Saturday, July 19, 2008

Artist Spotlight - Rick Springfield (Pure Genius) 1980 - 1989

Glow in the dark Genius-the Tao of Rick Springfield

One of the things I've really enjoyed about writing this blog has been finding things in common with other people. To my surprise, one of those things is an appreciation for the musical talent of Rick Springfield, or as I used to call him, The Genius. Now, to get it out of the way, I'll cop to some (or a lot) of hero worship for the guy when I was in High School. He made great music and got all the girls while doing it. I used to call him The Genius because he was able to take the Pop/Rock sound which usually had very general sentiments and put a singer/songwriter spin on it. Because of his teen idol image, his music was often written off as fluff but what I heard was a substantial artist. Since I covered Living in Oz already I thought I would do a little career retrospective. I became a fan after hearing the song "Souls" and bought his records back to his 1981 release Working Class Dog. So, I'll start there.

Working Class Dog (1981)

After finding success in his native Australia in the early 70's in a band called Zoot, Rick Springfield came to America looking for success. Despite scoring a Top 20 single Speak to the Sky his career ran into issues and fizzled. Springfield would spend the 70's releasing music sporadically to a small audience and took up acting as a fall back career.

After signing onto the soap opera General Hospital, Springfield found his fall back career taking off which put him in a position to do what he wanted to do: music. Now armed with an ardent fan base of soap fans, Springfield was ready to rock!

Working Class Dog is a model of early 80's Pop/Rock. Production that was smooth, hooky choruses and tight playing with a slight emphasis on musicianship. His first single, the immortal Jessie's Girl, was a #1 single. Great memories of that song, particularly because I had a friend named Jesse who hated that song (he got a lot of crap for it and called Springfield "Dick Springfield" because of it). The Genius was also given the Sammy Hagar penned "I've Done Everything For You" which he rode into the Top 10 (I have to admit, I like Sammy's version more). And then he piled on even more power pop glory with Love Is Alright Tonite which hit the Top 20 (I seem to remember fellow soap actor John Stamos playing this song in a short lived TV series with I think Jami Gertz). But for me, the two classic songs were the spiraling riffs in "Carry Me Away" and the midnight luv balladry of "Inside Sylvia".

Success Hasn't Spoiled Me Yet (1982)

The success of Dog increased Springfield's visibility all over, meaning he had to work double time to keep going. Springfield said Success was recorded while simultaneously working on General Hospital. That might explain the sort of patchwork feel to this record, though the individual cuts are fine. The Genius was able to mine the jealousy theme further with his third Top 10 hit, Don't Talk To Strangers. Two other singles, the "Jessie's Girl"ish I Get Excited and the poor boy ballad What Kind of Fool Am I also hit the Top 40. But the two memorable cuts for me was the rocker Kristina with it's Yes "Roundabout" keyboards and the Police style reggae rock of How Do You Talk To Girls. Back then, the "Girls" song was the one we all related to. Towards the end of the record is "April 21, 1981" which was about the passing of his father.

Living in Oz (1983)

Since I recently wrote a huge thing about this record, I'll be brief. Springfield indicated the record company wasn't tracking his career as strongly at this point because they thought his ride was close to over. Genius that he is, Springfield took the opportunity to toughen up his sound and grow stubble on his face. This was also longtime sideman Tim Pierce's chance to really make an impact with his guitar playing, which he does. My favorite record of Springfield's 'cause it was the hardest rocking one. This was the point where I became a fan of The Genius, it was all part of his master plan to make everyone his fan!

Hard To Hold (1984)

Like any actor / singer, Springfield felt the need to bring the two worlds together for a motion picture. And so the stupefyingly boring movie Hard to Hold was unleashed on the public, probably resulting in many people running back to a 10th viewing of Purple Rain to get the Springfield movie out of their heads. The Genius thought he could make up the bad film making with great songs. He couldn't, but it made for a good soundtrack!

After the opening salvo of his last huge hit, Love Somebody, Springfield continued to show growth while moving away from his trademark sound. Sure, the mid tempo drama Don't Walk Away was a Top 20 single and felt in line with his past work. But the third single, Bop Til You Drop , belied an increasing interest in dance beats and electronic noises. He was going to be Buck Rogers...or at least Duck Dodgers in the 21st and a half century! Taxi Dancing was the fourth single, a pleasant duet with Randy Crawford. The album also contained my favorite Springfield ballad, "The Great Lost Art of Conversation." The Genius earned a slot at Live Aid to play to his largest audience yet...The World! I also saw him live on this tour, it was really well staged. But my strongest memory was waiting in line to get some food, these girls behind me were going off on how they saw the girl Springfield was eating dinner with and how she wasn't all that and really skanky. Probably wasn't even true.

