...this Waite. That buzz cut, that synthesizer, surely John Waite is a brilliant New Wave artist. Or not.
John Waite. Troubadour. He owns a mansion and a yacht. My posting of "Head First" a few days ago has gotten me off my butt to write something about Mr. Waite. In the 80's John Waite was a voice I could identify with. His voice wasn't very strong and a little on the reedy side. In verse sections he would sort of talk sing. At times it would seem like he was singing to a different beat than the rest of the song. These traits would kill off the career of other singers, with John Waite it made him more distinct and the perfect embodiment of adolescence. Loud and awkward with a lot of soul.
As great as he is, in my opinion John Waite was never able to come up with a perfect single album. So I tended to remember Waite through single songs more than a complete record. Granted I didn't follow his career after 1991 so I don't know if he accomplished this feat later on. Before kicking into this post full gear, a disclaimer: I'm going to quote a lot of lyrics of Mr. Waite, but not necessarily the way he wrote them. It's going to be the way I remember them. I'm just too lazy to look up all these song lyrics and his words resonated with me a certain way even if I probably misunderstood them. Anyway, he did have recurring themes to his music, starting with:
Mr. Saturday Night
John Waite was great at the fast breakneck paced rocker, a song that would allow Waite to show what a cool party guy he is. Guitars would scream, keyboards would rollick as Waite breathlessly spat out his lyrics. On Ignition it was "White Heat" which had a slight punky edge to it. On Mask Of Smiles he had "No Brakes", which ironically was not on the album No Brakes. That album had my favorite of this style, "Saturday Night", because I'm a sucker for songs that use days of the week in the words. I think it went "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...SATURDAY NIGHT! Oh Yeah!" ( I couldn't find "Saturday Night" online, so here's "White Heat")
Neo, Are You The One?
In what may be a sign that we all really live in The Matrix, JW is obsessed with either being the One or finding the One. "She's The One" because he's the "Wild One" (which makes him Brando?) since he's part of "The Restless Ones". You can't spend all your time partying, you've got to be the One to find the One.
Heaven Is A 4 Letter Word
Once you've found the One, what do you do? If you're John Waite, you get hecka nasty. You show that girl "The Best Of What I Got" (awesome lyric alert! "Put my key / inside your door / feels so good"). To show he wasn't all horndog passion, he could get a little clinical like on "Act of Love" (You and I / Fit together / Like a hand and glove / It's just / an Act / of Love). But let's face it, particularly with Bad English JW liked to raunch and roll. Song titles like "Heaven is a 4 Letter Word" or "Rockin' Horse" didn't happen by accident. Nor did lyrics like "Laydown / stay down / for MY LOVE!" (from the correctly titled "Laydown"). But the best of JW's letters to Penthouse was when he was a Baby, I'm talkin' 'bout "Midnight Rendezvous". Put aside the fact that it is one of the best songs ever, with that killer drum pattern and blatantly Jon Cain driven chorus. At the tail end of the fade out John Waite yells to his lady love "Oooh I really wanna F*CK YOU!". Pure genius sneaking that one in sir. My hat is off to you.
These Times Are Hard For Lovers
My favorite kind of John Waite song, the all out melodic rocker. Songs in which backed by a big ass chorus and sturdy guitar riffs Waite would fret out his tortured soul over a girl. His time in Bad English was awesome for this, the hard charging "Forget Me Not" ("I will be your shadow, when you walk away / Forget Me Not / Forget Me Not / I will follow you until your dying day!!") or "Straight To Your Heart" In the summer of '87 I played "These Times Are Hard For Lovers" endlessly, that magic Desmond Child hook ringing in my ears. Because these times are hard. For lovers, that is. Part of what kicked off this post was finding a video for The Baby's "Turn and Walk Away" online. My favorite of this style for John? The "Layla" of the 80's, "Tears". Of all the girls I've had at my feet (that's some power trip to think you have a bunch of women at your feet by the way) you're the only one that can bring me to these TEARS! Then an epic guitar solo courtesy of Gary Myrick. No, wait a second, I just remembered the first John Waite I ever heard was even better. So nice it was released as a single twice (once for Ignition and then again as part of the Vision Quest soundtrack), "Change". People talkin', they say that you are leavin'. So unhappy DAH DAH DAH!...
