Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Eliott Murphy Aquashow (music)

Wikipedia Entry
Eliott Murphy Homepage

In the early 1970s, Loudon Wainwright III would joke about belonging to the New Bob Dylan Club -- people who had been anointed with that title. In addition to him, they were Bruce Springsteen, John Prine, and Elliott Murphy.

Springsteen you've probably heard of. Wainwright has had a long career as both a singer/songwriter and actor.*  Prine has had a long, but someone low-key career,** partly because he was too much a country songwriter to gain popularity.  It's possible that the average music fan has heard of all three, given eclectic enough tastes.

As for Elliott Murphy . . . .

Murphy grew up in the New York City area, as part of a family in show business.  His father, Elliott, Sr., made his name at the New York Word's Fair of 1939, where he ran the Aquashow, a water-themed attraction featuring swimmers and the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Young Elliott took up the guitar very early and was soon playing in bands in New York and in Europe.  In 1971, he recorded his debut album Aquashow.

The album was a tour de force of good songs and sophisticated lyrics.  Featuring Murphy guitar and harmonica.  It was an immediate critical success.  Rolling Stone reviewed it with Springsteen's The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, calling the two of them "The Best New Dylan since 1968).***

So what happened?  Sales.  Springsteen ended up on the cover of Time, and Wainwright had a minor hit with "Dead Skunk" and Prine had several albums breaking into the top 200.  Aquashow did not. It also got far less FM airplay. In addition, Murphy, though a good singer, did not have the distinctive voice that Wainwright, Prince, and Springsteen had.

Murphy has continued to record regularly, but never had a chart success and, as FM radio died out, there was no outlet for his music.  He was popular in Europe, though, and moved there full time in 1989.

Murphy's songwriting and music is well regarded by musicians, and he does have a strong following.  And really, there was little chance he'd reach the levels of popularity of Dylan and Springsteen. But to those who remember the hype, he seems to be the odd man out.


*His best-known part was in the TV show Undeclared, though he appeared in and wrote the music for Knocked Up.  He also was supposed to be a regular in the TV version of MASH (he was announced as such, but seems to only have appeared in one or two episodes). Of course, to you younger folk, he's the father of Rufus Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche.

**Including having his song "Illegal Smile" being used for a theme song for a TV series The Texas Wheelers.  Why a song about smoking marijuana was considered for the theme song for a lighthearted family comedy (starring a very young Mark Hamill and Gary Busey) is something that just cannot be explained.

***I think that they mean the best new Dylanesqe album since then, but it really doesn't mater.

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