My friend Rob used to do a show on our college radio station (FM, not carrier current, by the way). He would call me up in my dorm room, knowing I was listening, and tell me about some new album he was particularly taken with. Then, after he got off the air, he'd haul his copy of that album, and often others, up to my room and we'd listen to them. He was just about always right, bringing those albums to me; once, he even offered to reimburse me for a Roy Wood album if I didn't like it (it was Boulders, and I did and he didn't have to pay me back). This time around, he was touting the debut album by one Andrew Gold, with whom I was not familiar. "Wait 'till you hear this," he said, ever so passionately, calling me from the studio.
I couldn't wait. As I said, Rob was almost always right about these things; we would spend hours in his room at his house, him playing me record after record, seeing what I liked, what I didn't, trying to get me to like things he liked and I didn't, like Zappa's We're Only In It for the Money (well, I came to appreciate it eventually). I discovered a lot of cool stuff in that room, stuffed to the gills as it was with musical treasures (I heard the promo version of "Penny Lane," with the trumpet ending, there, a revelation to be sure).
"What is it like?" I asked Rob. "What does Andrew Gold sound like?" (Even then, I was playing the "Who Does It Sound Like?" game.) "You'll like it," he emphasized, and with that, resting the tone arm on one of the turntables at the station after playing his last record of the night (yes, this story takes place back in the dark ages), he put a couple of albums in his bag and took the long walk from the station to my dorm room. "Wait 'till you hear this," he said, and, my stereo fired up, he set the needle down onto the vinyl to do its business.
I was mesmerized. Gold's music spoke to me. All the earmarks of the type of music I liked were there, soaking through me: melody, harmony, hooks with superpowers, and that cover shot, the artist performing magic, white balls jumping about in the air around him, his left hand open at the bottom right, ready for the balls to come home. Now that I know, thanks to Gold's superb liner notes for the 2005 reissue of Andrew Gold (in fact, all four of Gold's 1970s Asylum albums have been reissued by Collectors' Choice Music), that the hand was pasted in from another picture, I'm really convinced there was some kind of magic going on.
I remain convinced 29 years later, remembering that evening so long ago, thankful for my introduction to Andrew Gold from a like-minded friend. Andrew Gold remains a magical release for me, full of surprise and wonder. From the gorgeous opener "That's Why I Love You," with its intoxicating melody and glorious harmonies, and the country-rock of the supremely catchy "Heartaches in Heartaches," to the emotion-filled ballad "Ten Years Behind Me" and the funky bass of the wild and wooly "Hang My Picture Straight," Andrew Gold is a strong first album, a collection of songs that will last through time.
A year later, when Gold's second solo album, What's Wrong With This Picture?, was released, I was working at the college radio station too, doing a Saturday afternoon show and playing lots of the kind of stuff I still play today on my Pure Pop radio show. The release of this album was accompanied by a contest that asked people to identify the most things "wrong" with the album cover for some prize or other. As part of Gold's liner notes--as detailed, lengthy and informative as those for his debut--the artist puts on his detective hat and lays out 32 items that he has identified. He calls this his "official" list, and notes that "You can still win a date with me, but I'll have to ask my girlfriend."
The only single that charted from Andrew Gold (the only song released as a single, I believe) was "That's Why I Love You," which only managed to rise to number 68 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The big song from What's Wrong With This Picture was a different matter entirely: "Lonely Boy" was a top 10 hit; it made it all the way to number seven and stayed on the chart for 21 weeks. It should have been a number one, though; it's a textbook example of how to write a hit song. It builds quite nicely throughout; it's centered around a strong vocal; has a great, hooky chorus; and ends with a hearty, satisfying, dramatic ending.
The rest of the album wasn't so bad, either. Buddy Holly's "Learning the Game," reimagined as a plaintive country ballad, complete with mandolin, almost becomes a completely different song, completely soulful. "One of Them is Me," another one of Gold's signature ballads, shines with deep emotion, as does his "Firefly," on which he plays all of the instruments.
Two years went by before Gold's next album was released. All This and Heaven Too contains the song "Thank You for Being a Friend," which became the theme of TV's The Golden Girls. Amazingly, however, even with all of that exposure, and 15 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, the song only managed to place as high as number 25.
In the liner notes to the reissue of Whirlwind, Gold says that All This and Heaven Too got "a fair amount of bad reviews." This amazes me, as I believe this album to be the best of the '70s Asylum releases. From the opening, pumping piano of the pure pop song "How Can This Be Love" to the campfire-like singalong, hooky "Never Let Her Slip Away," to the jazzy, Brazilian-influenced "Genevieve," this is one classic album.
But the backlash against the softer side of pop got to Gold, prompting him to show that he could rock out with the best of them. Enter Whirlwind, 1980's proof of the I-can-rock-out-too pudding. A quick look at the lineup of instruments on the songs told the tale: basically guitar, bass and drums. Some keyboards, and only nine songs. No pop-oriented cover shot; instead, a closeup photo of a deep-in-thought Gold, a microphone pointing at his right cheek, was used. This was clearly going to be a different direction for the soft-popper.
At the time, listening to Whirlwind seemed to back up the "it's heavier" theory. It is only so many years later, with a healthy dose of hindsight, that it becomes clear that the album really isn't all that different than Gold's others; in fact, the opener, "Kiss This One Goodbye," although heavier than Gold's usual fare, has a poppy chorus and harmonies. "Sooner or Later" is essentially business-as-was-usual, just dressed up in a bit of a harder edge. "Leave Her Alone" similarly just sounds a bit different. "Nine to Five"'s light reggae verses lead into poppy choruses, sounding a little like Eric Stewart's reggae-influenced songs for 10cc. And the album closer, "Make Up Your Mind," takes its cue from the Paul McCartney playbook as a dash of "Oh Darling!" mixes nicely with other Beatle nods, including a faux George Harrison slide solo. And then there are those trademark Gold harmonies.
It's hard, in retrospect, to understand what all the fuss was about. The focus should, instead, have been on the songs, all top notch, and the playing by Gold, drummer Michael Botts, and bassist Bryan Garafolo. Gold says in his liner notes that he "just coasted a bit" post-Whirlwind. He did wind up being the musical guest on the last Saturday Night Live show with the original cast, so coasting seems a bit of an overstatement.
One thing these reissues, lovingly produced by Gold and Cheryl Pawelski, shows is that Gold's Asylum period stands up well. In fact, these albums remain classics from a classic artist. Each reissue sounds like it was recorded yesterday, with particular gains in separation, crispness, bottom end, and volume over the Japanese reissues that fans have had to make due with for years. The copious liner notes by Gold are in-depth and welcome, full of great stories and honest insight. And each album is stocked with fun bonus tracks--alternate versions, outtakes, jams, live cuts, and the like. These are the best reissues ever put out by Collectors' Choice Music, outdoing most major label reissues by miles with the care and attention to detail that is absolutely evident.
The best thing about the Asylum years is that the complete story has yet to be told; Gold continues to release new albums, and has just announced very ambitious release plans for the coming year and beyond, including a covers record, a sequel to The Fraternal Order of the All, and much more. This is great news for fans, and new chances for people unaware of Gold's continuing output to pick up on the latest creations of one of our greatest musical artists.
Looking back to that day when I was still in college, being exposed to new artists almost on a daily basis, having my first encounter with the music of Andrew Gold, I realize how lucky I am to have experienced his records as a first-generation fan. I've been listening to Gold's music for 29 years, and I await his next release, my ears ready to take in his next glorious sounds.
alan haber's pure pop
(c) 2004 Alan Haber