Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Those of us who love the music of Emitt Rhodes are pretty passionate about this subject matter ... so when I first heard that Emitt would be releasing an album of all new material this year, I was understandably quite excited.  Rhodes' last official commercial release came in 1974 ... so we're talking over 40 years here!   

I first discovered Emitt Rhodes in 1970 when his self-titled debut album was released by Dunhill Records.  Paul McCartney had just released his first solo album, on which he played all of the instruments himself.  Now here was some completely unknown guy doing the exact same thing ... and sounding an awful lot like McCartney to boot!  (For some reason ... and I have absolutely NO idea why ... I was under the impression at the time that Emitt was from Cleveland, so I was even MORE impressed that some Midwestern Guy was doing this ... but the fact of the matter is that he's REALLY from Hawthorne, California, home of The Beach Boys and, I would soon find out, had been somewhat successful a few years earlier with a West Coast Pop Band called The Merry-Go-Round.)  

Radio ran several ads for Emitt's LP in 1970, typically featuring song clips from "You Should Be Ashamed", "Somebody Made For Me" and the song that would go on to be Emitt's only Top 100 charted solo single "Fresh As A Daisy" (#38, 1971).  [Three other tracks "bubbled under" in Cash Box and/or Record World but "Fresh As A Daisy" was Rhodes' only official Billboard hit.]

Those little ten second snippets were enough to make me go out and buy this album ... and, once I had it, I couldn't stop playing it.  Over the years I ended up buying several more copies as I was literally wearing through them as fast as I got them ... this album was on my turn-table virtually non-stop for over a year!  (They were also getting harder and harder to find as, although the album was not a huge success, it DID ultimately peak at #29 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums Chart.)  
There's not a weak track here ... and to a young, aspiring musician like myself at the time, I couldn't help but wonder if I could ever do that ... play all the instruments and handle all the vocals myself.)  45 years later this material holds up EXTREMELY well and I'd put tracks like "Fresh As A Daisy", "She's Such A Beauty", "You Should Be Ashamed", "With My Face On The Floor", "Somebody Made For Me" and "You Must Have" right up there against the very best music recorded in the '70's ... they just never quite got the attention they deserved from a mass audience.

Shortly thereafter, A&M Records released another Emitt Rhodes solo album called "The American Dream".  Most folks at the time thought this was Emitt's follow-up release but in fact it was recorded years before after The Merry-Go-Round (also signed to A&M) went their separate ways.  It evidently had been sitting in the can for quite some time but then (as record companies are so often prone to do) once they saw Emitt's new Dunhill album getting some attention, they quickly released this one in an effort to cash in on the momentum.

In most cases, I have found this "here-to-for previously unreleased material" to be unreleased for good reason ... but, surprisingly, this LP was nearly as good as the Dunhill album!  This stuff deserved to be released and heard ... "Pardon Me" is still one of my all-time Emitt Rhodes favorites and there are some other very interesting tracks on this LP as well:  I consider "Mother Earth", "Someone Died", "Holly Park" and "The Man He Was" all to be stand-outs ... and the entire album is very catchy and listenable.   

Emitt's REAL follow-up, "Mirror" came out in 1972 and it was nearly as good (although not quite as strong as the two LPs now currently in my collection.)  

It was enough, however, to make me seek out The Merry-Go-Round album from 1967.  This was not an easy thing to do in 1972 ... but I will never forget my excitement when I found exactly one copy at Rose Records downtown here in Chicago.  Although this was definitely a band, Emitt Rhodes was clearly the leader, writing and singing virtually ever track on the LP.  

Years later I found a clip of The Merry-Go-Round performing on The Hollywood Palace on an episode hosted by Herb Alpert, Emitt's label boss at the time.  (For some reason the clips currently on YouTube feature Don Knotts as the host but I absolutely SWEAR there's a Herb Alpert version out there somewhere!!!)  The entire group also appeared as contestants on The Dating Game around this time!!!)

It sounds like Emitt's final Dunhill album, "Farewell To Paradise" was more of a contractual obligation thing.  It came out in 1974 ... pretty much tanked ... and then Rhodes disappeared for the next 40 years.   