Back On His Feet Again
With all that partying and heartbreak there had to be a softer side to the man. Maybe even a sappy side. The guy who famously rejected the uber power ballad "Open Arms" for being too syrupy when Jon Cain presented it to him in The Babys, John Waite is best known for his rock ballads. Whether he's "Back On My Feet Again" or with you "Every Step Of The Way", in music dude is not a commitment phobe. His numero uno in this category, his piece de resistance', is Bad English (or from what I just wrote Bad French?) "When I See You Smile". Because when I see you smile, I can FACE THE WORLD!!! Oh, whoa. I can do anything. Certainly Dianne Warren's most Zen moment (and Waite would dip into that Warren well again with "The Time Alone With You", not to mention the wonderfully sarcastic "Don't Lose Any Sleep"). That's the price of love baby. a .99 cent download. See, you can put a price on love. How did I get by without this? Everytime I think of you, it always turns out GOOD!
Welcome To Paradise
Despite all that commitment and frettin', in song John Waite's relationships with women would crash and burn. What was left after that? Sadness and loneliness with a hint of poetic self awareness. "Sometimes" from Rover's Return has one of my favorite JW hooks, ("Sometimes / yyoouuuu dooonnn'tttt kno-ow") to express that longing. But the money in the bank shot for JW sadness is the appropriately titled Mask of Smiles record, you know the one with the cover where he has his translucent hands covering his face like some kind of alien from V the miniseries? One of my favorite memories was a long time ago giving someone a ride home from work and when he heard the lyric in "Welcome To Paradise" comparing New York to burning Rome he said he was from New York and that was a great metaphor. On that same album is his greatest ode to the lonely hearts club that is not "Missing You", it's "The Choice". The quiet, pensive drifting feel of that song just kills. ("The Choice" isn't online, so here's "Welcome To Paradise" instead).
Love In The Movies
Remember the big deal when John Waite did some acting on a network tv show about models? I forget what the show was called, what was it Paper Dolls? I can't remember. John Waite's music made for great movie moments, even if I can't remember the titles of a lot of those films. There was some I think National Lampoon in College kind of movie that used "Tears" to great effect while some character walked through the quad at night. "Change" was featured in Vision Quest and got a brand spankin' new video clip in the process. Days of Thunder had "Deal For Life", because that's what you do when you get in a car with Tom Cruise. Tango and Cash had "The Best of What I Got" at the end title credits. I went nuts when I heard "Woman's Touch" in Jim Belushi's bar scene of The Principal. Yet the song that really grabbed me was "If Anyone Had A Heart" from the About Last Night... soundtrack. Cinematic romance in all its shoulder padded electronic drum glory. Back when Demi Moore wasn't surgically modified and all the girls swooned for Rob "Youngblood" Lowe. Such great memories of the summer of '86 for me as I played that 45 after graduating high school. Good times.
And yet for most people, understandably, John Waite boils down to one song: "Missing You". The ultimate expression of drum machine synthesizer longing, John Waite's stream of consciousness verses (something about electric clouds or a storm that's raging in my soul tonite) was a #1 smash in 1984. This song was inescapable in '84, playing all over the place and on Friday Night Videos with amazing frequency. It was hard not to get sick of this one, particularly since a school dances we'd get the 10 minute remix. This is back when a 12" remix consisted of three minutes of the regular song, then the chorus repeated in chopped up bits through an echo chamber, followed by the synth line disappearing and reappearing while these same echoey bits flew in and out as the metronome like beat plows on. At least that's how I remember it, I put the original remix below but haven't played it. Watch it turn out to be really good. Crazy memory!
After a few years I was able to hear "Missing You" more objectively and naturally loved the crap out of it. Canny guy he is, JW has rerecorded this song over and over to try to give people a reason to buy his later stuff. This would be a waste but one of his remakes was a duet with my favorite Country singer, Alison Krauss.
See, with John Waite you get the whole sha-bang. Artistry. Commercialism. Really bad covers of Marvin Gaye songs ("Ain't That Peculiar"). Through it all, you know you can count on JW to go into everything "Head First"! (to close out, here's The Babys with "Turn and Walk Away")