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.
Another original member of Spirit who went on to join a major band was keyboardist John Locke, who, in 1980, became part of a newly-expanded lineup of the veteran hard-rock combo Nazareth, best known in the U.S. for their 1976 album Hair of the Dog and its Top Ten hit single, a power-ballad-styled remake of the Everly Brothers ballad “Love Hurts.” Also part of this new lineup of Nazareth was Scottish guitarist Billy Rankin, who stayed with the band for three albums (Snaz, 2XS, and Sound Elixir) before departing for a solo career.
Rankin would make his solo debut with the 1984 album Growin’ up Too Fast, produced by John Ryan, who had helmed three of the first four Styx albums (as well as their first hit single “Lady”) before going on to produce Top 40 hits for the likes of Rare Earth (“Warm Ride”), Santana (“Hold On”), the Allman Brothers Band (“Straight from the Heart”), Pure Prairie League (“Let Me Love You Tonight,” “I’m Almost Ready”), Climax Blues Band (“I Love You”), the Doobie Brothers’ Patrick Simmons (“So Wrong”), Animotion (“Obsession,” “Let Him Go”) and Greg Guidry (“Goin’ Down.”)
Sporting a cameo on two songs from fellow Nazareth alumnus Zal Cleminson, the multi-talented Rankin (who plays most of the guitars and keyboards here and even some of the drums!) also tips his hat here to his former band by covering the Sound Elixir track “Where Are You Now.” But it’s Rankin’s entirely self-penned material that makes this such a fine disc.
Fans of Nazareth, be warned: this isn’t a hard-rock album. That being said, however, you’d have to be a serious pop snob to not find something here to warm up to, because this is one very, very catchy set of songs, and the second side in particular is rock solid from start to finish, sporting such fantastic and immediately memorable guitar-pop tunes as the vaguely Eric Carmen-like “Never in a Million Years,” the snappy “Call Me Automatic,” the Byrds-like jangle of “A Day in the Life,” the propulsive and wildly addictive “I Wanna Be Alone Tonight,” and the anthemic ballad “Burning Down,” which Meat Loaf would cover on Blind Before I Stop, though it’s Rankin’s own version that’s easily the better of the two. [Cassette editions of the albums would also tack on a sixth cut to the end of Side Two, a fine and faithful cover of T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” that’s not nearly as jarring as the Power Station’s makeover from the same time period.]
While the disc’s first side is a little less hook-heavy (though “Think I’m in Love” is every bit as catchy as the Eddie Money song of the same name and “Rip It Up” is quite memorable as well), it’s the album’s opening cut that got the most attention: “Baby Come Back” wouldn’t make the Top 40, but it wouldn’t miss by too much, peaking at #52, and it sure sounds like a Top 40 hit, ranking right up there with songs like Modern English’s “I Melt with You,” the Monroes’ “What Do All the People Know,” and Joan Armatrading’s “Drop the Pilot” as one of the most insanely catchy songs of the ‘80s to not reach the Top 40. The danceable cut is rendered all the more fun by the wordy verses and Elvis Costello-worthy clever rhymes within the lyrics (i.e. “plastic” and “drastic”, “original,” “provisional,” and “individual.”)
Despite the success of “Baby Come Back,” Growin’ up Too Fast itself would peak at #119. It’s possible that it might have fared even better but, at the height of Rankin’s solo success, he would quickly get dropped as the opening act on a .38 Special tour for regularly upstaging the headliner while his manager would get into a fight with an A&M executive that turned physical, greatly damaging Rankin’s standing at the label.
Rankin’s next album, 1985’s Crankin’, either – sources differ – only got released in Japan or simply vanished without a trace, and Rankin’s profile dimmed for the remainder of the decade. Billy would find himself back in the spotlight, however, in the first half of the ‘90s upon re-joining Nazareth to replace the departing Manny Charlton (Rankin would once again leave the band in 1994), and, more recently, as a deejay on Scotland’s Rock Radio and the author of the book Billy Rankin’s School of Rock.