by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
Even if you’ve never heard the name Andrew Gold before, you’ve almost certainly heard one of his songs or one of the many records the late musician performed on during his lifetime. A man capable of playing just about any instrument he picked up (indeed, Linda Ronstadt’s lone number one hit, “You’re No Good,” features Gold on lead guitar, keyboards, and drums) and one of the most in-demand session musicians of the ‘70s and early ‘80s (appearing on countless records by the likes of Ronstadt, 10cc, Carly Simon, Art Garfunkel, James Taylor, Don Henley, and Eric Carmen, to name a few), Gold also is responsible for having sung the theme song to the ‘90s NBC sitcom “Mad About You” and writing the iconic theme song for the ‘80s sitcom “The Golden Girls” (“Thank You for Being a Friend,” which Gold had previously recorded himself and scored a Top 40 hit with back in 1978).
And yet, Gold, having a modestly successful solo career himself in the late ‘70s (even scoring a Top Ten hit with the song “Lonely Boy”), remains one of the more overlooked and under appreciated singer-songwriters of his era, even in spite of praise from high-profile admirers such as Dave Grohl, who went so far as to call Gold’s song “Never Let Her Slip Away,” “the most beautiful piece of music ever written” (I’m inclined to agree with him; the song is an absolute must-hear for pop music buffs).
What’s Wrong with This Picture? was only Gold’s second album after landing a solo deal in 1975 with Asylum Records (the then-home of L.A.’s singer-songwriter elite, including Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell). His first album had made little impact beyond attracting the attention of Leo Sayer, who covered the track “Endless Flight” on his 1976 platinum album of the same name. What’s Wrong, produced by Peter Asher (formerly one-half of the ‘60s duo Peter & Gordon and later a longtime producer for both Ronstadt and James Taylor), would finally make Gold a star in his own right after years as a sideman. The album’s centerpiece and second-side opener, “Lonely Boy,” remains one of the greatest and most charming AM radio hits of the ‘70s—a lighthearted but surprisingly muscular rocker about a child’s negative reaction to the birth of his baby sister. On paper, it sounds like a weird match of music and lyrics, but it works wonderfully thanks to Asher’s grandiose production (very atypical of his usual style) and the intense playing of all involved, especially former Bread drummer Mike Botts and guitarist Waddy Wachtel. The song was chopped down for single release but really must be heard in its full, 4:22 form to be fully appreciated. The song’s instrumental break is truly goosebump-inducing.
But this disc isn’t the case of one great single surrounded by filler; in fact, it’s downright head-scratching as to why none of the album’s four other singles managed to reach the charts. Their quality throughout is also top-notch. The exuberant and rollicking pop of “Go Back Home Again” is bursting with charm beyond its wall-to-wall helping of hooks. “One of Them Is Me” is as fine an album-closer as you’ll find on any singer-songwriter album from the ‘70s.
And, while the inclusion of three cover songs might seem questionable on the surface, Gold radically reinvents each of them and makes them undeniably his own, be it his Latin-tinged reworking of the Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs classic “Stay” (a much superior cover of the song than Jackson Browne’s hit version from the following year) or his lovely, radically slowed-down, mandolin-drenched rendition of the seldom-heard Buddy Holly song “Learning the Game.” Best of all the covers, however—and the most inexplicable non-hit on the entire disc—is Gold’s radical reworking of Manfred Mann’s 1964 number one hit “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy.” In contrast to the organ-driven original, Gold here recasts the song as a guitar freakout, as he and longtime James Taylor sideman Danny Kortchmar really let loose and indulge themselves in three minutes of nearly non-stop riffs before the song prematurely fades out just as drummer Russ Kunkel is starting to really let loose himself. The result is so stunning and so superior to the Manfred Mann original that it’s completely puzzling how radio programmers could have failed to notice (though it may be that it was just too hard-rocking for AM radio play).
The whole album overflows with charm and a real sense of fun from start to finish, even right down to Gold's hilarious liner notes and the record’s playful album cover, which deliberately incorporates any number of incongruities for the listener to spot. Gold would go on to record two more excellent albums for Asylum (All This and Heaven Too and Whirlwind) before taking a long break from solo work to join the duo Wax (alongside 10cc’s Graham Gouldman). But What’s Wrong stands as his most essential solo album. Not simply for the presence of “Lonely Boy” and the quality of the material surrounding it, but also because of the incredible amount of personality and playfulness the album boasts. It’s obvious from listening that a fun time was had by all involved in its making.