Around this same time, some Springfield recordings he had done in the 70's were re-recorded without his involvement while keeping his vocal. The result was the Beautiful Feelings record, something Springfield was against but still resulted in a Top 40 hit and one of my favorite Genius songs, "Bruce".

Tao (1985)

The Genius started to feel uneasy about his teen idol status and was battling depression, resulting in the somber tone of Tao. Like Yin and Yang, the album contained introspective lyrics with extroverted beats as he dived head long into synthesizers, vocoders and drum machines. Commercially, it was the beginning of the end but artistically it is a stand out album. The lead single Celebrate Youth picked up where "Bop Til You Drop" left off. But the real winner was State of the Heart, an awesomely sublime piece of melodic rock. At the time, my favorite song was the nuclear fear driven "Walking on the Edge" which my memory has placed as an almost Nine Inch Nails type song, though I'm sure I'm way off on that one. A third single, Dance This World Away , featured vocals from Martin Page (that's Mr. Mister to you buddy!) while the song that really sticks is the moving tribute to his father in My Father's Chair . Artistically, I thought this was the high point of his career though it hasn't aged well.

Rock of Life (1988)

Springfield's depression really started to show on Rock of Life. The whole disc had this sad haze over it. Still, the Sting-like single Rock of Life went Top 40. For a second single, Springfield's management tried to drum up hype by claiming Honeymoon in Beirut was a smash in that war torn country. Even if it was, it didn't exactly spur sales. Despite some good songs, the morose tone pretty much sank the album commercially. This was the disc I listened to a lot in college, the song "World Start Turning" was great as well as the slower "Soul To Soul". It ended with the sorta campy "If You Think You're Groovy". Oddly, of all the Rick Springfield discs this is the one I miss having the most. It accompanied me on a lot of long drives when I would visit home from college.

A year later, Springfield was injured in an ATV accident that contributed to an extended leave from the music scene. He wouldn't return until 1999 with the Karma album. The Genius is still going strong, he's releasing a new disc Venus in Overdrive and has a new single "What's Victoria's Secret". The new song is below, it is once again the work of a Genius.

Rick Springfield "What's Victoria's Secret"


Arsenette said...

/cheer I ... love.. Rick.. Springfield :) Tytytytyty :) For many he was from General Hospital.. I'm glad to say I didn't see him there first.. though still.. like I mentioned before.. he was the son of Adama in Battlestar Gallactica. GO! GO! Zack! ... and I thought he was cuter than Richard Hatch...

Truly Julianna said...

In the 1980's, I went through some very trying times besides the usual teenage stuff; I was bullied, spat on and roughed up over a stupid sporting event.
But that was not what enough to knock the wind out of my sails: my dad's stationing in Korea without us, my grandpa's sudden death due to privously undiagnosed prostate cance and the distuction of my family was.

My grandpa played various musical instruments and persormed at many family functions and music was a huge part of my life and with his loss and the departure of my dad from my life... I turned to music to soothe my battered soul and searched for songs that struck just the right chord( so to speak).

I was thumbing through a catalogue and spotted a man with a very warm smile( the warmest smile that I had seen in a very long time) and something about his eyes just made me melt. The picture that I saw was of Rick's first solo album Beginnings... I had to have that record!! One song on there made me cry( which is what I needed at the time), it was " What Would the Children Think"( situation similar to the one mentioned in song was what tore my family apart) and one made me laugh and dance: "Annie Goodbody( Rick that song is not crap!!!).

When I saw the cover of the second one... You see, my dad and I use watch the old reruns of the Adventures of Superman when I was a kid ( an independent station aired them for years); my dad had some horn rimmed glasses like what the character of Clack Kent wore and when my dad took them off.. he looked just like Superman. Due to the pain from it all, I blocked out many precious memories of my dad and that album brought them all back. Every time I listened to the song "' I'M Youre Superman", I was transported back it time in away and was back watching that old show with my dad. I will always treasure that album and have it on cd.

Rick went on to write many more wonderful songs that have struck a harmonious chord with a lot of people out there and is still doing it to this day. He puts his heart and soul into everything he writes and sings. I feel that he has been very unappreciated and underestimated.
Seeing him in concert is definitely a wonderfully delicious treat, if you haven't been then you are cheating yourself out of a very good time!

