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Albums Circa '70 Part III:
Emitt Rhodes 


Ross M. Miller
Miller Risk Advisors
August 13, 2012

Emitt Rhodes (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 called the Merry-Go-Round.

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 recently?

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.

Unbridled pop energy was not the only that that Rhodes lacked; he was also deficient in the soul department. The Beatles are not mere pop music because they bring something else to their music, call it "soul" for lack of a better word. McCartney had not left that soul behind when he left the Beatles. Two songs from McCartney, "That Would Be Something" and the aforementioned "Maybe I'm Amazed," have an abundance of soul. At the time McCartney was released, George Harrison, who had good reason to be miffed at Paul, had to admit that those two tracks were "great"  while still dissing the rest of the album.

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 plan to 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