Friday, January 02, 2009

West Coast: Great grooves by any other name

I'm sure you've heard the songs before, most likely as part of the programming playlists of a once popular local FM radio station that made waves, set trends and changed the face of FM broadcasting and our discriminating Pop radio taste forever. Which one, go figure it out yourself, but should you know which I pertain to, then no further explanation is necessary.
Back to the songs.
Yes, you've heard them before. They were indeed staples of this particular radio station, so much so that hearing them elsewhere didn't quite jive, for some reason. Speaking of elsewhere, these songs, or more succinctly, the artists who recorded and performed these by-now classic Pop tunes are categorized quite differently; particularly in Japan.
The land of the rising sun has long been known for their technological savvy and product chutzpah. The same can be said about their musical taste. Discriminating, stylish even. And though they are a highly nationalistic people, with J-Pop lording their airwaves, they do not fail to acknowledge musical roots.

The music we've come to associate with this certain station is termed as West Coast & AOR, which stands for "Album Oriented Rock," while the West Coast term is derived from the music's obvious location of origin. So just what is West Coast AOR and which artists best comprise this coined category?

Like any computer-savvy individual, more so than not, you can find it on the Net, which is where you can go and check out numerous West Coast AOR-inspired websites, crammed with numerous Pop artists derivative of the tag.

If you've heard, enjoyed and loved the music of the likes of "Oh Lori" by the Alessi Brothers, Stephen Bishop's "Everybody Needs Love," the classic "Oh Girl" by Boy Meets Girl, Eric Carmen's subtle "Change Of Heart," or Bobby Caldwell's timeless "What You Won't Do For Love," maybe Chicago's "No Tell Lover" or "Tonight Tonight" by Bill Champlin, then you pretty much get the picture of what West Coast AOR is all about. This, and an entire myriad of music comprises West Coast AOR.

I like playing favorites, so here's a few that you might remember; if not, then you might want to check them out, and find out what you've been missing all these years.
Nicolette Larson - In The Nick Of Time (1979)
Released on the heels of her stellar self-titled debut featuring the Neil Young-penned rendition of "Lotta Love" that heralded in her fresh new brand of Pop, the succinctly titled In The Nick Of Time features her unforgettable duet with once-Doobie Bro Michael McDonald on the excellent "Let Me Go, Love."

Alessi - Long
Time Friends (1981) Hoping to rejuvenate their floundering popularity, the brothers Alessi collaborate with then Pop tagteam to beat of producer Michael Omartian and star singer/songwriter Christopher Cross on their 1981 album Long Time Friends. Though the album failed to produce any semblance of a hit single, many songs on the album are simply lilting, like the one-two openers "Jagged Edge" and "You've Got The Way," as well as the soaring ballad "Forever," which features Cross on back-up vocals.

Boy Meet
s Girl - Boy Meets Girl (1985)
When you mention Boy Meets Girl, chances are the person you're talking to will mention their 1988 hit "Waiting For A Star To Fall." Little do they know that George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam had a 1985 hit in "Oh Girl." Chances are they didn't even know that that was their names, either. Nonetheless, "Oh Girl" is a timeless piece of 80's West Coast pop.

Bill Champ
lin - Runaway (1980)
Before he joined Chicago in 1984 and proceeded to kick Peter Cetera's ass in the vocals department, Bill Champlin began his solo career in the shadow of other more popular singer/songwriters, but managed to shine a light with his David Foster-aided tune "Tonight Tonight." Star producer Foster says that if you listen carefully to the very last line of the song, it is a musical figure he would utilize later in another song that eventually became a hit in itself. Can you guess which one?

Amy Holland -
On Your Every Word (1983)
I credit The Source RJFM 100.3 back in the day in 1983 for giving Holland's sophomore effort the radio exposure this magnificent piece of music deserved. From start to finish, this album just soars. What with stellar musicians on the back-up, like drummers Mike Baird and the late, great Jeff Porcaro, vocalist David Pack, whom she duets with on "I Still Run To You,"
among others. Great buy.

Rupert Holmes - Partners In Crime (1980)
People can say what they want about Rupert, who isn't much of a singer, but the guys sure is a damn good songwriter. So the album's chockfull of Pop hits ("Escape The Pina Colada Song") and almost-hits (the wry sarcastic "Him" and the irony of "Answering Machine). But still, I say he's damn good singer/songwriter. Does it help to know that he also wrote the song "You've Got It All" by The Jets? Cool, huh?

Christopher Cross - Christopher (1979)
The blueprint by which West Coast AOR was formed?
Nah. But in 1979, it ran away with all the Grammy Awards, so the album must have done something right. Back in the day, I imagined Christopher Cross to be this slim, tanned blondish curlylocked mustachioed surfer-type dude who resembled the Camel cigarette dude (remember him?). After seeing Cross on Solid Gold, that changed everything. So much for images. Everything but my love of his music.
Personal faves: "Spinning," "The Light Is On" and the Eric Johnson-propelled "Minstrel Gigolo."

Frankie Bleu - Who's Foolin' Who? (1982)
Can't quite remember where I first heard of Frankie Bleu, but take it from me, the minute you hear it, you know you're home. Trust me on this.

Bill LaBounty - Bill Labounty (1982)

Michael Johnson's songwriting sparring partner (he penned Johnson's hit "This Night Won't Last Forever") who went on to deserved semi-fame on his own. This one's got all his best-loved stuff ("Look Who's Lonely Now," "Never Gonna Look Back" and the crossover staple "Livin' It Up"). Classic.

Marc Jordan - Blue Desert (1980)
No West Coast website would be complete without this gent.
His sound best defines the West Coast genre. Hailing from Canada, he moved to New York in the mid-to-late 70's and hooked up with hit Steely Dan producer Gary Katz and began making magic with his classic debut Mannequin and the concurrent hit "Marina Del Ray." In 1980, with the help of producer/guitarist Jay Graydon, released this album, featuring "Lost In The Hurrah," a personal favorite.

Nielsen Pearson - Blind Luck (1983)

Stellar singer/songwriting duo Reed Nielsen and Mark Pearson
front the band that carries their surnames, with a pride and non-
prejudice envied by many. Blind Luck is their sophomore effort,
preceding the equally robust eponymous debut where one may hear "If You Should Sail," which continues down the now-familiar N/P vein. It's amazing to hear the twosome's music grow with the times, incorporating synthesizers within their lush arrangements, without letting their sound get too "synth-poppy 80's-ish." Standout cuts are "Sentimental," "I Hear You Breathing," " Got Me Where You Want Me" and the excellent "Hasty Heart."
Kudos once again to The Source RJ100.3 for giving this album
its well-deserved airplay back in the day. A true West Coast classic.

These are just some of the better West Coast AOR titles, based on my own preferences and proclivities. But there's much more out there, which could fill this entry to the rafters, which I shall leave for your own self-discovery. Should these titles and other of similar sway catch your fancy, I suggest you check out an excellent online social network for more bands, musicians and supporters of everything West Coast AOR.


Blogger Ant said...

HI Man,

Agree with your comments Nicolette Larson - "In the nick of time" is great album, I have cassette { not working} , do you have a rip I can grab ?


8:05 AM  

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