Some Kinda Wonderful said...

I loved him until he started acting on the soap. Not being a big soap fan, I felt like he'd sold out. Didn't really understand the whole "back up plan" thing until much later. I get it now. Still don't really like his "pop" sound. But the dude is tasty looking, that's for sure. And he has a really great voice. I like his "singer/songwriter" persona best. Thanks for the post. Reminded me that he DID put out some amazing music.

Mr. Mike said...

Hi Arsenette! After I found out that Springfield was in Battlestar, I was bummed he didn't get to do much. But I guess he couldn't compete with Richard Hatch's experience,wasn't Hatch on some fire engine show or was it a cop show? I can't recall.

Hi Truly Julianna! I agree that his talent is underrated, his teen image was a mixed blessing in my opinion because on the one hand it brought exposure to his music but on the other made people think he was a generic record industry puppet. And it's always a good thing when music can help you through tough times. Music has done the same for me during tough times in my life as well.

Hi Some Kinda Wonderful! I think I'll have to go back and check out more of his 70's stuff, I've never delved heavily into it but it sounds like he has some real fans from that era.

Anonymous said...

He is a genius. That is true. If everyone could listen to every one of his albums from the 70's to present,they would have to be impressed. I strongly recommend Wait for Night" which I believe came out in 1976.

The Rock Brigade Blogger said...

I watched a Rick Springfield concert on HD-NET not too long ago. It was a fantastic show. He was tottaly engaged with the audience, sounded great, and he simply rocked!

The Rock Brigade

Mr. Mike said...

Hi Anonymous! Thanks for the recommendation, I'll keep an eye out for it. I often thought he would benefit from a Box Set that would trace his entire career to show the development of his songwriting.

Hi Rock Brigade Blogger! I'll watch for that program too. My wife recorded a recent appearance he made on Oprah, he still had it!

Frontrow said...

Glad to see Springfield back on the scene. Looking forward to the new album. Never fully got the credit he deserved for that pop/rock style.

K said...

Great retrospective, Mike, and nice to see another male fan weigh in in the inimitable way most of the male fans do. It's hard to be a female Rick fan sometimes and not feel that the fact that so much of the fan base is female doesn't torpedo his cred -- shouldn't be that way, but sadly I think it is true.

You never mentioned shock/denial/anger/acceptance... or if you did, perhaps in my insomniac haze, I didn't see it. If you haven't heard it, you must.

Your timeline syncs very neatly with my own. I was in university when Rock of Life was out, and as most of Rick's music has been, it was defining of that period of my life.

Great blog from an appreciative fan.

Sooz said...

The HD-NET show that Jon mentions above is on DVD too, "Live in Rockford", you can find it on Amazon I know for sure. I've been a fan of his since "Working Class Dog" and I agree, he IS a genius! Can't wait for the new CD next week. Great retrospective, Mike!

Mr. Mike said...

Hi frontrow! The lead single sounds like a strong lead in to this album, should be great!

Hi K! Thanks! I haven't heard all of Shock / denial/anger/acceptance but will have to check it out. I've heard "Beautiful You" and thought it was really good!

Hi Sooz! Thanks for the title of the DVD!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Mike
Re: your suggestion that there be a "Box Set" to trace Mr. Springfield's entire career to show the development of his songwriting - are you aware of the "Written in Rock" CD? This basicly does what you are suggesting. It is a two disc set that includes songs from every stage of his career/ every album up to and including the one he did of cover songs ("The Day Before Yesterday"). Unfortunately, it only includes songs that charted, and not some of the lesser known but equally as brilliant songs from his albums. But what makes this CD special is the liner notes (yea, how many CDs still even have liner notes?!), which were written by The Genius himself, and give some insight into the writing and production of each song.

Also, as K suggested, be sure to get his Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance CD, too, as it certainly is a departure from the pop/rock music, and not at all what people have come to expect from Rick Springfield. "Beautiful You" is the tamest of the lot; most of the songs have a hard edge to them and played well in concert. Sadly, as of late, he seems to have taken them out of his concert set list in favor of the more recognizable songs.

Mr. Mike said...

Hi Anonymous! Thanks for the tip, I didn't know Written in Rock had liner notes so I'll definitely check it out. The Written in Rock anthology seems pretty thorough, I was just thinking it would be nice if it covered more of his 70's material on an additional disc to make a three of four disc set.

I do have some catching up to do on The Genius, I haven't heard Karma or Shock yet other than a few songs. And once I fix my ITunes I'm going to get the new one for sure!