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.
It’s a bit of a wonder why some lead singers go on to wildly successful solo careers while others struggle to get noticed at all outside the context of their former bands. Debbie Harry, for instance, never could muster a single Top 40 hit for herself outside of Blondie, nor could the Little River Band’s Glenn Shorrock, Kool & the Gang’s James “J.T.” Taylor, the Tubes’ Fee Waybill, the Spinners’ Philippe Wynne, Jefferson Airplane/Starship’s Grace Slick, or the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn. Even the legendary Brian Wilson’s only Top 40 hit as a solo artist (“Caroline, No”) technically comes from a Beach Boys album (Pet Sounds), while the Who’s legendary frontman Roger Daltrey has only ever reached the American Top 40 a solitary time (with the long-forgotten McVicar soundtrack cut “Without Your Love.”)
Roger Hodgson is another perfect example. More casual music fans may not even recognize the name at first glance, though they’d most certainly recognize the voice – Hodgson’s distinctive falsetto graces most of the hit singles by one of the most beloved classic-rock bands of all, Supertramp, including “The Logical Song,” “Take the Long Way Home,” “Give a Little Bit,” and “Breakfast in America.” [Fun trivia: prior to Supertramp, Hodgson was the lead singer of a short-lived late-‘60s band called Argosy, whose other three members consisted of future Elton John sidemen Nigel Olssson (drums) and Caleb Quaye (guitar) and Elton himself! Their lone single – “Mr. Boyd” b/w “Imagine” – was released in the U.S. on the Congress label, though it’s very difficult to find and has become quite the collector’s item.]
Hodgson would leave the band – by all accounts, quite amicably – after 1982’s … Famous Last Words … for a solo career. You would think he might have fared better on the charts on his own than he did: he had written and sung lead vocals on most of the band’s hits, after all, and he did reportedly reach a verbal gentlemen’s agreement with band co-founder Rick Davies that Hodgson could take his self-written compositions for Supertramp with him and continue to play them in his solo act while the band, going forward, would only play Davies’ material. [Mind you, it was probably inevitable that Supertramp would renege on this alleged arrangement (concertgoers were not likely to respond favorably to a Supertramp concert that didn’t include hits as major as “The Logical Song” and “Take the Long Way Home”), which provoked longtime bassist Dougie Thomson – who’d remained close friends with Hodgson – to leave the band as well, but a deal is still a deal, after all, and the breach did reportedly upset Hodgson. Hodgson would briefly reunite with his old band in the early ‘90s to play a dinner honoring A&M co-founder Jerry Moss and work on some new material, but disagreements over band management – Davies, by this point, had taken on his wife as manager, which naturally complicated matters quite a bit – sadly prevented the reunion from going any further, and Hodgson, despite reportedly offering to re-join the band on its 40th anniversary self-dubbed “reunion” tour on dates his own touring schedule would permit, sadly found his offer rejected by band management, denying longtime fans of the band a chance to finally see Hodgson and Davies back together again.]
Yet, while the first post-Hodgson Supertramp album (Brother Where You Bound) would reach #21 and produce a Top 40 hit with the #28 single “Cannonball,” Roger’s own solo debut, the excellent 1984 album In the Eye of the Storm (featuring Roger playing all of the guitars and keyboards, most of the bass parts, and even some of the drums!), would reach only #46, while its lead-off single, “Had a Dream (Sleeping with the Enemy)” would stall just outside the Top 40, peaking at #48. [It would, however, make the Top Five on the Mainstream Rock chart.]
It’s somewhat odd that this turned out to be the case, because In the Eye of the Storm is arguably both better and more commercial than Brother Where You Bound. The latter album was – unusually for a mid-‘80s disc – a largely prog-oriented affair that contained a near-seventeen-minute-long title cut. Storm is only seven cuts long itself and verges on prog at times (especially on “I’m Not Afraid”), with only three cuts clocking in at under six minutes, but its songs are much, much catchier, be it the album-opening epic “Had a Dream (Sleeping with the Enemy),” the bouncy “Give Me Love, Give Me Life,” the pretty piano ballad “Lovers in the Wind,” the sunny “Hooked on a Problem,” or the slightly unsettling slippery-synth-laden “In Jeopardy,” which vaguely recalls a slightly slowed-down version of the underrated Supertramp Crisis? What Crisis? cut “Lady.”
The 1987 follow-up album Hai Hai is a much more obviously commercial album, boasting ten relatively more concise pop songs lacking the need for single edits. This is an album absolutely overflowing with pop hooks, and there are quite a few songs here that could have realistically reached the Top 40, but as fate would have it, Hodgson would sadly fall from a loft at his home and break both wrists just prior to the release of the album, preventing him from doing any promotion for the disc, and the album consequently only reached #163 in the U.S., while neither of its singles reached the Hot 100.
Nor did the album garner particularly kind reviews, largely due to the simple nature of its lyrics, but this is truly an album for pop music fans, not critics, and your average Breakfast in America fan will likely delight in the addictive melodies here, be it the shimmering “You Made Me Love You” (one of the prettiest up-tempo tunes Hodgson has ever penned), the haunting arena-rock of the title cut, the dance-pop of “Right Place,” the biting “My Magazine,” the war-veteran-themed “House on the Corner,” the reggae-tinged “Breakfast in America” sequel “London,” or the lovely, if sad, album-closer “Puppet Dance.”
Most interestingly of all, the album includes a re-recorded and slightly re-written version of the obscure Supertramp 1974 non-LP single “Land Ho,” which pre-dates Crime of the Century and was never released in the U.S. (although it would finally see the light of day in this country on the 2005 compilation Retrospectacle). Why plans to include it on Crisis? What Crisis? got shelved, I have no idea – it’s just as good, if not better, than anything that did make the cut of that album, “Lady” included – but it is a fabulous song, and Hodgson’s re-written lyric here is an improvement on the original Supertramp version.
Hodgson has popped up on record only sporadically since Hai Hai, releasing only one further studio album as a solo artist (2000’s Open the Door) and two live discs (1997’s Rites of Passage, which reunites him with Supertramp saxophonist John Heliwell, and 2010’s Classics Live). He was also allegedly asked at the dawn of the ‘90s to become the new lead vocalist for Yes (Jon Anderson had by this point temporarily left to join several of his former bandmates in Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, & Howe); though Hodgson ended up not joining the band, he’d co-write the Yes song “Walls” (which appears on their 1994 album Talk and an alternate version – with Hodgson on vocals – of which would ultimately be released on Trevor Rabin’s solo album 90124.) Hodgson would also do a stint in 2001 with Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band, but while he has only cut one studio album as a solo artist since the ‘80s, he remains to this day a very active touring musician, doing a series of well-received solo tours, both with and without a backing band.