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.
For a band that made seven albums (and a 1999 reunion disc) without ever having a single Hot 100 hit in America (though Judas Priest would later cover their song “Better By You, Better By Me” and Kanye West and Jay-Z would sample their song “Sunshine Help Me” on the Watch the Throne single “No Church in the Wild”), the members of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s British rock band Spooky Tooth sure went on to some great things. Drummer Mike Kellie went on to form and play with The Only Ones, whose song “Another Girl, Another Planet” has become a major cult classic, being covered by countless acts from The Replacements to Blink-182. Original bassist Greg Ridley went on to play with the blues-rock outfit Humble Pie with former Small Faces member Steve Marriott and future solo superstar Peter Frampton. Guitarist Luther Grosvenor would go on to play with Stealers Wheel (“Stuck in the Middle with You”) before changing his stage name to Ariel Bender and becoming a member of Mott the Hoople, while short-lived second guitarist Henry McCullough would become the lead guitarist for Paul McCartney’s band Wings, providing the legendary solo on “My Love.” Guitarist Mick Jones, who played with the band from 1972 through 1974, went on to form one of the most ubiquitous bands on classic-rock radio, Foreigner, and serve as their primary songwriter. And, last but certainly not least, the band’s New Jersey-born keyboardist and second lead vocalist, Gary Wright? Well, he would go on to a successful solo career, scoring two consecutive massive Number Two hits in 1976 with the atmospheric and iconic ballad “Dream Weaver” and the synth-heavy, spacey art-disco of “Love Is Alive.”
As massive as a success as The Dream Weaver was, Wright strangely wouldn’t be able to maintain his momentum, and his next three albums (1977’s The Light of Smiles and Touch and Gone and 1979’s Headin’ Home) all failed to yield a single Top 40 hit. Wright’s first album of the ‘80s, 1981’s The Right Place, would thankfully return him briefly to the spotlight, becoming his highest-charting album in four years.
The album’s calling card is its first single, “Really Wanna Know You,” which would climb to #16 on the Hot 100, becoming Wright’s biggest hit since “Love Is Alive.” Like “Love Is Alive,” “Really Wanna Know You” opens with a distinctive, soothing synthesizer lick that instantly sets a mood for the mid-tempo cut, propelled along nicely by the tasteful drumming of Tris Imboden (on loan from Kenny Loggins’ backing band and later to replace Danny Seraphine in Chicago). The song’s chorus is particularly catchy and one of Wright’s best, but fans of Wright’s earlier work will be equally drawn to the song’s key-shifting bridge, which takes the song in a slightly more unearthly direction and recalls the atmospheric heights of “Dream Weaver.”
While “Really Wanna Know You” was the only hit single from the album, the surrounding cuts are attention-grabbing in their own right. The equally catchy “Heartbeat” opens the album (following a fittingly synth-heavy instrumental introductory piece), and unusually injects a hint of soul/R&B into Wright’s typical blend of pop (to the extent that you can nearly imagine the Pointer Sisters covering the song), while Ambrosia lead vocalist David Pack and Eagles bassist Timothy Schmit provide backing vocals. “Got the Feelin’” similarly packs a hint of R&B in its chorus, Dean Parks (who co-produced the album with Wright) punctuating the song perfectly with a sax solo. The album’s title cut is very reminiscent of Steve Winwood, to the extent that you could easily imagine the song on Arc of a Diver, while “Close to You” recalls the Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers. The slippery “Comin’ Apart” (co-written by Wright with songwriting legends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil) is more off-kilter but holds together nicely, thanks in part to the drum work of Supertramp’s Bob C. Benberg.
Wright surprisingly wouldn’t make another album for seven years, finally re-appearing in 1988 with Who I Am, but he would be instrumental in the late-‘80s comeback of George Harrison, playing keyboards (and co-writing the track “That’s What It Takes”) on Cloud Nine, the former Beatle also giving Wright credit in interviews for inspiring his Number One cover of James Ray’s “Got My Mind Set on You.”
Wright’s “Really Wanna Know You” co-writer Ali Thomson isn’t nearly as well-remembered today, but, in fact, the Scottish-born Thomson would score a Top Twenty hit on his own in 1980 with the title track of his solo debut, Take a Little Rhythm. Thomson, the younger brother of Supertramp bassist Dougie Thomson, would sadly only ever record two albums, both for A&M (fittingly, the same label Supertramp recorded for during its heyday.) A lot of listeners hearing the album’s title cut on the radio for the first time mistook it for a Paul McCartney record, and many critics were quick to draw comparisons between Thomson and the former Beatle, but the vocal resemblance between the two men is only minor, and the shimmering, sax-laden soulful acoustic pop of “Take a Little Rhythm” doesn’t recall McCartney so much as it does a blend of Supertramp’s “Sister Moonshine,” Todd Rundgren and Utopia’s “Love Is the Answer,” and Hall and Oates’ “Rich Girl.” It may go without saying, then, that the song makes for a perfect three-minute slice of AM-radio pop, “Take a Little Rhythm” remaining one of the most criminally overlooked lost singles of 1980.
Thomson – who plays guitar, bass, and keyboards (and actually provided all three instruments on the title cut) – just barely missed scoring a second Top 40 hit from the album with the bouncy and equally catchy “Live Every Minute,” whose Wurlitzer-electric-piano driven arrangement made the song sound like perfect fodder for his elder brother’s band, and it’s hard not to imagine Roger Hodgson singing the cut.
The breezy and percussive acoustic-guitar-driven “African Queen” sounds like a cross between the ‘70s pop trio America and Paul Simon’s first solo album, while the piano-driven epic “The Hollywood Role” begins as a dramatic ballad before seamlessly shifting into soft disco territory. The rocker “Fool’s Society” and the soulful bounce of “Jamie” (the latter of which closes with an extended, Latin-tinged jam boasting an Alan Murphy guitar solo worthy of Carlos Santana) both boast some truly impressive bass playing from Durban Laverde, while the album fittingly closes with the excellent “A Goodnight Song.”
After recording the 1981 follow-up Deception Is an Art and co-writing “Really Wanna Know You” and “Positive Feelins” with Wright, Thomson would all but vanish from the music scene, though he would re-emerge behind the scenes decades later as a songwriter for the likes of soul-pop songstress Lisa Stansfield and international pop groups Steps and A1.