Jesse Colin Young is always welcome on this blog but you have to approach anything released in the mainstream, in the 80s, with trepidation.
Yes, yes, I know I whinge about the 80s mainstream but it was, largely, awful. Everything was smooth and bland (please note that the 80s I'm referring to started in about 1983 and lasted till about 1991). Worse still; older acts from the 50s, 60s, and 70s had to adopt the "new sounds" if they wanted to get their music released on a major. There were a few who stuck to their guns but the vast majority fell into place. The result: instant rubbish. This may be music you loved but really, put on, today, any mainstream song from the 80s (by an "oldie") and it will be met with a nervous smile, a wince, or a groan. Any jubilation that comes from the music is ironic.
I know there are exceptions, but …
This album was released in 1987 (and recorded at about the same time).
1987 gave us these mainstream 80s hits from "oldies" (a term I hate) reviving their careers: "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" (Starship), "Here I Go Again" (Whitesnake), "Big Time" (Peter Gabriel), "Is This Love" (Survivor), "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" and "In Too Deep" (Genesis), "The Next Time I Fall" (Peter Cetera and Amy Grant), "Midnight Blue" (Lou Gramm), "Will You Still Love Me?" (Chicago).
And this is what Jesse Colin Young was faced with.
But, he tries …
There is a lot of bad 80s in here …
… Sure the production is squeaky clean but you cant escape that …
… Sure a few of the songs (mainly the ones with sexy sax-o-mo-phones or squeal-y electric guitars) are cringe worthy …
… Sure the definition of acoustic in the mainstream 80s means singer, guitar and erra an electric band playing gently …
but there are moments here when Jesse Colin Young is kicking against it all.
His only other album in the 80s was "Perfect Stranger" from 1982. I haven't listened to that so I can't comment on where he was going, but, perhaps he knew the 80s, musically, was not for him.
This album is, largely, out of step with what is going on in the charts. Perhaps that's why it only got a release on a minor label (no offence Cypress Records … though I note they were distributed by heavyweight Polygram).
The "largely" I use above is intentional. Bruce Springsteen's "Tunnel of Love" album from 1987 mined a very similar low key acoustic-y path to this album and it was #1 in the US, UK and other parts of the world (#6 here in Australia). The cover art here, also, recalls Springsteen as do some of the thematic concerns of the songs … "The Highway is for Heroes".
And that is not a bad thing.
Young may predate Springsteen recording wise but he is like a laid back, less angst-y, less rock n roll more folk, hippie version of Springsteen. They were both from the US north-east, Springsteen (New Jersey), Young (New York), and both enamoured with the "road" and "America". They also both played the "No Nukes" series of concerts in September 1979.
The album is not all new work. Three songs were new versions of songs he had released before on albums. "Do It Slow," was on "Love On The Wing" (1977), "Before You Came" was on "Songbird" (1975), and T-Bone Walker's "T-Bone Shuffle he had done on "Song For Juli" (1973). One ("When You Dance") was a cover of The Turbans 1955 doo-wop hit (#3 US R&B, #33 Pop) which was also done by Jay and the Americans in 1969 (#70 US pop). Further, two were co-writes, the title track, which Young wrote with (occasional collaborator) Los Angeles singer-songwriter Wendy Waldman, and "The Master," with keyboardist (and member of Bonaroo) Bill Cuomo.
The album was produced by Jesse Colin Young so he was calling the shots … though he had to also "sell" the record to a label.
Check out my other blog comments for biographical detail on Jesse Colin Young and his great band The Youngbloods,
Tracks (best in italics)
- The Highway Is for Heroes – (Wendy Waldman / Jesse Colin Young) – the production does this in. It would work as acoustic singer songwriter song from the 70s but here it is like a song from a 80s movie where the hero, jilted, is sitting on Venice beach watching the sunrise.
- Erica – slick but very engaging and quite good.
- Young Girls – a breathy vocal. Maybe it's the subject matter?
- When You Dance – (Andrew Jones / Jesse Colin Young) – As I said above this was a doo-wop by the Turbans which was popped up in the late 60s by Jay and the Americans. Jesse Colin Young, who could sing the delicate high notes here does some falsetto, ragged but well. Not as good as either earlier version mentioned.
- The Master – (Bill Cuomo / Jesse Colin Young) – too slick. A song about power relationships.
- Dreams Take Flight – it's a little dreamy but quite sticky
- Do It Slow – old school, and I don't mean 1977 when Jesse Colin Young recorded it earlier but with ragtime influences.
- T-Bone Shuffle – (Aaron Walker) – the great T-Bone Walker song. Gentle and playful.
- Before You Came – again, over produced but okay.
It's too slick for me but for the sake of completeness )of my Jesse Colin Young collection)… I'm keeping it.
Nothing no where
The Highway Is for Heroes