Category: “That’s Their Pet Sounds”

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

Mission statement:

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

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

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

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

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

Why it’s his Pet Sounds :

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“I just made a seminal power pop album girl”

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

The Songs:

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

 

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

In Conclusion:

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

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

Hear it here:

or here:

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

Mission statement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why it’s her Pet Sounds :

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

The Songs:

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

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

Anything sub-standard ?

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

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

 

In Conclusion:

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

Hear it here:

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

or 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 fuckin’ delivered the goods.

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

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

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

 

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

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

Why it’s his Pet Sounds :

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

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

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Okay, elephant in the room officially acknowledged, onward… 

 

The Songs: 

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

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

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

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

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“I can be dark too bitches”

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

In Conclusion:

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

Hear it here:

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