Albums from the Lost and Found: Man Overboard

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.

Strangely enough, even though Fleetwood Mac began recording for the Warner Bros. subsidiary Reprise a full six years before the band finally scored its first American Top 40 hit, the parent company has never seen fit to include any of the band’s 1969-1974 material on any of the band’s best-of packages for the label (although the era was anthologized on the final disc of the four-CD boxed set The Chain), nor has it ever tried to capitalize on the band’s following by issuing a stand-alone anthology of those earlier years to ignite some interest in the albums of that period. As a result, even classic-rock radio, which plays the living daylights out of the band’s 1975-1982 albums, similarly ignores the band’s earlier material entirely and only diehard fans of the band and avid music aficionados are consequently familiar with the name Bob Welch (not to be confused, of course, with the similarly-named Dodgers pitcher of the ‘80s.) Years before Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined the band, Welch had the distinction of becoming the first American to join the veteran British outfit and played with them on every album between 1971’s Future Games and 1974’s Heroes Are Hard to Find, penning such cult classics in the process as “Hypnotized” and “Emerald Eyes” (both from 1973’s Mystery to Me) and “Sentimental Lady” (from 1972’s Bare Trees).

Welch was responsible for convincing the band to make the move to America, a move that wouldn’t fully pay off until after Welch departed the band in 1974, first to form the power-pop trio Paris (alongside bassist Glenn Cornick, formerly of Jethro Tull, and drummer Thom Mooney, formerly of late ‘60s cult faves Nazz) and then begin a solo career. Luckily for Welch, his departure from Fleetwood Mac had been an amicable one, and he not only remained friends with the band, but also toured with them in the late ‘70s, while Mick Fleetwood would also manage Welch’s solo career and Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham and Fleetwood would all make appearances on Welch’s earliest solo albums.

So, while he missed out on a chance to reach the Top 40 as a member of Fleetwood Mac, Welch would score a short run of four Top 40 hits as a solo artist for Capitol Records in the late ‘70s, his two biggest hits being a Top Ten remake of his old Fleetwood Mac song “Sentimental Lady” (and featuring McVie, Buckingham, and Fleetwood as his backup band) and the guitar-driven disco of “Ebony Eyes,” featuring a very young Juice Newton on backup vocals. (She’d get her own deal with Capitol shortly after and score a long run of Top 40 pop and country hits in the early ‘80s.) While they contain his biggest hits (the other two being “Precious Love” and “Hot Love, Cold World,”) 1977’s French Kiss and 1979’s Three Hearts are not rated terribly highly by most critics today, if only because they’re quite disco-heavy and are quite a departure from Welch’s more standard singer-songwriter-driven pop songs for Fleetwood Mac. (The aforementioned hits and the non-single “Church” are all still very much worth checking out, however.) The impressive 1979 follow-up The Other One stiffed, however, and by 1980, Welch’s American hits had unfortunately dried up; ironically, though, his songwriting had really returned to form, and the set of songs on the new-wave Man Overboard arguably mark his best work since the days of Fleetwood Mac. Welch had moved away from disco at this point and was dabbling in new-wave with winning results (to the extent that Marty Jourard of The Motels plays on nearly every cut here, while Welch also plays synthesizer on several tracks), and Welch had also seen fit to return to his more wordy and story-oriented songwriting style of old at the same time.

The title cut is a real monster, a mini-epic featuring a sweeping orchestral intro, while the core of the song itself is distinctly new-wave and the song culminates in a mostly-spoken bridge and a chilling, almost paranoid vamp-out where a frustrated-sounding Welch memorably complains “I keep waiting for something to happen.”  Welch hits just as hard on the gritty “Justine,” which boasts a very unlikely but catchy hook that slithers its way into your head surprisingly quickly, and the downright creepy “B666.” Former Eagle and early ‘80s solo star Randy Meisner guests on backing vocals on the excellent cuts “Reason” and “Fate Decides,” while Welch gets unusually soulful on the second-side opener “Don’t Rush the Good Things,” a cover (featuring Norton Buffalo from the Steve Miller Band on harmonica) of a blues-rock song by the very obscure band Nightshift. [Tina Turner, who would work with Bob Welch’s producer John Carter on her album Private Dancer, would also record a cover of the song years later and release it as the B-side of British pressings of “What’s Love Got to Do with It.”] The track packs a real wallop with its muscular drumming and killer guitar riff, while Welch seems to be having a lot of fun with the vocal on this one. (Just listen to the way he articulates the line “It’s my favorite vintage” or the way he repeatedly sings the line “get it right” in time with the kick of the bass drum during the second verse.)

Perhaps most impressive of all is the new-wave pop of “The Girl Can’t Stop,” a story-song about a wanna-be movie star chasing her Hollywood dreams. The songwriting itself is top-notch, but the arrangement and production put the song over the top with its irresistible guitar lick, the synth and sax fills in the backgrounds, and the heightened drama of the song’s fade-out, where Alvin Taylor unleashes an absolutely jaw-dropping drum fill that spans the entire final line of the chorus without ever missing a beat. 

Why this album failed to yield a single Top 40 hit is a bit of a mystery, because it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying – most of the cuts here, in fact, sink into your brain immediately upon first listen and would have sounded absolutely phenomenal on the radio. The album’s never been issued on CD in the U.S., sadly, though vinyl and cassette copies can be found with some hunting, and if you don’t mind imports, Edsel has issued both this album and The Other One together as a two-fer on CD, which is a great pick-up.