by Jeff Fiedler
Common Thread is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which we offer up mini-reviews of a small (and often very diverse) assortment of albums that all have one specific shared trait; that "common thread" can vary from column to column.
Player, Player (1977, RSO)
Long before he ever delighted soap-opera fans as fashion magnate Ridge Forrester on The Bold and the Beautiful (a role he played from the show’s inception in 1987 all the way through 2012), Ronn Moss was the original bassist/vocalist for this California adult-contemporary-pop band, who rocketed to stardom after signing a deal with Robert Stigwood’s RSO label and reaching the top of their charts with their very first single, the lite-disco of the vaguely-Hall & Oates-like ballad “Baby Come Back,” which can be found on this fine disc, along with their second hit, the Top Ten-charting “This Time I’m in It for Love.” The group would only score one more Top 40 hit before gradually fading into obscurity (the appealing disco-tinged “Prisoner of Your Love” from 1978’s Danger Zone), frontman Peter Beckett going on to write the Olivia Newton-John hit “Twist of Fate” and serving as a member of Little River Band from 1989 through 1997. Thanks to the enduring popularity of “Baby Come Back,” the band has remained a popular touring act on the nostalgia circuit, and Moss has frequently taken time off from his acting work to join his old bandmates on the road.
Working Class Dog, Rick Springfield (1981, RCA)
Despite common misconception, “Jessie’s Girl” wasn’t technically Springfield’s first hit – in fact, nearly a full decade earlier, the former Australian teen idol would climb as high as #14 on the U.S. charts with the wildly infectious and tragically long-forgotten 1972 single, “Speak to the Sky,” an unusual blend of pop, folk, barrelhouse piano, and gospel that even incorporates tuba and banjo and stands in stark contrast to his later ‘80s work. But Springfield struggled to score a follow-up hit in the U.S. and by the latter half of the ‘70s, he’d all but abandoned music and directed his attention towards acting, scoring guest spots on The Six Million Dollar Man, The Rockford Files and The Incredible Hulk and eventually landing a regular gig as Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital. But just as he was finding success as a soap star, his musical career suddenly took off again, thanks to this criminally underrated power-pop album (his first for new label RCA), which features three huge hits: the Top Twenty-charting frantic rocker “Love Is Alright Tonite,” the Top Ten hit “I’ve Done Everything for You” (written by Sammy Hagar), and the classic Number One smash “Jessie’s Girl” with its now-legendary opening guitar riff. But what makes this album Springfield’s very best is that the hooks aren’t just confined to the singles, and there are at least four other hidden gems here that sound very much like they could’ve been hits in their own right if RCA had wanted to keep mining the album for additional singles, including the dizzying barrage of hooks of the synth-laden “The Light of Love,” the pained passion of “Carry Me Away,” the singalong “Everybody’s Girl,” and the chill-inducing eerie atmospherics of the album-closing ballad “Inside Silvia.”
All I Need, Jack Wagner (1984, Qwest)
He’s still best known for playing Frisco Jones on General Hospital, but in 1984, Wagner would land a record deal with Quincy Jones’ vanity label Qwest Records (distributed through Warner Brothers and also the home to New Order, James Ingram, Patti Austin, and the most legendary pop vocalist of all, Frank Sinatra). Wagner’s label debut would be produced by future industry giants Glen Ballard (the co-writer of such hits as Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” Wilson Phillips’ “You’re in Love” and “Hold On,” Aerosmith’s “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees),” and O.A.R.’s “Love and Memories” and the producer/co-writer behind Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill and Dave Matthews Band’s Everyday) and Clif Magness (the writer of Wilson Phillips’ “Impulsive” and the producer behind half of Avril Lavigne’s Let Go). Though the disc is very much soft-rock oriented, the songwriting is rock-solid, and songs like “Make Me Believe It” and “Whenever Hearts Collide” are memorable and hooky indeed. But the true highlight is the incredibly appealing title track, co-written by David Pack of Ambrosia (“Biggest Part of Me,” “How Much I Feel”) and featuring a jaw-dropping vocal from Wagner, who gets to show off nearly every part of his vast vocal range on the cut, which would stop just one spot shy of becoming a Number One hit. Following his fourth album in 1992, Wagner put his focus back on his acting career, going on to star in Melrose Place and The Bold and the Beautiful, but he picked up music again in 2005 after a twelve-year hiatus and has issued two more albums since then.
Gloria Loring, Gloria Loring (1986, Atlantic)
Loring’s recording career goes all the way back to 1968 when she released Gloria Loring, Today for MGM. But it wasn’t until 1977’s #74-peaking “Brooklyn,” released under the pseudonym Cody Jameson, that she finally dented the Hot 100. She’d join the cast of Days of Our Lives in 1980, playing Liz Chandler, and would stay with the show until 1986, the year she finally had her first – and only – Top 40 hit, the ballad “Friends and Lovers” (a duet with Carl Anderson that had been a Number One hit on the country charts for Juice Newton and Eddie Rabbitt under the title “Both to Each Other.”) The Loring-and-Anderson version would climb all the way to #2, kept from the top spot by Huey Lewis and the News’ “Stuck with You.” The song would be an adult-contemporary-radio fixture for years and would later be revived on the animated sitcom Family Guy as a duet between Chris Griffin and Mr. Herbert. Although “Friends and Lovers” remains Loring’s best-known song, she’s also responsible for co-writing two of the most famous television theme songs of the ‘80s (Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life), both penned with her then-husband, actor Alan Thicke (Growing Pains). Her son, Robin Thicke, would go on to be a recording star himself and top the charts with the controversial “Blurred Lines,” making Gloria and Robin one of the very few mother-and-son pairs who can each claim to have had a Top Five hit.
Where Do We Go from Here, Michael Damian (1989, Cypress/A&M)
Ironically, Damian’s path to fame was the byproduct of a single that bombed. In 1981, after years of playing with his brothers in the band The Weirz, he went solo and released a cover of Eric Carmen’s “She Did It,” which did little: it could only claw its way to #69. But he did get an invitation to come sing the song on American Bandstand, so – pardon the pun – he did it, and that, in turn, resulted in an invitation from the producers of The Young and the Restless to play struggling singer Danny Romalotti, a role Damian would happily accept and play from 1981 to 1998. (He’d later reprise the role from 2002 to 2004, again in 2008, and once more from 2012 to 2013.) In 1989, Damian, long unable to land a record deal in the U.S., would unexpectedly find himself with a Number One hit after his brothers, who had been working on the soundtrack for the Corey Feldman/Corey Haim movie Dream a Little Dream, dug up Michael’s yet-unreleased cover of the David Essex classic “Rock On” from the vaults and shared it with the film’s director, who insisted on using it. The song also pops up on this long-out-of-print and hard-to-find disc, which also yielded two additional Top 40 hits in “Cover of Love” and the lovely, vaguely-Spanish-tinged ballad “Was It Nothing At All.”