(and his debut
album with the same name) was the inspiration for this summer's trilogy of
commentaries. I had completely forgotten about this short-live pop
phenomenon until I heard a version of one of his songs, "Somebody
Made for Me" on Pseu's Thing With a
Hook, my favorite radio show,
which is broadcast by WFMU every Friday night from 9pm to Midnight.
Emitt's first album came out in December 1970, reached #29 on
the Billboard album chart, and received moderate airplay well into 1971,
which is the last I ever heard of it or Emitt.
"Somebody Made for Me" begins at 2:19 of this clip.
The two songs that I heard the most during its Emitt's brief heyday
were "Somebody Made for Me" and "Fresh as a Daisy."
While Emitt is notable within musical history as a precursor of a genre
that would come to be known as "Power
Pop," at the time, Emitt
found himself lumped in with the Beatles. Indeed, a recent Italian
documentary about his short career as a solo artist refers to him as the
"The One Man Beatles." (Unfortunately, the documentary does not
appear to be available through the usual streaming outlets and is not
available for retail sale in the U.S.)
"Fresh as a Daisy"
The Beatles may arguably have been, as John Lennon bluntly put it,
"more popular than Jesus," but they certainly were more popular
than all the present-day Kardashians rolled into one. The year 1970 was
tumultuous and adding to the general state of distress were persistent
rumors that the Beatles had broken
up. The rumors turned to fact when Paul
McCartney announced that he was leaving the Beatles just before he
released his first solo album in April 1970. That album, called simply McCartney, rose quickly to the top of the Billboard charts. No singles
were released in conjunction with the album, although "Maybe I'm
Amazed" came out in a live version as a single years later. Unlike McCartney's work
with the Beatles, McCartney was pieced together from home recordings made
almost solely by Paul with just a little help from his late wife, Linda.
Despite brisk sales, McCartney was not embraced by the critics of the day
and would only develop critical appreciation in retrospect. McCartney
suffered from the widespread feeling that it fell far short of filling the
void created by the dissolution of the Beatles. The man that some critics
embraced as the next Paul was Emitt Rhodes, a good-looking guy
who made his name around his native Southern California with a pop group
Rhodes' first album was truly a solo effort. He sang, played all the
instruments, and produced the album himself with no lovely Linda to help
him. Like Paul McCartney (and Todd Rundgren soon after on his
Something/Anything? album), Rhodes benefited from the revolution in
multi-track recording technology. While homemade recordings of the time
did not have quite the polish of those made in the traditional studio
setting (this is quite evident on McCartney), the gap was closing quickly.
The advantage of home recording was that studio time was very expensive
back then, so the time required to get everything just right cost a
fortune and the standard recording contract charged that fortune directly
to the recording artist.
Emitt Rhodes first album was a revelation and it sounded so good that
many people thought it was a new Beatles album released under an alias.
Critics raved and felt that it was the album that McCartney should have
been. So why was Emitt Rhodes buried in the dustbin of history until
With benefit of hindsight, there were certainly strong elements of Power
Pop in his songs, but he did not quite have the distinctive sound that
came to be associated with the genre. The first song that is generally
recognized to have brought Power Pop into the world was Badfinger's second
single, "No Matter
What," which was released in November 1970.
Badfinger recorded on Apple Records, the label founded by the Beatles, and
their first single, "Come and Get
It," came out in 1969 and was
written by Paul McCartney himself.
Emitt Rhodes cannot be faulted for failing to reach this pinnacle of
songwriting achievement; he just came along at the wrong time. New talent
was popping up everywhere. Elton John (teamed with lyricist Bernie Taupin)
was beginning to fill the Beatle's void and the existing talent (The
Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, Simon and Garfunkel as well as the
onslaught of folk/country rock and heavy metal music that was the focus on
the previous two commentaries) were gunning for the Beatles and bringing
out their best work of their careers at that time.
Compounding Emitt's problems was his recording contract, which called
for him to deliver a new album every six months. Writing, playing,
recording, and producing an album of songs by oneself twice a year takes
more than genius (and even a medicine cabinet full of Dexies a la Bob
Fosse probably would not have done the trick either). Unable to produce
albums in a timely manner, Emitt was sued by his label and ultimately
abandoned his solo career.
Fortunately, we still have both Emitt (he obviously stayed away from
the Dexies, but not the French fries) and his music, which is now
available in digital form on CD and the various online music stores. Emitt
also has earned a great deal of respect as a pop pioneer. While I do not
agree with them, some folks think that the Raspberries, viewed by many as
the epitome of Power Pop, appropriated a lot from Emitt Rhodes. To me,
Emitt's music is a welcome piece of nostalgia, a piece of the past tucked
in my deepest neural recesses that has been happily reawakened.
I will be taking September off to deal with the new semester, but I
return in mid-October with an as-of-yet undetermined commentary.
Copyright 2012 by Miller Risk Advisors. Permission granted to
forward by electronic means and to excerpt or broadcast 250 words or less
provided a citation is made to www.millerrisk.com.