Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Emmitt Rhodes (music)

Emitt Rhodes(1971)
Emitt Rhodes
-- all instruments

When I decided to branch out "Great but Forgotten" to include music and other things the first thing that come to mind was Emitt Rhodes.

Rhodes was a surprising talent who came out with a promising album in 1971. He had been with a group called Merry-Go-Round, which had a minor local hit before breaking up.  Like Paul McCartney, Rhodes went into a home studio and emerged with an album where he played all the instruments himself; he didn't even have Linda to help with vocals.

The McCartney parallel goes further.  There is a certain similarity in their voices, for one. Both were able to write catchy pop tunes, and if McCartney is undeniably better, Rhodes is following honorably in his footsteps.

There isn't a song on the album that couldn't have been a hit single and it's mysterious that he never had one.  Songs like "Fresh as a Daisy," "She's Such a Beauty," "Lullaby," "With My Face on the Floor," and "Live Till You Die" are catchy and infectious melodies. You could almost imagine the Beatles doing something like this.  He was even called "The American Paul McCartney" -- a bit of hyperbole, of course, but with a grain of truth (at about the same time, a young musician was being billed "The American Elton John," but he did a bit better -- Billy Joel).

Rhodes's problem was his record company.  He was signed to ABC-Dunhill records (we used to call it ABC-Dunghill for the quality of their releases), who fine printed him to death.  They insisted he tour.  Usually a good idea, only Rhodes played all instruments himself and didn't have a band.  Then, they required he produce an album every six months.  Awfully hard with you do everything yourself, don't have a band, and are supposed to be out touring. Then they sued him for not living up to his contract.

If he had been signed to a label with a bit of common sense, they would have nurtured hit talent and give him some time between albums.  But they didn't.  His follow-up to Emitt Rhodes, entitled Mirror, was, inevitably, a disappointment. He was eventually dropped and stopped putting out music.

Most of his music has been forgotten, and the album is not easily found (eBay only shows expensive Japanese imports).  But sometimes, someone remembers:  his "Lullaby" -- a beautiful little love song -- showed up on the sound track to The Royal Tennenbaums. He's an artist that deserves more respect, and, at the very release, a reissue of the CD.

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