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.
By the release of their thirteenth album, 1978’s Legend, the band had moved from Epic to ABC (their first album for their new label, 1975’s Head Over Heels, was notable for featuring a cover of the incredibly rare Steely Dan non-LP single “Dallas”) and Schmit and Grantham had both departed as well, leaving Rusty Young as the lone original member still remaining and Paul Cotton the only other holdover from the prior lineup of the band. Ironically, Grantham had neither quit nor been fired, and his exit from the group was something of an unintended accident; Poco had actually been on break and Legend was meant to be the debut album from Young and Cotton’s side project, The Cotton-Young Band, but ABC decided it would only release the disc if it came out under the Poco name. Though the move would have unfortunate consequences for Grantham, the drummer would quickly bounce back, landing a new gig as the drummer for country/bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs, and the newly-reconfigured Poco – consisting of Young, Cotton, and British musicians Charlie Harrison on bass and Steve Chapman on drums – would be rewarded with the highest-charting album of their career, Legend – boasting a striking cover painted by a young Phil Hartman, who would later venture into television, starring on Saturday Night Live and NewsRadio – climbing all the way to #14 and going gold.
The newly-reconfigured Poco was noticeably different in more ways than just the personnel changes; the band had dialed back on the heavier country elements of their old sound and taken a deeper step into adult-contemporary and soft-rock territory. While some purists may have cringed at the shift in direction, the transition is handled in graceful and classy fashion and never quite feels like a selling out on the part of the group, and Young and his bandmates surprisingly sound just as good as an adult-contemporary act as they did a pure-country outfit.
Apparently, listeners agreed, as the disc surprisingly yielded not just one but two Top 40 singles, the first time in the long history of the band that they reached the upper echelon of the Hot 100. [They’d previously climbed only as high as #50, the peak position of both 1975’s “Keep on Tryin’” and 1977’s “Indian Summer.”] The slightly-disco-tinged lite-country-rock of Paul Cotton’s “Heart of the Night,” vaguely reminiscent of a less haunting version of the Eagles’ “One of These Nights” and uncharacteristically incorporating a saxophone (courtesy of Phil Kenzie) in its blend of instrumentation, would climb as high as #20. (You can find an extended live performance of the song on the triple-disc soundtrack No Nukes: The Muse Concerts for a Non-Nuclear Future, which also features rare live performances from such rock heavyweights as Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, and the Doobie Brothers.) The mellow-yet-dynamic folk-pop of the acoustic ballad “Crazy Love,” showcasing some of the most spine-tingling harmony vocal work ever put down on tape by the band (suffice to say, if you’re a fan of the harmony-heavy pop from such acts as Crosby, Stills, & Nash, you will absolutely flip out over this single), fared even better with the record-buying public, going all the way to #17.
As unexpected though Poco’s sudden burst of popularity on pop radio was, it’s somewhat perplexing that their commercial breakthrough wasn’t even bigger, as there are at least two tracks here that sound like very obvious follow-up hits yet were inexplicably bypassed for single consideration. The dreamy “Spellbound” is one of the catchiest ballads in the band’s entire catalog and boasts a first-rate chorus, while the danceable lite-disco of “Little Darlin’” might actually be the album’s most irresistible cut, boasting a gorgeous melody that floats atop a relentless, cowbell-and-conga-heavy bed of percussion that’s near-impossible to refrain from moving to, veteran session percussionist Steve Forman proving to be the track’s Most Valuable Player.
The other surrounding album cuts are nearly just as good. The alternately galloping and pounding beats of “Boomerang” gets the disc off to a dynamic start, while the fiery rock of the title cut closes the album in epic fashion. The power ballad “Love Comes Love Goes” would have been the standout ballad on nearly any prior post-Epic disc from Poco but is dwarfed here by “Spellbound” and the slow and very sultry electric-piano-centered ambience of “The Last Goodbye,” which turns heads with its mood-shifting, unexpectedly hard-hitting chorus.
Strangely, Poco’s newfound success was short-lived and their next release, 1980’s Under the Gun, could only reach #46, while its title track topped out on the Hot 100 at #48. Each of their next four releases would sell less than the last, and the band would call it a day after 1984’s Inamorata. But at the urging of one of their most famous fans, Richard Marx, the original lineup of the band – Messina, Furay, Meisner, Young and Grantham – would unexpectedly reunite in 1989 and release a reunion disc, Legacy, which would raise the band’s total of Top 40 hits to four, thanks to the snappy grooves of “Call It Love” (co-written by Messina but sung by Rusty Young) and the ballad “Nothin’ to Hide” (written by Marx and sung by Meisner). Poco then quietly disappeared again but has resurfaced on record twice in the intervening years, first with 2002’s Running Horse (which reunited Young, Cotton, Grantham and also featured appearances from Foster & Lloyd’s Bill Lloyd and Pure Prairie League’s Craig Fuller) and again in 2013 with All Fired Up, though Rusty Young is the only member from the band’s heyday to play on the entirety of the latter disc.