Rick Springfield: Working Class Dog

workingclassdog

Laugh if you will, but my love for Rick Springfield is not one iota ironic. I’ll defend his early material, fall passionately in love with his most recent releases, and I’ll definitively pronounce that the four albums that run from Wait For Night through Living In Oz are masterpieces. This is the second album in that run; you know it as “the one with ‘Jessie’s Girl.'”

This is the first tape I ever got. Yeah, we got tapes back then. I also got a Walkman, like an honest to got brand name Sony Walkman. Tapes are called cassettes now, but then they were definitely called tapes. And I’m willing to admit that a big part of my Rickers love comes from that birthday gift…with this serving as the foundation of my slowly building collection (tied for number two were Def Leppard’s Pyromania and Michael Jackson’s Thriller) I listened to it an awful lot and internalized Springfield’s songwriting tendencies. When he puts in a great bridge or key change in a new song, it feels right. But goddammit, I also think guitar-driven pop music is one of the crowning achievements of humankind, and Rick Springfield is one of its finest practitioners.

So the fact that I know this album inside and out is probably a part of the reason that I think that “Jessie’s Girl” is maybe the eighth best of the ten songs on here. But another big part of that is that, come on, if you’re a huge Rick Springfield fan you’re kind of sick of “Jessie’s Girl,” right? It’s like being a huge Faith No More fan and having them continually associated with just “Epic.” I can’t count the weddings at which “Jessie’s Girl” starts getting played and everybody looks at me for me to put on my performance, which is really hard when you get to the last third and the chorus keeps repeating without any more climaxes. I mean, at this point, I can’t even tell if I like it or not. Springfield himself has a much better attitude about the song, I think he calls it That Song or something like that, but he loves it as one of its own and recognizes all the fame and fortune afforded to him via that one song.

I don’t get flummoxed by an artist’s oeuvre being overshadowed by one song, but considering how much this album sold and how good it was it is pretty surprising that it’s not at least recognized as more than its biggest hit. When I was a kid “Daddy’s Pearl” was my favorite and I always wondered why it was buried in the middle of side two. The song, and especially its gang vocal chorus, seems a little less sophisticated than the rest of the album to me now, as do the next two tracks (see below). However, I have an even greater appreciation for the really awesome craft in “Love Is Alright Tonite,” “The Light Of Love” (which lead off their respective sides), “Hole In My Heart,” and “Carry Me Away.” The reggae-tinged “Everybody’s Girl” also holds up really well.

Now, let’s go back to those last two songs. “Red Hot & Blue Love” is fine. It’s a step away from the rest of the album to more of a doo wop boogie kind of feel. It doesn’t fit (in particular the husky female backing vocals don’t mix well with Springfield’s tenor), but it’s quite good and features a blistering guitar solo and a barn burner of an ending. And then the album closes with “Inside Silvia.” I have this really strong memory of unwrapping this tape, looking at the song listing, and feeling the need to say, “Oh it has [this track], too.” And since I didn’t recognize anything except “Jessie’s Girl,” I just went with the last one even though I had never heard of it. It’s a ballad. I appreciated it at the time. But I know I didn’t get the literal meaning of the title until I was much, much older, and now I think it’s just gross, though I recognize that kind of weird literal sincerity was prevalent in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Again, it’s fine, but it’s not great, and now I can’t listen to it without visualizing a vagina wrapped around Springfield’s member. And that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

So for the first seven tracks, this is definitely on a five-clown trajectory. And even through the first nine I’m kind of tempted to keep it up there. But “Inside Silvia” is just a misstep too blatant to ignore.

And now I feel bad that I spent two paragraphs on “Inside Silvia,” which is not even bad. This album is awesome and is so much more than “Jessie’s Girl.” If you write off Rick Springfield, you owe it to yourself to spend a few days with this power pop that has yet to be equaled.

Rating:
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Mix: “Carry Me Away,” “The Light Of Love”
Really Like: 
“Love Is Alright Tonite,” “Hole In My Heart”
Like: “Jessie’s Girl,” “I’ve Done Everything For You,” “Everybody’s Girl,” “Daddy’s Pearl,” “Red Hot & Blue Love”
Meh: “Inside Silvia”
Filed Between: Rick Springfield’s Wait For Night and Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

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Rick Springfield: Comic Book Heroes

comicbookheroes

At other joints I’ve reviewed the other three Rick Springfield pre-Working Class Dog (i.e., the “Jessie’s Girl” album) records. This isn’t the five-[clown] masterpiece that was its successor, 1976’s Wait For Night, nor does it contain anything as ball-droppingly amazing as “Theme From Mission Magic” from its predecessor, Mission Magic! However, it’s much closer in quality to those entries than his debut album, Beginnings.

First, I can listen to this from start to finish and, except for a few lyrical clunks (and they’re big clunks), I never feel self-conscious or embarrassed; this is a legitimate pleasure, no guilt involved. Second, there’s plenty here that’s legitimately good, with the top two highlights being the motivational rocker “Why Are You Waiting” and the angry breakup song “The Liar.”

It may be just something that’s accessible to long-time Springfield fans who cut their teeth on his songwriting like me, but it’s a treat to go back to these albums from his pre-star days and hear the same sensibilities for song construction…it’s like going back and finding a toy that was very similar to one of your favorite childhood toys just different in a really cool way.

I foreshadowed this a bit, but the element that keeps this from being a higher review is the lyrics. Like on Beginnings he oddly juxtaposes his youthful pretty-boy look and energy with breathily-delivered cheesy lyrics of people at very different places in life. “The Photograph” tells the tale of an old woman who never married because her beau passed when they were young. In “Misty Water Woman” we get a poor remaking of the old tale of the dude who picks up a ghostly woman and drives her home where she disappears and her now elderly parents tell of how she drowned decades ago. So there’s the lyrics and then there’s just the genuinely weak portion of the album near the end where, from “The Photograph” to “Born Out Of Time” it’s hard to get too excited about anything, especially the very nearly bad “Bad Boy.”

Still, this is quite good. I enjoy it with no irony, and sing along with it all the day long, unable to get its melodies out of my head. As a fan, I want to give it four clowns. As a critic, I lean more towards three. I split the difference.

Rating:
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Mix: “The Liar”
Really Like:
 “Weep No More,” “Why Are You Waiting”
Like:
“Comic Book Heroes,” “I’m Your Superman,” “Do You Love Your Children”
Meh: “Believe In Me,” “Misty Water Woman,” “The Photograph,” “Bad Boy,” “Born Out Of Time”
Filed Between: Springfield’s Mission Magic! and Wait For Night
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Rick Springfield: Beginnings

beginningsQuick: When did Rick Springfield’s debut album come out? I’ll give you a hint: Working Class Dog, the album with “Jessie’s Girl” on it, came out in 1981. Give up? 1972. 1972, for crying out loud! It’s been said before with other artists, but I don’t know of any other artist toiling in obscurity for as long as Rickers did before his big break…can you imagine any artist today kicking around for nine years releasing album after album that doesn’t succeed before becoming mega?

Anyway, this was basically written and released concurrent with Springfield’s move to the States, kind of serving as his introduction to America. The biggest track on here is “Speak To The Sky,” which I’ve addressed as part of its inclusion on the repackaged version of Mission Magic!, and it’s also the album’s worst track. “Speak To The Sky” is bad and cheesy as hell, but there are worse songs to have as your low bar. Still, things don’t get a ton better, with most of the album kind of kicking around the tolerable level.

To a Rick-o-phile like me, the fun of hearing this album, finally released on CD for the first time since being out of print since like forever and only told of in tales by old women on Internet forums, is hearing how all the hallmarks of his later songwriting, especially the deep cuts, are here. You can trace a straight line from this to Comic Book Heroes to the masterpiece Wait For Night. Orchestration, song structures, vocal harmonies, and of course killer catchy melodies backed with guitar power chords (though they were far less powerful at this point, kind of matching up with that cover art more than you’d like).

Lyrically he’s covering similar ground, too, though he’s even less interested in boy-girl relationships here than he would be at his popular peak. Beyond the unfortunate ode to prayer “Speak To The Sky,” there’s a view of a cheating husband from the wife-cum-mother’s point of view in “What Would The Children Think” and a too-explicit tale of a the last seconds of a freakazoid a-hole’s life as he commits suicide on “The Unhappy Ending.” There’s also a time-capsule tale of objectifying women in “I Didn’t Mean To Love You” (“I only meant to see how far you’d go,” the lyrics continue.) Unfortunately, these come off as trite and betray the 23-year-old Springfield’s youth as it feels like he’s just trying to hard to be serious. I mean, points for trying, but the execution lacks.

Anyway, there are a few bright spots, especially the non-chorus of “Hooky Jo,” but this is clearly only for die-hard Rickers fans. I’m thrilled to finally have it, but you can hear why it was out-of-print for decades.

Rating:
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– “1000 Years,” “Hooky Jo,” “The Ballad Of Annie Goodbody”
– “Mother Can You Carry Me,” “What Would The Children Think,” “The Unhappy Ending,” “I Didn’t Mean To Love You,” “Come On Everybody,” “Why?”
– “Speak To The Sky”
Filed Between: Spin This Six sampler from Spin magazine and Rick Springfield’s Comic Book Heroes
Song Notes: After the jump
Continue reading

2011 Clownies

Yes, 2011, because I’m behind. And if you don’t mind, Ima half-ass this because otherwise it ain’t ever getting done.

Album Of The Year – There’s No 666 In Outer Space by Hella
I reviewed no five clown albums in 2011 and a handful of 4.5 clown albums. Looking over that list the one I remember liking the most was Hella’s.

Artist Of The Year – Imani Coppla
I thought I was going to go with Rick Springfield, because I reviewed so much of his stuff in 2011, but then I realized it was mostly the crap stuff. I also considered Mike Patton who, between his solo stuff and Tomahawk, had two four-clowns discs and one that was 3.5 clowns. But the artists I walk away from most excited about in 2011 was Imani Coppola. Pretty surprised, looking back, that that disc wasn’t 4.5 clowns.

Song Of The Year – “Theme From Mission Magic” by Rick Springfield
It was the Best Song Ever.

Rick Springfield: Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance

In 2002 My Baby and I took a trip to Las Vegas.  When we were there we saw the show Rick Springfield was starring in at MGM Grand.  “It won’t be like a Rick Springfield concert,” My Baby warned me when we were still deciding what show to see.  As if I cared.  Tt was awesome, and he even played a few of his songs throughout the night.  Often this was in the form of just a few lines sprinkled in here and there, but for the benefit of those sitting around us I would keep singing the rest of the song.

I was giddy for the whole show.  At one point during the performance, I leaned in and asked My Baby, “Do you think he knows I’m here?”

“Why do you think he’s rocking it so hard?,” she replied.

As it turns out, he may not have been rocking it so hard just because I was there; he may have been falling in love.  According to Springfield’s biography (fair warning, I’m working from memory here), it was during this time, in a fragile “recovery” from depression and the resulting sexual addiction, that Springfield was seduced into betraying his wife yet again.  I say “seduced” because, according to Springfield, this woman led him to believe it wasn’t just groupie sex, that it was a deeper connection.  Anyway, the abrupt end of this relationship inspired this 2004 album.

And boy did the ordeal do a number on him: he’s pissed as hell here.  The album is the most aggressive thing he’s ever done, with distorted, loud guitars and bitter, spiteful lyrics.  Oh, the lyrics.  Try “everything you gave to me you went and gave away to anybody else with a dick” from “Idon’twantanythingfromyou” or “Jesus saves white trash/Baby, like you” from “Jesus saves.”

However, there’s more than just pissed here.  In fact, the swirl of emotional material, with its sudden swings from love and devotion to venom, reads like a several-page letter from a young, jilted man just suffering his first real breakup to the object of his emotional turmoil.  “Wasted” covers this well with “You had the power to save my soul/I had the power to make you whole/We had the power and we had control, but we blew it.”

Still, it’s mostly angry.  And the angry songs work the best, for the most part.  The more mild-mannered tracks feel like they could have come off of his prior album, the good but mostly passionless Karma.  There’s also a weird detour with “Angels Of The Disappeared,” a song about missing children that is reminiscent of and about as good as probably the most famous song in that micro-genre, Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train.”

On the whole, this album may be a touch too long with a bit of a quality valley just past halfway through.  However, that dip still doesn’t descend below “like” quality, leaving this a solid front-to-back disc.  The hooks and tunes aren’t as good as his best stuff, but that’s an awfully high bar.  And there are a few songs that I’d definitely want to hear in concert, making this a worthy addition to the man’s oeuvre.  This completes my collection of his main albums.  (What I don’t have now is just tracks here and there as well as a few out-of-print albums.)  So I’m glad it was a strong finish.  And it’s good to know Springfield and I have at least one more thing in common: we handle break ups really, really poorly.

Song Notes:

  1. Perfect – Wow sounds terrible at end. There’s a line or two that almost makes this like, but I’ll keep it.
  2. I’ll make you happy – Ends with some applause and like a TV show ending. This is pretty awesome. Despite Wikipedia saying this is album is entirely composed by Springfield, Allmusic says it’s a cover of the Easybeat’s “I’ll Make You Happy.”  And it is.  (Thank you, Rhapsody.)
  3. Will I? – “Will I ever see you again”. Demerits for “It is what it is”. Ends with an orchestra and some radio talk. Pretty good.
  4. God Gave You to Everyone – So angry. Solos and keys elevate to keep.
  5. Idontwantanythingfromyou – So angry. Ends with about 25 seconds of radio talk and staticy stuff that probably keeps it from being mixed. Punky.
  6. Jesus saves – Very heavy start. “Jesus saves white trash/Baby, like you.” Yeah, he’s angry here.
  7. Beautiful you – Feel like I recognize this from somewhere.  Ends with a solo guitar and some footsteps. If the guitar tone weren’t so harsh this could be off Karma.
  8. Wasted – “Her e-mails read just like a porno site.”
  9. Shoot Your Guru – Short, classical guitar. Is the title a John Lennon reference? Only like a minute long. Nice transition but not much else.
  10. Alien Virus – Slow.
  11. Angels Of The Disappeared – Seems to veer off from the concept.
  12. Eden – This and the next one seem to be coming back to his wife Barbara. Big strings part. Also a Karma vibe.
  13. The Invisible Girl – Another one that fits the Karma vibe. Lounge style and atmosphere.
  14. My Depression – Another version of this made it onto that one he did with Jeff Silverman, I think.
  15. Your Psychopathic mother – So angry. Great chorus gets it kept
  16. Every night I wake up screaming –
  17. Open my eyes – Minor key. Short, simple, “Open my eyes to you.” Kinda dumb.

Rating:
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Mix:
“Wasted” “Every night I wake up screaming”
Keep:
“Perfect,” “I’ll make you happy,” “Will I?,” “God Gave you to everyone,” “Idon’twantanythingfromyou,” “Jesus saves,” “Beautiful you,” “Angels Of The Disappeared,” “My Depression,” “Your Psychopathic mother”
Like:
“Shoot Your Guru,” “Alien Virus,” “Eden,” “The invisible girl,” “Open my eyes”

Rick Springfield: “Jet – Live In Nashville”

Update: I heard this song, by a different artists, at the gym today.  So I looked it up.  It’s originally by Wings.

A digital-only release.  Not the most immediately accessible song, but it is really good.  The bridge is another phenomenal turn of composition by Springfield.  I suppose he’s just trying out new formats, but it’s kind of a shame this didn’t end up on an album.  Stripped-down muscular rock.  Springfield should be doing more of this.  Probably not enough immediate pow to mix, but an easy keep.

Rick Springfield: Christmas With You

I have a hypothesis that Christmas music is one of the few areas of the music industry that’s ridiculously profitable now–no royalties, almost straight up profit–and that that’s why it seems every artist’s mother has their own Christmas album.  We don’t need any of them, and we certainly don’t need this one: a Christmas album of Rick Springfield doing 14 standards, almost all of them straight, and one of his own compositions, natch.

Maybe I’m wrong, but you tell me.  Was your Christmas incomplete because you didn’t have Springfield doing “Away In A Manager” the same way it’s always been done?  Or “The First Noel?”  Or “Silent Night,” for crying out loud?  To top it all off, Springfield sings almost every note in his breathy voice he pulls out to sound sincerely affected, and it is so cheesy.  It’s not your voice we love, Rick, it’s your compositions.

Speaking of which, even that fails us on this album.  Springfield’s composition here, “Christmas With You,” is dedicated to all the fallen troops in Iraq, and begins “This night, Christmas seems so far away/Somewhere, are you missing me?/I’m wishing and watching/A star and I pray/To live in a world where we all can be free.”  Just imagine it was done by a modern country star and you’ve pretty much got it.

Like I said, just about all of the standards here are done straight, but there are a few exceptions.  The strings on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,” particularly the breakdown going from chorus to verse, are pretty sweet, as is the backing choir.  “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” has a doo-wop feel, to bad effect.  “I Saw Three Ships” is incredibly upbeat, and an instrumental “Deck The Halls (With Boughs Of Longboards)” is done as a surf rendition.  If more of the album had been like the last track, this might have been enjoyable.  As it is, though, it’s almost entirely drivel.

In the interest of full disclosure, I hate Christmas.  I hate pretty much everything about it.  Honestly, the best thing about it is that it does a pretty good job of growing the economy.  As far as I can tell, Christmas is about two things: 1) showering kids with things, and 2) trying to rekindle in adults the feelings of closeness they felt with their family in the moments around getting showered with things when they were kids.  I’m a Scrooge who basically just bites his tongue for a week so as not to ruin everybody else’s delusions of cheer.  However, something about listening to this in the dark, driving home on the interstate with my family asleep in the back seat and the car straining under the weight of new toys…I felt some connection to sleepy, exhausted Boxing Days spent traversing the Midwest with my spoils in my youth.  And it was nice.  (But only for that moment.  I resent Madison Avenue giving all of us the same memories and then advertising to those created memories.)  So between that and the few tracks with any redeeming qualities, this disc gets one-half clown higher than my lowest rating.  (Though, in truth, that bonus half-clown is probably because I hate giving anything a rating of just one more than any other reason I can manufacture.)

Rating:
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Like:
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

Notes:

  • This album was hampered by issues where the first notes of a song were often on the prior track, so there was a gap of silence where the song abruptly stopped near the beginning of each song.  It was very annoying, but I don’t think the review would have been much better without that.

Track Notes:

  1. Christmas With You – Awful tripe.  And some crap about wishing everybody could be free.  “My spirit is aching/I want to come home.”  Jesus Christ.  Oh wait, this makes a little more sense since it’s dedicated to all the fallen troops in Iraq.  Still, ditch.
  2. The First Noel – Why?  Why do another version of this song?  Especially one so straight? Ditch.
  3. Hark The Herald Angels Sing – See previous track.  Ditch.
  4. What Child Is This? – See previous track.  Plus, this is such an amazing song, how could you suck all the wonderfulness out of this song?  Ditch.
  5. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Okay, this one seems to be right in your wheelhouse.  Maybe a case of a stopped clock being right twice a day.  The strings are done well.  Like.
  6. It Came Upon A Midnight Clear – Ugh.  Ditch.
  7. Away In A Manger – Kill me.  Ditch.
  8. O Come All Ye Faithful – Stupid.  Ditch.
  9. Carol Of The Bells – There are hardly even any bells.  It’s like trying to be that Trans-Siberian Orchestra version, but…there’s just so much wrong with that.  Ditch.
  10. Do You Hear What I Hear? – Man, he just picked so many of the worst songs.  Ditch.
  11. I’ll Be Home For Christmas – What’s with the cheese Harry Connick, Jr./Frank Sinatra, Jr. shoo-doo-wop stuff?  Man, even when you don’t play it straight you screw it up.  Ditch.
  12. Silent Night – Wow, really?  Another version of this? Ditch.
  13. Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem – Ditch.
  14. I Saw Three Ships – A very upbeat version with some interesting backing vocals.  I still don’t really like it. Ditch.
  15. Deck The Halls (With Boughs Of Longboards) – A surf version.  I’m not crazy about this, but doing something like this with the whole album would have been welcome.  Almost like, but ditch.