Monday, March 29, 2010

45s: Powers of attraction

“Magnet and Steel,” by Walter Egan (1978)
Written by Walter Egan

Late Seventies retro magnificence, the best eighth-grade dance anthem imaginable, Walter Egan’s claim to fame was pure SoCal pop that went beyond slick to a frictionless surface plausible only within the realm of speculative fiction.

If you wanted to break a song in 1978, there was no better way than to get Lindsey Buckingham to produce and Stevie Nick to team with him on background vocals. They swing in the early Sixties spirit of things and as they do listeners get a sample of what the Grease soundtrack would sound like if it featured good music.

Egan, an unknown, no doubt benefited from having Nicks-Buckingham to sell the single to DJs and radio programmers. That may have caused long-term problems, however, as Egan never quite managed a follow-up on his own. Had Nicks stuck around the studio, maybe things would have gone better for both of them. Not only did Egan fade, but she went on to incomprehensibly duet with Kenny Loggins, a decision most of us blame on her drug problem.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

45s: Long lonesome highway

“Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” by the Bob Seger System (1969)
Written by Bob Seger

To grow up in the Midwest a generation ago was to become sick of Bob Seger at a young age. But with the hindsight one gains through many years’ worth of accumulated regrets, Seger’s career provides hope for us all. Here was a career minor leaguer who in defiance of naysayers and the law of averages broke through and hit fifty home runs.

Seger first recorded as a high-schooler in 1961 at the studio of Del “Runaway” Shannon. He spent the Sixties running through various bands, compiling influences and setbacks, and generally paying dues. Local Detroit success came his way, and in 1969 went more-or-less national with “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” your basic rollocking good time backed by the requisite late-Sixties screaming electric organ. The song struck a blow for roots rock in a time of great musical ridiculousness. But when the mainstream embraced the total singer-songwriter mellow, rock retreated to the strange frontiers of ur-metal, prog, and Zeppelin. Seger, meanwhile, boarded a tour bus headed back to the salt mines.

Over the next six years he became a demigod in Detroit and remained a guy most everywhere else. He used the time wisely, however, coming up with several of the songs that helped propel his Live Bullet double album into gold record-dom. Live Bullet was the end sum of one of the 1970s surest career strategies: tour in ballbusting fashion to build a following and then break big by releasing music recorded in front of your cultish public. Peter Frampton, REO Speedwagon, KISS, J. Geils, Joe Cocker—it was about as close as you could get to a sure thing.

But, for whatever reason, the gods wanted to keep Seger humble. He famously played to a crowd of a few hundred people the day after (some accounts say the day before) selling out the 80,000-seat Pontiac Silverdome. Bob must’ve passed the test, though. In 1976, his album Night Moves sold a million or two and the title track has been on the radio ever since. For the next seven years he released music destined to fill a billion hours on FM radio.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

45s: Never compromise

“The Freshman,” by the Verve Pipe (1997)
Written by Brian Vander Ark

Hipsters and rock critics love to sneer at songs like “The Freshman,” but you go ahead and love it if you want. I do. It’s the antimatter version of bubblegum, like David Cassidy or N’Sync singing about causing a girlfriend’s eating disorder.

Thirteen year-old girls deserve their own music, too—music that is ohmygod so devastating, so real, so brimming with that brand of Absolute Truth as presented by all the shows on the CW. And “The Freshman” is brilliant enough to appeal to them by flattering their high school freshman status while at the same time telling a tale of the collegiate kind, a milieu far enough away to seem exotic to the underclasswoman still struggling through braces and gym class.

The lyrics bring all the drama you could want, too. Love. Suicide. Refusal to compromise. And of course abrogation of responsibility, repeated again and again and again. I can’t be held responsible—I fall for it every time. One of the great dead teenager songs, “Patches” for millennials.