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.
Gomm with the Wind, Ian Gomm (1979, Stiff/Epic)
Ian Gomm was part of the ultra-hip Stiff Records family that included such notable new-wave artists as Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, and Gomm would, in fact, co-write Lowe’s lone Top 40 hit in the U.S., “Cruel to Be Kind.” [The two men had a history that long pre-dated the launch of Stiff; Lowe and Gomm had been bandmates in the influential British pub-rock band Brinsley Schwarz, best known for having done the original version of Lowe’s song “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” which would later become a sizable U.K. hit for Elvis Costello, as well as being covered by Curtis Stigers on the multi-platinum-selling soundtrack for The Bodyguard.] As a performer, Gomm would manage just one American Top 40 hit himself, but it’s a great one – “Hold On” boasts a muscular sound and a funky bass line (courtesy of the great Herbie Flowers) that help to make it one of the hipper-sounding pop 45s of the late ‘70s. The cleverly-titled full-length it hails from (produced by Martin Rushent, best known for his work with The Human League) boasts nine more fine Gomm originals along with covers of Chuck Berry’s “Come On” and the Beatles’ “You Can’t Do That” and comes highly recommended to fans of artists like Lowe, Costello, Dave Edmunds and Graham Parker.
McFadden & Whitehead, McFadden & Whitehead (1979, Philadelphia International)
This duo’s sole hit has truly stood the test of time; “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” surprisingly peaked at just #13 on the Hot 100, but you’d never know it wasn’t a Top Ten pop hit – it’s been used at countless sports events, serving as an anthem for many a sports team (from the ‘79 Orioles and ‘80s Phillies to the‘00-‘01 76ers) and the theme song for boxer Larry Holmes, and political rallies. But you may not realize that the duo had even greater success behind the scenes as the songwriters of such major R&B hits as Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ “Bad Luck” and “Wake Up Everybody,” the Intruders’ “I’ll Always Love My Mama,” and the O’Jays’ “Back Stabbers.”
McGuinn, Clark & Hillman, McGuinn, Clark & Hillman (1979, Capitol)
This pop trio made two albums together under this moniker and had a #33 hit with this album’s “Don’t You Write Her Off.” But while “McGuinn, Clark & Hillman” may be a one-hit-wonder per se, the three men themselves aren’t – Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, and Chris Hillman had already scored a long string of hits together in the ‘60s – including the Number One hits “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” – as three-fifths of the folk-rock band The Byrds.
New England, New England (1979, Infinity)
Unfortunately for this New York rock band (discovered by Kiss manager Bill Aucoin), the record label it called home was financially mismanaged and proved to be very short-lived, negatively impacting the careers of everyone on its quite-respectable roster, including Orleans (“Still the One,” “Dance with Me,” “Love Takes Time”), Dobie Gray (“Drift Away”), Hot Chocolate (“You Sexy Thing,” “Every 1’s a Winner”), and Spyro Gyra (“Morning Dance.”) [Of everyone to ever record for the label, only Rupert Holmes – who would be moved over to Infinity’s parent label, MCA – managed to reach the Top 40 again after the label’s sudden demise.] But thanks to their connection to Aucoin, the band had the fortune of being able to tap no less than Kiss’ Paul Stanley to co-produce their debut album, which landed the group its first and only Top 40 hit with “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya.” The band drifted into obscurity shortly after, but their third and final album together, Walking Wild, would return them to the Top 200 and is notable for having being produced by the great Todd Rundgren.
If You Knew Suzi …, Suzi Quatro (1979, RSO)
Ironically, this groundbreaking Detroit-born rocker (a protégé of the wildly successful writing/producing team of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn) spent nearly the entirety of the ‘70s struggling to get any airplay on American radio at all in spite of becoming a glam-rock superstar of the biggest kind in the U.K., where she racked up a long string of hits including the Number One hits “Can the Can” and “Devil Gate Drive” and the Top Ten hits “48 Crash,” “The Wild One,” and “If You Can’t Give Me Love.” In the U.S., she only ever reached the Top 40 once – the delightful Top Five smash and Chris Norman duet “Stumblin’ In,” the highlight of this album – and she remains better known to American audiences for playing the recurring role of Leather Tuscadero on the ‘70s sitcom Happy Days.
Turn Up the Radio, Rockets (1979, RSO)
For a band with just one minor Top 40 hit to their name, this Detroit rock group is one very noteworthy band. Guitarist Jim McCarty and drummer John Badanjek were both former members of one of the most beloved party bands of the ‘60s, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, best known for the Top Five smash “Devil with a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly,” while guitarist Dennis Robbins would go on to be a notable Nashville songwriter, penning such chart-topping country hits as Garth Brooks’ “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House” and Shenandoah’s “The Church on Cumberland Road.” Rockets are also notable for being the only band that’s ever actually had a Top 40 hit with the much-covered rock-and-roll classic “Oh Well” (originally recorded by Fleetwood Mac on its 1969 album Then Play On), and that includes Fleetwood Mac itself!
Lauren Wood, Lauren Wood (1979, Warner Bros.)
A former backing vocalist for Frank Zappa (she appears on his album The Grand Wazoo) and one-third (the “Chunky”) of the trio Chunky, Novi, & Ernie, who released two self-titled albums together (the former boasting a song, “Underground,” that would later be covered by hard-rock band – and Sammy Hagar’s training grounds – Montrose), Wood shockingly recruited a lot of luminaries to appear on her self-titled solo debut. Michael McDonald and Patrick Simmons from the Doobie Brothers pop up here, as does Ronnie Montrose, Little Feat’s Bill Payne and Fred Tackett, future Chicago member Bill Champlin, Toto members Steve Lukather, Jeff Porcaro and David Hungate, 10cc’s Duncan Mackay, and legendary session drummer Jim Keltner. “Please Don’t Leave” (featuring McDonald on backing vocals) would climb to #24, giving Wood her lone Top 40 hit. Lauren would unexpectedly resurface in 1989 when her song “Fallen” – which she had originally recorded on her 1981 album Cat Trick and had been covered by the legendary Johnny Mathis on his album Once in a While – would pop up in the form of a new recording from Wood on the wildly successful soundtrack to the Richard Gere/Julia Roberts film Pretty Woman.