the flow of Bare and its busting-open-the-balcony-windows feel provides a rousing, noisy slap in the face and not unwelcome opportunity for (polite) fist pumping.

Yes, “The Saddest Song I’ve Got” and “Oh God (Prayer)” are genuinely sad. With its lean, memorable melody “Saddest” is the marginally more “cheerful” of the two tracks. Featuring a regal and straightforward vocal with no showy runs or ornate ad-libs, “Saddest…” is an ethereal, no frills ballad on the stasis of heartbreak and heartache. And so yes, very sad…but despite it’s title, not the saddest. That honor belongs to Bare’s closing track “Oh God (Prayer)”. The combination of the cracking, quavery vocal on the track and the vulnerability of its words make for a jarring listen. Yet hearing the behemoth Lennox voice and faith in such a fragile state is actually the most logical and perfect way to close things out on Bare. After an album’s worth of such ballsy, assertive and virtuosic power wailing and intensive soul baring what could even be left in the tank? Nothing. It’s all out there. Bare has raged with everything it has at the mirror and other people, now it’s the time to take it up with the spirit. It’s why “Oh God” could only be the last song.


“That is everything I have to say…”

In Conclusion: Bare is eloquent and noble sadness mixed with sugar. It’s tear-inducing but oddly reassuring and comforting. A showcase of sloppy emotion and existential bewilderment. It’s a bit of a slow burn. It might even take a few listens before it fully infiltrates your heart as a singular entity. It uses two of its absolute sweetest pieces of candy to get you in the door (“A Thousand Beautiful Things” and “Pavement Cracks”) then kind of sneakily chips away at your heart as it unfolds. It’s as empathetic and honest as a pop record can possibly be. It’s broken and endlessly beautiful.

In a 2005 interview with The Guardian Annie Lennox said:

“There are certain things that have happened in my life that have been difficult. But am I tragic? I don’t think I am. I think I’m quite noble actually. I think I’m a warrior, to be frank. I get up in the morning and face the day, whatever it takes…I would hope I’ve been a bit of an elegant survivor.”

And so, to all you elegant survivors, this one’s for you.

Listen to Bare here:

Or here !

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….


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 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 aleck-y 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 ’70s 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.


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 its 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 its 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.


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. Its 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 its 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 its heyday. Here is the sleeve of the single which while somewhat endearing is the very anthesis of rocking.


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. Its main attribute is its resolutely bouncy tune. Its 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 its good intentions, there is something gruesomely condescending in its 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:


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 its 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 on YouTube or Spotify :

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…


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 its 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 its 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.


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.


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 a 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 feels like a warm, enveloping embrace, 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 its. 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.


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

The Songs (side two): “Enter My Dream” sounds just like its 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 its 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.


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 its 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 its 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 its story of unrequited love was laid out so straightforwardly that most of humankind could relate to its 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 a 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…


 Tears For Fears BEST ALBUM : Seeds of Love (1989)

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.

Screenshot 2019-06-03 01.10.15

“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 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.

Forget about those celebrity Halloween parties and remember Seal this way…


Seal’s BEST ALBUM : Human Being (1998)

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 some of the ’90s grandest, most emotive ear candy.



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 as well as 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 its lush orchestration, ballads and overtly sad subtext was not remotely in step with what was happening. It was not awesomely sweet rainbow colored 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.


“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 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 added 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, 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 ’90s : 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 its 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.


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:

“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 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 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…


Rick Springfield’s BEST ALBUM : Working Class Dog (1981)

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.

Screenshot 2018-10-08 00.23.49

“I just made a seminal power pop album girl”

Why it’s his Pet Sounds: 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. 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:


“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 freakin’ 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.

This couldn’t start with anything else…


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).


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”.


“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: