Friday, July 24, 2020

Emitt Rhodes - 1970 - Emitt Rhodes

Emitt Rhodes
Emitt Rhodes

01. With My Face On The Floor 3:06
02. Somebody Made For Me 2:23
03. She's Such A Beauty 2:21
04. Long Time No See 3:14
05. Lullabye 1:05
06. Fresh As A Daisy 2:46
07. Live Till You Die 2:44
08. Promises I've Made 3:21
09. You Take The Dark Out Of The Night 2:54
10. You Should Be Ashamed 2:38
11. Ever Find Yourself Running 2:34
12. You Must Have 2:04

Emitt Rhodes: All Instruments

Design – Cal Schenkel

Music is such a difficult business; the quest for success leaving so many victims behind. One of the saddest stories has to be that of California's Emitt Rhodes. For a brief moment in the mid-1960s, singer/multi-instrumentalist Rhodes seemed poised on the brink of massive stardom. A former member of The Palace Guards and The Merry-Go-Round (see separate entries), Rhodes was blessed with movie star good looks and musical talent to burn. Sadly with a matter of years, it was all a memory.

By 1968 Rhodes had decided to disband The Merry-Go-Round in favor of a solo career. Retiring to his parents' garage, Rhodes rigged up a rough recording studio, spending the next several months recording material on a four track Ampex tape recorder. The results were enough for ABC Dunhill to sign him to a contract. 1970's cleverly-titled "Emitt Rhodes" was a true tour-de-force. In addition to co-producing with Harvey Bruce, Rhodes wrote all twelve tracks, played all of the instruments and handled the arrangements. As on the debut, tracks such as 'With My Face On the Floor', 'Promises I've Made' and 'You Must Have' were exceptionally commercial (Badfinger would've killed to have written something as catchy as 'Fresh As a Daisy' (a modest radio hit), or the slide guitar-propelled 'Somebody Made for Me'). Whether he intended it or not, Rhodes voice and performance mannerisms bore an uncanny resemblance to "White Album" era-Paul McCartney - I can't be the only folks who thought "She's Such a Beauty" bore at least a passing resemblance to 'Rocky Raccoon'. Having listened to this album for some thirty years I still find it hard to believe Rhodes wasn't from Liverpool - how could anyone from Southern California sound so English?   Propelled by the single in 'Fresh As a Daisy' the album proved a strong seller peaking at # 29.   The collection probably would have done even better if not for A&M's decision to release a competing album - "The American Dream".   

In a post-Beatles world circa 1970, Emitt Rhodes’ self-titled debut should have gone to number one… somewhere. People should have been clamoring for a Beatlesesque pop album following the wake of the break-up of the most Beatlesesque band ever! Emitt Rhodes was and continues to be a man cursed by timing, like so many other artists and bands that could’ve and should’ve been humongous. I always hate to directly compare a singer to another singer, but at points Emitt Rhodes is a vocal doppelganger for Paul MCartney, which thankfully strengthens the record. Another McCartney comparison is that the same year, McCartney released his first solo album, which, like ‘Emitt Rhodes’, was self-titled, homemade, and completely made by a singular talent. That’s one of the big reasons it’s so sad to hear these (mostly) upbeat pop songs and know that a large majority of people will never hear them. But we soldier on!

‘With My Face On The Floor’ is the opening track, and it has everything a quality opening track should have: commanding percussion, tasteful backing harmonies, and a bad ass but understated dual piano and guitar melody. It’s all very 1970. As with all of the songs, there’s so much going on at one time that the fact that he constructed this album by himself at his home is all the more astounding. Track two, ‘Somebody Made For Me’ is thankfully not the sad ode the title makes itself out to be and is another delightful sun-dripped pop song. With ‘She’s Such A Beauty’, I will attempt to make my last Beatles comparison: The first two piano notes are unmistakably the same as ‘Martha My Dear’. Now, is it a great song despite this? Absolutely. Unfortunately, if you’re anything like me (and I’m counting on the fact that you are), you might not be able to get past this.

The next noteworthy track is probably the one track that people would associate with Rhodes, that is, if they associate any songs with him at all. ‘Lullabye’ was featured on the stellar soundtrack to ‘The Royal Tennenbaums’ some years back and because of that, a listener’s first listen to Rhodes might be a tad skewed. ‘Lullabye is radically different than everything else on the album, as it is barely over a minute long and features just Rhodes and a simple acoustic guitar… Despite this, it still ranks as one of the top enjoyable moments on the album, a brief intermission for those that frequently experience pop overload. Wikipedia tells me that the next track, ‘Fresh As A Daisy’, barely missed the Billboard top forty. To that I ask what other forty songs that were new at the time are overflowing with the amount of exuberance this song has? I will justifiably assume none. Powered by a tambourine that refuses to quit, ‘Daisy’ is one bland fabric softener commercial cover away from a renewed popularity.

‘Live Til You Die’ is one of those care-free songs that only could have come out of the ’70s (and consequently could never be made in the ’00s). The chorus is what does it for me, because although written out it sounds quasi-cheesy, Emitt’s fantastic melody carries it through and really gives it weight: ‘You must live till you die, you must to survive/you must live till you die, you must feel to be alive’. It’s the only song on the album that could even be considered a ballad, and thankfully, it’s not very slow. Personally, this is the only Emitt Rhodes album I known so far, but it’s the kind of promising debut that only more good albums can be born from. I highly suggest you seek this one out and give it a try on a day when you feel like you’ve listened to every Beatles album you’ve heard, because ‘Emitt Rhodes is one of the best.

The kind of thing people were probably expecting from McCartney when the Beatles broke up- Beatlesque, driving, melodic power pop, nearly every song a pianobanging smoothbass harmony-laden light-as-air tenorial funpiece, a wimpier "Come and Get It." Paulie to a tee save for the bite and character; maybe I'm expecting too much of poor Emitt, considering he didn't have the advantage of being in the Beatles and having his persona imprinted on the world for nearly a decade, but it's a bit directionless at times, apparently about nothing. Can't deny his talent though: he played every instrument and sang every line here, and neither Lennon or McCartney were writing songs this complex at the age where all they had to hand was a parents' garage. The majority of these songs coulda been singles, with some polish. Also, I can't help loving power pop, and most music from the very early 70s



  2. Zen Archer...

    Thanks for honoring Emitt's passing by directing those who might remain unfamiliar with his work to his small, but nevertheless outstanding discography.

    Emitt's story is indeed one of the saddest in the annals of modern music and stands as a case study of the often ruthless and unrealistic demands of the record industry.

    Rhodes' debut was among the first record reviews I penned while writing The Michigan Daily. I was a champion of his songwriting then, and have remained so up until his passing just this past week. Thanks again.

    BTW - I have his last recording 'Rainbow Ends,' plus a few non-LP singles to share if you can tell me how to get then to you. I'd be more than happy to contribute.

    1. Hey Miles!
      Thanks for your words, I do have Rainbow Ends but since it's a recent album and easily available (and on spotify) i decided not to go there... his other solo work is really expensive (at least the cd's are) and way out of a lot of people's buying capacities... but i would love to share the non album singles!... just upload them to your favorite datasharing service and drop me the ink thru a message, i will download it, post it and delete the original message i you wish

  3. Will do. Give me a day or two.