When the idea of a new Emitt Rhodes album first came to light, it was around sort of a "You Fund It" / "Kickstarter" premise ... fans contributed money to get the album made, pressed and released and earned specific rewards based on the size of their pledges.  Once "Rainbow's End" met its quota, the album was released through all of the normal channels ... and I bought a copy immediately.   

If I'm being completely honest, I was a bit disappointed.  If this was the BEST of the material he had accumulated over a 40 year period, it was pretty weak.  It's also a bit of a downer ... seems as though Emitt has been unlucky in love for most of that time and the bulk of the songs contained here reflect that unhappiness and disappointment ... which most likely contributed to my OWN unhappiness and disappointment when assessing the new album.  (I think what hurt me the most is the fact that the music of Emitt Rhodes had brought so much joy and happiness into my life over the past forty years ... it just didn't seem fair that his own next forty years would be filled with so much despair.)

The other thing I found discouraging was there was virtually NO trace of the "old Emitt" anywhere to be found ... it didn't really sound like him, even on repeated listens ... I tried desperately to find the "link" to the artist and voice I had enjoyed so much so many years before.  (It kind of reminded me of that scene in "Hook" when one of the Lost Boys opens up Peter Pan's eyes real wide and asks "Peter, are you still in there?")  And it really didn't LOOK like him either (although because I had kept up with Rhodes over the years always wondering ... and hoping ... that he might release something again ... I had some idea as to his own aging process.)

But truth be told, were I not holding the CD jacket in my hand and knowing what disc I was playing, but instead were hearing a random track on the radio, I never in a million years would have guessed it was him.  After multiple listens, I DO find traces here and there now, but it took awhile ... and really the album itself (featuring the full gamut of support artists and musicians, rather than his typical solo effort) has an excellent sound throughout.  The material simply isn't as strong as one would expect after such a long hiatus.  (In all fairness, by the time "Farewell To Paradise" came out in 1974, Emitt wasn't sounding much like himself anymore either.  The songs had become a bit more "sophisticated" and much less "pop" sounding ... the instrumentation used more keyboard strings and even a saxophone ... it never really "grew on me" the way his earlier work had.  I'm sure this was a case of Emitt feeling the need to grow as an artist ... but he left the process of creating anything even remotely commercial behind in the process.)   

Listening to the new album again and again, I have come to find it listenable albeit in a disappointing way.  Truthfully if I was going to select ONE song that most represents the best of old and new Emitt, it would probably be "Put Some Rhythm To It" ... which features the classic lyric "If you wanna learn to dance, if you wanna find romance, all you gotta do is shake your ass and put some rhythm to it."

My overall ranking (on a scale of 1-10):  3  

But fellow Emitt Rhodes fanatic Clark Besch (the other half of our Clark / Kent debate) feels quite differently ...  

His review is below!  


OK, so I am a BIG Emitt Rhodes fan, so be prepared. 

Here's me in my 70's Peaches t-shirt with some Rhodes pride and joys.


"Hey Emitt, LONG TIME NO SEE!"   

I have collected Emitt Rhodes' music since 1967, when I first heard "Live."  Then, I taped his band The Merry Go Round playing a "You're a Very Lovely Woman / Listen Listen" medley off Hollywood Palace.  From there, I collected as many 45s, CDs,  LPs, 8 tracks, imports, DJ copies, publishing, internet info, TV tapes, demos from his Palace Guard 45s to the Merry Go Round stuff, to his solo career as I could find.  

In 1971, I was entering high school and his records were on my turntable endlessly and over the years, I compiled more and more records and made my own tapes, and then CDs to play in my car.  HECK, I wasn't even driving when his last LP came out!  In the 80's and 90's, Bootleg CDs came out with his stuff and I bought them.  Then came a rash of good (and not so good) sounding CD LP reissues and compilations.  But, I sure wished for something new from Emitt.  

My brothers and I were devastated when the announcement came down in mid-1970 that the Beatles were no more.  When I first heard Emitt's first Dunhill LP late that year, I was amazed and felt (like many) that he was like a second coming of the Fab 4.  From there, my collection of his records grew rapidly.  That is, until he disappeared in 1973 and I had no idea what had happened.  Eventually, I found out that his contracts were too much for him to handle and he could not supply music on a "fast food platter" and he was sued and all hell came down on him.   

I have read and heard many times, since his last album, that he was ready to come back and record.  Bits and pieces have shown up over those years, but nothing really concrete.  Suddenly, late in 2015, I had a chance to "buy into" a supposed CD release IF enough money was raised.  $20 to hear a whole new album?  No brainer!!  I went for it, as did many many others, and when the goal hit 100%, I was really excited to think maybe this was not some ponzi scheme but rather a legitimate way to get your new album released.  I'd never heard of this type of release, but it sounded like a pretty cool idea.  Last week, I got an actual CD of 11 (mostly) new tunes in a CD by Emitt Rhodes titled "Rainbow Ends."  The last NEW album I bought of his was in 1973, when I was ecstatic to actually find a new LP of his at the local Richman Gordman store in Lincoln, Nebraska.  It was the ONLY copy I ever saw when the LP came out!  With a lyric sheet enclosed!

In 1973, no one dreamed the vinyl LP would disappear (and now it is coming back!).  Compact Discs were not even a twinkle in the industry's eyes.  Here it is some 43 years later when you can legally (and illegally) get music without getting a physical piece to play it on.  Downloads?  That's NOT for me.  I needed a true hard copy of this album, be it CD or vinyl LP. 

As expected, Emitt plays several instruments and wrote most of the songs, while co-writing all of them.  The surprise is having a band behind him again.  And a GREAT band indeed.  One thing you will notice instantly when you hear this CD is how "full" the music sound is and how clean it is.  It was always amazing that Emitt performed all the music on his albums by ping-ponging tracks on his 4-track in home recorder, but it caused the sound quality to be limited.  He was proficient in his use of all these instruments, but hearing this CD's sound now, I wish he'd used backing people on those tracks so THEY could have sounded this good back then.  I don't really recognize any of the backing folks on this CD, but I am sure they all appreciate Emitt's 1970's music as much as I do, because it is as if he never left the studio in 1973.  He sounds great, the band is superb, and the tunes are VERY well written masterpieces, as were most all of his previous catalog. 

On to my review:   

With the first single (whatever those constitute in this day) opening the new release, "Dog On A Chain" is an excellent song, but also lets you know that most of the songs on this CD are going to be about love's miscues, misunderstandings and mysteries.  Yet, it's a song not unlike his 70's songs, both lyrically and musically.  Emitt gets the message sent, as painfully as he can, and it works well.  This particular song really makes me think of another of my favorite songwriter / singer's 70's tunes, that of the late, great, Andrew Gold.  The guitar solo and other segments also make me think of Andrew's songs which came later in the 70's.  Listen to this new classic and then listen to Gold's "Lonely Boy."  Maybe you will see what I am talking of(?) 

"If I Knew Then" sounds VERY much alike a song that would have fit nicely on his 1971 "Mirror" album or like "Nights Are Lonely," making me feel great about the way his stylings have stayed close to his 40+ year old music.  It also makes one wonder if he is singing more of his recording industry troubles then, and is now thinking "If I knew then what was to come."  Lyrics such as ""I gave my trust, an act of faith" sound like what happened to him in the Dunhill days of disillusionment.  A very powerful production with a ominous rambling piano that feeds the song perfectly.   

The beautiful "Isn't It So" again reminds us of his songs of past times.  How a guy can sing three words over and over in different ways and rearrange those words seems a little bit like "I have to say the things I feel, I have to feel the things I say" from "Live Till You Die" from his Dunhill debut LP in 1971.  A guitar solo reminds me of another guitarist style, the great Ian Bairnson of Pilot.  I am also a big fan of cold endings, and Emitt must love them too, as this may be the first album I've ever bought that has EVERY song with such a finale'.   

"This Wall Between Us" sends another message of love's divisiveness with some "Ticket to Ride"-like percussion and more Bairnson-styled guitar licks.  Emitt has been a master of rhyming lyrics and this CD showcases that great ability yet again.  Despite the comparisons to the Beatles in the past, they don't show as much here other than when he has backing vocals.   

