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.
John “Moon” Martin was never much of a commercial force as a performer on either side of the Atlantic, but he remains a presence on radio to this day as the songwriter behind the classic-rock-radio favorite, Robert Palmer’s hard-driving hit “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)” from his 1978 album Secrets. Moon had already recorded his own version of the song on his debut album Shots from a Cold Nightmare, but the single – which Capitol had also issued to radio stations in the form of a clear-vinyl promotional twelve-inch-single worth tracking down if you’re an avid vinyl collector – failed to chart. [“Bad Case of Loving You” would not be the only song from Martin’s debut album that would go on to be covered by a higher-profile artist. The band Mink de Ville would have a minor hit with “Cadillac Walk,” while former Mamas & the Papas member (and future Knots Landing star) Michelle Phillips would make “Victim of Romance” the title cut of her first and only solo album, an outing on A&M that’s fairly tricky to find these days.]
But Moon would have a Top 40 hit to call his own, the #30-peaking “Rolene,” the centerpiece of his lost 1979 album Escape from Domination, recorded with his backing band The Ravens, which included guitarist/backing vocalist Jude Cole, who would go on to have two Top 40 hits of his own in the early ’90s (“Baby It’s Tonight,” “Time for Letting Go”) before becoming the co-writer/co-producer for the modern-rock band Lifehouse. The muscular blues-rock of “Rolene” isn’t a far cry from “Bad Case of Loving You” and is just as catchy as that song, and it’s actually somewhat surprising that Palmer didn’t similarly take a crack at covering “Rolene” as well; when you hear the line “A cheerleader smile / Tijuana style,” it’s hard not to imagine Palmer singing it.
The fine ballad “No Chance” nearly followed “Rolene” into the Top 40 but would stop at #50; it would have been one of the more unlikely songs of 1979 to reach the Top 40 had it done so, though, since it’s not particularly contemporary-sounding and is something of a throwback to the sounds of Buddy Holly. The rocker “Dangerous” may be simple (Martin always seemed to have a preference for very simple and repetitive choruses), but it’s one of the punchier and catchier songs here. Martin also shines on the lovely ballad “Dreamer” and the rockabilly-styled “Hot House Baby” (which seems to pay homage to Chuck Berry with its bluesy one-note guitar solos). The album also closes with a fun and raucous cover of Fontaine Brown’s “Bootleg Woman.”
Randy VanWarmer, in contrast, had already commercially peaked as a performer by the time his third - and, arguably, best - album Beat of Love came out.
His debut album, Warmer, had yielded a massive Top Five hit in the ballad “Just When I Needed You Most.” While the song was certainly very catchy and a well-constructed piece of songwriting, it also wasn’t exactly the hippest of singles to become a household name on, its soft pop sound vaguely making the record sound more akin to Dan Fogelberg’s fluffiest outings, and its parent album was largely in the same, easygoing vein, making it an unlikely purchase for more rock-minded music fans. VanWarmer went in another direction completely on his fabulous and dazzling sophomore album, Terraform, which yielded a minor hit in “Whatever You Decide” (#77) and delved deep into the sounds of new-wave, even incorporating a spacey, synth-heavy ten-minute-plus title cut that ranks up there with Abba’s “I Am the City” as one of the more futuristic-sounding cuts to ever be released by a mainstream-pop act. 1981’s Beat of Love dialed back on the prog elements of Terraform but was nearly just as adventurous, trying on a dazzling array of styles to equally great effect and still shying away from the soft-pop of “Just When I Needed You Most” in favor of hipper sounds like the pure power-pop of the deliriously catchy “Suzi Found a Weapon,” one of the most stunning 45s of the ‘80s by a mainstream-pop artist to miss the Top 40. The track, with its airy bed of synths and James Bond-theme-like lead guitar fills, was a complete one-eighty from “Just When I Needed You Most,” sounding more like a hybrid of the Boomtown Rats, the Raspberries, and Low-period David Bowie; you can almost imagine Franz Ferdinand covering the song.
It’s possible that “Suzi Found a Weapon” could have been a much bigger hit, but it had two things working against it: it was a very radical shift in sound for VanWarmer, making it not particularly identifiable as his work at first listen, and it was also released (as were all of VanWarmer’s first four albums) on the Bearsville label (the home of Todd Rundgren and Foghat), which was then on its very last legs and had a bad reputation amongst its own artists in its final years of inadequately promoting its own product.
While nothing else on Beat of Love quite equals the brilliance of that single (but then, songs as brilliant as “Suzi Found a Weapon” are quite rare beasts indeed), the album is loaded with great, catchy cuts, from the driving new-wave-tinged rock of “Always Night”, the snappy pop of “Don’t Hide” (which is vaguely reminiscent of a British Invasion-meets-new-wave reworking of Al Stewart’s “Midnight Rocks”), the jubilant calypso-styled “Amen” (every bit as fun as Robert Palmer’s Little Feat-styled cover of the calypso standard “Man Smart, Woman Smarter”), the gospel-tinged “Hanging on to Heaven,” and the lazy grooves of “Don’t Wake Me Up.”
The album also contains a first-rate cover of McGuiness Flint’s “When I’m Dead and Gone” and VanWarmer’s own version of the ballad “I Guess It Never Hurts to Hurt Sometimes,” which legendary country-music quartet The Oak Ridge Boys would cover in the mid-‘80s and take all the way to the top of the country charts.
While VanWarmer’s profile as a performer would continue to fall after Beat of Love (“Suzi Found a Weapon” would sadly be his last single to even hit the Hot 100), his music never completely went away, and he would make a new career for himself in the industry by penning songs for country acts, including Blake Shelton and Mark Wills, and he’d even pen a #1 smash – and a very, very first-rate one, at that – for the greatest country-vocal band of all, Alabama, in the ridiculously-catchy 1992 single “I’m in a Hurry (and Don’t Know Why),” easily one of that band’s finest singles of the ‘90s.