Albums from the Lost and Found: Franke and the Knockouts / Silver Condor

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.

One of the reasons I’ve always preferred collecting vinyl over CDs is that there remain countless long-out-of-print albums from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s that have still never been issued on CD. Some of these are even by major artists – quite a few of Bob Seger’s earliest albums, for instance, still surprisingly remain officially unavailable on CD all these years later – but, naturally, most albums in this category are by lesser acts. Yet if you flip over the album covers of the vinyl editions of titles by even the most obscure bands and quickly scan the liner notes to see who produced the disc or who was in the band, you’d be surprised just how often you’d recognize at least one of the band members. For instance, the long-forgotten short-lived bands The Wind in the Willows, Meadow, Gulliver, Milkwood, Shiloh, and Vinegar Joe were early training grounds, respectively, for Debbie Harry, Laura Branigan, Daryl Hall, the Cars’ lead singers Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr, Don Henley, and Robert Palmer. The obscure Arista Records band Baby Grand was where the Hooters’ Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian first honed their chops, while the equally short-lived Sky had a notable future talent in the Knack’s Doug Fieger.

Even more intriguing are discs with liner notes that reveal that the band contained not just one but multiple individuals who would go on to make names for themselves in other bands or as songwriters for other artists and who you may not have realized had ever worked together or been associated with each other at some point. Franke & the Knockouts is a perfect example of such a band. The New Jersey-based early ‘80s pop/soft-rock combo from New Brunswick was short-lived, recording only three albums during its existence though racking up a respectable three Top 40 hits (including a Top Ten smash) and consequently sparing itself of one-hit-wonder status.

Yet while the band’s hits have sadly disappeared from radio airwaves, seldom even popping up on oldies stations, the band remains an interesting source of trivia due to the successful post-breakup careers of its members and auxiliary players. The band’s bassist, Leigh Foxx, for instance, has been a member of Blondie ever since their 1997 reunion, replacing Nigel Harrison. Additional guitarist/backing vocalist Charlie Dominici would go on to serve as frontman on the first Dream Theater album. The band’s second drummer, Tico Torres, would go on to become the beat-keeper for one of the most beloved and wildly successful New Jersey bands of all-time, Bon Jovi. And frontman Franke Previte would find even greater success behind the scenes as a songwriter, co-writing two of the most beloved movie themes of the late ‘80s, both for the Patrick Swayze/Jennifer Grey classic Dirty Dancing, Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes” and the now-iconic Bill Medley/Jennifer Warnes duet and Number One hit “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Not too shabby, huh?

Though the most famous song here is distinctly soft-rock-tinged and there are a few scattered ballads here (notably the lovely story-song-styled piano ballad “Annie Goes to Hollywood”), Franke & the Knockout could legitimately rock, and most of their cuts tend to split the difference between Pablo Cruise and the harder-edged Foreigner, as can be seen on songs like “She’s a Runner” (the choruses in which Previte sounds remarkably like Foreigner frontman Lou Gramm) and the great rockers “Come Back,” “Tonight” and “Don’t Stop.”

But the album’s two catchiest moments are easily its Top 40 hits, the #27-peaking “You’re My Girl” and the Top Ten hit “Sweetheart.” It may be innocuous soft-rock – though much harder-hitting than your average Air Supply single – but there’s something very endearing about “Sweetheart” that makes it one of the greatest forgotten soft-rock sides of the ‘80s, and even the wormy synthesizer solo on the cut is strangely delightful. (Check out the fun clip of an extremely young Larry David introducing a fine live performance of the song on Fridays.)

The members of the equally short-lived early ‘80s outfit Silver Condor (led by vocalist/songwriter Joe Cerisano) are less well-known, but hardcore music buffs should still recognize quite a few of its members.

The original guitarist was Earl Slick, who had already become well-known in the industry as an in-demand session guitarist, playing on such memorable albums as David Bowie’s Young Americans (it’s him you hear on the Number One hit “Fame”) and Station to Station and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy, and would later go on to join up with two members of the Stray Cats in the short-lived Phantom, Rocker, and Slick. Keyboardist John Corey would go on to co-write, co-produce, and play both guitars and keyboards on the major Don Henley hit "The Last Worthless Evening" (he's also co-written Henley's songs "Gimme What You Got" and "Annabel"); he'd later serve as piano player for Eagles on their Hell Freezes Over tour and has also been the regular touring keyboardist for The Who since 2012. Latter-day member Kenny Aaronson (who had already scored a Number One hit as the bassist for Stories of “Brother Louie” fame) would go on to play in the reunited New York Dolls and the short-lived supergroup HSAS (a collaboration with Sammy Hagar, Journey’s Neal Schon, and Santana’s Michael Shrieve), while latter-day guitarist Steve Plunkett would go on to form and front the beloved ‘80s hard-rock band Autograph of “Turn up Your Radio” fame.
 

Given the rock credentials of its members, it may be a little surprising that the biggest hit from the band’s 1981 self-titled debut album, the piano-pop of the catchy Top 40 hit “You Could Take My Heart Away” (penned by Corey), is firmly in soft-rock territory and recalls the Little River Band’s winning brand of adult-contemporary pop, but it’s first-rate soft-rock, very well-crafted and boasting a melody that sinks in just within the song’s first few seconds. The song isn’t terribly indicative of the rest of the album (helmed by former Heart producer Mike Flicker), which generally tends to hew closer to Survivor or Journey territory, but it’s a great single and made the Top 40 for good reason.

Other notable highlights of the disc include the Journey-meets-Raspberries sound of “The One You Left Behind” (featuring Cerisano and Corey harmonizing wonderfully together on the choruses), the rockers “We’re in Love” (which cleverly has all of the instruments except for one guitar drop out for the first full verse) and “It’s Over” (co-penned by Slick), the album-opening “For the Sake of Survival,” and the animated album-closing Plunkett-co-write “Going for Broke.”

The band would go on to record and release a second and final album, 1983’s Trouble at Home, that would feature almost an entirely different lineup (only Cerisano would remain intact) and didn’t fare nearly as well as their self-titled debut, but it’s notable for the additions of Aaronson and Plunkett into the lineup and high-profile cameos from Rick Derringer, Journey guitar hero Neal Schon, and the “Big Man” himself, the E Street Band’s Clarence Clemons.