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.
He’s responsible for co-producing all of Don Henley’s first three solo albums and penning the Top Ten smash “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” (in addition to co-writing the singles “Dirty Laundry,” “Not Enough Love in the World,” “Sunset Grill,” “Johnny Can’t Read,” “I Can’t Stand Still,” “How Bad Do You Want It?,” and “New York Minute), co-writing the major Jackson Browne hits “Somebody’s Baby” (from the soundtrack to Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and “Tender Is the Night,” and co-producing albums as diverse as Billy Joel’s River of Dreams, Jon Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory, Brent Bourgeois’ self-titled debut (which yielded the criminally underrated minor Top 40 hit “Dare to Fall in Love”), Neil Young’s Landing on Water, and the Hanson albums Underneath and The Walk. And yet, in spite of all his success as a writer and producer during the ‘80s and ‘90s, Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar has never fully been able to escape the shadow of his countless session dates during the ‘70s for such elite singer-songwriters as Carole King and James Taylor, both of whom he’d work with regularly throughout the decade. [Kortchmar, in fact, had already been in proper bands with each of the two legends: the short-lived The City (with King), who issued just one disc, 1968’s Now That Everything’s Been Said, before splitting, and The Flying Machine (with Taylor), the latter not to be confused with the same band that did “Smile a Little Smile for Me.”]
But most people don’t realize Kortchmar, aside from being one of the most in-demand session guitarists of his era, could also sing, too, and he served as one of the lead vocalists in the little-known quartet Atiitudes (rounded out by bassist/vocalist Paul Stallworth, legendary session drummer Jim Keltner, and keyboardist David Foster – yes, that David Foster!), who recorded two albums for George Harrison’s Dark Horse imprint. [James Taylor would later have a minor chart hit with a cover of the band’s song “Honey Don’t Leave L.A.”] Kortchmar also released two even lesser-known solo albums, 1973’s Kootch (for Warner Brothers) and our latest featured Album from the Lost and Found, 1980’s Innuendo (issued on the Asylum label, fittingly the home to frequent Kortchmar collaborator Jackson Browne).
The biggest surprise of Innuendo is that Kortchmar, left to his own devices, rocks significantly harder than any of his famous employers, to the extent that the closing cut, “When the Eagle Flies,” is the only true ballad on the record, while the opening cut, the frantic “You and What Army?” (sporting harmony vocals from Kortchmar’s then-girlfriend – and Carole King’s daughter – Louise Goffin), sounds more like the wiry power-pop of The Knack (especially “Good Girls Don’t”) put into a blender with Eddie Money at his most animated. Kortchmar sounds like he’s having an absolute ball riffing away throughout the song, but it’s drummer David Kemper that steals the show on this track with his unwavering rapid-fire ride-cymbal work on the choruses. The more mid-tempo rock of “Killer’s Kiss” (one of three tracks on the disc to feature harmony vocals from a young Jules Shear, later to find fame as the writer of Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night” and the Bangles’ “If She Knew What She Wants” and the host of MTV Unpluggged) is just as gritty, with Kortchmar playing up a storm on his guitar during the track’s back half. Linda Ronstadt pops up on harmonies on a cover of ‘50s rockabilly singer Jody Reynolds’ lone hit, “Endless Sleep,” but don’t let that fool you – the track’s surprisingly edgy, Kortchmar having radically re-arranged the song and substituted the original’s more languid and lazy groove for a more sludgy, swampy vibe that arguably better fits the song’s dark lyric.
But Kortchmar, likely knowing that fiery power-pop sides like “You and What Army?” are not what most listeners were probably expecting (much though you suspect he would have liked to cut a whole disc of such songs), is wise enough to offer up a variety of styles here, and the bulk of the disc is still pop enough to appeal to fans of such Kortchmar friends as Browne or Henley. “The Ghost of Errol Flynn” and the sunny vibe of the fabulous “Ego Tripper” even flirt with reggae rhythms, while the fun “I Starred in That Movie” (practically a reunion of Kortchmar’s former band Attitudes, with only David Foster in absentia) rocks surprisingly hard for an acoustic-guitar-driven cut. Legendary session guitarist Waddy Wachtel not only plays guitar but also co-wrote and uncharacteristically provides the harmonies on “Hair of the Dog,” which features some of the most intense bass-drum and tom-tom work Jim Keltner’s ever laid down on disc. (Be sure to check out his killer fill at the 2:25 mark.)
There are several cuts here that sound like they could have been hit singles with the help of some radio airplay but none more so than “Lost in the Shuffle,” which sounds exactly like the kind of easygoing adult-rock that Jackson Browne would go on to specialize in during the first half of the ‘80s, and you can even hear shades of Browne’s future hit (and Kortchmar co-write) “Tender Is the Night” in the song.
In fact, the only track on the album you’ll want to skip over is the title cut, a fiery rocker that simply suffers from some inane lyrics (the chorus actually rhymes “innuendo” with “I thought you were my friend – Oh” and “Well, it drives me ‘round the bend – Oh” – no, really!). Unfortunately, because of the minimal commercial response to Innuendo, the disc didn’t stay in print for very long, but the album – if you’re willing to do some digging for a second-hand vinyl copy – is usually a budget-bin item and can be picked up for a mere dollar or two, making it a real steal considering the remarkable hits-to-misses ratio. Innuendo eventually did get a U.S. release on compact disc – thanks to the criminally underappreciated specialty label Wounded Bird, who made it part of their 2007 reissue series – but the CD is a bit tricky to find in stock at most record stores, so you’ll likely have to special-order the disc. It’s worth the effort, though. The songs are infectious enough to make you see why he was such an in-demand co-writer for giants like Henley and Browne.