"Someone Else" is another song that reminds me of a classic Andrew Gold song, this time, "One Of Them Is Me."  The lyrics are somewhat similar in story, but I gotta say that Andrew never influenced him in any way, yet maybe ME liking all of those early 70's Emitt songs secretly led me to hearing Andrew's music as great in the later 70's years.  Who knows?  The simplicity makes me think a bit of his "American Dream" LP.  That LP was truly as magnificent as the first Dunhill LP.  I am so glad I own the original withdrawn copy with Emitt searching for the 19 cent hamburger on its' cover. Today, hamburgers are a buck, so some things have changed indeed, but Emitt's style and voice still ring true to his past.
"I Can't Tell My Heart" is somewhat reminiscent of the quiet "You Must Have" from his 1971 self-titled album.  Here, the harmony vocals and music lend to being a song John Lennon could easily have made a hit of in his solo years.  At this point, I really can't tell what my favorite song is on this CD. because one after another gives you a gut punch.   

Then, along comes the humorous "Put Some Rhythm To It."  With the opening lines "I discovered I had two left feet at every school dance," and jovial guitar lyrics behind those lyrics, you might, like me, think back to Emitt's Merry-Go-Round days and "Gonna Fight the War."  One thing is for sure, "finally cut myself shavin' yesterday, guess I'm gettin' older" doesn't apply to Emitt four decades later, judging by his CD cover photo.  The lyrics to "Rhythm" just move along in that shuffle that does indeed make one want to get up and "shake your ass and put some rhythm to it."   

"It's All Behind Us Now" sounds a bit different vocally than his 70's styles, but musically reminds me of the "Farewell to Paradise" LP days.     

"What's A Man To Do" asks for pity for a man who has been self absorbed in self-pity too often like Emitt has languished in for 40 years.  The song sentiments remind me of another later 70's hero of mine, Jackson Browne's "Here Come Those Tears Again."  Although I mention songs by favorites like Browne, Pilot and Andrew Gold, I would not guess that you or Emitt ever felt this way, but it shows how his EARLY 70's tunes could have led these later 70's acts to sounds and songs they would come to write and perform.  Who knows?  I sure hope Emitt signs no contracts over this CD release, but also that he comes back to us for good this time. 

In "Friday's Love," Emitt tells a tale of love "as it was taught to me."    

The title and ending track, "Rainbow Ends," does indeed present a possible solution to his dreams, but it's hard to tell which way he goes form here.  A nice military beat lends to the lyrical attempt to find that gold in "chasing rainbow ends."  It is very gratifying to be turning 60 in two months and still listening to someone who was a hero of mine when I was 15!   

Emitt has indeed returned to "paradise" with his 40 year follow-up to that album and it's better than we could have hoped for.  I am wishing it could have had some happier tunes (ala "Somebody Made For Me") amongst the sad love stories herein.  Next time, more upbeat tunes ("With My Face On The Floor") would be nice too, and maybe a rocker ("You Take the Dark Out of the Night")?  There's some great potential showing again in this new CD.  Apparently, there have been some great reviews and it's another masterpiece, in my opinion.   


Wrapping It Up:  There's a part of me that wants to say, "C'mon, Emitt ... let's go make the album this SHOULD have been ... because I think he's still got it in him ... and I would love to help bring it out of him.  Listening to 40 Years of Bittersweet is hard to take ... there must have been SOME happy moments ... or, better yet, write songs about what would have made them happy moments.  Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive!!!  Seriously, get a couple of live gigs under your belt (doing both the old and the new material) along with a collaboration or two on a couple of upbeat songs ... and Emitt Rhodes is right back up there with the most desirable Indie Artists of the Millennium!  

Don't get me wrong ... ANY new music from Emitt Rhodes is a blessing ... and something virtually NONE of us thought we'd never see and hear again ... and I really do appreciate the chance to hear an artist I was so fond of for so many years recording new material again.  But we can do better ... put this one behind you ... you've already done the hard part ... the ice is broken and you've re-established your presence ... now let's concentrate on the NEXT album and put together something really spectacular!  (kk)